To Kushka by Camel
by ISAAC SCARBOROUGH
Stories seemed to revolve around Kushka. It was from here, the teachers at my school, veterans of the conflict in the 1980s, told me, that the first Soviet push of ground troops filed into Afghanistan. A drunken veteran in the Kyrgyz Tien-Shan told me this once, too. Kushka, they all said, was crawling with Russians, the brass down from Moskva, the local tank commanders. Before the war started it hadn’t been a terrible place, dal’she Kyshki ne poshlyut, they won’t send you further than Kushka, the saying went, and at least you knew things weren’t going to get worse.
It was the closest brigades, those stationed in Turkmenistan, or Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan that proved this a lie right after war was declared. The geography teacher at my school, a mountain of a man without a degree who was fired and rehired each year by the local education department, went through Kushka a few years later. His war stories generally had more to do with sniping at muhadjeen than the border town he passed through. He retains a limp from those years.
Things came in, too, during the 1980s. Boots and whiskey and jeans. The CIA was generous in its flooding of Afghanistan’s bazaars with US-made goods. These made it up the road to my town and further to Ashkhabad. This probably explained the inexplicable "less inexplicably empty" bottles of J&B and Johnny Walker on my neighbors’ mantelpieces. The pride expressed by Soviet Persians at having been privy to American denim was touching.
Kushka, the stories said, was where the pistachios grew so thick that one could collect more in sacks than could be carried just by picking up what had fallen off of the trees, where tulips blossomed on rolling hills, where the sheep got fat just by lounging in the sun, where the Murgap, a thin and sullen crevasse through the rest of southern Turkmenistan, ran thick and deep, rivaling the Amu-Darya.
At some point after Independence, Kushka lost its name – it’s now called Serhetabat, at least officially. That’s what the sign at the train station said: “Ashkhabad – Serhetabat.” The train would roll in, towards Ashkhabad at dusk, back to Kushka at dawn. As the sun set, men would pile off the old green Soviet train, swarthy, a little darker. Turkmen, Baluch, Persian, they would walk the empty lot towards the waiting taxis. Some carried the ubiquitous plaid rice bags, some clutched smaller, fourth-hand knock-off Adidas gym bags, some carried nothing. As the sun rose, the same crowd, or a similar one, would squat, waiting for the train to pull in, chewing sunflower seeds and talking quietly amongst themselves. Women often seemed to travel to Ashkhabad from that platform. I rarely saw women coming from or leaving for Kushka.
I sometimes spent hours at a time at this station, the flat cement platform stretching a few hundred meters in each direction. There was an empty water tower at one end and an occasionally functioning fountain at the other. It was hot, even before the sun rose, as I stood there, waiting with an increasingly large crowd of ticket buyers. I generally started sweating – assuming this was the summer, and I wasn’t shivering – by about 8 a.m. The cashier was supposed to show up at 9. Sometimes it turned out to be 9:30. Acquiring a ticket to Ashkhabad was not the simplest process; maybe it was easier to get one to Kushka. The sign above the ticket counter informed us, those waiting for tickets, that “biletler uç gunlyk oň satylyarlar." This, more or less, means that tickets are sold up to three days in advance. Not true. Today counts as one of those days. Tickets are sold two days in advance. Not all of them, since those working the ticket counter, pulling in a salary somewhere in the range of $50 - $75 a month, find reason to augment their government stipend. So the scalpers outside the station are guaranteed a ready supply of tickets, as long as a certain percentage is kicked back to the cashiers.
The train to Ashkhabad is old, filthy and stinks. It has few amenities. Tea, however, is not forgotten: hot, or at least lukewarm, water is available at all times. This somehow necessitates a heat-radiating gas furnace, one not turned off even in the balmy evenings of a Turkmen summer. The train’s windows are generally screwed shut as well. There’s a lot to look forward to, standing in line and waiting for a ticket to Ashkhabad. Except that, having shuffled and elbowed one’s way to the counter, even these joys might be denied. “Bilet yok,” they say – no more tickets.
There are at this point two options. The "men hokman bilet almaly – näme etmeli?" option is available; one can offer a bribe. This requires standing next to the counter as other people buy their tickets and making a general nuisance of oneself until the cashier relents and agrees to accept twice the face value of the ticket from you. This is still cheap, perhaps $3. If, based on principle or poverty, this is not acceptable, there is the list.
