Saturday, July 09, 2005

Election Eve

The Kyrgyz presidential election will take place tomorrow. And everyone hopes that the country’s residents can breathe a collective sigh of relief on Monday.

In the past week, there have been extensive efforts to promote a show of democracy – free newspapers with information about the six male and one female candidate are available in piles everywhere, TV and newspaper ads repeatedly condemn vote buying and urge voters and candidates not to participate. Yesterday I saw a bank director leading a staff meeting. He suddenly stopped when he received a text message and everyone paused in the uncomfortable silence, while he played with his phone.

“I got a message reminding me of the elections on Sunday and urging everyone to maintain stability,” he said. “I suppose you’ll all receive the message soon.” He closed the meeting, urging everyone to vote and to maintain stability.

“For Bakiev,” an employee said, voicing the common opinion that a vote for the acting President would maintain stability.

“For whoever you want,” the director said. This is a democracy and you should exercise your rights. Americans very much value individual rights and you should take advantage of yours.”

Everyone I’ve spoken to is planning to vote. “Everyone else is voting, so I will too,” our driver Malan said. “Of course I’ll vote, it’s my duty,” someone else said. But I have yet to meet anyone voting for anybody other than Bakiev. All of my coworkers, acquaintances and family members will all vote for him.

“If there was somebody smarter, I’d be glad to vote for them,” Nigora said. “But now I don’t see a choice other than Bakiev.”

“What we really need is a young candidate who has lived in America or Europe,” Shavkat said. “But none of them have. They are all part of the system.”

“Many of them studied or worked in Russia,” Nigora said.

“That doesn’t count. They are still one of us. As soon as they get into office, they will bring in their friends and they are used to stealing. They have to live in the West for a long time in order to really be able to separate themselves from the system and to bring new ideas.”

This evening I got a text message reminding me of the election: “10 July from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. will be the presidential election. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen and vote for the future of the country. Company BITEL.”

The weather in Osh has been incredibly hot – regularly over 100 degrees. Combined with the jetlag, it drains me of all energy, so that I come home from work and plop on the bed until awakening for another day’s work. The heat is so oppressive, I can feel its pressure on my eyes and constantly seek out shade. The blue river rushing through the center of town, carrying melted mountain snow, calls out to me, and I envy the half-naked people playing along its banks.

The fruit and vegetable paradise is in full bloom. At our office alone, we’ve already plucked cherries off trees and raspberries off bushes. My coworker found a giant peach today and there will be more to come. Small, hard grapes hang from the trellis, ripening in the heat. Apples, plums, apricots, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon and figs fill the markets and are sold very cheaply.

In a week and a half, I have a seminar at Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake and biggest tourist attraction. We won’t have a lot of free time to enjoy it, but during the sweltering days, I do imagine jumping into the chill waters and basking in the coolness.

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