The year 2019 has been full of surprises and new discoveries for me. I have spent my time traveling Poland, where I come from, as well as the US, Iceland, and most importantly, Uzbekistan, where I joined the Silk Walk expedition and walked about 100 Km from Fergana to Kokand. And to be honest, it has been quite an adventure.
After having traveled the world a bit, I can say that I come from a country that is currently somewhere between what we culturally and politically consider the West and the East. And as time passes and our policies change, our society gets exposed to new ideas, and as a result we all change. It is inevitable. There is no point in judging it, but traveling Uzbekistan this year made me realize that some changes might not be as exciting.
I'll start from my family. My parents have been wistfully telling me stories about the time of the Soviet occupation, when they had literally nothing and access to goods was limited. However, if anyone in the neighborhood did manage to buy or 'get' something valuable (bananas, meat, nice fabrics) they would share it. It was the time when people had to rely on one another. An example I remember vividly is that there was one TV for the entire community, and all the kids would gather around to watch one out of three shows aired per week.
Does it sound terrifying? To me, a child of the 90s - definitely. And when my parents said that it sounds worse than it was and that people used to talk to each other and spent time together - I kind of listened to them, while ignoring it at them same time. Because.. let’s be honest, we all romanticize our past and we tend to forget the bad stuff. And I thought they were doing the same.
And then in one year I spent a couple of months in the US, and two weeks in Uzbekistan. I am not going to go into details of what the western values are now, because we all know how privileged we are but - let me put it simply - you’re able to read this article on your phone or computer with wifi and I am able to write it. There is most likely freshly brewed coffee/tea nearby and if we wanted to have access to running water we’d be able to get it in less than two minutes. You’re comfortable, I am comfortable - this is our normal. We don’t think about it.
Now imagine this, you’re sitting at home, it's around noon. Suddenly, you hear a knock on the door, and you see a random foreign looking person trying to desperately enter your house, while talking to you in a language you don’t understand. What would be your reaction? Well, I was that person in Uzbekistan. And I was let in (I needed a bathroom) and I got grapes as a gift.
Another situation. You are at a bar drinking, having a regular night out with your friends. Suddenly a couple walks in carrying weird stuff around and they don’t look like they’re from around here, and they sit down and have tea. How do you react? Do you even notice them?
Well, we were noticed. People were worried when they heard we were walking at night. We were asked whether we needed anything, and we were invited to one of the men’s home, where we later shared massive dinner and breakfast. They also gave us their master bedroom to stay in. And they didn’t want to let us go. Even though I was originally apprehensive, because I like to travel independently, that night reminded me how wonderful it can be to just sit together, eat and share stories.
The next morning the family helped us find our way back to the main road, and gave us some more food so we don’t get hungry along the way.
And the last story. Imagine, you are in the restaurant having lunch. There comes a foreign girl and she understands nothing of what is going on. What do you do? An older grandpa who couldn’t speak a word of English first shared his tea with me, and then asked whether anyone spoke English and made sure that the person who could communicate with me would help me if I needed anything.
These are simple stories, but they sum up the experience I had in Uzbekistan. That trip helped me understand my parents more, and how privileged I am just being able to travel around the way I do. Where somewhere in the world people make… a 1000 USD a year, have no running water in entire towns, and yet they are willing to share whatever they do have with the biggest smile, expecting only some company and stories in return.
Uzbekistan made me wonder if I would do the same. It also makes me wonder at which point in history exactly our values started shifting from East to the West.
Written by Marta Mannuzza
PS. I want to say thank you to Timb, Paul and Pat for letting me join their expedition for the second time. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.
Marta's Walk Stats
Days in Region: 14
Kilometers walked: 84
Days on Expedition: ~21
Distance: ~100 Km (~62.5 Miles)