May 21, 2009

Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Finally arriving in Osh, after miraculously surviving the Great Irkeshtam Pass Adventure, I officially felt like a skewered piece of lamb. My eyes were blurry with the residue of involuntary vodka shots and insufficient sleep from the night before, which was mixed with a heavy mutton kebab smoke that hovered over the city like a threatening storm of raining sheep’s rump. I wanted to just crawl into bed, but the fact that the sun was shining and I was in a new country after such an extended stay in China had my curiosity radar beeping and I chose instead to tie up my laces and hit the streets.
Kyrgyzstan, like it’s Central Asian neighbors, has a reputation for partaking in some seemingly obligatory post-communist corruption. And after walking around for some time I could validate this as truth; not so much with sticky fingered government officials or rogue police officers, but rather with the crooked dentist who convinced the entire population that they needed not one, but an entire mouthful of gold teeth. As the friendly smiles of the locals were blinding me in my tracks, I couldn’t help thinking that this guy had pulled off the greatest gold heist of all time and was probably sitting beachfront somewhere on the Riviera, carefully dabbing a slight caviar stain with seltzer water from his seersucker suit as his countryfolk sold bread, fixed trucks and manually plowed the fields of the farm….in winter.
The remaining evidence of Osh as an ancient hot spot along the Silk Road is with its massive bazaar, which is still kicking 2,000 years later. I chose to inaugurate my journey through Kyrgyzstan with two purchases that were impossible to obtain during the three months I was in China: a jar of pickles and a pair of shoes that fit my size ten feet (kind of, almost, really, really close). In my short time interacting with the local people who make up an eclectic ethnic Eurasian Casserole, with a cup of Kyrgyz, a tablespoon of Uzbek, a pinch of Tajik, and a dusting of Turkmen, their openness and warmth is immediately apparent. The mostly former nomadic cultures are built on centuries of hospitality (and tribal war), which is still very present and makes for a sincere welcome into the country.
As I was sitting in a cafĂ© near the park, there was a group of teenaged boys at the table next to mine. After some time they called over to me in English and we struck up a basic conversation. We went through the normal rounds of questions before they started to speak of Osh. They wanted to know what I thought of Osh or if anyone in New York knew about Osh. They wanted me to go back and tell people in America how great Osh is. Finally, they asked me if I would want to live in Osh. I said that I really liked Osh but that I would miss my family. Almost in unison they replied, “Yeah, but if your family lived here, then would you want to live in Osh?” As I looked over at seven pairs of young, hopeful and proud eyes, I said, “Yes, if I could bring my family here, then I would definitely want to live in Osh.”

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