20 September 2005

Bishkek

Bishkek is a lovely city to live in. I can't really recommend it for tourists, since it's pretty boring, but for everyday life, it's a good city. Of course, I'm talking from a foreigner's perspective with enough money to eat at a restaurant, have a washing machine, and buy soft toilet paper.

Every time I read about other Central Asian countries, especially Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, I'm even happier we live here. We don't have police checking our passports every day. We've never been stopped by anyone. I don't think that would have been the case in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. We had no trouble getting a year-long multiple-entry visa. Many people can even get a visa upon arrival in the country. Don't try that in Kazakhstan. The people are pleasant and friendly, and while careful, don't seem to be overly concerned about government oppression.

All in all, I'm glad we ended up here in Bishkek. Who knew it would be such a great place to live? I can see us staying here for a long time.

5 comments:

  1. When you say "city", how big is it? What are the streets like? Do people, market daily?

    Is food really expensive? What is something that you do there, that you didn't do here.

    *smile*

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  2. There are officially around 800,000 people in Bishkek, but people tell us there are many more because many people from around the country are not here officially, so they are not counted. I usually say there are about a million people here.

    Food is very inexpensive. You can get a good meal at a cafe for a dollar or $1.50, and it's very inexpensive to eat at home. Imported stuff is more expensive, but it's similar to what it would cost in the US. There are lots of European products available. People do go shopping pretty often.

    The main streets are all tree lined and reasonably wide. Some are one way, but most are two way. The driving isn't as crazy here as it was in Cairo, but I'm still glad I'm not driving.

    There are lots of things I do here that I didn't do in the US. I go shopping all the time. We eat out much more. I have someone clean the house. I hang all the clothes on the line. I ride public transportation all over. We have church at home.

    But still, most things are the same. We spend a lot of the day quietly at home, we cook food, we play in the park, and I read a lot. And play on the internet. :)

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  3. Amira, more questions. If they are too personal don't feel the need to answer, but it would be of benefit to know the answers. You mention that most natives do not have the income available to participate in some of the activities you choose. Is your income that much higher by being expats with jobs, or is it that you have saved available funds, from which to draw to, afford the more comfortable lifestyle? Does this have a marked guilt factor accompanying it? I knwo you have expressed gratitude for your situation and gratitude for being able to help others, but how much is enough. I read the story about the guy who gave up everything to work in the orphanage. Do you see yourself in that position?

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  4. Good questions, chronicler, and ones I've thought about a lot.

    We have more money because our grant funds us pretty much like we're in the US. Some of that is necessary because we still have student loans, and many grantees still have mortgages and other obligations they're paying in the US. The US government doesn't want Fulbright grantees to have to worry about money too much. There are other grant programs that don't compensate as well. There isn't a lot of foreign investment here, so a relatively high percentage of expats are diplomats. They often have better benefits than we do, like paying for a much more expensive apartment and schooling at the private school in town.

    Most of our neighbors are Russians and Kyrgyz. There definitely is a Kyrgyz middle class (often called "New Kyrgyz") that can afford more expensive apartments, cars, and various appliances, but it is still a very small number of people. We are in a middle class neighborhood.

    When you ask about guilt, I first have to admit that I'm not really wired for guilt. I don't know why, but I've never have, for better or for worse. That being said, we still do what we can. We continue to contribute a fairly large amount to humanitarian aid. I give money to the people sitting on the side of the road (no one begs here- sometimes it's hard to tell if a person is just resting or is hoping for a few soms). I pay a babysitter to take care of my children while I go to the orphanage. Even having a girl come in to clean is part of helping- I am perfectly capable of cleaning my apartment, but she wouldn't just take money from me, The amount I pay her for a few hours of work makes a big difference. I also think that what my husband is teaching is important.

    And it's not so simple that I could just give a lot of money to an orphanage- there's too much corruption. Time is the best thing I have to offer, but I also have a responsibility to my children. I think homeschooling is vitally imporatant while we are moving so often to give them some kind of academic consistency.

    If I didn't have a family, I could see myself doing something like the man who worked in the orphanage. I thought it was interesting though that he is leaving Uzbekistan because is married and expecting his first child. He doesn't want to raise a child there. Even though he gave up a lot to go to UZ, he still has the option of leaving the country, something that is available to few Uzbeks.

    My family is my first responsiblity here or anywhere I am. So I don't worry about the things that I can't do to help here, just like I didn't worry in the US. There are so many things in the world that need fixing, and I can't do anything about most of them. But I can at least try to keep my little family happy and hopefully do some good for others along the way.

    I like the scripture from King Benjamin. After saying that helping the poor is even necessary for our salvation, he says that these things need to be done in wisdom and in order and not go beyond your strength. Right now, I don't have the strength to be a good mother and spend large amounts of time at an orphanage, or doing any number of other things.

    That was rather long.


    Amira, more questions. If they are too personal don't feel the need to answer, but it would be of benefit to know the answers. You mention that most natives do not have the income available to participate in some of the activities you choose. Is your income that much higher by being expats with jobs, or is it that you have saved available funds, from which to draw to, afford the more comfortable lifestyle? Does this have a marked guilt factor accompanying it? I knwo you have expressed gratitude for your situation and gratitude for being able to help others, but how much is enough. I read the story about the guy who gave up everything to work in the orphanage. Do you see yourself in that position?

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  5. Thank you Amira. Many of your responses do not surprise me. When you previously spoke of hiring a housecleaner your reasoning made sense. It is good to know that grant monies are available and I now understand how you're able to be there and live well and contribute to their society as well.

    I too shop daily. It goes against the "rules" of food storage and preparedness generally, however, it works well for us and we find that we waste less if we live this way than making large purchases and then something oing bad because it was used in a timely way. I think in that regard I could fit in well.

    I especially appreciate your response with regard to how much you can do. It is an honest appraisal of charity. As you say King Benjamin really outlines the model we should use, family, then build a circle of influence around us.

    I am more curious now as to the structure of their society as a whole. I look forward to your observations in the future.

    Thank you.

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