Friday, September 6, 2013

Not at my best in Bishkek, Part 1

June 17, 2013

I had to go to Bishkek this past weekend to collect my passport with its extended visa from The London School. On the previous weekend I had told Rakhat and Altynbek my plans to spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Bishkek and I had asked them how I could get from Toguz Bulak to Bishkek. I was told that there would be plenty of marshrutki and that as such it wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t know about “plenty” as I’ve only ever seen one or two marshrutki in Toguz Bulak, but I was reassured that they didn’t seem to think that it would be difficult for me to find transport.

I really began to look forward to my trip to Bishkek. I began fantasizing about Fatboy’s and Cyclone and Georgian food and rabbit, and basically anything that I might be able to eat which didn’t contain sheep. I had other plans too, including getting the long lens on my camera fixed, buying a new Coolpix to replace the one I’d ruined (the purpose of the Coolpix was to take video for my grad school independent study project since my DSLR doesn’t take video; I’d ruined it a week prior by accidentally dumping a bottle of Coke onto it and needed to get a new one), meeting up with various people, buying maxipads and tampons (yes, I was still bleeding at this point) as well as some new underwear, and taking a minimum of three long, hot showers.

But this is Kyrgyzstan, and I should know by now that there’s not much point in making concrete plans. Kyrgyzstan sees your plans, and raises you a laugh in the face.

On Wednesday, Rakhat told me that the entire family had decided that they, too, would go to Bishkek as most of Altynbek’s relatives (and a couple of Rakhat’s) live there… and they’d bring a sheep with them to slaughter. And of course I must attend the sheep slaughtering festivities because all of Altynbek’s family members were so looking forward to meeting me. My dreams of a sheep-free weekend went down in a boiling pot of mutton. They didn’t understand why I wanted to stay in a hostel, when I could just stay with them at the home of one of Altynbek’s relatives… my dream of a sheep-free weekend had already died, but I was not letting go of my dream of hot showers and sit-down toilets. I told them that I had already reserved my bed at the hostel and that I therefore had to stay there. Not really a logical argument, but I stuck to it. (I’m glad I did, as the relatives’ homes that I visited were on the outskirts of the city and did not have running water or sit down toilets.)

I asked them what time we’d be leaving on Friday morning. This was important as I needed to be at The London School no later than 6pm to pick up my passport, and the drive from Toguz-Bulak to Bishkek takes a minimum of three and a half hours. I was told that we’d be leaving around 10am, as Rakhat had some things she needed to do at the school in the morning. I’d have preferred to be on the road earlier, but leaving at 10am would still give me plenty of time to pick up my passport and knock some items off of my to-do list.

Friday morning I was up, dressed, packed, and ready to go by 8:30am. Over breakfast, Rakhat asked me if I was going to the school. Why would I be going to the school? It was Friday, and I don’t teach classes on Fridays. It turned out that this Friday was a ten year school reunion at the Myrzamambetov School, and all of the teachers (including me and Rakhat) were expected to attend. “But we’re going to Bishkek!” I was suddenly feeling a bit panicked, envisioning a combination of drunken American high school reunions and six hour long Kyrgyz feasts. “Oh, don’t worry,” I was told, “It will only take a couple of hours, then we can leave.” A couple of hours? Seriously? Arrrrgh. We didn’t leave Toguz Bulak until nearly 1pm, at which point I was feeling thoroughly stressed about whether or not I’d get to The London School before 6pm.

(As an aside, the ten year reunion involved the former students reuniting not only with each other, but with their former teachers as well. They also got to meet the new teachers, hired since their graduation, and quite a few of the current students who had turned out for the event. They took a tour of the school, watched a short video about the school, and listened to a speech by the director. This was apparently followed by dining and dancing, but luckily we left at that point, as we very much needed to get on the road.)

The road into Toguz Bulak from the main road along the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul into the village is being paved, and as such it is closed. Or perhaps I should write “closed.” It’s the only way in and out of this part of the valley other than a very lengthy detour. As such, no one heading in or out is bothering with the detour; they’re just off-roading alongside the roadwork instead.

