About loud men and a rebellious woman

October 2017, in Uzbekistan.


We all have that uncle in the family,

or that colleague at work.

That man who knows everything.

With a loud voice he sweeps aside all disagreements and doubts,

He speaks with conviction and doesn’t leave any space for others to talk.

For him,

listening is tough.

Global issues are considered from a national point of view

and declared to be unimportant.

Gay rights? What are we talking about?

Refugees? Not our problem.

Not to mention the position of the woman.

Too many men in Uzbekistan were that Uncle.

And where in real life this man is surrounded by a family with many different opinions and sounds,

In Uzbekistan, it’s this man who is given the designated position to speak out loud.

In no other country were men so loud,

but yet, they had so little to say.

‘Married?’ Followed, by, ‘Why don’t you have children then?’

A normative judgment was concealed in every question.

Their eyes were filled with disapproval,

time after time.

day after day.

And do not misunderstand me, Mister,

I have all respect for different views and cultures.

I have been asked about the absence of my own children for two years now,

not to mention all those worries in the past about that missing man.

But no other country had managed to push me into a box so forcefully,

day in day out.

As a tourist.

As a woman.

And most of the time:

as both at once.

You were definitely in charge mister man,

there was no question about that.

But dear Mister Uzbekistan,

let me tell you.

In simplifications  – and boxes –

the world is easier to understand.

In blind faith and strict traditions,

the whole world might seem to make sense.

But yet,

it won’t lead you to the truth.


But Janneke, tell me honestly, was there nothing good happening in Uzbekistan? Was it all so bad?

No of course not. Not everything…

They have donkeys in Uzbekistan.


And donkeys are super cool. We all know that.


And there was this one lady, wiping the streets with her wooden broom,

who touched us with her very sincere and welcoming smile.


And there was this grandmother who filled my water bottles,

in the middle of the desert.


There was this one driver that passed us and asked us if we needed help.


There was this little fairy tale encounter in the middle of nowhere with this magical man on his beautiful horse.


There was this time that we were invited for tea.


And there was this one family, that took us into their home.

and for this one night, all our feelings of doubt and despair were gone.


There was, without a question, some stunning historical architecture to be found, occasionally.


There was the desert that revealed its true beauty on exceptional moments, from time to time.


There was the changing of the seasons, and the beauty of the autumn that slowly came to pass.


There were the nights of camping and cooking,

surrounded by nature, outside in the early night.


But it was those miserable registrations,

that were imposed to us, as tourists in your land.

Every three days you need a little notification of an official tourist hotel,

as that was your demand.

But as we were crossing this big desert, covering big distances with very little happening on our way,

you might understand the pressure and impossibilities of finding a place to stay.


It was the refusals by hotel owners,

for fear of government regulations.

It was the many times that we were scammed,

or that the local police only begrudgingly helped us when we were stranded in a city without a place to stay,

and it was only after demanding lots of money,

that we received their help that day.

It was all those times that we were fooled and deceived,

it was those two times that we were robbed.

It’s waking up,

with the receptionist of the hotel next to your bed,

realizing he took 100 dollar out of your wallet.

Just like that.

It’s being taken into the house of this friendly man for the night,

just to wake up, realizing he had been searching through your belongings all night,

and decided to take some stuff out.

Oh yes, Mister Uzbekistan,

all this was happening,

and all that happened was caused by:

‘your men’.

But yet Mister Uzbekistan,

I hope you don’t mind, I have another question on my mind.

Whether it is all these men in particular, that I should be annoyed with?

Or is it possibly caused by the system behind it?

And so I wonder,

whether the government might be the key,

to all this ignorance that I’ve seen?

As, if you ask me,

there are only a few other countries in the world,

with a government,

so closed and authoritarian,

so dogmatic and conservative.

But something tells me,

you might disagree.







And so it came that the emptiness of that desert,

got filled with that loud voice of those men.

And the longer I cycled through Uzbekistan,

the stronger the desire became,

to be somewhere,



away from them.



















And now, here’s the thing…

I can write you all of this – as a woman –

just like my uncle can speak with his loud voice at home.

Because I was born in Europe,

where the truth can always be questioned,

and such a restricting society is no longer known.




Janneke Verhagen




**** OBJECTION! ****

For all of you that I can hear thinking: ‘Ahaa! Now I know what Uzbekistan is like!’ Be careful. My stories are based on my very personal experiences.  In no way do I claim to have written an absolute statement.

What if we had crossed the northern border? (The one that was currently closed by the government).  And what if we had cycled a different route? Would this story still be what Uzbekistan was like?

And more important, what if we weren’t robbed twice in our very first days in the country by those men?  And our feeling of safety and trust didn’t get slightly damaged from the start? Would we have had a different impression of Uzbekistan? I bet so. Maybe. But we will never know.

What I do know, is that there was no other place on earth for us where there was so much bad luck on our way, and I guess that’s what this story is all about. What I also know is that in all cases I would prefer you to go out and find out for yourself. In ALL cases that’s much better than relying on the opinion of someone else.

Yes, that also counts for that guy who writes your newspaper or that woman who tells you on the television what the world is all about.


**** Until next time! ****


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