Sunday, January 9, 2011

Airport Stories

Story #1 - Peter and I boarded the plane in Sacramento behind a dude who just didn't fit on a plane. If he walked straight down the plane aisle, his shoulders were centimeters away from hitting the seats on either side. To enter the plane from the jetway, this man had to bend his knees slightly and tuck his head way down. I tell you, he just didn't fit!
Well, turns out, he was in the row behind us and at one point in the brief flight, Peter leaned over to me and quietly said, sometime, look closely at the guy's face behind us. When we get home, we can google him and see if it is Reggie Miller.
The plane landed and a whole crew of us lined up on the jetway to gather up the to-big-for-small-planes carry on bags that had been checked at the gate. “Reggie” was among us. Still super tall. A women joked with him, “You must be uncomfortable on a plane”. He chuckled and said, “Goes with the territory.” At which point the women asked how long his inseam is and was surprised when it really was only a few inches longer than hers. Hats off to Reggie for being polite and kind to the inseam girl. Did I mention that as we stood there Reggie donned some not-to-concealing black sunglasses? A hat and a scarf completed the deal.
We didn't even need to google him, we were convinced of who it was (well, Peter was, I will forget who Reggie is in about 2 days). But we did a google image search and it confirmed our suspicions. I always feel sorry for celebrities because people always notice them and then talk about them...and here I am...noticing and talking!

Story # 2 – Aeroflot chicken stew. Aeroflot beef stew. Aeroflot beef stew. Enough said.

Story # 3 – In the Moscow airport, where Peter and I found a undeveloped, carpeted place to sprawl out and lay our heads there was a mom and her 4 year old son (ish) having a grand ol'time, crawling on the floor, playing tag, laughing, tickling each other, running just to run. It was great to see. Mom and boy started throwing the boy's hood back and forth, up and down. Mom threw it too high and it stuck to the ceiling. Uh oh! We laughed. Peter picked up his shoe and proceed to play the “Let's throw the shoe and see if we can knock it down” game. It worked and the mom said, “Spaciba, gracias, thank you, merci” and continued playing with her son. What a world!

Story # 4 – The Taxi.
I am comfortable with planes. I am comfortable even with the possibility of flight delays. I am comfortable with changing planes. I am comfortable with going through the passport controls and then claiming baggage. I am not yet comfortable with securing a taxi in Kyrgyzstan. As our plane began to descend into Bishkek the tension in my neck and shoulders grew. I practiced my lines in Russian. I saw us leaving the airport building and flagging down a taxi. I did not see the hoards of people that awaited us when we left the secure baggage claim area, 1/3rd of which seemed to be taxi vultures, each wanting to gobble up our business. It worked. The first young man to shout “Taxi? Bishkek?” in my face grabbed my attention. I asked him “Skolka stoyet do Mossoviet? (How much to get to Mossoviet – our corner). He said 600 som, I confirmed with Peter if that was okay and he hustled us out to his car. His personal car mind you, with not even the flimsy yellow taxi sign that some people seem to buy and use to run their own taxi service. He was a nice man and it was only a ways into the journey that it hit me, “This guy could take us anywhere! He's not affiliated with any of the major taxi companies. He might even charge us more than he told us.” But I also thought, “Hats off to this motivated dude to hustle like that for our business. It's quite possible this money will help him feed his family, or at least himself for awhile.” I also thought, “Oh, there are quite a few people who might feel nervous right now”. But I didn't. We had to chuckle though because he seemed extra paranoid about getting pulled over. He went the speed limit (which few people do) and when it changed, by the time he hit the indicating sign he was going the appropriate speed. When we passed a couple of cop cars he sat up straight, two hands on the wheel and drove very carefully. I wonder if it is illegal to offer taxi services without a license. All told, he got us to our apartment and didn't charge us more. The only downside is that perhaps it took us longer to get home than was necessary (we saw all the other taxis from the airport passing us).  But here we are, safe and sound!

The American (?) Dream

The American Dream. It is a unit of study in the eleventh grade. It's roots go back to the beginning of the United States. There are facets of it that we all actively pursue in one way or another. But how “American” is it? Is it not true that no matter where you are, what culture you come from, you will desire to better your situation, to seek and achieve financial stability, to achieve whatever society has said is the “norm”? No, the American Dream might not just belong to Americans.

Perhaps though, only in America has it always felt possible.

Here are a few glimpses into Bishkek life:

When Peter and I go to check and see if there are potato samcis at our favorite place, the same girl is always there. She looks to be about 20 years old, give or take, and she is there no matter what time of day or what day of the week it is. She sells samcis for roughly 40 cents each.

When Peter and I go to our favorite bread shop, 3 of the 4 girls who work there are always there. Perhaps, they get a little more time off than the samci girl, but not much.

People live and work at the dump. Some families say they like living on the dump because it is warmer. Some parents have left their children in the villages and are ashamed to tell them where they work. These folks search for plastic bottles of all sizes in good condition. They sell them for 1 cent to someone who washes them and then sells them to local farmers /merchants for 2 cents. The farmer then puts milk in them, a wife fills it with a sauce or Kumas (fermented mare's milk), the merchant fills it with something and the goods are taken into the city and sold.

In Bishkek, when it snows, the snow sticks to the sidewalks and roads, is trampled by pedestrians and cars. The roads might be sanded. The sidewalks are cleared only if it is in front of a shopkeeper who cares to clear it. Public employees carve out a small pathways through the public spaces, like the park and Ala-Too square. For the most part, old men and hunched over old ladies, young children, men and women with heavy bags, all of us, we walk on the sidewalks slick with ice.

And I wonder... What does the samci girl dream of doing? What do the young men who sell produce by the side of the road want for their lives? The cheerful bread girls, are they content? How many elderly grandmas slip on the ice and break a bone?

Perhaps the Kyrgz people and the American people live by two different sets of expectations. Perhaps the Kyrgz people expect life to be hard. They are not surprised by hardship, the necessity of long hours at work, or the inability to seek permanent financial security. I am not saying that they enjoy these hardships, nor are they easier because of a different set of expectations. It's just that perhaps they are not always looking for someone to blame when the going gets rough.

Perhaps we expect life to be easy. We expect to be able to go to college, to find substantial and worthwhile employment that allows us to use our gifts and natural abilities. We expect to be able to save up for our own home, and/or find a bank that is willing to to supply us with the necessary loan. We expect that if we work hard enough, we can achieve anything we want. We expect to have clean water, clean air, nice roads, sidewalks that are level and even; we expect that after it snows the roads will be cleared quickly and without the interruption of other services (like garbage pick up). We expect to be able to choose – choose the kind of job we will have, choose our spouse, choose where we will live and how we will live, choose to save our money for a boat or perhaps for travel, choose the “perfect” college for our kids.

I don't know what to do with all these thoughts. All I know is that I am not the samci girl; I do not have to support my family by picking through trash in the dump, I can come “home” to clean air, pure water and streets cleared of snow. I do believe I have many choices and opportunities in life. And somehow, I know I am to use these opportunities wisely, to give generously, to be ever grateful for all that I have.