BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – I've been spending time in Kyrgyzstan this last year, building a collaboration with master artisans around a shyrdak (felt rug) collection for my company, l'aviva home.
In Kyrgyzstan, the awe-inspiring mountains and landscapes (towering mountains, forest-lined lakes, red-rock formations like those in the US Southwest) contrast sharply with the eerily post-Soviet cities and villages. A former Soviet-republic, Kyrgyzstan has had a tangled political and social history; after the collapse of the USSR, it's been all the more tumultuous. We witnessed this first-hand during a visit in April 2010 when a bloody coup erupted and successfully ousted the then-current government, leaving us stranded in the mountains in the town of Naryn for days, waiting for things to quiet down enough in the capital for us to get a flight into neighboring Uzbekistan.
Nothing, though, speaks more loudly to the soul of the country than the warmth of its people and the richness of their deeply rooted traditions.
And to visit Osh Market in Bishkek, the capital city, is to witness the country's vitality in full force. It's a true assault to the senses, in the very best of ways. Beyond the somewhat mind-boggling array of offerings, it's the mix of cultures and ethnicities represented that strikes most strongly.
It's a testament — in microcosmic form — to the incredible diversity of the Kyrgyz nation.
On view in the market, each in a distinct section: spices and vegetables from the Dungans and the Uyrgurs (Muslims from Western China); dried fruits and nuts and breads from the ethnic Uzbeks in the southern regions of the country; salads and assorted kimchee from the Koreans; dairy and flowers from the Turks (a catch-all term for the Turkish and the Armenians); honey and meat and fish from the Russians. Endlessly fascinating.
On this most recent trip, I spent an afternoon with the ever-so-glamorous, sausage-selling Russian ladies (who I dubbed the Meat Girlz). We toasted to my visit with vodka, which they keep in steady supply via large vats under their counters.
We then toasted a succession of other things (the details of which are a little fuzzy in the retelling). It was a fitting start to the trip. And the beginning of what was sure to become an oft-repeated ritual.
Za zdorovie! ("To your health!" in Russian). Den-sooluk uchun! (The same, in Kyrgyz).
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
Restaurant in Osh Market (YouTube; check out the noodle work at 3:30)