Tag Archives: kyrgyzstan

grandpa’s house

This might be my best photo essay ever. I love it.

I’m behind on the Sri Lanka stories, of course. Pattabhi Jois died on May 18. He was 93. I’m beginning to feel like the trip will fade out of memory if I don’t write it soon.

It’s not a matter of procrastination but a lack of time (as usual). Any free time I have outside of work, teaching, and teacher training has been spent culling over a hundred CDs worth of images—in the end over 9,000 files. They were burned over time so everything was in chronological order, and I wasn’t sure what exactly was there. Now everything is ordered by place and topic, so I can find it and I know what I have.

photo from forgotten essay on Oomoot, a center for the elderly in kyrgyzstan

In the process, I found photos I’ve totally forgotten about. Essays shot but never edited. Because after the work day (and school, and whatever else keeps me busy), there was no time. I did manage to put this photo essay on my grandpa’s house up last week. Though the images are from scanned contact sheets in plastic sleeves—scratchy with imprecise exposures—the result might be my best essay ever.

When I was almost finished going through the images (I began in February, a few weeks before Sri Lanka), I blew out my OS by hitting the power cord while installing software updates last Friday. Lost all the info (it was backed up, of course—in more than one place) but it’s been a nightmare time wise. Googling “restore time machine” did not give me the info I needed once the OS is reinstalled.

grandpa's kitchen. barberton, ohio, 2001
grandpa’s kitchen. barberton, ohio, 2001

(To restore a full system that’s been backed up on time machine using Mac OS X Leopard, go into applications, find Utilities >> Migration Assistant >> restore from Time Machine >> then choose your date. The only info I could find was about booting from the utilities disk, which I did not have).

That’s not quite complete. Regardless, with no time on my hands and too many pet projects in the balance, I need to redesign and reorder my website. It’s become unwieldy. I need to reorganize it, create a new home page, and use blogging software for the blog. Once again, I am overwhelmed by how much I want to do and how little time I have to do it.

This theme has gone on for years (no time!) and my desire to give time to the right places begs, as ever, to be satiated. Oh, this I must do. But how to do it, and pay the rent, is a real question.


Next: (maybe) ashtangis and other guests

the beach at issyk kul

I’ve an unexpected morning in Bishkek to type out my thoughts. It’s overwhelming. Where to start? Perhaps with a correction on the Bishparmak statement in the last post. Many Kazakhs do love their national dish, and were horrified to hear that anyone felt otherwise. Though it’s popular here in Kyrgyzstan as well, I’ve still yet to try it. My friend here, Jamilya, explained that perhaps I haven’t had it because it is only made for big celebrations and a horse or sheep must be slaughtered for the dish. Trying it in a restaurant (entirely possible) just isn’t the same.

I left Kazakhstan on the 14th for Kyrgyzstan, and spent a few days at Issyk-kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world (after Titicaca in Peru). The fresh air was quite a treat. I went from night bus (not my choice of travel, but I took it for Guka. A mistake that snapped our friendship, strained from communicating poorly and being together too much. A painful lesson learned, is being learned, here) to soviet four-person bunk room with Guka, Nadilya, and her two kids. Then I met up with Jamilya at a lovely guesthouse in the next town, unfortunately overrun by an obnoxiously loud family, replete with drunken, obstreperous, egotistical father and screaming, miserable child. They left the dining area and bathrooms an obscene mess. The family was so uncouth that I’d no idea they were of the new rich. Only when we walked back to the guesthouse and Jamilya pointed out the obnoxious father’s giant black Mitsubishi SUV did I realize that this unbearable family is of the new wealthy class—and also Kazakh. There seems to be some animosity from the Kyrgyz toward the wealthier Kazakhs. Jamilya said of the man and the new rich, “Yes, of course he is! They are all loud and intolerable and terribly full of themselves. It’s unbearable”

View from Aunt's Flat, Issyl Kul
View from Aunt’s Flat, Issyl Kul

It is understood in the ’Stans that if someone is wealthy, he is wildly unscrupulous. Especially if he joins the ranks of his impudent, SUV-driving comrades. Unfortunately, this is usually true. The resort town of Cholpon-Ata was overrun by such people and the vibe was unpleasant.

