We live a couple blocks from a major international hotel, so I often see tourists venturing out on their Central Asian adventure. It’s pretty easy to spot one not only because they are holding a map or Lonely Planet guide but because they look like they just raided a sporting goods store. (Think khaki pants, a backpack with lots of hooks and clasps–one holding a water bottle, Columbia hiking boots, and maybe a camera.)
I can’t laugh because that was me five years ago when I first came. Going to Central Asia was like visiting the wild, wild West. It was the great unknown and we had to be prepared for anything and everything. I remember that we opted not to buy a wireless mouse for our laptop because we weren’t sure if we could find AA batteries here. Once we made it to the other side of the world, we found that, in fact, AA batteries are sold in almost every store. You can even buy a wireless mouse to go with them.
Little by little we moved from being tourists to being residents. Let it be known that I did not bring khaki pants, but there were other pieces of our tourist armor that we slowly shed. I remember it was a significant day when I gave up a money belt for a regular old wallet. I realized that I had to live here and reaching under my shirt every time I needed to pay my bus fare or buy groceries just wasn’t feasible. Plus, I was getting some weird looks. We also found that, as much as we liked Snickers and Sprite, they didn’t constitute a healthy, sustainable diet. Tourists have the luxury of packing their favorite snacks or whatever energy bars they found on their last sporting goods store raid. But energy bars run out and eventually you have to learn to shop, cook and eat.
When I see tourists crossing the street, it reminds me of how far I’ve come. Jet-lagged and starry-eyed, they are setting out on a big adventure. I, on the other hand, have just stepped out of the house for a few minutes to buy eggs and milk. But somehow both of us find ourselves on the same street corner. I sometimes wonder if I should walk up and say hi, but then again, I don’t want to rain on their parade. Life here is an adventure, but the adventure changes a bit as you live here longer.
Photo: our local hotel