Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bad vibes

November 17, 2006

For the first time, I’m having bad vibes in Bishkek. As I wrote earlier, I was so uncomfortable walking home last night that I called Mark as soon as I got home and told him I didn’t feel safe.

Tonight, I left work around 8. I rode my bike down a less trafficked road, in order to reduce my chances of getting hit by a car. But it was pitch-black dark, drizzling, cold, and barren. Again, I felt very uncomfortable. I couldn’t move very fast in the darkness, but it was only the fact that I was on a bike that gave me a little security.

I met my friend Zhenya outside an internet café. She wants to emigrate to the U.S. and I helped her out by taking her picture and submitting the application for her and her son online. She wanted to give me some bread she said was especially good.

When I submitted her application, I listed her as legally separated. The definition said there needs to be a court document proving separation. Zhenya hasn’t had any contact with her husband for years and he takes no responsibility for their son. In all manners, she’s divorced. Only she never went to file the papers because she didn’t want to have the pay the fees.

I suggested she begin the process now. “What if you win the lottery?” I asked her, “and then you aren’t allowed to take Algubek with you because you can’t take a child to another country without the father’s permission? You should get things ready now so you are prepared.”

She took my advice and went to the court already this afternoon. “I filed the paperwork and it only cost me 20 som (50 cents)!” she said, excitedly. “I didn’t know it was so cheap!”

She said the court would mail her husband a letter asking him to appear in court. If he came and signed the papers, everything would be fine. If they send him three letters and he doesn’t show up, they’ll process the divorce automatically.

I shared my discomfort with Zhenya. “Do you think my bike will get stolen here?” I asked her, as I locked it to a waterpipe. Recently, someone stole the bike computer that had been attached to the handlebar. I think it happened when I left my bike inside the internet café.

“No, it will be fine,” she said.

“Aren’t you nervous walking your dog alone at dark?” I asked.

“No, I was just with my son,” she said.

We said goodbye and I went into the café to use the internet phone connection.

After making a few calls, my sense of foreboding was so strong that I went outside to check on my bicycle, something I never do. It was where I left it and no one was around.

I then went back in and made a long call to my mother. When I went outside this time, the bike was gone.

After a futile argument with the guard, in which he claimed he’s not responsible, I called Zhenya, just because I needed to tell someone that I’d lost yet another bike (that’s two bikes and two cameras in a span of months). She offered to come walk me home.

While I waited for her, two tipsy Russian men, who looked rather like criminals themselves, came out to talk to me.

“You know, it’s the atmosphere after the Revolution,” one of them said. He bent over and whispered. “The Kyrgyz are sometimes a little crazy. You know there is a maniac on the streets now.” Everyone is talking about the maniac, and it might be people’s fear that keeps people inside and empties the streets to the point where I find them frightening. Although, the police announced today that they’d arrested a suspect.

Zhenya arrived, together with Algubek and the dog. “You see what this place has become, why people want to leave?” she asked.

As much as I’m temporarily not feeling comfortable here, I couldn’t blame it on Kyrgyzstan. I know people all across the U.S. who are unable to keep a bicycle of decent quality because they get stolen so quickly. I was more shocked at losing another possession, tired of contact with criminals, and upset by this strange feeling I’ve had for the past 24 hours of something not being right.

“Just remember that people lose their children, their apartments, and their jobs,” Zhenya said. “And be glad that you were inside on the phone and nothing happened to you.” She was right.

I was glad to have her with me as we walked through the dark alley leading toward my home. My neighborhood looked awful. The garbage that has been piling toward the sky had been blown about and refuse stuck to the cold, wet streets. We maneuvered through the darkness, through the garbage and through puddles.

“Our garbage isn’t getting picked up either,” Zhenya said. “One of the garbage trucks is broken.”

When we passed the dark, empty playground, most of the metal stolen, I thought back to the evenings, not so long ago, when children were out playing late in the lighted street, their screams and laughter rang throughout the neighborhood. It’s such a contrast.

Then, upon reaching the relative comfort of my apartment, I heard banging and yelling upstairs, then the sound of crying through the heating vents. A couple having a violent, physical argument. The disorder continues.

And I dream about the white walls and the rose garden of my Uzbek home, the open greenery of the jailoo, the kind taxi driver who took me to his Kochkor home in August. I know there is so much goodness here. I’m just not feeling it at the moment.

No comments: