Sunday, July 7, 2013

July 7

July 7, 2013

I had set the alarm just in case as I needed to be at the agreed-on spot for the trek at 8:30 am. I was up before six anyway and busied myself right away getting to the intersection at exactly 8:15. Willoughby was sitting at the bus stop knitting away.

After greeting her, I went into the Narodni nearby and bought some staples to take with me for what was expected to be a picnic and for which , we were going to share our purchases. Amanda came by next and we went in search of fresh flat bread to bring along, which we found after walking here and there.

Rebecca and Daniel rounded out the group since Luann had bailed out after learning that the entire cost of the outing would be around 600 soms. When a newish SUV taxi pulled up in front of us to discharge some passengers, Amanda and I agreed we should approach the driver to see if he was interested in taking us to the Alar Cha Park and then returning to pick us up.

The driver was game, so we piled up inside and drove past the cemetery I had visited last Sunday with Kate and then into a beautiful part of the city where the mountains started their steep climb and a river ran furiously down the hill. We started to see families out picnicking by the side of the river and lots of cars heading in the same direction as we were.

We had to paid an admission fee of 650 soms, for the whole group, so the driver could continue beyond the entrance gate. He dropped us off in front of hotel/tea house and we agreed to call him two hours before we wanted to be picked up. Rebecca, Amanda and David wanted to attempt one of the longer trails while Willoughby and I just wanted to wander around for a bit.

                                 Clouds gathering at the entrance to the Alar Cha Park

We only had about half hour of sunshine before the clouds came, the temperatures dropped precipitously and then the drizzle started. Willoughby and I took refuge at a nearby tea house, somebody’s house with a couple of tables with an umbrella on their dirt front yard. We ordered tea and had some of our cheese, bread and crackers while listening to the thunder in the distance.

                              The rudimentary tea house where we stopped for a rest

Rebecca called about hour an later to inform us it had started to rain very hard where they were, so they wanted to call the driver and head back out. I was delighted by the news since I never wanted to spend the entire day there anyway. I had worn no socks and the frilly shawl I’d taken with me provided no heat whatsoever, so my hands were freezing as well.

                                       This cutie appeared to be the owner's granddaughter

Willoughby and I managed to make it down to the guesthouse by the entrance before the rain started again in earnest. We ordered another pot of tea and inquired about the room prices which ranged from $100.00 to 200.00. She has a girlfriend coming to visit from Germany and thought this might be a good place to stay at during a visit to the park.

Once the group reunited, Amanda notified us the driver was already outside waiting. I fell asleep at some point during the ride but woke up before getting to the main road just as we were passing the president’s house, a structure that took up about two city books and was surrounded by a formidable fence and a small army of soldiers.

We each ended up paying 550 soms, or $12.00, for the outing. Luann was right in considering the cost of the trip prohibitively expense for the local population and that was why we saw mostly foreigners coming and going.  I said goodbye to everyone and hopped on the trolley to get home where I took a long nap on the sofa.

Willoughby called to let me know she’d taken a look at my final report and didn’t consider its tone to be too harsh or whinny. On the other hand, she felt I was being too modest in listing my achievements and made some specific recommendations to remedy that. How gracious of her!

Damira called to say she’d come by at 5:30 to take me to her house for dinner. I had prepared a gift bag with a few things to take to her family, but when she showed up, she made it clear we were going to a restaurant, a classy one, but a restaurant nonetheless. I protested vehemently, as I knew her salary is very low, and caved in only when I insisted on paying for my own meal.

We walked to the same Kyrgyz restaurant, Tubeteika,  I’d had lunch with Jennifer and Natalia the last time Jennifer came for a visit and stayed at my flat. We had sat outside, so I hadn’t seen the inside of it. The place looked almost palatial with an open air feeling, lots of glittering lamps, sofas and artwork.

Two men were playing music in front of what looked like a dancing floor. We occupied a booth nearby, and I found the music to be too loud to be able to hold a conversation, but the waiter wouldn’t hear of asking for the volume to be turned down a bit. He argued that diners at the far end wouldn’t be able to hear the music then.

The food was unremarkable: a tiny green salad with only two pieces of lettuce, so just tomatoes and cucumbers, salmon for me with an insipid caper sauce and fried goat meat and potatoes for Damira.

When it came time to pay, she refused accept my 500 som note arguing she’d invited me this time. She’d left her cell phone at my house and had to walk back with me to get it. Evidently, she was on her way to a date as she had ten missed calls when she got her hands on it and then told he was already outside waiting for her.

At the end, I found out that Damira, her sister, brother-in-law and her niece are not living in a flat as she’d said before, but are building what will eventually be a three bedroom house in the outskirts of town. Just as in Zarina’s case, right now they only have one bedroom that doubles as a living room, a bathroom, hallway and kitchen.

She’d felt too embarrassed to take me to this place because they are basically piled one on top of another. I protested telling her I really wanted to see how Kyrgyz people lived, but she wasn’t persuaded. Oh, that Asian face-saving characteristic reared its ugly head once again.

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