A Travellerspoint blog

The Pictures

I've been back on US soil for three days now, have taken more than a few naps in that time, and am finally feeling human again. We took full advantage of our stop in Amsterdam on the way home and packed as many museums, walks, canal rides, and the like into 2 days as we could, but we were all ready to get home.

In all, the trip to Kyrgyzstan was an eye opener and very rewarding. The country has both many gifts and weaknesses. It is a third world place that could easily move up in development if it weren't for the corruption present in the government and the money that lines pockets instead of helps people. The place itself is a beautiful landscape, and here's just a few pictures to display that. The real strength of the country, I felt, was the the graciousness and generosity of the poor people in the country. Those that had the least seemed most willing to open their homes, befriend you, and share their culture with you than those who lived comfortably.

Check out the photo gallery for some pictures taken while we were there, and thanks for keeping us all in your thoughts while we were gone!

Posted by jenessalj 14:55 Comments (0)

Issyk-Kul

Beach Bumming in Cho-Po-Na-Ta

I'm writing back in Bishkek after a great two days away from the smog and horns and burning trash that seem to make up daily life in the city. Nine of us decided to spend a few days at Lake Issyk-Kul, the 400 km wide, 700 meter deep salt water haven that is about 3 hours by bumpy bus ride from the city. Tourist season hasn't yet begun, so the small village we stayed in was quiet, and it was entertaining to watch the hustle of a town preparing for the tourists to arrive in a few weeks. We spent the days on the beach, staring into the crystal blue lake, thankful for a few days with absolutely nothing we had to do. As tourist season hadn't started yet, and the village was small, it took about a half an hour before the entire town knew about the big group of Americans staying at the lake. Everyone we passed would say, "Good Morning, hello Americanski...." (the sum total of their English). We would greet them back, and then they would giggle for about ten minutes as we walked by. It's great being notorious.....

The road to Issyk-Kul follows a river that divides Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan. At one point the river crosses under the road, so for about 100 meters, I was in Kazakstan (very nice). The majority of the landscape is farm and pasture country, and at this time of the year is both beautiful and cultural. Individuals are in the fields hand farming the land, shepards watch their flocks of sheep with weathered faces, children fish along the river with tree branches for poles, and scattered all along the road are yurts with food for weary travelers.

Our time in Kyrgyzstan is almost over, tomorrow night we fly out to Amsterdam for a three day layover. It will be a culture shock to pay more than $2 for dinner, but the majority of us are ready to see the next stop.

Posted by jenessalj 20:43 Comments (0)

Tall Mountains, Slick Trails

The last few days have been spent back in Bishkek hoping from children's center to children's center, but now the official week of work is over and a week of travel time is begun.

When we got back from Karakol we were toured around again to different centers in the city, learning about different aspects of the healthcare system, a definite switch from the work we had been doing nonstop in Karakol. The hardest place to visit was the orphanage outside of the city that houses 250 children with varying forms of developmental disability. It was an institutional, understaffed, underbudgeted facility, and it was there that we saw the kids who were really involved and couldn't move themselves. They had built massive cribs outside so the kids wouldn't have to spend all of their times indoors, but it was very sad to see the kids lined up side by side unable to do anything else.

Yesterday we spent time teaching exercise programs to a group of kids with relatively minor developmental delays. It was pretty entertaining, especially since none of them spoke english and we had 1 translator. I was supposed to go for a little cardio walk with my buddy, but he decided running was a better option, so basically I chased him around the center yard for a while.

Today...a trip to the Kyrgy national park Alla-Archa and the hardest hike I've ever gone on. The park is a lot like glacier, only the mountains are about 15,000 feet tall. We climbed almost up to a glacier...maybe to about 12,000 feet before I thought I was going to pass out and fall back down the mountain. And technically I did fall back down the mountain...but only once...and a nice sharp rock broke my fall. It wouldn't be a Jenessa hiking trip without a bruise to prove it!

Tomorrow, back to Lak Issyk-Kul for two days to see if I really can float in salt water....I'll give you a report when I get back!

Posted by jenessalj 05:20 Comments (1)

Karakol

Well, I'm back from a week on the eastern end of the country. A wonderful, exhausting, heartfelt and heartbreaking week all at the same time. As many of you have been wondering as to my wherabouts in the past week, lets just say the media access is a little harder to find in the country :).

Ten of us took a bumpy, close your eyes and hang on kind of bus ride five days ago through the countryside, around Lake Issyk-Kul (which is really more of a salt water sea, it's HUGE) to the city of Karakol (about 60,000 people with a lot of small villages within 10-15 minutes away). It was nice to get out of the city and see things other than traffic. The landscape on the ride was much like driving through northern Idaho and Montana, mountains, forests, into badlands, and back into mountains. We arrived in town and took up house in our soviet concrete apartment block...10 of us with one bathroom, and remarkably we all came back still liking each other. For the past five days we've been seeing patients (I actually did physical therapy in a yurt!).

