May 20, 2013
In the morning we left Arslanbob and rode (in a car arranged by Hayat at CBT) to Jalalabad, where we arrived at around 1pm. We had our driver drop us at the Jalalabad CBT office. Unfortunately, while the Jalalabad CBT folks were very nice, they weren’t quite as on the ball as Hayat. We explained to the coordinator that several of us were ill and that we were in need of a western-style, sit-down toilet. Normally we have no problem with squatters, but when you’re having digestive issues, there are only so many days of squatting you can really handle. Unfortunately, the coordinator was very insistent that we 'stay at a place just down the block, insisting that it had a “very clean porcelain toilet.” We went and took a look. Sadly, it had a very clean porcelain squat toilet. As we’d come to Jalalabad specifically for the opportunity to sit and shit, we had to explain yet again what we wanted. At that point the homestay’s owner brought out a wooden chair from which the seat had been removed and placed it atop the squatter. I’m pretty sure we all visibly shuddered at this point. I really hope we did not offend the homestay’s owner, but as a sit-down toilet was the reason for our presence in Jalalabad, we had to remain firm. Unfortunately, the only place that had a sit-down toilet that the CBT coordinator could arrange would not be ready until 5pm as the owner was at work. We decided to leave our things at the CBT office, and spent the afternoon exploring Jalalabad.
One of the first things we saw was a statue of Lenin sitting down. There still are statues of Lenin pretty much everywhere you out in Kyrgyzstan (and throughout much of the former Soviet Union for that matter), but in nearly all of them he is striding forward into the great Soviet future. Seated Lenin is apparently quite a rarity. We eat an Uzbek interpretation of gulash in a café near the main square, and then spent a good chunk of time exploring the bazaar, where we all bought absurd, tacky, Chinglish shirts as well as Kyrgyzstan tourist t-shirts. We then made our way to the local park which contained yet another rickety ferris wheel, which we of course rode. We then spent some time banging away at frustratingly slow Jalalabad internet… at which point our homestay was ready. As in Naryn fiveyears ago, we had an entire Soviet era apartment to ourselves. And yes, it had a lovely sit-down toilet.
Jalalabad is an interesting place. Located in the “conservative” south and one of the major locations of inter-ethnic fighting and attempts at ethnic cleansing back in June 2010 (many neighborhoods were torched, thousands of ethnic Uzbeks fled across the border into Uzbekistan, and somewhere between 400 and 800 people were killed). As such, we had expected to feel some sort of tension in the community, but we didn’t at all. Granted, we were only in Jalalabad for two nights total, but on the surface everything seemed normal – tolerant, even… to a point.
We saw a couple of fully veiled women, a few in hijabs, many women in typical Central Asian headscarves (more similar to a bandana than a hijab) and many women without any head coverings at all. (In contrast, N and I had been the only women in Arslanbob without headscarves.) Women’s fashion in Jalalabad seems to range from full covering, to traditional Uzbek, to fashions from Turkey (ie, stylish, curvy Muslim attire), to fashions from Russia (ie, short skirts and high heels), to lots of ridiculous Chinglish t-shirts (such as the ones we purchased).For the most part, men seem to wear the ubiquitous three-stripe Adidas tracksuit (frequently combined with absurd Chinglish t-shirts). We’ve also seen many men wearing kalpaks (the traditional male Kyrgyz hat) as well as quite a few men wearing the traditional Uzbek hat. We also saw a surprising number of ethnic Russians and a few ethnic Tajiks (in addition to the ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek majorities).
In many ways, Jalalabad seemed like a surprisingly cosmopolitan city. However, despite the cosmopolitan mix of styles and ethnicities, there was definitely more pro-Kyrgyz propaganda in Jalalabad than we saw anywhere else. There were tunduks (the national symbol) everywhere, as well as various signs in Kyrgyz, exhorting the glory of Kyrgyzstan. Nearly every car seemed to have a Kyrgyz flag on it or in it (but visible) somewhere. While there were certainly more people in Bishkek wearing Kyrgyzstan t-shirts and jackets than there had been back in 2008, it was nothing like in Jalalabad. Tons of people wore Kyrgyzstan shirts and jackets (and this was the only place where we were able to find – and buy – Kyrgyzstan shirts with the country’s name written in Cyrillic, as in made for locals, not for tourists).
At the end of our day we went out for pizza at a lovely little pizzeria on Toktogul Street, not far from CBT. Sadly, they didn’t have any pizza. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed our dining experience as the staff (both Uzbek and Russian) were quite pleasant, and the food (traditional Russian fare) was quite tasty.