Thursday, April 07, 2005


I spent the day in Uzgen today, a town about two hours from Osh, and one of the early centers of rioting. The road is still in really awful shape. Our driver, Malan, seemed on the verge of a heart attack as he led his new Opel over the rocky dirt surface, large rocks frequently banging the bottom and sides of his car, for over four hours.

It was a beautiful ride there. The fields glistened with a post-rain intense green. Most of the trees had turned some shade of green. And in the distance, on either side of us, purplish-white snowy peaks rose up to the sky. They had always been there, but they were so much more noticeable when the rest of the land wasn’t snowy as well.

All the billboards of Akaev had been gas bombed. There remained several billboards featuring the face of Adahan Madumarov in front of mountains and next to the Burana Tower, an ancient structure outside of Bishkek. Malan and my coworker Nurzat told me that he is a major opposition leader and is probably in Bishkek. In addition, there was one billboard of a severe, pockmarked, heavyset man, Marat Orozbaev. They said that he was a rich man, but he’d lost the election.

I thought it would be pretty depressing to have one’s image blown up. On the other hand, it’s pretty egocentric of these candidates to think that people want to look at their giant faces on the side of the road.

In Uzgen, the market, which had been closed for a time due to the unrest, was thriving again. I bought a bottle of honey, sold in a used plastic bottle and walked through the stalls selling clothing, candies, bloody meat, and beauty supplies. Water from melting snow dripped from the plastic sheeting covering the stalls, forcing pedestrians to play dodgeball as they tried to avoid the streams of cold water.

On the return trip, fisherman sold my favorite incredibly fresh fish, still live, on the side of the road. Children herded cattle, throw rocks at cars, rode on carts drawn by donkeys or horses and played on rock piles or in the windowframes of abandoned homes. Farmers tilled their fields. Workers at the American Daimler tobacco drying plant filed home at 5:15, lining the center of the road. The teahouse, where crowds had gathered for ‘agitation’ last time I’d come by, was now quiet. Residents of the villages along the way went about their daily lives. And though the revolution was only two weeks ago, and this area had been a hotspot, it now seemed very far away. So far I could almost believe it hadn’t happened, or could at least forget about it.

After aerobics, I took a taxi home. I had gone with this driver before, an Uzbek with a poor command of Russian. Every time he addresses me, he tacks “sister” on to the beginning or end of the sentence. I hadn’t seen him since I returned and I asked how he survived the unrest.

“I worked every day,” he said. He told me that he parked his car off the street and took orders by CB from the taxi company he’s affiliated with, Fortuna.

“Picking up passengers on the street was too dangerous. I had several guys get into my car with clubs. They told me to drive them to the airport and didn’t even pay me.”

“Did they thank you for the free ride?”

“No, they told me I should join them.”

“Did you want to?”

“No, what am I supposed to do? They weren’t even locals. They were from Jalalabat and Alai. The Osh people didn’t participate at all.”

“What do you think about Akaev being gone? Do you think things will get better?”

“No,” he said. “They’ve already started shooting each other. All those who want to be President are all big people and they are using clan politics. They can’t divide up the Presidency between them, so they have already begun to fight for it. The mafia rules here,” he said. “Under Akaev, life was quiet.”

He’s only been a taxi driver for a year, but is already eager to return to something else, his former construction profession, or to find a job as someone’s driver.

“There are too many different kinds of people,” he said. “It’s become too dangerous.”

At home, Nigora brought me a wonderful dinner of chicken, chickpeas, and spinach, but due to jetlag, I still don’t have much of an appetite. She sat with me for our short evening chat.

“I saw Akaev on TV today resigning his presidency,” she said. “He’s scared to come back, because they won’t guarantee his safety. And we’re just simple people, so I don’t know whether to believe him or not. But he says that he doesn’t own even a single store in Bishkek.”

“That’s doubtful,” I said. “If it wasn’t Akaev himself it was his children and relatives. “ His son was reported to have a large stake (if not full ownership) in the chain of stores most seriously affected during the looting, the Narodni stores.

“On TV,” she said, “the deputies are just talking nonstop. One is saying that Akaev needs to formally resign, another says that he should be impeached for abandoning his country. They talk so much and I sit there all day and listen. My head is full and starts to spin.

Personally, I think he worked as well as he could. But I think it was shameful for him to run away. Perhaps he made the right decision. Maybe they would have killed him.”

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