February 27, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Blogs - Kyrgyzstan: Romance: Personal Web Site: Time in Kyrgyzstan: During my time in Jalalabat, my dating life had trickled even slower than the water crawling through the canal.

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Time in Kyrgyzstan: During my time in Jalalabat, my dating life had trickled even slower than the water crawling through the canal.

Time in Kyrgyzstan: During my time in Jalalabat, my dating life had trickled even slower than the water crawling through the canal.

Time in Kyrgyzstan: During my time in Jalalabat, my dating life had trickled even slower than the water crawling through the canal.

True Romance

The two of us had found a grassy patch on the bank of a canal that flows through Jalalabat. The water is a slow trickle with large patches of mud and grass marring the bottom but the lack of beauty was masked by the darkness of the late evening and the sound of the water was pleasant and inviting. She rested her head on my shoulder as we talked.

The moment was a welcome one. During my time in Jalalabat, my dating life had trickled even slower than the water crawling through the canal. With the typical Kyrgyz woman marrying in her early twenties, dating prospects within a decade of me are minimal. Even accepting a wider than average age difference, asking someone out involves navigating a minefield of those simply seeking free English lessons or the promise of wealth an American brings or a future ticket to the United States.

'I want to be a tour guide in Turkey. You just need to know languages and look pretty and you can get a good job there. I know English and Turkish and Russian and I am not ugly,' she said.

She was definitely not ugly. From the moment she had walked into our office to volunteer with one of our client organizations, I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. I tried futilely to hide it but my attraction beamed out with the subtleness of a spotlight. She felt it. She encouraged it, rising from the desk to primp and brush back her hair and tuck in her already tight top.

'Be careful,' I told her. 'There are many companies that promise good jobs in foreign countries only to take advantage of attractive women who are anxious to get out of their country.'

'I know and I am not stupid. I have some friends in Turkey. They can help me find a job.'

She had met several of them at her university where she was studying international relations. It was this and her English and her attractiveness that had convinced me to ask her out. She held the promise of more interesting conversation than many of the Kyrgyz women I have met. She would not disappoint in this regard.

I asked. She agreed. We decided ahead of time where and when to meet so I would not need to call her house. She was afraid that her parents would find out she was seeing someone, an American at that, and would not be pleased.

Our first three dates consisted of simply going on walks and talking. This precedent was set after, having asked her out to dinner for the first night, she arrived saying she had already eaten and was not hungry. No, she had not forgotten that I had asked her to dinner, she said. So dinner was cancelled and we simply went for a walk.

Our second date involved the unexpected event of having her friend as a chaperon and the one who did most of the talking. She admitted to me later that she did not talk because she was mad at me for something I did. When asked what it was, she refused to tell me. My pointing out that, if I did not know what it was, I would probably do it again made no difference. Openness is not a hallmark of relationships between men and women in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Our third date involved her saying that she had no interest in me other than to speak English but then she confessed that she wanted to kiss me. There was no attempt to hide the contradiction. It is standard for a Kyrgyz woman to play 'come here, go away' with a ferocity and directness that can make one's head spin, freely confessing one thing one moment and the exact opposite the next. In a culture where the man is expected to be the only decision-maker and the woman's opinion is secondary, this approach can be effective or at least unobtrusive. For an American who at least attempts to be concerned about what the woman he is seeing thinks, it is outright exasperating.

But here on our fourth date, I was content to put aside thoughts of the oddities and frustrations of cross-cultural dating, sit with her leaning her head on my shoulder at the edge of the canal and enjoy the moment.

A door opened across the little dirt road that ran along our side of the canal. An older man said goodbye to a friend of his. He caught sight of us and gave a cold stare that lasted until he closed the door again.

Our conversation continued. She talked more of Turkey. She asked about places I had been and lived. I told her about China and Belize and Seattle.

The door of the house opened again. The man came out, wife and daughter in tow, wearing the same glare he had closed inside of his house a half hour earlier. He approached us with a deliberate stride and demanded 'Get up! Leave!'

