The first thing we did after getting into Kochkor was to stop by a field on the way to Kara-Suu (the one in Naryn, not Osh) and watch a game of kok-boru.

kok-boru

The annual game of kok-boru played outside Kara-Suu on November 7, the Kyrgyz national holiday commemorating the Great October Socialist Revolution.

I watched two games of kok-boru in Kyrgyzstan, both very traditional in their own way but both also very different. This was in an open field that didn’t really seem to have any boundaries and players joined in and out of the game almost as will (you can see one on the right here). A few hundred people were watching from the edges of the field. The game I saw in Bishkek celebrating the arrival of spring was in a stadium with thousands of fans. What they shared was only wild shouting.

Sights and Sounds

Kok-boru in Kara-Suu

The first thing we did after getting into Kochkor was to stop by a field on the way to Kara-Suu (the one in Naryn, not Osh) and watch a game of kok-boru.

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Arslanbob is a small town of about 15,000 people, almost all of them Uzbek. I was in town for a day to attempt snowshoeing through the walnut forest (the biggest in the world).

It was the day after International Women's Day, and a public holiday in Kyrgyzstan, but no one was celebrating it here in Arslanbob. According to my guide, it was because the village had 'good Muslim women'. Uniquely for my time in KG, this lady was the only one I saw who did not wear a hijab.

It was the day after International Women’s Day, and a public holiday in Kyrgyzstan, but no one was celebrating it here in Arslanbob. According to my guide, it was because the village had ‘good Muslim women’. Uniquely for my time in the town, this lady was the only one I saw who did not wear a hijab.

Sights and Sounds

Arslanbob

It was the day after International Women’s Day, and a public holiday in Kyrgyzstan, but no one was celebrating it here in Arslanbob. According to my guide, it was because the village had ‘good Muslim women’. Uniquely for my time in KG, this lady was the only one I saw who did not wear a hijab.

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Reminders

Misrepresenting environmental concerns

Mike Karavanov, 2008

Interesting tidbit here. According to ERM, the international consultancy that most financial institutions (such as EBRD) operating in Kyrgyzstan work with, even when Kumtor is ‘broadly compliant with international good practice’, ‘mining operations by the company have serious effects on the environment and water systems in Kyrgyzstan.’ 

That reinforces two things we have always known: that ‘international good practice’ represents a desperately weak set of standards, and that those pointing to such standards as validation are either ignorant or dishonest.

I think that EurasiaNet’s original explanation of its original post is fair. Corruption is hardly limited to corporations; plenty of criminals looking for cash off carbon. However, the article’s defense of Centerra suffers from the flaw pointed out above: just because you don’t break any regulations doesn’t mean you’re not destroying the environment.

PS. If you’re interested in more photos of Kumtor, the world’s highest gold mine at 4,000m, Glenn Blackburn has some nice ones.

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This Happened

Everyone can be charitable

It’s nearly midnight when I step out from the Народный holding four bags full of odds and ends – clothes, leftover food, detergent, etcetera – and the five liter bottle of water I just bought. There are basically no mashrutkas around at this time of the night and I’m looking for a taxi as my new apartment, which I am just completing a move to, is a 40 min trudge away. There’s a car at the corner but when the driver hears that I want to go to Panfilov, he shakes his head in dismissal and walks away. A pair of policemen watch intently across the street; I studiously ignore them. The last thing I need right now is to be asked to produce documents and a bribe (it’s already happened once before, and foreigners are often prime targets).

As I feel the winter chill flexing its muscles, I see a cab coming in the distance. It stops right behind the cops but the driver gets out and opens his trunk before I can even tell him where to go and ask how much he’ll charge. I’m happy to pay extra but he quotes a fair price and motions for me to get in the car. The police drive away.

The roads are mostly empty right now. A few taxis cruise here and there, some guys screeching tires and laughing loudly, and the odd car that is swerving left and right at high speed. The driver asks if I’m Indian and we lapse into a silence after he realizes that my command of Russian is strictly rudimentary. He tries to make awkward small talk. You know…Urdu? Do they speak English in Pakistan? We speak some English here too. But mostly Russian. The Soviets were here, you know, the Russians.

We get to my place and after I pay him and head to the back to get my stuff, something quite touching happens.

