Monday, February 26, 2007

Goodbye Kyrgyzstan

I have now left Kyrgyzstan, my home for the last 2.5 years. I’m sitting at the Almaty airport, waiting to depart for Frankfurt, then the U.S. and later, Latin America.

Today I twice heard the message that locals want more order – they are tired of the protests and the uncertainty. The woman who I went to for a manicure used to live in Tashkent. She moved to Bishkek a few years ago. I asked which city she liked better.

“Tashkent,” she said unequivocably. She said the city is beautiful, clean, orderly, and that the Uzbeks have a unique culture and outlook. “Of course, there is less freedom there,” she said. “Bishkek is more democratic. However, after a certain point, more freedom isn’t needed.”

A few hours later, the taxi driver taking me home said something similar. “My brother was talking to someone in China and asking what needed to be done to have stability here,” he said. “The Chinese man said that the president needs to give orders to shoot two or three protestors. Once he’d do that, people would be afraid and order would be installed.”

I leave Kyrgyzstan with the same warm and respectful feelings I developed upon arrival. The taxi driver who took me to the Almaty airport asked me what I didn’t like about Bishkek. “Nothing,” I said, realizing how rare it is to find a city where I like everything. Upon further thought, I came up with some things I didn’t like – corruption, drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians, city officials who don’t clear, salt, or sand icy streets. But overall, I had a wonderful, wonderful experience living in Kyrgyzstan. Except for a couple of bike nabbings, which happened when I was out of sight, I had no problems with crime in my entire time there. And that despite frequently walking and biking everywhere, and even biking around the whole of Issyk-Kul alone. Besides crime, I also had virtually no negative encounters with people.

Kyrgyzstan has its weak points. But it also has so many riches that I hope will bring it success in the future. Mainly, these include amazing, virtually untouched nature, the beautiful Issyk-Kul, great trekking and skiing, intelligent, cultured people, a kind and hospitable culture, a low of labor and living, fresh, natural fruits, vegetables, beef and dairy, and an openness to the world.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of packing and preparing, making it hard to enjoy the final moments in Bishkek. Friends called and came back until the last minute. Several shed tears. It was only thanks to the fact that I am quickly moving into new, exciting, and unknown realms that I was able to avoid great regret. And I held out the hope that I’d be back to see the new Bishkek.

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