The alarm sounds, and I hit the snooze. Sometimes three times. We’ve been in our own apartment for three months now. I roll out of bed (literally—our mattress sits on the floor of our room), slide on a pair of felt slippers and head to the toilet room and then to the bathroom. (Yes, they’re in different rooms. It’s actually rather efficient.) Laura’s already making coffee in the kitchen. We sit down to breakfast at the little table in our kitchen (today is toast day and Laura found peanut butter!), we eat, get dressed, and head out for the day.
We walk about three minutes down the street to a spot where we’ll wave down one of the passing minibuses to catch a ride into town. Only one dog requires intimidation by threat of rock throwing. Mornings are quite a bit chillier now. This morning we see our breath and wonder if winter will be as bad as they say. Low water levels at the main reservoir in the country translate into production shortages at hydroelectric plants. Combine that with the ongoing political disputes with neighboring countries regarding gas and electricity imports, and you get to thinking perhaps we should stock up on candles.
We finally smush into an already overcrowded 15-passenger bus. Let’s see: 28, 29, 30, 31, I count. After a few more people get on (yes, they just keep smushing in), Laura and I no longer have to hold onto anything because our neighbors—complete strangers mind you—hold us up as we bump over potholes the size of Volkswagen Beatles. Personally I could think of at least a hundred better ways to get to know my neighbors. But this is the form of transportation of choice for most people. And at 15 cents a ride, rightly so. So we clinch our teeth and ride on. I pull out my phone and open a flashcard app I downloaded to review vocabulary.
About 40 minutes and 200 nouns and verbs later, we make our way to the front of the minibus and ask the driver to stop. We cross the street and walk a block south to our language school. We pause before we enter, exchange understanding looks, nod, and take the plunge. Five and a half hours of one-on-one language learning is similar to filling a dinner glass with a fire hose. It’s much more likely you’ll break the glass than actually fill it. Laura’s found a different school that requires much fewer hours per week, giving her the ability to supplement her language learning with language helpers, tutors, and time for real-life practice with locals, but that won’t start until December. I think I’m going to stay put until the end of January. We’ll see. For now we prepare to get really, really wet and hope at least a little something remains in our glasses by the time classes finish at 2:20.
Classes go. And go. And go. Thirty minutes for lunch (we heart borsch, a Russian cabbage soup) and then it’s back at it for our final hour of conversation. Deep down we’re thankful for our classes because we recognize that if we’re able to say anything in this language, it’s due to what we’ve learned from our language school. We’re six months in now, and for the most part we can get around in shops and bazaars, at restaurants, and with locals. But the distance we have to travel before we’re anywhere near fluent fluctuates between infinity-with-no-chance and long-but-doable depending on the day. We’re thankful for days of the latter kind and hope that on the whole today will be one of them.
After class we head to the bus stop and wait for the good ol’ 144. Again. For some reason the afternoon trip is longer than the morning one, but normally we get on early enough in the route to get a seat. We live in one of the northernmost neighborhoods in the city, and so when the bus route ends, we get off and walk the short distance to our apartment. Neighborhood kids recognize us now and generally call out accented “hellos” whenever they see us.
Tuesday means I walk about ten minutes to a small village near our house that’s just outside city limits to meet with my language helper. His name is Baatir, and he repairs shoes for a living. Baatir asks me what movies I’ve watched lately (you can get 10 pirated movies on one DVD in this country for a dollar), and we talk about whatever comes to mind and whatever I’m able to force into coherent sentences.
In the evenings Laura and I finish up homework (yes, we have homework), and we have supper (which consists of much more familiar foods now that we’ve begun to master the bazaars). It’s getting darker earlier now, so evenings are quieter and consist of some recreational reading, watching the local news and attempting to understand something—anything—and time before the God who invented languages and has asked us to learn this very difficult one.
Tomorrow the alarm will sound, and we’ll do it all over again. For now we thank God his promises have proven true yet again. He was with us today just like he said he would be, and that means we can be confident he’ll be with us tomorrow, too. Despite how many flowers we’ve seen wilt before our very eyes today, surely new flowers will bloom tomorrow, just as sure his blessings are new every morning.
I originally wrote this as an email that I sent to friends and family members back in October of 2014. The desperation we felt in those early days is as palpable to me as if it were yesterday. It’s easy for me to re-enter these memories and wonder what good they did. Especially on those days when a fog settles over my brain and I couldn’t find the words in Kyrgyz if my life depended on it. Or when I’m in Spain and can communicate so much more easily in Spanish than in Kyrgyz. Sometimes it’s by faith that we accept our past is moving us to a better future.
Then there are those moments during which we see with crystal clarity the good things that have come as a result of those early days, some of the flowers that have bloomed in the soil of all those hours cramming vocabulary words and grammar rules into our minds like one more pair of jeans into an already-full washing machine. Sometimes, on our best days, we see that all those rides on the minibuses were worth it.
The most beautiful flower that has bloomed in the soil of all those days like the one described above—I’d say that is still blooming—is that the language has, to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the circumstances and the day, actually come. But that’s not the most beautiful part. Almost without fail when we meet a Kyrgyz person for the first time and tell him or her that we don’t speak Russian but only Kyrgyz, that person almost can’t believe it. And I think that disbelief is coupled with a deep sense of feeling honored. That is a beautiful flower indeed.
This post is part of a series we’re calling Places Where Flowers Bloom in which we recount tales from our first days in Central Asia in search of the flowers that have bloomed, even after what felt like a long winter. Read more posts from this series here: