Sheryl Shapiro is a freelance writer and photographer based in Boulder, CO.
Monday May 2 Greetings from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Yep, this is the place where they overthrew the president about 1 month ago. All is quiet now except for a few subdued demonstrations by the White House. Most people here are happy that the pres was booted out, as he had been lining his own pockets.
Bishkek is the most progressive place we've been so far in terms of dress, western influence, and freedom. Women are wearing the same low-slung, tight pants and cropped shirts we have at home. Public hand holding between men and women is not unusual here. The department store is stocked with all manner of European electrical appliances (food processors, Braun coffee makers, washer/dryers, etc.).
There is a wonderful selection of Central Asian art here, both in the museums and galleries. Lots of paintings have nomadic, horse, or traditional themes, but there is also a lot of contemporary work. Through a contact, we met with a video filmmaker who hosts showings of contemporary art from Central Asian artists. He showed us some gorgeous catalogs and some of his short videos.
Because of my interest in markets, we made a trip to Karakol, a town on the east side of Lake IssyKul. The lake is the second largest alpine lake in the world, after Lake Titicaca in Peru/Bolivia. In summer, it's a vacation destination for locals and foreigners, with resorts lining the lakefront in certain areas.
Karakol, while not much of a town, is famous for its Sunday animal bazaar. I got there at 6:30 am when it was already in full swing. People come from the whole area to buy and sell horses, cows, sheep, & goats. Some really nice animals - a good horse can go for $700 or more. Most of the horses are stallions, and surprisingly, they're relatively calm considering their proximity to one another. I guess people don't bring their mares if they're in season, which helps cut down on the competition by the stallions. You can test ride or drive the horses. I saw a man measuring a bull around it's girth and length with a tape measure. Everyone is very savvy about livestock, as it's their way of life.
We stayed at a guest house where the 28-year-old son spoke good English. The benefit of guest houses rather than hotels is that you generally get breakfast and for a small charge, breakfast. Again, this was part of the Community Based Tourism program. The father now drives a taxi, but used to be an engineer during the Soviet times. He holds several patents for inventing engines. The guest house does very well, so i'd say the family is comfortably middle-class.
During Soviet times, the land was collectivized, meaning families were part of groups that farmed the land together and shared the produce and profits. After the breakup, land was distributed equally to each family. Even people who live in town work the land, mainly growing potatoes in the Karakol area.
We're headed to Almaty, Kazakhstan, today, where once again we'll take in the museums and culture of the city before heading back to Uzbekistan. Good thing Uzbekistan offers multiple-entry visas, as we've been in and out several times.
Thanks again to all of you who've written.