Laughs. Mockery. Distrust.
I didn’t need to understand the Kyrgyz language to know the meaning of the conversation, but they found someone who could speak English.
-Where do you want to go, friend?
-To the surroundings of Osh, but don’t worry. I hitchhike. No payments. It is part of a project I am working on.
-Without paying you go nowhere, my friend.
-I understand your concern. But I just came from Germany here without paying a single penny. I think I got somewhere, right?
I had crossed one more land border, this time from Uzbekistan, entering Kyrgyzstan.
I was the only foreigner around.
My favorite habitat: dust, people who didn’t speak my language and curiosity.
I managed to disappear from the taxi drivers offering me help. I needed to know the direction where I should go.
The destination: Osh, the second largest city in the country. One person would host me for two nights around this metropolis of almost 300,000 inhabitants.
After a slightly frustrated ride to the city center, I was told to wait in a parking lot, that soon someone would go to the area I would like, about 50km south of where I was.
Minutes flew by. Hours passed as well. As hope seemed to fade, a friendly Kyrgyz appeared in his truck.
In the midst of fruitless conversations at the border, I got a cell phone to call Zhanibek, the person who agreed to host me. I just said I was on my way, but there was no chance to predict when exactl I would arrive.
Time passed and the intuition of this wonderful person eventually led him to that parking lot in Osh, because it was also where the local transportation departed.
We had some soft meat soaked in a lot of oil. It was what I needed to restore myself.
Let’s go back in time a little bit now.
Exactly 40 days earlier, Zhanibek was returning to his village when he met a foreigner by the road. He decided to stop and find out what was happening.
He couldn’t speak a single English word at that moment, but it didn’t stop him from helping. The traveler was a Belgian who would like to reach the mountains to the south.
As it was already late, Zhanibek invited the traveler to sleep at his residence, saying he could go on whenever he pleased.
It seems just another simple gesture of kindness, but much has changed with that attitude.
Enthusiastic with the foreigner, the Kyrgyz wanted to find a way to have more people from different countries around him, and with the help of the Google translator on his phone, he was able to communicate with the Belgian, who introduced him to the Couchsurfing app.
For those who do not know, Couchsurfing is a platform for sharing experiences. It is much more than a free accommodation, it is a cultural exchange.
It was all Zhanibek wanted.
40 days went by, and after a few foreign guests, there I was, sitting face to face with Zhanibek, and speaking English. Obviously not fluently, but every day we used the cell phone less.
He lived in Borbash, a small village, with his family: wife and 3 children, brother with his spouse, and 2 more kids.
At the front of the house it was his bakery, or at least the part responsible for manufacturing, since all the production was delivered to local grocers.
At the back a backyard overlooking the mountains.
Inside no chair or bed. We would sleep on the floor, which would also serve as a table and playground for the children.
I got involved.
I participated in the deliveries. I played with everyone. I was called brother by the small ones. I conquered the big ones.
2 days turned into 9.
On the second day we hiked, and as nothing had been mentioned about shower, I said it indirectly:
-How nice a shower would be after this trail.
It would be and it was, but not as I thought.
The bathroom of the house was in the yard, and it was a small wooden building with a hole in the center.
No shower. Without toilet. No flush. Without illumination.
Just a good squat and leg strengthening workout.
I found out that the houses in the area had no shower. It seemed a common practice to all.
When they wanted to bathe, people would go to a public sauna, separated by gender, let us not forget that we are in a predominantly Muslim territory.
And so I began to undress myself, afraid to be totally naked, but the underwear continued for everyone.
I had never been to a sauna for a shower, but it was invigorating.
Dry, hot and inhospitable, I felt like a chicken being roasted.
Outside an icy pool. One by one they jumped and quickly sought the stairs to get out of there. All of this just to return to the furnace right away.
The most tired one sat around a table where they drank tea or a fermented mixture of dubious taste. And that was the routine 2-3 times a week.
In 9 days, I took 3 showers, and felt my soul cleansed.
Every morning we ate some of the breads and pastries produced, then went around the area selling the packages with delicious cookies.
Every day the children jumped on my back, knocked me to the ground and sang the Kyrgyz anthem to me.
One day, coming back from a grocery store, I was approached by a girl named Nurissa, 13, and the first person who spoke English to me there.
She asked if I would like to go to her school the next day. For that night she had already planned a dinner with me and her family. Zhanibek motioned for me to join them.
It was more like any other house in the area: simple, small and very welcoming.
Father, mother, Nurissa, her sister, and grandmother shared 2 rooms.
During the meal with simultaneous translation, they told me that it was an honor for them that I accepted the invitation. That my presence illuminated their home.
Between a forkful of noodles and a bite of bread, the family patriarch offered me his kalpak, a hat that almost every man in the area wore. Afterwards I learned that this act meant the greatest symbol of respect possible.
Later I got a kalpak from Zhanibek, which I carry until today.
The 96-year-old lady, Nurissa’s grandmother, was blind, and asked permission to “see” me.
With her wrinkled fingers she touched me. She massaged my face. And said it was the first time she had “seen” a foreigner in her life.
The next morning we went to the school. A general euphoria. Everyone wanted to look at the international attraction.
They took me to the English teacher, who seemed not to understand what I was talking about.
They carried me to the geography class, where I was asked to point on the map from where I came from.
They followed me wherever I went.
On the streets everyone already knew about Zhanibek’s activities. The small village seemed to be entering the map for the first time. They considered putting him in politics. That’s right, in just 40 days, but he was emphatic: “Politics and good things hardly mix.”
All he wanted was to give the children a different future. Teach them English. And maybe in the near future, open hiw own sustainable tourism center in the region.
I returned home after reading some books with Nurissa, after all it was how I considered it: a new home.
I played with the kids again. I helped them with some things, and started packing my backpack.
I would leave the next day.
The trip had to continue.
There was still a long way to go.
I left early in the next morning, when everyone but Zhanibek was still asleep.
I’m terrible with goodbyes.
I find it easier to escape.