In my travels to 128 countries over the last 13 years, I have been swindled, extorted, and battered, but never truly harmed. I’d like to think I’ve become a more discerning traveler, but I’m still trying to make sense of what happened yesterday.
Ben and I were on a high speed train from Samarkand to Tashkent and found ourselves seated across from two Uzbeki gentlemen.
The larger man attempted to interact with us immediately while the man next to him giggled uncontrollably. He spoke no English, but attempted to communicate with his hands.
He listed off U.S. presidents, stating “Trump” then flashing the thumbs up sign, “Obama” and flashing the thumbs up sign, then stating “Bush” and flashing the thumbs down sign and stating “Iraq”. I tired my best to engage. I said, “Putin” and he smiled and gave me the thumbs up sign. Meanwhile he kept speaking in Uzbek to the Cheshire Cat next to him, prompting more uncontrolled cackling.
But there was no point: we spoke no Uzbeki or Russian and he spoke no English.
We went back to working on our laptops, but every few moments he would tap one of our knees and make a gesture that could be interpreted in two ways. He kept pointing to himself, pointing to us, and then running his hand under his nose then touching his mouth. What did he want? For us to eat with him or snort cocaine with him? His companion was still laughing.
He also had two mobile phones and would make calls then hand the phone over to me. I would say “hello”, the men on the other end of the phone responded “hello” but also could not seem to speak any more English.
He flagged down one of the train conductors and demanded that he serve as translator.
“He is saying he wants you to go home with him and have food.”
We declined, stating we had other plans. The conductor relayed this to the man.
“Then he will go with you and you can go clubbing and have wodka.”
The conductor sheepishly apologized and said the man was drunk (though that was not clear).
Thankfully, the man left us alone for the next 90 minutes, but 10 minutes before we arrived into Tashkent he started again, tapping our knees and beckoning us to eat (snort?) and drink with him.
Placing my hands together and leaning my head on them, I made a sleeping gesture and we both shook our heads no. He persisted, but when the train pulled into the station he walked away.
Friendly or Fiendish?
I consider myself a trusting person — trusting enough to walk into the house of a total stranger in Havana. But I do tend to be suspicious and this whole situation weirded me out for one reason: the man spoke no English.
Were we just supposed to look at each other while we were eating? How would we communicate in any meaningful way? Or was he just looking to take advantage of us in some way — is this an old scam?
For better or for worse, we will never know.
Read Ben’s take here.