Asyl really waited for me two whole hours. And a half. We were supposed to meet at 7, I'm there at 9.30. I don't even want to say what they say about girls coming home late in this country. But Asyl's living with he sister so I guess that's allright. I expected her to kill me with a Kyrgyz version of a hagarypunder but I was greeted by a smiley face: everything is fine, normal and please come home.
European people are so uptight about being always on time, here is much more tolerant. Of course I should be as tolerant as well.
Asyl is nineteen years old, she is from Saruu, she is studying her the first year of university in Bishkek. Something about clothes design. She lives with her sister and her six year old daugter in the far west of the capital, a new neighbourhood, still in the making. Her sister's husband isn't there, they either broke up, he ran away or simply died, most votes going for the third option unfortunately. There is no man at home to dictate the strong Kyrgyz tradition that a man should not sleep at an unmarried girl's place. So I can go there.
The house is made of mud, there is only one room and a hallway. There is no bathroom and no toilet. It is common for houses to miss bathrooms and toilets in that place. Even in the capital.
There are no roads with asphalt on them, only dirt roads. There is electricity though. If we want to wash, we heat water and we wash in front of the house. I saw some neighbours do it. It must be really annoying in winter.
From afar, the house really looks like the kind of house children build for fun, in the summer. The main difference is it has electricity.
I sleep in the hallway, that way I have my own room and the girls have privacy. Asyl has her own way of handeling me being in her house. No fuss, no unecessary politeness, she treats me like a brother, her long time fried with an emphasis on distance because we still are Kyrgiz and Foreigner, boy and girl.
She's smart and able but she's also a teenager and moody, you feel the hormones raging across her Ukrainians genes. She definitly has some traits of Nata although I am sure Ilona would want to disagree.
"Come on drink tea, we are late!" She complains as if it was my fault althought she woke up at 9 instead of the intended 7 AM. There is tea, some bread, a cup of honey, the richness of the house.
Really it is appearent that these people are living on the edge of poverty as we would say in europe. It doesn't appear that way here in Kyrgyzstan of course; Asyl goes to university, her sister has a job and they are one of the lucky ones to own a house. But every morning Asyl takes a symbolic portion of honey with her symbolic piece of bread. She's not trying to be thin, she's trying to save for later. The piece of bread isn't bigger than her thumb, she eat it, she takes another one and another one, trying to forget that by eating microscopic pieces of bread she will end up eating the whole thing.
Still, she eats a fifth of what I do even though I end up eating like her. It's one of these moments where it makes a difference to eat people's food or not because they just won't have anything for later.
Asyl is working at a sewning atelier after her studies. She is good at it and good at handling customers. She's often working late into the night and she puts more into the atelier than into her studies. But if she doesn't she doesn't have money and they don't have enough to keep the family afloat.
She wants to go to America like pretty much everyone in the country. Because of that, she needs to speak english. I don't know what are the english standarts for America but I guess there are not far from bilingual. Asyl has a long way to go.
Everyday I help to bring water to the house from the neighbourhood water pipe situated about fifty meters from Asyl's house. The whole neighbourhood takes its water there. They are all waiting with their buckets to fill them up and then to their respective homes.
I am usually on water duty with the sister's little girl.
"What do you want to do later?", I ask
"Anyway, there will be no space for me in kindergarten" says the little girl.
She likes me a lot. And I don't know how to handle the kid sometimes.
Asyl is a tireless student. She has to learn from zero but she's always ready to talk, to repeat a sentence a thousand times.
From time to time, she buys some food. Not much, just some bread, some sugar. Sometimes not even bread, they can make it at home in an owen which is nothing more than a metal box somehow heated with electricity.
