Saturday, September 03, 2005

Back in Osh

I arrived back in Kyrgyzstan yesterday and for the first time, it doesn’t feel like home. My ride to Bishkek from the airport was disturbing as my driver admitted that he hit and killed a man two years ago. The topic came up when he asked me if he could smoke. I noticed a do not smoke sign on the dashboard and asked who put it there.

“I did,” he said. “I didn’t smoke then.”

“Why did you start?”

“I had some problems and I started due to the stress.”

He told me that he was driving two Danish passengers in Bishkek around 11:30 p.m. “I was going about 45-50 kilometers per hour and suddenly this man, this drug addict, just jumped out into the street. I hit him. I took him to the hospital, but he ended up dying there.”

He was silent, then continued. “I didn’t want it to happen. I did everything I could. I spent two weeks searching for his parents. And when I found them, I told them what happened and I paid for everything.”

He said that the coroner found both alcohol and drugs in the victim’s system and my driver wondered if the man might have been trying to commit suicide. “His parents couldn’t accept that though, because if he did that, they’d have to blame him.”

He still owes the parents $1,000 for funeral expenses. “A lot of money went,” he said.

“That’s hard,” I said. I am usually quick to blame the drivers here for any accident involving a pedestrian. As a group, they are reckless and careless of the consequences until something happens. They don’t recognize the impact that their vehicle can have on a person’s ability to walk or live until it’s too late. In Osh, I’ve heard of countless incidents of people hitting pedestrians and bicyclists. Typically, the driver pays for everything, selling his house if needed, in order to avoid criminal charges. In this case, I really couldn’t tell who was to blame. But the driver was clearly distressed, even more than two years after the fact. And he drove rather carefully with me.

“Yes, it’s really hard,” he said.

I flew back to Osh, caught up on the news at work, and crashed early in the evening. My shower suddenly seemed dirty and rather primitive, the call to prayer I heard as I was going to sleep sounded foreign, and I resented the intrusion when Nigora came into my room late at night to turn off the light I accidentally left on.

Two weeks wasn’t long to be home, just barely long enough to catch up with some family and a few friends. But this time, it seemed long enough to change my perception of home.

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