The new-to-me Ellikqal'a Train Station
The Ellikqal'a train station was a ming green building with the letters proudly spelled out to welcome visitors, which turned out to be just us. The station is isolated from just about everything, about 3 kilometers from the "main" road to Buston on a sandy trail pocked with chasms large enough to swallow a small bus. At the junction between this path (I really hesitate to call it a road) and the road into Buston was the beginnings of an overpass--two pylons and a concrete slab surface, supposedly engineered so that passersby would not need to slow down and cross the bumpy railroad tracks. I wondered what this would mean for access to the station.
The apporach to Buston was basically as I'd remembered, although akin to the very first visit to the town but with an odd familiarity.
Grape arbor at the Mirishov residence
It was probably a couple of days before I realized that all the saplings that had been planted about the time I left must have grown and the city now more closely resembled its namesake (Buston means "garden place," or as I like to translate it: "Eden"). There were definitely more buildings, shops, several new colleges, gas stations (they used to sell petrol on the side of the road out of old plastic bottles of Coke or Fanta), signs advertising beer (I was told beer was for sissies 10 years ago) and ubiquitious MTC and Paynet signs--the local cell phone and phone card vendors. Of course along with the new comes the same old same old: sunflower seeds, painted posts and tree trunks, clothing styles, pastel colors and an abundance of dirt.
We jumped right in to a series of mehmon experiences, the traditional "guesting" that Uzbekistan is famous for.
"Mehmoning" with former student Saidamin and his brother
Any day of the week (and sometimes every day) it is customary to be invited to someone's house for dinner and usually drinks. The first night we went to two consecutive aunt's houses for dinner. We had to pace ourselves at the first house, knowing we would have to eat again later. I didn't have a lot of time to venture out and about in Buston, but somehow the word got around that I was back and I was invited to one of my former students' houses for dinner the following night. I tried unsuccessfully at first to register at the local police station, a procedure leftover from the Soviet days. Over the course of the next four days I would visit the police station no less than four times, the bank twice and the hospital twice. Apparently to register, you need to deposit $5 into a bank account and produce a certificate of health that indicates you are HIV/AIDS-negative. I knew the latter requirement was inaccurate, especially for visitors only staying 30 days or less, but since this certificate only required a signature and not an actual test, I really didn't care. The end result was two slips of paper with handwriting and an official seal, a more official certificate from the bank indicating the deposit, and a note scrawled on graph paper presumably indicating that I would not be infecting the locals--all of which were traded to the passport officer at the police station for a couple stamps and scrawls in my passport indicating that I was registered in Ellikqal'a district.
Despite the frequent visits to the police station, I noticed much less of a police presence about town. I spotted more familiar faces of students, neighbors and teachers, some of whom I did not remember but thanked me for stopping to say hello. These experiences and the wedding first and foremost make me truly appreciate the time I spent here and the culture. It was not such a bad place to spend two years if the payback is returning ten years later to be recognized and appreciated by people. One of my former students, Saidamin, showed me all the papers I'd graded of his. He kept every paper and had apparently shown it to his wife (also a former student) and son. It's good to know that even though it may have been small, I guess I really did make a difference.