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Bishkek, I Can’t Get You Out of My Head


manas airport arrival bishkekMy arrival into Bishkek caused my blood pressure to rise. It was 3 am, freezing cold, I hadn’t slept a wink on the flight from Istanbul, and still my body was overly aware of the moment we touched down at Manas Airport. It was so cold the air was icy, making it look foggy through my airplane window.

I’m here for the next four weeks.

And it’s freezing.

I acted cool underneath my crawling skin and my screaming, stammering brain. The truth was, as I passed my passport across the immigration booth window, I was trembling. I love Bishkek. I love Bishkek more than any other city in the world that I’ve traveled to, but I was scared.

Since I was planning to stay at the school in their dormitory, I paid for their airport pickup service. After claiming my bag, I made my way to the exit where a large group of people stood, surprisingly, at 3:45 in the morning. A cute, older Kyrgyz woman, Bakyt, was there holding a sign with my name on it. I smiled with faked over-enthusiasm as she and a 19 year old Kyrgyz boy guy welcomed me to their country.

We stepped outside, past the hopeful taxi drivers vying for our business, and into the cold, once again. But unlike in Turkey, this was real cold. There was frost on the ground and some snow on the trees; we sat in the car until it was warm enough to drive. I noticed the smell… the smell of Bishkek. The one you get used to over time; the one that is like an extremely faint mix of meat and sewer in the back of what would otherwise be refreshing air.

london school in bishkekIt was 4 am. Dark. Still, the drive felt like nothing had changed from 3 years ago. I remember this. My body relaxed a bit. We arrived at the school, and as the car’s headlights flashed across the front of the building, I noticed the bright colors of the school, and a much taller, fresher exterior.

Good for them. They deserve the good business.

It wasn’t until I woke up in the morning that I felt that nervous itch again. Oh crap, I’m in Bishkek. I was scared, and I didn’t know why at the time, but one week later, now I know.

Bishkek is a city that holds a special place in my heart. I don’t have as close of a connection with it as others I know, but there is still something about my time here from before that never left me… that never took away the intrigue and the want to come back. I hadn’t finished my time, yet I spent enough time here that it felt comfortable… sort of like home even.

And now… I was back and almost afraid to hit the streets and come face to face with the reality that Bishkek was not the same, and that I no longer knew how to handle myself here.

For a place I felt so close with before, I had sort of lost that connection, and worse than that, it just grew up without me.

room at the london schoolThe school, for example, has so many students now, so many teachers and just feels completely new. It is a far cry from the little place where I struggled with my Russian in the cafeteria, proceeding to sit by myself until a few days later Ryan introduced himself… and a few days later, Rory and Chris. It was a short while after that Erica arrived, and we all became great friends, living together and learning about this amazing country together.

Bishkek, I can’t get you out of my head.

But it’s not you; it’s the you from 3 years ago that I can’t forget. And it is the you from 3 years ago I was subconsciously expecting and hoping to once again meet.

After I spoke with the office about my classes and payment, I hopped across to my once beloved Vefa Center to get money out of the ATM and pick up a SIM card and some food and drink. Hello new shops. Hello Apple store and expensive shoe sales. Hello people who dress much nicer, and hello higher prices. It’s the little things attracting my attention.

Bishkek, you’ve changed.

You’ve changed, but it appears for the better.

bebe burgerErica and I spent the entire afternoon talking about how different Bishkek felt to us as we shopped around for a coat for me (yes, it was that cold) and hit up real coffee. It seems silly, but to be honest, I was a little sad… a little out of place… and a little frustrated. All of these new students, and all of these new expats, all enjoying and living it up in our secret and adorable little Bishkek — a place that no longer feels like mine.

* * *

Have you ever had an experience like this coming back to a place you felt like you once knew well?


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13 Responses to Bishkek, I Can’t Get You Out of My Head

  1. Lauren November 8, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    The one thing missing from this post is how you’ve changed over the last three years — what is it in you that maybe has evolved or matured and is now shaping your perception and experience of Bishkek? Would like to hear your thoughts…

    • Brooke November 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

      Ha, uhm… much too introspective me thinks 🙂 Perhaps that will be another post later on.

  2. Petra November 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Well, I had the same feeling when returning to Scotland this year. I absolutely loved it the first time and… I decided to return, live, study, and work there… Luckily, the breathtaking scenery and the warm people were as I’d remembered them. 🙂 But, my plans changed (I’m back to native Romania) and now I have that secret wish to go back to Scotland (as you had for Bishkek). 🙂 Your trip to Kyrgyzstan sounds really great — hope to get there, too, someday!

    • Brooke November 17, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

      Hope you make it here – it is a really unique place – an oasis in the middle of nowhere 😉

  3. Nam Huynh November 8, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    I’m guessing it’s also no longer $4 an hour. I’m actually keen on enrolling in this school in the future after reading your previous article which I found through google about a week ago – “Is the London School in Bishkek a real place?”.

    • Brooke November 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

      It’s still pretty darn cheap. 80 hours of lessons, text books, accommodation for 4 weeks at the school and airport transfer came to $515.

  4. Audrey November 9, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    I’m one to revisit places, and I’m always surprised by how much/how little a place has changed since my last visit. I think a big part of it is the people you knew there, and if those people are no longer around, it can feel very different.

    I hope the changes grow on you, and that you have a wonderful time in Bishkek! 😀

    • Brooke November 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

      Oh yes, this place is still awesome 🙂

  5. laryssa November 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    I understand the growing pains on a smaller scale – I felt much the same way the first time I went home after being away at college.

    But then I think, why was I sad it’s gone on without me? I wouldn’t have been happy staying there, that’s why I left. But I guess there’s always something disconcerting about the inability to revisit something you remember so vividly and fondly. About the secret of a hidden gem getting out…

    I hope you enjoy your time there, Brooke! It’s so cool that you’ve gone back.

    • Brooke November 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

      No, it’s good – just different… just had to get used to it, but now it feels normal 🙂


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