Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Last day in Tashkent

Yes, it's sad but true. This is our last day here in the beautiful capital of Uzbekistan. Tomorrow we leave for Turkmenistan at the crack of dawn. Another adventure, which I'm excited to begin. Yet I'm sorry to leave my new friends here.

It has been a remarkable couple of days since I last posted. Yesterday we met with students and teachers at the National University and later at the beautiful National Library. I can't begin to describe how marvelous it was to watch their hands go up eagerly to ask questions about American literature and to share with us about Uzbek literature. The time passed too swiftly--I would have been happy to stay and talk with these intelligent, curious people for hours more.

The evening proved to be as stimulating, if not more so, as Stephen Kuusisto led a discussion with the local disabled community. Again I was struck by the intense knowledge and curiosity with which the audience asked questions. 

Steve said in his opening remarks that we (the other writers) were only temporarily able bodied, a comment that made me think quite a bit later back in my hotel bed.

I always had the youngest mother around. She could hit a ball farther, ride a bike faster, hula hoop longer than anyone. And now at 81, with a botched hip replacement, I have watched her as she entered the world of the disabled. In Las Vegas, a man actually pushed her to the ground as she made her slow way through a taxi stand line. She is hesitant to accompany me on even short journeys these day because she worries about her mobility so much. Steve's words are something to remember as we move through this world of ours.

I thought too about Gracie's horrible last hours in the ICU. At one point, the strep was destroying her arm, and we were prepared that she would probably lose it. Take her arm, I remember thinking. Just save her. Because we are not our limbs or our eyes or our voice. We are inside our physical selves. How often we forget that, and judge each other by the external limitations. If today I had my Gracie disabled, without her left arm, what a different person I would be. How precious it would be to have her beside me instead of gone.

These thoughts made me toss and turn last night, even though we ended the evening at a fantastic Czech beer garden, drinking large steins of Czech beer and eating sausages and meat and dumplings. Such camaraderie around that table with our local guide and our translator! Travel always reminds me of the beauty of the human spirit.

This morning found us at the Foreign Languages University for another lively discussion on American literature and Uzbek literature. Then an interview with a journalist.

And now a little nap to make up for my sleepless night.

I am continuing to read Kate Atkinson's novel LIFE AFTER LIFE, and love it more with each astonishing page. And happily, I didn't start Denise Mina's third book after all--I am right on track! Tomorrow's flight will find me knitting and listening, no doubt.