As promised, here is part 2. For part 1, click here.
Third Drama: Living in Transit
After much hesitation, I followed the man in army gear. He led me into what looked like a classroom, shut the door, and left. I was ridiculously fatigued at this point and desperately wanted to get some sleep, but that was impossible because various men in army gear kept opening the door at random intervals, taking a look at me, and leaving. So I just sat there staring at the door, wondering when it would open next, took some photos, laughed out loud to myself for no particular reason, and just generally spiralled slowly into insanity.
I don’t speak Uzbek, but I do speak Uyghur, and they are really very similar languages so I can understand quite a bit of Uzbek – enough to get me by. I managed to communicate to one of the army men that I wanted some water, and he came back with this:
I found this really really funny even though I am not unfamiliar with Uzbek culture (given that my father is Uzbek). When the army guy brought it in, I just started laughing – in his face. I didn’t have the capacity to regulate my emotions at this point, nor was I thinking straight. I don’t even know why I found it funny, but the hilarity of the situation was enhanced by the fact that the army guy just stood there staring at me – presumably waiting for me to drink the water – but I just couldn’t drink the water while he was staring at me.
It got a little bit awkward.
I just thanked him and hoped he would leave me alone… After he left with a wave of his hand and an exasperated look, I laughed some more to myself and stared inside the bowl wondering what it would look like if I didn’t drink the water after having asked for a drink numerous times. You can’t see from this photo, but the bowl looked pretty dirty on the inside. It had multiple dark grimy-looking rings circling the supposed-to-be-white ceramic, and it was chipped in a few places around the rim of the bowl (I heard once that the chipped bits on ceramics captures bacteria and makes you sick) – after a good laugh in the face of potentially dying from an infectious disease, my thirst won out and I just drank the water with a bismillah (in the name of God). I didn’t die.
After God knows how long, a couple of army men came into the room and with a combination of speaking Uzbek and using hand gestures they let me know that it was time to move on. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but my experience had thus far been punctuated with comments exchanged between the army dudes about me such as “She looks Uzbek, but she’s from Australia, and she doesn’t even speak Uzbek, and she has such little luggage.” I kept laughing when they were talking about me, so they quickly realised that I could understand their language. This happened countless times, always the same conversation, always with the same response, looks of surprise, and slight disdain that I speak Uyghur rather than Uzbek.
Coming back to my latest move – the two army men that I was following led me through the airport and downstairs to a locked quarter. One of the army men left us, and the one that remained led me to a bare room with a bed and bathroom. I say “bed” but I ask you to imagine a worn-out, slightly dirty-looking mattress, placed on a frame. The only other piece of furniture was a coat rack – I thought this was an interesting choice. Anyway, after I put my things down, the remaining army man who had golden teeth started asking me whether I had “a man” or not and I tried to pretend that I had no idea what he was saying, but he was really persistent. At one point he asked if I use the internet, and whether I had whatsapp – “internet” and “whatsapp” were two words that I couldn’t pretend not to understand, so I had to communicate that I wasn’t interested. I said something like “man bek yash” which means “I’m too young” (LOL) in Uyghur – and I hoped that it meant the same thing in Uzbek. He got the message that I wasn’t keen on being his Australian girlfriend and finally left the room.
I sat on the bed thinking about trying not to fall asleep, and the door opened again. A different army guy checked on me then left the room. This solidified my resolve to not fall asleep because I had this image of them watching me while I slept – creepy! Especially after that experience with Mr. Golden Teeth. So I just sat there, on the bed, trying to think about anything other than how good it would be to sleep. But soon enough, I convinced myself that I could lie down and rest my eyes without actually sleeping. Lying on top of my jacket and using my scarf as a blanket, I have to say, I fell asleep pretty quickly. I slept for about 2 hours, and woke up just in time for another door-opening by an army guy.
The army guy took me upstairs for a breakfast at Big Burger – where I ordered a cheeseburger and listened to some American party-anthem-dance-song blaring through the speakers at a volume that was way too loud and out of place for a deserted waiting area/food court offering a choice of Big Burger or Big Burger. During this whole process of ordering food, waiting, and eating, my shadow guard of army dudes was never far off. As soon as I took my last bite, and last sip of my Nestea Ice Tea, my security guard army dude took me back downstairs to my slightly prison-cell-like waiting room…
**Part 3 coming soon**