9 October 2014

How we went to Uzbekistan

A lot can be said on Uzbekistan as a preface to this post. Some of you may have read the Where The Hell Do I Come From post where I´ve mentioned me being born in this country, but my family being mostly Russian/ Ukranian (only my grandfather is Uzbek); me being raised in Israel with occasional trips to visit the family in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

During our 10 days stay with my family we´ve managed to:

  • Celebrate my grandfather´s 75 birthday with a bunch of uzbek relatives.
  • Eat more than we ate in our entire life
  • Having digestion problems as a result
  • Visiting Samarkand and its old city, Registan (we´ve stayed in Tashkent where my family lives).
  • Going to markets and even visiting a church.
Tashkent´s television tower in the background.
I have been visiting my family in Tashkent every 3-4 years. Before last time was in 2008, last time in 2012 (I came more gothier than ever and attracted unwanted attention on the street). This year was the first time I came together with Boris. I was eager to introduce him to my family already and knew he would be fascinated to "go back in time" to Uzbekistan, as the culture and way of life there are so different than in the western world.

Before I go on with my story, here are a few facts to know about Uzbekistan so you would have a picture in mind of the environment:
  • Uzbekistan is a post soviet union country, which means that after SU broke up the country began to be more and more nationalized and less "Russia oriented". People still speak Russian in every establishment and some in their family (as my entire family does), there are Russian schools and signs in Russian on the street.
  • Uzbekistan is a Muslim country, though the current government forbids radical Islam (the good and bad kind). This is because the government has more interest in showing itself as the one having power instead of religion playing that role. There are no Muslim symbols on the streets, the women do not cover their heads and the people dress normally. Uzbekistan is not an Arabic country, it´s Central Asian.
  • The mentality of the people is of course different, and would not suit the common feminist/ liberal activist. The traditional roles of man and woman are being kept, being married and having children is everything in life and dare you not stray from that path.
    Needless to say it was important to introduce Boris as my husband (which technically he is). If we weren´t married my uzbek relatives would probably think I am a whore. The whole tendency towards sexism and homophobia made it really hard for me, as living for a while in an environment as Berlin made me become very sensitive to those matters. Boris felt the same.
  • The government in Uzbekistan is fucked up, and basically can be described as totalitarian. People must wear uniform to school and college, some streets are simply blocked for cars and pedestrians because of some government worker living there; all people sort of look the same. And I hope you´re sitting for this one: rap and rock music are forbidden in Uzbekistan by law. Yes. My nephew (16 yrs old) who loves rap music even went to some underground rap battles.

The best part was of course to spend time with my family. Grandparents were lovely and we enjoyed time at their house where they have a yard with chickens. My uncle and his wife were the best, talking with them was a lot of fun, especially with my aunt, who is ukranian and feels like a stranger in Uzbekistan sometimes as well. It was fun to talk with her about how bizarre that country really is.

My grandfather wearing some traditional attire for the sake of the photo (too hot to wear outside lol). This was taken before we went to a restaurant to celebrate his 75 birthday.
Who is standing to the right of me? My "little" brother, now 15 and he´s fucking huge!!! I haven´t seen him for almost 2 years (parents didn´t come to visit me in Berlin boohoo) and was astonished at how big he´s become (he also hasn´t seen me with blonde hair before). We had a lot of fun talking for hours together. I was happy to "get to know him" again, since he was just a kid last time I saw him and we couldn´t really have a descent conversation. He told me about his girlfriend and about a ton of friend which I will never remember. I am happy he´s having a good teenage social life. 

From left to right: my father, my mother, Boris, me, my grandpa and grandma, my Aunt. Back row: my nephew, my uncle and my brother (the tall people lol).

Here are some pics from the 1 day trip to Samarkand. Basically if tourists come to visit Uzbekistan this (and Buchara) is where they go. Tashkent doesn´t really have anything historical to offer.

  • The national food consists of almost only meet, especially lamb, the fattier the better. It was hard, and I don´t think I can ever eat meat ever again... The best dish is probably Plov- a huge bowl of yellow rice cooked with pieces of meat, raisins and yellow carrots. My mother always makes it at home since I can remember myself. 
  • Uzbeks drink tea, lots of it, mostly black. Boris was in heaven when it came to tea.

I covered my head not because I had to, but because of the blazing sun. It just happened that the only scarf I brought was arabic themed. Talk about making stupid tourist mistakes.

The weirdest part was the strange feeling inside of being not belonged. Not that I wanted to feel belonged, not that I actually could, but it seems that with the passing years the culture of Uzbekistan feels more distant to me, especially when my view on life and its values is the opposite of traditional. There was one horrific moment at my grandfather´s birthday, where we all sat at a very long table with a dozen relatives eating and drinking, everyone raising a toast at his turn, everyone happy. It was then when I realized in horror what it would have been like if I was gay, and how I would have never ever been accepted by my family (maybe by my aunt, she is a lot different from them). This was when I understood how different I am, logically so because I wasn´t even raised in a Russian country, but in Israel. My mother legitimates this all the time, saying that she herself, even spending most of her life in Uzbekistan, now feels like coming to a distant place after living for 16 years in Israel.

This however didn´t affect me much. The trip was amazing and I am happy we made it with Boris together. I have a ton of stuff brought with me, so I am hoping to have a haul here and maybe write some more about my family´s culture, which by this point you can tell is pretty mixed ;)

I apologize for the long post and thank you all who actually read it!

N. Finsternis


  1. A fascinating post. I realize I take for granted how liberal my upbringing was. It looks like a beautiful country though. And, yes, plov, is amazing...mother used to make it and there's an Uzbek restaurant nearby that has it too. mmmmmmm.

    1. I am so excited right now that you are familiar with the dish! Somehow plov got spread in Russia more than any other central asian dish! I am happy you found the post interesting!

  2. I loved to read your story about the trip and your family. It is surely a land far away. Samarkand looks beautiful and I think the photo of Tashkent is also lovely, it looks like a very green town with lots of trees and parks, is that correct?
    I bet the Uzbekistanian people think that Western Europe is degenerated (when it comes to homosexuality and unmarried couples) ;-)

    1. surprisingly there are a lot of parks in Tashkent, the center of the city is enormous and cannot be done by foot, unlike a lot of european cities.
      Yeah even my relatives find the idea of being gay wrong. Boris and I didn´t bring the subject too often though, but we did try to talk to my nephew about tolerance and such. Hope it had an impact on him, he´s a good guy after all.

  3. Hello,
    I am a photographer hoping to photograph Uzbek musicians. Especially those who are suppressed by the government. I have learned rap music is now censored. Could you please contact me at jacksonbarnett808@gmail.com with the names of uzbek underground musicians, or rapers and any other information you have. Thank you.

  4. Hello,
    I am a photographer hoping to photograph Uzbek musicians. Especially those who are suppressed by the government. I have learned rap music is now censored. Could you please contact me at jacksonbarnett808@gmail.com with the names of uzbek underground musicians, or rapers and any other information you have. Thank you.