Today I was asked, “What is it you like the most about Kyrgyzstan?” My response, “I like walking on the street and having the dust sting my eyes.” My classmates laughed, my language teacher didn’t know what sting meant, and after explaining, she too laughed at my sarcasm.
Kyrgyzstan is not, in fact, a dusty hole in the wall country. Yes, there is a large amount of dust. Many of the streets are not paved; so any wind, a passing car, or even a mule cart can kick up enough particulate matter to make you blink a bit. However, there is more than just dust to be wary of on the roadway.
Cows, sheep, goats, chickens (with their rooster guardians) and people all share the roads here. Every evening around 5pm there seems to be a great cow, goat and sheep exodus on the roadway. These animals are not always accompanied by their owners, but still seem to find their way home. We have a cow for milk at my home, I think her name is April. Yes, most families name their animals (at least the ones that live for a while and aren’t going to be eaten). Our beloved milk cow, April, comes home on by herself pretty much every day from the field. Not only does she walk home on her own, but instead of walking through the outdoor kitchen, she walks through a narrow passage between the outdoor kitchen’s outer wall and the fence. My guess is that she knows she wouldn’t fit through the doorway into the kitchen (built for humans and smaller) and has devised this alternative route. It’s pretty cool to see all the animals just moseyin on home, and in April’s case, to even walk right back into the barn where she lives.
The sheep and goat herds, as well as the chickens are less interesting than the cows. Yes, they’re on the street more often than the cows, but I guess since they’re smaller, it’s just not quite as interesting to watch. There are, however, some inanimate things to look for when walking on the street.
Poop. There is lots of poop in the street. In the US I walked around looking about ten to twenty feet ahead, not here. There are two kinds of excrement to watch out for: fresh piles of feces and uneven roadway (remember, mostly unpaved roads). Don’t get me wrong, the roadway is not a giant skid mark, but there are piles of manure, fresh (dangerous) and old (very walk-on-able) that you need to look out for. At first I tried to avoid all fecal matter, the fresh gooey stuff as well as the older, sundried and pre-stepped/driven upon. But I’ve learned that those dry ones don’t give you a messy shoe, or even smell, they’re just kind of there.
Please keep in mind that what I’ve written above does not apply to Bishkek, the capitol (and the only city I have visited so far). Bishkek has some dust (almost none), not herds of cattle or goats, and no poop on the roadways. They do, however, drive like everyone else in Kyrgyzstan, but that is a story for another day.