This list isn’t exactly official. It’s ripped from a school notebook, or written on the back of a page torn from an old Soviet ledger – the form changes from day to day. Whoever arrives first at the station, probably sometime between 5 and 5:30 a.m., puts this list down, having written their name at the top. Subsequent ticket hopefuls are then expected to write their names further down. Sometimes a pen is available; sometimes it has to be searched for. In theory, though, one could arrive early, write down his or her name, and go home for tea, coming back only after 9 a.m. when the counter opens.
Experience warns against this. Sometimes the list disappears without explanation. Sometimes names are crossed out. Just to defy expectations, the cashier might show up at 8:30 a.m. and start selling tickets. So one waits at the platform while the crowd grows. Then the grate is pulled up, there’s a rush of bodies as everyone crowds around, the grate is pulled back down and the cashier yells at everyone to calm the fuck down and get in line.
On a good day, this takes about five minutes, as an older man takes control of the situation and starts calling out names. It could also end up in a fist-fight if a couple of middle aged women start elbowing each other or an elderly woman asserts the “old person” rule that guarantees a spot in line to those over 60, whether or not their name is on the list, after every five people who actually followed the unstated but well understood regulations.
I took the train often enough, mostly during the second year I spent teaching English in Yoloten, a town up the road from Kushka. My first experiences were confused, and frightening, and I often resorted to the dangerous and rickety Toyotas when I needed to go to Ashkhabad. This proved expensive, and although I couldn’t smoke on the train, the hand-offs of bagged packages on the side of the road bothered me a touch. In truth, my salary was stretched between my insistence on cooking for myself and buying cigarettes.
So I worked out the train ticket game. As long as I showed up before 6 a.m., I could get high enough up on the list to be guaranteed one of the tickets not intended for the scalpers. I never knew for sure, but it’s possible that the cashiers, having noted the strange if polite American in their midst, made an exception and began setting aside tickets for me.
+ + +
The system of purchasing tickets, like far too many in Turkmenistan, was arbitrary and often broke down. The participants had, on a basic level, no respect for it, and yet tried to force everyone else to follow its regulations, while personally striving to take advantage of its corrupt corners. For incomprehensible reasons, however, the whole edifice stood. Trains arrived – generally on time – and left, only a little late. The pistachios arrived from Kushka, tomatoes were shipped to Ashkhabad. I only had to bribe my way onto the train once, and that was from Ashkhabad home. That ended up being the wrong train, and I walked an hour through Bayramaly at 4 a.m. before finding a friend’s house there.
I always got the impression that things were just on this side of completely falling apart. The trains hadn’t been repaired in thirty years, the rails themselves were rusting and a touch warped. Stations were little more than cement slabs populated by piles of sunflower seed shells and half feral dogs. Everyone involved was somehow a little crooked, there was always an extra man or two in each compartment and the conductors spent more time drinking tea than actually paying any attention to what the passengers were doing. But the train didn’t, at least in my two years of experience, crash, or get off schedule, or in any way change its inexorable and sluggish crawl to Ashkhabad and back.
It’s been said that God must have favored the Russian empire, for there was no other explanation as to how such a vast and corrupt expanse of a country could have managed to somehow stick together – and function – for so long. I would guess that Allah abandoned Turkmenistan sometime around the time of the Mongol conquest, 750 years ago, but there must be some sort of minor imp keeping an eye out for it. At least the Rube Goldberg machine of the USSR had an enormous pool of natural resources and semi-competent cadres to call upon to keep things running. It’s kind of beautifully improbable that Turkmenistan has yet to completely crumble into dysfunction.
+ + +
It’s not always possible to take the trains: the routes are limited, and built mostly as spokes around the hub of Ashkhabad, the trains are slow and leave at inconvenient hours and tickets have to be purchased in advance. If I was feeling flush, or needed to be somewhere quickly, or decided less than two days in advance to travel, this meant taking a car. What I mean is hitchhiking, or more or less finding what we might in NYC call a gypsy cab.
