Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Beauty of Bishkek

August 27, 2006

Last week, after my Naryn/Tash Rabat/Son-Kul adventure, I spent several days on Issyk-Kul attending a conference. Tourists packed the northern shore. This was a record year for tourism in Kyrgyzstan and the effect was particularly seen on Issyk-Kul.

“For the first time ever, I saw private home put up ‘no vacancy’ signs,” my Kyrgyz colleague Maria told me.

Those connected with tourism raked in the cash during the short three-month season. Even in Bishkek, the Issyk-Kul influence is felt.

“Where is everyone?” I asked a market vendor yesterday. There were hardly any buyers for a Saturday afternoon.

“They are all at Issyk-Kul,” she said.

Within the next two weeks, the season will die down, school will begin, and people will return from vacation. Then the country will get back to work and to preparing for fall weddings.

Yesterday, while I was shopping at my local market, the beauty caught my breath. The colorful piles of tomatoes, green and red peppers, purple eggplant, yellow peaches, green apples, purple and green grapes, mounds of green onions and spices, fluffy heads of lettuce, round and oblong melons, red strawberries and the standard gold, brown and orange of the onions, potatoes, and carrots shimmered in a rainbow of color. I saw the full abundance that the Kyrgyz soil could produce and I felt awe, especially when I recognized this is only the beginning.

In the coming months, the wooden stands will remain stocked with beautiful, shining piles of fruits and vegetables. And amidst such a bounty, I understood why so many families plan weddings and other large celebrations for the fall. With the cattle fattened after months on the jailoo, and the fields dripping with produce, the locals are only taking advantage of their riches.

As I prepare to leave on an extended trip, I look at Bishkek more carefully. I notice the ad for Inexim bank over a bus stand on Chui prospect, the first advertisement of its kind. I see the Turkish department store/supermarket/movie theater that opened, bringing modern shopping to Kyrgyzstan. I see the wide-screen TV playing on a central street, broadcasting a program on butterflies. I joined those leaning against the railing and looked up at the advanced technology. I see the salaries rising due to competition for smart, educated young people. And even when my electricity most annoyingly goes out, and I have to spend my evening in candlelight, I appreciate how I can prop my door open with a shoe and not worry about criminals coming in. For those who are employed, Bishkek is a beautiful, safe, comfortable, green, modern and very pleasant place to live. Of course, I still love Osh. But I think this city is growing on me.

In my dark apartment, I try to imagine myself in Managua one week from now. It seems so far, so distant, and so foreign. I try to imagine myself speaking to locals, maneuvering the streets, sleeping in a Nicaraguan bed, eating local food. And I just can’t see it.

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