AMA #1: The Most Beautiful Smiles

My cousin Cathy asks a unique and beautiful question:

Where did you see the most beautiful smiles?

In Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan I was stunned by the smiles.

Silver and gold capped teeth would glint in stark relief to the smiling lips of Kyrgyz and Uzbek men and women. Usually the older generation. Both in the cities and in the sticks.

I found silver and gold teeth common for both men and women in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan
Most common I found were women in Uzbekistan wearing gold teeth

I assume the popularity is more about status and beauty than dentistry, otherwise the money spent on gold and silver would be spent on porcelain teeth or keeping natural teeth healthy. That’s my guess.

Either way, it is very common to see three, four, five teeth capped with or solid silver and gold in Kyrgyzstan. Full gold grills in Uzbekistan are pretty normal.

Actually, one particular instance of beautiful smiles comes to mind, overlapping with this first answer.

My friend Henry the Younger of Sussex and I were near Andijan, sleeping on the floor of Zoha’s place.

Zoha is a jolly, gregarious and gloriously hospitable Uzbek with a frame almost as big as his heart.

Zoha, the Author, and Henry the Younger of Sussex cosied up in an Uzbek minivan

Uzbek hospitality, by the way, was brilliant.

It was warm and genuine, and came with a more intense curiosity than any other country I have been to. Maintaining a more repressive and insular police state than its neighbours, and for a longer length of time, foreigners are still a wonder now that the country has opened up. Locals are eager to interact and connect and welcome. On the street, being greeted by strangers and invited to their homes was normal.

One evening, Zoha introduced Henry and I to his two young daughters and to his wife, Anira, whose smile shone with a full gold grill of upper teeth.

It really is something to behold.

For me, it took some getting used to. The only other humans I had seen sporting such full gold grills were gangsters in music videos rapping about dope and hoes. Not muslim Uzbek mothers.

Anira was very excited to see us. She asked, in a broken but passable English, where we are from, where have we been, what do we think of Uzbekistan. A real brightness to her personality, as well as her smile.

After welcoming us with characteristic Uzbek hospitality, Anira told us that she is an English teacher at a local school. She asks us excitedly if we would come into the school tomorrow and speak some English with the students.

Why not? Of course we will, Henry and I tell her.

The next morning, Henry and I are taken to breakfast by Zoha. He and Anira hardly slept the night before, tending to Zoha’s sick mother over the night. Yet he entertains us, chirpy as ever, and Anira goes to work at the school, where Zoha rushes us off to after we finish our meal.

We arrive at the school, where they are expecting us.

We are greeted by the English teachers, three friendly Uzbek women very eager to practice their English. They are open and friendly and so want their students to interact with native speakers.

One has a full gold grill of teeth, both upper and lower sets. Gnarly, dude.

The Author and Henry with the English teachers after our visit
The lady to the right of Henry rocks a full gold grill

They are clearly excited about the surprise visit by two English people.

They lead us into the school, where there are more of the faculty there ready to greet us, and children milling around and gawping and giggling and waving, shouting what few English words they know.

I found it interesting that I saw a half-dozen or more female teachers and only one male teacher.

My socks and sandals combo worked to prevent my sweaty feet sliding out of my tatty Birks in the Uzbek heat, which broaches 40 degrees most days.

I mention that only because I feel slightly underdressed when we are ushered into the school hall, one half of which is filled with children both seated and standing, the other half with chairs for the faculty and a small stage with a table, next to which there are two chairs and a microphone waiting for us.

There are bright flowers, and a banner stuck up on the wall saying, ‘Welcome to English’.

I was too discombobulated in the moment to appreciate the hustle that made this glorious little event happen. Between yesterday night and this morning, Anira met two English people and mustered a Welcome to English day at her school. Without sleeping.

And I can safely speak for Anira by saying that it was worth it, for the smiles and the chirps and the interactions between we and the schoolchildren.

Welcome to English

We greeted everybody.

“Hello! My name is Liam, I am from Guernsey…”

“Hello! My name is Henry, I am from London…”

Scanning face to face during the time we were speaking, there weren’t many smiles, mostly gawps, and a few giggles and whispers between them. I have the distinct feeling that few students understand us, despite slowing and simplifying our speech, our words simply echoing around the hall as the entertaining garble of some exotic language.

The teachers put a short video on their projector about the UK. I recognise it to be a travel agency commercial, which talks about touristic spots in London and the royal family.

After the video, the teachers invite the students to speak into a microphone set up opposite the stage. The kids had obviously rushed to prepare questions this morning.

The Author passing the mic to Henry the Younger of Sussex

Young questioners asked – or tried to ask, with varying degrees of success – for our names and where we are from. We answered these same questions many times.

One young girl of around sang us a discernible, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” We clap along, enchanted by the young girl’s confidence and effort, and my cheeks ache from smiling.

One teenager asked us what we think of Uzbekistan. I say, truthfully, that I love Uzbekistan because the people are friendly and hospitable, and the food is delicious.

One teenage boy, who spoke the most passable English of the lot, was adorably excited to speak to us. Or sing to us, rather, asking whether we know Ed Sheeran. Yes, of course, we know Ed Sheeran.

Then he asks us to sing along with him to a song, which neither Henry or I know.

Our young lad goes ahead singing his heart out into the microphone, heavily accented, gesturing us to join in the sing-song with him.

A teacher eventually cuts off his solo effort and reopens the floor to other questioners.

After we are whittled down to repeated requests for our names and where we come from, the teachers signal in one of the girls, who performs for us a traditional Uzbek dance.

She wears an ornately coloured and decorated dress, and she smiles whilst dancing, spinning, arms moving in a serpentine rhythm. Henry and I clap and smile and cheer.

What a spectacularly talented and courageous young girl.

She rushes out of the room when the music stops, apparently shy not to be hidden within her dance.

After that some children went to class and some stuck around for photographs.

We take some photos outside the hall, after which the students ask us for selfie after selfie after selfie after selfie, all of which were totally worth smiling through just to see the happiness on the students’ faces.

And on that day I saw some of the most beautiful smiles I have seen in my life.

I will be quarantining for 10 days here in the UK and 14 days in Guernsey.

On each day I intend to answer a question fielded by you dear readers about my travels.

If you would like to ask a question, feel free to ask me anything. I would appreciate it.

And thank you Cathy for the lovely question.

4 thoughts on “AMA #1: The Most Beautiful Smiles

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