Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Sounds Through the Heating Vents

It’s a good thing that I don’t spend much time at home. This weekend, I was bothered by the constant sound of a baby crying. Worse, this evening, the clear sounds of a woman crying filtered through my vent, as though she was just next door. There was no banging, no sounds of fighting, just her garbled speech (probably in Kyrgyz) and her loud, endless, hyperventilating cries.

For weeks now, spring has been in the air. The streets have long been devoid of snow and even in the mountains, snow is sparse enough to make skiing difficult.

Today I wandered around the Ortosai market, one of Bishkek’s central markets. I bought mushrooms from a man selling them atop a wooden table, overflowing in their bowls. I enjoyed looking at the variety of items for sale – electrical plugs, colorful magnets from China, household appliances, lamp shops, boots, clothing, maternity wear, canned and bottled staples, beans and flours sold by weight from burlap bags, all sold from within square green metal containers or from wooden tables.

This past weekend I rode a trolleybus for the first time. And I saw the greatest congregation of elderly people I’d seen anywhere. I’d heard that the World Bank was financing the purchase of 150 new buses. Because the main form of transport, the minibus marshrutkas, don’t accept the free passes issued to the elderly and invalids.

“It seems the difference in price between 7.5 cents and 12 cents plays a big role among the elderly,” I said to Sergei, noting the difference in price between the trolleybuses and the marshrutkas.

“Of course, when pensioners are living on pensions of $20 a month, every som counts,” he said. I knew that. Just that day I’d passed an old man who regularly plays his accordion on the corner for donations. His wife used to sit with him, but she is no longer there, making me worry that she is either sick or has passed away. Another old women walked through the marketplace with a bent back and worn clothing, asking for help, taking 1 som (2.5 cent) bills into her wrinkled hand. And yet another old women, missing her legs, sat on the ground in between stalls, hoping for donations.

“Just yesterday,” Sergei continued, “the President issued an order that marshrutkas must stop for the elderly and for children. Right now, they prefer not to take them as passengers. For the elderly, they know it will take a long time for them to get on and off the bus and they demand a seat. And for children, they know they won’t pay. So they just refuse to stop when they see young or old people flagging them down. But now the President says they have to.”

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