back to life, respect the camel, etc

Farrell and I spent over four hours last Saturday morning in the most Kafka-esque police station in the world. Raise your hand if you’re a city with police stations that handwrite everything, all reports, all forms, all copies of reports and forms.

*Bishkek raises hands*

We did get a lawyer (a senior law student at AUCA), the previous tenant finally got back from a jaunt around Tajikistan (ugh…) and he seems willing to cooperate with the investigation (something about the phrase “you’ll get charged with this if you don’t give us the names of your shady friends” must have gotten to him). But, I’m less and less convinced at this point that there’s any chance of getting our stuff back, so I’m focusing my attention to getting back to life, sans-camera.

Like, catching up with our new BFFs, a documentary filmcrew that crashed my Anthropology class last Thursday (pre-burglary). I got so excited that an opportunity to talk with people running a media-based NGO had fallen into my lap that I called Farrell, told him to get dressed and run to school, skipped my other two classes for the day and followed them as they navigated around Bishkek for meetings and a mission to find second-hand clothes.

First, who were these people? A Swede, a Brit, and an American. They’re traveling around Asia (and eventually North Africa) researching and filming camels.

Yeah…uh. I was a bit confused at first too. But these guys are really passionate about camels, and more importantly, camel cheese. They’re documenting camels and how they fit in to various nomadic cultures. It’s actually really interesting, I swear.

But, my words don’t do them justice. They have amazing footage from Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan available on their Kickstarter page and info about their other projects on their main website for the What Took You So Long Foundation.

This is the tough part. I was literally hopping with excitement after we said goodbye to them, but to put the day into words doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary. I ambushed the group after their presentation at AUCA to talk about “OMG, I’m totally starting an NGO too!”, then we jumped in a cab and went to Dordoi Bazaar, one of Bishkek’s biggest outdoor markets. The three filmmakers were only in Bishkek for a one more day and planned to head to Naryn early next morning. Clad only in flip-flops and light sweaters, they had just received news that it was snowing and hoped to get a good deal on warmer clothing at the bazaar.

Farrell and I hadn’t been to any of the markets yet; it was a bustling, frantic mess of shipping containers flung open to reveal any sort of merchandise you could possibly want. Shopkeepers pushed carts overloaded with goods over muddy, pot-holed paths. If you didn’t move fast enough (like me) you’d suddenly have an angry Kyrgyz shouting “DYEVOOSHKA! LADY!” behind you. The filmmakers met up with a Kyrgyz guy they met the day before who helped find a lovely pair of knock-off Uggs and bargain down the price to something more reasonable for the starving artists.

This guy, Mirlan (pronounced like Milan with an “r” stuck in there), is apparently a total baller in Bishkek. He owns a car wash with a bar attached to it. While driving us to a cafe, he lamented that his other car, a Lexus, is sooo much better than his Jetta. At lunch, although we all insisted that we just wanted coffee and tea (one of the filmmakers, the one that he fancied, even threatened that she would be grumpy if he ordered food), Mirlan bought us all shashlik, pizza, and beer anyway (which we all very much enjoyed!). He let it slip during conversation that when he studied in London, he lived in a very nice part of town. He may have mentioned several times that in a couple years, he expects to sell his car wash/bar for at least $1 million.

AKA, we inadvertently had lunch with a Bishkek VIP. We listened to his thoughts on being a businessman, how many kids he wants (and general views on family size in Kyrgyzstan; more = better), and how a picture of him as an 11-year-old was somehow being used without his permission for a billboard of a political party that he hates.


After leaving the cafe and Mirlan, Farrell and I continued to leech on the filmmakers’ day and followed them to a meeting with CBT, Community Based Tourism, a Kyrgyz organization that coordinates with people all over the country to offer homestays and various activities for tourists.

On the agenda: camels, of course.

The man we met with made several phone calls, pointing out on a map to each branch he was calling, breaking the news to the group: “Maybe there are two or three camels here *points to Issyk Kul* but they are tourist camels,” “We think there might be a camel here, but the roads will be bad,” “There is likely a herd of camels here, but it impossible to get there this weekend *points near the Chinese border*.” Apparently the border with China isn’t quite so clearly agreed upon, so there’s a 100km “no man’s land” into the Kyrgyz side where special visas and forms are needed for anybody to visit, Chinese, Kyrgyz, Swedes, etc. Plus the journey is difficult and would take several days. Basically, this CBT representative had little hope for these three random guests to find the herds of milking camels that they were seeking in Kyrgyzstan.

They were positive, nonetheless. If they didn’t find camels in Naryn they planned to continue on the route to Osh, perhaps stop in some small villages rumored to have a camel, and ultimately cross into Uzbekistan.

Gutsy plan. Less gutsy than the original plan to travel overland through Tajikistan and into northern Afghanistan (ouf!), but still impressively badass.

And what do you know, they found a camel in Naryn after all.

So the day went as such:
– class canceled
– frantic trip to one of Bishkek’s biggest outdoor bazaars
– haggling for long underwear and knock-off Ugg boots
– lunch with a Bishkek VIP
– a meeting dedicated to pinpointing camels in Kyrgyzstan
– saying goodbye to an amazing, inspiring group of people
– and, well, I’ve said enough about the story from there

So, what do you say? Be the Cheese! Support our new friends’ worldwide quest for camel cheese, won’t you?