Often, I go with Asyl to the sewing Atelier. Some other girls are working there, all pretty and all single. They are working in the clothing business so no wonder they can dress. They are already stunning when they go to work without anything but when Nuri dresses up as little as only for her turkish lesson, she is so impressive I am afraid to talk to her. Nuri strikes me as a little naive, maybe even a little shallow but has a kind heart and a welcoming personality. Her sister is more serious, she's her older sister maybe. She knows english a bit better and you feel she thinks before every word, as if everything had a goal, she could be a good manipulator and maybe she is, but to me, she is kind and protective.
The third girl who works there is an energic business character, she finished her studies and works two jobs. She's one of those who doens't sleep but wears make-up to hide it. She's also pretty successful in what she does.
While the girls are working like crazy at the sewing atelier, I am talking english with them and correcting some mistakes. I am not doing anything, really but they all seem to like me. In the morning, after I've had Asyl's breakfest they prepare me another one with a lot of candies, I just can't resist and nor can I refuse. Nuri is the main organiser of me feeling myself at home but actually I feel myself more in a harem. At noon, the girls buy me lunch, they take it from the nearby restaurant and while I am the only one who doesn't pay anything I get the biggest portion.
"We can't eat that much, we are girls," says Nuri, "Kyrgyz guys like thin girls, we have to take care of ourselves. But men need to eat!"
They tell me stories about how french girls are beautiful and how they would like to have their silouhette and charm.
"I don't want to send my boyfriend to Paris, he might never return," I heard one Kyrgyz lady
"He will return", I had said to her, "but with a depression"
While I am being taken care of from all sides, Janela is worried about if I have anything to eat. She buys me strawberries and cooks me Manti, my favourite Kyrgyz dish. Everyone is telling me how my trip is great, how I am so brave.
My life is unfolding calmly and nicely in Bishkek and my ego is climbing to heights that make your head spin.
Janela is so nice to me. We had a date in the park in Bishkek where we tried to see our videos from the Karaoke club. She brought le strawberries but I sat on them by accident. It didn't seem to upset her the least. We talk, we talk, and there is no uncomfortable subject despite the many harsh stories we had in our lives, especially hers. We get more hating looks from jealous Kyrgyz boys but I am starting to get used to it.
But one day, as in most stories, everything changed. Asyl's sister's boyfriend came to see her, he slept one night in the house. He looked like the kind of bit stupid macho guy, nothing interesting about him but what do I care.
"You're not afraid to come home so late? Here in the middle of Kyrgyzstan." he asks me when I return from Janela's and meet him and his sister in the marshutka home.
"And what about you?" I ask him but I don't think he appreciates the sarcasm. I don't feel like a stranger in this country anymore. My russian is better, I take marshutkas, I give english lessons, I am even dating a Kyrgyz girl. So I don't need lessons from a guy I met for five minutes.
We don't speak much but he seems friendly overall. The next day Asyl has something to say to me. The guy made a scandal, he called Asyl's parents and told them a guy was staying at their house whils neither Asyl nor her sister were married and appearently that is a very bad thing. The mother called her daughters immediatly and told them that it was Ok if I teach Asyl's english but staying home, that's out of the question. I have to go out at once.
I gather my things in a matter of minutes and I litteraly flee the house. Asyl is throwing worried looks around, as if somebody could see me and kill us both. Her boyfriend is coming to pick her up and we have to leave in separate marshutkas. So they were worried me and Asyl might start something. She is nineteen for god's sake how is it even possible to think that I could be interested in a 19 year old teenager?!
I am too tired to try to find another solution, plus, I have already taken a shouwer (I mean washed myself in front of Asyl's house) and I would welcome a night in a tent to rest from all these scandals and traditions that I have trouble understanding.
I take a marshutka to Kant, neighbouting city of Bishkek, walk a bit into the night, discarding people selling me prostitutes and I finally find a decent place for my tent in a field. Asyl is worried sick, she's prepared to hide me at her place with all the consequences, I reassure her by lying that I have a place to stay in Kant, some friend with a house.
Janela is worried as well, I spend my night reassuring people. I feel I am the only one in a good psychological condition.