There are quite a lot of taxi-drivers in Turkmenistan. Ask a random young man what his job is – "sen kim bolup işleyäň?” – and he’s as likely to say taksist as anything else. Shepherd is another common answer, but this gets into the subtle class distinctions between the poor and the destitute. Taxis are completely unregulated in Turkmenistan: being a taxi-driver, for the most part, simply means having a car. If someone has a car and no other job, he is a chauffeur all the time. If he has another job, he’s a chauffeur on his off days, or whenever he feels like it. In a country with almost no industry, private enterprise, or employment, having a car means a lot. Families with sons save money for two purchases they know will come due once a young man comes home from the army: a bride and a car. If a family is not in a position to spend wildly, the car probably comes first, in the hope that the outlay will ultimately recoup itself and, in the process, make their son more marriageable. Brides can be something of a riskier investment.
In most towns, there is a semi-officially designated awtostanzia or auto park where drivers gather to collect passengers. This is often near the town’s bazaar. There’s really not so much distinction between the two. On the edge of Charjew, a city on the Turkmen-Uzbek border, the awtostanzia sprawls across an intersection, gravel lot and traffic circle, with pockets of cars and drivers headed in different directions clumped in vague and often changing locations. I had wandered there from Charjew’s Dunya Bazaar, aiming as I was to catch a ride to Khalach, a town a few hours south near the Afghan border. This proved difficult. Nearing the clump of cars that had, the last time I had made this trip, been headed south, I was told that no, now this was the northern-bound route.
Charjew is an ancient stop on the Silk Road – its name means “four roads” – found in a zone so ethnically ambiguous that even the Soviet ethnographers, determined to fit all of Central Asia into neat national republics, were long unsure of whether to include it in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. Charjew has its own unique language: a mix of Turkmen, Uzbek, Russian and words of completely unknown origin.
I recrossed the traffic circle, and, approaching another bunch of cars, was mobbed by four drivers, all yelling incomprehensibilities at me . “V Khalach napravlayus,” I said, hoping to clear up the confusion and switch the conversation to Russian. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to go to Khalach. Kerki, they kept telling me. Let’s go -- only 80,000 manat. We argued for a while, and after they realized that in fact I had no reason to go to Kerki, one driver agreed that he would instead go to Khalach. I gave him my bag, sat down in the front seat of the car, and waited. The driver went to go get a glass of chal – fermented milk mixed with carbonated water – from a street seller.
I was paying around $3 for the ride. If my driver could fill the three back seats, he stood make a full $12, a decent day’s wages. There was no way he was going to drive all the way to Khalach for just one fare, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to pay for the whole vehicle. So we waited. My driver, it became clear, wasn’t very good at getting customers. He didn’t pay too much attention to those coming by the awtostanzia, letting more zealous and louder drivers fill their cars while he surreptitiously smoked behind his car, watching for the police who would have been more than happy to extract a bribe for his violation of Turkmenistan’s ban on smoking in public places. A young couple almost agreed to buy out the back seat – but was convinced by the awtostanzia’s resident hustler to take an Opel instead of the somewhat warped Toyota in which I sat. It had likely been made for the Indian market: the steering shaft and dashboard had the distinct cobbled-together look that generally indicated a wholesale reconfiguration from right to left orientation.
Every awtostanzia in Turkmenistan seems to have its own hustler, a non-driver, half mocked and half respected by the taksists themselves, who moves people towards cars, taking a tiny cut from drivers whom he assists. They are often crippled in some way or another – the hustler in Mari, after I had bummed him a cigarette, once showed me the enormous open and infected cysts on his legs that explained his stumbling gait. In Charjew, the hustler seemed to be club-footed. When he shuffled back towards my car, I sort of pleadingly looked at him. I had been waiting for an hour already, and my driver was still making little effort to leave the awtostanzia. Bratan – I called out to him, “Can’t you help me out here? I’m kind of stuck.” He wasn’t sure. Once a passenger sits down in a car, other drivers pretty much won’t touch him. Approaching an awtostanzia, passengers are fought over (sometimes violently), their bags are ripped from their hands and thrown into open trunks, grandiose claims are made about the reliability of the cars. Once a passenger has been claimed, though, taksists are loathe to poach from each other. This is similar to their refusal to undercut the arbitrarily agreed upon price. Each and every driver will demand the exact same price for a particular route. This changes on a weekly basis, but somehow the word gets around. Bargaining is impossible, as is attempting to find a driver who is willing to take a lower rate.
(Routes to and from Ashgabat are the exception to the rule: here, instead of a set price, there is a range. This again shifts regularly and is affected by the season, time of day and the mood of the driver. But some bargaining is at least possible.)
