Thursday, July 18, 2013

Farewell, Kyrgyzstan

July 12, 2013

It was my last day in Bishkek and I decided it was time for some kind of reflection on the successes and travails my ten-month fellowship had brought me. I thought of a way I could list the positive and the negative aspects and Dave Letterman’s list of the “Top Ten Things” came to my mind.

So, I’ll start with the top ten things I’ll miss about Bishkek.

1.   The imposing views of the mountains
2.   The leafy streets and tree-lined promenades running for miles
3.   The ability to walk practically everywhere
4.   The fact that one can find almost anything needed within a block or two of one’s apartment
5.   The profusion of coffee houses and the fact that most of them offer some kind of outdoor sitting
6.   The inexpensive transportation system
7.   My very bright, airy and so well-positioned apartment
8.   The jungle-like courtyard in my apartment complex
9.   The freshly-baked flat bread, especially when baked with sesame seeds on top as the Uzbek people do
10.  Willoughby, Damira, Kate, Zarina and others who took the time to get to know me, and spent time showing me around the city

On the downside, here’s my list of the things I won’t miss at all:

1.   Encountering loogies (a large slimy glob of spit) on the steps to my building, the sidewalks and streets.
2.   Being unable to avoid the ever present smokers on the streets, restaurants, shops, and marshrutkas ad infinitum.
3.   Having to keep my eyes on the broken up sidewalks for fear of stumbling and falling.
4.   Feeling that as a pedestrian I’m worth as much as some mongrel dog and that Bishkek drivers actually enjoy trying to run me down even on the city’s sidewalks.
5.   Trying to maneuver the icy sidewalks and streets during the winter months.
6.   Running out of options at my most restaurants where meat reigns supreme and even a salad comes with meat in it.
7.   Having to ask for a knife at every restaurant.
8.   Repeatedly asking my server to make sure my latte is actually hot when it gets to my table.
9.   Finding out that my food has no seasonings of any kind, many times not even salt.
10.  Having to ask for coffee for breakfast when the hotel/guest house simply assumes all their guest will drink tea
As I wrote for final report for Georgetown University, I know I’ve grown professionally from all the different activities my position has required me to perform. I feel much more comfortable as a speaker addressing a large audience and know more intimately the challenges teachers here face when in the classroom.

Even when racism has reared its ugly head, I have been able to put aside my own feelings of frustration and rage to proceed with what was expected of me in a professional manner. I do not forgive those who engage in this practice, but have vowed to behave in a civil manner whenever possible.

Many people have asked me if I would want to return to Central Asia in any other capacity, perhaps as a college professor enjoying a pretty good salary here. I don’t believe so as the climate is quite harsh and the food simply not up to my standards. There were days when I simply didn’t want to cook and found very few options, if any, of places I wanted to go out to for a meal.

I found Kyrgyz people in general to be rather reticent about their lives. In the many months I was here, no one ever invited me to a family celebration except for Zarina’s wedding last October. Despite many promises of future invitations to dinners and summer homes, these invitations never materialized. I really feel that I didn’t get to know any of them really well.

The reverse side of that was that I also felt that they were not curious about me at all. While living in Tajikistan, people wanted to know everything about my life in the States and insisted on seeing photos of my house, my car, and my family. No one here has ever asked about my family photos.

I have to say that Kyrgyzstan is not a place I would ever consider returning to because I have left such great friends behind. End of story.

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