KYRGYZ COUNTRYSIDE: "My friend said lets go to Russia together [to work]. I called my mom to tell her, but she began to cry and asked me not to leave her," said Kenjebek, 35 and the youngest son in a family of seven children. In Kyrgyz tradition, the youngest son should return home to help out and take care of his parents. Thus Kenjebek returned home to his village after finishing his higher degree, turning down his friend. A history teacher and father of two girls, Kenjebek hopes to visit Europe some day. But his main priority in the mid-term is having a son. Kenjebek said he knows his family history back to his 10th grandfather, who had two wives. One of that grandfather's family moved to this region of Kyrgyzstan, he said.
BISHKEK: ''The rubles saved up at home lost their value. How do you buy heating coal? There was no money.'' ''We gave them (coal workers) food in exchange for coal," Azim, 33, recalled his youth in the early 1990s in Osh, Kyrgyzstan where he grew up in a very large family. He was the youngest child, born when his mother was 42. He now has a home in Bishkek, car, trading business and 3 children. His nephews help him sell Chinese-made sneakers at the largest central Asian market and Azim writes down in a small notebook how much they earn. "They have everything: jeans, sneakers, telephones," Azim said, comparing his childhood to those of his nephews.
BISHKEK: "It is rare that someone [among Dungan people] enters university. Almost all of them work in the fields," said this 52 year-old Dungan woman, who was selling fruit along a major road on the outskirts of Bishkek with about 10 other Dungan people. Dungan people are Muslims of Chinese origin living in Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics. Tents cover these Dungan and their fruit from the hot summer sun. They can rest on beds when their are no clients. "Children also help with the fruit and vegetables" during their vacations, she said. "I watered onion plants during my childhood."
BISHKEK: "She received the [Soviet] title 'Mother-Hero.' She actually gave birth to 14 children, but as two didn't live to age one, it was counted as 12," said 48 year-old Misha (his Russified name). Nine of the 12 are still alive. Misha, who has 4 children, specializes in repairing clocks & watches. He's been working in a street underpass for the past 20 years.
BISHKEK OUTSKIRTS: ''I used to work as a driver, but the traffic police took away my license," said this ethnic Russian and shepherd, who was trailing a herd of sheep along a road outside Bishkek. He said there aren't many job choices in Kyrgyzstan.
BISHKEK: "Many Chinese come [to Kyrgyzstan] to study Russian because it is cheaper and the teachers are native speakers," said Natasha, a teacher of Russian at a university in Bishkek. I asked if she would like to stay in Kyrgyzstan. She said she doesn't see a good job market for her son and would like to move to Russia, but her husband would like to stay. She said her sister lives in central Russia.
BISHKEK: There two friends from Osh were returning to university in Bishkek. They were carrying a heavy bag toward their housing block. I found their shirts ironic. One is studying law, the other architecture.
NIZHNY NOVGOROD: ''There is a widely held view that Americans' smile is fake and that they teach them to smile from childhood. What is wrong with that?'' ''In my view, it is much more pleasant to see people with smiles on their faces when out walking or taking public transport tha gloomy, gray faces," wrote Lena, a Nizhny Novgorod university student, in a long text on her Russian social media page dedicated to her trip to Texas through the 'Work and Travel' program. I asked Lena to share her thoughts about the US and she directed me to her text. "I often met Americans that confused Russia and Ukraine, some thought it was one country, others thought Russia was part of Ukraine while others didn't know the USSR even collapsed." She concluded her text with the following: "Don't judge a nation's people by their leaders."
MOSCOW: "I am learning to create websites and applications...simply for myself," said Anna, 19, when I asked what she was doing. Anna was sitting in a Moscow park focused on her computer screen while people all around were having fun. A student of business information, Anna was using Fat Free Framework to build sites.