Posted by: Borderless Borderguard | September 24, 2007

across the borders on a motorbike

Khorezm blog posted an article or better say travel notes of Aleksandra Teplyakova, the journey which she calls “Space/cosmic trip”.

Equipped with a life-saving accompanying letter [which has to do something with cosmic deeds of Gagarin] and Vzhik, whose technical name is Honda XR250, Aleksandra undertakes a motor-trip through Central Asia, namely Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Her journey begins with Kazakh border, which is followed by Uzbek one. She then moves to the east, to Kyrgyzstan. Through Kazakhstan she returns back home, to Russia.

This is a very interesting piece of writing, very dynamic and very easy to follow. While speaking about borders she speaks about border guards or customs officials, since they are immediate representations or representatives of borders for her and for many other border crossers. Border-guards are the borders they represent.

Kazakh border guards seem to be the worst: bureaucratic, rude and non-welcoming. Strange, I have crossed Uzbek-Kazakh border several times, but have never experienced any hostility. Nevertheless, I have heard many non-positive myths about them.

Some of her speculations about Uzbek border, I thought, had to be translated.

“Uzbek border. There is some horror in these words. Seems like, there is nothing strange happening, just formally crossing some line, which people made up, but in reality… one dives into a different world, traditions and customs. Even seemingly the same nature acquires a different shape. What is scary then? Uncertainty? The thought of a long and close communication with border guards adds up to this fear. This ain’t Europe… here, the Powerful have rights and it is them who are always right.”

But it seems like she is confronted with simpleness and friendliness of supposedly rigid and scary Uzbek border:

“Ordinary customs officials are sitting barefooted and bare-breasted. Nobody wanders around the territory, nobody disturbs with stupid questions. Amazingly, everything reminds of semi-forgotten Soviet Union. Absolute serenity and I-don’t-give-a-damn-for-anything attitude. Uzbekistan – is a Soviet state.”

She finds it more pleasant to speak to Uzbek border guards after Kazakh ones. She can’t get used to the fact that the Gaishnik [militia] who stops her on the way, instead of saying: “Sergeant bla-bla, documents please”, greets by shaking her hand and asking: “How are you?” All the way through Uzbekistan a conversation with militia repeatedly starts with a friendly question “how are you?”

But still the best border-guards are Kyrgyz. So simple can the border and its guards be!

“Kyrgyz customs office [border]. No fence, no gates… only a booth in the middle of the road. Not far on the bench, sitting are the customs officers, gnawing sunflower seeds.
– Where is customs office here?
– Here. Did Uzbeks let you out?
– Why shouldn’t they? Motor-ride… Gagarin…
– Aha! Wait, we will write a declaration for you, so that you won’t have problems.”

So simple and nice are the border guards in Kyrgyzstan, they show the way, the fill in the declaration. Something, which might be taken as relaxed-ness or friendliness, but Uzbek border guards see their work as unprofessional and don’t trust their abilities to guard their territory.

Somehow for the young Russian woman each of the Central Asian Stans were different, and she could feel the difference immediately after crossing the border. In Uzbekistan it was trees, “if there are people, there are trees. At Kazakh’s one won’t see any bush, but Uzbeks plant trees around their houses.” In Kyrgyzstan, it is the knowledge of Russian, many Russian posters, tiny kids speaking Russian, which isn’t the case in Uzbekistan.

“One feels immediately crossing of the border – everything changes. Seems like the same steppe, but a-a, no! Different. Different people, different villages, different ways of life, and customs, different roads;”

Let me express my disagreement here. I am Central Asian as well, and I believe that we have more in common than different. It is not really the [artificial] state border where difference occurs or starts. Sometimes travelling through Uzbekistan, through different cities Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Namangan, I feel that they are so different. Central Asia is a region with cities or places having their own little world of traditions, customs, costumes. Different cities have different traditions, even if we take simply a wedding garment, there is a Tashkenti weddin garment, a Bukharian, Samarkandi, Kokandian, and respectively customs and traditions vary from city to city.

Strangely, here in Central Asia, I speak to many people, who are convinced of Central Asian states being completely different from each other; whereas I, far in Europe, speak of Central Asia being one huge region with its strength and beauty in its diversity. Its artificial division into administrative units, later state-like constructs are something very unnatural for Central Asia and its people.


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