Work­ing in Kyr­gys­tan

mailife - - Contents - By PRIYA DARSINI

I landed in Bishkek, the cap­i­tal of Kyr­gyzs­tan twenty hours af­ter start­ing my jour­ney in San Fran­cisco. I had spent the week prior at Kiva Head Quar­ters learn­ing all about the or­gan­i­sa­tion and my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a Kiva Fel­low for the next four months. Kiva is a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion which al­lows peo­ple to lend money via the In­ter­net to low-in­come en­trepreneurs and stu­dents in over 80 coun­tries. Kiva’s mis­sion is to con­nect peo­ple through lend­ing to al­le­vi­ate poverty and over the last ten years, Kiva has en­abled 1.6mil­lion peo­ple to lend over $955mil­lion USD to 2.3mil­lion en­trepreneurs around the world. Upon re­ceiv­ing a phone call con­firm­ing my ac­cep­tance into the com­pet­i­tive fel­low­ship pro­gram, I had placed a tick on my bucket list with a smile. The founders of Kiva had fig­ured out a sim­ple and ef­fec­tive way to pro­vide low-in­come en­trepreneurs and stu­dents in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries with equal op­por­tu­ni­ties and as a child of a coun­try with hun­dreds of en­trepreneurs and stu­dents in need of op­por­tu­nity, I wanted to be­come part of the Kiva fam­ily and play even the small­est role avail­able to bring a Kiva field part­ner­ship back home, to Fiji. When I had writ­ten this down on my bucket list as a twenty-one year old Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land stu­dent, I never imag­ined the jour­ney would in­volve work­ing and liv­ing in a for­mer Soviet Union coun­try, whose name at first, I could not spell with­out the as­sis­tance of au­to­cor­rect. I stepped out of the air­port and amidst a sea of for­eign faces, ac­cents and ges­tures, re­alised for the first time that I had signed up to live alone in a coun­try I had never heard of be­fore, sur­rounded by peo­ple who, with fair faces and short statures looked noth­ing like me. Upon ar­riv­ing at the ho­tel I had booked for three nights un­til I found a more per­ma­nent liv­ing sit­u­a­tion, I im­me­di­ately con­nected to the wifi and found com­fort in a What­sApp group I was a part of with the rest of my fel­low’s class, who were sim­i­larly get­ting set­tled into their parts of the world. Mes­sages from my twenty-hours of dis­con­nect flooded in from Uganda, Kenya, Tan­za­nia, In­dia, East-Ti­mor, Myan­mar, Phillip­ines, Haiti, Pales­tine, Ta­jik­istan, Mex­ico and Peru. He­len Keller once wrote, “Walk­ing in the dark with a friend is bet­ter than walk­ing in the light alone” — dur­ing my four months in Kyr­gyzs­tan, the group of in­spir­ing and grounded in­di­vid­u­als in that What­sApp group were the only rea­son I did not feel alone walk­ing into the un­known, ev­ery­day. Most days, they were also the only peo­ple I had the lux­ury of speak­ing english to! I moved into a small one bed­room apart­ment on the fourth floor of an old soviet build­ing within a week of ar­rival. At $250 USD a month, I was told my pad with bro­ken lou­ver blades which let the heavy car-pol­lu­tion fumes in and a heav­ily wa­ter-dam­aged bath­room ceil­ing, was the best

