First Impressions of Kyrgyzstan

Five months, nine days.  My time in Kyrgyzstan has flown by.  I’ve been told that I arrived during the perfect time of year for Kyrgyzstan.  

Each morning, as Hannah and I step out of our apartment to go for our morning walk, Bishkek is still sleeping.  The only sound we hear is Swish, Swish, Swish, Swish.  The only people on the streets of Bishkek when the sun first rises in the morning are the street sweepers.  It reminds me of the opening scene of Stomp.  Swish, Swish, Swish, Swish.  They are clad in orange safety vests and wearing protective masks over their faces.  They are armed with handmade brooms.  Swish, Swish, Swish, Swish.  

As Hannah and I cross the next street over, I get my first glimpse of the day of the snow-capped mountains in the distance.  It’s beautiful when the light of the rising sun hits the top of the mountains.  When we arrive at our destination — the tree-lined boulevard — one of the street sweepers stops sweeping for a minute and holds his hand out for Hannah to come closer.  Each morning as he does this, she gets a little worried because of his broom, and she looks to me for support.  He always asks in Russian, “Is she scared?”  I always smile and respond in Russian, “Yes.  She is scared.”  He then starts to sweep again, and Hannah and I continue our walk along the boulevard.  We pass a Kyrgyz ninja man jogging by, a couple of Soviet-era statues and an empty playground that in the afternoons is full of Kyrgyz children wearing snow hats even when it’s 100 degrees.  On the first end of the boulevard, there are beautiful red wildflowers that line the entrance.  By the time we get to the other end, the sidewalks are spotless, thanks to the street sweepers, and Hannah stops to smell the white, purple and red carnations before walking back toward home.

About a half hour after we set out on our morning journey, Bishkek has begun to wake up.  Children have started their walks to school; adults have begun their commutes.  Cars, buses, taxis and marshutkas slowly start to multiply.  The iced chai vendors strategically placed throughout the city are in place and ready for their first customers.  By the time I leave for work an hour later, the traffic has reached its peak.  I pull out of my driveway and fall in line with the other cars, stopping as the green light starts to blink and going while the light is still red, honking when other vehicles try to cut me off, and making a third lane out of only two lanes.  Just as things start to feel a little stressful from all the honking, it’s time to turn left onto Manas Avenue.  This is the moment I get my second glimpse of the snow-capped mountains for the rest of my drive to the Embassy.  This is also the moment where I always realize how fortunate I am to be living in this beautiful place.

The fruits and vegetables here are all organic and taste so much better than in the U.S.  Everything is so fresh.  Fruits and vegetables I never consumed in the U.S. are some of my favorites here.  I have grown to love tomatoes and cucumbers with each meal and also beet salad.  The watermelon and strawberries here are to die for.  I have a few other favorite things here besides food, of course, like my housekeeper/Hannah nanny named Lena, finding and taking photos with random statues of Lenin, hiking with human and dog pals at Ala Archa National Park and visiting Lake Issyk Kul — the second largest mountain lake in the world and the summer getaway spot for the locals.

During a drive to Issyk Kul one weekend early on during my time here, I lamented to a local friend about how hard it can feel sometimes to be so far away from friends and family.  She responded, “You should always take what life gives you — especially people.”  I’ve heeded her advice and have made some wonderful friends and have surrounded myself with good people — the kind of people I’ll never forget.  My expat friends and I provide support to each other when it’s tough to be so far away from home, and my local friends have embraced me and given me a home away from home.  Friends and family have asked why I haven’t written.  I guess over the last five months and nine days, Hannah and I have been exploring everything around us and making Bishkek feel more like home.

As I finish this blog post from my hammock on the balcony, the leaves are beginning to change and the air is a little cooler, which means that winter is just around the corner.  Pretty soon, it will be negative 20 degrees, and there will be snow on the ground and a layer of ice on the roads.  I’ll try to write more then, when I’ll often be in my apartment where it’s warmest.  For now, I must enjoy more of Autumn.  There are more hikes to go on, more Soviet-era monuments to visit and more walks to take with Hannah along the boulevard.