Over the course of writing about Bishkek, I've focused on the beautiful and the weird aspects of life and culture. Snow, springtime, strawberries and so on. And in the process, I convinced myself that life here could be pink and fluffy if only you searched hard for the good stuff. Well, today I've been rudely shaken out of my blithe perspectives on Kyrgyz life and culture, particularly the menfolk. And I'm still shaken, despite having been plied with beer and vegemite toast in the intervening hours. Here's what happened.
This coming Sunday, I'm moving out of my apartment and into a newer one which I'll be sharing with an American colleague. I spent most of today making piles of things and throwing out junk. (It's amazing how much one person can accumulate in five short months)! Anyway, at about 5 pm my landlord came by. This in itself was unusual, since most of my dealings have been with his wife, and he's been the surly one. Still, he seemed friendly enough, and wanted to say goodbye, so I invited him in and we had a chat. After a couple of minutes, he invited me to have dinner: I asked if he meant with his wife, and he seemed to concur. Despite the slightly out-of-character invitation, it seemed like a good chance to get to know them better, so I acquiesced and we left the building. A couple of steps out of the apartment, however, and I realised my mistake. He'd meant dinner in a restaurant, with just him; worse, he was clearly drunk, and very grabby. He kept touching my arm and asking whether I had any men friends. Furious with myself for not realising his drunken intentions, but wary of his reaction if I were to cry off, we started walking down the street while I racked my brains for a way out. He ducked into a magazin for some cigarettes, at which I pulled out my phone and called a friend, babbling frantically about the situation. Before she could give me advice, he came back out, so we continued to walk for a bit. Unbeknownest to me, however, a Nigerian man (strange enough in itself!) had overheard my rushed phone conversation, and he followed us for a time. After a block or so, he pushed himself aggressively between us, and started to tell me to be careful. He was pretty drunk himself, and my landlord pushed him away: he pushed back, and they began to shout and push violently at each other in earnest. Even for Bishkek, it was a bizarre sight, this massive African and my Kyrgyz landlord with his gold teeth! It drew quite a crowd. I interjected, loudly, that I was going to leave now, and I did, fast. My landlord protested, but was now too embroiled in the fight to stop me.
After I'd walked a couple of blocks, however, and called the same friend to blurt it all out, my landlord came running after me with drunken lurches, and again I mentally kicked myself for not taking a different route home. This time, it was different: he made some suggestive gestures, stroking my arm, and even took hold of it, trying to steer me towards a taxi: if he'd really tried, he could have pulled me into it. I firmly declined, and planted my feet, and eventually he seemed to believe that I was scared of the African and that's why I was refusing. After about five minutes of aggressively negotiating, he let me walk away, shouting that he was going to run back and fight that 'nigger'. (Same word in Russian, apparently). Shaking with relief, I went to the apartment of a male colleague who lives close by. He gave me beer and sympathy, and we concocted a plan whereby he would accompany me back to my apartment, I would pack an overnight bag, and we would take a taxi together to another friend's place, who could put me up on a couch. So that's what we did, and that's where I am.
I'm one of those people who walks around after dark, unable to believe that anyone would want to hurt me. And yet, if it hadn't been for the good Nigerian giant, I could be in a dreadfully serious situation right now, and one which I walked right in to. Am I careless? Do I walk around in a bubble? That Kyrgyz man, I'm almost certain, went home and took it all out on his wife, and that could have been avoided if I'd been more cautious in the beginning. Kyrgyz men are given to drink, be violent, and to exercise authority over women. I knew that before, but still assumed the best. All I can do is thank God for the intervention, and pray for discernment in the future. It doesn't do to assume the best in this country, or anywhere; for all men, everywhere, fall short of the glory of God. Perhaps assuming the worst isn't an unrealistic position - perhaps it's the position of a person, sans rose-coloured glasses, who sees the world as it truly is.