Monday, June 06, 2005

The gossip in my neighborhood

This afternoon, during lunch, I found out about a new movie theater in town. To date, all I knew about was a little room, where I hear they show DVDs of war and horror movies to viewers packed in on the 20 to 30 chairs. Now there is a new place, where they also show DVDs, but on a large screen and with room for 280 viewers. Now that I know I could be moved to Bishkek any day, I’ve learned that I have to seize the moment and not put anything off.

I called Nigora and asked if she’d like to join me at the melodrama, After the Sunset, playing this evening at seven. She doesn’t get out much and I thought it might be fun for the two of us to go out. She accepted and I bought the tickets.

A little while later she called. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t go. Shavkat has returned home very drunk. It must have been someone’s birthday at work. And I’m afraid that if I leave something bad will happen.”

I was disappointed that she had to refuse an invitation she seemed to want to accept, but told her we’d go another day. Yet, at this point, I never know whether there will be another day or not.

When I returned home late in the evening, she served me reheated rice with potatoes, tiny peas and meat on the outdoor table and sat with me while I ate.

“Have you heard anything more about what happened in Uzbekistan?” she asked, while pulling off her pink headscarf to reveal her black hair knotted at the base of her head, refolding the scarf and putting it back on.

I admitted I hadn’t read much lately, but I’d heard that several countries had called for an international investigation of what happened, but President Karimov rejected that.

“You know,” she said. “At first I was a bit offended by Karimov. He said everything was instigated by people who came from Osh and Jalalabat. And I thought Osh is always blamed for everything.

“But last night we buried the son of our neighbor who lives just a few doors down. He was killed there on May 13th.”

“Why was he just buried last night?” I asked.

“Because two sons were there. One was killed and the other was in prison in Jalalabat until just now. Only when he returned could he tell his family that his brother was killed and was lying there. The family went to claim his body, to wrap him in a white cloth, to bring him back, and to say the prayers.”

She said the neighbors are all saying that he went there with a rifle to kill people and to take power.

“He was a very serious and quiet man, 30 years old” she said. “No one expected it.”

“But how do you know that he had a gun or that he went to kill people?” I asked.

“Because that family belongs to an Islamic party, the Akhramists and everybody knows that. Also, the neighbors said they saw a list of those who died and there were four or five people from our neighborhood alone.” She began to list off neighboring streets where men had been killed.

“So they party called them and they all went together,” she said. “When someone joins that party, there is no turning back.”

She then told me the gossip that this family might have received a lot of money from this party.

“This family used to be poor,” she told me. The husband died and the wife baked bread. Then she began to import goods from Iran and Iraq and sold them at the market. When her sons were grown up, they took over. Of course, it’s possibly they became wealthy by honest means, because they work all the time. But it’s strange for the husband to be dead and for them to have three giant houses, one for the mother and one each for two of her three sons. People say that the party might have been paying them. And they say that these two sons were offered $5000 by the party to go to Uzbekistan. That’s big money to us,” she said.

“So how do the neighbors feel about having Islamic radicals on their street?” I asked. Of course, I was feeling pretty nervous about it and wondered if they felt the same.

“We’re not close enough to them for it to really effect us,” she said. “People don’t feel sorry for the guy, since he went there himself and got himself into it. But they feel sorry for the mother, since she raised him.”

I asked her a lot about her sources of information and it seems like it is exclusively neighborhood gossip. So I don’t know how much to believe and how much not to believe. I do know that there are some people here on the fringe. I came across one business owner through my work who refused to take a loan that he needed because he wouldn’t let his wife leave the house to sign the spousal agreement form. I also know that the vast majority of people here are peaceful and good. I can only hope that their wishes for governance and their hopes for the future are the ones that take precedence.

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