Friday, September 7, 2012

This is Kyrgyzstan

This is Kyrgyzstan.

An innocent phrase, but when uttered wryly and with that universal hand gesture of abandonment, it becomes the catchcry of the expat.

For instance:

I go upscale and take a Manas Taxi (as opposed to a private taxi) from the airport, thinking to buy a little peace of mind with the extra 50 som. My driver is a burly middle-aged Russian. He hoists my bags into his boot, and then poses a question: this here lady has a problem getting home, can she share the taxi with me? Deep down, a little internal alarm goes off, but sure! I say breezily. What harm? Well, naturally, it turns out the lady in 'distress' is the taxi driver's girlfriend (though he just told me about his wife and children - what?), and he's going to drop her off, a little out of the way. Bugger. I negotiate: she should pay part of the fare. On this point, as indeed on all points, I am firm. So is the driver. But he finally agrees to lower the price by 50 som; drops off his girlfriend; and proceeds (it is now 3:30 AM) to veer sharply off the main road and onto a dirt road, away from the city. Holy cow. Heart skips. My phone isn't working yet. Thinly disguising my panic, I demand to know where we're going. Eh, no worries, it shortcut! Shortcut! I spend the next twenty minutes frantically looking for landmarks, and the taxi does eventually veer around back to the city - a shortcut indeed, but one that cuts through deserted warehouses and unlit back streets. It is an unspeakable relief to finally see a street that I know.

This is Kyrgyzstan.

My new apartment (which I share now with another teacher, who shall henceforth be known as E) is reasonably comfortable and well-located. However, we have noted the following features:
- Several bad lots of milk later, it has been established that the fridge seals don't really work.
- The downstairs neighbour smokes like a chimney. Coincidentally, the vents that connect our two apartments are unsealed, and we are now collecting a healthy daily dose of secondary smoke.
- There is a badly behaved child and an angry father in the apartment above us. At approximately 11:30 PM most nights, they proceed to interact accordingly.
- The local mosque has a surprisingly regular call to prayer: just before midnight, and just after 5 AM. I can also report that the acoustics in this area are excellent.

This is Kyrgyzstan.

Ah, but it's good to be back, all the same. After all, the mosque's call to prayer is, in fact, beautiful, as well as being an exhortation about my own prayers. Bishkek has a certain dusty (read: smoggy) beauty if you look at it hard enough, and its people are my people, now. And, soaring far above all these things is the fact of being back at school, among students, colleagues, friends. I can endure many things for the sake of this community that I love.

I am tired, though. How I am tired! Last night was my best night - five straight hours of sleep. It was bliss. I've taught and survived a week of classes - reading up frantically about physical geography, the Westminster Confession (for Ethics), Shakespeare's The Tempest (delight!) and the gulag (in preparation for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich). Teaching some ESL, as well as devotions every morning. There's a teacher retreat in the mountains tomorrow, and then next weekend is the high school retreat, also in the mountains. I'm helping out with the SRC this year - elections next week.

So it begins.

This is Kyrgyzstan, and where else should I be but here?

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