Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 3

July 3, 2013

When daylight starts streaming through my bedroom window now, before five in the morning, I have no choice but to get up as sleep simply eludes me. Having an ever-growing list of things to do before my departure doesn’t help any. Laira sent me an SMS indicating she’d be coming by after her Zumba class across the street. I busied myself downloading last year’s expense report to model the format for the one this year and save myself some time.

When Laira came in, she turned down my offer of coffee and requested water instead. She mentioned she was leaving next week as well to spend the summer in the Dominican Republic with her family. When I mentioned my departure date was Friday the 12th, she double checked her itinerary on her smart phone and found out we’ll be on the same flight out of Bishkek.

I risked asking her if I could spend the few hours of the evening at her house before heading to the airport as I needed to return the key to the apartment at a reasonable time on Thursday the 11th. She first protested saying they’d be no room in the SUV for me because of her two girls and all the luggage. I told her I could afford to pay for my own taxi.

In essence, without saying “no” to my face, she tried to convince me it’d be better if I worked with my landlady to try and stay here as late as possible so I could get some rest before the ride to the airport. That was a brutal and extremely humiliating experience. And to think I still have a possible encounter at the airport and the possibility of sitting very close to her family for the five hour flight to Istanbul.

I prepared another one of my Tajik outfits to go to the reception at the U.S. Embassy as the dress code called for a national dress or business suit, and it was too hot to consider wearing my pantsuit. I had enough time to go to the currency exchange place and get enough soms to settle my debt with Willoughby.

I engaged the services of a taxi driver who’d been sitting in front of my building. He spoke no English at all and I almost no Russian, but I managed to tell him to go straight on Manas and he thought I was going to either the Turkish Manas University or the Bishkek Humanities one, but I said to continue straight.

I could see the long line of cars pulling into the embassy’s compound, but taxis weren’t allowed in, so I was dropped off at the curb and had to walk the rest of the way. Natalia had said I’d need my passport to get in, but in fact the invitation card itself contained a code that could be scanned thus making it unnecessary to show ID. That was a first. Going through the X-ray machine, my camera was detected and immediately confiscated. It really made no sense since a lot of people were taking photos throughout the event using their smart phones anyway.

I got on the receiving line and at the end of it was the ambassador herself, Pamela Spratlen, whom to this day no one had bothered to introduce me to. There must be an unwritten rule somewhere in the Foreign Service mentality that believes fellows must carry some kind of contagion and must be kept away from the ambassador.

I had already being in her presence several times, but had never shaken her hand. I got to do so this day, but I’m sure she still has no idea as who I’m and my purpose for being in Kyrgyzstan. The event was been held outdoor and several tents had been assembled for food and drinks with small tables to accommodate those items but no chairs.

Natalia was standing nearby and came to greet me. She took me to the group where Bill, from the Peace Corps, and both Gulnaras were standing. I then turned around and found Elvira nearby, one of the pre-service teachers and Anna and Natasha as well. I still don’t understand why Peace Corps volunteers weren’t invited to this event.

Anna and Natasha commented on my Tajik dress and wanted to know why I hadn’t chosen a Kyrgyz one. The point seemed like a moot one to me since neither one of them was wearing anything remotely Kyrgyz, but I politely told them I had found no dresses in cotton or linen suitable for the summer with the Kyrgyz designs in it.

They both claimed I could go to Tsum and find some as well as the Orto Sai bazaar, where I had already been and found nothing of interest. I promised to look into the matter even though I only had a week to go before my departure. Anna expressed surprise as the immediacy of my leave and for the first time asked what state I’d be going back to.

I ran into David, the guy doing research for his doctorate that Rebecca had brought to the last book club, and I introduced him to them, and later on to Bill, the PC guy. I hardly recognized David at all as he had cut his hair and was a bit dressed up although he wore jeans, a no-no for a diplomatic reception. He told me Rebecca wasn't around as she was working in Issyk-Kul.

At 7:00 pm, the marines started their march toward the stage, the entrance steps to the embassy, then the ambassador welcomed everyone and had an older guy decked out in a Kyrgyz outfit sing the Kyrgyz national anthem, which I had never heard before. He had a melodious voice and sang beautifully, so at one point many of the locals started to sing along with him, something we’d normally never do. The American anthem followed sang by a stout African-American woman.

It was time to give the usual political speeches about our independence, democracy and cooperation between nations. The ambassador could speak quite a few phrases in Kyrgyz, which really impressed me, but had an interpreter who repeated everything in Russian. A Kyrgyz minister then addressed the crowd in both Russian and English.

When the speeches were done, food was brought out, and everything was cold: mini burgers, hot dogs, cheese wrapped in dough and chicken wings along with an array of condiments. A fruit platter and a vegetable one rounded out the offerings. I had picked up a glass of beer earlier, but didn’t find it to my liking. Coca-Cola had apparently sponsored the event and their soda was the only alternative drink, so drank nothing with my meal.

I passed on the hot dogs, but got a mini burger, some condiments and a couple of chicken wings. I repaired to one of the tables where the two women spoke only Kyrgyz apparently. Anna and Natasha joined me later and we chitchatted about the picnic scheduled for the same location tomorrow as I wondered if a grill would be available or if they’d be catering everything like today.

Anna thought I should return to the embassy to find out, but I told her I had no interest in being out there in the sun for the simple purpose of getting a hamburger and would be going to the dentist instead. She wanted to know the location of the dental clinic and when I said it was near my house, she shot back she didn’t know where I lived. I wondered why that was the case.

The two Kyrgyz women had left their trash behind, so I took their plates to the trash can and found an American couple now talking to Anna and Natasha. It gave me the perfect gateway to leave as I told them that they were in good hands now.

Once outside the compound, one of the security guards told me to walk to the next intersection if I needed a taxi. I did so and instead of a taxi, a marshrutka came by, so I and a man who had been standing there as well got on with me. This marshrutka didn’t pick any other passengers and then its driver informed us he was done for the day.

I had to take another marshrutka home, but it certainly beat the 200 soms I’d paid for the taxi ride going in.

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