BISHKEK: Myrzabek, 17, was wearing a sweater that read ‘’We are different, We are equal’’ while he helped his dad sell goods in the street underpass in Bishkek. I asked him what the sweater and expression referred to. He said he is a volunteer in a organization that tries to ‘’unite people’’ of various ethnicities. He said he takes part in trainings at schools and universities, especially in the Jalal-Abad region that borders Uzbekistan. I asked why he is volunteering when he could spend his time hanging out with friends or playing sports. ‘’I was born there [Jalal-Abad]. There were terrible [ethnic] fights. It is possible that a village will be split between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. They may go to the same school, but not talk with each other,'' he said. ''We want to them to study and play together so the fighting isn’t repeated.'' Myrzabek, who helps his dad after school, wants to dtudy physics at university.''
BISHKEK: ''I am thinking of becoming a veterinarian because I love animals. I have two dogs,’’ said Nadyr, 17. He said he wants to study at university in Austria because ‘’it is cheap for Kyrgyzstan.’’ Nadyr was on his way to an additional English language class in Bishkek with his friend Aidana, 16. Nadyr said he also practices his English by watching Youtube shows. ‘’I find [vlogger] Pewdiepie really funny, but I am too shy to have my own Youtube channel,’’ he said. Aidana, who would like to become a banker and also study abroad, likes to watch the American TV serial 'Proof of Body.'
ISSYK–KUL: Norbek produces yurts from scratch with his brother and father in their courtyard near Issyk-Kul lake. His family has been producing yurts for about 90 years and he is now the fourth generation engaged in this. His family produces from five to 10 yurts a year, but they can produce one within a month if they hurry. Each piece of wood needs to be treated with steam and then bent into the right shape. Their yurts sell for at least $5,000. Norbek, already 29, isn’t married, relatively late for a Kyrgyz man. He said he expected to find someone and marry within a year. ‘’You need a month to get to know a girl well,’’ he said.
NARYN: This 78 year-old said he worked as a driver for 35 years, wheeling around government officials. After our brief conversation, he got into his car to drive a friend home.
BISHKEK SUBURBS: "Moscow is a nice city, but I don't like the way Russians treat me. They call us [central Asians] names. There are many Russians living here. We dont call them such things," said this young man. He recently returned to Kyrgyzstan from Moscow, where he worked in construction. He said he hoped to go to Costa Rica and I asked how he came up with that idea. He said his aunt married a man from there. "When there was the Soviet Union, he came her to study." The Costa Rican and his aunt studied together. They fell in love, married and now have 3 children, he said.
ISSYK–KUL: He was one of the last conscript soldiers of the USSR, serving in Moscow up to November 1991. I asked what happened and he said rather undramatically: "They said we could go home. Tajiks to Tajikistan, Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz to Kyrgyzstan. I took the train home with a group of 30 Kyrgyz." Now 44, he works part-time in construction while tending his field near the mountains. His sons said they like to play games on their phone and I asked if they also use a computer to surf Internet at home. "I don't have money for a computer. I have to feed and cloth them. Construction work isn't steady," said their father.
BISHKEK: These high school students were relaxing in the center of Bishkek on an early summer evening. They said they wanted to study medicine when they finish school.
KYRGYZ COUNTRYSIDE: ''He was the only veterinarian in the village. Now there is no one,'' said this 50 year-old woman about her husband, who passed away 1.5 years ago. She has six children and lives in a village with a population of about 850. Her two eldest daughters are married. She spoke the best Russian among the people in the village I met and I asked if she had studied or worked in Russia. The woman said she studied at a military school in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Now she cleans the village school while taking care of her children. ''What else can I do [in the village]'' she asked?
BISHKEK: These two students of the medicine faculty were practicing parkour in the center of Bishkek. They got into the street sport while in grammar school when they randomly came across a youtube video. I asked the student on the left with the headphones what music he was listening to. He said he was listening to some religious texts. When I asked about the shirts, they said they were proud of being Muslim. ''Many in Europe and other countries associate Islam with terrorism, but that is wrong,'' said Shamil, the young man on the right. Shamil wants to become a veterinarian while his friend wants to become a surgeon.
KYRGYZ COUNTRYSIDE: ''I took my child into the field with me from the age of 6 months because there was no one to leave him with. The baby would lie next to us as we worked,'' said Ramzan, 35, a father of three children. Like many Dungan people, Ramzan is a farmer. ''I wanted a higher education, but I was one of many children and our financial situation didn't allow it. I want to them [children] first a Muslim education and then a higher education. Even if they will work in the fields, if they have a higher education, they will think differently and work better in the fields.''