FAQs and other tidbits

Responses to some FAQs, and small but practical details for future travelers.

Uzbekistan is not Afghanistan. Although almost all Uzbeks are Muslims, it is not a religious country. Light, low-alcohol beer is served everywhere. Modesty in dressing is observed, but if older or rural women have their heads, arms and legs covered, it is probably as much because it is the traditional and accepted way to dress as it is due to religion, and many young women in Tashkent bare lots of skin. Life goes on during Friday prayers, and Americans are met with friendly curiosity, because so few make it there. One caveat: we did not get to the Fergana Valley, which is said to be the most religious region.

A police state means little street crime. We wondered around deserted streets late at night without any concern.

There are no maps. You will not find city maps in hotel lobbies, or country maps in bookstores, or anywhere else. It may be that there is little demand because the majority of the Western visitors come in tour groups with guides, or there may be a more sinister reason, perhaps government control.

If you like a hard mattress, you may find that there is too much of a good thing. Someone said something about “Soviet style mattresses”, but now we have to go to Russia to compare notes.

The toilet in Tashkent’s international incoming terminal was atrocious, Patti said, but the toilet in the much smaller interior airport at Nukus was new, spotless and sweet smelling. Not all public toilets have seats, and one gets used to depositing toilet paper in small (open) trash cans.

It goes without saying that there is a lot of dust in the desert. In Uzbekistan, people seem to be endlessly sweeping the sidewalks (lots of brooms available in the bazaars) in front their doors, then sprinkling water to have the dust settle and harden. You have to take your dusty shoes off when entering a carpeted space, such as a mosque, but also some homes or B&B rooms. Women and some men have it easier, because they wear backless sandals that they expertly kick off to the side as they cross a threshold, hardly posing to break their step. Others have to bend over and untie and tie their shoes. On the other hand, you may do well to wear shoes and not slide sandals if you mind the rotting mulberries everywhere. It is the Silk Road.

Broom Lady

Broom Lady

Entry to Mosque

Entry to Mosque

Another desert living factoid we all knew: very dry. Don’t skimp on hair conditioner, or your hair will turn to straw like those dust brooms.

Health services in UZ do not have the best reputation. Scarcity may be problem number one: they may exist, but we did not see them. While there seemed to be a school on every street corner (almost 100% literacy rate!), we did not see hospitals, clinics, or ambulances. Some people we talked to complained about bad specialists, no state health insurance and high costs. One notices that virtually nobody wears eyeglasses, and many are having trouble reading. We were told that eyeglasses are expensive.

While on healthcare, what’s with the gold teeth that the matrons love to flash? Our guide in Khiva said that the ladies get them as jewelry, ruining their natural teeth in the process, and not all ‘gold teeth’ are gold. The custom may have started when the Soviets came, and people needed a safe place to stash their wealth, even safer behind the veil.

Flashing Gold

Flashing Gold

The good news, we were very surprised to find no mosquitos – at least, during the month of May – and no flies! We heard not a single buzz, even in a place like the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, where dozens of open stalls were piled with fresh strawberries, vegetables and sweets; and not a fly in the vast meat/ dairy market building.

meat market from above UZ_TASH_5551 UZ_TASH_5567

We drank only bottled water but ate lots of fresh vegetables, ignoring the guidebooks. Bottom line: one of the four of us had severe food poisoning and one had a milder case. But we did not eat the strawberries, although they looked really good.

Last, can’t do without a moral. There is good and evil (see photo).
Zoroastrians - Khiva citadel

Zoroastrians – Khiva citadel

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