money could buy. My first three weeks in Bishkek un­folded the great­est ev­ery­day chal­lenges I had ever faced in my twenty-six years of life. Street signs, restau­rant menu’s, gro­cery brands, the la­bels on my wash­ing ma­chine and even the Find­ing Dory movie poster on the road­side were all writ­ten in Rus­sian. I re­alised very quickly that I had to at least read and write the cyril­lic script, as well as, learn the ba­sics of the lan­guage if I had any hope of do­ing much more than walk­ing to work and back to my apart­ment dur­ing my fel­low­ship. It is re­mark­able what the hu­man brain can do in sur­vival mode. Six weeks in, I was flu­ently read­ing and writ­ing cyril­lic… heck, I had even learnt Mi­crosoft Ex­cel func­tions in Rus­sian and was hold­ing ba­sic con­ver­sa­tion with col­leagues in the lunch room. The most com­mon mode of pub­lic trans­port in Bishkek is the “Mashrutka” — a fleet of mini­van’s that stop at a wave any­where on the road and com­monly hold at least ten ad­di­tional pas­sen­gers than le­gal. I quickly learnt that Mashrutka’s are not built for any­one above 5’10” in height. Spend­ing many sweaty, dry, sum­mer af­ter­noons sar­dined be­tween peo­ple as we drove over the bumpy pot­holed streets of the cap­i­tal, I fi­nally de­cided I would opt for the elec­tric bus com­mute in­stead. It was on the bus one morn­ing that I ex­pe­ri­enced one of the hall­mark mo­ments of my Kyr­gyz ad­ven­tures. I had opted to stand, given it was peak com­mute time and the bus was full to the brim with chil­dren head­ing to school, adults head­ing to work and the grow­ing over-60’s pop­u­la­tion head­ing to the near­est park for a morn­ing walk. As I stood there with feet planted firmly on the ground as re­sis­tance against the chaotic ride, I was tapped on the shoul­der by an old Kyr­gyz man who, along with the rest of the pas­sen­gers, was a fa­mil­iar face on the bus ev­ery morn­ing. “Kogda Vy rodilis?”, he asked with kind wrin­kled eyes. I flicked through the rolodex of Rus­sian phrases in my mind be­fore reg­is­ter­ing that he had asked me where I was born. “Fiji, Vy znayete?”, I asked in bro­ken Rus­sian, if he had heard of my is­land home be­fore. He looked con­fused and kept re­peat­ing the words, “Fiji… Fiji”. Be­fore I knew it, the ques­tion had spread through-out the bus like wild­fire and all fifty Kyr­gyz com­muters were now in in­tense con­ver­sa­tion, try­ing to fig­ure out where on earth Fiji was. The bus driver parked up on the side of the road and joined his pas­sen­gers in the ge­o­graph­i­cal puz­zle. I tried draw­ing a map in the air, I even im­i­tated a rugby match, the waves of the ocean and a sway­ing co­conut tree — which only re­sulted in ev­ery­one burst­ing out into fits of laugh­ter be­fore sway­ing from side to side like co­conut trees them­selves. A month later, the Fiji Seven’s team won a gold medal in the Olympics. Sit­ting in my apart­ment early that morn­ing, watch­ing the medal cer­e­mony, I had never felt more home­sick. I wiped the over­flow­ing tears of joy from my eyes and made my way to the bus stop. As soon as I got onto my usual bus, ev­ery­one from the bus driver to the mid­dle aged lady in the back­seat car­ry­ing her usual plas­tic bag of veg­eta­bles erupted in cheer — “Fiji! Gold! Fiji! Olympic Gold!”, they all shouted and cheered, lay­ing heavy pats and hugs on me as I walked to my spot. That morn­ing, in a coun­try as for­eign as for­eign can be, I felt right at home. That morn­ing, I re­alised that true hu­man­ity lies in the abil­ity to find joy in cel­e­brat­ing the joy of oth­ers, no mat­ter how dif­fer­ent our dif­fer­ences are. Liv­ing and work­ing in Kyr­gyzs­tan was the best thing I ever did for my­self — out of the ini­tial lan­guage, cul­ture and lifestyle chal­lenges came an un­par­al­leled feel­ing of lone­li­ness which ul­ti­mately trans­formed into a feel­ing of pure con­nect­ed­ness. The coun­try it­self is un­touched with breath-tak­ing alpine lakes and moun­tain ranges which stretch out in the form of green hills and snow capped peaks as far as the eye can see. The Kyr­gyz peo­ple are beau­ti­ful souls who wel­comed me into their lives and homes with open hearts and soft smiles. Mar­cus Aure­lius once wrote that the pur­pose of life is fel­low­ship — out of my lit­eral Kiva fel­low­ship place­ment came a gen­uine ex­pe­ri­ence of true fel­low­ship with some of the hap­pi­est peo­ple I have ever met out­side of Fiji. Kyr­gyzs­tan well and truly be­came an ex­ten­sion of home for me.

Ala­too Square in Bishkek

Osh Bazaar where lo­cals do their shop­ping ev­ery week­end

The road to the south of Kyr­gyzs­tan

A lo­cal Kyr­gyz woman serv­ing tea

Lo­cal Kyr­gyz child

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Fiji

© PressReader. All rights reserved.