Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
This photo was taken in the fall of 2004, as I walked past these guys everyday on my way to and from work at an Uzbek NGO in the city of Andijon. When I first arrived earlier in the year as a Peace Corps volunteer, the demolition hadn’t started yet and these guys were selling drinks from a typical cement-block storefront typical of the average merchant, the exact same place you see them sitting here. Then slowly, as the government announced higher taxes for small businesses while at the same time threatening to demolish older buildings in the name of modernization (read: higher rent and taxes for newer stores to fill the state’s coiffures), the destruction began eating away at this small strip of buildings. But each day as I passed by them, the men and I would exchange nods and the typical Uzbek greeting, which is actually a series of questions after the initial peace be upon you, “Asalamalakum, Yakshimisiz? Tuzuk misiz? Ishlaringiz yakshimi?”* and so on until the questions end and both parties continue to nod saying only “Yakshi yakshi yakshi.”* They were always polite and cheerful. Each day I expected they would move away from the daily demolition going on around them. Their neighbors moved. They did not, not even when there was barely anything left but the ground underneath them. Not even when the road in front of them was dug up for expansion. They refused to cave into the government’s demands or threats. They knew they had rights, or rather, they wanted to have the right to stay exactly where they had always been or be given a fair alternative or compensation. Unfortunately, there was no such offer coming forth any time soon. And so they stayed, the only thing they knew how to do.
The contrast in this photo shows their quiet and peaceful form of rebellion against the literal destructive force of an unfair government decree.
Eventually, the demolition was complete and there was nothing left, not even these stalwart men. What followed was additional decrees against blanket vendors at outdoor markets, requiring the very poor merchants to rent stalls and pay taxes while (again) not giving them alternatives or compensation. There were also seemingly unlawful arrests of prominent businessmen and imprisonment without charges or a trial. By the time the following spring rolled around, the quiet rumblings of protest turned into a full blown riot after a prison break that resulted in a massacre of the city’s own citizens. It was the day that I was evacuated from Andijon.
This photo foretells the bloody ending of the battle of contrasting wills.
*Translate: “Peace be with you. Are you well? Are you healthy? How are things?” and “Good good good.”
Note: I’m adding more photos to support my narrative, but the first picture above is my entry for the challenge.
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