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Keen Out Of Kyrgyzstan: Stories From Abroad

March 15, 2011

I wake up to a blowing fan. It is too hot for sheets. I’m not quite sure where I am. I arrived in the middle of the night, my mind delirious from sleeplessness, and it was all I could do to fall onto the mattress on the floor and pass out. I know that I am in the desert. I was brought here by a man in white robes. He told me he would come back in the morning.

I go outside. I have been sleeping in a toy house. Around me are hundreds of facsimiles, stretching to a sand dune in the distance. Save for the Indian workers polishing off the cookie cutter copy next door, I am the only soul around. In this new housing development, I am the sole resident. There is no water here, you see, so it should be impossible to survive. But my friend, the man in robes, has brought me water from the mosque, five buckets full, and I wash my face and drink it in gulps.

He had no choice but to take the house. It was financed for free from the coffers of Abu Dhabi. We will let you have it, they said, but why do you need it now? Wait a few months and we will pipe in water. He could not wait. Across the border in a dusty village in Oman he was being hounded out of his house, and it was there that he was now, patching up holes in the walls from drunken fists. The landlord wanted him out. He has already moved most of his belongings to this new home. They are laying in piles in the front yard, gathering desert sand like dust.

The day passes like a dream. The gate to the street beyond is locked. I am a prisoner. I sit on the sofas outside and stare at the sun, take naps on the ground, listen to birds singing, but somewhere else, not here. The man comes home in the evening, and he jokes, “How was Guantanamo?” It was he who had locked the gate. He was worried that if I’d left the yard I’d get lost. All the houses here are the same, all the addresses are the same, and it’s hot, so hot, no place to walk around. I’ve been bored stiff, building up anger, but I sigh it out. “It was fine, Marvin. Thanks for the water.”




Dubai was overflowing with tourists. They rode camels around parking lots. They picked their noses on air-conditioned buses. They slithered in lines around historic neighborhoods and pointed at crumbling walls of irrelevant fortresses and fingered through their informational brochures – “Ooo, how old is this one?” I was a tourist too, but I was not on a tour, and I recognized my self-loathing. I did not like the feeling of the invader, eyeing the strange faces of the natives. I wanted to be invisible.

I walked away from the mob and fled to  Dubai Creek, where seagulls shrieked and aquatic taxis plied the waters. There was a bus stop of sorts at the water’s edge and I sat there, sharing the space with two Arab boys, watching the boats go back and forth, from shore to shore. After a while they stood up and strolled away, holding hands. Over the hum of the boats and the blaring of the birds rang out the sounds of a twinkling guitar, fingerpicking electric with tremolo. A big white ship sat idle nearby, looking like me, without direction. On its deck, a man was sitting alone, playing songs from a tattered notebook.

“Hey, can I play?” I shouted, and he waved me aboard. What’s your name? I asked. Nomar. Where are you from? The Philippines. We sat down at the corner of a table and he handed me his guitar like a gift. I played him Here Comes the Sun. The sky was grey and he was happy to hum along. He asked me if I knew any Simon and Garfunkel. That I could do. Then he asked for the Bee Gees. That, I’m afraid, I couldn’t. “You don’t know any Bee Gees???” he said, eyes wide open and eyebrows twisted in shock.  Disco was dead but I hung my head in shame. In his notebook, he had handwritten lyrics and chords, and we picked “Imagine” and sang it together. Anywhere in the world you may be, you cannot go wrong with Lennon.

After a while, different men emerged from the cabin to gawk at the American who had wandered into their midst. They were all Filipinos, and all friendly, and I tried to explain where Kyrgyzstan was. Reggie was young and wanted to know if he could have my sister’s hand in marriage; John had a fake FBI badge in his wallet. Nomar was a cook and made me some noodles, and also brought me some coffee and madeleines. We sat and ate and played around. They all sang unabashedly. My voice is thin but I couldn’t help but join in, squealing like the seagulls all around us. People with cameras stood on the docks, watching us with amusement, but they rarely stayed long. Their tour bus was waiting for them.

Listen here to Nomar giving his rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Fighter” and then switching to singing a different tune in Tagalog midsong…pretty neat.

And listen here to our briefest of jams, me on acoustic and  Nomar on the ‘lectric.


After months of wintry monotone, the green of Goa left my mouth agape, like the place had invented a new color. It blurred past me as I rested my arms on the back of my friend. His arms clung to handlebars, pulling the throttle and pushing our bike past fields and cows and mendicant wanderers.  Renting the scooter was a good investment. Freedom was ours and with it came beaches, beaches after beaches just ripe for the picking. Colin had one in mind. “Palolim?” he asked the occasional roadside wayfarer. That way, they would say, and point us onwards. We got lost but it hardly mattered.

At the beach we ate spicy fish and spicy shrimp and washed it down with banana lassis, the glorious milkshakes of India. It was hot but in a good way, as refreshing as the greenery. Then we sat on deckchairs drinking beers, as politely as we could shooing away solicitors who were selling beaded bracelets and flutes. Palolim was lined with palms, and in its bay an equally palmy island hovered like an oasis. Before us, a big rock also stood out from the still water. We swam to it and crawled up its barnacles. Colin got scraped but happily bled. He was hurt but it hardly mattered.

Sandy and salty, we drove our bike back through the softly fading sunset. Locals laughed at us and cops gave us thumbs up, all amused we were both wearing helmets. Handpainted signs hung on the back of trucks – “Horn okay please.”  We rang ours out around every turn, and as the sky grew darker it became a necessity. Nobody turned their lights on. Our bike was overdue so we sped through the newly-minted night honking like mad. We were late but it hardly mattered.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2011 11:47 pm

    So the Filipino guys had an amp and everything on a boat? Was it a special occasion or are they always jamming? Were they fishing too, or on a break or something? Sweet tunes.

    • March 16, 2011 8:08 am

      they had a little practice amp but it sounded oh so sweet. they work on a ship that’s owned by the brother of the sheikh of dubai, and he occasionally uses it to ship things from thailand and southeast asia. but when they aren’t doing that, they just sit at the dock and hang out. pretty cool.

  2. aiday permalink
    March 16, 2011 3:30 am

    dennis, wow. love reading your posts !!! beautiful.

  3. April 10, 2011 11:22 am

    bargemish. Very fun day. I wrote about it as well and the Goa article should come up soon with our destinations included, as well as a rad BBC clip of some eagle hunters (though they are Kazakh).

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