Former USSR | Kyrgyzstan – 1
Dirty bus curtains framed an eight-story soviet hotel as doors slammed open and we rattled to a stop. Unsure what was next but obediently taking the cue, sixty-five Americans on three chartered buses rose with a murmur and shuffled forward. I waited my turn and stepped off the bus into a clear autumn morning in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and breathed in beautiful cold, dry air. As I dragged my bags across the parking lot the massive white Alatau mountain range – bigger than anything in the states came into view. The Kyrgyz national military band played on.
Peace Corps life abroad has three parts: a commune-style intensive ten-day orientation; a three-month village home stay for language and technical training; and pending linguistic and technical competence, a two-year, largely self-scripted sustainable development project.
This was orientation, and a large angular gray hotel on the outskirts of town where the Peace Corps planned to isolate us from the country we just eagerly arrived to live in. They intended over the next ten days to preempt any impressions of our own with a barrage worthy of a college minor in government-issued facts, regulations, suggestions, ground rules, safety awareness advice, disaster preparedness protocol, emergency action plans, food facts and infectious disease charts. We would be immunized against typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis, rabies, and the flu. We would talk to a cast of Peace Corps applauders as well as key movers in bailing us out including the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, the US Security director for Kyrgyzstan, an American antiterrorist specialist, the countrys head of criminal investigation, and its most esteemed professor in local history. We would soon also be introduced to the director of Kyrgyzstans top university and ex-minister of Education, a member of Parliament and the countrys World Bank Director. Finally, the backbone of training and Peace Corps’ legendary expertise, intensive Russian and Kyrgyz language training, would commence.
Most pressing, however, was where were the seedy bars?