In Kyrgyzstan life goes on like this: first, you need to get married, then have children. The more, the better. Children give meaning and happiness to your life. Then you need to find husbands for your daughters. Hopefully, they will pay a lot to marry the girls. You need to provide the money for your sons so they find wives and build houses for their own families. The youngest son remains in his family house with his wife to take care of his aging parents. He should have children. The more, the better.
That’s why, when we cycle through the country (the two of us as Agnieszka joins me again here), people start the conversations like this:
‘Do you have children? Are you married? No?!!! We’ll find you husbands.’
Patiently we refused to celebrate our weddings in Kyrgyzstan, although sometimes the candidates were presented immediately. We limited ourselves to normal acquaintances. That was enough. They weren’t trivial.
Azizbek is drinking for the second day in a row. He’s in a roadside restaurant near a forest and he tries to find strength. The power left him suddenly when it turned out that he lost a fortune in a bad business. Azizbek broke into thousands of small pieces with which he doesn’t know what to do now. He took a taxi and went away from his family to stick the pieces back together again. What hurts the most is the pride. He knows people will talk. And honour is important. Although he’s just opened the fourth bottle of vodka, the pieces somehow don’t fit together. Late into the night he stares into the rushing water of the river.
Nargiza is preparing a cake. The cake is necessary as it’s her brother’s birthday. She baked thin pies on a frying pan on the gas stove and now she’s putting whipped egg white on them. The decoration will be made with pie crumbs. Nargiza is in a yurt at 2500m a.s.l. and she has to cope. With their parents they are ten. Every year they spend about four months in the mountains grazing horses. There are two yurts so that everybody fits. They are covered with colourful carpets and they are cosy. There are buckets with kumiss in which somebody stirs from time to time and stoves because nights, even in the summer, can be cold. All the family runs like a well-oiled machine. Someone takes care of the horses, someone else milks them, someone sells kumiss by the road, someone cooks, someone takes care of younger siblings, someone carries water from the stream, someone chops the wood. They are not alone here. All the valley blooms with white yurts among which countless horses, sheep and goats run freely. On the fresh green grass and under the blue sky this place resembles some forgotten piece of paradise.
Our host scribbled his name so unclearly that it’s difficult to read the Cyrillic. That’s why we simply call him ‘our host’. When we asked him if we could camp near his house, he was black with grease. He was repairing a car in the garage surrounded by a group of men. Nevertheless, he agreed immediately and leaving everything and everybody, he took us home, showed us our room, explained from which tap hot water comes and invited us for dinner. In the evening we’ll spend hours talking in Russian. Then he will call every few days to ask where we are, if we are all right and if the heat isn’t too bad for us. But our host is not any phenomenon in this part of the world. Hospitality in Central Asia is sacred. Many times every day people, curious to know where we come from, stop us. They will talk to us, give us some bread, apples or honey, they will invite us for a cup of tea or lunch, wave at us from the fields or honk from their cars. Always kind-hearted and sympathetic. They have outside toilets, old cars and gold teeth. In our part of the world we think we are much better than them. Mistake.
A policeman, with whom we’re having a friendly conversation, asked about the source of his income, makes a gesture as if he was explaining to a child that two plus two is four.
‘From the people,’ he answers.
Wasn’t it obvious?
Ulugbek doesn’t eat or drink from dawn to dusk because Ramadan, Muslim month of fasting, has just started. He disappears in his room five times a day to pray. The temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius, people eat in restaurants, as post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan isn’t fiercely religious, and Ulugbek patiently cleans the table after breakfast in the hostel. He isn’t very talkative. When asked, he says that he got interested in Islam at the age of 12 when Arabs came to Kyrgyzstan to spread religion.
In summer Sasha can get some extra money. He works as a driver and a mechanic for a travel agency taking tourists around Kyrgyzstan in big off-road jeeps. He needs some extra source of income. Salaries aren’t high here and Sasha has a granddaughter whom he needs to take care of. The granddaughter was born with cerebral palsy, there are no schools where to send her and her father left. Sasha loves his granddaughter very much. When it’s financially possible, he takes her to doctors in Moscow. Normally, he pays a private therapist but that’s 20$ per hours.
Sayna smiles broadly exposing some holes in her smile and confesses happily that she’s free. She got rid of her drunkard husband and now she doesn’t need to care about anything. She wears a torn T-shirt and she can do whatever she wants. She runs a restaurant in which there’s almost nothing to eat. Sometimes people will come with their own food which Sayna will cook for them. Between the tables, her 1,5-year-old grandson crawls dragging his left leg. Wild marijuana grows around and Sayna’s daughter receives in the kitchen men of needs different than culinary. In the evening Sayna dances to Russian hits because Sayna is a person who has the luxury of not giving a shit about anything or anybody. With all the consequences.