My dearest Louise,
As promised, I owed you the first of March letter.
March first has become August second, I am in Kyrgyzstan.
Although the sun burns on my skin, I see on the right the blue sky disappearing behind a curtain of threatening, dark clouds. Because of that, a bit farther the white of the glacier is beautifully accentuated.
My wheezing is overwhelmed by a tremendous thunderclap.
Wow, impressive! I like thunder but rather not uphill.
I push my bike towards the mountain pass. It’s steep. Correction: it is very steep. With every step I take, I slip back halfway. Sixty steps is my record. Then I have to catch my breath.
On my right, my forearm rests on my saddle, my head on that forearm. On my left, my hand squeezes the brake to not roll back.
I only hear one thing, my breathing. Yes, that one breaks a record too!
Due to extra rumble from above, I want to be on the pass before the storm hits me. Or preferably seventeen kilometres further in my tent, at the foot of the next pass.
My wheezing is racing against the clock.
“Come on, Trien, faster!”
It’s a record that plays in my head, its needle hangs. “Faster Trien! Faster…”.
Slowly but steadily the pass comes nearer. Doubt as well. Will this be the pass or will it be a few kilometres farther? A vague climb…
I look around. Ahead and behind fierce clouds, left and right too.
I still keep my pace. Sixty steps up, thirty down and stop. Head on arm, arm on saddle, hand on brake and sigh.
“Why am I doing this?” I hear myself thinking.
‘Yeah, the pass! Yes, that’s it! I am on it!’ A boundless smile on my face. I instantly forgot why I had to puff, gasp, sweat and questioning myself.
A strong tailwind cools my sweaty body too fast.
Still, the path wasn’t clear. I saw a massive amount of snow in front of me. A landslide of snow. I thought that the track would be underneath. Step by step I crossed that melting white carpet. Here again, I slid down with each step. This time sideways, towards a hundred meters deeper.
I was back on track! Descended. No time for pictures. The first thick raindrops made my ‘pit stains’ disappear in no time. Below me a winding river. To my right side, fluorescent green mountains dotted by sporadically placed yurts, sky blue or baby pink caravans and a dozen free-running horses, cows and sheep.
Also a young girl on a horse. She tamed the animal as an experienced cowgirl. A beautiful scene! How I like this country, its nature, its people and the freedom.
In between the hail balls stricking my back, my thoughts deviate from the little cowgirl to the many Kyrgyz girls who are still abducted daily. It is estimated that a third of the marriages will come through bride kidnapping. In the countryside, it’s probably half.
In Central Asia, after the fall of the Soviet Union, bride kidnapping or Kyz Ala Kachuu (“take a young woman and run away”) has become increasingly normal. Young girls are abducted and taken to the house of the kidnapper. There, the grandmother is waiting for them to lay a white scarf over the girl’s head. The girl has almost no choice and generally agrees to marry the same evening or the next day with often a complete stranger. *
It hurts me to know that such things are still taking place today. This, in my favourite country. In the country where I feel incredibly free, where I can ride my bike and hardly meet anyone. Where the cattle runs freely; yaks, horses, cows, goats and sheep – in sharp contrast to so many girls and women.
With every extremely sympathetic family who welcomes me with open arms, I wonder how the couple got to know each other. Sometimes I dare to ask but often I just guess.
By seeing that little cowgirl, I wonder what her future will look like and what I can do to help not only the Kyrgyz girls but so many other women in Central Asia.
Women who I respect a lot. They’re not only taking care of the children and preparing food. No, they milk the whole livestock, make wool to knit clothes, felt carpets, bake bread, make kefir, kumys, kurut and are non-stop working.
Yes, your mom too. But apart from that she has hobbies and goes on holiday with you, now and then she plops onto the couch and watches the news or reads a book. And above all this, she was not forced to marry your daddy. She could choose freely, fall in love, follow her heart.
The ‘weaker’ sex is here so strong Louise. Here 22,000 kilometres away from you.
Write to you soon my dear girl! Until the first of next month.
Lots of love,
* In the amazing book Sovjetistan of Erika Fatland, you can read more about life, habits and politics in Central Asia.