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Tashkent: Land of my people

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

I arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan Friday night. It was time to exit the Universe ruled by Murphy's Law (that I had stepped in and out of) and enter the reality that had pulled me half way around the planet.

It was time, as our plane taxied to a stop, to say fare thee well to my airplane buddies. Or... "Xayr. Salomat Bo'ling" to our Uzbek speaking stewardess. Or "do svidaniya" to my Russian speaking neighbors. Or "güle güle" to my Turkish speaking neighbors. I didn't know what to say to my seat mate sitting next to me. She spoke a dialect not on my translator app.

My seat mate and I were not entirely separated by our language barrier. We did, after all, have bongers to bridge the gap. I held one and she held the other. Together we bonged ourselves through take off from Istanbul. Together we bonged ourselves throughout the 4-hour flight, interrupted only by eating our delectable Uzbek meal and spontaneous naps that took us over. Together we bonged ourselves through the landing in Tashkent.

The landing was so exciting to passengers, it seemed, that after a hearty applause and before the plane had stopped, people were up, opening bins, taking out suitcases, bags, and jackets. Our Uzbek-speaking stewardess calmly picked up the intercom phone and, in three languages, said, "It is not time to get up. Please take your seat." Some passengers didn't seem to notice. So she said it again. I watched as she looked directly at a professional-looking man standing, with his hands up in the overhead bin. She remained on the intercom and told him, just him, to sit down. Even though her gentle command was not in English, I knew that this is what happened because when she said whatever she said, he turned around to look at her and rather sheepishly sat down. At one point after that, after the plane had indeed come to a full stop, I got up. It must have also been too early to get up, and she told me, in no uncertain terms, to sit down. She was a force to be reckoned with.

I had learned that the-force-to-be-reckoned-with was born and raised in Uzbekistan. I had learned that she was 19 years of age, and that this was her first job. I watched as she ruled the airplane. At every turn, she gently but firmly stood her ground and took command. Her colleagues, I saw, looked to her and followed her lead. Witnessing her quiet power was impressive. She reminded me of my new daughter, except that Russian is Kira's first language. I wondered if all living in Uzbekistan, whether Uzbek or Russian speaking, were as well-balanced and sensible as these two young women were.

Finally, it was time to exit the plane. I made my way, with all the others, to and through the long and winding line to Uzbekistan customs. (Ah, the Beatles. again. They get me through so much).

In line, I saw a family who I'd seen a couple of times at the IST airport. The first thing I had noticed, when, from a bit of a distance away, I first noticed them at IST, was the son-looking character. He looked and felt like a cross between Ash, who is large and teddy-bear looking, and Michael, who allows Ash to pretty much beat on him for fun. The Teddy-Bear was allowing what looked to be his younger sister to beat on him. I stood, watching the somewhat familiar scene with fondness, when I noticed the mom-looking character watching me watching them. She seemed to want to show me that she agreed with my assessment that he was a sweet big brother, so she walked up to the Teddy-Bear and smacked him on the side of the neck. It was a hard and loud enough smack on the skin that I could hear it. She looked at me and smiled sweetly, while the Teddy-Bear rubbed his neck. Then she turned back, to what I can only assume were the children she adored, and smacked them both, multiple times, on the sides of their necks and heads. Ah, love. It is expressed in so many forms in different cultures.

While (still) in the (Uzbekistan customs) line, I stood near two women who were mother and daughter. The mother, who didn't know any English, could not speak to me with her voice, but, oh... her eyes. Her eyes, direct and gentle, spoke from the heart. The daughter knew a little English, so I was able to ascertain that they were French-speaking and from Morocco. I asked, "Is your mother always kind? always smiling?" She said, "Yes."

I had met a non-English-speaking Amma-type mother like this once before. It was in May, when I traveled to Istanbul to see my son and meet my new daughter. That time, the Amma-type mom was with her adult son. They were both sitting next to me for the 10-hour flight from JFK to Istanbul. The son, I had learned, was accompanying his mom home (back to Turkey), after her visit with him in the USA for... I think it was a 6- or 9-month period of time. At one point, she asked (through her son) about my children. I told her, through her son, that I was going to visit my son, and added that I had a daughter, who died when she was age 23. She looked at me with those warm and expressive eyes, tear-filled, and nodded. Though she spoke no English, her compassion was palpable.

I got through Uzbekistan customs before the two Moroccan women did, so, I walked back to where they still waited, on the other side from where I now stood, and said, "Bonjour. Au revoir." They both giggled and smiled and touched their hearts.

Their final greeting made me think of another greeting I'd received that morning in Turkey. I had been in the back of an Uber taxi, just leaving the Airbnb I'd stayed at in Fatih, heading to IST for my flight to Tashkent. We had stopped for a moment, waiting for a break in the oncoming traffic. I looked over at this brown, weathered man, sitting on the side of the road, selling his wares. He was looking directly at me, with warm and soft eyes. I waved an enthusiastic American wave at him. In response, he touched his hand to his forehead and then his heart, and then extended his hand toward me, maintaining eye contact. He did this twice. The whole exchange lasted less than 10 seconds and I was nearly in tears.

Back on the plane, I had let Kira and Michael know, via WhatsApp, that we'd landed. I had said that it would be a while... I still needed to get through customs and then retrieve my checked bags. After getting through customs, I had texted them again, asking if they wanted to meet me at the checked bag carousel, where I'd be heading next. Kira had texted back that the awaiting friends and family members of passengers were not allowed to come into the building. There was a :-( at the end of her sentence.

First thing I did when I arrived in the area where we'd retrieve our checked bags was to get a rolling cart. They were lined up in a horizontal stack, free for the taking. I then walked, armed with the rolling cart, to where passengers crowded around the rotating conveyor belt that, eventually, held our checked bags. I saw and retrieved my two checked bags. This time, my bags were not too many or too heavy. They were just right.

There was a reason I'd lugged these bags half way around the globe.

One of the bags had in it everything I'd want and need for a 6-month adventure that included leading workshops and retreats. The other bag, the heavier of the two, was full with my son's winter coat, which he'd requested, and gifts: Vermont t-shirts and baseball hats for Kira's younger brother and sister; Mocha Joes' hats, Vermont-made Darn Tough socks, two kinds of Grafton cheddar cheese, and VT summer sausage for Michael and Kira; two kinds of VT pancake mix and 3 grades of Vermont maple syrup that I hoped to introduce to Kira's mom and dad during a family meal that I'd make for them; and maple candies and VT keychains for... whoever. Now, I was excited to feel the weight of this bag. I organized my precious bags onto the rolling cart and headed outside.

Outside, there was a crowd of people waiting. The air felt of anticipation. As I turned into the crowd, there was Kira, calling to me. And Michael, standing next to her. Here they were, my people. Without thinking, I stopped in the middle of the walkway, rolling cart full of bags, hugged Kira and cried. Then I looked at Michael, who was smiling. Michael. My Michael.

My kids. This picture was not taken Friday night when I arrived. When I arrived we were too busy greeting each other, getting into a taxi, getting me settled into my Airbnb, and going out to eat dinner. This picture was taken the next day while we were walking around Tashkent. In this picture, Kira and Michael are posing for me, in front of a school, with a mosaic mural stretching the entire width of the wall. It was stunning to see. So stunning, I wanted a picture. Kira and Michael were stunning as well, so I asked if they'd be in the picture as well. And here they are, being stunning!

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Palpable compassion creates pals, Congratulations on arriving with your family Ami💛, sentimental journey only just begun💜

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