Like beach towns in the West, Soviet resort towns all have a similar feel. Open-air cafes line the streets, each crowded with plastic tables and chairs shaded by umbrellas emblazoned with cigarette ads. TVs for Karaoke blast head-splitting pop music. People stroll along in beachwear drinking beer, eating ice cream and relaxing. From Baltic and Black Sea beaches to the shores of Issyk-kul, on to the Pacific coasts of the Russian Far East, it is more or less the same scene. Generally people are quite easygoing, but here in Cholpon-Ata, everyone had something to prove, or show off.

Those with new money strut about in tight, gaudy bright-colored clothing (this isn’t fashionable Moscow) and sport a scowl that screams of their boredom and superiority. It seems a thin veneer over a wretched, lonely misery of never, ever enough. Of “Do they have more than me and if so can I hide it ’til I get it too? How do I get it too? Am I enough? What is wrong?” It won’t be long until Prozac arrives here, if it hasn’t already.

After a night at the guesthouse, Jamilya, her mother, sister, and I left for their aunt’s flat a few towns east. Quiet! No hot water, but clean and quiet, and a kitchen to cook in. Much better for the yoga retreat: morning and afternoon sessions on the beach. Tuesday, a giant rainbow passed over the lake as we practiced. Wednesday, I moved again for a photo project at elderly centers in Balykchi, and then onto Bishkek, where I stayed at Jamilya’s house with her father, who was alone for the week while the family vacationed at the lake.

While I hugely appreciate Guka and Jamilya’s hospitality, it overwhelms me. I was relieved to be on my own for a bit.


By my first tour in mid-May, I’d seen a good deal of Uzbekistan, some of it twice. First, on a tour led by Mario, and again when we took another guide around, squeezing in an eye-opening side trip to what remains of the Aral Sea. Mario and I also visited the Ferghana Valley, where my tours would sometimes take me.

He introduced me to Sasha, his favorite local guide, and insisted we visit Shakhimardan, a beautiful patch of Uzbek territory nestled into Kyrgyzstan. It was previously off-limits to almost everyone, but he was fixated on going because he thought it a great future excursion for the tourists and that if he wanted it open, it could be open. He cleverly squeezed us into the back of a little Daewoo Damas that transported locals, where we were hidden from border guards.

When we got out near our destination we were immediately stopped and taken into a militsia compound, where we were held for an unnerving period of time.

The Damas, above,  is more affectionately referred to by locals as ‘bread loaf’. It’s a tiny thing, resting on the axle of a little Tico. It comes up to, in height, my chin. Maybe.

Then they transported us to another compound and questioned us. There were lots of large guns about, carried by very young, aggravated boy-men. Eventually the warden took us out to the street, marshaled a citizen minding his daily business, and commanded him to drive us back to Ferghana City in Uzbekistan, a few hours away. He followed in his military hybrid jeep-truck and when we finally reached our hotel, he first went in to see that we were truly legitimate, registered guests. Surprisingly, we were.

It all seemed harmless enough at the time. Being stopped and harassed by the DAN, the Uzbek traffic police, was a daily occurrence and could cause all sorts of travel disruptions. The border issues and the military did add a bit of intensity, but it all seemed friendly enough. I could only guess, as we didn’t understand a word of what was said. Only later did I understand why Shakhimardan was closed, which Mario knew full well at the time. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a violent guerilla-style Islamic separatist group that controls drug trafficking in Central Asia, was active in the area and six months earlier took four Japanese geologists hostage for two months in the neighboring Kyrgyz mountains. The Japanese government reportedly paid the IMU a few tons of flour and five million USD in ransom for their safe return. The Japanese government denies it, because they, of course, do not support terrorism in any form. In response, the Uzbek military mined the area. None of this troubled Mario, who dragged me into the closed territory without mention of the situation. A few months later, the IMU abducted and terrorized four American mountain climbers who ultimately escaped the six-day nightmare by pushing their keeper over a cliff.

Yes, chivalry seemed more desirable by the day.