Here’s the second part of a series of blog posts about my teacher training travels in Kyrgyzstan. To read a summary of my trip, click here.
An introduction to Kyrgyzstan
I landed at Manas International airport groggy and dehydrated. Two red-eye flights in a row, plus a mad midnight dash through Istanbul Atatürk airport to avoid a missed connection, had meant little sleep. Plane travel is not my friend: I find it hard to sit still, I choke on the smell of stale coffee, and I really don’t like the food!
Luckily Andy, the volunteer coordinator for the project, was waiting to meet me at Manas International with a bottle of water and conversation to keep me awake. We waited a little while in a small café at Arrivals for one of the British undergraduate volunteers, Rosie, before piling into a taxi and heading to our hotel.
We drove around – rather than through – Bishkek to reach the hotel, so my first impressions of Kyrgyzstan were: dust, watermelons, shipping containers… and Angela Merkel. Dust flying up behind the cars in front of us, children rolling watermelons home along the roadside, shipping containers standing in empty fields, and banners featuring the smiling face of Angela Merkel because she happened to be in town at the same time as us. It was about 10am, and already 30°C.
Happily, Bishkek is a green and leafy city with those broad, open avenues and huge squares that Soviet architects loved so much. When we made it into the city centre later that day, it felt nowhere near as foreign as I had imagined.
Most of our four days in Bishkek were spent eating. Andy took us to Navat, a traditional chaikhana where we ate ridiculous quantities of meat, delicious borsok and fresh jam. We branched out to smaller restaurants where we tried manty (dumplings, often filled with pumpkin or chives) and many questionable types of dairy product. Then on our second day in Bishkek, we were taken to Supara, an ‘ethno-complex’ of yurts and traditional buildings, for our induction with representatives from the women’s NGO Erayim.
The visit to Supara was fascinating: we got to learn a lot about Erayim’s work with self-help groups (micro-financing operations), enjoy a traditional meal, and go on a guided tour of different types of yurts. There are more of these than you might think.
We also played some traditional Kyrgyz games with sheep bones, and did a few getting-to-know-you activities that I did not have to organize! Erayim did a wonderful job of setting up the day, and it was a brilliant way to introduce the volunteers to Kyrgyzstan.
You can see a few photos from the induction here (note the photo of me talking, and everyone looking uninterested!).
And here is a tunduk (the central ring of a the roof of a yurt) for good measure: