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Marshrutka to Nowhere, pt. 2

December 22, 2010

Hey folks, a quick note – has been cut down to size, trimmed to something more manageable and pleasing to the eye. Now you can get here just by typing! The whole operation seems a big more legitimate now, huh? Movin’ on up…


This is part two in a two-part post. Scroll down to read the first part first, or click here.

After an hour in our communal marshrutka, we arrived at our destination. We all sat up, the lonely remainders, and emptied into the street, scattering to the four winds. It was quiet. I guess this was the suburbs. I crossed a river on a jittery bridge, and a boy shoved past me with a bike. Stray dogs played on the thin ice below; styrofoam was stuck in the reeds. On the other side I walked through unmarked streets, probably named after commissars or cosmonauts.  The addresses were numbers spraypainted on walls and gates, or not written at all. There was no need, really, for such formalities – the few people that were out seemed to know each other anyway.  A woman showed her neighbor a ruffled yellow dress she had bought her daughter, and a group of women sat squatting in a yard, burning sticks, glancing at the newcomer.

Above it all, silence reigned. Every corner I turned I found a factory sitting in rust, a relic of prosperity. With the Soviet Union went the economy, and now the tractors piled up and the gates wore locks. The guard dogs barked but had nothing much left to guard. Through holes in the walls I spied solitary workers shuffling across yards, but I imagined them working artificial jobs, punching in and putting back vodka, hiding in the shadows of their offices. People came to Bishkek looking for jobs but there weren’t any, just this quiet around every corner.  The dream ended here.

I walked past a playground filled with puddles. A kid was playing in the wet sand.  A small military installation was next door, where two young men were also playing. They were bedecked in camo gear, though, and smoked cigarettes, kidding around and petting each other’s fur hats. I wanted to avoid a patdown so I looked to the sky, searching for the sun, but I found only a hazy orb. The sky was so thick with grey that the beams could hardly do their job. A stork flew past. It’s whiteness stood stark against the surroundings. It landed in a tree and mocked it all from above.

Up the street I found a man in sunglasses, grazing his sheep in garbage. He called me over, eager to talk. “They’ll eat anything,” he said. Sure enough, the sheep were tearing apart the local dump, an empty street corner devoted to trash. They munched on newspaper and juiceboxes like they had never tasted anything better. One found a bouquet of wilted flowers and disappeared into it, the other sheep crowding around to investigate the commotion. The man told me his name was Toktoshun. He might have been drunk. Or at least it seemed that way, because he couldn’t stop talking about his sheep. “I have only four now, but I used to have twenty. I sold the rest for birthday parties. That one’s pregnant. We’ll have little lambs soon. One of these will be slaughtered for New Year’s. Which one of you will it be?” He laughed maniacally, pointing at his potential victims. The quiet returned and he filled it with mumbling. “Sheep, sheep, sheep…”

Something compelled me to stick around, and we got to talking. “Are things peaceful in California?” he asked me. Yeah, sure, I said. “Things are peaceful here too. If a man has money, and he is full, why wouldn’t he be peaceful? But if everything around you is shit, and nothing is enough, people rise up. If your stomach is full, why would you rise up?” I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about. Wasn’t there a revolution in this country not even a year ago? He must have just had lunch. “Look how the sheep here are grazing,” he said, returning to his favorite topic. “If you have sheep, and I have sheep, they won’t graze together. They’ll stay apart. But a man with another man…” Before he could finish his sheephand philosophizing, an engine revved up and drowned out his thought. “Look, it’s my neighbor,” he said, waving at the man going past. I turned around and saw a marshrutka driver, barreling out of a cloud of dust to the land beyond the ‘burbs. It seemed you could find a job here after all, driving a marshrutka to nowhere.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Palmer permalink
    December 22, 2010 9:21 pm

    Mom was right, this is pretty bleak. So did you just chill with sheep dude and go home?

    • December 23, 2010 11:41 am

      no i went to a few other places too but it didn’t fit into the narrative, ya know. and i mean…kyrgyzstan is bleak. just telling it like it is…

  2. Mitchell permalink
    December 23, 2010 7:20 am

    I disagree with your Mother and Palmy…The old guy was content, the sheep were happy eating the garbage, and you had a cool adventure, where’s the bleak aspect? ( Oh and some lady brushed up against you on the way there, always a plus)

  3. Debbie permalink
    December 26, 2010 11:05 pm

    The pictures and content are bleak for a holiday post. Interesting, well written but bleak. I was merely asking for some Christmas Cheer from my far, far away boy. What’s a mother to do?


  1. The Marshrutka to Nowhere, pt. 1 « Keen on Kyrgyzstan

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