It’s Good Luck Aint It?

All I was looking to do was head into Bishkek, get my foot looked at, and maybe grab a tasty meal somewhere along the way. Let me give a little background before I launch in: I had managed to wear out[1] the running shoes that I had brought with me to Kyrgyzstan, and had delayed in buying a replacement pair. This had lead to a hole forming on the bottom of my left shoe and possibly a stress fracture. Stubbornly I had delayed in calling the med staff, but ultimately when the soreness didn’t go away after a week and a half, in a moment of sanity I caved. The trip being unplanned meant that I packed a bag for an indeterminate amount of time, let work/family know that I was going to be out of town, and headed to the Toktogul taxi stand.

Said taxi stand is about a five-minute walk from my house, and isn’t so much a traditional taxi stand as it is a free parking lot. Guys who have a free day or space in their cars will offer to take you any which where if you’ve got the money. I ended up setting up a deal with a taxi driver at 8:00 AM, and then spent the next two hours waiting for his Step Wagon minivan to fill up. This was after we had made a quick detour to pick up a couple of recently butchered sheep. Finally, at around 10 O’ clock the Wagon filled up and we hit the road.

A couple of things to keep in mind when riding in a Kyrgyz taxi: show up as early as possible, count on leaving later than you’d planned, guard all food and/or drink carefully, in case of emergency identify the eldest passenger, bring hand sanitizer, and expect the unexpected. I’ve already covered numbers one and two, so lets skip straight to three shall we. Kyrgyzstan has a culture of communal sharing, which means that there is a built in expectation that all food or drink left unattended is up for grabs. Next up is the “identifying the most senior passenger” ploy. This one is hopefully unnecessary, but in an emergency it’s always good to know who has the best chance to diffuse any given situation. What with the Kyrgyz being a people who place a huge amount of emphasis on the age-respect corollary. Hand sanitizer is also highly recommended, as indoor plumbing isn’t really a thing on long road trips. Keep all of these tips in mind. You never know what might happen.

It was early December, so while Toktogul remained snow free the mountains were already blanketed. Snow started to show up on the sides of the road at about half an hour in, and at an hour we hit ice. When I say that the taxi “hit ice” I’m not talking about some little patch of ice that the snowplows missed. I’m talking about ice stretching for as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t surprising considering that Kyrgyz mountain passes have never seen nor heard of a snowplow. So there we were just gliding along, without seatbelts I might add, in our enclosed sled when I decided to just put my headphones in and listen to music. I had no control over the vehicle itself, so why not block it all out with music. I rode out the rest of the trip listening to the sweet sounds of Third Eye Blind, Blackberry Smoke, and Tom Petty. After three hours of music filled seclusion we arrived safely into Bishek somewhere around 2:00 PM.

I spent about five minutes stretching the kinks out followed by a 20 minute walk to the office. The chill from the morning had burned off. In its place was a sunny late autumn day. I grabbed a couple of bananas from a street vendor, avoided getting run over, and managed to make it to the office in one piece. After only seven hours I was finally getting to where I needed to go. The medical staff have their waiting rooms located at the rear of the office. Meaning that in order to get to a scheduled appointment with the Peace Corps doctors a volunteer must walk from one end of the office to the other. In between point A and point B are all the other offices that Peace Corps sets up to keep us volunteers happy, paid, and safe. While I was walking back to see the doctors I ran into a couple of people, and talked to them about how I was doing. Once I got to the medical office I had to wait for a few minutes, so I went back out and caught up with a few more office managers and volunteers. There would have been nothing to make this remarkable or memorable except that I had bird shit in my hair.

The shit in question must have happened on my lovely walk over to the office. The problem, and perhaps blessing in disguise, was that the excrement was brown, so it blended in perfectly with my hair. Once Doctor Morat was ready to see me I walked back and popped myself up onto the examination table. The next thing I know Dr. Morat’s pointing me towards the mirror, and handing me a wet paper towel. I did the best I could to get the dried glob out of my hair, but it was pretty well stuck on at that point. Nothing I could do without a shower.

A couple hours later, with a pair of x-rays that came back negative for a stress fracture, I left the office and took the 30-minute walk over to the Peace Corps hotel. The Peace Corps does not actually have its own hotel, but they always put up volunteers who have to come in for official business at the same hotel. There is no way I can afford a hotel room on a volunteer stipend, so all things considered I was more than happy to have a sore (though unbroken) left foot. The day hadn’t been a total loss. I had made sure my foot wasn’t about to fall off, seen some friends, and was going to be able a long hot shower. Sure a bird had shat on my head but things were looking decidedly up. The miracles of water pressure and a water heater were gonna wash away anything and everything that didn’t belong.


And so time passes…


12 hours later I hopped into the first taxi that said that magical word “Toktogul,” and four hours after that we were on our way back home. We got back in the typical four to four and a half hour range, nothing to write home about there, and I got back to work. The rest of the week was just the same old same old. I taught classes in the morning, did clubs[2] in the afternoon, and ran in the evening. I didn’t bathe again until Sunday what with It being December and cold as [expletive deleted]. Now this may seem gross to those of you who have indoor plumbing and hot water heaters, but trust me on this. If you were me you wouldn’t drag your ass to the ice crystaled bathhouse until you absolutely had to either. I mean I smell bad by the end of the week but it’s not worth losing my [excerpted] over.

So five days after I get back from Bishkek Sunday finally comes around. Apa[3] boils up a big bucket of water for me and tells me to hurry up, so I don’t end up dying of hypothermia. By this point the bathhouse has ice hanging from the ceiling, so I’m not exactly looking to stick around and relax. It’s more of a scrub scrub rinse rinse shake shake sort of arrangement. I did pause for a couple extra seconds when I dug out what I’m pretty sure was leftover bird excrement from the roots of my hair. I’m still not sure how I missed it the first time around, but I do think it puts me in the running for Peace Corps Volunteer of the year (hygiene category of course).

What a week.


[1] Phrasal verb

[2] English and Strong Women were these semester’s clubs. I think we’re starting a movie club in January.

[3] Kyrgyz for mother.


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