I would be lying to say it has not been a tough few weeks.
Grey winters indicitive of living above the 42nd N parallel couple with soviet architecture in a particularly soul crushing way. Along those lines I will shower you with a bottom 5 list (in no particular order), to counter my previous top 5 from a few months ago:
1. Assault – In all the guidebooks for Bishkek you read that it is not safe to go out at night. Usually I am one of the first to ignore these warnings, and I tend to think general street smarts can get you out of most situations. That said I would be hesitant to embark on some of my solo journeys if I was female, just the simple facts of life in the world today. Unfortunately these facts proved Lonely Planet correct the other night. After leaving out flat around 1 am, and insisting that she walk the 10-15 blocks back to her flat, a friend of ours was beaten and mugged. I will spare you the details but will add a bit about the taxi trip to pick her up after it happened. When I heard my phone ringing and saw it was her I thought maybe she left something, but when I picked up I could tell something was wrong. She let me know that she needed help and my roommate and I jumped into action. Running out the door we grabbed a taxi and implored him to hurry up beacause our friend was in trouble. Nouns are given a gender here and so it translated into our female friend was in trouble. In response the taxi driver pulled a handgun out of the waist of his pants and uttered ‘padyom’ or ‘Let’s go’. Needless to say we didn’t utilize the help, but in general it epitomizes the underbelly and chaos that exists close to the surface here in Bishkek.
2. Laptop no more – After traveling and living abroad for several years, usually with some sort of computer, I never had any problems with theft – until last summer. In Costa Rica out rental was robbed and my laptop was stolen. I recovered and was chugging along with my new netbook until a two weeks ago. It was a fairly sunny day and I was in a good mood. That mood got a bit worse when in a crowded mashrutka someone swindled a netbook out of my bag. Mashrutkas are the public transport here, minibusses running all over the city, usually filled to the point of sexual intimacy. I mourned my netbook and moved on (minus significant portions of my music and recent fellowship work).
3. Visas – The visa process here in Bishkek is harrowing. I know there is a tendency for Europeans and North Americans to complain about visa procedures whilst ignoring the onerous processes on our own countries. All I am saying is that I have absolutely no intention of illegally emigrating to Kyrgyzstan.
4. Kyrgyz Police – The police here in Bishkek are something to avoid. My first day here I was waiting for a friend to pick me up and had a policeman harass me. Out of pure luck I had a good stretch with nobody bothering me. That stretch ended and I consistently get stopped by police, some in uniform, some undercover, who demand documents and usually try and get you into an alley. Check out http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/central-asia/201-central-asia-decay-and-decline.aspx for an interesting perspective on underfunded public services and the problems this creates. That said, I am not keen to fill the funding gap.
5. Weather + Soviet Architecture – Bad weather is something I am accustomed to. Yet there is something uniquely depressing about gray, cold days coupled with geometric, gray architecture. The compounding factor is tangible. I suppose I should have known what I was getting into when I signed up to live in Kyrgyzstan for the entire winter. Summer in the states is looking plush.
After the winter comes the spring and among the rough times Kyrgyzstan offers moments of brilliance. Here are a few pictures from a recent climbing trip into Kyrgyzstan’s beautiful mountains. A break from the Bishkek smog, and mashrutka madness.
Lots of love, Charlie
P.S. Credit for all photos included with this blog go to Dan Pousette, our photographer, guide, and friend.