There’s a place in the world where stereotypes are deeply rooted. A region between the Middle-East and Central Asia. This region is the land of « stans ». Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, but also Turkmenistan and tajik and kyrgyz neighbours. Exotic destinations, often hard to write down properly. Lost countries in the middle of nowhere, hard to spot on a map. For a century or more, these « stans » seem to have become collateral victims of our geopolitical ventures.
Surely, « stans » are not well known, and often not much valued by the general public. Only a few frequent flyers and some adventurers have some actual knowledge and experience of these remote countries. Further to decades of propaganda and sad news, most people do remain rather naive about « stan » countries. Dangerous places, they’d rather not visit!
However, once there, all prejudice fly away. Once there, human relationship come first. No more media, no more journalists or war reporters! Once there, all you perceive is a true feeling of quietness and a positive attitude from local people. Most people are curious about your visit. And traders, following centuries of Silk Road, expect you to negotiate.
Prior to any deep talk with locals, what strikes you is this lively tradition of hospitality. No matter where you come from nor how many you are. Mi casa es tu casa… But still, how can we totally get rid of that special taste of bitterness. Nothing wrong with the food or the tea, always delicious. There is still a taste of bitterness that comes from one’s mind. A form of sorrow once you find out you’ve been mistaken by your prejudice about the region.
In uzbek language, India bears the name of Hindiston. And Mongolia is called Mongoliston. Even France used to be Farangiston, in other words, the « land of francs ». Similarly, Ottomans used the word Frangistan. Watch out when you reach Frangistan!!
Elsewhere, on a nice day of hot spring – Uzbeks have two spring seasons, the cold one and the hot one, before the super hot summer comes – we’ll make a stop in a small village close to the Tian Shan range. A village with blossoming cherry trees, close to the border with Kyrgystan. That village is Guliston, litterally « land of flowers ».
Lots of flowers will still be needed, alas, in order to change the image of « stans ».