Rakhat, Altynbek, the three kids and I loaded into the car – a twenty or so year old four-door Audi, the trunk of which was packed to the brim with everything we might possibly need in Bishkek, including satchels full of the boorsook we made the other day and a live sheep. The poor thing bleated from the trunk all the way to Bishkek. It was cold and rainy when we squished ourselves into the car, so they cranked up the heat before we began our off-roading adventure to reach the main road. Now those of you who suffer from motion sickness should already be cringing: cramped quarters, no ventilation, heat, and a bouncy, winding road? That’s a sure recipe for motion sickness right there. Now, I’d taken my homeopathic motion sickness meds (I can’t take even the “non-drowsy” Dramamine as it knocks me out cold for a good 8 hours if not longer) so I didn’t vomit, although I did develop that nasty dizzy feeling that accompanies motion sickness. As such, I did not feel too great by the time we reached the main road. Combine that with three more hours squished into the hot, unventilated back seat with a screaming toddler while stressing about whether or not I’d make it to The London School in time to pick up my passport and you have the prefect recipe for a migraine. Yay.

We arrived in Bishkek around 3:30pm, but instead of going to the hostel to drop me off, our first destination was the home of one of Altynbek’s brothers who lives in the north-eastern part of Bishkek, over by Dordoi (in fact, his wife works at Dordoi). For those of you who don’t know the geography of Bishkek, let’s just say that this is a long way from The London School. I mentioned that I really needed to get to The London School soon and was told, “It’s ok; you’ll have plenty of time. We’re just stopping for tea; this’ll only take about an hour.” My headache cranked up a couple more notches. It wasn’t yet a migraine, but I was pretty certain that it was heading in that direction. After “tea” (which was, of course, a full meal) I was finally delivered to my hostel, where I arrived at 5:30pm.

I popped two Excedrin and called The London School to explain that I’d only just gotten into Bishkek and that I was on my way to get my passport. The person whom I was meeting agreed to wait for me. I ran down to Sovietskaya and caught a taxi.

“What? You haven’t left for the village yet?” asked the taxi driver. Yes, I had been driven to The London School by this very taxi driver before, and had talked to him about what I was doing in Kyrgyzstan. I explained to him that I had been out in the village for a month and was just in town for the weekend. The previous time I’d ridden with this fellow, he’d seemed the friendly, avuncular type (although as I’m sure my mother would point out, he is now in my ‘datable age bracket’), but this time I got the standard ‘Are you married?’ question. I answered with “No, but I have a boyfriend back in the US” – and the response? “Well he’s there and you’re here… we should get to know each other a little better.” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Really? I haven’t showered in a week, I’ve been in a hot car all afternoon, and I’m all squinty from my headache and you’re hitting on me? After I tell you I have a boyfriend? I was so not in the mood for this at all.

By the time I got to The London School, the migraine and the Excedrin were doing full battle, and the Excedrin was losing. I reclaimed my passport and tried to have a sensible chat with the folks there (although I’m sure I failed). Then I went to the grocery store in the VEFA Center in order to purchase some juice, a coke, maxipads, and soft toilet paper. I sat in the courtyard at VEFA drinking my coke and swallowing two more Excedrin in the hopes that my headache might go away. It didn’t, but for a while the Excedrin had the upper hand in the battle.

I took a taxi back into the center. When this fellow asked me if I was married, I answered yes. “Oh, how many children do you have?” “None.” “Why not?” “I don’t want any children.” “What? A woman who doesn’t have children isn’t a real woman, and a wife who doesn’t give birth isn’t a real wife. If a wife doesn’t immediately become pregnant, a Kyrgyz man will divorce her.” I was not in the mood for this either.

My next stop was TSUM in order to buy a replacement Coolpix. I told the guys at one of the camera-kiosks that I needed the cheapest camera they had that could take video – and they sold me the exact same model of Coolpix that I had ruined the week before, only in pink.

I then wandered along Kievskaya, looking for a place known as Dom Byta that I’d been told would probably be able to repair my DSLR's long lens. At that point it was after 8pm on a Friday, and I didn’t expect Dom Byta to be open, I just wanted to locate it and discern what time it might open the following morning. I knew roughly where it was, but I couldn’t locate it – and my attempts at doing so were hampered by the fact that I was in full migraine-aura mode. The Excedrin was still keeping most of the pain at bay, but I was having a fairly difficult time seeing straight.

I gave up on my quest for Dom Byta and stumbled over to Fatboy’s for some non-sheep dinner (which I admit I did not enjoy given how I felt). I then made my way back to the hostel where I took a long, hot shower (which alas, I also did not enjoy) before collapsing onto my bed, taking one of my three remaining Imitrex, and promptly passing out.


  1. As one who suffers from motion sickness, I feel your pain. I guess you should be glad that the sheep wasn't in the back seat too.

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