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The journey home was uneventful - the same as the journey out, but in reverse, and with a mercifully shorter stopover in Moscow. As before, I really enjoyed the delicious meals provided by Aeroflot. Finally came the anticlimax of a bus-ride from Heathrow to Croydon and then another bus home, where I arrived in the early afternoon, some eighteen hours after leaving Irina's parents' house. But my day was not yet over, for I had arranged to meet my American friend Susan in London that evening; it was the only window of opportunity, as she was returning home the next day. I got through a fair bit of alcohol, and after twenty-four hours without sleep began to feel more than a little lightheaded. Finally I arrived home, for the second time that day, shortly after midnight, and collapsed into bed. So it wasn't until the next day, when I was unpacking, that I realised why I had had no excess baggage charges: I had left some of my clothes in Bishkek.

My gratitude to Irina and her parents for their kindness and hospitality was, and remains, unbounded; and it set me thinking of the unlikeliness of our first meeting: if I hadn't decided to check my email at the IHR at that particular time; if she hadn't decided to work on her dissertaion at that particular time; if the server's being down had not provided the conversational opening; then I would never have made a lifelong friend, nor got to know her obscure, distant but beautiful country.
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photo by: ulysses