Kyrgyzstan, Week One

When my plane blew an engine somewhere over Nevada, I thought to myself: “I’ve packed up my entire life to get sent home — again?!” Everyone had gone quite silent when the engine imploded (Was it a bird? A bomb? Superman? “No capes, darling.”) We shook like my grandma on the dance floor and I made an inappropriate joke about sports bras. The pilot came on in his scratchy radio voice and mumbled something about turning around, spilling jet fuel over the ocean, pissing on environmentalists, and never-you-mind the firetrucks awaiting us on the runway. He was followed by a placid-sounding attendant, who reminded that safety information was in the seat-back in front of us. I was simply grateful that we continued to defy gravity.


After circling above the ocean for forever (I was like, “Hello! We’re missing an engine! And we all know the life vests aren’t fireproof!”), we eventually landed with little more than a seismic wobble. The silly people on the airplane clapped like there was no tomorrow. Well, hah, rather like there was a tomorrow. I did not, because I was already on the phone with United customer service booking a new flight to Istanbul. They didn’t give me a Fulbright for my blogging, after all!

And boy, was it a major upgrade! Whereas my United flight had given me a middle seat, no TV, no blankets, and the tiniest chair, Turkish Air gave me everything and more. (I would especially like to highlight the toothbrush. Thank you, Turkish Air.)

It is a LONG flight to Istanbul. I’ve tried to block out the hours I spent staring at a tiny screen, watching God knows what and wondering if my cramped toes were the result of swelling or death. Surely death is preferable — your corpse lies in baggage until it is revitalized upon arrival. (Just remember, folks: you read it here first!) I really should get that patented.

After a stressful but boring-to-read-about stint in Istanbul (continuing the saga of Emily’s Terrible Luck in Airports Everywhere), me and mine finally flew off to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.


It honestly took two days. I was so sore and probably stank like a beached whale (end of comparison). This is not a flight people sign up for on a long weekend.

So where am I now? I am still in Bishkek; no deportations for me! (Yet. More on that next year, when I can confess to anything in the legal twilight zone). To quote my friend, I am living in a “strange Soviet palace” near the downtown and within walking distance of work. I teach at Arabayev University, and my courses include science, film studies, US history, US culture, and tourism. Yes, you’re thinking what I’m thinking: I am not qualified to teach any of the above. Yet there I am, every morning, bleary-eyed and 25-years-old-dammit, making my students laugh with overly-dramatic stories about spiders in my shower.

View from my bedroom window.

View from my bedroom window.

My Russian is a work in progress. The other day I succeeded in making a purchase, all by myself. It was a sweltering afternoon, and nothing seemed more beautiful than a bottle of fresh water. I walked up to the counter, asked for water (in Russian!), and purchased it (with the proper money!). As I walked out, the Breeze of Victory ruffled my hair and the Puff of Ego lightened my steps. One step, two step. And then I drank that damned carbonated water with bitterness and self-pity.

I have since learned how to say “no gas.”

An observation I made upon arrival was the dress code. People are incredibly fashion-forward here! A person may wear the same outfit several times in a week, but they are always well-dressed, well-presented, and very nice smelling. No student comes to class in sweatpants and a grungy, unwashed ponytail.

The go-to uniform is a white blouse with black bottoms. So, today, I dressed myself as nicely as I could in black and white and took myself to school. So what did I do wrong!? Not only were all my co-teachers dressed in colors, but three people cooed, “Awh! You look like our school girls! Very pretty.”


Is Thursday color day?

Is it because I look 16?

That is a mystery to solve next week. I’m now wearing gray and googling “how to contour wrinkles with cheap make-up.”

A few other observations:

  • I blend in here. There are the many Russian-descendants from the Soviet era, with blonde or brown hair, pale skin, and lighter eyes. The benefit of blending was not something I had anticipated, but it means that I can go about my business without stares or photos (like in China!). The downside, of course, is everyone’s confusion when I can’t speak Russian. I can read their minds, thinking: What do you mean, you can’t speak Russian? You crazy Russian girl! Quick side note: there are only about 1000 expats of ALL nationalities in Kyrgyzstan, and western tourists are rare.
  • This city is so flat. Considering that 90% of Kyrgyzstan is mountains, this must be the only flat part in the whole country! I swear I can see the other side of the city standing on the street.
  • Kyrgyz are so welcoming and friendly. Everyone has worked to help me settle in and get my feet under me. They are willing to try their hardest to ask about myself, my family, and the US. Other than the few cultural differences (“You can’t cook?! Is your family embarrassed?” “Well, maybe, but it’s not because I can’t cook.”), Bishkek a very easy place to live. Hah! Quote me on that once winter comes.

I’ve got a dozen more funny stories, but I’m feeling like a champion just for blogging. I’ll share next time I update.

x Emily


5 thoughts on “Kyrgyzstan, Week One

  1. Sounds like a grand adventure already! So good to know you made it. I would say safely, but this is normal Emily travels. Keep having fun!! Love you, Tammy

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