An old fish swims by two younger fish and says, “Morning boys, how’s the water today?”
One young fish looks to the other and asks, “What the hell is water?”
I realized after talking with my mom today that I’ve written a lot about my specific experiences, but have neglected any real description of their setting. The environment that I’m in is 24/7 for me which makes it tough to remember that that’s not the case for you. Sorry about missing that so far. So first I’ll do my best to describe the physical spaces.
Kengesh straddles a major highway connecting Bishkek to the Eastern part of the country. The highway is paved, is a bit more pot-holed than you’d see in the States, but still has regular traffic – mostly familiar Japanese brands like Honda, Suzuki, etc. The town has three or four municipal streets paralleling the highway to both the North and South and maybe another four crossing it perpendicularly North/South. Very few of the municipal streets are paved. Those that aren’t are dirt with deep, wide potholes that vehicles work hard to maneuver around.
For those of you who know it, Newell, SD is a lot like Kengesh in a tilt your head and squint your eyes kind of way.
Maybe 40% of house holds have a car. Those that don’t have an extended family member somewhere nearby who does or relies on the mashrutkas which are as easy as to catch as a taxi in a big city back home.
You see a lot of sheep, goats, cows, and chickens roaming around on the streets and even the highway, especially in the evenings when people start bringing their livestock in from the fields surrounding town.
There are five or so mom and pop convenience stores called “magazines” in town that sell candy, bread, some meats, soda, sandals, socks, toiletries, alcohol, and a other similar things.
Most of the residences consist of about 2 acre lots with a maybe 1/2 acre living space cordoned off by a compound-like wall and the remaining space a garden or field. Inside the “compound space” are usually a single story main house (maybe around 1500 sq ft?), a banya (sauna/shower), an outdoor summer kitchen and dining space, a livestock pen or two, and an outhouse.
My host family’s home is pretty representative of the living situation in Kengesh.
None of the construction is prefabricated. Almost all of the buildings and walls are cinder block, brick, or poured concrete and the roofing material is tin sheets. I’ve seen one or two outbuildings around town made of mud and straw bricks, but they’re the exception, not the rule.