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Photo From Jode Brexa's World Travels

khiva | uzbekistan

On our first trip beyond Andijan viloyati, we travel to Khiva. The tiled minarets in turquoise Majorca rise into azure sky.  Vendors display plastic keychains, bird whistles and polyester scarves from China on plywood tables.  Madam! Come look, only look!

On the flagstones of the empty plaza are spread dozens of embroidered bedcovers of pomegranates, curved peppers, suns and moons.

Why so many? I ask.  A young woman on a wooden chair says, Two years. Covid. No tourists. We are just sewing. This one my sister made; this one my mother.

I kneel on the stones.  Her sister, the one who can’t speak, rushes to me, vocalizing, signing.

The young woman says her sister goes to a school for deaf students.  She sees, then makes the pattern, she tells me.

Her sister brings armfuls, like laundry, so many colors, so much work.  I want all of them, fan through the embroidered pillowcases.

The girl who can’t speak mimes ATM machine, pulls at me, grunting.   She runs ahead of me through the back streets, past the chaihana, the white pompom on her wool hat bobbing.

I am breathless, laughing. At the ATM, I insert a Visa card, withdraw the maximum.  A million som in 100,000 notes.  Then again, another million.  The third time, a million more.

The girl leans against me while the stacks of som shuffle from the machine. I stuff them like leaves into my crossbody bag.

We go back almost running, arm-in-arm.

The young woman folds three embroidered spreads, pushes twelve pillow covers I love into a plastic trash bag.   I give her the stacks. Three million, more than a month’s salary.   Her sister folds two more pillow cases into the bag.  They are her gift, the woman says.

Back in our tiny guest house, I spread the orange pomegranates woven with mint green on my single bed.  I’m ecstatic.

I research suzani on my iPhone, learn that the intricately embroidered covers are made for a girl’s dowry.  From the time she is small, her mothers, sisters, aunts sew sections, then stitch them together in a gorgeous pattern.

The hook-stitched ones are for tourists.

I paid too much, I tell Ebrahim.

You enjoyed buying them, didn’t you? my husband says. Don’t act stupid. Money has to move.

The next morning, from the west gate, our young guide Anush takes us on a tour through the gorgeous architecture of the 2500 years old ruins, the khanate of late fifteenth century Khiva, the treachery, tells us the central story of the Silk Roads.

We visit the khan’s summer palace, the madresa now a tourist hotel, walk between the hand-carved pillars of the mosque where once five thousand worshippers prayed.

I grew up here, Anuysh says. Sher says she ran across those flagstones on the plaza.  She knows every vendor, takes us to buy, to  ter uncle’s woodcarving shop, her cousin’s place of silk scarves, her friend with the embroidered pillow cases.

I already bought covers I say.  You know, the girl who can’t speak?  I bought hers; she was so distressed.

Xaren?  I went to school with her, Anush says.  She has four sisters and another one can’t speak, either, she says, with scorn.   You know why?

Her parents are too close relatives.

I liked her suzani so much, I say.

Anush laughs, harsh.  Not her suzani.  That girl doesn’t bother herself to sew.