From a street-seller at 12-years old to running a growing empire in Bukhara, a mere 17 years later, Sabina’s story is nothing short of extraordinary.
Over the 30 years Golden Eagle Luxury Trains has been operating its private train journeys, we have been lucky to meet so many inspiring individuals who have left lasting impressions on our Company and our guests. These are the people that bring our tours to life and help make our journeys unforgettable, so while we are unable to introduce you to them in person for the time being, we are bringing their inspiring stories to you virtually.
In the words of Company President, Tim Littler
Our 2003 Silk Road tour was in Bukhara on 7th April. On board was our Marketing Manager, Megan. After a tour of the 2,500 year old city she called me to say she had just met an incredible 12-year old girl called Sabina selling postcards in the street, who could speak 13 languages, and tenaciously (but politely) suggesting that some of our guests visit her mother’s small pottery shop. Megan spoke Italian and German fluently and said Sabina was able to converse perfectly well in either language as well as English. When she asked where Megan came from, and Megan replied Kansas, Sabina went on to state so many facts about Kansas – facts Megan said most American kids her age wouldn’t know – that she speculated that if Sabina were American, she could rise to become President! While touched, thinking it was a nice story, I soon forgot about it.
Fast forward to October 2005 – I was in Bukhara myself with another Silk Road tour. The group got off the bus at the first stop to tour the Ark Fortress and were followed by a small group of girls selling postcards for $1. From the Ark we drove to the Old City, where the girls met us again and I noticed one girl who was politely talking to our guests in whatever was their native language and Megan’s phone call came back to me. I said to the girl, ‘Are you Sabina?” And she said, ‘Yes – and you are Mister Tim, the big boss of the train.’ She took me to her mother’s small pottery shop nearby and gave me a small piece of pottery as a present.
Sabina’s father had died in 1994 at 32 years old, leaving her 29-year-old mother with four children and no income. Then 4-years old, Sabina, who’s birth name is Muhammad Rozoqov, picked flowers and gave them to foreign tourists and discovered that they started giving her money, the following year she started selling postcards for $1. In addition to helping her family to survive in the difficult times after the Soviet Union broke up after her father’s death, after a few years she had managed to save $10,000 which allowed her mother to acquire a half share in a pottery shop.
Sabina’s English was perfect, and I know from several other people that she spoke just about any language that she was spoken to in. I was so impressed that I said to her that, when she was older, we would be interested in employing her but how would we contact her? Unexpectedly, she said ‘email’ (at that time only one hotel in town had Wi-Fi) and wrote her address on a scrap of paper.
September 2009 was my next visit to Bukhara and before leaving the UK, I sent Sabina an email to advise our date of arrival. The email however, bounced back with a message saying it did not exist. When we arrived to Bukhara we were surrounded by the usual polite children selling goods and I thought one of them was Sabina, however when I asked her she informed me that she was her sister and that Sabina had left Bukhara and gone to England (Sabina later told me that she wanted to go to England to learn how to write English, but her mother refused to let her go. Apparently, a French tourist offered to lend her the money for her trip and she successfully worked in London for over 3-years from 2007 to 2010).
From a street stall to a growing business empire
In October 2012, I travelled with our first Caspian Odyssey tour from Yerevan to Almaty. On this trip we were honoured to have on board Princess Michael of Kent and her friend Lady Cawdor as guests. In Bukhara I decided to go into town by myself after lunch and was strolling down the main street of the Old Town when one of our guides came out of a carpet shop and asked if I would like to come inside, as that was where our Golden Eagle group was. Having been in many carpet shops and enjoying the atmosphere wandering the old streets by myself, I declined. The guide persisted and said I should come inside and meet the owner who could speak 17 languages. I stopped and said, ‘What’s her name?’, ‘Sabina’ was the reply. Intrigued, I went inside and found a very proficient young lady explaining to our group how Bukhara carpets were made and showing the various designs. At the end of the presentation I went over to say hello and she said, after your group has gone, can you stay as I want to show you something? After a few sales, our group left. Sabina gave instructions to the staff and we made our way outside into the late afternoon heat.
Sabina (now 22) explained that she wanted to buy a hotel that was available for sale for $1 million and very soon we were on our way to see it. The staff were very respectful as Sabina walked in and we had a look around a 50-room hotel in the old town. How quickly things can change!
I needed to get back to the train but suggested that she joined us for dinner that evening as the train was staying in Bukhara station until late that evening. I went back to the train and told Princess Michael about Sabina and it was suggested that she joined them for dinner.
My next visit to Bukhara was in November 2016. I did not go into town but Sabina came out to the Golden Eagle train. She said that the hotel project had not worked out but that she was now planning to take over and renovate a hotel called the Shahriston, located in a converted Madrasa and the only hotel in the old town, not far from her carpet shop.
Earlier in the year she told me that a few important people had visited her shop. In addition to the Japanese Prime Minister’s wife, the President of China and his wife visited at the start of a State visit to Uzbekistan.
When I returned in October 2019, the Shahristan Hotel had recently opened, and Sabina took me to see the beautifully renovated building. She informed me that Christine Lagarde, former head of the IMF and current head of the ECB, had checked out that very morning!
I was also impressed to see that the original Bukhara Silk Carpets shop had been expanded and now employs 200 carpet weavers. A dress shop has been recently opened next door and there are plans for a restaurant and jewellery store in the same block which Sabina and her family now own entirely.
From a street-seller in 2003 to running a growing empire in Bukhara 17 years later is quite an accomplishment and it is not the end of her extraordinary story. At 29-years old, Sabina has also found time to have six children (the most recent was born earlier this week) and has recently been appointed Deputy Mayor of the city. With all this going on, I’m not sure she could find the time to also become President of the United States!
Written by Tim Littler (10th May 2020)