Saturday, October 01, 2005

Water Gushing from a Rock

Today the family piled in Shavkat’s Niva and drove out to a waterfall and tourist area called Ap-shirata. The older boys had classes and Shavkat was tinkering with the car as always. So we didn’t get going until one. I didn’t think we’d make it – given that it was a 2.5-hour drive there. But we ended up having a nice afternoon.

We drove past Nookat and toward Kyzyl-Kia, then turned off and continued another 10-15 miles on a much rougher road. Corn husks were gathered into piles like haystacks outside of Osh, the fields have been visibly cleared, and the mountains on either side of us were a dull gold.

The peach trees were already red and orange and the poplars had begun to turn a golden brown, the same color as the drying eaves of tobacco hung from them.

On the way, when we stopped to let the car cool down, we picked and ate apples right off of a blooming tree.

“I’m going to show this to the prosecutor’s office,” I joked with Habib as I photographed him stealing apples.

“This isn’t America,” he said, laughing.

Nigora told me that neighbors are allowed to pick fruit from trees that hang over the border of their property. “Because the neighbors have to deal with things like leaves falling off the tree,” she said. And the same thing with trees that face the road. “Anyone walking by has the right to take some.” And in the same way, I understood, we as passersby were allowed to help ourselves as well.

We passed a run-down tourist resort, then drove through the gates. We entered a canyon, with looming rocks looking down on us from either side. Suddenly, it appeared – a bright white gush of water pouring from a hole in the rock. It fell down, ran through tunnel, then crashed down upon a bowl, spraying water down a pile of rocks. It fell into a crystal clear pool at the base before running into the river that cut through the canyon.

There was a fenced-off grotto filled with pellucid water, a natural mineral spring, and several staircases going up different parts of the rock and offering different views of the scenery. As we walked along, we heard a hissing sound at our feet and saw water bubbling up from the ground.

We drove the rest of the way through the canyon, following a rushing white stream. Suddenly, the foreboding rock walls disappeared and we entered a valley. We continued to follow the river, but the mountains were further back, gentler sloping, and dotted with trees.

Choosing a place along the riverbank, we had a picnic of brown round bread, grapes, suzma (a white, thick dairy product from the mountains), picked cabbage and eggplant, rolls, hardboiled eggs and tea. Then the boys went for a walk while I read and Nigora walked along the riverbank, looking for herbs. She returned with a bag full of wild mint and another herb that she can use to fill ravioli.

Until we left, we hadn’t seen any other visitors. “There used to be a lot of people here,” Shavkat said. “Lots of people came to take wedding pictures here, especially Kyrgyz.”

On the way back, we passed two cars. The passengers seemed to be searching for the same things Nigora was. Several of them carried handfuls of greens.

An elderly Uzbek man sitting on a rock stopped Shavkat as we drove past. They spoke in Uzbek and Shavkat reluctantly drove off.

“What did he want?” I asked.

“He wanted gas.”


“It’s become expensive now and he wondered if I could give him some. He said they’d run out. But how could he have run out? They were from Nookat, which is just nearby, and they know what the road is like. If they were from Uzbekistan, I would have given it to them, but I told him we had a long way to go and we could run out ourselves.”

He told me that now when police stop people, either they want money or gas. Gas is now 22.5 som (56 cents) a liter. It used to be about 19. Shavkat is planning on buying a Tico tomorrow, the $2,000 matchbox-sized little Korean cars that are so popular in Osh. They are very gas efficient and great for going around town. But if you get in an accident, you’re dead. He wants to use the Tico for going around town and the Niva only for travel to the mountains.

On the way back, we stopped when Shavkat saw three dirty young boys selling buckets of apples on the side of the road. He bought them all.

“This is the very cheapest place to buy apples,” he said. In Osh, they cost 8-10 som per kilogram. Here I get a whole bucket for 35 som.”

“How many kilos are in a bucket?”

“Seven or eight.”

Nigora is tired from the past few days of non-stop canning. But as soon as we got home, Shavkat said to everyone, “Take any good apples that you want. The rest of them we’ll use to make jam.” So Nigora now has her work cut out for her tomorrow.

“I guess Shavkat can’t take a rest from closing jars,” she said, good-naturedly.

This evening the electricity flicked on and off several times. I think back to the frequent losses of electricity and water I experienced last fall and am hoping to not go through that again. I can live without the electricity. Our stove is gas, my heat will come from a coal-burning stove, and I often have battery-power on my computer. But not having access to water is a real pain. I don’t realize how much I rely upon it until it’s gone.

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