Desert Search

As we clattered through the desert in the battered shared taxi, the driver reached across and offered me some pills. When I asked him what they were, he shrugged. The Uzbek guys on the back seat laughed at my hesitation and reached forward to grab a handful.

On the drive from Bukhara to Khiva, through Uzekistan’s Kyzlkum desert, we had already been pulled over by the militsia several times. After checking our documents and a brief exchange with the driver, we would be on our way. This time was different. As we dragged ourselves out of the sweltering taxi, the relief at escaping the cramped metal box soon evaporated with direct exposure to the brutal midday sun. We shuffled around in the desolation and waited. More militsia emerged to needle the passengers and poke around the car. They grew bored and wandered off. We waited some more. The driver returned to the taxi with yet another armed interrogator and they drove off into the desert. Nobody asked what was going on. When the taxi returned and parked further up on the other side of the road, we all hauled up our bags again and trudged over. The tatty old taxi had straddled a previously unseen inspection pit from where the search began in earnest. Once the contents of the car had been emptied – including the seats padding and covers - they used whatever they could
find to take it apart. Our driver lowered himself into the pit and did what he could. As screws and bolts and other bits of metal were hastily removed, they were left abandoned in the roadside dust. I thought about jumping down and joining in – at least the car above would provide some protection from the unforgiving sun – but instead sank into the same infectious lethargy that had consumed my fellow passengers.

After far too long, a transit van pulled up next to the inspection pit. I had assumed that more militsia would come scurrying out but they just looked like normal guys. They stood for a while, observing the
deconstruction before descending to the pit, and collaborating in the carnage. I asked a fellow passenger what they were looking for - I think he understood but just shrugged. We simply crouched around our dismantled ride and passed around the remains of our warm drinking water. Eventually, the militsia – and all that had helped – lost interest, and wandered away, leaving us to try and put it all back together again as best as we could. As we were about to leave, I noticed that some of the nuts and bolts from below had been left behind. I passed them over to the taxi driver who stared at them for a few seconds before shrugging and throwing them onto the floor of the passenger seat. It didn’t seem to matter. We headed back to the wilderness.

T Coote

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