Saturday, February 25, 2006

More fresh powder

I woke up to another layer of fresh powder this morning. Natalya told me that was unusual, that Karakol hasn’t received much snow this year.

I headed up the mountain with the workers again. This morning, they sent two trays of eggs and five giant red mesh bags of potatoes up with us. The workers put their snowy feet on top of the potatoes as we rolled up the hill and I wondered who would eventually find these potatoes on their plate.

I had another good day of skiing. Being Saturday, some local residents came up to the base for a picnic and sledding. The base has a great lift for sledders. Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, they sit on a long wooden sledge that is attached to a motorized rope and they are pulled up through the pine forest.

I stopped at the picnic tables where the locals were gathered to take a rest. From that vantage point, I could see the skiers lining up to go uphill. They were dressed in blues, purples, yellows, greens and reds, like so many jelly beans. In comparison, the locals wore only black and dark blue. These people carry bags of onions, huge thermoses of tea, plastic bags full of round white bread, and satchels of food for their picnic lunches. A group of men surrounded the skis I’d taken off, prodding the material, putting their feet in the attachments, ignoring my warnings that if they broke my rental skis, I’d have to pay for them. Only one man among them had skis, which he used to walk up a small hill, then ski down. His narrow, weak, wooden skis looked like someone had carved them by hand. He asked me to trade. I wished I could.

Among my new acquaintances on this day was a woman, Galina, who has worked for a Norwegian satellite company for the past seven years. When I told her I’d lived in Osh, she said she went there a few years ago.

“It’s a nice enough city,” she said. “But the people are something else. It’s like they live in another century. We saw signs celebrating Osh’s 3000th anniversary and we joked, in 3000 years they haven’t accomplished anything.”

Together with her new friend Olga, a beautiful photographer in her 30s with blond highlights and red lips, they planned the ideal Kyrgyz government.

“What we need to do here is to rent leadership,” Galina proposed. “For example, we will take the leaders from Monaco and bring them here. We need civilized and rich people. A country can never do well if it’s filled with poor people. But if rich people would live here, it would be great.”

Olga shook her head in agreement. “If we ever took a local leader,” she said, “it would have to be an old child and without a spouse or children. Anyone here has three villages he is connected to, plus three villages for his wife, and all those people trying to get them from them.”

I rode back down the mountain with Olga, her husband, son and friend. They were friendly, happy people, who sang together in the car, whistled and clapped, and stopped every two minutes to take photos – admiring the beauty of the trees, the mountains, a remote yurt, a melting snowpile. I found their joy infectious and I left their SUV happy, until a group of three street children surrounded me, staring at me with cloudy, menacing eyes. When I emerged from their midst and yelled at them to stay away, one ran after me and hit my backpack. In a place like Karakol, it is so easy to move between worlds within moments.

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