Kyrgyzstan. Pronounced Kirgizstan – not Kirgikistan or Kirgizia for short (in Russian). First question you may have is where is that? And why are you going there? Kyrgyzstan is one of the stan countries that used to be part of the USSR and is located south of Kazakhstan and west of China. From Alberta it’s literally the other side of the world. And why did I go there? I’ve always been fascinated by Central Asia especially after meeting Asian looking people who speak Russian. So as soon as I learned that a friend of mine from Toronto was going there I thought now’s my chance to go. I only spent two and half weeks as compared to two years in Ukraine so I only got a sampling of the country. But this is how my experience went.
I had quite a lot of excitement going to and from Kyrgyzstan because the way my flights went they were put close together. So I flew from Toronto to New York but arrived a bit late and unfortunately after running to another terminal, missed my flight to Moscow. But don’t worry there was another flight that evening but that meant I had to spend the whole day in Moscow airport. I was able to sleep a couple hours on the floor which is something Russians don’t do so got a few odd looks but though it was hard and cold it was clean. Finally made it to the capital Bishkek at 5 the next morning just when the sun was rising. It was beautiful. The fog was rising over the fields and the mountains appearing in the distance. But the more we drove in the more it reminded me of Ukraine. I’m still surprised that anywhere you go in the former Soviet Union it all looks the same except here they’re all Asian looking.
I spent the first few days in the capital. I stayed with my friend’s gramma who’s not in the truth. She’s a nice lady and does listen but has been listening and studying the past 10 years. She also sleeps only four hours a night and then turns the light on and reads and wakes me up. My favourite was at night she didn’t want to go to bed before 10 so around 8-9 she says nothing to do and then turns Russian TV on for the tenth time. Anyways got to sight see in Bishkek which honestly doesn’t have a lot of sights except for the usual parks and memorials and museums and traffic like here. I was initially a little apprehensive about going to Kyrgyzstan because it being a Muslim country and there was an uprising in 2010 but I always felt safe.
While in Bishkek I met two nice sisters Kayal and Rahat. They had one of the easier Kirghiz names to remember otherwise I couldn’t remember people’s names. The Kirghiz language is similar to Turkish and very different to Russian so I couldn’t understand when they spoke in Kirghiz. But good thing most people know Russian. One of the things I noticed right away that Russians are a minority in Kyrgyzstan. On the street I’d see them here and there but most of them moved, after the Soviet Union fell, back to Russia. Anyways back to the girls. They’re both learning Chinese and Rahat is a special pioneer but is marrying a Japanese brother next month. Many Japanese have come to need great which works for them because they blend in. Kayal has been learning a couple years. I became especially good friends with her. Her mother got the truth even though Muslim background and her father was opposed but her mother showed even more respect to him after she learned the truth and he eventually started studying but soon after his family killed him from what I understand. Kayal got the truth as a teenager and one brother is studying now and another brother is disfellowshipped. She invited me to her house in the village and I got to meet her mom’s sisters who are in the truth.
After spending time in Bishkek I flew 40 minutes to Osh, a city in the south. This is otherwise a fourteen hour journey by car which I will tell about later. I sat beside this American man who lives in Tashkent, Uzbekistan who’s a Christian and had a good conversation with him. Uzbekistan is under ban so I don’t think by coincidence I sat beside him. In Osh I was met by two young special pioneer sisters Alina and Aida. They’re only 29 and 24 and get to be special pioneers for a year. But as I asked Alina about how they do service she told me such great ways of preaching to Muslims and how she explains things that I’m not surprised that they got appointed as specials. Osh has a very Muslim mayor so unfortunately it’s a bit tougher territory than Bishkek. They’re not allowed to meet as a congregation but in small groups for their meetings. It’s a city of almost 300,000 and one Kirghiz cong of 40 people and a Russian group. So a lot of work to do. I spent the day with them and another sister who was one of the first to learn the truth and my friend Marina and her friend Baktygul. There’s a mountain in the middle of the city called Suleiman’s Mountain where you guessed it King Solomon was here supposedly. The Soviets cut out a cave-museum in the mountain and it offers great views of the city. I was very sad to leave the girls but I went to where my friend was staying in a town 2 hours from Osh called Kyzyl-Kia. This place has a population of 70,000 and for the past couple years Baktygul and her sister were the only Witnesses here as special pioneers. But the last couple months has brought another special pioneer couple and a young brother and studies that are progressing very well.
