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Eagle Exterminators, Azerbaijani Dance-offs, and Kyrgyz Espionage

November 2, 2010

Sorry I’ve been down and out, this week, folks. I spent a lot of words writing up my Issyk-Kul report and the mundane details of my life in Bishkek don’t seem worth the same effort. Fieldwork is a blast – trampling about mountains and feeding raptors, everything foreign and fresh. The days after, though, are dull in comparison. I spend a lot of time processing the interviews I recorded, sorting through my photographs, and playing snake on my cell phone. I got a high score this morning – is that kind of thing really worth blogging about? There were some highlights though. Here is an assortment:

I’m walking around Bishkek, wasting time. I find what I think is the tallest apartment building in Bishkek and try to sneak onto the roof. I can’t even find the front door. I start walking around the block to find another route of entry when I hear the commotion of a crowd, clapping and cheering somewhere around the corner. I abandon my plans of trespassing, probably for the better, and go to investigate.

Under a statue of Pushkin, a ring of students surround something exciting. Pushkin looks on with curiosity. I push my way through the crowd to see what’s happening. This is a lot easier when you have a fancy camera around your neck. They all whisper, “Look, a journalist is here!” and usher me in. Within the inner sanctum is a group of big-nosed boys, hopping to and fro with riverdance flow. On each dancer an arm is pinned behind the back, the other held straight out to the side with a clenched fist hanging limp at the wrist.  Girls take the limp fist as an invitation and join the men shyly in the arena. There, they circle each other in courtship. I try to decipher the scene. All the guys are white, but not quite Slavic. I spy a few Azerbaijani flags on leather jackets. So it appears I have stumbled across some sort of impromptu Azerbaijani dance-off. Sweet.

They guys in the audience take turn pushing their friends into the middle of the circle, and once in, there is no turning back.  Nobody shuffles a few steps and creeps back out. They are nearly all fearless and virtuosic. I am amazed. One by one, they show each other up. One guy does the splits. Another leaps into the center and spins like a ballerina. One other guy does a backflip. The crowd is so worked up that one fellow takes out a gun and shoots it three times in the air. Nobody blinks an eye. Sorry, Kyrgyz, but sometimes I wish you were this fun.

~

It’s Halloween, and I’m costumeless. Margot and I find a store downtown that is selling costumes, but they’re all long gone. A few swords remain, rentable by the day. One has a gilded eagle head on the end. They tell me they won’t sell it but I buy it anyways. I work out a costume idea: when I tell most people I’m studying eagle hunters, they imagine some men trampling about the mountains, seeking eagles for slaughter. A hunter of eagles, not a hunter with eagles. I decide to be the former. I buy a cowboy hat because it seems to match. Walking through Bishkek with a ten-gallon hat and a sword, I wink at girls and swing my blade through the air, making whooshing noises and thrusting it at invisible eagles. Halloween – a special day when foreigners are allowed the privilege of being obnoxious, so long as the locals can laugh at you.

~

I’m sitting in a café with my research assistant Ertabyldy (I’ve spoiled myself with two assistants – one to help me with my eagle project and one to help me with Kyrgyz music project. Thanks Fulbright!). We are waiting for a pizza. Next door, the room is filling up with brown water, gushing from a broken pipe. Everybody acts as if it’s completely normal. I make a phone call to a friend, and when I hang up Ertabyldy leans forward and looks me in the eyes. “I think your phone is tapped.” I wrinkle my brow. “What? Why do you think that?” I ask. “When I called you earlier, there was an echo. That means somebody is listening.” He’s entirely serious. He had a friend here from France who was also bugged. He says the KGB still does that kind of thing around these parts. I’m here on a State Department program and I have been warned before that it is a distinct possibility. I’m more amused than concerned.

Hear that KGB? You don’t scare me! I’M GOING TO TAKE OVER RUSSIA WITH AN ARMY OF EAGLE HUNTERS AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!

~

And a leftover bonus, from my days with the Russians:

Marina knocks on my door and comes in with a cactus in hand. She puts it on my bookcase. “Thank you for making me feel at home!” I tell her. “It feels just like the Mojave.” I say it in English and it flies right over her head. She points to my computer and looks concerned. “It’s radioactive! This cactus will absorb all the bad energy.”  These are the kind of things they teach you on the Russian morning shows.  I shrug. If my computer is radioactive, than I am long since infertile. When I move later that week, she asks me to take it with me. I worry about thorns and bloodshed on the trip to my new apartment and tell her thanks but no thanks. Hopefully it will absorb her bad thoughts at night as Russian paranoia haunts her dreams.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Palmer permalink
    November 4, 2010 1:40 am

    Your pictures looks so much better when they haven’t gone through the destructive process that is uploading files to Facebook. You should post more pics here and/or host them to flickr so that they can be enjoyed in their true glory.

  2. Jean Eggenschwiler permalink
    November 4, 2010 4:24 am

    Dennis, I don’t really know you, but your mother sends me your blog entries. You are one helluva good writer! This comes from an ex-English teacher with good taste! Keep it up. You make your eagle hunting and related experiences come to life. I’m impressed.

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