Tuesday, June 14, 2005


In what I was able to find out about the shootings, a crowd of people approached a hotel, where Bayaman has an office, and the guard at the hotel shot at them, injuring five.

Today the streets around the hotel were blocked off, buses, cars and concrete blocks used to prevent traffic from entering, and knots of policeman gathering in the area. I didn’t understand why they felt the need to gather the police force and to the block the area off. Did they really think that the exact same event would reoccur?

“They have to look like they are doing something.” one of my coworkers said.

This evening I went to aerobics. The building and the business are owned by Bayaman. Clearly, they were worried about an attack. An armed guard sat on a chair outside the front door, with a burly man seated next to him. For the first time ever, I was able to wear my shoes up to the aerobics room, instead of taking them off in the lobby and putting them in the smelly cubbyholes. The carpets and the air conditioners had been removed. And the wrestling area, usually full, was spookily void of running, grunting and flopping masses.

Our class was about the half the normal size. Nazgul, one of our employees, was there and I asked her why.

“People are afraid because of what happened yesterday. They think maybe this building could be attacked.”

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“No,” she laughed, widening her pancake shaped face. “If I’m destined to die, I’ll
die. If not, I won’t.”

The mood in town is a bit solemn. For most, life goes on as usual. But people are tired of and worried about the troubles.

While driving past the theater with our driver, Malik, he noticed two fire engines near the entrances.

“What are fire trucks doing there?” he asked, clearly nervous about another problem.

Then we saw a sign commemorating 79 years of the fire department.

“Oh, a celebration,” he said, and took a deep breath. “That’s good. We’re
getting to the point where we see people gather and it hurts our soul. Who needs all this protesting and violence?”

Last night Nigora recalled Soviet times, when people always knew what lie ahead. “Now we don’t know what will come in the future,” she said and fingered her headscarf.

Her son Habib, the most conservative of the three, insisted Soviet times were better, even though he never lived through them himself. “Nobody stole then,” he said. “So now we have freedom to go overseas, but nobody has money to go. So what’s the benefit of the freedom if no one can take advantage of it?”

He’s similar to the new group of conservative young Russians. He praises
Putin and makes derogatory comments about the Kyrgyz, especially from the villages.

Recently a grandson of the First Party Secretary of the Kyrgyz Republic visited our home. He’s a Kyrgyz and an acquaintance of Shavkat. I didn’t stay for the conversation, but Nigora later told me about it.

“Although he’s a Kyrgyz himself, he said he’s become ashamed of the Kyrgyz in the south. He even hates them. He says they are loafers. They come up north, cause a revolution, behave horribly, stealing the things that aren’t theirs, and now they are surrounding the capital and demanding land.”

Nigora places her hopes for the future in her son’s education. “Due to the poor quality of education, many people now say forget it, just let their kids work. But I believe that in four or five years, things will settle down. And those who are able to find jobs will be those with educations. I want all three of my sons to study so they can find a place for themselves.”

Shavkat rejected the family’s ideas for opening a business. But Habib went out and found himself a job, through a classmate, in a furniture factory. He works Monday through Saturday from 9 to 6.

“How much do you make?” I asked.

“They told me not to ask. My friend said that I’m coming on as an apprentice and they don’t like it when people who don’t know anything demand money. But he said if I didn’t say anything, they’d pay me fairly.”

His friend has been working there for seven months. He make $15 a month as an apprentice and now makes $30 a month working half time after school. He’s planning to study at the university by correspondence and continue working full-time.

Habib enjoys the collective. He says they are mostly Russian and joke a lot. He also seems to like having the responsibility and is already planning for August, when he can buy clothes for himself before he starts college. As for his responsibilities, he tells me but is silent to his father.

“My dad keeps asking what I do all day, but I don’t tell him anything,” he said. “All he does is criticize all the time, so there is no point in telling him anything.”

Today I went to Uzgen, in a Volga with windows that didn’t open in back, the car filled with the dust from the bumpy dirt road. A tiny section of the road had been paved, so people are hopeful that progress will be made by fall.

Along the way, we saw people bent over in the cotton fields, the rows of green shimmering in the hot afternoon sun, snow-capped mountains in the distance floating through the sky as if they were clouds.

In Uzgen, I visited the ancient mausoleum and minaret, two relics of a past world standing in a grassy fenced in area. One would never guess that the dusty, bustling little town of Uzgen has existed since at least the second century BC, when it was mentioned in Chinese chronicles as the town of Yu. From 1000 to the 1200s, it was called Mavarannahr and served as a capital of the Karakhanid Dynasty, which ruled the area from 999 until Genghis Khan destroyed it in the 13th century.

The red-brown clay mausoleums were marked by engravings and foliage on terracotta up to three centimeters deep, covering doorways, pillars, and walls. We climbed up the brick minaret to look over the sleepy section of town. The silver Lenin statue and row of markers to Soviet heroes seemed a strange complement to the buildings of ancient rulers. Mountains rose in the distance, ringing the town with earth and stone.

Returning to the central part of town, I went through the imposing blue and turquoise tiled pillars that mark the entrance to the central market. I walked through the narrow aisles, amidst sheets of plastic hung up to protect the goods from the sun and rain. Vendors stood near piles of crab apples, peaches, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mountain honey, fat sold in vials as medicine, bags of flour, and sweet, yeasty smelling lepushka.

On the way back, I made my usual stop to buy fish. At one point along the Uzgen-Osh road, fishermen lounge in the shade in summer, or hold up fish in mittened hands in winter. They catch it in a nearby river and bring it right to the roadside to sell to passing travelers. It’s some of the best fish I’ve had in Kyrgyzstan. Several times, I’ve found the fish still alive, even after the two hour trip to Osh.


ACW said...

OK, trust me to latch on to the most trivial detail... Is your employee really named Nazgul? If so, do you know what the name means in Kyrgyz?

jj said...

No, I don't know what Nazgul means. This particular person isn't named Nazgul (I change everyone's name), but I do have employees by that name.