With Marina and Baktygul we travelled back to Bishkek by taxi through some of the twistiest turniest mountains roads I’ve been on. It was beautiful scenery throughout and we had a good driver though not without some scary moments. We must have passed half a dozen sheep herds on the way. Kirghiz love their animals especially horses. They come from a nomadic background so shepherding is in their blood. We got to have a quick lunch at Baktygul’s sister’s place in Karakol, another place with a small group. Baktygul comes from a family of 10 and half are in the truth. Kirghiz culture also includes having many children.
After that trip we went the next day with another sister and her mother to Lake Issyk-Kul for a nice restful stay. Lake Issyk-Kul is the second largest alpine lake in the world. It really is beautiful because both sides are surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It’s 180 km by 60 km wide. Looking around it reminded me of all those paradise pictures we have of houses by the mountain and lake. We stayed in a small touristy town called Cholpon-Ata and because the season hadn’t started our accommodations were quite cheap. Like two dollars a night but again this is Kyrgyzstan so we had no hot water and an outhouse but after living in Ukraine I knew how to do this. It’s like camping Soviet style. People rent out rooms in their place so the owner of our place was Tamara and she had cute little huts built outside with two beds to a room. It was nice to catch up on my sleep and wake up and open the door to a nice warm day and breathe the fresh mountain air. We spent one day taking a little hike in the mountains. But honestly after having been to the Rocky Mountains it’s very similar except you can expect to see young men appear out of nowhere offering you to ride their horses for a fee of course. Also there’s more life in the Kyrgyz mountains because people live in yurts and have their horses and sheep and cattle grazing in the mountains. That was one thing I was hoping to do was sleep in a yurt. Maybe next time.
We went to a Russian meeting there as well. It’s a small group of about 15 and they meet in a sister’s house. There were also petryglyphs in the area which Marina and I took an hour and a half to get there by foot and spent half an hour looking. It was basically a field full of rocks with pictures of deer painted on the rock. Poor Marina barely made it there and was not looking forward to walking back but right after we came this random man had come also just to look and offered us a ride home so Jehovah took care of us just in time. The beaches were nice and the weather was warm but the water was not. I did go swimming the last day to say I went but I’d recommend going in the summer.
After Issyk-Kul we drove back to Bishkek but not without more adventures. Baktygul had been asking everyone with a horse for horse’s milk but until then it was not available. But on our way back she was able to get some and I thought I have to try this. Most other Kyrgyz food has meat in it especially horse meat so because I’m vegetarian I couldn’t sample much of the local cuisine. So I tried a cup of fresh mare’s milke and kymiz which is fermented horse’s milk. Horse’s milk is actually quite good with a hint of grass and kymiz tastes like milk wine. Sour but not bad as compared to another drink I tried which is fermented wheat and corn. That tasted like something gone rancid. So I thought I’ll buy a bottle of horses’s milk but the guy selling it says no that’s enough for you since it’s your first time. First warning words. An hour later, I had such bad cramps I didn’t make it to Bishkek but had to go to a gas station outhouse. But apparently people go to camps where they drink it for 10 days as a sort of cleansing.
Last but not least during my last days in Bishkek Marina and I went to see Bethel. It’s located in the city and has 59 Bethelites. They decorated it Kirghiz style and it’s really pretty. I got to meet the brother whose life story is in the Awake. (See March 2011) A Bethelite couple from my hall in Toronto got sent there a couple months ago and it was nice to visit with them. And for my last meeting I went to Chinese since I met the girls from there. Just a small congregation of about 20 and one interested man came who I think is studying. He commented in Chinese and Russian and did help clean the floor after. Bishkek has 8 different language groups/congregations. So yes everywhere our brothers and sisters are learning another language to help foreigners.
To end it off I have to say the Kirghiz people are some of the nicest I met. They’re a really humble people and they look beautiful. They have such a unique look. Some look Japanese or Korean or even Inuit. From what I read they’re a tribe that came from Siberia a long time ago so I guess that explains a lot. And I hope that as a relatively free country in Central Asia they can take advantage of it to reach everyone there with the good news.
(Kirghiz name) Changul