A toast to Karakalpakstan

Today as I start my journey back to the US, I leave a little piece of my heart in Karakalpakstan which has been my home since the beginning of April. I leave a piece of my heart here because I know that I will always return. For me Karakalpakstan is a place of enormous beauty and magic, of love and laughter, and a profusion of melons in summer. For my research I have been lucky to go on many “unplanned adventures” across this land – which is often much bigger than it seems from the map – and have always found fascinating places and wonderful people. From Qarateren to Sudoche lake, from the bridges near Beruniy and Mangit to the dams at the end of the Amu Daryo, from Ayaz Qala to Muynak, it has been an amazing journey. And so, I want to say a toast to Karakalpakstan:

To the yellow leaves and majestic trees at the end of the Amu Daryo and the deep leaf litter at the Lower Amudaryo Biosphere Reserve that dampens your steps as you walk through it.

To the swaths of Qamis that are taller than my head and make me feel that I might get lost for days in a strip that is really only 30m wide

To the men at the Nukus fish market whose rhythm as they scale and gut fish is mesmerizing

To the scary pontoon bridge over the Amu Daryo on the road between Nukus and Urgench that has somehow stood the test of time and is now being replaced by a modern bridge.

To the geography departments at Karakalpak State University for teaching me to love and to make Karakalpak black tea with milk.

To all of the roadside melon, melon eaten in homes, melon eaten on tapchans, and melon eaten outside a biolab next to a chicken coop. To many different kinds of melon, all delicious.

To the ecologists, foresters, and others who helped me learn the native plants of Karakalpakstan – jingil, qaraborak, baliqkoz, saxaul, and so many more.

To the egg seller at the Nukus bazar that is also a law student and and never questions that I bring my own plastic bag. To the lady who sells pigodi (Korean sandwiches) and always puts a bit of extra filling in mine. And didn’t judge me for the number of pigodi I ate over the summer when it was 45C.

To the training participant in Bozataw who told me that if I had come all this way to talk to them about climate change, then they should definitely be able to talk to their colleagues about it.

To the altin koz, gabrabrakon, mum kurti, and other beneficial insects that eat the “bad guy” insects, making it so that farmers don’t need pesticides.

To dancing with friends, swaying to karaoke, and learning to say a toast and drink Karataw.

To every person that answered one of my many questions. The more I get answered, the more questions I have – because I find Karakalpakstan endlessly wonderful and fascinating.

And finally, to Karakalpakstan, may more people realize your beauty and wonder, and may they take time to travel your roads in search of qalas, lakes, stars, and future friends.