Despite being in a predominately Muslim country in Asia and my inability to speak either of the dominant languages, Russian or Kyrgyz, I don’t feel any more out of place in Kyrgyzstan than I have in the United States for the last decade or more. Yes, I speak the same language as most others in the United States and it is true we have many cultural similarities, but I haven’t understood about 80% of my exchanges with people on the job, on the streets, at parties, or on campus for years. Many of my fellow Americans’ view of the world, what they think is important (and unimportant), their politics, and their beliefs are incomprehensible to me.
For example there was a widely held belief just a couple of years ago that George Bush the military deserter was the patriot and that his presidential opponent, a decorated military veteran, was un-American. Today many opponents of the Bush administration look enthusiastically to the presidential aspirations of Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, or John Edwards. The Democratic Party under a wise captain can right the ship the argument goes. Now how can the party that fell over itself to do the bidding of that war criminal in White House and effectively did nothing to stop Bush and company from trashing the Constitution be seen as possessing an alternative vision? The Democrats, arm in arm with the GOP, created the very state of affairs they claim they now oppose. The kindest thing I can about beliefs like this is that it represents a stupefying failure of imagination and a sense of fatalism to bleak to even broach.
An English professor, after returning from the holidays with his family in Florida, laughed when he told me he “was happy to be home” in Kyrgyzstan. The Americans I know after six months here all tell me they enjoy being here, but when I probe a bit, I find that virtually all of them also don’t want to be in the United States. One instructor, probably in his early 30s, has been teaching in Eastern Europe, and Central Asia for the last seven years and is being heavily pressured by his family to return. Another, who has been for two years, insists he will not return. The English instructor wants to stay another year, but his wife and a daughter who still lives at home won’t hear of it. He is currently trying to finagle a year in the States followed by a second year at AUCA.
I cannot say I have fallen head over heels in love with Kyrgyzstan, but I enjoy my work, where I am given more respect than I could ever imagine at a college or university in the States, and the opportunity to experience a new culture is just too good to pass up. Baring any unforeseen problems, I intend to return next year. Westerners stick out here like sore thumbs and I can’t understand the words much less the reasoning of most of what I hear and see off campus, but, no, I don’t feel any more like an “outsider” here than I do in the United States.