Country Music in Kyrgyz Places

It would not be a complete exaggeration to say that I love country music.  I don’t know if there is some primal need satisfied by steel guitars or what, but I swear by it.  And while, at the same time, I can appreciate that most country isn’t exactly challenging the boundaries of music and art or raising a lot of existential questions beyond “should I go fishing or not today,” it still manages to pick me up like nothing else.  At the end of a crappy day I can sink into bed, throw on some headphones with the volume turned up to I’ll-be-deaf-by-fifty, and just live in it for a while.

It’s one thing to be holed up in the dark with some George Strait or Tim McGraw, it’s another, actually completely of ridiculous thing, to be listening to it while going about my life in Kyrgyzstan – a place pretty far removed from the otherwise universal themes of beer drinking, pick-up driving, and blue jean admiring.  It is a ridiculous combination for sure, but it’s awesome all the same, and I got to enjoy a whole day today of marshrutka-ing across the Kyrgyz countryside to the sounds of Country’s Top Hits from Today and Yesterday:

LeAnne, Alyssa, and I are getting ourselves situated in the back row of the van as our driver navigates the traffic trying to get out of Bishkek.  I left my headphones at Kristen’s apartment last weekend so I trade LeAnne my jacket to ball up and use as a pillow for hers.  They’re way nicer than the knock off Apple ones I got at Bishkek’s enormous electronics mall, Zoom, anyway.

…Now Honey I know you love getting dressed up, and you know I love showing you off, but watching your baby blue eyes dancing in the candle light glow, all I can think about…

After a half hour or so we’re cruising along at the standard, but still uncomfortable, Kyrgyz taxi driver speed and since everyone else is slumped over asleep, I have some great views of the little towns, fields, and distant mountains.

…And they asked me if I would do a little number, and I sang with all my might.  She said “Tell me are you a Christian, child?” And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight!”…

We stop at the base of the pass for a bathroom break and to pay the toll.

…She was killin’ me in that mini skirt, skippin’ rocks on the river by the railroad tracks.  She had a suntan line and red lipstick…

As always, the mountains are soaring up on either side, snowcapped, with fog swirling around their peaks.  I grab the head rest in front of me to try to stay centered and not tip over on the switchbacks.

…And I wouldn’t trade ol’ Leroy or my Chevrolet for your Escalade or your freak parade.  I’m the only John Wayne…

Through the tunnel and out onto the Otmok alpine flats we dodge a herd of sheep and I make eye contact with one of the herders on horseback.  He’s got white headphones dangling out of his ears too.  I wonder if he knows who Billy Currington is.

…We were having us some beers and swapping I-don’t-cares.  Talking politics, blonde and red-head chicks, old dogs and new tricks, and habits we ain’t kicked…

After buying some snacks at a roadside café and pretending to understand Russian, we start descending into the Talas Valley.  The River is flowing next to us and we’re  passing some of the other Volunteers’ villages: Ak Korgon, Chat Bazar, Manas, Cholpon Ata.

…And I miss my Tennessee home, and I been away way too long.  I can’t see this world unless I go outside my southern comfort…

We switch marshrutkas in Talas City, I have an in-depth conversation about Halloween costumes with a friend via WhatsApp, and I’m on the home stretch.

…Supper’s on the stove and beer’s in the fridge; red sun sinkin’ out low on the ridge.  Game’s on the tube and Daddy smokes cigarettes…

We cross into Kara Buura Rayon and all the sites I’ve gotten familiar with the last few months start whipping by in the already fading light.  I say good-bye to Max and Alyssa who still have a ways to go and hop out at good ol’ Kara Suu.  I start the familiar half mile walk back to the house and am stopped by a bunch of tiny hands wanting a shake along the way.

…I feel like Jesse James still tryin’ to make a name.  Knowing nothing’s gonna change what I am.  I was a young troubadour when I wrote in on a song.  I’ll be an old…

I meet Grandma on the bench out front by the street, and finally – finally – get in the house to dump my bag in my room.  I’m so tired I pass out without any music at all.  That’s probably for the best though; dinner’s in an hour.

And, that was my day.  If you made it this far you should listen to the Kyrgyzstan Roadtrip Country Music Playlist:

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About Cole Bedford