While I juggle with places to stay in the capital, I meet Gulmira, a customer at Asyl's atelier at first. She is about 50 and she travels a lot. Not like me but on cruises, more organised trips, that kind of stuff. However, she has some understanding for what I do and she sees it in a positive light. She likes to talk but she has interesting things to say. She has studied biochemistry, she's been a teacher and is actually a very interesting person.
We talk at her place, she invites me for dinner, it has been ages I haven't eaten meat.
Her daughter also comes. She is pretty and she has this sad and mysterious look in her face. A little harsh perhaps, a little fierce also, as she has been through some troubles but her light always burns. She doesn't like me. She is weary. Sly people, making their way into their place, taking advantage of others, she has seen many. She gives me this look saying: "don't make a fool out of me, I wasn't born yesterday".
I like her style, it is interesting. She doesn't talk much. She understands english but prefers to speak russian. Perfectionist.
Since she doesn't like me I have nothing to lose so I don't care about being tactless or not. I play with her son, he has a tablet computer like me and he shows me mindcraft. He's a funny little guy, he likes to build stuff and technology, he would be well suited with a lego mindstorms.
The daughter comes to like me more over the course of dinner or at least to hate me less. I am happy about that improvement. She even decides to drive me to the south of Bishkek so that I build my tent somewhere in the mountains where nobody can see me. She is worried now.
"I might be a pessimist but you're not just optimistic, you are crazy!"
I think all this is very funny. And actually, it helps; when people worry about me, I don't have to worry myself.
We are three in the car. A friend of hers wanted to go with her because she wanted to see who I am, my story and stuff. Turns out that was a lie, she was afraid for her friend.
"When she told me she was going alone to drive some tourist in the middle of the night to a dark place south of Bishkek where nobody lives I just said: no way!"
I haven't thought about it that way but yes, it makes some sense. Over the course of the trip, Aidai, that is her name transitted from worrying for her friend to worrying about me. They left me on the side of the road, telling me that I am crazy and that they will worry very much.
I slept like a baby, only waken up by a thousand phone calls from the one thousand newly found mothers in Bishkek.
The next night, Asyl kidnapped me to her place in Bishkek. Her sister was too much worried. The traditions don't matter, they're going to hide me. Janela is reassured.
Maybe you wonder why Janela cannot host me? She lives as a guest, in Bishkek, at some woman's house that she calls her big sister. They have a strong relationship running over years but this relationship would be destroyed in five minutes if she were to bring a stranger to her home. This is how strong this tradition is.
The next day, Janela calls me. Her job is finished, her medical stuff she had to take care of also. We can meet and go. We will hitchhike through the south side of the lake through Karakol. She is scared of that perspective, it is too new for her but we will do it.
The same day I meet Aiperi from the language center. I am to give a talking circle today at 4:30 and another one at 6. I will be free at 7PM. It will be night already but we will manage.
I get to a room, about 20 students there. They are 17,18,19 and some twenty. I have been introdued as a tourist who doesn't speak russian. Unfortunately the students didn't speak english that well so I slipped some russian words in the explanation whe Aiperi wasn't listening too much.
I talked about my trip to Kamchatka, my way of travelling, my good experiences, my bad ones.
They were interested. Some of them found it boring of course but it was a success overall.
I think Aiperi, the owner of the language center liked it.
She is a girl which I didn't come to understand yet. She is a person of contrasts. She can seem like a shark at times; she has constructed this company from nothing when she was barely twenty! On the other hand she can seem kind and caring. She can smile and you wonder if behind that smile she likes you or if she wants to kill you. Definitly a person that I would be interested to know better if I find some time which I probably won't.
At 7PM I take my bag and run from the language center to meet Janela. She comes, she is ready with her small backpack and a little red bag. I call to Almas in Tokmok; he is there. It is late already and I don't want to put Janela through night hitchhiking. It is new enough for her already. Me and Janela, we take a marshutka to Tokmok. After a long time, on the road again!