Whist I should be talking about the incredible and diverse place that is Central Asia I’ve chosen instead to talk about me (as I do) and the impact this region had on me in the past and again today. If you aren’t into my self indulgence check the photos here at least…
I often get asked the best place or my favourite country that I have been to in now 80 countries around the world that I’ve been fortunate to experience. I usually give the same and slightly boring answer of nowhere or everywhere since I have received universal friendly hospitality, generosity and kindness of every kind of person, culture and place.
However there is one place that sits very close to my heart and central to who I am today and that is Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. I went to Kyrgyzstan basically by accident in 2001 as a young 23 year old keen to hike up some mountains and maybe share some ideas on teaching by volunteering at a university. What I came away with 14 years ago from that experience was an education in life, an acute sense of social justice and a passion for volunteering, equality and living happily, simply.
I have always wanted to get back to the place that threw a sharp left turn in my life path and this time as a humanitarian who sometimes hikes up mountains not the mountain hiker who sometimes did some humanitarian work.
A lot has changed in Kyrgyzstan in the 14 years since I was last there. The teachers are now earning over $40/month, there are western supermarkets on most corners and there is more confidence in who the Kyrgyz are and what they want which was still an unknown in the very new country as it was in 2001 just 10 years after achieving independence.
My recent trip was hugely gratifying to be in Kyrgyzstan and thank and appreciate it for the dramatic effect it had on me as a new, mostly useless but willing, volunteer at the university many years ago. It is not only Kyrgyzstan that has changed in those 14 years but myself as well. I felt like I was meeting with an old mentor who taught me so much about life and for me to tell it how important it was in my daily experience still today.
For those more interested in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan than me, which you should be, both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are incredibly welcoming with beautiful mountains and people that puts hospitality and human connection above all.
For this trip I travelled overland from Bishkek to Dushanbe via buses, cars, truck and walking as much as possible. I saw 5000m+ peaks all around, gorgeous gorges, serene valleys and dramatic stoic mountains. To match the scenery were wonderful homestays, kindness at every turn, intrigue and laughter from inquisitive and engaging people.
Just one simple highlight in a continuous month of experiences of Central Asia life was hiking in the mountains with a fellow western traveller and coming across a small low stone hut on the only relative flat spot below 4000m+ peaks in every direction. Here we were beckoned into the home, sat at the warmest part of the hut and given hot tea with the most delicious dairy products of drinking yogurt (kefir) and what seemed to be a cream textured and tasting pancake. In the hut we smiled, laughed and communicated as best we could with our common language being that we were all humans. All of this was in an atmosphere of think dung-fire smoke and hospitality that I’m sure hasn’t changed in that culture in the past 10,000 years.
It was lovely to be back in a place that unknowingly meant so much to me as a 23 year old and consolidated so much in me as a humanitarian again today.
Central Asia isn’t central to most people’s lives outside of the region but anyone who takes the time and effort to visit will come away with a lot of perspective, learning and celebration of people, nature and culture – certainly my favourite ‘things’ in the world.