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.