The people in Osh are warm and inviting but the city itself left me a bit disappointed. I think it’s the exotic sound of the place that sent me dreaming of a more Persian or Arabic look to the place. It looks like most Kyrgyz cities with lots of trees and only a slightly more arid climate than the north. After getting lost in the huge Sunday bazaar and climbing the craggy peak of Solomon’s Throne in the center of town it’s time to head to Uzbekistan.
I change my $50 dollars worth of Kyrgyz som and receive a huge stack of Uzbek cym (sum). The largest Uzbek bill is 1000cym which right now equals just shy of 80 US cents. I’ve been used to carrying around extra cash in my money belt but now have to use a black plastic bag full of rubber band bound drug dealer stacks of cash.
The border crossing is easy, finding a taxi is easy, and even the first three police checkpoints are no problem. The Fergana valley has been a problematic place for Uzbekistan’s first and only president Karimov in recent years with Talibanesque radical groups sprouting up in the late 90s. The threat has been stamped out through a wave of state terror that culminated in 2005 in Andijan with the massacre of 3000 (locals say 15,000) demonstrators. Fighting terror with terror. That’ll teach ‘em.
Karimov the dictator has conveniently been wiping out dissent within the region by labelling opposition to his regime Islamic radicals. He has also successfully managed to kick the U.S. military bases out of the country from which much of the U.S. led invasion enduring freedom was launched. The bases have since moved to Kyrgyzstan or Afghanistan itself. Karimov blamed the Andijon uprising partly on U.S. sponsored CIA instigators, a possibly trumped up charge probably used to appease regional neighbor’s unease with the U.S. presence. I’m looking at Russia.
What all this means is that I have no idea what to expect upon arrival in the country as a U.S. citizen. When we get to the fourth roadblock we are just about ready to pass through when the officer pats the trunk and asks to search it. The two middle aged women in the back look uneasy despite their otherwise harmless appearance. In their matching black and white print dresses they look like sisters on their way home. After about two hours and a trip to the police station it becomes clear that these women aren’t as innocent as they look and were trying to smuggle bagloads of Kyrgyz cellphones, mobile cards and chargers up to Tashkent to sell at the bazaar. I don’t really see anything wrong with this and start to feel sorry for them as they’re sobbing to the unsympathetic police, but the bad luck of having them caught means I’ve got to pay more for the ride and don’t get to the capital until after 11pm. It’s perfect luck since I love wandering around big unfamiliar cities with corrupt police officers after dark! I should have bought a cellphone from them to call my hotel.