Going anywhere else, however, means running into a market that is over-clogged with supply. The drivers set – and inflate – the prices. They refuse to fill their cars faster by charging lower rates than the others around them. And so there are far too many drivers for the number of passengers, meaning that situations like mine, there in Charjew, where I sat alone in a car for an hour, not five meters from two other Khalach bound cars, each with three passengers, are altogether too common. Eventually one of the drivers of these cars bought me from my driver for an undisclosed sum, and I shifted over to his Lada. After another delay, as the older man in the front remembered that he’d forgotten to buy something at the Bazaar and had to run back across the street, we did finally leave, two hours after I had first arrived at the awtostanzia.
I told the driver as we bumped along the road to Khalach that the system in place in the Charjew awtostanzia was voopshe bezpontovii, seriously fucked up. He kept turning around to give me, a Jew, a Muslim perspective on Jesus. I wish he would have looked more at the road. Before I left for Turkmenistan, a gypsy cab driver in Brooklyn who I informed about my plans was aghast. “Well, just one piece of advice,” he said, “avoid the roads. We Turks are generally bad drivers, I know. But the Turkmen – they’re atrocious.”
+ + +
I did hear rumors about buses. I never took them. Mostly it was said that they were slow, and cheap, and filled with people headed for the cotton fields. The only bus stop I ever saw outside of a major city was in the middle of the 250 kilometer stretch of empty desert that separates Bayramaly and Charjew. A ten-foot high metal face hung over the edge of the road, with benches underneath that had long ago either rotted out or been stolen, leaving only the concrete pylons on which they once stood. Something might once have been painted on the façade; the sand that was built up around the sides had worn down any recognizable sign or symbol. As I passed on the road the Turkmen government had begun, slowly, to repave, I glimpsed two small figures standing by the bus stop. A woman, headscarf pulled across her face to shield herself from the sand and wind, was holding the hand of a small child. I made at least four or five trips through the desert this way, and never once did I see a bus of any sort on the road.
Turkmenistan is said to be 90 percent desert. This is not to say that only 10% of its landmass is arable. There are also mountains to take into consideration. Ninety percent is simply swathed in sand. Rivers do flow into the country, the Amu-Darya along the border with Uzbekistan, the Tejen and Murgap north from the Afghan border to peter out in the sands of country’s heart. This, too, is the fate of the Kara-Kum Canal, the world’s longest man-made irrigation channel, stretching from Charjew west past Ashkhabad. Never completed, its waters slowly drip away into the sands. Pre-Russian settlements overwhelmingly clustered around the few sources of water and except where the Soviets introduced the collective farming of cotton, or oil and gas drilling, towns can still be tracked by their proximity to a river.
The desert is never far away. Ancient Merv, once the heart of the Seljuk Empire that managed to bring the Abassid caliphate to heel, sits today in a dry basin; further to the north lie the ruins of Margush, a fortified city that competed with the Indus valley civilizations in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. Sand has completely reclaimed Margush, and little more than the kaluchki fed upon by camels grows in Merv’s once fertile fields. Over the centuries the Murgap has shifted its course, slowing pulling south and west. Today it runs next to the bazaar in Mari.
Between cities and rivers the dunes rise to the horizon, interrupted by little more than the occasional shepherd or flock of goats or camels. Leaving Krasnovodsk on the Caspian coast, it takes close to ten hours to reach Ashkhabad, as the Lada flies down a bumpy road. It’s almost impossible to determine how far one has gone except for the passage of time: the desert continues almost uninterrupted to Ashkhabad’s edge. Coming into the capital on the train from the south of the country, I would judge my proximity by the mountains on the Iranian border that rise up behind Ashkhabad, rather than by any noticeable change in the scenery.
Yet the sands are less monolithic the more time is spent with them. In winter, they seem to harden and grow grey, flattening almost and devoid of any vegetation. Spring brings first the afganetz, the gale-force wind from the south, picking the desert up in its hands, blackening the sky and depositing the sands on top of the towns eked out of the harsh environment. The rains that follow tear at the desert, packing down what the wind has thrown about and leeching to the surface the soil’s salt content. By March, the salt lies inches deep across the desert in drifts – the snow that almost never falls. And then the desert blooms, flourishes in the first warmth of April. The dunes become covered in green: grass and tulips, poppies and mushrooms. This, as I was often told, was the time to chola gitmeli – the time to go the desert to picnic or drink or get sunburned. Mid-April in the desert is probably somewhere around 100 F.
