Sometimes, this world seems like a miserable place. As someone who considers himself an optimist, I struggle sometimes to maintain a positive outlook. Luckily, life seems to have a way of surprising me in pleasant ways, leaving my faith in the inherent goodness of people refreshed. I encountered one such surprise in the sprawling urban mess of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in the form of Babur Park.
At first glance, it didn’t look like much. It hadn’t been well maintained, and the fountain was dry and filthy. A blanket of leaves cluttered the lawns and pieces of trash gave off a veneer of ugliness. I wasn’t there for the park, though. I was there for the history, and I was there for the tiles.
It was the summer of 1988 and the decades-long tension of the Cold War was finally thawing. Just over a year before Bush and Gorbachev declared the War over, a group of Seattle-ites traveled to Tashkent–Seattle’s sister city for 15 years, at that point–with a mission. Together with the Uzbeks of Tashkent, they created Seattle Peace Park, which is now known as Babur Park.
I mentioned tiles before. Throughout the park are thousands of hand-painted tiles, decorated by children from each city. Some have only names, others have quotes, still others display pictures from the Pacific Northwest. They all have the same themes: peace, harmony, friendship.
I spent a good amount of time walking in circles through the park. Some tiles were cracked and faded, the message on them barely legible. Others were better preserved, sheltered by a branch or bench. The most common words to see were ‘peace’ and the Russian equivalent ‘mir‘ (мир). My favorite, though, said, “We are the roots of peace”. Smart kid.
Walking out of the park, I felt all gushy inside. It’s nice that, amongst the ugliness and hate of conflict, there is always hope. There is kindness, friendship, and understanding. There is humanity, and that is what makes this world wonderful.
With plenty to think about, I walked a few streets over and contemplated it all as I inhaled the most delicious meal I’d had in weeks.