How do you live?

Just Another Morning in Tashkent

When a strange rhythmical noise slowly pulls me up from the depths of my sleep in the morning, at some point I realize it is a freight train from Kazakhstan going past, that it is just 5:30 am, and that I can still lie in bed for a while.

But I can’t lie there forever. Soon I start to hear nasal, lingering yells coming from all directions: “Meeyolk, fresh and sour! Keeefir! Kaymok!” This means that the milkmen have already arrived from the countryside to jolt everyone in their concrete boxes awake with their modulating tones which sound a bit like the azan — the Islamic call to worship. The sound reflects from dilapidated walls, iron doors, garages and the cars parked here and there around the neighborhood. It’s time to get up!

Cats lie on the green grass. A milkman with two cans stands
beside the building wall
The sky behind my window takes on a unique limpid color, foreshadowing a clear day combined with fresh air. Swifts fly between the scattered panel houses and their dusty mosaics, while my unknown neighbor opposite smokes his morning cigarette at the window with a meditative look on his face. Everything here is just like it used to be twenty, thirty or forty years ago, and only satellite dishes and large billboards with mobile companies’ ads might convince one that it is actually the 21st century outside. Our neighborhood, this bleak product of Soviet-era urban development, wakes up and gets ready for another working day. Even ten years ago, these buildings were homes mostly to the heavy drinking ex-workers of a long-closed machine factory. But they either died out here or returned to their inhospitable homeland to die in some abandoned village outside of Kaluga.

My breakfast has been practically the same for a year now: two poached eggs on toast, slices of sweet pepper and tomato in soy sauce, and tea with milk. You can buy all of those unsophisticated products near our block, where neighbors have transformed several benches into a mini-market under a polyethylene roof, selling vegetables and herbs all year round, but I rarely buy from them.

The weather looks beautiful. I put on my old tweed jacket, backpack, headphones and sunglasses and walk out into the hallway. I don’t use the elevator and always climb all the way up to the eighth floor on foot, hoping, in my naivety, that it would help to stay in shape. It also gives me the chance to observe the gradual changes in my neighbors’ lives. People from the seventh floor have sold their apartment, and the new inhabitants are currently in the midst of remodeling. A bum has been sleeping on the sixth floor again. On the fifth floor, a scared boy and his heavyset mother in leopard-print leggings wait for the elevator to go to the school together.

I walk out into the yard of my nine-story building with five entrances, which is surrounded by garages, cars, asphalt pathways, a hedge and a few trees. Cats lie on the grass that is still green. A milkman with two cans stands beside the building wall. I pass by the next building with its cracked mosaics and grey circles of antennas over the modern vinyl windows, by the mulberry tree that is already dropping berries onto the ground, by a small kiosk, where you can buy anything from food and cigarettes to buttons, superglue, soap, water pistols, tea, batteries, vodka, candles, and old audiotapes (in other words, everything a man might need in any time of day or night), and reach the road where I intend to catch a taxi. In Tashkent, a “taxi” can be any car that is heading your way, provided that its driver is willing to make some money.

The first taxi passes me by, and the second one is heading somewhere else. Another Nexia approaches:
— Where to, brother?
— International Business Center. You know, the one near the National Bank.
— Erm, are you talking about the Telman Park?
— No, it’s where the Badamzar station is, near the Sofia Bridge. How much?
— So it’s by Victory Park, got it. How much would you give?
— Is four enough?
— Make it five, eh?
— I believe four is fine.
— Okay, come on, get in!

I slide into the front seat, the door closes, Primal Scream once again isolates me from the surrounding sounds, and we start to float past concrete buildings, bridges, traffic lights and similar-looking people immersed in their daily cares.

The driver hits the brakes when we approach a pedestrian crossing. I watch the preoccupied college students as they run for the opposite side of the road, and suddenly Bulgakov comes to mind: “The tom cats slinking around the veranda had a morning air about them. Groundhog day was irresistibly bearing down upon the poet.” Or something like that.
© Alexey Ulko

Alexey Ulko

is a linguist, writer, and artist. At present, he works with such periodicals as Khudozhestvenny Zhurnal, ALUAN, and Kurak, as well as with the Hertfordshire Press, Kuperard Publishing periodicals and different online resources. In 2007–2014, he was a participant and a jury member of the Central Asian festivals of literature and experimental cinema. He is a member of the Association of Art Historians и European Society for Central Asian Studies. He lives and works in Samarkand and Tashkent.

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