• Bob Taylor

Musings - Day 7

Day 7 – 2nd January 2020

Still on the train for the second day, I have to address the fact that some countries take their internal security and smuggling very seriously. Well I can inform you without hesitation, that I am on the border of two of them. After I had finished last night’s blog the Russians stopped the train, coming around the carriages and compartments doing what customs official do. Only a tad more thoroughly than usual, with mirrors on the end of sticks, and a dog with herpes. Their navy blue uniforms looking oh so menacing as they went about their business. They took my passport which I handed over voluntarily, to, I assumed, check against the inventory of passengers on board. I didn’t mind this so much, but I didn’t get it back for over two hours. During that time all kinds of useless stuff goes through your mind. Things like: Is the visa okay? – Are they uptight about the other entry stamps in my passport? – Do they suspect that I am a spy? – Shall I try to escape? One hour passes and I am getting used to the banging noises somewhere around the trains undercarriage. Ninety minutes pass and I trying to formulate plan number 842 if the train pulls away and they have forgotten to hand me back my passport. There was an eerie quiet about the train staff. I could see them at the end of the corridor with anxious faces. After two hours I had just about started to eat my socks.

Two hours and fifteen minutes after this all started the train ticket collector knocked on my compartment door. His hands were behind his back when I opened it. His right hand came from behind his back to make a writing sign with his hand. This must have meant he was either going to give me a cheque or he needed a pen. I gave him my pen and he turned around back towards his office! What the hell was going on here? Surely the entire Russian customs and homelands security squadron that had swarmed this train, had a pen between them. More waiting and then eventually, because I was watching the opened door from within my compartment, the hand appeared with the pen aloft. The train conductor thought that it was funny, as he also produced my passport in his other hand. Uzbecky Becky as I had nick-named him was actually laughing at my visible concern, as well as the socks in my mouth. Well to calm down I took a long slug of fruit juice, just to let my blood pressure get down to somewhere near a doctors chart. I had harboured visions of being marched off to a Stalag.

The train got underway, or so I wrongly assumed. Ten minutes after a tippy tapping on my door turned very quickly into a loud banging, I opened it to find a yeti in camouflage fatigues with a holstered gun and a baton that could have had hair on it. He stood around six four and was built like a stacker truck. Having said this he was very polite and friendly after the conductor (Uzbecky Becky) had told him that I was English. “Wilcome to Kazikstan – passport please.”

It felt like I was going in for round two. Happily though this one was all done in half an hour. I must tell you though the camouflage guy, came back with three of his camouflage mates and stood outside my opened door. Behind them stood the timid Uzbecky Becky.

“Engliss,” he said, then continued with, “You been Russia. Oozy Oozy, Kalashnikov, bang bang, what you tink?” His mates thought this was hysterical, so I laughed trying to somehow enjoy the joke. “Goodbye Engliss.” He gave a look to Uzbecky Becky that indicated I could have my passport back. As I leafed through my passport looking at the stamps in it, I couldn’t help but ponder over what these delays would this do for the train schedules, or do they allow for it?

Compartment with my feet bottom right - further evidence that I didn't actually eat them.

Kazakhstan barren wastelands as far as the eye can see in every direction

The train arrived at Atyrau around eight this morning and sadly I had to give up my sole occupancy of the compartment. Let me briefly introduce Uruzibet, who quickly fell asleep in the bottom bunk opposite me. Neither of us stirred until around elevenish. Awake, washed and discovered each other’s common language. Bobby talk! A mixture of signs, slow words in English (obviously) and a translator app that only worked for his phone because I could not get the internet for love nor money. The translator app that he spoke into came up with some bizarre attempts which somehow we both laughed at eventually. E.g.: Q What do you for a living? – Answer I am a Fish engineer? Q A Fish engineer? – Answer – Yes I am an Electronics fish. Q Do you mean that you are an Electronics engineer? – Answer – Yes. “Okay then moving on…” Q Do you work with fish? (Much laughter from Uruzibet) – Answer – No computers (pointing at mine.)

