Yep, that’s right – that seems to be the literal translation of Kyrgyzstan (kyrk=forty, gyz=girls, stan=land of). Well, either that or the “land of 40 tribes” – but I think the first translation has more of a ring to it.
I had a hard time sitting down to write this first post about Kyrgyzstan. There are just so many little things that you want to comment on or describe, you don’t even know where to begin. Especially since everything here feels both so familiar (in comparison to all other former USSR countries) and yet so different from how I pictured it.
It’s actually kind of hard to believe that the first week has already flew by. I guess when you start work in a new place for the 3rd time within a span of 5 months, you get acclimated to it pretty quickly.
The whole process of settling down in a new country is starting to be a familiar process, too. Unpack your bags and wonder where all of your socks have vanished to? Check. Draw out a map of the neighborhood to orient yourself? Check. Explore the nearby area for food stores/markets and get some ice cream? Check. Get a SIM card for your phone? Check. Buy household supplies because the landlord was too stingy to leave a towel or a teapot. Check check.
The arrival to Bishkek went surprisingly smoothly. The only minor hiccup was when the consul at the airport refused to issue a visa because I ran out of empty pages in my passport. I could feel a few beads of sweat run down my spine at that exact moment. It would have been a shame to have been refused entry to the country when you were so damn close. Fortunately, a $10 gift helped us to find a mutual understanding and the Visa was proudly placed at the end of the passport.
The next surprise came when I got picked up from the airport by the driver of the company I would be working for… in a Mercedez-Benz. It was surprising because here you are – coming to work for an organization to help the poor – and you kind of have certain expectations about what that organization would be like. Luxury cars are typically not a part of that image… Granted, it’s the only Benz that the company has (the other 6 cars are Lexuses).
Jokes aside, the organization I’m working with here is actually very, very impressive – both in terms of their philosophy and their achievements over the last year. It’s looking to be a very interesting two months – I’ll go into more detail in subsequent posts.
Bishkek is a pleasant city to be in, by all accounts. It’s filled with parks and fountains and tree-lined streets. Everybody speaks Russian (it’s the national language here, just like Kyrgyz). Half of the population of the city is composed of youth. It’s nice mix of the old Soviet and the new Western styles.
I’m only starting to explore it and get a feel for the local culture, so I think I’ll end it here for now and will save the observations for the future postings.