Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Spelling and passports

My friend Zhenya just called to ask me a word that rhymes with beak.

“Peak,” I said.

“How about silk?”


She said it was her son’s homework. That he’d done as much he could and she was helping him. But she didn’t know how to find these rhythms.

“What about look?” she asked.

At that point, I realized her son was being lazy.

“That’s easy,” I said. “Ask Algubek to try.”

I heard him make a halfhearted effort. But at 10:30 p.m., it was probably easier just to get his mom to do his homework. Rather than finish his homework for him, I gave her a suggestion.

“Have him write out the entire alphabet. Then go through it one letter at a time, replacing the first letter. Start with A. Aook. Nope. Then B. Book. There it is.”

She seemed to like that idea.

I must admit that getting calls asking me to find rhyming words for beak and silk is one of the things I like about living overseas. It’s unusual, unexpected, a little glimpse into what non-native English speakers spend their evenings doing.

Today Nigora turned in her application for an international Kyrgyz passport. The Kyrgyz have two passports – one for internal use, and a separate one for those who want to travel outside of the country. They weren’t accepting applications at all for the last two weeks. And the entire first week of January is going to be an official government holiday. So Nigora paid $150 for 8-day service, a huge amount of money for an average person in Osh.

But she needs the international passport in order to apply for a U.S. visa. And if she doesn’t get it, she can’t come to America. This is her once in a lifetime chance to see the West (she only saw Bishkek for the first time seven months ago).

In the period when the passport office wasn’t taking applications, she spent her days running around collecting any and all papers and documents that might be needed. In the evenings, she went over her checklist to make sure she’d done everything she could.

“At this point, nothing depends on me,” she said, after she’d collected everything she could. “It only depends on whether or not they’ll accept my application.”

We both feared that they might not. Or that they might angle for some kind of a bribe. I asked if she thought they were doing so.

“I don’t think so because everyone there is ready to offer money in order to get the passport they need. But they say they aren’t accepting applications, that they don’t have any passports available now.”

So we were both relieved when they took her application today and promised it back by the end of the month. I was more worried about her getting a Kyrgyz passport than I am about her getting a U.S. visa.

Given all the kind people who have shown me so much hospitality overseas in the past years, I’m very excited to finally be able to reciprocate and bring someone to my country who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to visit. I wanted to invite my Siberian friend Ayuna as well, but unfortunately she’s expecting to deliver a child in the same month I invited her to come.

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