Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Friday, February 10, 2006

Smoke In The Wind

On one particular block in Osh, twelve grills turn the fires of undusted coal into moist, spiced, saliva-producing shish-kebob (here it’s called shashlik). Some believe this shashlik alters the minds of men, others claims the psychotropic effects emanate from the shamanistic hands of those who turn the raw wet meat into art on a stick. The following story is true.

Sizzling skewers packed with cubes of beef and mutton drizzle their fat onto the glowing coals that burn in waste-high grills tended by sullen men in bloodied butcher’s garb. Oils from these burning brochettes lacquer the fingers and faces of the chefs who tend them. Combine this unnatural lacquer with the repeated skewer-turning and coal-arranging and you have a bizarre army of mechanical meat-turning mimes.

I enter the enshrouded neighborhood and saunter passed the sizzling troughs of spiced meats. The Smoke rising from the kebobs tickles my nostrils and peppers my eyes with specs of ash. I remember steak dinners back home and my mouth gushes with saliva as my eyes burn with soot. I allow my eyelids to close, fill with tears, and then I open them again.

I pan to the right, and the world bends like the mirrors of a funhouse. The pock-marked nose of a woman selling plastic tubes of salad inflates beyond the proportions of her face. I realize the tears are distorting my vision and blink again, rinsing away the fluid that lingered on the lenses of my eyes. The woman’s nose has deflated and she sits on a crate behind her table, wrapped in wool, solemn and content like her salad. The army of lacquered mimes continues to move mechanically over their troughs of speared-meats. They seem indefatigable…eternal.

I cross the street and continue onward. Only a wiff of shashlik remains, lightly adrift, whispering like the molted skin of a snake on a stone. I wonder if my memory of this place will dissipate and fade away as smoke in the wind.


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