A lot of the communities here are named after the natural features around them that, when translated from Kyrgyz, sound like places back home: Kara Suu is Black Creek, Tash Bulak is Rock Springs (actually the same name as a community in Wyoming), Uch Terek is Three Poplars, Ak Kol is White Lake.
Last week I travelled to Naryn, home to some of the most remote and sparsely populated regions of Kyrgyzstan, to discuss the feasibility of building a new bathroom building at the school in the community of Kyzyl Dobo – Red Butte.
I liked the sound of that. Having come from the land of Mud Butte, Thunder Butte, and Bear Butte; Red Butte sounded like the kind of place worth checking out.
It took me about three hours by mashrutka to travel from Bishkek to Kochkor where I was met by Emil. Emil is the overseer of the irrigation infrastructure for Kyzyl Dobo and the neighboring village as well as the husband of Dinara, one of the local school’s English teachers. Emil and I left Kochkor and travelled down gravel roads in his white, small (actually fairly common style) car that’s something like a Gremlin modified for off-roading.
On the way I tried to take in the landscape around me.
The road cut right down the middle of a relatively narrow valley with stubbly, tan grass covering the whole of its floor. Not a lot can grow at that elevation so there was only an occasional belt of trees sheltering the equally occasional mud and straw building to break the view across the valley. Horses and sheep were scattered throughout with heads down, nibbling on whatever bits of grass seemed worth the effort. The mountains were steep and abruptly jutted up in every direction. They looked like wet sheets that had been pulled out of the wash and left to dry in wrinkled heaps on the floor. Every once in a while we would cross a small, half-frozen creek.
After an hour the road skirted around a ridge projecting out into the valley and this burgundy pyramid of rock slowly creeped into view. The Red Butte wasn’t of any particular note because of its size, but being surrounded by so much tan and grey, it was oddly out of place.
Scattered around it was the community of Kyzyl Dobo.
We drove into the community passing an exodus of students heading home from school. As we pulled up to the school I was impressed by how big the three-storied building was for such a small community. Emil pointed me in the right direction. I checked to make sure I had everything I needed and then mentally gathered myself for the meeting with school officials where I was supposed to have something constructive to say about this bathroom building.