Thursday, January 25, 2007

About Kyrgyzstan

"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a long time...." --Unknown

I know you might be wondering what Kyrgyzstan is like--the people, the city and countryside, the food, the weather. While we are waiting on the word about the children’s father, I will tell you a little about our experiences here.

Centuries of migration over the Silk Road, and invasions, have ensured this area’s ethnic diversity. Faces that you see here are an interesting mix of Turkish, Slavic, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Mongolian, and Russian. I can say that, almost universally, the people we have met have been exceptionally nice and are happy to see Western travelers in their country. The principal language is Russian, and boy is it a difficult language to read, understand and speak. We have not gotten much past “yes”, “no”, “please” and “thank you”, even after 10 days. In the city of Bishkek, a fair number of residents in restaurants, retail stores, hotels, etc. speak at least a little English. In the smaller town of Tokmok, where the orphanage is, there isn’t much English spoken or understood. There is a native Kyrgyz language, but it is not evident on signage, nor have I heard anyone speak it.

The country itself seems sort of frozen somewhere in the 1960’s-1970’s, when there was a lot of building of “Soviet-style” government buildings, apartment buildings and retail stores. In Bishkek at least (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) little has been done to maintain these buildings, seemingly since the ‘70’s, and they are slowly crumbling. With the demise of the USSR in the early ‘90’s, I think there was initial optimism here that life would be better, that democracy would bring prosperity to the area. Since the Soviets left, these buildings continue to decline, and we have spoken to a number of residents who feel they were better off in the USSR days. This region, however, remains extremely poor, with an average wage being about $30/month, and a high wage being maybe $100/month. There are a few more affluent areas of town that seem to be building new office buildings, hotels, casinos (!), and large homes. Our hotel, the Golden Dragon, is brand new, with many of the modern conveniences of typical 4-star hotels in the West--in-room internet, a business center, pool and spa, minibars in the room, a nice restaurant, and excellent English speakers among the staff, all for a reasonable rate of $95/night. We (there are 3 couples together on this trip, all adopting) have been well-treated in this hotel and plan to stay here on the second trip (yes, we have to return in 6 weeks for 10 days).

The weather has been unusually warm. The first few days were cold--near zero, with a storm that included 6-8 inches of snow, but recent temperatures have been in the 30’s and 40’s during the day. I think we hit their January thaw. We seem to have more clothes than we need, though there are still a few more days to go and the weather is variable.

The food has been very different, but quite good. Because of the snow early on and the fact that the sidewalks aren’t cleared very well, it has been a little difficult to explore the area surrounding our hotel to find different restaurants, at least until the last few days when it warmed up. The “national” cuisine is an interesting blend of Mediterranean, Asian, and Russian dishes and flavors. There are familiar vegetables and meats, mostly cooked together in various medleys with different sauces of curry or light creams or “barbeque”. There are a lot of potato dishes, and some meats that we don’t see much in our country, like mutton and horse (by the way, this area of Central Asia has been famous for its beautiful riding horses for millennia, so I guess the fact that horse chops are a big menu item here is an extra incentive for our equine friends to perform well). Tonight, though, we had decent Italian food, and we have eaten several times at a good Chinese restaurant, so there are European-style restaurants scattered around the city.

This may not be most Americans’ idea of a great place to vacation, but we have been well-treated here and have had an interesting time. Two weeks is just too long, though, to be away from family and our own homes, and of course we are ready to come home any day now…

Love to all


Bonnie said...

Not a trip for the faint-hearted! I guess they want to be sure you're serious about adopting one of their kids. Now I'm left hanging to see if you get the two whose dad has not relinquished them. Keep posting!


Diane Noriega said...

This is incredible for me to be able to feel like I am sharing this journey with you guys. The pictures are wonderful, thanks for taking time to keep us updated. Looks very similar to what I remember from my trip to Russia years ago, same kinds of buildings etc. Keep safe.

Much love, Diane, Jose and Daniel