Friday, June 18, 2010

An Adventure from the Past

The news from Kyrgyzstan has been bleak in recent days, with hundreds - or thousands - killed in ethnic violence and hundreds of thousands displaced. The news coverage has implied that the brutality was somehow inevitable. But, it seems increasingly clear that the clashes were orchestrated and not "spontaneous."

Three years before we started our blog, Erik visited Kyrgyzstan to set up a classroom exchange with a colleague in Osh, the epicenter of the violence. While he heard remarks from some people "on the street" that suggested prejudice, his friends and colleagues were far more even-handed and tolerant of differences between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities. Differences between the communities, in terms of daily life and practices, were evident, however.

In fact, the nastiest comments that were expressed in his presence came from a museum guide in the capital city in the north. Her bigotry knew few boundaries: she had terrible things to say about Russians, southern Kyrgyz (she was from the north), Uzbeks, French, and Germans. Intolerance has prevailed at times - Osh was the site of smaller-scale violence in 1990. But, Erik still has fond memories of Osh and its people. This entry shares some memories of the grand, exotic Silk Road city.

When Erik and his colleague Ray were en route to Osh, Erik sat next to a Peace Corps volunteer on the plane from Bishkek. He asked the volunteer how she would describe Osh. Her answer was: "Osh is a village of several hundred thousand people." This was an apt description, as the city felt like a never-ending village and bazaar.

One of Erik and Ray's fondest encounters was in the market where some young bread vendors invited them to the bakery, hidden among the back alleys. They got a lesson in lepeshka-making (a traditional flatbread) and tasted some right out of the oven. A few pictures follow.

Dominating the Osh skyline is Sulaiman, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Erik, Ray, and their Kyrgyz colleagues Erkingul and Nurjigit took a walk to the top.

Sulaiman is reported to have many healing properties. This section corrects back problems.

At the base of Sulaiman is a vast cemetery which also provided a fascinating walk.

One of the landmarks that has been shown in news coverage is the Lenin statue. Here Erik poses with it (he has a collection of photographs mocking/matching Lenin statues all over the post-Soviet region).

Following are a few more photos of daily life in Osh and the surrounding area.

As a final note, we hope that our friends and colleagues are safe, and wish for peace and reconciliation.

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