So it was 4:30 Am when I woke up this morning, my back aching from the too firm bed (it's not bad, just I like it squishy!) and I thought I'd shower and come down and share a bit about what our surroundings are like. I realized that I have done very little of that on the blog, mainly because it is not all that new feeling to me but I assume most of you reading have never vacationed here in Bishkek :-)
As we walked down the street last night, just 3 blocks or so from our hotel, we heard the call to prayer blaring out of speakers at the local mosque we found on the corner. We walked past bins overflowing with trash, dirty diapers and used condoms on the streets, and garbage of all sorts just about everywhere. The roads are in very poor shape with crumbling asphalt that in some spots can barely be recognizable as asphalt...and then the main thoroughfares are in decent shape. Some areas of the city are cleaner, but much of it is like this. The agiung, crumbling soviet style apartment building is the norm for people to live in, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where that is concerned...they all have the same styling, same dark and stark unlit entries with many of them having the traditional blue hallways. Interestingly, people here spit all the time and the sidewalks are covered with it! Where we are, which actually seems like a little oasisin the city, just outside the gated "compound" of the hotel there are many homeless dogs running around, a starving cat or two, and of course the railroad tracks that run just in front of the hotel. We have enjoyed seeing the traingo by and it doesn't bother us at all.
The sad thing is, that this could be a a BEAUTIFUL place to be if the buildings were in good shape and the garbage cleaned up. You have never been in a city with such greenery every place you turn. Large, old trees line every street, and fill every park to the point it feels as if you are in a forest. The sky here is fairly clear and far freer of pollution than Almaty, which sadly is so bad you can hardly see the stunning mountains surrounding it...nothing but brown as far as they eye can see...and this coming from someone who lived in Southern California during the 70's when pollution was at it's worst there...it doesn't even compare to Almaty's air disaster.
There are shops lining every street, not necessarily in buildings but in metal shacks that we would consider starage sheds for our back yards, and you can get anything from cigarrettes to liquor to milk, to fresh fruit and flowers at them. We laughed when we saw one selling used garments titled in English "Babushka Incorporated", and Dominick asked me if he thought they were a subsidiary of an American company.
There are people, people everywhere! Walking mostly, driving, talking, shopping. We were told there were over a million people in Bishkek, and I believe it! I have found we are a bit more comfortable here than in Kazakhstan when interacting with the folks in stores, etc. or maybe it is simply that we are more comfortable now on our third trip to this area with the cultural differences in the way people interact with one another and it doesn't seem so, well, foreign to us.
There is very little new construction, although we saw some nice apartments being built out towards the American Embassy, but with few exceptions almost everything is at least 50 years old, if not much older. Many of the sidewalks are not concrete but are pavers, some old and crumbling, some having been recently replaced with newer ones. As usualk, almost every park has some sort of war memorial or another.
On the drive over from Almaty to Bishkek we felt right at home, vast open areas that were greener than you can imagine and remindedus very much of driving from Montrose to Grand Junction. The landscape that was ocassionally rolling was punctuated with small cemetaries, and we almost hit a horse or two. In fact, Dominick even saw a dead horse laying on the side of the road as we drove to the orphanage the other day, luckily I missed that one :-) Outside of Bisheke there are animals galore, wandering around the homes. Goats and sheep and cows and horses are everywhere, grazing in areas you would never picture them grazing in. On the highway into Bishkek and out of Almaty vendors pull up on the side of the road, build a small temporary shelf and put auto coolant on it to sell. The gas station we stopped at halfway here required 20 tenge to use the restroom which was a floor toilet, which for the uninitiated is a basin of sorts in the floor...no seat...you squat. We have encountered a few of those and the boys think they are fun and mom thinks they are not so fun. Oh yea, and the 20 tenge didn't include the sheet of toilet paper.
We bought a small amount of groceries two days ago and it was over $50. Meals out are not inexpensive either, and I wonder how in the world anyone survives here on the wages they earn. Of course, they don't eat out and the restaurants are filled with foreigners, not locals. But staples here are not cheap, and even feeding your family must be a struggle on the below-poverty-level wages. It is quite easy to see why so many children in this part of the world end up residents of orphanages, at times it may be the only way a parent can insure their child's survival. And we are in the city, not in the tiny villages where life is even harder...less than a few miles from where I stand even having indoor plumbing is a luxury and on our drive in we saw many people hauling water to their homes.
So as I stood over the sink handwashing underwear for 5 of us, wet socks and bras dripping on my head from the shower curtain bar, I realized I had nothing to complain about having to do my washing by hand for once. It sure puts life in perspective for you, walking around here and recognizing just how luxurious our life is back in America.
And yet...it is the relationships that matter when life is so hard, and is that a bad thing? Could it be that we are missing out on much due to our lifestyle of relative wealth and privilege? People in America don't have time to get together to visit, to break bread, to share time together. They are too busy running around, being busy, acquiring stuff. We don't make the time to create lasting friendships of depth, then wonder why we feel so alone. We are not willing to give enough of ourselves, to share our hearts, because we can chase the American dream and comfort ourselves...and yet still our souls are empty. We have been fortunate to find those friendships, to have those ties that make everything else seem less important. We have friends for whom "stuff" isn't as important as "time" is. Like everyone, we have had friends in the past who have tried to fill the emptiness with vacations, alcohol, drugs, and material things. As I walk down these streets hand in hand with my family, I wonder if I would really be all that unhappy living here, or if life would be pared down the way it should be to keep things in their proper place.
Our hotel is not theHyatt, by any menas, but is neat, clean and actually homey as it is actually a "guest house" and not a hotel. We can run down to the kitchen to get a knife and a plate or use the microwave, we can use the tables in the dining area to play games in the afternoon rain, we can sit outside surrounded by the beuaitful garden and pool and use the covered patio area. Our room is small for 5 of us, but it works and feels about the size of a large tent with us walking over suitcases and toes and Matchbox cars. It is very simply furnished with a pine desk, wardrobe and bench seat with a folding couch that is a bed for Tokie and Matthew and a cot brought in for Josh. We have a small fridge and small TV which was used for the first time last night to watch Russian language cartoons, and surprisingly all 3 boys were enraptured and threw a fit coming almost near tears when we had to turn it down for a phone call during the "best part"...I guess you don't need to understand the language at all to be entertained by a cartoon! But it was funny to see Tokie laughing at certain points while Matt and Josh were silent, only he could understand the jokes in the plot! I figured this was good for him as soon the tables will be permanently turned.
And speaking of Tokie, this little guy is little...scrawny. I took some "before" photos so we can compare in a couple of months and he was showing off his muscles, and he is all elbows, knees and ribs. When placing your hands on his shoulders you feel mostly collar bone. But with the way he is eating...and eating...and eating...it won't be long before that has changed. Last night he ate 3 "sausages" (hot dogs), an entire apple, a yogurt, bread, 5 glasses of juice, a few cookies, some tomato, a hunk of cheese, and still wanted more but we had to stop him before he got sick! This was only 4 hours after having a platter...not a plate...of chopped chicken and rice. Whew! I can't imagine what my grocery bill will be for awhile until he gets the idea there is plenty of food around always. I've explained his needs to the boys and told them not to get any ideas, they can not eat like that to which Matthew responded "Don't worry Mom, I couldn't even eat that much anyway!".
Well, the sun is now fully risen and I must return upstairs to begin the day. Talk to you all later!