Friday, September 28, 2012

Give Me My Pants Back

My friend’s parents came for a visit a few weeks ago and he took them traveling all around the southern part of the province.  As I have written several times in the past, traveling in this province always leads to some sort of adventure or other.  I have to admit my friend’s mom went through more than most and she kindly offered to write up the story and let me post it. 
Recently I had the opportunity to travel through one of this province’s smaller airports.  It is my hope that the treatment I received leaned heavily on events (a small squermish in a nearby town) that transpired shortly before my visit there, rather than my threatening appearance (I am under 5 feet tall).  We were greeted by security at the entrance of the airport parking lot with the question "Where are you from?" 

After answering that to their satisfaction, we were allowed to pass through, park and enter the airport.  We secured our boarding passes and entered the security check line (line is used loosely in this country-it usually involves people pushing, shoving, stepping in front of you, at any point in the line).  I placed my backpack, watch, shoes, etc. on the conveyor belt and proceeded to the "pat-down" area.  I stepped onto the platform where I was groped, not once, not twice, but three times.  My companions passed the pat-down and "wand" test and were on their way to the end of the line.  At this point, I failed the wand test because something in the waistband of my jeans was causing the wand to beep.  Through gestures (none of the airport employees spoke English), they wanted to know what was in the waistband.  I gesture "don't know" and am instructed to follow the employee. 

 I enter a room where the wand procedure is applied over and over with the same question and answer.  Then I am instructed to remove my pants.   Now I am wondering how long it will be before this goes viral.  There are two female employees in the room and the question now is "Where you from?"  I answer "United States", she shrugs.  I say "America", and she shrugs again,  as if to say she doesn't understand my answer.  I desperately want to be released, with my pants, so I gesture a cutting motion on the waistband.  They shake their heads.   When they see me actively looking for a pair of scissors in the room, more discussion, and I get my pants back.  Back to security where I am re-groped.  

My two companions are still at the end of the line having a discussion about the flammability of their liquids.  They also want to know where I've been.  I probably shouldn't have answered that question until we landed because that only exacerbated the frustration.  Their liquids are determined to be flammable, and confiscated.  We discussed amongst ourselves that our clothes were also flammable, but we were permitted to keep them!  We were then released to walk to the runway where another "line" is formed for another security check to get on the plane.  We finally board, are trying to de-stress, when a flight attendant appears before us, holding some of our bag of liquids, and asks "Are these yours?"  I was relieved to get some of our belongings returned to us and counted that as a win.  I really wanted to put the whole experience behind me.  The place definitely have a way of making travel exciting!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Autograph and a Picture... Sort of

My friend  recently posted the following on his blog and I thought it was best to capture the evening in his words.

The seats were low, hard, and uncomfortable.  I had long lost feeling in my buttocks.   My knees were squished into what was supposed to be leg-room.  The lights were low and the speakers were pumping out music at a level several hundred decibels too loud.  When the soprano singer in an elegant up-do and floor-length gown hit her climatic high-note, I literally plugged my ears.  She was talented; there just seemed little reason to put the volume up that high.  "Listening to music at this level is bad for your health", I thought to myself.  Before us now was a group of dancers in gaudy costumes with exaggerated smiles plastered on their faces.   Admittedly they were very good.  However, it seems little to separate one minority dance performance from another.   Though I did enjoy some of the numbers my mind was going through a list of things I could have done rather than come to this performance.

Reappearing on stage the emcee began his introduction of the next performance.   Looking at my watch I wondered just how many more performances there were before I could get out of this seat and let the feeling return to derrière.   "Next is one of our own.   Please welcome Arken!"  Arken?  Did he say Arken?  I looked at the lady next to me.   She had an equally surprised expression.   "Woah.   Arken is here?", I inquired.   "Apparently so", came the reply.   In the next instant, there he was on stage.   Now.   Most of you reading this are asking, "Who is Arken?"

When I first came to here  in 2004, Arken was one of the first artists my friends introduced me to.   He's a Uyghur singer that sings a stylistic blend of pop with flamenco guitar and a more traditional Uyghur style.   He's famous for such tunes as Where is my girl?,  Balangzi, and a cover of Why is the rose so red?.   If honest I'd have to say I haven't enjoyed what has come out in his later albums, but much of his earlier music is still well known.    Needless to say, it was exciting to see Arken live.  Joining the rest of the crowd, I belted out "Heeeey giiiiiiiir.   I love you to death!"   It was a little disappointing that he was singing to a canned backup track and not live music.   But taking it for what it was worth, I thoroughly enjoyed his 3 songs.   I would have been happy if he'd kept going, but alas, others were waiting to blow out my eardrums with their soprano wailings.

