Sunday, November 11, 2012

Welcome to Absurdistan!

I took my final leg to Tashkent aboard a midnight flight aboard Transaero airlines.  So began my favorite game: who doesn't belong here.  Usually the answer is me.

I was surrounded by faces of which I scant recognize.  Not quite European but not whole Asiatic.  Faces semi-angular, not the round moon shape of an Asiatic mien, but not the jutty contours of a European face.  Men with burnt black hair in short bowlish cuts with bangs pointed forward.  Some covered in the famous round fur Russian caps.  Gold tooth smiles abound.  Eyes somewhere between almond and oval, with a variety of honey brown to apricot pit black, planted softly in soft square faces.

There was also the oft-found face of the more Asiatic-eastern Kazakh, with more mongolian-esque features. Sloe-eyed does with black eyes and high cheek bones.

Interestingly, the older peasant ladies reminded me of the indigenous of Guatemala or Peru, with a similar squatness to face and body.

The stewardesses were all Russian, clad in black leather gloves to highlight the otherwise typical stewardess attire.  In their hands on the first walk-through, they handed out Russian newspapers.  I politely declined, but caught an eye of my neighbor's paper with a picture of Obama tearing up at the Chicago Headquarters.  The world is small.

We flew through the night, and across the wide expanse that is Russia.

As the wheels touched down, the crowd broke out in clapping, cheering and whistling.  While I have experienced this when landing in Israel or the US, this was by far the most heartfelt, as if the landing was in question (The Soviet Judge gives landing 8.5).  No sooner did the wheels hit the runways did people start to get up and try to grab their stuff from the overhead.  The black-glove stewardesses reappeared and shooed everyone back into their seats.

The plane stopped and people hurriedly hopped up in the aisles, only to have to wait.  And then Kenny G came on the loudspeakers.  Welcome to Absurdistan.

As I stepped off the plane, the crescent moon hung like a sliver scimitar in the night sky.  We climbed onto overcrowded shuttle buses that ferried us to the airport.  The hallway leading to the passport control quickly ballooned into a sea of people try to get to the few passport desks.  I waited semi-patiently as I thumbed my worry beads and wondered where I would find the expediter sent by the Embassy.  Finally, I saw someone behind the sea of people and behind the passport control with a US flag sign.  Through the throngs, I mouthed to the fellow that I was who he was looking for.  I waded through the passport line for a good 30 minutes, and was finally allowed to enter.

In the baggage and customs area, I met Pavel, who incidentally was also born on January 7, some years prior to me.  I grabbed my stuff, and he helped me fill out the customs declarations in English and Russian.  There was a clusterf-ck of people trying to get out through customs, with everyone having to get their bags x-rayed and the customs forms reviewed.  Thankfully, Pavel worked a little protexia and I got to skip the line.

We hopped in the Embassy van, and we sped through the naked and empty streets of Tashkent, and chatted about life here and abroad.   He dropped me at the hotel ("The Retro Palace"!!) and I caught a little shut-eye just as the sun was coming up.

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