For whatever mixture of cultural and ethnic reasons dancing in his head, he had decided that an American man and a Kyrgyz woman were not fit to occupy the grass across the street from his house, even though the walled fortress of his typical home meant that our presence offered no distraction other than the mere thought of us being there.

She pulled me away from trying to discuss this, telling me that it wasn't worth it and we should just go.

'He is Uzbek. I hate Uzbek people,' she said. Evidently confessions of ethnic hatred are not seen as anathema to romance here.

'All Kyrgyz people hate Uzbeks and all Uzbeks hate Kyrgyz. The Russian government made us hate each other.' The tender moment along the canal was disintegrating.

'The Russian government did this just like the American government makes us hate each other, too.'

It faded a bit more.

'Well, I''

'It is true. You think that you can do anything you want because only 3,000 people died,' she said. 'That is nothing.'

And it was gone. In a few short strides, our tender canal moment had completely dissipated. The desire to keep the peace for the sake of enjoying a romantic evening with a beautiful woman gave way with an involuntary twitch and the sputtering of a question:

'Only' You think that 3,000 people dying is nothing''


'Now, I don't agree with what my government is doing in Iraq but''

'It is nothing. Many more people die all the time. And you blame it on people I don't think ever did it.'

'What do you mean''

'You can do anything you want to. You have cameras that can see every inch of the sky. You can see a bird flying. Why is it that people talked like the planes came out of nowhere''

'No one thought they came from nowhere. They know exactly which airports they''

'You could have stopped them if you wanted to. But you didn't. I don't think anyone else did this.'

'What are you saying' Are you saying that you think the American government did this' That the American government killed three thousand of its own people by blowing up the World Trade Center''


'But why would my government do something like that''

'I saw a television show,' she explained. 'It was about the leader of China. He had schools that taught people to kill. He ordered those people to kill his enemies.'

'Uh'okay. So you're saying that because you think that this is true in China, it is also true in the United States''


'But, even if it is true that this happens in China and even if I go so far as to say that, because this happens in China, it happens in the United States, that is very different than the president killing''

'Why are you arguing with me' I have a right to say what I believe!'

'Yes, and I want to ask you why you believe this and tell you why I dis''

'Why are you so upset' I don't want to talk about this anymore. I am going home. Goodbye.'

The rain had begun to fall. We stared at each other. She had moved a few feet away but was stilled standing, facing me, waiting. I was trying to make sense of the instantaneous transformation that had just taken place.

'I'll walk you home. It is late and it is dark,' I said, hoping that the walk would help me collect my thoughts and salvage something of the evening.

The attempt to move the conversation to more secure ground limped along until we walked to her apartment.

'Can I see you on Saturday'' I asked as we got back to her place. Two days seemed sufficient to shake the emotions of the evening and let me decide if there was something worth preserving. Maybe a conversation like the one earlier was to be expected. Maybe I should simply accept it as part of dating in a foreign country.

'I think we should take some time to decide if we want to see each other still,' she offered. 'We should meet again in one month.'

'One month' I don't think we need that long. I don't think that is a good idea.'

'What are you saying' You think I am stupid''

She had a habit of turning a simple comment into a damning indictment.

'No, I didn't say that. I said that the idea to wait a month wasn't a good one. I think we can decide sooner than that.'

'You know, you can go if you want. I have lived for 21 years without you and I don't need you now. If you go, I will not run after you! I will not beg!'

She delivered her lines with all of the veracity of a third-rate daytime soap star. I felt as if the cameras were rolling and someone had forgotten to give me the script. It was a set I decided I wanted off of.

'You are a beautiful girl. Thank you for going out with me. But I don't need a month to decide. I don't want to see one another again.'

I said goodnight and wished her well. I turned and began walking away.

'No!' she cried out, rushing in front of me and grabbing my arms tightly. 'Don't go! I will meet you on Saturday. Just don't go. I will not let you!'

She obviously possessed an instinct for milking the drama of a final scene.

'No, I need to go.'

'Kiss me one last time before you go!'

I could feel the flourishing symphonic score that would eventually overdub this moment. I brought her close to me. I kissed her gently and left.

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kyrgyzstan; Blogs - Kyrgyzstan; Romance



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