Kyrgyzstan (1)

Trip Start May 20, 2005
Trip End Jun 10, 2006

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Flag of Kyrgyzstan  ,
Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Reading: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Listening to: On The Beach, Neil Young

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Sublime. I'm back in Kyrgyzstan, its election season, and the mountains are glimmering in the summer sun. Could I ask for more?

Once I decided to resign from my previous job, I contacted my first employer, the National Democratic Institute, to see if I could play a part in their activities around the July 10 presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan. Luckily, there was and I'll be in Kyrgyzstan until the end of August doing a bit of volunteer work and taking every opportunity to get out into the mountains.

Keeping with my declared format, I'll just write a few vignettes about my first week here:

Modern Talking: The Band, The Legenda

An acute set of memories of Central Asia comes not from the wonderful people, enchanting landscape or sense of history but the playlists of taxi drivers. For those of you who have lived here, you know that the seventh level of hell is a 10 hour taxi ride in a Zhiguli with only one Modern Talking tape.

So, who is Modern Talking? Formed in 1984 by Germans Dieter and Thomas (see photo), the band sold over 120 million albums and gained fame in Germany and continental Europe. As the eastern block opened up, bootleg copies of the stuff flooded Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. With such classics as 'Cheri, Cheri Baby,' 'Sexy, Sexy Baby' and 'Brother Louis' (a.k.a. 'lewi, lewi, lewi'), Modern Talking's lyrics were easy to digest and tied up in a 3 minute synthesizer pop package. Probably because they did not know better, this brand of Euro-disco became a phenomenon in the former Soviet Union. Along with a screwdriver, saturated oily rag and linoleum flooring, a Modern Talking tape is basic kit for all taxi drivers here. Needless to say, its lethal in large doses.

I reluctantly admit that, in a dark way, Modern Talking holds a place in my heart somehow confused with nostalgia. If you like Modern Talking, I'm sorry to offend, but, please get some help.


The Kyrgyz are formerly nomadic herders. The tradition of Jailoo, or summer encampment, is still strong. In May or June, thousands of Kyrgyz head up to the highland mountain pastures to fatten their flocks and enjoy a cooler summer in yurts, felt tents of the same design as during the time of Genghis Khan. While most yurts now have gas cookers and a car parked out front, Jailoo is a piece of tradition which seems to have outlived the Soviet drives towards more structured animal husbandry and 'modernization.'

As we all learned at the supermarket frozen meat aisle, horses, sheep and other animals are born in the spring. Out in the Jailoo, that means dairy time! Because their traditional food supply consisted almost exclusively of meat and dairy, Kyrgyz don't really do the vegetarian or lactose intolerant thing (I still laugh about having to explain to a Kyrgyz what a vegan was). One dairy specialty is kumiz, a drink made from fermented mare's milk. It's nourishing but it also has a kick- two bowls of that and you'll find yourself singing 'Cheri, Cheri Baby' along with the cab driver...

Hope you enjoy the pictures.
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