A good friend of mine Keith Girling (if your reading this how's your shoulder?) once said to me “A bottle of Vodka can often build mighty bridges.” I produced one from my emergency supply for just such occasions and let me assure you that me and Uruzibet had a go at the building the Golden Gate. I produced vodka – he produced vacuum packed Kazakhstani sausage. Not content with that (I really don’t know how he did this considering there was no buffet car anywhere on this train.) he said, “ I get bread!” Okay then Paul Daniels lets work out how you do this one! We didn’t open the sausage until fifteen minutes later the train stopped at a small siding somewhere after Khrakalpakia. About seven or eight ladies boarded the train for about half an hour until the next stop. They were selling Perfume; Nuts; Chocolate; Money exchange; Packs of cards; Magazines and yes you guessed it Bread! Well the lady sat on his bunk while they negotiated for the bread in the picture below.

By the way do you think that Uruzibet looks like the late Gordon Banks or the late Seve Ballesteros? The way these two went at it, you would think that they were negotiating a new motorway contract, instead of a loaf costing £0.40p. He also got me a terrific deal because as he went to the loo, I had negotiated with another lady for some Uzbek Som (their money) in exchange for US Dollars. I thought that I had arranged a reasonable deal, when Uruzibet came back in the compartment. Without saying a word, he picked both the Soms she had counted out for me and my dollars and gave us both our money back. A look, a sentence and a finger point later, we did the deal and I got 20% more. As happy as two Larry’s, the market ladies left the train and we set about out Vodka supper.

He later went on to tell me a very profound Uzbek story with a moral attached to the end of it. Let me tell you, dear reader, that there are some things that can be lost in translation, especially when they take an hour and need an app to do the dirty work. So buckle up this may be one of them.

It is the story of a farmer and his dog. Times were hard and the farmer was forced to work three days a week in a factory five miles away from his farm. The farm mainly earned its living from sheep, but two years previously a disease had almost devastated his flock. He had managed to keep some sheep from the disease, but it was very difficult getting the flock up to the numbers, where he could continue putting bread on the table. Hence the reason for taking the job three days a week. The dog used to accompany the farmer on his morning journey to the factory to the end point of the farmers land. With a whistle from the farmer, the dog then returned to tend the sheep. One morning before the two parted for the day, they came across an overturned car that had hit a tree. He rushed to the car to see that all three occupants inside were dead. When opening the door of the car a large brief case fell out. The farmer saw that the clasp of the brief case had been dented and that it had become partially opened. Inside was more money in large notes than the farmer had ever seen. The farmer looked at the dog and then looked all around the surrounding land, there was no one to be seen. In the far distance he saw the dust from another vehicle coming towards them. He made the decision to take all the money, putting it into his own satchel, He quickly walked away with the dog. From a distance and behind some trees he looked back and saw that there were people all around the scene that had come from the car in the far distance. The farmer hid the satchel behind the trees, bade the dog to return to his sheep and continued to work that day. He retrieved the satchel on his way home, had supper as usual and went with the dog that evening to round up the sheep for the night. Later in the barn he counted out the money with the dog by his side.

He continued with his job, and his routine for another year. Giving gradually slightly more money each week after market, to his wife, pretending that things were picking up. After a year or so when his flock grew to a size that meant that he could return to full time farming, he left the factory. Five years later the dog died. After he had buried the dog, he took the wife out to the barn and showed her the hoard of cash left over. He told her the full story of how he’d lied and stolen the money for his own family. He had been so troubled by this deed for many years until the dog had died. She asked him why he didn’t tell her when it had happened. He replied that it would have betrayed the loyalty of the dog.

This story took nearly a whole bottle of Russian vodka to tell! But it wasn’t over yet because there was a moral to follow…

Only a fools widow would wear a new coat.

What the Fireman’s helmet was that all about!

Not long after that little beauty we both went to sleep, drained.

Position: 43°39'56” N 59°82'49”E – Miles completed: 03756

Location: Heading towards Nukus, Uzbekistan. 22:16 - 2nd January 2020 - Journey 7 days 19 hours

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