The driver – this big, macho half-Russian half-Kyrgyz guy – picks up half my bags and declares that he will carry them to my apartment. His car is running and his door is open but he’s seen that we’re not exactly at my doorstep – in my old Stalinskaya apartment complex, you have go through a fence and walk through a decrepit courtyard to get to the building. I am completely surprised and very grateful.

This is exactly why I feel so comfortable in Bishkek. There’s an element of human interaction here that I love, and my experience here has been sprinkled with instances of kindness and good will from strangers.

Like the time my fruit seller gave me a discount because I was fumbling in my pocket for change.

Or the Kazakh man who, upon learning that I was from Pakistan, clasped my hand and surreptitiously left some candy in it.

Then there was the cab driver who actually returned some money to me after we struggled through a conversation during the morning traffic jam.

Oh, and the lady who drew her toddling daughter’s attention for my camera at a street fair last month.

Actually, all the random smiles from people that have helped me fit in – no truer act of charity perhaps.


This is different from my experience in Canada where people generally stick to themselves. Walking down any major street in Toronto, people are more likely to look through you than to look at you. Interactions with strangers are almost always premeditated, rarely spontaneous (except for in certain public spaces, such as parks). There was once a group of teens walking around Yonge/Dundas with a FREE HUGS placard. It was sweet – but constructed**.

This increased level of human interaction with strangers reminds me of Pakistan as well, where almost every transaction involves bargaining and where chain supermarkets have not yet displaced fruit and vegetable stalls and small independent grocery stores are still common (thank god). One of my favorite memories from Karachi is the mango seller who bought a plate of gol gappay for me in exchange for a photo (written four years ago; please judge accordingly!).

More of the same, please.

The driver did not end up carrying my bags to my doorstep. But he made my day.

*(Narodnyy: lit. people, but in this context, the chain of 24-hour supermarkets across Bishkek)
**Of course, more relaxed attitudes around displaying emotions come with a price. No one has ever stopped my car to get into a fight in Canada, for example. No stranger ever tried to punch me because he hated my presence. And I’ve never had to deal with neighbors so noisy that I could barely sleep.
Sometimes I think it might not be so bad to have occasionally loud neighbors. There’s a very interesting comparison in social norms around politeness to be made here – but that’s for a future post.
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After praying in the shade of Lenin, the crowd streams home.

After praying in the shade of Lenin, the crowd streams home.

A very interesting and ultimately wonderful Eid ul Adha (known as Kurban or Kurman Ait in Kyrgyz) in Bishkek this year (thanks to wonderful friends who came over!).

Two ironies illustrated the unique nature of religion in Kyrgyzstan yesterday morning, which is a mixture of assorted shamanism and animism, Islam, Russian orthodoxy, and the legacy of Soviet atheism.

As I was walking towards Ala-Too Square for the Eid prayer, a man called out as I walked past him. Here’s the conversation (originally in Russian):

Him: Pakistani?
Me: Yes
Him: Salam alaikum!
Me: Walaikumassalam (continued to walk – I was getting late)
Him: Where are you going? (где ты…something)
Me: Um, to the namaz.
Him: What namaz? Today’s not Friday!
Me: It’s Eid, yes?
Him: (Puzzled look) Hm?
His wife, who was walking with him: Yes, it’s Eid today.
Him: (Laughs) Ah, go along then!

What’s interesting is that this was a Kyrgyz man; if religious, they tend to be Muslim – pretty much every one else at the prayer was a Kyrgyz man, and there were reportedly over 80,000 people – but this gentleman was totally oblivious of Eid, even though we were barely four blocks away from the square. Also, his wife had her head covered (which illustrates that covering heads often has zilch to do with religious beliefs).

This photo – the second irony – goes some way towards explaining this, I think – Eid prayers in the shadow of a massive Lenin statue – apparently the last one in Central Asia. Delicious.

This Happened

Kurban Ait in the shade of Lenin

On this first Eid ul Adha in Bishkek, two ironies that illustrated the unique nature of religion in Kyrgyzstan.

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Still part of Сове́тский Сою́з

Meet AA (left) and his friend, who stopped me as I was walking back to the Issyk-Ata Sanatorium on Sunday.

They asked me to take a photo of them and gave me their address to send it over. The address begins thus: Kyrgyz CCP – Kyrgyz Советской Социалистической Республики – or Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic.

Sights and Sounds

Still part of Сове́тский Сою́з

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One day I will fly

Sights and Sounds

One day I will fly

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