Monday, 24 January 2011

Three Vignette's - The Banya, The Tea Party and Mirbek Atabekov

Vignette The First
                        <<Thank you for coming to our coutry during these troubled times.>>
It's been a common refrain, variations of which I have heard at regular intervals since my arrival in Kyrgyzstan, though I confess this is the first time I’ve heard it from the mouth of one of Kyrgyzstan’s top pop stars.  Well, not directly from the mouth of the great Mirbek Atabekov, but via the expert translational skills of Jana, onetime barmaid at the bar in which we are currently seated.
Indeed, as she had only resigned from said bar job mere hours earlier, Jana probably wasn't expecting to be back so soon.   So when she casually mentioned that Mirbek was there whilst explaining about her bust up with her boss, and the western numbskulls she had the misfortune to associate herself with, instead of being consoling and supportive, became randomly excited and dragged her back to the scene of her recent unpleasentness, she was bemused to say the least.    

Jana, Logan and myself - shiny happy people

But she is a trooper, so along she went, tempted Mirbek over with her womanly wiles and proceeded to translate his expressions of gratitude for our presence in his country.
But I am no missionary of the West, sent to spread the word unto a blighted and benighted population; I am here to experience, learn and enjoy at least as much as to teach, share and give.  Indeed, I’m mightily sceptical of the benefit of going anywhere with the sole intention of shoving your altruism in people's faces.   And my worst experience of hardship in this nation has been getting hassled one evening by a drunken rabble of Kyrgyz guys who thought we were ethnic Russian and wanted to pick a fight, which ammounts to no more hardship than a night on the lash in most towns of the UK. 
So I feel on considerably more solid ground when the conversation moves on to the topic of girls. Mirbek informs us that the girls of his native Talas are highly physically appealing by the subtle bodilly motions of a big thumbs up and sticking his tongue out and waving it about vigorously.  Then the secret agent assigned to protect Mirbek shows us his gun and Mirbek wanders off with several of the attractive ladies that have been seeking his attention all night, promising to return later and have a photograph taken with us.  
He doesn't. 

Vignette The Second

Classroom 14 - my (very) humble abode

When I arrived here a few months back, my bedroom had ceased to be a classroom bare days before.  It was spartan to the point of being barren.  My level of redecoration since then has been so minimal that the words 'Classroom 14' still remain clearly marked above my door. 
So a few days ago me and Max headed to Osh Bazaar in search of some soft furnishings to make the room feel a bit more lived in. 
Now, all the accounts of Osh Bazaar I have been regaled with have made it sound like a very Sodom and Gomorrah of a place, a Hieronymous Bosch painting come to life, where dead dogs lay rotting beside fruit and veg stalls, human shit can be found proudly deposited in the centre of pathways and dog-fighting dvds can be purchased at bargain basement prices.  Now, although I saw none of this on my visit, I can confirm that it is a veritable rabbit warren of narrow, twisting pathways and rampant commercialism, where the wares of the stalls bow in on you like ghouls on a fairground ghost train.  
We both hunt down what we are seeking, Max a pair of Tracky Bs (that's tracksuit bottoms for the unitiated) and myself a pair of long, decorative Central Asian floor cushions and a tablecloth. 

Purchase made

Set off with a tea-set, it made my hovel look almost liveable.  So I decided to invite a few peeps over for a dinner paty.

Despite my best attempts to cremate the pasta I was preparing, all went fine and dandilly, with genial conversation being exchanged to the gentle sound of Tom Waits hollering.


Vignette The Third
I am standing, naked as a newborn babe, drenched in sweat, beating one of my colleagues repeatedly with a handful of crudely interwoven branches.   Surprisingly, this is not, as it seems, a scene from a low-budget, German porn film.  No, this is all part and parcel of the joyous sensual overload that is Banya.   A form of turkic sauna which includes a positvely arid hot dry room, a hot wet room where sitting down for more than about a minute puts your buttocks in serious risk of third-degree burns and a plunge pool so baltically cold as to make your testicles want to take a permanent vacation in the warm cosiness of your internal organs; all whilst surrounded by fat, perspiration soaked, middle-aged businessmen.   The experience, all told, is surprisingly invigorating and you leave with a sensation of healthilly revitalised and cleansed wellbeing. 


These three vignettes provide a brief snapshot of my January in Bishkek.  It's been a relatively quiet month, but it seems no month in Bishkek can pass by entirely uneventfully.

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