I wake up before everyone, on the porch with the three young girls I had giggled into the night with.
The sun is just beginning to light the sky to a saturated navy blue. Heat is all I can think about at this point, even with the cool desert breeze going over my dry and burned skin. The few moments before pulling myself up from the sleeping mat, I take a few slow deep breaths and give myself my morning pep talk. It will be okay, today will be good, I will not suffer too much, I will stay alive and find a safe place to stay for this evening. I will listen to music and think about things that need to be thought about. I will work through some of my inner demons and acknowledge my insecurities. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I feel good, I feel strong…I am strong.
Yesterday, the eldest sister had braided/plaited my hair. It hadn’t been washed in a few days and needed a comb run through it. When we had been sitting on the patio, about a dozen of us. She grabbed her comb and came and sat close next to me, letting me know what she wanted to do. I smiled gratefully and nodded yes and took my rubberband out of my braid. I begin to finger comb the braid/plait out and I then feel her hands run through my hair, finger tips gently brushing against my scalp…
…my eyes begin to water and I hold back tears. My eyes are leaking, there is something I’m feeling that I’ve never felt before. An emotion that seems recognizable yet so distant and strange. I have been extremely emotionally neglected, I have gone more than a year without human interaction or intimacy. I’m not talking to a sexual sense, I’m talking when you share a moment with another soul when you let your guard down, you allow them in, you share a connection. I have to hold back from sobbing as she runs her hands through my hair, then the comb, but as she plaits/braids my hair I feel as I almost want to fall back into her and be held. This seem so out of character, so strange for a woman that goes days, weeks, months thinking…and more importantly convincing herself, that she doesn’t need so much human interaction. That she is a loner. You know, as I type this a year and a half later…I’ve only had about 3 fleeting moments since then…of intimacy. Hugs, kisses, and quality conversation is so under-rated. When you haven’t had something for so long you truly cherish the moments of someone embracing you. (A few weeks from this day I will notice another change in me. Since I’ve been “home” I’ve really made an attempt to hug and touch people, because I became too “hard” and scared.)
I wake the younger sister as I put my bag on my bike and she leads me to the road where her sister and mother escort me. It’s been an emotional 12 hours and as I hug the sisters and then the mother, I again hold back tears. There is something in their eyes, something that their soul speaks…it seems we all have some sort of suffering and past words and language barriers, we are all speaking to one another. I call her “mother” and the two “sisters” in Uzbek and thank them. Holding back the tears I ride off towards the bright orange sunrise. I can’t look back…I can’t bear to see their faces. There is a part of me that wants to stay, to live a simple life, to have company, to feel a connection, love, and tenderness.
The day is uneventful as I’m back on a main route to Bukhara. I notice the traffic begins to pick up and the heat gets nearly unbearable again. Stopping for water and shade as much as I can but the shade is becoming minimal.
At sunset I begin looking for a place to camp. It’s all open desert with occasional petrol stations. The traffic slows down and I ride later into the night than I should, it’s not smart to night ride especially on a highway.
About 80km away from Bukhara I see a petrol station. It’s brightly lit and I could see it a few kilometers away. To the left of it is an abandoned building, I am still in the middle of the desert. There is nothing out here except some desert shrubbery and barely trees. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I just want to lie down and sleep. I’ve been going for over 12 hours now.
I ride past the petrol station and see there is a mechanic working on a truck outside and no one else. Stopping, I look out into the landscape towards the abandoned building. Do I dare explore it and stay inside. There is always a fear in me of camping too far off from a main road. Because it’s a main road, there is a likely possibility of having night visitors. If it weren’t a main road, I usually have less concern. My rationale is if I’m close to the road, if I have problems, it’s easier for me to get help from possible traffic.
Standing on the side of the road, taking a moment to stare into the skies above and noticing how black it is, everywhere. Except for the stars, the moon, and the petrol lights.
I find a place to take my bike off the road and into the sand. Pushing my bike just to the edge of where the petrol lights hit…it lights a triangle out to each side. Probably the length of a half a football field. I had waited to see the attendant go inside or to not be visible.
Pushing the bike through the sand, there is no way I can make it to the abandoned building. Deciding I’ll just lean the bike against a bush and roll out my sleeping mat. *Let me just state NEVER do this in the desert. After what I saw in the early mornings, it’s very very unwise to sleep in the open desert without protection from spiders. When you’re exhausted, sometimes the brain isn’t up to par.
After lying down for about 15 minutes I noticed a flash light. The attendant has spotted me and he’s walking towards me. He then turns back, I assume I will be okay…he’s given up. No. Now he drives a jeep over to me.
He’s a very large man. Asks me what I am doing and he tells me I can sleep in the petrol station. I don’t want to. I’d rather stay out here. He’s insistent on it. So, with very little light I try to pack up my stuff without too much of a hassle and push the bike to the petrol station.
I follow him and roll my bike inside the garage and he directs me to a couch in an interior room next to the garage. I sit down and he explains he will be outside working. It’s around 10pm. I lie down, the room is boiling…I wish I was outside where it’s cooler.
He pays another visit shortly and puts a blanket over me. You’ve got to be kidding me…I’m like a roasting piggy now. What’s worse, the blanket is making my skin crawl. It feels as if my skin is moving and being bit. This is horrendous. As I hear him banging and working on the truck outside, I throw off the blanket and mutter some words about him being an idiot and this filth and go to the garage. I grab my my tent ground cover and go outside. We make eye contact and I explain with hand motions that I’m going to sleep outside next to the garage. I find a place that is shielded by the bright lights.
The skin is no longer crawling and the cool desert breeze dries the sweat off my body within just a couple of minutes. I couldn’t ask for anything better, minus the lights and the constant mechanic’s sounds. There are also brief moments of conversation. My senses being on full alert, I awaken often but not for too long. I figure if I can just get a few hours I’ll be okay for the following day. Only 80km.
Although, every time I wake up I notice my body clenching up more and more from the cold. The temperature is dropping fast and the desert wind picking up. At first it felt good but now it’s beginning to get cold. The shivering begins and I apprehensively get up and grab my ground cover. Going back through the garage, I put my ground cover back in my bag…my bike is packed and I’m ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
All I smell is oil, gas, and dirty human…you know that smell of unwashed linens. I lie down on the couch.
I wake up, it’s around 3:30 am, and I notice the noise has stopped. The lights outside have dimmed. Finally, I can rest my head a little and get some sleep.
No. Someone is walking outside. There is the man’s silhouette in the doorway. He had been checking on me throughout the night but at this moment I knew something was different. He walks slowly into the room and sits on the couch, next to me. I can hear him breathing and see him looking at me. He leans in and grabs my chest with both hands.
I grab his hands and push them away from me. In my head, I distinctly remember thinking, “Here we go again, how am I going to get out of this one?!” Previously, there had been people within shouting distance but this time, there was no one else around. “Moseman, you’ve been here before, stay calm, cool, don’t alert him…you’ll get through this.”
Standing up and going towards my bike he stands clumsily and gets in front of me and grabs my chest again. I place both hands on his chest and push him away from me, shaking and trembling but trying not to show the fear. He’s at least 5″ taller than I and large…all I can imagine is a terrible situation, being crushed under his gigantic body smelling of oil, gas, grease, and unwashed hair. “No, get away, I’m leaving”, all said in English. I haven’t got time or patience to deal with fumbling over Russian with another pervert.
Grabbing my bike, I ride a kilometer away from the station. It’s pitch dark and I wait on the side of the road and I know I have at least two hours before I have any possibility of light.
It’s unsafe to try and hitch at this time of the night, anyhow there is no traffic.
I sit on the side of the road, eat a little naan and peanut butter and relive the past 48 hours. How things can change.
Around 4:30 I begin walking my bike and riding when I can. I’ve let my eyes adjust and it’s not too bad.
By 6:30 I’m pedaling away and at 10am I arrive in Bukhara, exhausted, dirty, and hungry. All I can smell is that man’s garage…the thought of oil and gas making me sick to my stomach.
Trying to find a place to stay in Bukhara, I stop by a little shop to refill my SIM card so I can view maps and buy an ice cream. I feel awfully sick. Maybe it’s the heat. I’m lightheaded and feel on the verge of diarrhea. After I buy my second ice cream and sitting on the stoop, I’m emailing a long distance cyclist and friend that I’ve been in contact with for years. I’ve been telling him a little about the previous days and how I feel so sick.
A young Uzbek shop keeper comes out to talk to me. He brings me an ice cold Coca Cola in a glass bottle. I thank him and put down the phone. We make small talk, his poor English and my poor Russian. When he notices I don’t have any more cola, he asks if I would like another. Surely. He brings out another and he learns I’m American. As I’m finishing up the second he explains he wants to show me something. He grabs his laptop from the cell phone shop, as that’s where I bought my SIM refill from, and sits next to me. Within 30 seconds of staring at a very dark and scrambling laptop screen, he is showing me porn. I look up at him and he’s smiling.
It’s time to go. I find a decent place in the old town of Bukhara for a fair price with air conditioning. It’s quiet and pleasant and I fall onto the bed with exhaustion after a shower. For the remainder of the day I would be running to the toilet and drinking water mixed with packets of electrolyte mix. I’m ill…I’m sick…after all of this.