Meka’s post for Toktogul to Osh

Hey hey hey Riding Round followers!

As I began writing this it was my birthday and we were in my homecity – Osh. I’m 26 and to be exact I was born in Osh area, Uzgen region, Kurshab village. I haven’t been in South Kyrgyzstan for the last 15 years. After my birth my family moved to Bishkek, where I grew up. Through all my childhood, I spent my summer holidays at my grandparents house in the village. And being here is throwing me back to my childhood memories.

South and North Kyrgyzstan are very different to me. In the North there are more Russians and the language is a mix of Russian and Kyrgyz. In the South there are a lot of Uzbeks and if you are talking to people in Kyrgyz often you can hear the reply in Uzbek, which I barely understand. Also there are different dialects of Kyrgyz. In the North young people have been through Europeanisation: they are hanging out in clubs and like fashion stuff.
In the South youth is spending time in non-alcohol cafes with girls wearing jeans or skirts no shorter than knee level in +35…+40C. Muslim religion is spread wild here. There are a lot of women wearing scarf and burka. Men are wearing kalpaks (national hat) and dopu (national hat with religious motives). I had an impression that there are more religious people nowadays than during my childhood. Alisher, the guy of my age with whom we stayed in Jalalabad, said it’s because during the Soviet time people had standardised mentality where everything was same for everybody, and now it’s more opportunity for express yourself. Food in the South is cheap and very vivid. There are a lot of fruits and meat. Uighur cuisine is very popular. Ice-cream is nice and it has exact taste from my Soviet childhood. There are a lot of chaihanas (the place where you can drink tea). For southern people tea is not a drink supporting a meal, it’s not an event of the day, it’s a lifestyle and more like a permanent condition.

Talking about Kyrgyz traditions, by the lake Toktogul where we camped for three days, we were eating at the cafe, where we’ve met a funny waitress, who started to work there two days before we came. Seems like it is her first experience in this field. From the first time when we were there, she sits at our table with us even when we didn’t talk to her. Once she came by to me and told me to get up, bring another chair for myself and to sit there, because she wanted to sit in my chair. Another time she took my kindle from my hands when I was reading and without permission started to click on it and slap my hand when I tried to get it back. Then she took Adam’s tablet and started to click on random icons. To my request not to do it, she said I have to talk to her with more respect, because she is older than me. Anyway all her questions which were the cause of interrupting my reading lead to talks about her life, which was average for rural Kyrgyzstan.

She is a Kyrgyz woman, 35 years old. Married, has 4 kids. Her husband is not working, and she doesn’t love him. She got bride kidnapped when she was 18 by her now husband whom she saw for the first time during her kidnapping. Her classmate called her out for a small talk, they were standing by the fence of her (the waitress’) house. 50 metres ahead was a car with a bunch of guys. One of them asked “Which of them?”, another one pointed at the waitress and they kidnapped her to force her into marriage. According to her words girls have a choice to say “No” and guys will bring the girl back, but the waitress said she liked that guy, apparently while he was kidnapping her. So she stayed, in one year she bore her first son. Somewhen her husband starts to beat her when he was drunk. Six years ago his little brother convinced him to go with him to the mosque for some event, which lasts several days. After that he became a Muslim. He is not drinking and that is why he is not beating his wife. Now she is wearing a scarf which is covering her head and neck. She has a pocket book with prayers which she learns every day and a simple cell phone with which she is obsessed. To my question are there any other cases when the girls are marrying a guy another way, she said “Of course! There are guys who ask a girl to marry him, there are a few”. To my question are there are a lot of happy families she also replied, “a few”. There are divorces, mostly because the family has no money and a divorce can mean one less mouth to feed if one spouse is unemployed which is like at our waitress’ family and it’s quiet common. She said she will leave her husband if she will meet a Kyrgyz guy (she refused to marry Adam, when I suggested), who will take care of her and all of her children. There is also a necessary condition – she should like this guy. For any other possible options she refused to divorce, because he is the father of her children.