July is much hotter. Most vegetation withers and dies and the sands bake orange red in the sun that struggles on to the slow evening, almost unwilling to set behind the final dune. My first summer in Yoloten, a local friend named Niyazmahmet, a Baluch who lived about fifty kilometers south of town, invited me to his house for lunch. I agreed, and so we caught a ride to his village. The Baluch are a distinct minority in Turkmenistan, and heavily discriminated against. My landlady would call me a ‘Baluch’ or ‘Bum’ with little differentiation when I failed to mop my floors or iron my shirt; the Turkmen government arbitrarily claimed, in 1993, that the Baluch population, isolated in the southern part of the country on the Afghan and Iranian borders, were scheming with ethnic Baluch in Iran to seize arms and rebel.
This story was repeated to the point that it is now treated as fact and was used as justification to ghettoize the Baluch into a series of small villages south of Bayramaly and Yoloten.
I had heard these stories, and seen how Yoloten’s residents treated the Baluch who came into town – but it took visiting the destitution of Niyazmahmet’s village, Topkhana, to truly understand. There are differentiations in desert quality. The land assigned to the Baluch was horrific: even the camel-sustaining kaluchki were absent. Empty dunes swallowed us as we passed further south and loomed around Topkhana.
Perhaps Niyazmahment noticed, after lunch, that I wasn’t paying much attention to the drama on NTV he had turned on. Perhaps he too felt as though he was about to nod off from the heat. He suggested that we go out to the desert – that he would show me their, the Baluch’s, desert. This desert differed only in its deprivation from so many sand dunes I had clambered over before, but there seemed little else to do. Niyazmahmet yelled something I didn’t understand to his younger brother, and as we went outside, the latter wheeled out an ancient Soviet motorcycle.
It took a few minutes of fiddling with jury-rigged tubing and gears to start the bike up, but Niyazmahmet managed, and I hopped on the back of the Planeta. Topkhana, with few cars, is crisscrossed less by roads than by winding dirt paths. We tore over these, through an empty field, around a donkey here and there, across the railroad line to Kushka and up into the dunes. It’s doubtful that Soviet engineers had off-road dune expeditions in mind when designing the Planeta. It was also at least thirty years old, and stalled out ten minutes into the desert. Niyazmahment and I hopped off on a dune’s ascent. He dropped the kickstand and began again to reconfigure the maze of rubber tubes and metal parts that stuck out jaggedly from where I could only assume the bike’s engine was.
I heard, suddenly, an engine much louder than the Planeta’s. Turning around, I caught sight of a tan Toyota pull over the sands doing at least 100 kilometers an hour. It skidded to a stop at the bottom of our dune. Niyazmahmet continued to poke at the motorcycle engine while two Turkmen in police uniforms ran out of the car towards us. The bike’s engine kicked to life, and Niyazmahmet jumped on and fired it forward, heading over the top of the dune. The police officers ran straight past me to look over the dune. They yelled at each other before skidding back down to their car and peeling out after Niyazmahmet.
I stood there, in the middle of the desert, somewhat baffled by what had just occurred. Remembering the direction of the railroad tracks, I lit a cigarette and made my way back by foot. I hitchhiked home.
+ + +
Motorcycles don’t last very long in the Turkmen desert. Or, like cars, they do, somehow, in various mangled and rebuilt shape, thanks to the ingenuity of Turkmen mechanics – on the road to Mari, I witnessed one driver replace a gear shift in five minutes flat, and he even seem frustrated by the amount of time it took. Ancient Ladas and Zhigulis ply the road, clanking and rattling. Everything is eaten at by the sand, and notwithstanding the skill and devotion with which drivers attend to their machines all vehicles ultimately end up like the rail cars, hanging on by a thread, balanced precariously on the edge of disintegration.
I never understood how some of the Turkmen could, for months at a time, live in and amongst the sands and not themselves too end up flayed by the dust and winds. They did, though, with a great number of young men – those without the family resources, I suspect, to buy a car – spending years out of the army working as shepherds. Lore is circulated: only drink one cup of tea a day when in the desert, I was told, otherwise your body will weaken. Outside of a kolkhoz – collective farm – in which I lived during my first three months in Turkmenistan, a shepherd named Alty lived with his flock of goats, six or seven camels and a pair of the largest and meanest allo-bai mastiffs I ever saw. I spooked around those dogs, but would wander out to the dunes once or twice a week to chat with Alty.
