Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kyrgyzstan Journal

A page from RBM's Peace Corps journal for Sunday:

The local track comprises three lanes of broken pavement ringing a soccer field. Red and blue stick-figure athletes arrayed in Olympic poses have been spray-painted onto a low wall surrounding the complex, lending the place a sense of antique glory. It's a popular venue for ball players and mascaraed teens alike ("Hallo! How are you? Hallo!"). Those not on the field saunter around the track or chatter atop the bleachers, where broken glass makes the ground glitter. (A corner store at the complex's entrance sells beer and vodka at prices that rival bottled water.)

The young easily outnumber the old here, but a few mothers pushing strollers can usually be seen rounding the track's curve. One balding Russian who wears a slight smile jogs barefoot for hours on the grass, while another man is fond of shadow boxing on the backstretch. The field itself is neatly mowed in the early morning hours by a machine I've never seen, but along the sidelines, where the grass grows high, poor farmers dragging plastic sacks work the land with scythes, then cart away free sheep fodder on bicycles and horse carts. Overhead, meanwhile, Russian jets from a nearby base hurtle themselves toward the Tian Shan range, which rises against the southern sky like a dragon's jaw.

On Friday, just as three friends and I finished a run and strolled toward the store for ice cream, commotion erupted at the near end of the field, just beyond the finish line. A crowd had been squatting in a big circle to swap text messages and shuffle cards, but then something went wrong. Two figures suddenly began to struggle, and as their friends drew close, I realized that these were young girls. Each teen looked, eerily, like a carbon copy of her enemy: spindly limbs clad in factory-faded jeans and low-cut t-shirts, teased black hair, and heavy makeup.

The lack of muscle made the fight no less fierce; within seconds they staggered toward the high grass and went down, pummeling, yanking, and screaming. Other girls intervened, but a full minute passed before it was over. (My own intervention here, I should note, risked a police report, which can unfortunately jeopardize one's service in Kyrgyzstan.) As the girls broke apart, one buried her face in her hands, sobbing and clutching at loose hair, while the other fled the scene. A freckled boy on a bike pedaled by just then, his face flushed with excitement. "Kyrgyzstan number one!" he yelled, happy as a dog.

This fight was, of course, much like the others I've seen among American teens, both on playgrounds and on YouTube. But the speed with which it broke the tranquility of the place I go to unwind was unsettling. It was a reminder, I think, of how parallel two worlds can become.


  1. Nice word picture, RB. Thanks for the snapshot into another world; and your insightful reminder.

    For perspective on the smallness of our world(s):


  2. Thanks, Chris! Always good to hear from you.