The nearby farm was owned by Nurmat.  A young guy who had the opportunity to buy that land last autumn. In one day he decided to change his occupation from mining to gardening. He read a lot of stuff and for a person who started all these just several months ago, he’s giving the impression of a person who is familiar with planting, irrigation and business. He managed to learn by himself from the internet about new technologies of irrigating, because all the companies in Bishkek who are working in this field knew nothing. Then he got an internet controlled irrigation system from US, which is probably the first one in Kyrgyzstan. And now there is a cherry garden growing by the lake of Toktogul, which in seven years should bring a good profit.

Also by that time we met a girl from Buryatia (western part of Russian with an Asiatic population) with long fake eye lashes who was living in a tent with her one and a half year old son. She married a Kyrgyz guy. She hates the town where she was staying with her husband and his mother. She calls it a village, and members of that town doesn’t like when she does it. She studied in Saint-Petersburg where she met her future husband. They moved to that little town after the marriage. After several months she said that it’s enough for her, ask her mother to do something, she sent her an e-ticket to Buryatia, where she stayed with her new born child for a half year. Then the young family decided to live in Bishkek, where are more places for the wife’s entertainment. They lived there for another several months, then she had to leave to Saint-Petersburg for two months. During that time her husband moved back to his hometown. He told her to come back to that town and then they immediately will move to Bishkek, but now he started a new business – entertainment activities on lae Toktogul’s beach, and she realised that she is stuck there for a while.

In Osh it was funny to walk in short shorts. It was very hot and it was my regular shorts which I’m wearing in Bishkek. In Osh I was receiving a lot of looks, especially from women in burka. And I didn’t see any female (or even male) knee. We arrived to Osh in the late evening during the rain, when everybody was in warm clothes. And the next day we went out to the city in the early morning, so I wasn’t aware what is the dress code there. One time a 12-year old ugly homeless boy with empty plastic bag was walking towards me, then he  suddenly turned round and start to walk after me. When I turned to him and took off my head phones, he was holding a flower picked from the nearby field and was asking for one of something in Uzbek. Since I don’t know Uzbek I asked him what he wants, and with the signs and sounds he explained he want one (let’s go with this word) romantic time with me. After my refusing his generous offer he tried to make his suggesting more clear and tried to touch my (let’s go with this word) strategic for cycling place. After 50 metres he kept following me and hearing the word “police”, he finally gave up. So if you’ll be ever in Osh, remember: no short shorts.

I barely can remember talks with people during the week between Toktogul and Osh, so I can’t highlight something to write about it. It was a very difficult week for me. My knee started to hurt really bad. I lost my appetite and it was hard to make myself eat. I found out that I have an allergy for sun and now I have bumps on my hands. Because of the allergy I can’t eat everything and for a while I ate only bread and water, which made it harder to make myself eat. I wasn’t having enough sleep, and allergy pills was making me even more sleepy. All together making me feel tired all the time. Permanent tiredness lead to a desperate feeling. I cried everyday for four days. Also on the bike while cycling. I met another cycling girl from Germany, who said she also cries. My best friend said, she also cried just yesterday, and at least I have a reason. So maybe it’s just a girl thing. With showers once in two weeks I was no longer able to take care about my hair, so I cut it off. Short hair feels very good but along with a tan just on the bottom half of my face I look… let’s say different. By the time I entered Osh I felt the most desperate, tired and cold because we were riding bikes for several hours under the heavy rain. I was ready to take a lift for the last 26 km. Adam insisted that we keep cycling. After 24 km I puked for the second time during the last two weeks. After another 2km we made it to the hostel. 

I definitely wasn’t ready for that. And I’m not sure if I can or even want to continue this trip. I’m not getting exciting feeling or at least satisfaction from what I’m doing. For the last four days I have more and more strong feeling that I want to sell my bike in Osh and go to Urumqi by bus or maybe even just return to Bishkek as I’m not very interested in China.


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