Seventy five years ago, Alty’s lifestyle, goats, camels and yurt would have been the standard for the majority of Turkmen who lived outside of the few towns scattered along the rivers. The Russians conquered the area in the 1880s and, other than founding Krasnovodsk and planting trade outposts in Mari, Tejen and Charjew, made little attempt to actively govern or settle the nomadic Turkmen. They were largely known at the time as dangerous raiders of Kazakhstan to the north and Iran to the south – and as camel-herders. Frederick Burnaby, an English Army captain who decided one winter in the early 1870s to ride from St. Petersburg to Khiva, took on a baggage train of three camels in the Kazakh steppe. He hired a Turkmen to herd them. Life in Turkmenistan changed little until the push for collectivization came down from Moscow in the early 1930s.
The Turkmen resisted the shift to a sedentary lifestyle. Full scale riots broke out, local KGB officers were lynched and towns from the Murgap to Dashoguz in the north rebelled. The insurrections and subsequent basmachi raiders were put down, brutally and effectively, by Soviet troops, and by the end of the 1930s the country was effectively organized around the state-mandated collective farms. Famine, poor crop yields, a cotton-focused monoculture and repression had reduced the Turkmen population by at least a third, and their livestock by up to three quarters, but they no longer wandered as nomads.
I sometimes wondered how much the resistance ever went away, if only, after the 1930s, in a passive form. Even more than other Central Asians, Turkmen outside of Ashkhabad have adopted little furniture, and their houses are furnished overwhelmingly with carpets, low shelves and a distinct lack of chairs. Food, too, seems to have remained linked to the nomadic past. The Turkmen diet is still dominated by – long after the appearance of electricity and refrigerators – fermented dairy, salted meat and bread, unperishables that could be carried over long distances.
There is gowurdak, meat salted and fried in cottonseed oil until its own fats congeal and harden, and then covered in an airtight seal of further oil and fat. Heated, the fat melts – all to be scooped up and eaten with bread. Turkmen will cite various foods, plov sometimes, or manti, as their “national dish,” but the one food completely unique to the country is much more fitting to the nomadic past: dograma, made from shredded old, dried and otherwise inedible bread, mixed with onions and boiled meat. Eaten dry or under an oil-heavy broth. “You Americans,” my Turkmen tutor once noted wryly, “always worry about how a food tastes. Here, we generally care whether we’re full or not.” Gowurdak and dograma are, if not particularly savory, highly caloric; staving off anemia and scurvy simply means adding a few onions.
Camels are no longer ridden, or herded, or used as the pack animals they once were – and yet thousand strong herds are kept by wealthier Turkmen as little more than a sign of wealth and pride. Yoloten had kept an old Soviet municipal injunction against camels within the town’s limits, making it the one place in the country where I failed to see any.
Just outside of town twelve year olds lounged in the poor shade of a concrete pole, watching over a few camels picking at the kaluchki, the small and thorny bush that seems the one plant able to thrive in the sands of the Kara-Kum. I would sometimes go running outside of town in order to avoid the allo-bais that would tear at my heels in Yoloten. This meant that I was once chased down by a camel who took a dislike to something, I suppose, in my gait. If a rope hadn’t been tied between his back legs by a foresighted twelve year old I hardly know what would have happened. As it was I, covered in sweat and panting from the heat, barely bolted up the next hillock of sand. The camel seemed unaffected by the jog and went back to its kaluchki.
Like the trains, and cars, and the Turkmen themselves, I too was frayed by the desert. The sand got into my nose, the wind whipped my face, the heat wore me down. I came home looking far older than two years should have justified, wrinkles and pockmarks having appeared across my hands and face. I respected those camels. Even Kushka, today still a military base on the now-closed border, the land of fat sheep and tulips, bakes once the heat starts in May. The poppies die off, the Murgap shrinks with the weeks, and all that remains on the dunes are the ever-present kaluchki. If I were to be sent to Kushka, let it be by camel.
Isaac Scarborough is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in St. Petersburg, Russia.
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