One always arrives in Bishkek in the middle of the night. It is the final destination of flights, so it is not as though it is a stop over to somewhere more important. And sometimes the plane is even full. But Central Asia is in the middle of the earth……and as you move more deeply into its center, the land underneath is quiet and dark. There is life, there is always life…..but it moves with the sun and the moon, as Central Asia has always now for over 2000 years.
I was whisked away to the VIP lounge where everything was taken care of for me…..so what to do at 4 AM but order a scotch straight up at the ever open bar and toast my arrival.
The drive into Bishkek was without street lights. It felt very forbidding. I felt the same sense of unease over this darkness with our arrival five years ago, but I have the warm memories of good friends and rewarding work from our first journey, so I know this darkness need not be scary or cold. But still, uneasy. Think of those maps taken by satellite showing where lights shine from our planet seen far off in space. The US is one big light bulb. Central Asia is black. We take comfort in what we are accustomed to…..and again, the dark and silent night feels uneasy.
At 5 AM I stretch out on my bed. My hotel is central to the downtown district, but still tucked away in a neighborhood. Roosters crow, surely mistaking the full moon for a coming dawn. Dogs bark everywhere. Dogs are commonly used in the third world as guard dogs, not as pets who get to sleep on beds and eat off a table, literally (ditto cats!!) Most houses are fenced, guarding precious gardens, which is substance and barter, and these dogs are essential to that garden’s protection. I often walked these neighborhood streets when we lived here, and was truly afraid of any one of those dogs getting out…..they are not friendly. Any one walking down the street – and this place does pulsate with life all throughout the day, regardless of light – will set off these dogs. One barks, they all bark…..up and down the street. I try to fit these sounds into a rhythm so I can sleep when a new sound enters. What is that? It does not fit the pattern I am trying to set in my head. A lyrical voice? Who is singing this hour of the day? I listen more closely…..my mind losing the battle with the sounds. I draw back the curtain and open the window. I am near the mosque. It is the first day’s call for prayer. While Kyrgyzstan is Muslim, it is largely secular…….a result of the Soviet Union forbidding religious practice for many decades. While there would be many mosques in most Muslim countries, Bishkek has but one. To me this is a lovely sound. While in Lebanon, I lived in the Christian sector of Beirut, which was a truly noisy city. But I could hear over the city coming from West Beirut the lyrical call for prayer before dawn, when I was often up to begin my own day. I wanted to sleep, but I welcomed this sweet sound……it would be over soon enough, and then sleep would follow.