Monday, March 13, 2006

All bent up

Today I visited Kugaibergen, the auto parts market. A tremendously male enclave, the market is made up of old, rusting iron trailers. Random auto parts fill up the trailers and line the ground in front of them. The smell of diesel, oil and metal is overpowering.

Nearby, old, beat-up, crashed-up cars stand in a line, an honor guard of metal, waiting for the vendors to take them apart. One would never believe that someone could make their living from these pieces of crushed metal.

I went to the home of a man who has been selling used auto parts from this market for the past eight years. Mirlan has a successful, though small business, and earns enough to support his wife, two children and mother.

We walked through the gate and into the yard of his new home, built on the very edge of town where many recent immigrants try to establish themselves. His mother, a hunchbacked old woman, bent over a sheepskin she was curing, spreading a white paste with a knife and gathering it again at the center of the skin.

“We have very white sheep in Naryn, where I’m from,” Mirlan said.

Across from this grandmother was a beat-up car frame. Clearly, another vehicle had slammed into it on the passenger side. The formerly straight edge was u-shaped. The passenger seat was folded in half like an omelette, the back jerked away perpendicularly. If anyone was sitting there at the time of the crash, they surely must have died.

How strange it was to think that a living being might once have spent his or her last moments on that twisted piece of metal. And even stranger to regularly bring sites of death into one’s new home, to use them to bring food, shelter, clothing and a future to a family of the living.

Later that afternoon, I heard about the death of two brothers I knew in Osh. They were six brothers, all short, squat, deep-voiced and muscular. Despite their bandit-like appearance, they were religious, devoted to their family and hard-working. When they spoke of their mother’s death, shortly after returning from Mecca, tears appeared in their tough eyes.

The six of them worked together, selling cars and car parts, running a car wash. Their goal was to build a beautiful, luxurious new home for each brother in turn.

When I drove in Osh with one of the brothers, he drove so fast I was frightened. My companion asked him to slow down and he did so reluctantly.

I knew they were crazy drivers. And they died the way I imagined it would happen – they got into a car accident in Russia as they were bringing cars back to Kyrgyzstan.

I imagine it was probably their fault. I regretted they couldn’t slow down in order to live another several decades. And I hoped they didn’t take any innocent travelers with them, though I know it’s possible.

One of the six brothers used to sell used car parts from his home. I wondered if he was one of the two who died. I wondered who would deconstruct the metal where they spent their last moments and line it up on display, for sale. I wondered who would buy it and carry it with them, part of another machine traveling the post-Soviet roads.

No comments: