Piotr Karpenko

When we were getting ready to leave one of the young officers begged permission to come with us, as he had to make a map of a locality two days distant in the direction we were going. He brought along two private soldiers to assist him.

In a certain valley we came across a camp of nomad KaraKirghiz and entered into conversation with them. The officer who was with us also spoke their language. One of the KaraKirghiz was elderly, and obviously an experienced man. The officer, one of my friends and I asked this KaraKirghiz to share a meal with us, hoping that we might profit by his knowledge of these places to extract from him such information as we needed.

We ate and spoke. We had brought bags made of sheep’s stomachs which had been stuffed with excellent kovurma, and the officer also had vodka, which he had brought from Tashkent and which these nomads greatly relish, particularly when none of their own people see what they are drinking. While pouring down the vodka, the KaraKirghiz gave us various hints about these regions and indicated where certain points of interest were to be found. Pointing to a perpetually snow­capped mountain which was already familiar to us, he said: ‘You see that summit yonder? Well, just behind it there is this . . . and that . . . and there is also the famous cave of Iskander.’ The officer sketched all this down on paper. He was, by the way, rather a good artist.

When we had finished eating and the KaraKirghiz had gone back to his camp, I looked at the drawing which the officer had made and saw that he had put everything that the old man had described not behind the mountain as the latter had indicated, but in front of it. I pointed out this discrepancy to him and it appeared that the officer had confused ‘in front of with ‘behind’ as in that language the words ‘behind’ and ‘in front of’, bou-ti and pou-ti, are almost the same, and to someone who does not know this language well they sound almost alike, especially when they are pronounced quickly with other words.

When I explained all this to the officer, he merely said: ‘Oh, well, devil take it!’ and he slammed his sketch­book shut. He had been drawing for almost two hours and of course did not wish to do it all over again, the more so as we were all ready to proceed on our way.