Friday, May 28, 2004

Conversations: Kyrgyzstan, May 2004


Location: A military checkpoint not far from the south-eastern mountain village Ak Shyrak.
Participants: Army guy (six-foot-five, crew cut, high cheekbones), Me (five-nine, high cheekbones, issues with altitude)

Army guy: Permit, please.
Me: Here.
Looks fine... Oh, wait a second. Where is Ivan's signature?
Who is Ivan?
Ivan is permit man.
I don't know about Ivan. We went to the ministry of internal affairs in Bishkek, we filled in the paperwork, we paid the money, we waited three days. This is the permit we were issued.
Ah, Ivan is not in Bishkek. Ivan is in Karakul. Bishkek permit is no good.
Karakul is four hours away. Bishkek is the capital. We got this permit from the government. The Minister of Internal Affairs issued this permit personally. This is his signature.
Ivan did not see permit?
Not if Ivan doesn't live in Bishkek, no.
Then permit no good. Goodbye.
What do you mean, goodbye? We're on top of a mountain that's 4000m high. It took us four hours to get here by jeep. It's seven in the evening. It will be dark by eight. How can you just say 'goodbye'?
I'm sorry.
Can you phone Ivan?
No, no, today is Thursday. Ivan is fishing.
When will Ivan finish fishing?
Friday.
Can you let us pass and phone Ivan on Friday?
Unfortunately, no. On Friday Ivan is on holiday.
On holiday?
Yes, Ivan has big boat. Lovely boat. Ivan is on holiday for one week.
Let me get things straight. We're on top of a mountain pass. It's cold. It's getting dark. I think I hear snow leopards. We have documents issued in this country's capital by a government minister, in person, and you're saying there's no way we can pass this checkpoint without the signature of somebody called Ivan. Oh, and Ivan's gone fishing so we can't contact him for a week.
I'm sorry.


[short silence]

(brightening) Have you ever seen wolf?
What? No. At least, not when there wasn't a steel cage between us.
Would you like to see wolf?
To be honest, I kind of liked the cage arrangement.
One moment.

[a girl in camouflage gear walks out from the checkpoint barracks. In her arms is a puppy, all eyes and ears and brown and black fur. She hands it to me. Its teeth look kind of large.]

Is wolf.
Nice wolf.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

profile pic