Trans Eurasia travel

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Uzbekistan has many interesting traditions. One of these traditions is called "Gap" (conversation). Also depending the regions it is called "Tashkil" (organizing) or "Chayhana" (Tea house).

Christopher Aslan Alexander describes "Tashkil" in his book "A Carpet Ride to Khiva":

It was the souvenir-sellers who invited me to join a tashkil. At first I wasn't too keen on this specialised collective party, remembering my first experience of revelry with Zafar and his friends during my early months in Khiva. The party had been held in the guestroom of one of the local tourist guides.

The floor was covered with a long plastic tablecloth, plastered with food that had obviously once been laid out in an orderly fashion. Now it was covered in dismembered bones, corks, crumbs and stray pieces of salad. Around the tablecloth, sitting cross-legged on corpuches or lolling on the lap of a friend, were the other guests - about ten of them and all male.

I attempted conversation with my neighbours but this had quickly petered out. Someone poured a large shot of vodka for me that I politely declined; another offered me a cigarette, but I don't smoke. Huge platters of mutton swimming in fat arrived and the crowd attacked them with gusto. 'Oling, oling!' they said, pointing at the food. I smiled weakly, trying to explain that I was vegetarian. Someone made a joke and they all guffawed as I tittered, pretending to understand.

'So, Asian,' began one of the woolly hat-sellers, leaning towards me and putting a conspiratorial hand on my knee. 'What do you think of the girls in Khiva, eh? Have you been getting any?' At this point he made a fist which he slapped against his other hand. 'What?' he roared. 'You haven't found a "mattress" yet? What's the matter with you?' Jabbing at my crotch, he made a slicing motion at the tip of his forefinger. 'Are you cut?' I looked down at my own finger in confusion. 'No.' He cupped my crotch. 'Are you cut? Circumcised?' All eyes were upon me at this point, as I sat in miserable silence.

'Maybe we've got something that will give you a little help, eh?' The hat-seller bellowed with laughter, spraying my plate with congealing pieces of sheep. 'Hey, have you got a sex kino? A good pornografika?' he asked our host, who began rooting around for a video at the back of his cupboard.

Desperate to extricate myself, I was saved by Zafar, who spotted a video of Mr Bean and decided that I would enjoy watching a fellow Englishman. The conversation moved on, with more toasts and another whole course of food. Belts were undone, followed by a round of belching, and the guests reclined against bolsters or a friend's knee. Three of the men roused themselves and, with smirks, disappeared for an hour to a nearby brothel.

A rowdy game of cards ensued. Zafar tried to involve me, but however patiently the rules were explained, I proved inept. Sitting there watching Mr Bean in the midst of the bawdiness, I felt complete empathy with my fellow social pariah. After all, I didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't eat meat, didn't understand jokes, couldn't pick up card-games, didn't want to watch porn. What, in fact, was I doing at this party anyway?

By eleven, the party showed no signs of slowing and I asked Zafar when it would finish.

'Maybe till one, or maybe two, who knows? Maybe we will all sleep here or maybe we won't sleep at all and just play cards until breakfast.'

'What about the women who are making all this food?' I asked.

'What about them? If we stay up all night, then they will cook for us all night. Our women are very good and look after us well.'

I finally begged my leave, making hollow excuses about ill health. The oldest man began a prayer as the guests, blinking drunkenly, cupped their hands, washing them over their faces at the 'Amin'.