Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Friday, June 17, 2005

Kyrgyzstan: Burying The Modern World

Outings into the Kyrgyz countryside provide mini-adventures into the past. But the chapters of Kyrgyzstan’s recent history read more like vignettes after the apocalypse than epic tales of nomadic clans warring for land. Although the curtain never fully closed on the genetic memory of the Kyrgyz during last century’s Sovietization, the re-emergence of their own culture plays out on an eerie stage—as if the props from the previous play were only partially removed and the set director for the new show decided to work around them.

Relics of the modern world anachronistically litter Kyrgyzstan’s landscape. Shepherds bring their sheep to pasture under power lines that have long ceased to illuminate their homes. A driver training course cracks like drying mud, submitting pavement to the encroaching field. Foundations of buildings no more than fifty years old whisper out of the ground—crumbling ghost towns of a lost civilization.

Last Sunday, while hiking, I gazed down on a valley from the top of a stone dotted hillside and counted the geometric traces of more than a hundred homes. Walls and roofs erased, all that remained were the concrete outlines of a village once inhabited by hundreds. As cattle and goats grazed below and turkeys gobbled on a distant knoll I could not help but wonder what happened to those who once populated these fertile river lands.

I followed the winding river down stream, passing by silent hydroelectric stations that once hummed with the ionic charge of electric life. These mechanical Ophelias laid dead in the water, tragic, neglected machines abandoned in broken promise. On my side of the bank, I watched as four Kyrgyz men, knee high in white water, stretched a net across fifteen feet of river (about half the river’s width). Upstream, a fifth man armed with a tree branch thrashed his way toward his comrades, occasionally slipping and floating in the rush of the water. They lifted the net…Empty…and repeated this over and over, once catching the comrade-thrasher in their web. They laughed at this folly and I smiled and waved walked on.

On the way back to the only bus stop in the emerging village, I passed by a skeletal five-story apartment complex. The frame of the building was defined by lines of beige-grey concrete contrasted by windowless boxes of dark, interior space. Monumental in comparison to the tiny homes built beyond the reach of its dead shadow, this unrefined, multi-layered mass of concrete lay atop the ground—a prominent coffin left unburied after the death of communism.


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