While walking a huge loop across the cotton fields south of Jalal-Abad City, at least 15 semi-trucks honk as they drive by, all of them sporting “Bishkek – open seat” in the windshield. I can tell you now that Peace Corps wouldn’t be happy with a volunteer hitching a 12-hour ride in a semi, but I’ve added it to my secret bucket list for my time here.
“Glamorous” is the last word I would ever use to describe my university’s bathrooms. They’re housed in a brick hut behind the gated sports court; the ladies’ room sporting a row of cracked porcelain squat pots. There are no doors to give occupants privacy, only waist-high (at least, Kyrgyz-height-waist-high) dividers. With no toilet paper provided, people resort to ripping pages out of their copybooks to wipe. I once even saw one especially resourceful person tearing a copy of her passport in two.
With a carful of hungry men, at least an hour until it’s appropriately late to show up to a wedding. They can’t wait an hour to feast on four courses of meat, so we make a pitstop at a hole-in-the-wall burger joint. Tables of jigitsdrink tea and repeat the Kyrgyz words Nicole and I sprinkle into the English conversation. “Do gamburgers in Kyrgyzstan taste like American gamburgers?” Kamardin asks, trying to convey a “keep-it-cool” attitude. Any semblance of “keeping-it-cool” disappears when both Nicole and I shake our heads that “no,” in fact, “gamburgers in America don’t taste like this.”
Streets specialize in trade here, and some streets smell better than others. Used shoes street or alcohol alley are nothing compared to the bread makers’ street. Tandyr oven after tandyr oven release a heavenly smell into the air: doughy, yeasty, crispy, warm, fresh bread.
Walking with a pumpkin pie in both hands, when a man yelled from across the street, “Are those for sale?” Clicking my tongue and walking away fast – you can’t have these pies, sir. Later in the day, carrying another pie to a student’s house for dinner, I’m standing outside a cafe when another person approaches to ask what I’m carrying. “Earlier today, two girls, I saw them with the same dish! Please tell me what this is, is it for sale?” It’s amazing how small Jalal-Abad is, given its status as the country’s third-biggest city.
I’m off on a week-long adventure to Osh, Hot Lake, Bishkek, and the world’s largest natural walnut forest – look forward to stories and pretty pictures.