Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Departure from Osh

I spent the majority of the day trying to get out of Osh. My flight was delayed for hours due to the fog, which is a common occurrence in the winter.

The airport was busier than I’d ever seen it before. Cars packed the parking lot, the road that went nearest the entrance was blocked off, and crowds of people milled around. Near the front doors, people had set up tables and chairs outside and were grilling shashlik over coals, their breath mingling with the smoke from the grill.

“People are going to Hajj,” Malan said.

“They must have become more wealthy in the past year or two for so many to be flying.”

“Buses aren’t allowed this year. People can only go by air.”

He told me it had cost $700 to travel by bus, almost $1500 by plane.

“Who can ban buses from going? And why?”

“The head mullah in Kyrgyzstan banned them. The trip is too long and too difficult. Especially going through Russia, where they have a lot of problems at the border and the temperature is cold. Last year several old people died enroute due to the difficulties. So this year, they decided not to allow buses.”

I thought that made it harder for people to afford the trip. But he thought it was OK. He said that the rich Arabs used to feel sorry for the poor people who traveled such a long distance and in such discomfort by bus.

“They’d give them $10,000 or $20,000 as a source of assistance. But they’d hand it to the driver and he’d put it in his pocket. I’ve heard such stories,” Malan said in his singsong voice, that seems to take pride in the amount and breadth of his knowledge.

Malan is a great guy. I would have suspected him of being a spy sometime in his past life if I wasn’t convinced of how important it is for him to lead a life with a clean heart, without guilt or regret for what he engages in.

He doesn’t sit idly in his free time, but is always talking to people and finding things out, from modern farming techniques to what the current political intrigues are.

We passed a group of people gathered in the city. I asked what was going on and he didn’t know. A while later, the group had grown substantially larger.

“Malan, you know everything,” I said. “How can you not know what’s going on?”

“You know, that’s the prosecutor’s building,” he said. “I heard that there is a fight between two deputies. First they stripped one of his mandate and put the other one in. Now they are stripping the second. And those are probably people there to complain.”

He paused. “You know, if someone asked me to stand out in the cold to support a deputy, I wouldn’t do it because I have a full-time job. Those are people who don’t have enough to do. And right now it’s very easy to gather such people for a protest. But if we develop to the point at which people have enough work and they are well paid, they won’t be able to find people to stand around for them.”

He showed me the café where a deputy was recently shot, a popular traditional café on a central street.

According to Malan, the deputy was sitting with some people in a separate, private room that had a window looking out onto the back of the lot. Apparently he was sitting in front of the window. And the assassin shot him through the window.

“It was so clean that there was just a single, little hole in the window. And nobody even heard anything. Even the deputy didn’t realize he’d been shot in the back of the head. They say his last words were, ‘What, did somebody turn on the heat in here or something?’ then his head fell forward onto the table.”

“Was the killer caught?”

“No, and he never will be.”

The second week of December seems to be the start date for beginning New Year’s preparations in Bishkek. I hadn’t seen any signs of the holiday when I left one week ago. But today I returned to sights of people decorating trees, to happy new year’s banners hanging across shops, and kiosks selling small plastic trees and brightly colored tinsel.

I have a very short time here. Only enough to unpack, do a quick load of laundry, and repack for a departure tomorrow to Almaty. I’ll be spending three nights in Kazakhstan at a seminar. While I’m a bit homesick for my apartment, I’ve never actually spent a night in Kazakhstan and I’m looking forward to a little exploration of my neighboring country. And I’m especially looking forward to skiing on Sunday at Kazakhstan’s premier ski resort. I’ll have to see whether it’s able to compare with Karakol.

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