United Nations in a Tiny Town

Ayny Travel Blog

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Government building and mountains in sleepy Ayni

I left Panjakent in the morning in a taxi bound for Istaravshan and because Uzbek was understood by the three other passengers and driver Bahtiyor, I had compelling conversations about American politics and culture. However, it was in the small town of Ayni that I found out Barack Obama would be the next US president. At noon I arrived and was soon greeted by a friend of a friend of a friend of mine, who escorted me to his office (he was a director of some government office) and shortly introduced me to English-speaking Subhiddin, a worker for the United Nations Development Project in town. Subhiddin showed me the "sights" of Ayni, which amounted to a crumbling 10th century minaret known as Varz-i-Minor in the center of town and surrounded by a newly constructed lighthouse-shaped casing that was supposed to help it weather the elements better.

Next to the Zeravshan River valley
We walked to the edge of town to see a nice view of the Zeravshan River and surrounding valley before strolling back along the main street past office buildings, a school, an abandoned movie theater and a centrally-located billiard hall. Within an hour we had completed the sightseeing tour and headed to an oshxona across from the UNDP building, where Subhiddin ate daily. We each had a bowl of soup and some tea, which totaled only 5 somoni together ($1.40).

After lunch we picked up my backpack and headed for the "hotel" in town, which also happened to be the headquarters for the UNDP. There I met Khurshed, who spoke perfect English and we chatted for awhile. Everyone there spoke English except the guards.

The Varz-i-Minor: Ayni's prime tourist attraction
My room was upstairs adjacent to a dining room and contained the largest bed I'd seen during my Central Asian travels. The room was frigid and did not come with a lock, but was located inside the UNDP compound and I felt secure leaving my belongings there while I ventured to one of Ayni's Internet cafes (a shock to me for such a small town). I dined at an oshxona that might have closed for the evening had I not stopped by. The owner and his wife happily cooked up eggs and sausage and chatted with me for awhile, inviting me back for breakfast. I had a draft beer next door at the billiard hall, sitting in the cold watching the town's teenage boys and their young proteges play, wondering what the atmosphere would be like if a female tourist had been sitting there instead. I finished the metallic-tasting beer, thanked the boys for letting me observe, and returned to the UNDP office where I found Khurshed still working. He let me use his coworker's computer while we talked about all sorts of subjects. I also met Umed and we hung out for awhile until it was closing time. I retired to my cold room but had a fairly comfortable sleep.

In the morning, I returned for breakfast at the oshxona down the street and after packing up, got a ride with Umed and driver Bobo to the police checkpoint where I easily scored a front seat with a Russian jeep headed for Istaravshan. It would have been nice to stay another day in sleepy Ayni just to enjoy the simplicity of life and chat with the UNDP guys. Although there wasn't much to see there, it was a pleasant little stop and I was well taken care of by the United Nations. Thanks, guys...hope we will meet again!

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Government building and mountains …
Government building and mountains…
Next to the Zeravshan River valley
Next to the Zeravshan River valley
The Varz-i-Minor: Aynis prime tou…
The Varz-i-Minor: Ayni's prime to…
photo by: Biedjee