Before and After
This is from mid December on the morning of our first major snowfall. This picture was taken as I was walking to school to give the first class of the day, so it’s around eight in the morning. The sound was muffled and everyone was bundled up in their big winter coats. Just off to the left of this picture is a set of stairs that goes down to a tunnel, which to my school. The steps were very slick on this day.
I took the second photo at the stadium where I run. One of the coolest things about Toktogul is that it’s so close to the mountains (without actually being in the mountains) that you get to see all the storms coming from a long way off. As I was running around the track that day I remember thinking, “that looks awesome, but I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow.” Looking at the first picture you can see that my hopes were dashed.
Toktogul is really the perfect place for me. It’s a relatively large town by Kyrgyz standards, however due to its being relatively isolated the community is remarkably tight knit. Nearly every person I’ve ever come across has been open, friendly, and quick to help. If there was a train running through the middle of town I would swear that Toktogul was Southern Virginia. It’s not impossible to imagine the place becoming a tourist destination, in 20 years time, once the infrastructure is built up. For now I’ll settle for calling Toktogul the spiritual twin of Emory, VA. The Tokes has any number of things happening week-to-week but it’s all self contained. No rush, no fuss seems to be the unofficial motto of the place, and yet three cafés and two large stores have opened since I came to Toktogul eight months ago. Times they may be a changin’, but I think it’s going to be awhile before the tourists start rolling in.
In the meantime Toktogul has what seems to have come to signify true permanence in the modern world. Toktogul has a post office, and not just any post office. No. A post office that operates from the front as well as the rear though I have yet to figure out exactly what it is they use the front part for. At the very least they already have room to expand into! The rear of the post office, meanwhile, is used for the collection and distribution of parcels. I am sure that at some point the two sides will meet.
In addition to the post office Toktogul also has a nicely compact bazaar. Within the rows of tables, stalls, and converted container buildings you can buy pretty much anything you need, though not everything you may want. There is a clothing section, a produce section, and a prepackaged goods section, which could also be called “the place where all volunteers go to get a taste of home.” To be fair the stalls in this section also carry dietary staples, such as beans and rice, but if you’re looking for an American chocolate bar than it’s the place to be. Scattered throughout the entire thing are various cafés that serve everything from a tasty carrot salad to a fried up mashed potato turnover that in Kyrgyz is called a Samsa.
If it’s an American style meal you’re looking for then you will need to travel the four hours it takes to get to the capital city Bishkek. The culinary menu of Toktogul is strictly Kyrgyz, with various Russian, Uzbek, and Dungan influences thrown in for good measure. I can name you half dozen cafés in town but I couldn’t tell you their names. What I can tell is the best dish at each café. The plov café serves up a great rice dish with a good amount of vegetables and quality cut of meat. The Bozo Logmon café is the place to go if you want fried noodles lathered up in spices. The Sashalick place, meanwhile, is where you go if your looking for a no frills meal filled with meat on a skewer. The ice-cream place should be self-explanatory. There are other dishes on the menus, but the cafés are named after the volunteer approved dish.
The fact that there are few enough cafés as to make it feasible to name them by best dish is just another way of showing the Tokes as the small town that it is. The town is defined, at least to me, by its post office and bazaar, because these are two places that set Toktogul apart from the surrounding villages. The post office is almost unreasonably outsized and the bazaar exists. It’s a place for lots of potential for growth. More importantly it is just a flat out nice place.
 The closest village of any real size and note is nearly two hours away.
 This is a good thing.
 I’ve got to give partial credit for this idea to my site mate Ethan.
 I’m being vague and imprecise on purpose.
 In the U.S. we’d call it a shish kabob.
 There are also government buildings, but I’ll talk about those a different time.