(not to be confused with the FAQ section)
This is the first time I’ve been back in Pennsylvania since June, and then August 2011 before that. Usually I’m only around for a week or less, so I don’t usually hang out with too many people other than my close friends and immediate family. This time I’m (stuck) here for the next few months, so I’ve taken more opportunities to be social. It has led to some interesting conversations, as I’m finding out that not many people know much about me except that I live somewhere else. It has led to some strange conversations.
“How’s Russia?” My parents readily admit that they’ll usually default to telling people I live in Russia, rather than setting themselves up to explain what Kyrgyzstan is.
“What’s the weather like?” Weather is a default small-talk topic, and people have assumed that weather in Kyrgyzstan is either super cold (like Russia) or a desert climate (like what they wrongly imagine Afghanistan to be like). My easy answer is that the weather is similar to Denver, bringing the conversation topic comfortably back to America.
“Are there trash services over there?” I guess it’s a legitimate question, people are curious about how mundane, everyday tasks might differ between there and here, but I don’t like to talk too much about things that make Kyrgyzstan seem less developed than the US. Yes, I have to walk my trash to the neighborhood dumpster instead of setting it out for someone to collect from each individual house. And yes, Kyrgyzstan is technically less developed than the US, but there are plenty of things about living in Bishkek that are on par with first-world-living in the US as well. (Fashion Week! Pumpkin spice lattes!)
“Do they have Santa Claus over there?” (everybody says “over there” rather than attempt to pronounce Kyrgyzstan) Yes, sort of, but Ded Moroz and holiday decorations are more for celebrating New Year’s Day than Christmas.
“Are you still an American citizen?” As far as I can tell, citizenship isn’t a “use it or lose it” situation. Just because I’m out of the country for a while, doesn’t mean I’m no longer an American.
“Will your baby be Kyrgy?” (Everybody drops the “z” in “Kyrgyz”) Uhh, nope. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, I’m stuck in the US until after this whole thing is over. (Although if I have to watch The Voice with my parents one more time, I might catch the next flight out of here, fly back to Bishkek and give birth there.)
“Are there department stores over there?” In my attempt to reduce the amount of stuff I need to carry back to Bishkek after the baby is born, I’m (unsuccessfully) trying to convince family and friends to not overwhelm me with gifts, telling them I’d rather just accept kind donations of cash and purchase what I need in Bishkek. That’s when this question comes up, “but do they even have a Babies ‘R Us over there?” Not exactly, but I think between the bazaars, scouring Diesel.kg (Kyrgyzstan’s Craigslist) for used items, and the multi-story Детскый Мир (Children’s World) store, I’m sure to find everything I’d need and more.
But the most common questions are ones like, “What do you like so much about living over there?” It really threw me off that so many people framed it like that, implying that there must be some secret to Bishkek (or Russia) that makes it better or more enjoyable to live in than the US. It made me think. Bishkek isn’t necessarily better than my hometown or DC or Denver. I would not be able to truthfully say that I’m living in Bishkek because I like it so much more than living in the states.
But that question puts me in a tight spot; if it’s not better, then why do I live over there?
I think there’s some excitement to overcoming the challenges of living abroad and attempting to build a company in a different environment. There’s the constant possibility of exoticness; even though I mostly spend my days in my house/office in Bishkek, sometimes I do get out of the city and sleep in a yurt or swim in an alpine lake. And at this point, more than two years of living there means that I’ve built a pretty solid routine and social life for myself. I’m used to it now, so walking my garbage around the corner to a dumpster doesn’t seem strange anymore, and I can handle things like $5 avocados or drunk kids kicking in my front door.
That’s not the answer people are looking for though. They usually follow-up with questions like, “Yeah, but I’m sure there are things you missed about the US, right?” or “But you’re happy to be back now, right?”
(On another note, obviously being hugely pregnant and confined to my parents’ house for the past few weeks has given me very few things of interest to blog about, so Kyrgyz Music Friday is going on a mini-hiatus until I’m back in Kyrgyzstan. If you need your fix of Kyrgyz music videos before then, I suggest checking out the clips sections on sites like Namba.kg or Tumar.fm.)
People in the U.S. often say to me about Cairo, “You must really miss the food!” Umm… not really? They’re usually thinking of Syrian or Lebanese cuisine, and not Egyptian street food like fuul (stewed fava beans) or my personal favorite, french fries with tahini in a pita (don’t knock it till you try it!!). The other type of comment that makes me cringe is any variation of “What you’re doing [by living in Cairo and learning Arabic] is so important!” because it’s usually followed by something worse: “they need to learn about birth control!” or “we need to understand Islam!”
My parents also have gotten criticism for “allowing” me to live in Cairo (even when I was 30 years old and married)!
I wish more people would ask open ended questions, as my own friends do, like “What is it like to live in Cairo?” “What is the food like there?” “What made you decide to study Arabic?” etc. And then actually listened to/ believed my answers…
In the period of pre-election idiocy, I heard plenty of people say that Obama had “lost his citizenship” while he was in Malaysia. Apparently a lot of people think that if you live overseas, you lose your citizenship.
Hey Kristin, Liked the post alot! I thought I would take over the music thing for fridays this week if you like. CHeck out Dad Manki, whom Plov was very fortunate to invite to play a few songs at the last show in the Metro Pub . Here is a clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_lAanw5F4w.
I’ve been wanting to send you an email for a long time now but I couldn’t find the right time. So just a little comment to send you all the best. It’s so nice to get news from you through the blog. I’m regularly checking on my facebook for a good news that should come soon 🙂 good luck for that and enjoy your time in the US (real food, yayyy!). Mille bises Kirstin.
HI, Best wishes for the most comfy pregnancy possible. I have a nine month old little girl. I live in Serbia. And I am from PA, so I guess we have a good amount in common. I enjoyed reading your blog. I am def gonna read some more. Take care of yourself.
The funny thing is that it doesn’t really seem to matter where you choose to live/stay for a little while longer. When I was in South Africa, many were afraid that I wouldn’t survive. But now that there are plans to possibly go to Germany for a bit longer, people don’t understand why either and have even said it’s boring (?!). (though have to say, my mom kind of likes the idea of Germany, a safe place not too far away).
Anyway, hope you can relax these last weeks of your pregnancy!
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