Wednesday, June 28, 2006


June 23, 2006

Last week, I got a new bike to replace the bike that got stolen, a red and black 21-speed with disc brakes. It’s wonderful to have wheels again and the ability to cycle around town raises my happiness index by several points. I had thought about continuing my Issyk-Kul journey this weekend but decided to take it easy since I’m heading to the States next weekend.

It’s nice to have some time to sit in front of the fan, to read, to write and to cook. I plan to attend water aerobics this afternoon and tomorrow will go on a hike and a bike ride to a nearby national park.

Last night I spoke to Zhenya and she was in a bad mood. She had wanted to go hiking on Sunday, but the $4.25 price was too much to allow both her and her son to go. The owner of the shop she rents is demanding she pay $120 that her deceased partner owed her.

“Hussein’s relatives sent me $500 to cover his debts,” she said. “But I already gave that away. It wasn’t enough. And I feel bad going back to his family, after they’ve already lost him, and saying that his debts were more than that. Maybe they will think I am deceiving them.”

At the same time, she risks losing her Chinese long-term tenants in the apartment she rents out because they are being constantly harassed by the police. A police officer came by, apparently to check passports, and saw that they had goods for their business stored in the apartment. He demanded money and they paid him $180. From that point, he hasn’t left them alone.

“Why don’t they just not open the door?” I asked.

“They don’t open the door any more. But they live on the first floor. And this offer comes and taps on the windows, pulls at the bars. They are afraid and they say they may have to leave the apartment because their nerves can’t take it anymore.”

When the officer is harassing them, they call Zhenya. Several times she has run over there and confronted the officer.

“He’s a young guy from the mountains, probably Talas or Naryn, and looks so evil. I think he would kill me if he could,” she said.

She went to the police department to complain.

“I told the officers at the intake center that an officer was harassing my tenants and was extorting money from them. They just looked at me and smiled, asked me how much money he was getting, as if they wanted to come get some themselves. At just about the same time, someone handed me a long article from the Evening Bishkek newspaper, in which it said that this was a racket and these officers, who are supposed to be controlling foreigners, take money and send portions of the money all the way up the management.”

For the first time, Zhenya brought up the possibility of leaving Kyrgyzstan. “All of this makes me think that this place is just a mess,” she said. “And it’s not getting better. It makes me want to not live here anymore. I know that Russia has its problems too, but the people there must be more civilized.”

That same day, our former Osh officer manager got onto on Osh-Moscow plane with her daughter and left her country of birth behind to build a new life in Russia. Singly or in pairs or as families, the exodus from Kyrgyzstan continues. Those who go alone usually send back money and may return. Those who take their families or children are usually gone for good. Their ambition and work ethic stifled in Kyrgyzstan, they take their skills out of this country, where they think they can put them to better use.

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