Covid-19 Journal #11: Ride to Kazakhstan and a Broken Toe

The start of the border crossing between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

I finally made the ride from my home to the Kazakhstan border this morning. It is about 26 kilometers (15 miles) from my door to the border as a straight ride north through the city of Tashkent to the border. The outline of the borders of Uzbekistan looks a bit like the boot of Italy but flipped and turned sideways. The capital city of Tashkent is located near the toes, with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan on the top (north) and bottom (south) of the foot and Krygyzstan surrounding the toes. Tashkent is the capital because when the Russians conquered the area in the 1800s, they made it the capital because the major cities at the time (Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva) were under the control of Emirs and they wanted a place to call their own. That is why it is not in the center of the country. You could ride the four countries in one day if they had open borders like within the EU. However, border crossings are cumbersome and often impossible.

Map of Central Asia (courtesy of Wikipedia)

They were a product of late-Tsarist and early-Soviet census data, ethnographic and orientalist scholarship, and also in part of the process of raionirovanie – identifying supposedly rational and viable economic units, and ensuring that each new state met minimum criteria for becoming a full-blown Soviet Socialist Republic: these included a population of at least a million, and a capital city connected by rail.

 Inevitably, the process of drawing national boundaries in a region where these borders had never existed before, where bilingualism and multi-layered identities were common, and where divisions of language and ethnicity often fell along the rural/urban divide, created many anomalies. Among the sedentary population, a wide range of older identities – Sart, Khwarazmi, Ferghani, Samarqandi, Bukharan – were subsumed under the label of “Uzbek,” which, before 1921, had only referred to particular tribal groups. Tashkent and Shymkent were both cities with a mixed population of Europeans and Uzbeks, surrounded by a hinterland populated largely by Kazakhs. The former ended up in Uzbekistan, the latter in Kazakhstan. Tajik-speaking Bukhara and Samarkand were surrounded by Turkic-speaking countryside and ended up in Uzbekistan, a decision which rankles with Tajikistan to this day.

Morrison, Alexander “Stalin’s Giant Pencil: Debunking a Myth About Central Asia’s Borders, Eurasianet.org (February 13, 2017)

During the quarantine I’ve been able to ride freely throughout the city before the police begin manning the checkpoints at 8:00 AM. As it is loosening, I am able to ride past 8:00 AM, although there are more cars on the roads. However, there is much less traffic now than before which has the benefits of cleaner air quality and easier bike riding. In some ways, I’ll miss the days of quarantine which might be coming to an end this month.

The spread of Covid-19 in Tashkent, if the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization figures are accurate has been kept in check. There are 630 confirmed cases in the city with 9 deaths in the entire country. Uzbekistan being double landlocked and not in tourist season, was never a major hotspot for the disease. The government took strong measures starting in mid to late March to physical distance the city. Now that it is May, they are slowly loosening restrictions with cars now being able to move from 7:00 – 10:00 AM and 5:00 – 8:00 PM. There is less of a police presence i the neighborhoods, although they are outside my house today. They are friendly and we have a good relationship with the mahalla (neighborhood) leaders and they let us come and go as we please.

Livestock on the roads and gas pipelines are two common sights of cycling in Uzbekistan
The Mazhid Mosque is located on highway M39 on the way to Kazakhstan

I broke my toe a couple of weeks ago. I was annoyed at having to clean the kitchen after dinner and was stuffing Tupperware and things in the refrigerator. A large, glass Tupperware full of leftover chicken fell out of the fridge from shoulder height and landed right on the end of my middle toe. The last bone of the middle toe was had a thin crack at the end. I have been taping it to the adjacent toe as there is nothing much else you can really do with it. Thanks to the Coronavirus Cycling Opportunity I’ve been able to continue to exercise through cycling while my toe is healing.

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