September 19, 2003 - Salon: RPCV Tom Bissell flies into Tashkent

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uzbekistan: Special Report: Uzbekistan RPCV and Author Tom Bissell: Tom Bissell: Archived Stories: September 19, 2003 - Salon: RPCV Tom Bissell flies into Tashkent

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, September 19, 2003 - 9:53 am: Edit Post

RPCV Tom Bissell flies into Tashkent

RPCV Tom Bissell flies into Tashkent

Night flight to Tashkent

I'm smuggling $6,300 into Uzbekistan -- and I have no experience with this sort of thing. The first chapter from a Salon contributor's travel memoir, "Chasing the Sea."

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By Tom Bissell

Sept. 19, 2003 | The night was hot or cold, depending on where one stood. In this it was not unlike swimming in the ocean and feeling across one's belly an amniotic warmth followed immediately by a freezing underwater gale. I paced around on the tarmac, examining the plane that had touched us down safely in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The flight in was much fuller than I had expected, and my fellow passengers had disembarked. Most were, like me, standing on the tarmac and looking at the plane. It was dark, and there was not much else to look at. The plane was a fine gold-and-black Lufthansa jumbo jet. Lufthansa was the least dicey airline to fly into Tashkent, though Uzbekistan Airways, the national airline, was also quite good -- internationally. Uzbekistan Airways' international flights employed Boeing and British-made jets easily as splendid as Lufthansa's. Uzbekistan was the only former Soviet republic other than Russia to have ever been allowed regular direct flights into the United States, something of which it was deservedly proud. On internal flights, however, Uzbekistan Airways sealed its passengers inside shaky old Russian-made Aeroflot propjets. One rumor I hoped to confirm on this trip was that, before takeoff on these internal flights, Uzbekistan Airways stewardesses poured everyone a heaping shot of vodka, including the captain. Including themselves.

Everything smelled hotly of fuel. It was as though we were downwind from a grounded F-15 with its engine at full burn. I remembered this smell. The last time I had smelled Tashkent was as a freshly arrived Peace Corps volunteer with hopes of teaching the natives English. I was not much of a traveler at the time. I used words like "natives." This was five years previous.

We had arrived in Tashkent at night. In 1996, only five years after Uzbekistan declared its independence from the Soviet Union, Tashkent's airport seemed ominously dark. When we landed and rolled toward the terminal, I saw that some of the runway lights were flickering. A few were burned out completely. Three-wheeled trucks of strange vehicular provenance sat abandoned along the runway. I remember that some of them were on fire, but this could be an enhanced memory. We deplaned and waited in clubbed silence on the tarmac. After a while a rickety metal tram arrived to haul us to the terminal. Inside the tram it was cattle-car dark and cold. It was a terrible joke -- not mildly funny or even distracting -- when, as the tram lurched toward the terminal, I began humming the theme to "Schindler's List."

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Story Source: Salon

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Uzbekistan; COS - Uzbekistan



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