Monday, March 18, 2013

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Old Town | Dish Girls

This time of the year in Bukhara the sun rises about 7:00. Every morning fifteen minutes or so before sunrise I leave my guesthouse and wander around the city. There is hardly anyone on the streets at this hour and I pretty much have the place to myself. One morning the city was dusted with fresh snow. I walked through the First Trade Dome and past the old Magok-i Attari Mosque to the Second Trade Dome. The old codger who looks after the tomb of Ahmed I Paran, located inside the trade dome, was there, as he always is come rain, snow, or shine. He studiously ignores all foreigners and I do not bother greeting him
 Trade Dome #1 with fresh snow (click on photos for enlargements)
Trade Dome #2 with fresh snow
Abdullah Khan Tim
 Snow of the domes of Abdullah Khan Tim
From the Second Trade Dome I walked north past the Abdullah Khan Tim and through the Third Trade Dome into the so-called Old Town, located on slightly higher ground just east of the Ark, or Citadel. This is the very oldest part of Bukhara. Archeological findings here date back almost 2500 years. When Chingis Khan invested Bukhara in 1220 most of today’s old town was known as the Shahristan, or Inner City, and was surrounded by a wall. This inner wall was probably destroyed in the sack of the city and the fire which followed, and it is not clear if it was ever rebuilt. The outer wall, around the rabat, or outer city, was rebuilt or repaired, only to the damaged or destroyed again several times until the final version of the Outer Wall, sections of which still remain to this day, was built. 
Street in the Old Town
Wandering down one narrow street I pass by a man who looked to be in his sixties sweeping the snow off his steps with a twig broom. He greeted me in Russian and asked what country I was from. I said I was from America (I am an American citizen although I have not actually lived there in many years). Switching to English he said, “Come in and have tea.” I have never turned down a bowl of tea in my life. He welcomed me into his house and after I had taken off my shoes ushered me into a room furnished with nothing but carpets, a thin pad on the floor, and a low table. Actually, it pretty much like the tea room of my hovel in Ulaanbaatar and I felt very much at home. “Would you like black or green tea,” he asked. Since it was still early morning I said black. “Wait one minute, my daughter will bring you tea.” After a minute or two the door opened and in strode a young woman with a tea tray. Much to my surprise, it was one the “Dish Girls” I had met on my previous trip. She was momentarily startled to see me sitting in her home, but quickly recovered. Her sister, who also sells dishes and who I had also met, came and in and sat down. Both young women of course sat on their knees with their shins tucked under them. I find it almost impossible to sit this way and assumed a half-lotus position instead. A full lotus hardly seemed appropriate for morning tea with two young ladies. “Well, this is really a coincidence that I should meet you again,” I offered. “Bukhara is a very small place. It is not strange that we should meet again,” said the first young woman. We then chatted for half an hour about tea (the women allowed that they themselves never drank black tea), carpets (the carpet on the floor  was remarkably like the machine-made wool carpets produced in Ulaanbaatar), the dish business (already a lot more tourists in town this month as compared to this month last year), and of host of other ephemeral topics.

The women said that I must stop by the street where they sell dishes and visit them again. I did not say that I had been avoiding this street. Last time I was in town I had promised them day after day I would buy something and then finally sneaked out of town without getting anything. I had planned to stop by just to say hello near the end of my trip, when they would have little time to cajole me into buying anything, but now I said I would stop by today. 

I continued my peregrinations and at about ten o’clock wandered down the street where the girls sold their wares. This year their dishes were set out right by the side of the Mir Arabi Madrassa. They saw me coming two hundred feet away and started shouting “Don! Don! Come here, Don!” As I approached one woman with hair dyed a curious shade of orange ran up to me with arms outspread and gushed, “My darling, you are back!” This jest elicited gales of laughter from the other girls, since an old goat like me could hardly be anyone’s darling. The girls get bored standing out here all day, especially on cold and blustery days like this when they see very few tourists, and are eager for any diversions. I guess I qualify as a diversion. They had lots of news. The Queen Bee of the group had gotten married and was quick to show me a photo of her husband on her iPhone. To my amazement her husband was the co-owner and salesman of the Abdullah Khan Tim Carpet Store who I had talked to the day before. I had met him several years earlier when he was working at the different store. Small world! One of her friends pointed out that she was already pregnant, although she had only been married since last November. “Not wasting any time, are you?” I offered. She smiled demurely. Although I talked to the Dish Girls for at least thirty minutes, oddly enough not one of them said a word about buying any dishes. Apparently they had already decided that as a customer I was pretty much of a bust. 
Dishes for Sale
 Breathtakingly gorgeous Dish Girl whose father invited me in for tea
Dish Girl married to the co-owner of the Abdullah Khan Tim Carpet Store on the right and her mouth-wateringly delectable  friend

4 comments:

  1. "an old goat like me could hardly be anyone’s darling"

    Fishing for compliments, are we? : )

    I am quite sure that you could be someone's darling, but would you want to be just anyone's, Don? (Note that I'm also playing with words here).

    They are lovely girls, too.

    -a mes

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  2. For what it's worth, Don, if I wasn't married, you'd be next on my list of people to seduce, right after Ralph Nader.

    -a mes

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  3. I should probably clarify that I've had a major crush on Ralph Nader since college. : )

    -a mes

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  4. Wow! I never dreamed that one day I would be mentioned in the same sentence with Ralph Nader!

    ReplyDelete