I will always be an outsider in Kyrgyzstan. I will always have to justify, even defend, my presence here. But for now, despite the occasional unwelcome feelings, Bishkek is my home.
I’m immediately recognized as an outsider; I don’t speak the languages (yet) and I don’t dress myself as impeccably as the average Kyrgyz girl. It always leads to the inevitable awkward pause, a shift in glances, “So, why are you here?” It comes from locals and foreigners alike. People who were born and raised in Kyrgyzstan that I’ve met in a variety of situations, in real-life or online, waiting to launch a joke about their suspicions that I’m really a spy. A young, unqualified, introverted spy who writes (probably way too much) about her life online for the world to read. Spies never belong, they just bring trouble.
And the fellow expats that I come into contact with, who maybe think they’re being subtle with their questions, but I know some of them must want to shake me a bit. They’ve been assigned to come here, there are internationally recognized organization supporting their presence here, they’ve studied Central Asia and Russian before their arrival; I know why I’m here, but why are you?
Because I made a choice to be here. I made an active choice to force Bishkek to become part of my career and my life. I made Bishkek become my home.
The next questions I get are usually some form of the location I left behind to come to Bishkek. Where am I from? Where do I live? Often they’ll just ask explicitly, Where is home? But I know what they mean.
I think of home as the place where I spend most of my time, the place where I currently invest the most of my efforts, the place where my possessions are being actively used and where there is a general sense of being comfortably settled in one place. There are many more subtle and intangible factors as well that I can’t properly explain. Jordan was never my home, though I spent four months settled in one apartment, living my daily life like it was any of the other apartments I’ve resided in. My mind never made the switch to think of it that way. My month in Dubai was definitely not home; it always had a temporary feeling and a countdown until I could go “home” to Bishkek. For eight months I never considered Baghdad home; a shipping container provides no sense of permanence and duck-and-cover alarms provide no sense of comfort.
But from the beginning, Bishkek was my new home.
It’s a tricky word to pin down. Does it depend on time? Is Bishkek more my home than it is for the person here for a three-month contract? Is Bishkek less my home than it is for the person who has lived here their whole life?
Does it depend on purpose? Does choosing to live in Bishkek make my time here less valid than those who have no choice but to stay?
Does it depend on your past? Because my first home was the Philadelphia suburbs, am I confined to that answer for the rest of my life?
I don’t doubt that I will eventually move away from Kyrgyzstan; the U.S., for all of it’s faults and many frustrations, is where I will always feel most comfortable and “at home.” But for now I don’t think of the U.S. as my home. My family is there, many of my friends are there, many memories were made there, and many things I want to discover are there, but it’s not my home right now. To pick up and leave Bishkek at a moment’s notice, I know I would be welcome in other people’s homes, my parents’ homes for example. But I don’t have a place of my own there, only the knowledge that I could eventually make a home there.
But now I know I can make a home anywhere. Bishkek is home for now, and I’m in no rush to leave.
This is a very touching note, thank you for sharing it. It’s a shame that some Kyrgyzstani people are impolite with the guests from other countries, – perhaps it comes from the mass media, still attached to the Soviet/Russian past. Anyway, for me as a Bishkek dweller, it is very pleasant to learn that someone from the other country likes the city so much that can call it ‘home’.
Lots of people want to move to the west because of quality of life is higher there and they think moving will solve all their problems. So this idea has penetrated into their minds that they can’t understand how people from west may move here.
And there were a lot of russian (not soviet) comedies about american spies.
Don’t take these jokes to heart.
And another thing I found out from american movies and tv series is after university (or other institution) people usually move to another city. And commonly our people stays in the same town where parents live.
Thank you for your touching notes on Bishkek. Even though I’m from Kyrgyzstan, I have never had a chance to live in Bishkek more than a month. It is really good to hear such impressions about your own country from people who come to discover it.
I don’t know if you still check this, but decided to write anyway. I’m originally from bishkek,currently living in NYC. was feeling homesick one day and stumbled upon your blog.
Great stuff! having spend most of the time in us since i was 16 I can relate to both mindsets and its extremely interesting to read an american’s opinion on my homecountry. Props to you and your husband to taking a risk and moving from a cushy western bubble into an unexplored territory (right after the revolution) I really like the fact that you learned to love Bishkek and accept all its shortcomings. After all its a great place and a good city to call home
I check all the comments, and this was such a nice one! Thank you for the kind words!
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