Friday, August 20, 2010

The Beginnings of Life in Bishkek - Day 2

Thursday, 19 August

So, by 9:00 last night we were sufficiently exhausted and went to bed. Our bed is about the size of a queen, but it's perhaps two inches wider, and it might be a couple of inches shorter. We both were awake at about 12:30am, but after a drink of water and a quick walk around the apartment (gotta make sure it's still all there, right?), we were both able to sleep until sometime after 5:00am. Well, that felt good.

For breakfast, a bowl of cereal with corn flakes and a few of the sugary-centered cereal bites that were here already, as well as some of the 100% peach juice we purchased yesterday. Peach juice is fantastic, and juice boxes should come back in style in the states. It's like being a kid, without the clumsy straw antics that go with those little boxes.

We went for a nice long walk through downtown Bishkek after breakfast. There are some amazing parks and monuments here. It really does feel like a nation's capital, as it should. A few things to watch for though as your out on the street are the cars and the sidewalk itself. Traffic is reminiscent of Central America, where right of way goes to the car attached to the bumper that got there first. Crossing streets is a pay-full-attention endeavor. Street lights are (interestingly?) mounted on the left side of the road, even though traffic travels on the right. So far, it looks like burnt out traffic signals are common. The second thing to pay attention to... the sidewalk. There are dips, bumps, small sink-holes, you-name-its to watch out for. Almost lost Katie on a couple of occasions.

A teacher from the school who had contacted me prior to our departure from the states, offering to be of help when we arrived, by the name of Wes offered to meet us and show us the sights. It turned into a look through some of the stores, a great ongoing discussion on local culture (he's lived in Bishkek for a year but also lived in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan for two years ('99-'01) with the Peace Corps, and is fluent in Russian), and eventually a great dinner out at one of his favorite restaurants. We ate in a traditional Kyrgyz “booth” (you remove your shoes, sit on a raised bed-like structure, and the table is about 18” above that sitting surface) and shared a fantastic beef and noodle dish, the name of which escapes me right now, fresh tomato and cucumber, and beef and chicken shashlik (Щащяік), which are really quite like kabobs.

Katie's note: For the first time this evening, we had someone serving as a bridge into the culture. The bizarre reality before that was that we could observe all we wanted, but couldn't interact with the people here. It is very strange for me to be in a place where it is not my “job” to get to know the culture and seek out an understanding of the needs of the people. We are here to teach rich kids and we will be able to stay as sheltered from the culture as we choose to be. We don't have a Kyrgz national guiding us around the city, teaching us Russian or the cultural ways. Last night, through Wes, we had that for a moment. I learned how to say “Thanks a ton”, that it's a sin to throw out bread in this culture and at the end of a meal you say “amen” and make a gesture of prayer. Oh, and the great thing about hanging out with Wes... I could understand much more of his Russian!

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