Former USSR | Kyrgyzstan – 3
My new host family’s old Volkswagen barreled down a broken, dusty highway sagging with everything I had. The roadside teemed with donkey carts, women waiting for buses and men selling gasoline in water bottles. My new “parents” for the next three months of training and I were coming from the Peace Corps’ adoption ceremony, and going to, well, nobody told me.
I had no idea how to ask.
It turned out to be Ivanovka, my new short-term home, and a medium sized village an hour (and a 40 cent “marshrutka” ride) outside the capitol. Its center appeared to be a bazaar, mosque and bus stop along the highway, and for the length of a city block a surpising epicenter of smog, commerce and traffic. The gigantic snow covered Alatau range loomed behind to the south and followed the horizon both ways as far as I could see.
We signalled and turned north off the highway down a narrow, bumpy road towards the Kazakh foothills.
Lighting a cigarette, my host father Sasha maintained a purposefully slow pace and began nagivating a series of wide, patient swerves over bumps and around ruts and holes. He was a veteran of the 1980s Russian war in Afghanistan, and had a quiet, careful demeanor that commanded in me a vague but palpable confidence.
We continued down the gridded neighborhood sidestreet that meandered twistingly while shifting spontaneously from pavement to gravel and back to pavement. Un-covered manholes laid at the corners of every cross street. Square, concrete Soviet telephone poles with tangled low wires lingered just above and small dirty cannabis plants scattered the roadside. Ducks treaded water in mud puddles, chickens pecked at hard ground, and geese wobbled around the streets in aimless gangs. Donkeys, horses and cows loitered near patched-together fences.
We pulled in next to what appeared to be a kindergarten, and Lida – my host mom permanently assigned to shotgun – opened her door, stepped out, and opened the door next to me all in the same motion as if rehearsed. A wide-eyed six-year old girl popped up, peered tentatively but specutalatively towards me, and crawled in.
We resumed our luggage-loaded gyrating slow-speed journey, and a picture of the snail’s pace jalopy expedition across the United States in “the Grapes of Wrath” came to mind. I didnt expect or know what we were in for, I just watched out the window considering what seemed an interesting dusty melding of rural and suburbia. Small, square, dull colored fenced-in houses packed narrowly togeother with long, farmlike backyards. Simple but efficent re-used materials constructed walls, roofs and pit-toilets on every property. People, especially kids, where everywere.
As I continued to observe the world in a state of introversion, we finally stopped, three doors opened, everyone got out, and apparently, we were home.