The longer I’m in Bishkek, the less I write about it. It’s not that I no longer have things to say, but there’s a specific concern that takes over when it comes time to hit “publish”. People in Bishkek will read this. People in Bishkek will have opinions on it. Will I get a snide tweet? Maybe a message on Facebook? A comment on the blog that’s the equivalent of a finger-snapping “Guuuurl, you don’t know me or my city!” Or it’s my own discomfort thinking about how people outside of Bishkek will read it. When I receive emails from people saying my blog is the only one they’ve ever found about Bishkek or Kyrgyzstan, I cringe and almost want to apologize; “You’re not getting the whole story from me, please just keep that in mind.”
The longer I’m in Bishkek, the less I know about it. Before moving here, I had high expectations that by simply being in Kyrgyzstan, I could write about it with authority. I planned on submitting to travel publications (blogs, magazines, the New York Times… lofty dreams) and discussing the paradoxical clash of modernity and tradition, how Bishkek city can appear so modern in comparison to the nomadic ways of people in a rural Kyrgyz village. I’d camp on jailoos, drink kumys, generalize the identity of the country and its people based on my one experience, and write up 750 words full of italicized terms you’d have to Google to understand.
But now that I’ve lived here for almost 16 months, my approach has changed. I’ve attempted to push the cliches out of my head and out of my writing (sometimes succeeding). I can distinctly remember a phase I went through, maybe six-ish months ago, of seeing Bishkek as exceedingly normal. There were coffee shops and art galleries and paintball and excursions to the beach and I couldn’t bring myself to think of the city in any way other than “Wow, wouldn’t you know it? Bishkek is a normal city, just like the ones we have in America.”
This didn’t sit right with me either. It still seemed naive and short-sighted to overlay my experiences in Bishkek against the US-centric templates I have in my head.
The longer I’m in Bishkek, the less I see it as either exceedingly normal or excitingly exotic. Bishkek is what it is and it’s useless to limit it to any one adjective. Yes, it’s true that there are similarities between Bishkek and other cities I’ve lived in, it’s true that there are certain differences here that some people might see as off-the-charts bizarre, but overall, Bishkek is on its own. It has many facets, and the longer I’m in Bishkek, the less I want to hide from all that Bishkek has. The longer I’m in Bishkek, the more I want to explore, the more I want to discover, the more I want to write about (and photograph) as many different parts of Bishkek (and Kyrgyzstan) that I can, keeping in mind that I really don’t have authority on any of it.
That’s the freeing part, to realize that I can only write what I observe and what I feel, and to realize that my truth may be different from your truth.
The longer I’m in Bishkek, the longer I want to stay.