The 3-day Uzbekistan tea set

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Tashkent, Uzbekistan, October 2012

I hardly ever buy any souvenirs for myself. I know that I would have to carry them on my bike all the time and that I would not have any use for them while cycling the globe. Instead I like to stand in front of touristic shops, stare, sigh, touch, take some pictures and imagine the beautiful table cloth, the cute porcelain donkey, the colorful hat or the shiny candle holder in our imaginary future apartment. “One day”, I used to say to Roberto, “we will be rich and old and we will travel here with a normal suitcase and we will buy a lot of useless but beautiful things on these markets!”

Beautiful Carpets

Beautiful Carpets

In Tashkent was the third time that I saw my tea set. I had sighed and touched it in Bukhara and Samarqand and now I stood in front of it again, stared at it with amazed eyes as if I looked at a newborn baby and imagined serving tea to my friends and family with it.

“Only 50 Dollars”, the salesman’s voice appeared. I turned around. “In Bukhara they sell it for 35”, I replied honestly and stared at it again. Without noticing I started bargaining for a thing that I could never carry on a bike. Roberto came over. “Buy it”, he told me for the third time. “Buy it with the money you got for your birthday. Just have something only for yourself. I know how much you like it.”

“But how shall we …”

“You can send it home!”, Roberto interrupted me. Sometimes I wonder if he knows me better than I know myself.

The Uzbekistan Tea Set

I was bargaining pretty good and already had the salesman on 37 Dollars when I decided to allow myself to buy it if he gives it out for 35. He did. I could not stop smiling. The salesman packed it in some paper, wrapped some cardboard around it and soon I walked home with my new treasure. The girl in the post office told me that they were already closed; I should come back by the following day. That was day one.

By the following day I had packed the tea set, some Iranian-clothing, used maps, a book and my bottle cap collection into a big plastic bag and walked to the post office again. It was open! I put my plastic bag on the table and asked if it was possible to send this to Germany. It did not take long until the entire post office staff and most of the other customers were clustered around me and my weird unboxed parcel. They opened the tapes, looked at the inside of every single item and then said: “Yok”. My Kyrgyz is not too good but I understand that yok means no. One lady tried to explain why I could not sent the parcel. As far as I could tell she said it was dangerous to send something that could break so easily. But I could leave the other things with her. I tried to explain that I will send the parcel at my own risk and I will pack it properly so nothing could break, but I was not making myself clear enough since I explained it in English. No discussions – no way. At least I got an old cardboard box for free so I could carry my treasure back to the hostel, have a look at the roommate’s Lonely Travel Guidebook and research how to send parcels internationally.

The survivours

The survivours

I walked into the metro. The official was curious about the bulky package. I had to remove all the tape, open it, show every item and close it afterwards. I was forced to repeat this ceremony every single time I entered a Metro station. In the end the tapes did not stick and the box was all worn out in the end. I missed the metro, waited, got in, got out and found the first shop surprisingly easy. “It is 65 Dollars for the first half Kilo and 10 for each other Kilo. So for you it is … 4 ½ Kilos, 145 Dollar,.” I was shocked. All I carried was 90.000 Som, worth less than 30 Dollars. “Do all parcel deliveries offer these prices?” I asked. “A little more, a little less, no big difference” But then he pointed at one hidden door. “Try there. Cheaper.”

I entered the door and smelled paper, glue and coffee. A girl with too much make up and an underbite understood my needs even though she did not speak a word of English. She had the fabulous idea of calling another English-speaking colleague in another office. “Yes you can send it here. The books, letters, maps and everything that is made from paper has to go in an extra parcel. Just the tea set …”, she paused and asked me to give the phone back to the underbite girl. They talked for a few minutes, then she made another two phone calls while she still had the English-speaking colleague on the other phone. After some discussions and probably 20 minutes of private chats with her colleague she gave the phone to me. “You will need a permission to send this. But don’t worry. You can get it in the Ministry of Cultures. They just closed but they will wait for you. You take a taxi, my colleague will write you down, where to go.” I was confused.

Filling up papers

Filling up papers

The underbite girl wrote the address down for me. “Call Danjar when you are in the taxi so he will know that he should wait.” It was 5.15 pm; the post office had been closed 15 minutes ago. I ran on the street, lifted my finger and a private car stopped. Many private cars function as cheap taxis, so I showed the address and got in. After leaving his first customer in the other end of the city we drove towards the Ministry of Cultures. It was a rather small house with open front door. “Ask for Danjar, room nine”, the girl had told me.

Papers, papers, papers

Papers, papers, papers

Danjar was a young man in a suit who stood up from his chair when he saw me. His colleagues turned their heads, murmured “Hello” and then concentrated on their tea and the football game in TV again. Danjar opened my parcel, unpacked every single cup and took a picture of the tea set. He disappeared for a while and I used the time for watching football and playing with the office cat.

Danjar came back with the print of the picture and some forms and started filling them out at a snail’s pace. He and his colleagues were off for nearly an hour already but apparently they did not have too much rush going home. Danjar let me sign some Uzbek papers, charged me 40.000 Som and handed me an official permission. It was 7 pm on day two when I finally arrived in the hostel and I had been carrying my parcel around the city for six hours.

Ready to go

Ready to go

Busy office

Busy office

Day three. The underbite girl smiled when I showed her my permit. “There”, she said and pointed towards a queue. A man of the size of a refrigerator re-packed my parcel, put a lot of cardboard in it and then disappeared for a moment. When he came back he brought a linen sack of the exact size of my parcel.

Sew the Package!

Sew the Package!

He squeezed the parcel in and grabbed needle and thread. Within less than a minute he sewed it all up. I was deeply impressed by his speed. On the seams he put hot red glue and sealed each drop of glue with an official stamp. My parcel was safe.

I filled out a couple of forms, paid another 55.000 Soms and finally waved goodbye to my new treasure.

Paying the Parcel

Paying the Parcel

Just a week later my father was quite surprised when the postman handed him a bulky linen parcel snowed under stamps, stickers and forms written in Cyrillic letters.

Fresh Stamp

Fresh Stamp

The cupboard-man had not managed to avoid the unavoidable. Since my parcel had been thrown around for an entire week, only two bowls had arrived in one piece.

Writing the Destination

Writing the Destination

So dear readers, if you ever want to drink green tea from originally Uzbek cups feel invited to visit us once we have settled down somewhere.

Man and Boy Holding the Carpets

Man and Boy Holding the Carpets

Broken, but beautiful

Broken, but beautiful

 

 

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