Communion in Central Asia

A year ago at this time, I was ending a ten-day trip to Central Asia. I haven’t written about it too much because it wasn’t an easy trip. I don’t know how to package the experience up in a small, orderly box to present to you, so I’m not going to try.

I’m only going to try to remember and commemorate my time there. I want to hold it forever in my memory and name it as sacred.

These days, it is easy to remember. My thoughts swirl thick with memories of that place and the days I spent there.

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I see the skinny trees growing from the brown foothills. Apples and beans dry on concrete steps outside of village homes. Hay spills from barn lofts. Grapevines trellis over courtyards.

I spend days and nights sick in bed. I am frustrated with my body. How could I have traveled all this way to be so useless? To not even be able to help cook? I grew up on industriousness and being helpful. In those hours of sickness, I learn something about letting myself be cared for, to not judge my sickness against the suffering of anyone else.

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I remember walking up and down staircases in Soviet-era office buildings, in and out of rooms where I am offered tea. I remember driving past block after block of apartment buildings with satellite dishes sprouting from windows and roofs, winding up and down mountain roads until the villages look like something from an oil painting.

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The bazaar down the road from the house where we stay smells like dill and is full of produce that I am not allowed to eat without first soaking it in iodine or peeling away the outside skin. Bananas are okay. And pomegranates. I have never eaten a pomegranate outside of December or January. My fingers stain red and the sour seeds hurt my tongue. Peeling a pomegranate is an act of love, we joke. We spend mornings gathered around the small kitchen table, picking the red capsules of juice from the white flesh, popping them in our mouths. We eat this love, this blood and flesh. We have communion in Central Asia.

I am learning to hold a place in my heart for a country that I may never step foot in again. My friend Paula wrote, “Our journeys christen us, it seems to me, and we never leave those names behind.”

This country in Central Asia is part of my name now. I feel tied to that country thousands of miles away, across continents and oceans and deserts.

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