My 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.
It 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.
The 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.
Erica 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.
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Have you ever had an experience like this coming back to a place you felt like you once knew well?