Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of… Uz-beki-beki-stan-stan (A Satire in Several Parts)
Poor Ali G: there he busted his hump to make an Oscar-worthy mock-doc poking gentle fun at America while skewering one of the Turkestan republics, in the course of redefining a genre little utilized since Spinal Tap. Then Herman (Pizza Man) Cain’s reference in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to “Uz-beki-beki-stan-stan” only—what, less than two years ago?—one-upped him just by being a dumb-ass American who doesn’t know his Uz from his BekiStan (much less gthe name of their President).
My, how time flies… In the course of that exchange he managed to reveal his own ineptitude more than Uzbekistan’s, of course, but that’s politics for you. His only real mistake was in assuming that no one else has ever heard of them, either. That’s when he made really an Uz of himself. Many people are familiar with the glories of the old Silk Route to China, and the fabulous civilizations that flourished there. Of course it was a Soviet state for most of the 20th century, and frankly, hasn’t changed much. That president whose name Cain can’t remember has been in power the whole time. He supported the coup against Gorbachev, too, and was reluctant to declare independence.
What do you miss most about the demise of Soviet-style Communism? The mindless bureaucracy, maybe, or the endless queues for bread? Or what about the paranoia? You gotta’ love the paranoia. Me, I think my favorite part were the five-year plans. Those were pretty, cool, certainly better than showing up every day for meetings of the Capitalist Youth League. Those were boring. I mean: Cub, Bear, Lion; what’s up with that? But the five-year plans were cool, as if someone up there were actually doing some thinking and planning, rather than just running for re-election every two to six years in some corrupt capitalist lackey front for democracy.
I’ve always regretted that, as a traveler I never got to see the pre-jihad Middle East, and Interzone, the Beat-era Tangier of Bowles and Burroughs, much less the 1001 “Arabian Nights” of medieval folklore. All I got in Tangier in 1996 was some guy named Muhammad who claimed he had hashish that would get you closer to God, but I said I was close enough already, so he said that didn’t matter, the closer the better, but I said he needn’t bother, but he said he didn’t mind and he got me lost in the souk, and I finally paid to get rid of him, fun fun.
I thought I’d find the “1001 Nights” in Yemen in 2009, then that guy from Yemen put that bomb in his pants over Detroit the same day that I was waiting there in the transit lounge in Sana’a. So this is maybe as close as you can come in 2013, genuine Islamic-based culture that is open and friendly and fun, without the fundamentalism. A 20-something college coed and her friend stopped me on the street last night to try out her English and her diplomatic skills, innocent friendship crossing borders. In Yemen that will draw stares, and hands will be fingering daggers. I’ll hate to see this country go jihadist when the commies finally crumble.
Yet it almost seems inevitable that it will, Islam somehow tolerating—or inspiring—no middle ground, that the mark of high culture IMHO, I just a voice crying in the wilderness for sanity, when there is none. I’ve read the Qur’an. It’s great, like the Third Testament, but there’s nothing in there about stoning women for wanting to marry a boy of their choice, much less wearing a veil… or far worse, a burkha. Modesty, yes, all religions promote that, as they should. The world is a better place with strong families. But religion should have no business suppressing women. Those are old primitive fears that all religions should be trying to curb, not promote. It doesn’t take a genius, or a geneticist, to realize that it only takes one bull to service a field of heifers. We serve at their pleasure.
All joking aside, Uzbekistan is something of a rare and precious part of the world. But make no mistake; it is still a Soviet-era state, and that defines them. Scuttlebutt is that they and the Tajikis—or Tajikistanis, I should say—hate each other. There are ethnic Tajiks here, too. The Tajiks are linguistic cousins to us Europeans, you know, though closer to Aryan Indians, and there you’re more likely to see the facial similarities, due to their high-caste racial segregation. Sound familiar, y’all? I swear I’ve sat with a German and high-caste Indian friend at the same table, and but for a slight pigment shift, could see no physical difference between them. Tajiks also are 25-30% of the Afghanistan populace, too. The Pashtuns are the problem, they and the Persians.
The capital of Tashkent is hard to love, splayed far and wide, in the Soviet style. full of malls and monuments more than people. At least there is a metro, once again in the old-fashioned Soviet style. But I like Uzbeksistan, and recommend it, though with a yellow-light caution. The con’s are the food, the over-charging, and the lack of ATM’s. The pro’s are the total safety (safer than LA by a shot, pun intended), the low costs (when you get the right price), and the beauty of the culture itself. Still it’ll be a while before it’s a total breeze for indie travel. Group tours still blissfully rule; they’re ignorant of the details that concern you and me. They do fancy tours. I like to walk around.
On a good day I’ll explore a new direction, and hopefully adopt each place as my temporary home: find an espresso joint, find mama’s home cookin’, and maybe even find mama. It’d be nice to see Uzbekistan in the off-season. But that’s next year. The temps even seem a little cooler now, so maybe it’s the change of seasons. That makes sense. It’s autumn now. Tomorrow I’ll be in LA. I miss the place already, but when you start singing along to Russian pop songs, then you know it’s time to go. That’s a wrap.