There’s lots of stories which will be told from the trip to Kyrgyzstan in print, but it’s unlikely that all the people from the Red Crescent will get quite the credit they deserve. So here’s a thank you for their generosity and helpfulness in putting up with a British journalist nagging them all day with questions that they never hinted might be as banal, ignorant and repetitive as they no doubt were.
Jamilya, Head of the Health and Social Care Department under whose remit the women’s group work, trekked all of the country with us. From Parliament to the villages of Jalalabat, sharing in our frantic days of short meetings and long drives around. Her tapping of the watch signalling that it was time for me to shut up and let Claudia, our incredible photographer, get to work was repeatedly ignored by me, and without her patience and ability to quickly reorganise the schedule I don’t think we’d have got out of Bishkek. We’d certainly have missed two flights. Her knowledge of the issues surrounding facing the women of Kyrgyzstan is second to none, and I’d love to be a fly on the wall the next time she sits down with government ministers to discuss the changes in the law that must happen, and the next round of funding for the program. A formidable force indeed.
Elena and Rimma, who work with the migrant groups in Bishkek and co-ordinate the actions of the various programs into one coherent whole are two of the most committed and dedicated people I’ve met. Their ability to repeat over and again the finer points of their work which took a while to sink in and never get annoyed made our lives much easier, and their interest in our work gratifying. Their capacity for vodka and fun over lunch makes the harshness of life there more bearable.
Gulmira, who mans the phone lines for Kyrgyz citizens wherever in the world they are, from the slums of Bishkek to Moscow, arm here compatriots with the knowledge they need to avoid exploitation and the confidence to exert their rights. She has an amazing sense of humour, an excellent command of English and a lovely sister, Mira, who makes the most adorable felt animals (and just about anything else that can be made with wool) too.
And finally, our translator Baktygul. Normally, she’d be wandering from her house to an office in Bishkek to facilitate meetings for World Bank types then back home in time for tea, but we made her schlep from Bishkek to Jalalabat with barely an hour off, never giving her a moment to catch her breath after climbing the endless staircases that characterise the interior of Soviet era Kyrgyz government buildings. Instead of quietly sobbing into her blov, I think she actually enjoyed it.
According to them, I have become a real Kyrgyz man, thanks to the Ak Kalpak (literally ‘White Hat’) which they presented to me after the final debriefing. Suits me, n’est pas?