Karakol animal market

March 18, 2013 · 5 comments

in Kyrgyzstan, travels, unique occurrences

Okay sure, let’s wake up at 6am and go to the animal market. We (Farrell, me, Win strapped to my chest, and Cami, the only other person out of our 18-person group who wanted to go with us) walked 10 minutes to get to the main road. We’ll catch a cab, that shouldn’t be too hard, right? Flag that one down! Maybe it already had a fare. That one? Nope. How about that one. Uhh, maybe it didn’t see us.

We tried again, but instead of the cab stopping, a van that was driving behind it stopped. That’s weird. A guy hops out, opens up the side door and starts messing with whatever is inside. Oh okay, they didn’t stop for us, it’s just a coincidence that they stopped to do something at the same time we gestured for a car to stop.

Then he yelled over to us, motioning for us to hurry up and get in if we want a ride.

Oh cool, hitchhiking. I was terrified to attempt to converse with these Kyrgyz men, so I hesitated to walk forward and let Farrell try to tell them where we want to go. The night before I had tried several times to memorize the Russian phrase for “animal market” (скотный рынок), but stuttered as Farrell asked me to repeat it to him. “How about you go up there and talk to him?” he asked me.

Uhh… uhh… uhh…

He told us to get in, or something like that. He was speaking Kyrgyz or Russian or Elvish or it didn’t matter because as soon as I climbed in I could see that he was going to the animal market as well.

Like a crowded marshrutka, I had to shimmy past the van’s current passengers to find an open space. In this case, it was three fat, wooly sheep that I had to carefully step around (with Darwin still strapped to my chest, presumably sleeping. Mother of the Year!) to take my seat, the raised part on top of the rear wheel.

Cami sat up front with the dudes, one of whom desperately tried to teach her some Kyrgyz. She was polite and patient, but the conversation was mostly head-nodding.

We had no idea what to expect. Animals, obviously, but would the market be open-air or in some sort of enclosure? It’s absolutely pitch-black at this hour, would there be lights? Yeah, there must be lights. Right? How can you have a market without lights? I mean, there will probably be lights. I’m sure.

There were no lights, or rather, not the kind I was expecting. There were cell phones, flashlights, headlights, and a few street lamps spread out too far from each other to properly illuminate all of the activity or prevent a few close calls between Win and a horse.

It was crazy. We moved forward without really knowing where we were going or what we were looking for. Some people had a single lamb or goat tethered to their wrist, some people plowed through the crowd, wrangling several cows or horses, unaware of the clueless tourist wielding her own little creature (as well as an expensive camera).

There was an area of small shops made out of cheap scraps of mismatched building materials selling cheap fried dough, cheap cigarettes, cheap animal medicine.

We walked a bit further and realized that the crowd we just passed through, the potholes we tripped over, the lamb I almost stepped on (I can’t see my feet when I’m wearing Darwin), it was all in the parking lot. Here we were, a bunch of truly clueless foreigners gawking over the parking lot. The real thing was, quite literally, a pen.

People and animals squeezed together to be bought and sold (just the animals, I’m assuming).

A white horse stood out almost like it’s own light source.

A word I heard repeatedly was “kancha” (канча), which was strange, because a friend on the trip had only recently launched the website for his new business, called Kancha. Later on I asked him what it means; it’s Kyrgyz for “How much?”

As the sun started rising behind a shroud of thick grey clouds, people at the market could more easily recognize the group of foreigners snapping photos. Teenagers shouted at us, saying things like, “Hello!” or “Yes!” Other people just stared, whispering about the tourists standing dumbfounded by the mass of humans and livestock mingling together.

They must be thinking, “It’s like they’ve never even seen a sheep before.”

We didn’t stay long, maybe an hour, before we decided that we had seen enough. It was cold and there was breakfast to get to, plus the creeping guilt that I should get my infant son back to a less intense/smelly environment. Everybody agreed that it wasn’t worth it to attempt to go into the crowded pen, so we made our way back to the parking lot and found a cab to take us back to the guesthouse.

Just a minute to catch our breath, to look around and observe(/stare at) the scene a bit more freely from the anonymity of the tinted car windows, while the driver hot-wired the motor to get it started.

Win slept the entire time.

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