Some Peace Corps volunteers would caution me not to name my blog after the Silk Road. The PC sends you wherever they can fit you. I might end up in Africa on a salt road, or on a starry Pacific island.

But I requested the Central Asian “stans,” the Caucasus, or Mongolia. And my recruiter says that the PC just might send me to the stans, because no one else wants to go there.

So why do I want to go there? I blame it on the maps.

At age ten, I found a map of the former Soviet Union, nestled in the pages of my National Geographic. This map looked more peculiar than anything I’d seen before. Russia and fourteen other countries formed a crescent around the North Pole. The map was densely dotted with the names of a thousand cities, like ants scurrying across broken pavement.

Instantly I tacked the map next to my desk. Every night, I would trace the strange and sonorous names of the “stans.” I daydreamed about visiting Central Asia: Aral’skoye More, Kirgizskiy Khrebet. The Pamirs and the Tien Shan. Almaty, Andijan, Issyk-Kul.

What happened here, I asked. What upheaval created this mysterious jumble of names, rivers, and pastel-colored borders? Why did the cities of Stalinabad and Frunze turn into Dushanbe and Bishkek? Who set the lines — who decreed that a certain spot of land would be a territory instead of an autonomous republic? A region instead of a titular nationality? I scoured the history of the former Soviet empire to answer these questions. I even tried to teach myself Russian.

Take a Soviet obsession, an interest in Islam, a taste for urban decay, and add heaps of idealism. This recipe made me very happy during my college years. Let’s see what happens in the real world.

I feel a bit afraid of how naive I actually am.