Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Evening Postcard

Since reentering Bishkek and moving to Vostok Pyat, I've noticed changes in this city: the call to prayer is more frequent, the number of bearded, hatted and robed men (and covered women) has increased, and there is more movement around mosques. 

I was wondering if this was all in my head until a colleague made the same observation.

What happened over the summer? I'm not sure, but this article has some interesting comments about the recent growth of Islam in Central Asia.

Anyway, it's 7:20 PM, and the call to evening prayer is floating through our courtyard, mixing with the shouts of children and Russian pop music. E and I just got back from a visit to the Domkom: the Domkom is a socialist relic, the appointed building official to whom we pay our stairwell cleaning fees and who resolves issues between comrades in the complex. Every building has a Domkom. Ours is on duty between 6-7 PM every Tuesday and Thursday. She has commandeered a tiny little bunker in the basement, painted the walls pink, and sits there stamping documents and swapping neighbourly gossip. We went to introduce ourselves and explain that we speak "chut-chut" Russian. It was like stepping back in history - I'm pretty sure the setup was the same in Soviet times! I love moments like that, stepping into a different culture and era. It happens from time to time.

Anyway, we're back. There's a pile of test papers on the coffee table. Our dinner guests, fellow teachers who live nearby, have left - we keep early hours around here. We ate hamburgers (or a close approximation) and strawberry tarts. I'm building up to grading the papers, but first there is a cup of tea to make and some more procrastination to enact.

That said - I'm enjoying my classes. Teaching geography is a challenge, and so is teaching the Westminster confession to middle schoolers, but the English classes are a pleasure, and so is my homeroom. I'm teaching ESL to small group of Korean high schoolers; there are two staff meetings a week; I'm helping with the SRC once a week; in October, I'm starting a weekly English conversation club with the local school across the road. There's the school play to think about, the service trips, the monthly visits to the orphanage for disabled children.

Life is full - that's one way to look at it.

Did I mention that I'm getting a root canal tomorrow? I found an American-trained dentist: she doesn't speak any English, but she is very good. I don't know what to expect, really, but it might mean a couple of days away from school, which is not altogether a bad thing, since I don't think I've had actual consecutive days of rest since - well, I can't remember.

Using a root canal as an excuse to rest - yes, I hear the crazy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tinned Horsemeat

'nuff said.

Door to the Sky

I suppose it looks more like a window in this photograph, but take my word for it - this is a door to nowhere on the seventh floor. A Soviet's idea of a practical joke?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Look What I Found!

Pretty excited - the last piece in the Thai food puzzle. I brought some herbs and curry pastes back with me - now there shall much feasting.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Merry Merry King of the Bush is He

Tonight, as I lay on my third-floor bed, reading Ivan Denisovich and wishing for cooler weather, I could have sworn I heard a kookaburra. There was a cackling in the courtyard, and just for a moment I was back in Macedon, with muted gum trees out the window and sharp clean air all around.

Of course, it's only children, shouting and clambering over the rickety, rusting play equipment; the air retains its customary aroma of cigarette smoke and smog, and the only things out my window are the innumerable other windows facing it; still, I am left aching for my land.

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?