By Spencer Kim, Videographer
Today Kiri and I took a marshrutka (a common mode of public transportation here in Kyrgyzstan, something in between a taxi and a bus) on our own, for the first time.
This is significant, because, it is both of our first times here in Kyrgyzstan—meaning both of us know very, very little language. And, aside from the immediate surroundings of our house, we have absolutely no idea where we are in the city.
For the past two days, we have been travelling comfortably, following the lead of seasoned Kyrgyz-residents, Eugenia and Esther. But today, we had to travel from a Sierra Coffee Shop to our house. I say “a Sierra Coffee Shop,” because I don’t know what area of the city we were in, or what street, or anything really, except that we were at that coffee shop.
We had on a post-it the names of the cross streets that we wanted to reach, which we, obviously, butchered the pronunciation of—sounded something like Akkoombai and Sovietskaya. If we could get dropped off near these streets, we were told we would be able to find our way home.
The thing about marshrutka here in Kyrgyzstan is that there are no designated stops. You can hail it down anywhere and get off anywhere, as long as it’s along the route for the given marshrutka. Kiri and I knew one marshrutka that we rode a couple times before... but, that didn’t really help because we weren’t anywhere near that route.
Mission: Spencer & Kiri, get home!
From the coffee shop, we crossed the street. We knew we had to get on the marshrutka on the other side of the street. Critical thinking: A+! Then, we walked over to an area where people were congregated and waiting to get on a marshrutka. Good! We asked a student for directions: “Salaam. Moshna. Do you speak English?” “*Response in Kyrgyz or Russian?**” “Ok, umm, is marshrutka .. here?” “No. I don’t know.” “Hmm..okay. Which number.. to go this street?” Kyrgyz language: Fail.
It was rough. I couldn’t remember any helpful terms. Everything kept coming to me in Turkish. But, in the end, with the help of nearby locals, we boarded a marshrutka heading towards the street of our house.
Note to future marshrutka travelers: You have to keep looking out the window to see where you are so you can tell the driver to stop when you need to get off. Along the way, we saw familiar sights like the “Burger King” that’s not really Burger King, the Ramen café, the Turkish park, the corner building that’s painted like a carrot—so, we had peace of mind, because we were going in the right direction.
But, that peace started to fade away when the marshrutka didn’t turn left at the corner carrot building and kept going straight and the sights started to become more and more unfamiliar. Kiri and I looked at one another and laughed uneasily—unsure of how to react to this sudden turn of event, but we kept our calm, telling ourselves the marshrutka would eventually make another turn.
Usually, on our way home, you can see the mountains in the distance. They’re a lot closer and taller than any mountains back at home, so it’s actually a very new and really beautiful sight.
We sat in the marshrutka until we could see the bottom of the mountains that were always off in the distance. Starting to feel a little antsy, I asked a man sitting nearby. He made hand gestures that seemed to say that the stop is coming up. So, we held onto the hope that this marshrutka was just taking a longer route around. But, when we were the only two sitting in the marshrutka and it kept going away from where we needed to, we asked the driver, “Baike(sir)… Akkoombai and Sovietskaya?” Upon which, he chuckled and pulled his vehicle to the left lane and made a U-turn.
He pulled into what looked like the last stop for marshrutkas and told us to board another marshrutka, heading back to where we had come from. He told the driver where we needed to go. We rode it back and the driver kindly told us when we were at the Akkoombai stop. Rakmat (Thank you)!
From there, we walked in what we reasoned to be the right direction...for quite some time. When things started to look unfamiliar, we decided to turn to Google Maps. Thank you, Google, for pointing us in the right direction. Along the way, we picked up our first самсы (samsu: a triangular bread with fillings, the one we got had chicken and cheese). It was cold so probably not as good as it could be.
When we saw familiar surroundings, we knew where we were. And from there, Kiri and I walked home like pros.
Next mission: From home, to the city, and back!
Kettik (Let’s go)!