The next leg of the trip was entered with some misplaced trepidation. We were to traverse the luscious but infamous Fergana valley, a border peninsula of Uzbekistan carved into Kyrgzstan. Fergana had seen recent war and border clashes, it has also been a hotbed of the fiery and militant brand of Wahhabi 'Islam'. This preconception coloured our night-time border crossing with anxiety. The roads seemed that much more dangerous, the night that much darker and opaque with dust clouds, whilst every lurking car left a sinister trace on our mind.
But in truth, the experience of the place in daylight was far from the expectations we were given b its recent history. It was the most fertile land we had seen since the Caspian, fruit trees sprung forth on both sides in neatly cultivated rows, owned by small plot farmers who slept in the orchards at harvest time surrounded by their dogs. This made camping impossible, as we found out at midnight after the rattling border crossing. We spent a good hour searching the orchards with flashlights: if it wasn't packs of dogs or owners in hammocks, it was the ground either furrowed or heavily irrigated. Nowhere to rest our heads.
In the end, we saw a lonely and elderly farmer parking a truck outside his walled compound. We trod over so as to seem as helpless and non-threatening as possible, and a wave of charades fell on him composed of the universal gestures for sleeping head-hands, inside walls, and shelter. On trips as these, where language barrier-ed interactions are a constant, your ability to communicate non-verbally is honed and enhanced greatly. The worn and warm farmer got the gist quickly, not a doubt broke across his face on comprehension, he pulled my bike in himself and to our protestations set about waking the four generations of his family living there. There was never a question of us camping in their secured garden as intended, floor beds were made up in a bare stone room for eating. A midnight feast of faultless watermelon was brought for our refreshment. Their kind demeanour and grace in doing all this sparked questioning guilt at our maybe too regular imposition of the guest-right in these countries.
In the morning, we discovered strips of canvas on the floor shining forth bright autumnal colours, the white sheets held drying fruit from the surrounding orchards. The elderly women of the greater family were keeled over these reddish rows, in the posture of prayer, with coring knives flashing with perpetual precision. The toddlers of the family were tottering up and down, turning the fruit over in the sun with an engaged solemnity. This rustic mechanism paused and broke apart as we came out to observe it further. This is the curse of the spectator: to observe is to affect.
Breakfast was a fruit flight along the spectrum of peach, plum, apricot and nectarine. There were new gradations of this genus to try, where novel fruits appeared at the half-way houses of their well known cousins above, holding the same characteristics but in new combinations. It was like the fertility of the land and warmth of its people had allowed new forms of life to fractal out. Here was a scenario for a loving family deep and wide that the splintering and nucleated Western model could learn much from.