Maybe this is what happened with Guka and me (reference to a previous post). On several occasions, I said more than she was comfortable with, and we lost respect for each other because of it. I know I disappointed her when I didn’t like Almaty. When I kept one foot in Bukhara during my visit. I tried, but Almaty is a very Soviet city (Russians call it Alma-Ata) infused with new oil money. It is what it is. It certainly wasn’t her.
But what happened with Guka is not the point. For years, I’ve wanted to explain something that happened there, when we went hiking in the mountains outside Almaty with a group of her friends. I’m not sure how many creative people feel this way, but I have so many photos sitting waiting to be edited and seen, so many stories unwritten, that I feel in some way I can’t move on creatively until they are tended. It makes me apprehensive. Apprehensive about jumping into more, though of course I have. Though in that, too, something feels unresolved, unworked through, unseen. Something I’ve wanted to process has been ignored.
And so, in February of 2009, I began to go through 100s of old CDs full of digital photos. I love to clean, organize, and get rid of things (you don’t? Call me). I organized them down to a few DVDs, then decided to send off all my negs and chromes to India to be scanned. This I documented closely, as it was an endeavor. (It’s archived in the scancafe category.) When I got them back, I started archiving and tagging them in Lightrooom. It was amazing, cathartic, and tedious as hell. I also started uploading selects to Flickr, so they can be viewed.
Why? To make them conscious. So I know what’s there. Some of those images are printed. Most of them sit in archival boxes. Many are not, particularly the chromes. They are all but impossible to look at. So, I had them scanned. Why scan 7,000 old photos? So I know what’s there. And so others can see them if they desire. So they don’t sit in boxes in the back of my mind, like stories untold.
So finally, two and a half years later, I am uploading the 2004 selects to flickr. I will shut up, sit down, and finally write the story about that day at Chimbulak. Even though in words, it seems like nothing.
Chimbulak is a ski resort outside Almaty in the Tien Shan Mountains. We went there in the August for a hike and some fresh air. There were eight of us. It was an easy hike, but we were all at different levels, and two were kids. About half way to the top, at the base of the ski lift, the Soviet-built, terrifyingly-rickety ski lift, there was a resort where we stopped for lunch and some liquid courage (vodka). It was typical Russian fare. I enjoyed myself. We laughed and had fun.
After the lift was a short climb. It wasn’t difficult, but we’d had plenty of vodka and were soon tired, but we pushed on. As we neared the top, we did something I’ve never seen in my years of hiking. Something Americans would never do. We linked hands. It wasn’t unusual to them in the least. We held hands and helped each other up the rest of the mountain. To the stubbornly independent American, it seemed not only strange, but not that helpful.
But it was. Even if you were toward the top of the chain, doing most of the work, the linking woke us up and brought us together. The last bit of the hike though the clouds was easy, coming together as one.
As we did this, my thoughts went, “What are you doing? That’s silly. This will impede everyone. What the hell? Keep your mouth shut. You are a guest here. Wait. Wait. How strange. This is nice. I’m being pulled, gently. I’m gently pulling. We are helping each other, and we are lighter, and faster, and efficient.”
It was not the way I was used to, but it worked. Magically. And with that realization, it hit me just how different Kazakh, and Central Asian, culture is. Yes, of course I knew it, understood it conceptually. But before this, I didn’t feel it or understand it on a cellular level. I didn’t feel it to be true. I just knew it intellectually.
And perhaps this seems simple, or obvious, or like nothing, but after fifteen years of foreign travel, I finally truly understood how some cultures rely on each other much more intrinsically than we do in the U.S. We frown up on it here, to the point that so many people are alienated and alone, with no idea how to truly connect to another person. We are afraid it means we are needy or weak, or will be trapped in some sort of needy abyss (ours or another’s). But it doesn’t mean any of this.
At the top, we sprawled out in the grass for a rest.
To see all the photos from the day at Chimbulak, go to flickr.
We don’t really go that far into other people, even when we think we do. We hardly ever go in and bring them out. We just stand at the jaws of the cave, and strike a match, and quickly ask if anybody’s there. ~Martin Amis