the longer i’m in Bishkek, the less ______

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.

8 replies on “the longer i’m in Bishkek, the less ______”

  1. So I only spent a few days there but my impressions were equally complex. The overall experience was less exotic than Addis Ababa or Cairo. The architecture was maybe a little bleaker – less colorful – but then there were the beautiful public gardens. No one in Africa bothered with those… The people weren’t as outgoing or friendly – but they also weren’t so annoyingly persistent about trying to sell me something I didn’t want. The city streets weren’t so foreign looking – but then there was the marijuana growing on the sidewalk and the horse meat hanging in the market stalls. The girls were beautiful and the babies adorable – but there was the ugliness of corruption. The mountains were alluring and the idea of a different society outside the city remains tempting.

  2. God I know what you’re talking about 😉 I don’t know why the place is the way it is — I have no trouble talking as an authority on Australia, for example — but talking about Bishkek is like one of those things that makes me nervous. But, you are an authority, and more of one than 99.99% of the world, seriously… you’re there, and you see it.

  3. Hi guys!
    Sometimes on weekends I and my husband watch House Hunters International. It can be entertaining. By the pure accident we watched the episode about Kyrgyzstan. I lived in this country for over 25 year till 2003 when I got married and immigrated to the US. But my family and some friends are still there.

    The scenes of the city are so familiar. You do not have to worry about how you looked or acted every second, you were great! Just wanted to wish a good luck. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (this is THE HOLIDAY, as you already know 🙂
    Sincerely, Olga.

  4. Thank you for your blogs about the KG and my home town, I absolutely love your pictures and blogs about the country I have left 10 years ago, but still miss it dearly. Ironically, I live in Georgia because of my husband’s job and it is so different from where I am from, as you can imagine. I would like to wish you luck, pls. do not get upset with the local people, enjoy you time in KG, at least enjoy the Organic and Natural products that my country can offer. Since, I came to U.S. I started appreciate the little things from my country, such as food without preservatives, and additives. I was skinner and healthier, due to the fact that I walk a lot, and ate healthy soups, and freshly baked bread from organic flour. My family spends a fortune in Fresh Market here to buy the healthy products, Bishkek has it all and for cheaper price. People are friendly, and just got tired of the dirty politicians, as much as here in U.S. pls. keep writing about your travels. My family and I enjoy reading your blog. Good luck.

    1. thank you for your comment! Most of the time I really do enjoy living here, although I have to admit that there is something to appreciate about being able to buy decent produce year-round. I can’t wait for spring, not only will it be warmer but there will be fresh fruits and vegetables!

      1. During the spring you should visit the orchards, the smell is so unbelievable.
        I agree with you about the food, my research paper in college was on Genetically Modified foods, therefore I am so obsessed about the ingredients in our food. I started to notice that everything here contains soy because it helps to make the products last longer, the problem is that people not realizing that GMO products are can be dangerous to our health. I started to bake bread, make yogurt at home. I also notice, that no one knows about Kyrgyzstan…… Kurdistan? Afganistan? I understand you because I feel like outsider sometimes too.
        I am discovering a lot of things for me, as much you discovering for you too. It is challenging, but it worth it.
        l hope when you leave KG, you would only have good memories about my country. Good luck to you. P.S. some people in my country can be little suspicious of foreigners, that is because of the propaganda in newspapers, and because many of them naive and do not know anything about the outside world. Although, I have met people like that everywhere, we just have to be patient.

    2. I was glad to read the last part. As I am about to give up everything I know and become “Kyrgyz” I was always wondering if it give me a lasting impression to stay and therfore making my life easier by not desiring every two minutes to just pack up and leave. So I am glad it’s working for you, because I want the same thing, so I know now it’ s possible.

  5. I miss Kyrgyzstan a lot!!!! My homeland. Thanks guys for nice comments about KG. Hope soon i can go there.

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