After I had taken my seat on a flight from Bishkek to Batken, a tall Kyrgyz man sat next to me, immediatley shook my hand and introduced himself as Imam.
He told me he had been in Bishkek to see off his nephew who had to Johannesburg to study Islamic theology. Before, he had studied the same subject in Cairo for three years. I was a bit surprised that Kyrgyzstanis study Islam in South Africa. Later he told me he had lived in Vladivostok for 15 years but now come back. You can read some more of our conversation here.
I told him I was teaching German to informatics students, some of whom where then sent to Germany to get degrees. The idea, I said, was that afterwards they would come back to help develop their country, but as far as I knew none had done so. That upset him a bit. “They should come back! You have enough specialists there and we need more here! They should make contracts with them so they come back!”
Then he calmed down again. “Well I guess they earn more there. An engineer earns 20.000 Som here, 300 dollar. How much does an engineer earn in Germany?”
“A bit more,” I said. We had taken off by now and under us the green fields and water reservoirs of the chui valley passed by.
“I think everyone wants to live in the country they were born,” I said. “I’m here for two years, but afterwards I also want to return home. I guess these students also want to live in their own country.”
“You’re right! Take me for example, I lived in Vladivostok for 15 years, but now I returned home.”
“What did you do there? I worked. First as a driver. Then in construction. Then I started business. I took clothes that they make here and brought them there.”
“To sell there or to sell to Japan and Korea?”
“No, for the Russians. The Japenese and Koreans have their own clothing. They don’t take ours.”
“Are there many Russians in Vladivostok? Or Japanese and Koreans?”
“Many Russians. Actually many Ukrainians as well. The Russians took that land and they drove away all the Chinese and Koreans. They they settled many people there and the first settlers were Ukrainians. But now they already don’t say they’re Ukrainian. If you ask them, they’ll tell you they’re Russian.”
“And are there many Kyrgyz?”
“If you see a Kyrgyz, do you recognize him or do you think he might be Chinese or Japanese?”
“No, I recognize him immediately. The clothes and the features are different and I see if someone is Kyrgyz.”
We were flying over high mountains now. The tops were white and rock grey but all the slopes were of a very fine light green, covered with the grass that the Kyrgyz fatten their sheep on over the summer.
“Isn’t Vladivostok a much larger town than Batken?”
“Of course it’s larger! There’s a million people there, like in Bishkek.”
“So why did you come back?”
“Well the climate isn’t so good. It’s close to the Pacific and it’s raining all the time, very wet. And then the fruits and vegetables aren’t good. Here apricots cost 50 Som per kilo now, there it’s 250. You can’t take them from here because it’s too far. They have Chinese fruits and they’re unhealthy. I’m also 50 years already and I decided it was enough.”