Parents brought kids in with the hope that we could heal them, most with CP or dislocated hips as babies that turned into deformities as they started to grow, spinal cord injuries, and muscular dystrophy. Many had had surgeries that didn't work, and may or may not have been performed by actual doctors. We found that sometimes there were actually things that we could do and some easy physical therapy that we could teach the parents to do at home with their kids. It was a shoot from the hip kind of PT (go tape some cardboard to the bottom of your shoe to help with that leg length problem). Many times, the most important role we had was to educate. There was such a lack of understanding about disability and why it happened that it was no wonder parents kept hoping someone could make it all go away. I hope that what we had to offer made a difference, and the feedback we got was that it did. Mostly, we were told, we brought hope to an area in desperate need of early intervention and proper medical care, and gratefulness that we saw these people with disabilities as people, not invalids.

So let me tell you a little bit about Karakol itself. Apparently there are mountains there. Big beautiful mountains. 24,000 foot tall mountains. We don't really know, we never actually saw them. It was some combination of rainy/cloudy/dusty every day that we were there, and our interpreter kept promising we would see them tomorrow. It's tomorrow...still didn't see the big beautiful mountains, but I'll buy a postcard and pretend. We did get a chance to go hiking in said mountains for an afternoon, and left covered in ticks but happy to be outside. Kyrgyz ticks are a lot smaller than US ticks, so I tended to do a lot less jumping around and screaming when I had to pick about 30 off of me.

The bus ride back took about 9 hours, we went around the other side of the lake, and are now back in Bishkek, with a day to relax. Tomorrow, we get to tour the only prosthetics center in the country. It should be interesting, since the Minister set the trip up for us. Until next time.....

Posted by jenessalj 21:25 Comments (0)

Yep...I met the minister of social services

This may or may not be about the first down time I've had in the last two days. In fact, the last two days have been so busy I don't think that I have had time to get jet lag! Well, that might be a lie. Yesterday we met our two contacts and the two UM law school professors here right now for breakfast at the british pub, then proceeded on a bit of a tour of the city. For being a city of almost a million Bishkek doesn't seem that big, and when there is a break in the trees you can see great snow covered mountains on the horizon, the size of which I haven't seen before. But, considering the largest mountain is about 24 thousand feet, that's not surprising. During our little tour we walked around the main square, saw their "white house", and went to a soviet era museum. All of the buildings are very stoic and definitely have soviet influences, and many are crumbling.

The museum was an interesting juxtaposition because the paintings (the greatest artworks in the country) were basically hung in a large old warehouse with huge stone slabs just cut out of the concrete walls and a leaky ceiling. It's a good cultural comparison I think. There's a lot of beauty in this city, but the edges are crumbling in many ways. In the last two days we haven't seen a single man in a position of power. The comment from our contact is that the women of Kyrgyzstan work very hard, and the men drink (which may explain why their life expectancy is about 30 years less than the women). Last night I ate plov for dinner, which is basically pilaf with carrots and meat, and Naan bread, which is served with most meals, and is made by sticking the dough to the roof of a stone oven to bake.

Today was a whirlwind. We started off in the morning touring 2 different rehab facilities in the city, one was the only government supported rehab place, the other a privately run facility. They both did things such as carpentry, sewing, teaching handicrafts, and both were surrounded by big stone walls to prevent the general public from making fun of the children. It was definitely where I saw more third worldedness. In the afternoon we went to Nadya's center, our main spot, which is brand new and actually a wonderful facility for the area, her students learn, do carpentry, handicrafts, make shoes, and she hopes we will be able to help with the physical therapy side of things. Her qoute to us today was that "when our students leave this facility, they are ready to be a part of society. Unfortunately, society is not ready for them."

After that...get ready for this...we went to visit the Minister of Social Services for Kyrgyzstan. Basically we walked in and visited the equivalent of someone in the president's cabinet. It was interesting to get the government speil after seeing the shape of the facilities. They have apparently passed a lot of laws in Kyrgyzstan on rights for the disabled...but they are all on paper with no financing. They are setting up two days to visit state run orphanages when we get back from Karakol...we're pretty sure a bit of it will be staged.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Karakol, seven hours by minibus with 2 dramamin for sure, since the mountain roads will be windy and bumpy. I will be ready to leave the city traffic for a while...since two lane roads turn into four sort of not really lanes and the microbus drivers, actually, every driver, is CRAZY and horn heavy. But amazingly, there don't seem to be many accidents It's been a great experience thus far, and even though we're being constantly stared at as obvious Americans I am definitely glad I've come.

Posted by jenessalj 09:25 Comments (0)

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