A slow burning day across the fertile Fergana plain followed, the conditions were roasting where the wind rushing past heated us like a convection oven. Jessica Jackson, a friend of Rob's Auntie, had stayed for one year aged 19 with a well-to-do local family as part of a cultural exchange, we were now heading over to this family's house hoping for a host for the night. There was no specific address given within the town of Asaka just a family name, apparently this name was significant enough for people to direct us to this house on arrival. Suffice to say, even given the tighter communities here, our interest was piqued.
We arrived to a great wooden townhouse, probably the grandest residence we had seen in the whole of the Fergana so far. But the mansion stayed dark and silent, it transpired the desired hosts were in Moscow on holiday, and we were left in the street greeted by 'no hosts found' on Couchsurfing and Warmshowers. As a group of kids swirled around us a neighbouring father questioned us, it transpired he had known Jessica and remembered her as a boy. Having waited with us in the street for 20 minutes, and realising our homelessness, he gingerly invited us in for the night. After the somewhat awkward 'stand-off' in the street, a whole some and motherly embrace was given on entering the home itself. We chatted with the household's four sons, as we gulped the exquisite peach compote and savoured the best home-cooked food of the 'Stans so far. The day's worries had been eased off by the gentle hospitality, the night was well in progress and all eyes turned to the floor-mats being prepared behind us.
Then there was an invasion by another family, I had assumed them to be family friends of our hosts come to meet the day's exotic catch. It transpired that they were in fact the descendants of the grand old name that had been our original hosts. Our dreams of drifting to bed were dashed when, through his son's excellent English, the man of the house and of old and significant name requested, nay insisted, that we were to come with him, cycle across town and now enjoy his hospitality. Our own dreams aside, we were concerned not to offend our neighbourly and otherwise blissful hosts, and said it would not be good of us to leave them at this stage. This was not heard, and the 'request' was laid out again, until we could only relent towards the now less awkward of the two outcomes.
We packed up and packed back on our cycling gear, and headed for the road. In utter disbelief, we were then forcibly diverted for a midnight tour of the grand old house, the one we had no chance of staying in. It was like dangling a large and exquisite steak in front of a hungry man. Our tour guide was the 15 yo son, who had worked himself into a frenzy, fed as he was from a young age with 'stories of Jessica'. We felt only tenuously connected to the deity Jessica, but it seemed in his eyes we were almost reincarnations and touched by the same mark. We were shown round the living room, and then the guest 'Jessica's' room where our terse disbelief and grinding of teeth reached a crescendo. When we were shown 'Jessica's bathroom and toilet' with a full sincerity, the exasperated atmosphere popped into a chuckling surrealism.
After the tour concluded and the last leg of cycling was done, we reached our real beds for the evening in a bedraggled desperation. The final barrier between us and sleep's rescue were several enforced rounds of sickly sweet strawberry vodka shots rationed by the father-general himself. In a bizarre way fully illuminated by hindsight, the night's trial felt like a lesson from above and a universal re-balancing. In the fortnight leading up to this, we had stayed in the tent less and less, and had become more skilled / formulaic in trying to meet hosts, a little bit presumptuous certainly, perhaps even a little imposing. I felt this was a knock back in the other direction, where the gentle imposition was from our hosts on to us. Even hospitality for strangers seems so universally found in this world, one should never expect it. Each impromptu stay is in its own right a minor miracle of humanity. This evening schooled us a little to appreciate each and every instance of this magic, and never take it's existence for granted.