Gail Howard's Travel Adventures in the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) Communist Russia 1967 Written by


From Samarkand I flew to Bukhara, Uzbekistan, where I ran into the group of women travel agents I had met at the Moscow airport. Evidently I had been discussed, because they all seemed to know me and welcomed me back.

After a late breakfast of cheese pancakes (blintzes) and yogurt, I was taken on a sightseeing tour of Bukhara. The mosques were not as well preserved as those in Samarkand. They were mostly new buildings with old fragments stuck on them. Inside one big mosque several lively games of ping pong were being played. The interior of the mosque was also a pool hall. No prayers to Allah here.

Bukhara was very Arabic-looking. Mud houses had no windows facing the street. Centuries ago, Tashkent and Bukhara had been part of the Persian Empire, which influenced the architecture and culture of both cities. We saw a city built on top of a high fort. Ancient mud walls half stood in romantic ruin.

The summer palace of the 14th century Amir Temur had a high pavilion overlooking a huge pool. The guide told us that Amir Temur kept his harem of 400 nubile women dressed in transparent silk garments brought from India because it was unlawful under Muslim law for women to be naked. When his harem women emerged from the pool, the gossamer silk clung to their flesh revealing every curve as if they were naked. But the clever Emir was within the Muslim dictates.

That evening the American travel agents, including the Yugoslav, invited me to join them for dinner. A Georgian Russian approached our table, offering us a bottle of champagne. He was invited to join our party. Then his Muscovite friend joined us. The Georgian brought over two more bottles of champagne which the travel agents unsuccessfully attempted to refuse.

When the restaurant closed, we continued the party in the parlor on our floor until about 1 a.m. The Georgian took a liking to me and had the Yugoslav travel agent translate many flowery phrases to me, even though I had indicated (for safety's sake) that I was with the Yugoslav.

The Georgian offered me his pen. (Usually it is the Americans who give the Russians pens). I knew how precious pens were to the Russians so I didn't want to accept it. He insisted. The travel agents told me I must accept it, so I did with profuse thanks.

When I confided to the woman next to me that I wished I had a ballpoint pen to give him in return, she produced a Lufthansa ballpoint, which I presented to the Georgian.

Not to be outdone, the Muscovite took out a beautiful enameled cigarette case with initials set in rubies -- a family heirloom. He offered it to the prettiest young travel agent. She shrank back with a squeal and absolutely refused to accept it. This rejected, he removed his watch and cut off the straps with a knife and placed his offering before her on the table. She shrieked again. "No, no, no, no, no!"

Poor guy. He couldn't give anything away.

It was getting late and I had to fly back to Tashkent in the morning, so I said good night. The party broke up, and I went to my room.

When I arrived at the Bukhara airport, I was asked for the portion or my ticket that had been kept at the Samarkand airport. It should have been returned to me. The portion of the ticket to Moscow was still in Samarkand. They telexed Samarkand and promised to contact Intourist in Tashkent. Meanwhile, I had to pay again to fly to Tashkent.

I arrived at the hotel in Tashkent at lunch time. While looking for an empty space at a table -- there were no Maitre d's to lead you to a table anywhere in Russia -- I heard my name called. I was delighted to see my friends from the Mexican delegation. After lunch they were going to a collective farm.

"Oh," I exclaimed, "How I wish I could go with you."

"Come along," they said.

After a long drive we arrived at the headquarters of the collective farm, where we were ushered into a board of directors conference room. As we were introduced to a half dozen Uzbeks, we greeted each other with the Arabic "Salem Aleikum" -- although Uzbeks speak a corrupted dialect of Persian Farsi.

We sat around a long table with the chief of the collective farm at the head. Immediately Mr. Zevada started firing questions at the chief.

The chief explained that each collective farm had its own school and hospital. Machinery, cattle, seed, and the rest were the collective farm's common property. In this way the farmers could have large scale mechanized farming. The government bought the crops from the collective farms at a better price than if each farmer had to find his own outlet.

The cooperative property accounted for the major part of a farmer's income, but each peasant had a plot of land near his home where he could grow fruit or vegetables to sell for extra income. He was not allowed to let another person sell it for him -- in other words, "No exploitation of labor."

Officially, the Soviets had a five day work week, with Saturday and Sunday off. Peasants also had three weeks paid vacation, although that included time taken off for sickness and bad weather.

It was raining and muddy so we didn't go out into the fields. Instead we were led through a barn to see the cows and milking apparatus. Then we were taken into the calf and bull house. Hugo couldn't resist making a torero's pass at what looked to me like the world's biggest bull. Ole!

Next we visited the school. Pictures of Marx and Lenin were plastered all over the place. Production bulletins lined the halls. Classrooms had 19th century wooden desks with attached unmovable chairs.

After the tour, we returned to headquarters for "tea." The table was laid out with heaping bowls of fruit, Uzbek flat bread and salad. Vodka was generously poured. Each time I took a small sip, my glass was refilled to the top.

When the chief said, "Dodna," everyone had to bottoms up. I got away with sips for the first few dodnas until the chief demanded that I dodna. I hesitated as everyone at the table waited. Then I threw back a shot of straight vodka in one fast gulp and everyone cheered.

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