“You shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers. Nor should you hitchhike yourself. If you do either one you are probably going to get shanked.”
I can’t say for sure how likely a person is to actually get stabbed while hitchhiking back home, because I’ve never done it. Here in Talas though, it is the standard mode of transport and I’ve found myself hitchhiking on almost a daily basis since I’ve gotten here. Whether you’re an old lady, a teenager, or an awkward twenty-something American, and you don’t own a car, you’re going to hitchhike.
Kara Suu is about half a mile off the highway, so when I want to go to the bazaar in Kirovka or the internet café in Talas I walk to the intersection (while all the old folks pass me by having gotten rides from basically their front doors) and then wait and see what comes my way. Anna Young, a K-22 Volunteer and my closest site mate, told me to try to look as little like a tourist as possible when flagging down cars. Taking her advice I give a little wave as nonchalantly as possible.
“Pick me up or don’t. Whatever, man. I don’t really care either way.”
If they do stop – which happens amazingly quickly, never more than five or ten cars – you’re never really sure what you’ll find when you hop in, but in my (limited, granted) experience it’s never bad.
Sometimes it will be a group of young guys who, recognizing you as an American, will try to convince you that the ride costs $100. Don’t worry though, you’ll be able to talk them down to 30 com (50 cents).
Sometimes it will be an older man travelling back to see his family in Issyk Kul after spending the week working in Talas. He will be so impressed by your Kyrgyz language skills that he will refuse payment. He’s a good guy.
And then you might even be surprised to find you flagged down an actual, for-real taxi and that’s just fine too. The driver will make sure you get where you’re going even though you don’t really know yourself.
And that’s how it works. It’s uncomfortable at first and it will always be a good idea to feel out a car before hopping in, but after being on such a short leash during the first phase of training, the ability to get anywhere quickly and efficiently makes a person feel pretty darn independent.