Kyrgyzstan is an fascinating mix of nomadic and sedentary lifestyles, of first-world and third-world stereotypes, of cultures, of a country moving forward and looking back.
Even though foods from many cultures are eaten here, traditional nomadic foods are still the most popular. The most prized meat here is horse meat. If your family is well off, you’ll have a horse for your wedding. One horse costs $500-$750. Kymys, fermented mare’s milk, is the national drink. It’s not so easy to find in Bishkek, but anytime people travel outside Bishkek, they’ll stop at one of the many places along the road that sell kymys.
Salaries are more like developing countries. A schoolteacher in the rural areas starts at $11 a month. But street sweepers in Bishkek, also government employees, reportedly get paid $125 month. The women who work at the orphanage get around $30 month. Policemen might get $35-$50 dollars a month (not including bribes). University professors are happy to get $95 a month.
I have met very few mothers of young children who work even though nearly all have at least the equivalent of a bachelors degree. In fact, many women don’t work. I know women trained as architects, pediatricians, lawyers, and professors for whom it’s simply not worth it to work. Kyrgyzstan is more like a developed country because of the highly educated population.
Rent for a small, inexpensive apartment is anywhere from $50-$90 a month. Obviously this would present a problem for most families, but a majority own their own homes- a leftover from the Soviet Union. Certainly there is homelessness though, especially in the south, but for many families, that house makes all the difference.
There are many people living here who are descendants of Stalin’s deportees- many were sent to Central Asia instead of Siberia. Many left Kyrgyzstan after independence and returned to Russia, Ukraine, and Germany, but some have stayed because Kyrgyzstan is their home now.
This really is a very interesting place to live. We loved the Middle East, but somehow, Central Asia is even more interesting. Too bad almost no one knows it.