Goodbye to Uzbekistan: On a Global Walk, Another Bittersweet Passage Between Friendships

Near the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border: Our loyal donkey companions Mouse and Haram get chauffeured to retirement at a nearby farm. (Photograph by Aziz Khalmuradov)

We have walked to the Osh border.

What is the Osh border?

It is another tragic Soviet-era experiment in social engineering—a nonsensical boundary gouged jaggedly across the map of Central Asia by a distant and vanished empire. On one side of the barbed-wire fence: the beautiful Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan, with its fallow winter fields of wheat and rice, ancient Silk Road palaces, snow-smeared mountains, and teahouses. On the other: the beautiful Fergana Valley of Kyrgyzstan, with its fallow winter fields of wheat and rice, ancient Silk Road mosques, snow-topped peaks, and teahouses. Not so long ago, the people who had coexisted peacefully for generations along this artificial line burned each other’s houses and shops—they were at each other’s throats.

But today it is not the divide-and-conquer legacy of Stalin’s borders that weighs on my mind. No: It is the nature of friendship.

I must say goodbye to my walking partners from Uzbekistan.

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Human Journey

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Meet the Author
Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s 21,000-mile Out of Eden Walk is a multiyear experiment in slow journalism. Moving at the beat of his footsteps, Salopek is walking the pathways of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age and made the Earth ours. Along the way he is covering the major stories of our time—from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival—by giving voice to the people who inhabit them every day. His words, as well as his photographs, video, and audio, are creating a global record of human life at the start of a new millennium as told by villagers, nomads, traders, farmers, soldiers, and artists who rarely make the news. Join the journey at outofedenwalk.org and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @OutofEdenWalk.