Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Back in Kyrgyzstan (again)

Happy fourth of July to those who are celebrating!

I’ve returned to Kyrgyzstan after a week and a half in Germany. Here, there is no sign of a holiday. Things are mainly the same as before. I saw a man on horseback cross the road as I headed toward the airport, reminding me that I was back in horseback country. Signs of additional security are evident, such as the man in camouflage and a cowboy hat, accompanying us on the bus to the airplane, gripping a giant gun. But the past week has been quiet, with no disturbances. This evening, the first set of presidential debates will be on television.

Our driver Malan met me at the airport and I asked for an update. He said that everyone is getting ready for the election and that he expects they will be peaceful. Bayaman, the Osh “bandit” who was inspiring protests in the week before I left, seems to have disappeared. “No one knows where he is,” Malan said.

As we neared central Osh, I noticed the first political banner. “Bakiev,” I read from the sheet draped above the street.

“They are all over,” Malan said. “Before we used to have Akaev’s face all around us, now we have Bakiev all around us.”

“But Akaev had huge portraits of himself. Maybe Bakiev is being more modest,” I said, looking at the small square of his face on the banner. Just then I noticed a giant billboard on the corner, featuring the face of a heavyset woman.

“Does she want to be president?” I asked.

“Yes. But I don’t think she can. I don’t think anyone other than Bakiev has a chance. And he has some large ads as well. There is a big one with his face just a few blocks down.”

Malan said that Bakiev and his planned prime minister, Kulov, came to Osh last week and gathered a large crowd at the stadium. “I would have liked to have gone and listened to them, but we had to work,” Malan said. I asked if he plans to vote next Sunday. “Of course,” he said. “Everyone else is voting and I will too.”

At home, the garden at burst into a bloom of whites, golds, pinks and reds, including the flower I brought from Holland, which managed to produce five flowers and let them die in the time I was gone. Faruh took photos for my benefit.

At home, the refrigerator broke and Nigora brought a few of my perishables to a neighbor’s fridge. Among them was a small glass jar of feta cheese in olive oil, a little treat I brought from France. “My neighbor asked me what that was,” Nigora said, “and I didn’t know. I said maybe there were some fruits in there.”

Melons have come into season since I left and Nigora placed two plates of melon slices on the table for dessert. I brought out the gummy bears, sour gummy candy, and mini sausages I brought from Germany. Nigora carefully cut open the package of gummy bears and poured half of it onto a plate. She wanted to save the second bag of candy for another table. Holding the sausages up to the light, she said, “We probably won’t eat these for quite some time. We’ll make them last a while.” They ate the gummy bears slowly, one by one.

“Mmm, the different colors have different tastes,” Nigora said. “The green tastes different from the red.” She’d hold up each bear to look at it before popping it into her mouth.

“They are like dried fruits,” Shavkat said.

I love introducing them to new things, but it was strange to watch them eat the gummy bears so carefully, knowing they might never see such a thing again.

I told them about the rent-a-bike system in Germany and I how I enjoying biking through Frankfurt. I told them how the drivers respected bikers, watched out for them, and twice, even reversed in order to let me go easily by.

“Someday, our country will also be like that,” Nigora said.

“Not for a long time,” Shavkat said. I told him that drivers in Germany recognized they could kill a biker if they weren’t careful, and they were conscious of the consequences. “Here, they kill the biker first, then they think about the consequences.”

“Maybe it will take a long time, but someday, our country will also be like that,” Nigora said. “J can come back and see it in her next lifetime.”

The evening TV was full of election commercials promoting a fair and honest election. “Honest elections depend on us.” “Use your vote, don’t sell it.” And along the bottom of the TV scrolled a free hotline to report election violations.

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