06 January 2008

Holiday fragments from Surrealistan

  • Watching soldiers dance hand in hand around the New Year’s tree in Bishkek’s main square to the sound of “Jingle Bells” over the public address system. Da, Jingle Bells.
  • Dancing around the same tree with six students from Turkmenistan singing Russian carols at two o’clock New Year’s morning. No shit. There’s even photographic evidence.
  • Trying to figure out who the person in the rat suit looked like. This is the Chinese year of rat and Kyrgyzstan borders western China. It was Goofy, the Disney dog! Rats’ ears don’t hang down; look no further than Mickey. I rest my case.
  • Watching the food disappear from the tables at the faculty and staff parties at American University. Some people pile their plates as high as gravity allows and then split. Immediately. At the Christmas party, there were women stuffing oranges into their handbags because they kept rolling off their mounded plates. The result of a legacy of scarcity, no doubt, but what a trip to behold.
  • Entertainment at these university parties often consists of wannabe songbirds, male and female, backed by canned soundtracks, which, my friends, is karaoke by any other name. Karaoke! At the New Year’s party I stopped in long enough to hear the dean of students crooning some Russian standard. He has been known to twirl comely lass or two on stage, rakish rascal that he is!
  • Obtaining clarity about two personal relationships. In the first, the truth was unpleasant, sad even, but not surprising, not in the least. In the second, I was used, plain and simple, but I knew and accepted the risks beforehand, so I can’t claim surprise there either. I will continue to give someone the benefit of a doubt until I am proved wrong. I do that for my sanity, not for the benefit of anyone else.
  • Gratitude for not having a Christmas song to permeate my consciousness until 13 December, which has to be a PR.
  • Even more gratitude for Oksana and Tanya, two university students from Turkmenistan who took pity on an old man during the holidays and made them memorable with their kindness. They are my sisters, officially “da goils,” from now on. Thank you.
  • Cotton candy for sale in the dead of winter. Now if that just doesn’t beat all.

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