Monday, November 19, 2007

Manas Airport

I rarely sleep well before an early morning flight and this morning was not an exception. I just worry too much about oversleeping. My wake-up call was for 4:30 AM. I awoke about 3:15—I did get to see an interesting news story on BBC about the Rory Peck Trust. The Trust exists to support freelance newsgatherers and their families worldwide in times of need, and to promote their welfare and safety. Often these times of need include death, kidnapping or injury of freelancers. (See for information.)

It’s an hour before departure and time to sit and sit and sit. The good news is that I’m heading home and while this has been a good trip, I am ready to get back.

Kyrgyzstan has been interesting study—it’s such a different location from past trips. The people officially speak Russian—though on the streets I could probably hear Kyrgyz if I were in the right location. The Kyrgyz people have such as Asian look that it seems so odd that they’d speak Russian. Kyrgyzstan shares a common land border to the east with China but it is surrounded by other countries that were part of the U.S.S.R.’s Central Asian Republics—The ‘Stans.

The government changed about a year ago with the Tulip Revolution—protesting citizens, frustrated with an unfair election forced the president out of power. The new guy, some people say, hasn’t really done much to advance the country except give a new segment of the population a chance to get rich. The person who told me this was quick to add that at least another segment of the population was able to get wealthy. The poor, as always, are still poor. Whether the U.S. or Kyrgyzstan, there’s little “trickle-down” wealth as Ronald Reagan once claimed of his economic policies that bolstered incomes of the wealthiest.

Freedom House proclaims the media as unfree though within the region, Kyrgyzstan has more political and social freedom than neighboring countries. I’ve heard interesting stories of other countries where the secret police actively watch the people. I’m sure there are secret police on the streets here but my little visit was nothing to draw their attention.

I just heard the clink of bottles. A Kyrgyz businessman, neatly dressed, is carrying a bag loaded with booze of some sort. Even though it’s early morning, the bar was busy with people having a morning drink of something other than coffee—perhaps to fortify their nerves. A guy just sat down next to me with a Baltica 7. (The numbers reference the strength of the beer—a number 3 that I’m bringing home is a nice lager.)

It has been interesting to look at the disparity in the country. There’s an Ikea store here as well as United Colors of Benetton. I even saw a sign for a Baskin Robbins. And, local inventions, McDs Burgers and New York Pizza (I had a couple of slices of their pizza….very good…though I would have liked some tomato sauce.) Who can afford these things? There are lots of casinos. Flower shops sell imported roses and other flowers. There’s a construction boom as well. Local talk suggests that between 500,000 and one million Kyrgyz work outside the country and send a lot of money home. This is pretty common and takes place throughout South American, Africa and Eastern Europe. So why should it be any different in Central Asia.

I'm in Moscow. The flight from Bishkek departed late but made it with time to spare. It's nice to have the WiFi access though I was unable to get into the Crown Room--even when I offered to pay. (Though I wouldn't have actually paid...not $25 for for a Coke and snacks. I'm across the hall borrowing their WiFi.

I will sleep in my own bed tonight.