Monday, November 07, 2005

Weekends with the nature enthusiasts

Yesterday I took my second trip out into the mountains near Bishkek. A local man organizes trips each Sunday. Everyone gathers at 8 a.m. on a central street corner and pays $3-4 for transportation in a comfortable bus and a guided hike. They all bring their own food and have a picnic lunch.

The organizer, Boris, is passionate about nature and tourism and the trips are excellent. Even better, almost everyone who goes, especially at this time of year, is local. So it’s a great opportunity for me to meet some fascinating people from varied professions.

On the first trip I became friends with a doctor, Natasha, who treats stomach cancer. She’s in her late 40s, but looks at least ten years younger. She told me that if found early, stomach cancer could usually be cured. But because of the poor diagnostics, most of her patients don’t find it until it’s too late.

“They don’t feel sick,” she said. “Maybe they aren’t eating too much, they lose a little appetite, or they are a little tired. By the time they are really feeling sick, it’s usually already advanced.”

Due to the stress of her job, she finds it important to get out into nature once a week. Yesterday she brought along her son, a fourth year student in the medical faculty.

Yesterday I met an interesting woman, also named Natasha, who works on counterfeiting money issues. She was dressed so nicely and so enthusiastically took pictures with a fancy digital camera that I thought she was from France. I was surprised she hear she was a local.

She told me that in August, her only son moved to New Zealand to attend college. She went with him and said the country was beautiful, quite similar to Kyrgyzstan in the prevalence of mountains. I asked how good her son’s English was.

“He thought it was good,” she said. “When he left, he had $30 in his pocket, collected as gifts from grandmothers and relatives. He thought that he had a lot of money and that he knew English well. Then he got there and realized that he didn’t have much money and he didn’t know English well.”

This diminutive woman, with raspberry pants, short dark hair, glasses, and a big smile, got ahead of the whole group. We walked three hours, virtually non-stop, to cover the 14 kilometers to a frozen waterfall. Most, including me, were exhausted when we arrived. She had continued on and added another several kilometers to her hike.

Ramadan is now over, though I could barely even feel its presence in Bishkek. No one that I had any contact with was upholding the fast. Only one co-worker gave up alcohol. In any case, Thursday was a holiday to mark the end of the holy month. Now I expect that weddings will begin again in Osh in earnest.

Today is also a holiday, some old Soviet holiday, like day of the revolution. I was hoping to take advantage of the three day weekend by traveling somewhere, but the timing didn’t work out and my passport is currently at an embassy, limiting my movements.

Fall is definitely here. All the trees are yellow and the leaves are regularly swept into the gutters and burnt. But it hasn’t yet become cold and the weather is good for walking. I feel lucky to be in such a moderate climate, where there is no threat of snow, even in November.

I’m starting to get into the rhythm of life in Bishkek. I have new projects to work on at work, I’ve found some aerobics classes to go to, and my apartment is starting to seem like home (though it is still uncomfortably quiet). Yesterday my heat was turned on. Until then, I used a single portable heater that I’d carry with me from room to room, trying to heat up the place I was spending my time. But suddenly, the entire apartment has become bathed in warmth and I no longer need the heater. I buy my food from a nearby market, walk almost everywhere and have several friends, mostly locals, who I can spend time with.

On Tuesday I’ll return to Osh for almost a week for a seminar. I’ll need to pack up the other half of my belongings while I’m there. It seems like a short time and it will be sad to realize that I’ll probably never be able to live there again. But I’m really looking forward to seeing my family, friends and staff again.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see your posts again. Missed them over the last month. I'm moving to Bishkek in January and really enjoy reading your posts. They are the most descriptive of every day life that I've found. Thanks!

jj said...

Glad to hear it. I'd be interested in your impressions of Bishkek once you move here.