July 9, 2013
Classes on Monday went well, although my voice was still obviously scratchy. In Group 3, we made it about halfway through the lesson when Rita showed up and informed me that I needed to end the class right then because we were going to the lake. Um, okay. But hey, she’s the director and I was worried about my voice. I ended the lesson, changed my clothes, grabbed my shower things (in hopes of hot springs access), stuffed my camera and my kindle into my bag, and we set out.
Again we were crammed into a van filled with all sorts of building supplies, electrical gear, and cooking supplies. I should also mention that this can is in a permanent hot-wire status; the wiring has been pulled out of the original ignition and routed into a pseudo-ignition contraption. To start the van, one must insert a flat-head screwdriver into this contraption and twist it like a key. Brilliant! After a brief stop to collect more people and more supplies (during which time I befriended an adorable, shy, elderly spaniel) we made it to the lake.
My first order of business upon arrival at the shore was the hot springs, having missed out on the experience the previous day. It was glorious! Sure, it’s located in a dank, moldering concrete shed into which the thermal waters are piped… but it has a shower!!! The room into which I was sent contained two tubs in which one could luxuriate in the ‘healthy’ waters, and in the corner of the room, there was a shower. I was able to take a thermally-powered hot shower and it was wonderful. We were supposed to limit ourselves to less than 20 minutes in the water, as apparently any longer is bad for your heart. I was, in fact, told by Rita that “The hot water is bad for your heart but good for the rest of your organism.” Honestly, it seemed right about the temperature that I prefer my hot showers, and I certainly could have stayed in there for longer than 20 minutes.
After I had finished cleansing myself and had re-dressed, I was told that I shouldn’t immediately go outside; it would be healthier for me to relax in the waiting room for a while first. I chatted with the ‘guard’ (the son of the fellow from our rained-out picnic at the beach who had told me that I was at a “genuine Kyrgyz picnic”) and a few other locals relaxing post-springs. The guard (named Azamat) asked me to translate a sign that was posted in both Russian and Kyrgyz and which contained information about the hot springs into English so that they could offer that information to English speaking tourists. I took a picture of the sign and told him I’d bring him a translation, as there were several words for which I’d need to consult my dictionary. In thanks, he gave me a bottle of Barbulak drinking water – the thermal waters, filtered and carbonated.
While Azamat and I were talking, a woman came out of one of the other springs’ rooms. As with me, Azamat told her that she should sit in the waiting area and relax. She said that she didn’t have time; she had to go straight to her car as she had a plane to catch in Bishkek. It turned out that she was from Ukraine – and of all places, she was from Dniepropetrovsk! She seemed really confused that there was an American in the waiting room – especially when said American delayed her run to her car by telling her all about her 2011 trip to Dniepropetrovsk. (OK, so I didn’t mention the metro party, but…) After the Ukrainian made her escape, I figured it was time for me to return to the yurt.
In my absence, the yurt had been filled with a glorious assortment of feast-foods: salads, breads, candies, fruits – the usual suspects, but in greater abundance. I later learned that Ramadan (or Ramazan in the Turkic languages, including Kyrgyz) was beginning the following day, making this the last pre-fast feast. However, at the time I was rather confused by the fact that we spent something like 10 hours of what I’d taken to be an average Monday feasting.
Shortly after my return to the yurt, a large, orange marshrutka arrived. It had been rented for the day by Kuban’s numerous relatives from Balykchy who had come to partake of the feast. About thirty minutes or so after their arrival, the nurse from the Bar Bulak clinic arrived… with an American fellow in tow. He turned out to be a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Kara Koo, the next village down the coast from Bar Bulak, where he works as a health-program volunteer. He is also from Florida. Apparently he had met the Bar Bulak nurse when she’d stopped in at the Kara Koo clinic, and when she’d learned that he was from the same state as me, she’d invited him along to the feast.
PCV-A (as I’ll call him; his blog is here, btw) was a pretty nice guy, a recent college graduate who has been in Kyrgyzstan since April of this year. He’ll be spending two years in Kara Koo, and seems pretty excited by the opportunity. PCV-A has never studied Russian, although he has been studying Kyrgyz intensively since April. As such his Kyrgyz is much better than mine (let’s face it, mine is pretty close to non-existent), although he knows no Russian whatsoever other than a few of the cognates that appear in modern Kyrgyz. The locals, who have grown accustomed to communicating with me in Russian were pleasantly surprised to discover that they could (sort of) communicate with PCV-A in Kyrgyz – although they frequently forgot and spoke to him in Russian, leaving him feeling rather confused.
This was the first time since May 25th (when B left) that I’d spoken English with a native English speaker. (He, meanwhile, hangs out with his PCV buddies fairly regularly and as such gets to chat with native speakers far more often. He’d also spent the Fourth of July at the US Embassy eating hamburgers and hot dogs, while I spent my Fourth confined to my bed with no voice, awaiting a shot in the ass.) On the one hand, it was great to be able to speak with another native English speaker, especially one who grew up so close to where I did. On the other hand, when I’m the only English speaker around, I can wander off by myself and do my own thing (like look for things to photograph or curl up under a blanket with my kindle). However, when there’s one (and only one) other English speaker around – especially one who didn’t know any of the people at this shindig and who spoke only elementary Kyrgyz – I felt rather obligated to spend the day chatting with him. He was a nice guy, so this wasn’t terrible by any means, although by the end of the day we’d pretty much exhausted every possible topic of conversation, and I was fairly convinced that I was losing my voice again.
The day – which for PCV-A ended at 8pm, and for me 9pm – was much better weather-wise than the previous day. We watched the locals hand-rig electrical wire from the nearest official-looking power pole, through some very unofficial looking power poles, and down into the shack and yurts. We ate numerous courses of feast-food, drank uncountable cups of tea, and watched the locals swim in the lake. At least I had another Floridian with me to join me in my assertion that the waters of Issyk Kul are COLD.
That night, as my host family and I drove back to our home, I learned that pretty much all of the locals were convinced that PCV-A and I were going to fall in love and get married – after all, we’re from the same state and are both volunteering in the same are of Kyrgyzstan! It’s fate! I put a stop to such speculation by pointing out that I am 13 years older than PCV-A. They all seemed quite disappointed.