"Thank you for coming!", the emcee shouted, marking the end of the show.  Extracting myself from the contraption they called a seat, I chatted with my friend.  "Let's get a picture with Arken", one of them blurted out.   "Why not?", I said.   Heading backstage we found Arken surrounded by a group of university students.   They were fairly orderly as they pressed in to get pictures and autographs.   Intimidated by the crowd we stood off the to the side waiting for these young enthusiasts to have their fill.   Looking over, Arken noticed us and smiled.  It seemed he was making his way over to greet us.   Then.   Things got ugly.

"He's over here!" came a high-pitched shriek of an unidentified teenage girl.   Suddenly the room erupted in giggles, gasps, and shrill exclamations of Arken's name. "Arken!  Arken!  Oh God!  ARKEN!!!!!!!"   Through the door and down the stairs came a seemingly unending stream of star-struck, adolescent female,  Arken-mania.   I remember growing up, seeing videos of Elvis concerts and girls literally fainting at the sight of him.  This was by far the closest I have ever seen to that kind of behavior.  The room had been active before but it suddenly erupted into mass chaos; pushing, shoving, grabbing, and shrieking.   I enjoy Arken's music but I was definitely not THAT committed to my picture and autograph.  Seeing our annoyance, Arken intentionally pushed past of few of his withering fans and made his way over to us.

We shook hands and exchanged greetings.   Next came the fatal mistake.   My friend handed the camera to one of the shriekers.  She was literally shaking with star-struck hysteria as she snapped a picture of the 5 of us.   Turning to Arken, I thrust my homework notebook into his hand.   I had casually opened to a page with a few common get-to-know-you phrases with a large blank space on the bottom.   This is where it got awkward.  Looking down to sign Arken paused as his eyes grew wide?  "Huh?", he puzzled as he looked up at me and then at the notebook again.  Glancing down I realized his confusion.   The first sentence written across the top of the page was "Are you married?"   Well crap.   "No, no no.  Don't pay attention to that", I blurted out as I covered up my sloppy scribbles.   "Just sign here!"  By this time the teenage angst had reached deadly levels as they squealed out Arken's name and pushed their pen/paper at him.    My friend who speaks more Uyghur assured Arken that he was just signing my homework notebook and that I wasn't actually interested in his marital status.  In the struggle for autographs one especially brazen girl tried to grab my pen.  She managed to get away with the cap.  "Ha! What are you gonna do with THAT?!"  I thought to myself.   Realizing death was imminent if we didn't escape, we began pushing our way through the coterie of girlish madness.   I was both annoyed at these obnoxious females and laughing about the awkward moment.

Setting my sites on the door, I elbowed and shoved my way through the throng of teenagers.   These girls were obnoxious but at least I had a picture with Arken and could show off my autograph.  From behind I heard one of my companions shout over the crowd.  "Oh no! Jesse!!!"   Turning around I saw my wide-eyed school mate holding up her camera.  "You're not in the picture!"   "WHAT?!"   I stood there for a second, shook my head, and motioned toward the door.  It wasn't worth the hassle.   Having finally made my way out of the madness I turned and waited for my friends.   Reaching for the camera I glanced at the screen.  Sure enough, there was Arken, the three girls, my shoulder and my ear.  Unbelievable.  "Stupid teenage girl", I thought as I headed for the door.   The older lady that took us to the concert asked how it went.   When we explained both the notebook debacle and the picture fiasco she literally had to stop, doubled over in laughter, right there on the sidewalk.   I couldn't help but laugh with her.   

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Humbly Accepting

He really just came by to pick up a pair of shoes for his wife, it should have only been a two minuet trip to our house, but hours later as we all walked out he was hopefully filled with much more.

9 am Saturday morning a knock came at our door; I opened it cautiously to find a strange man standing in the hallway.  “I’ve come to pick stuff up,” he said.  I looked at him rather blankly and holding the door only slightly ajar.  “Your friend Hannah has stuff for my wife,” he tried again.  I still didn’t budge or open the door any wider. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” I said apologetically as I did a very uncultured thing and closed the door on his face. 

An hour later while I was out at the store buying milk the same guy came up to me “have you heard from Hannah yet?  I really need to get that stuff before I leave this afternoon.”

“Hannah is at school taking her final exam.  You need to talk to her first,” I said firmly.

“What’s your home phone number?”

“I don’t know” I shrugged as I marched past him.

Before I made it back home he had once again accosted me on the street, entreating me with basically the same plea to get stuff from my house.  Before leaving for school in the morning my roommate had not mentioned that a man might come by to pick something up.  I wasn’t about to just let him go through her stuff and take whatever he wanted.  He tried once or twice more that afternoon to come by and knock on our door.  After a while we just started to ignore his knocking.

In the evening my roommate Hannah returned.  I asked her if she knew who this guy was or what he was looking for.  “Oh yeah” she said almost as an afterthought “I left some stuff here for his wife… You know the women I introduced you to the other day whose baby was in the hospital.”  The sentence was barely out of her mouth when once again the now familiar knock sounded on the door.  “That’s likely him,” I said getting up from the chair and this time going to open the door wide.

