A sunrise walk, a supreme breakfast (roasted apricot kernels!), a felicitous introduction to the delightful Zilola who is most definitely destined to be a forever friend (how could you not love someone whose beautiful jacket has a patch that says KOOK sewn on the front?) in addition to the official SWS translator, a stellar SWS planning session and then we’re off to explore Bukhara. Shavkat and Zilola make a formidable team: dear friends and colleagues (they’ve been working a project documenting daily life and traditional customs of the local Jughi (Roma) population for decades), they are also both absolutely passionate about sharing their deep knowledge of the complex history of their city. Our six hour odyssey by foot and taxi takes us to a morning market patronized by Jews and Muslims alike, a little synagogue serving Bukhara’s dwindling Jewish population with one prayer room for summer and another for winter, one of the 11 original gates to the city, a park within the old fortified walls that features a modern ferris wheel and the 10th century Samanid Mausoleum, an early 20th century Russian water tower, an abandoned theater that combined Russian design with vernacular architecture, trading domes filled with fabulous fabrics, friends with a workshop in a former caravanserai who teach local youth how to dye silk threads with madder, indigo, pommagranite skins and walnut hulls for handmade carpets commissioned by clients around the world, magnificent madrasas, minarets, and mosques, oh and of course the handful of remaining hauzes which are not “houses” at all but rather the once numerous stone pools where Bukharans of old “gathered and gossiped, drank and washed.” You probably wouldn’t want to dive in now, but they’re still perfect sites for storytelling!
Renowned photographer, painter and curator Shavkat Boltayev greets us at the Bukara train station with a smile and a hug. Shavkat is the “founder of the legendary Bukhara school of photography, a native Bukharan, and one of the main experts of both the past and the present of this ancient city”. He’s also going to be our host for The Sound We See: A Bukhara City Symphony! Our bags go into one taxi. The three of us go in another one. No one seems the least bit worried about this and indeed we all arrive safe and sound at the end of Shavkat’s narrow little street in the old part of the city. Walking the short distance to his home that also serves as guest house for tourists and cultural visitors, Shavkat is already telling us all about the neighbourhood, the buildings and the people who have lived here for generations. Inside, the traditional dwelling is a wonderland of art and energy: we meet Shavkat’s wife Umida, his son Hafiz, his son Behzod and Beza’s wife Rukhsora and their brand new baby Behtarin. Gathering in the exuberant dining room for a delicious dinner featuring stew with meat, quince and potatoes, we also meet language-teacher Alex, Ukrainian by birth but living in Germany, who has recently achieved his goal of visiting 100 countries by his 30th birthday. Thank you for the warm welcome… We’re definitely feeling the famed Uzbek hospitality!