Hello to everyone in the “Meet the Stans” Course!
My name is Woden Teachout and I’m a professor on a Fulbright in Krygystan, at a regional university in Karakol in Issyk Kul oblast. My family and I have been in the country for about a month, and we’re happy to be the boots on the ground for your class: a perspective to complement the big picture that I know you’re getting as you look at the region as a whole. My favorite book so far is called Chasing the Sea; it’s by a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan who dropped out, and came back to write about the country. It does a beautiful and vivid job of capturing aspects of the region as a whole.
When we first got off the plane in Bishkek, the airport was about the size of the Burlington one. There was a lot of concrete and not many people (it was early morning) and it was not always clear where to go. We made our way out toward the exit and I asked where the taxi stand was. The guard took a look at us — two adults and six children, with 6 backpacks and 7 large bags — and held up his finger for us to wait. Five minutes later he was back, with another bigger security guard. They took us out to the parking lot, where a Honda Odyssey was waiting, and managed to get everyone and all the luggage in tight. Then the bigger security guard got in, still in uniform, and proceeded to drive us to Bishkek on his shift. Ted Levin had mentioned that many people in Central Asia will be doing one job and take another on at the same time; I guess this was a classic example of that! A herd of cattle came surging across the highway and the guard expertly dodged them and took us into Bishkek. My primary memory from that morning is the men squatting in the shade by the side of the road — it was 105 degrees that day — and everywhere, everywhere the green and yellow striped ovals of watermelon. Carts of them, stands of them, truckloads of them, single ones tucked under an arm.
Here’s a photo; it’s not mine, but it gives you a sense