“Hannah is home” I said ushering him into our living room and encouraging him to sit down.  “She just told me to expect you, sorry about the confusion earlier”.  I started to rush about and get tea on the table for our guests.  Before he had time to drink half of his first bowel of tea my roommate had returned with our ‘take-out’ food (sounds fancier than what the plastic bag filled with a big plate of chicken really is).  “Please stay for dinner, there is enough for everyone” we encouraged him.

We asked politely after his wife and how their son’s doctor’s appointment had gone.  We learned that the doctor had given them very little hope that their son would ever be able to function normally… the baby is already a year old but can’t really support his own head.  You could hear the sadness and hopelessness in this father’s voice.  He and his wife had made the more than twenty four hour journey  from their small farming village up to the big city so that their son could get some of the best medical care this province has to offer.  They had pinned all their hopes on the fact that the medical university hospital would have some treatment… and now they were heading back deflated.  They were heading back having spend a lot of the families money on tickets to get here, hotel and food for two week while they were here and of course hospital bills.  He felt like he had nothing to show for it, their baby was equally sick as when they arrived. 
We didn’t have much to offer, but tried to encourage him as best as we could.  Men in this culture don’t often sit and patiently listen to unmarried women like myself.  But his heart was so empty, so broken and he so needed to hear someone cheer him up that he sat there eating and listening for a long time.  After a while he said “please let’s all go out and get something to drink”.  We were unsure if he just wanted an excuse to leave or if he really did want us all to go with him.  Before leaving he picked up a pair of shoes from Hannah for his wife and we all headed out the door.  He kept thanking us for our encouragement and even told us that if we were ever in his small town we had to come to their house for dinner.  We exchanged numbers and promised to call if we were ever in his area.  As we walked by a convenient store he asked us all to wait just a second as he ran inside.  Five minutes later he came out proudly carrying an armful of supper sweet “Redbull” energy knock off drinks.  “This is a very good beverage” he says graciously as he handed each one of us a bottle.

As he extended it towards me I had two simultaneous reaction; the first being “Oh, I hate this stuff,” followed quickly by “This stuff is pretty expensive, a guy from a poor farming village like his doesn’t have enough money to be wasting it all on buying us drinks.”   I tried to refuse, but he pushes it back in our hand and used the traditional “It might be small, but this gift is from my heart” line.  Those words have become so common place here that sometimes they start to sound empty to me… but I could tell this man really meant it.  He had nothing to give, his family’s home was far away, they were leaving the next day, but he wanted to say thank you.  I thought about telling him to keep the energy drink and enjoy it on the bus ride home. I realized had a choice,  I could continue to refuse his offer, knowing it was more than he could really afford to give, or I could humbly accept that this man was just trying to find a way to say “thank you”.  Sometimes it is hard to be humble enough to let someone else show you love and care.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hiking in a Dress

The yurt we were staying in was located in the valley at the bottom of a beautiful mountain rang. Sleeping three nights in a row in a yurt may not be the best for me (I am too much of the 'princess and the pea' to be sleeping on cold hard uneven ground), but it was so peaceful to just get away and rest with good friends for a few days.  So many of my trips are hectic tours with visitors jumping on bus after bus trying to see all that this province has to offer in one short week.  It was my end of the summer opportunity to say goodbye to the crowded city, goodbye to the car horns blearing in my ear, goodbye to the push of people on the bus, good bye to the squishing to find a place in the nonexistent lines, and instead say hello to the peaceful valley, hello the tall snow capped mountains, the goats running on the hill side, hello to the simple life.  We had time to hike or just sit back and read a good book.

The sounds were peaceful… the baaaing of sheep as the shepherd herded his  goats through an old grave yard, the sound of waterfalls splashing down from high mountain peaks, a Kirgiz famer still using the old ways of swinging his sickles through the air by hand and cutting the long field grass, the techno sound of a loud ringing cell phone going off in the middle of nowhere( hey wait... that doesn't fit in the peaceful picture).  This same Kirgiz famer, who relies of the traditional means of harvesting the field, reached into his pocket and pulled out a fancy app phone with all the latest gadgets ( My eight year old cell phone just couldn’t compare).


I really didn’t know what to make of this guy,and he certainly didn't know what to make of me.  He was the same Kirgiz man who had greeted our gang as we got off the van with  “Look, she is a foreign women and she is wearing a skirt”.  This man lives at the foot the “the Father of Ice Mountians”, he is use to seeing adventure seeking man and women come from all over the world with all their fancy hiking gear and take on the over 7500 meter trek.  He is not use to white women who study local culture, speak and local language and have time to stand around and chat with him and his wife.  True my outfit choice wasn’t the best for hiking, but it did leave a lasting impression on them.