Traveling through Central Asia reached me on levels that peeled away years of my life. For the first time since I was young I was surrounded by people who spoke Russian. People who wanted to know why it was that I, too, spoke that language.
My fellow travelers came to understand when I responded, "I am American, but my father was Russian. He left Russia 100 years ago." The questions flew at me in rapid fire succession, lest I disappear before the mystery was clarified.
Waiters hovered around me in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, knowing that I would translate mysterious requests, as complex as the need for a fork or a second beer. They saw many French, German, and Italian tourists. But English knocked them flat. They did not see many Americans.
Toward the end of dinner one night a handsome young lad walked up behind me and gently said, "This is for you," as he handed me a delicate white rose.
I don't mean a green-stemmed white rose. I mean a delicate all-white object that seemed to glow in the open-air caravanserai where a violinist played Mozart and a singer had just finished a rendition, in Russian, of "Очи Чёрные / Dark Eyes."
And just as I had finished explaining to my friends that it was a song about captivating dark eyes, this rose was placed in my hand.
I stumbled through a thank you, and asked: "But why are you giving me this?"
And the gracious young man said: "For your laughing eyes."
I doubt that he expected me to leap up and hug him, but how could I resist?
My rose didn't make it home intact, but I photographed it before going to sleep. I had walked home holding it delicately before me, marveling that someone had taken one of the paper napkins that graced almost all of the tables in Uzbekistan, and had created an object that could give me such joy.