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At the London School in Bishkek the working hours and conditions were fine, but there wasnít that much chance to travel very far because we only had a few weeks off during the contract period. And both of my weeks off revolved quite heavily around unpredictable encounters with an Uzbek girl somewhere on the other side of the cultural divide to myself.
Smart and not nearly as ugly as she thought she was, I decided I liked her quite quickly, and it was nice of her to agree to help me with my Russian, and even nicer that she agreed to repeat the favour the next day. But what was not so nice was the fact that she decided I might benefit from a male teacher too, so I was left walking around the museum on what I thought was a date with a girl I thought I was on a date with, and another guy who was clearly under the same misconception. It was quite strange giving off a combination of contempt and solidarity vibes, a skill I donít think I quite mastered before I decided to leave them to it, and left like an Englishman. If youíre not sure how English men leave, apparently, according to this girl, we leave without saying goodbye. Well that day, she earned my reputation for me.
 

Bazaar in Osh


It wasnít hard to forgive her, Iím a complete sucker when a pretty face is involved, but I also knew she hadnít meant any offence. We talked about it. She accepted that she hadnít been thinking, and I accepted that she hadnít thought about it. Fairís fair! It was a fifty fifty thing. Time to move on.
We moved on as far as her moving on, back to Osh where courtesy of mobile telecommunications we were able to agree that she would be my guide in the fair city of Osh, which I duly paid a visit to a few weeks later.
But this story is not actually about this girl, but another. Only I have to thank the aforementioned for the opportunity to visit Osh, and for putting up with me when I got there. Like I said on the main site, I was not at my best that week.
Travel to Osh is easy enough but might not appeal to everybody. The simplest way is to go to the bazaar in Bishkek, the aptly named Osh Bazaar, and get a seat in one of the cars which leave whenever they are full. I was grateful to one of my students for assistance, he made sure the car was Ďsafeí and made sure of the details, the money, destination and ETA. It was quite reassuring to know I was travelling down with a family and equally so to learn that the other passenger spoke some English. Normally I hated people speaking to me in English but I had enough on my mind now without 12 hours of being reminded that my Russian was still terrible. It only took a few words and we warmed to each other, she swapped seats so we could talk, and we started a bilingual conversation and an understanding that would probably have been impossible if weíd met in a cafe. Itís funny that being outside your comfort zone can stop you worrying about most of the things that live with you inside it.
 

Half way to Osh


It was already going dark when we turned south not far before Talas, so when we got to the mountains I couldnít appreciate how impressive they were. But I know that at a very decent speed we climbed for over an hour and I remember the urge to cycle the same route (an urge I still experience at times), but I donít remember much else. Imposing silhouettes, winding road, occasional traffic. But what an amazing place! As far as Iíve ever been from home, and I felt as comfortable as I ever had in my own bedroom, but so much more excited. A reminder if ever there was one that home is far from static. TEFL is like a spiritual caravan club, just hitch up and ride.
Descending wasnít quite a hour of driving but it was an impressive drop nonetheless, and reaching the bottom of the hill meant break time, just a ten minute stop off for the usual pit stop type activity - the call of nature does not, fortunately, speak in a language necessitating native speakers travelling the world to teach it, so the nature of our pause needs no further elaboration. But itíd have been more comfortable to drive past, and not just because the hole in the ground that passed as a toilet stank so badly.
When time came to move on, we couldnít. The key turned in the ignition, but the usual response was missing. Instead the whole unit was revolving some 180 degrees when the driver turned the key. And turn it he did, some several dozen times. Nothing. I thought I could still smell the toilet (probably my imagination), and I was beginning to wonder how long for. It quickly became apparent that nothing was doing, family man Jnr went off to get the mechanic and he elaborately removed the steering wheel and hot wired the car. It took an hour. Whereís a scouser when you need one?
 

THE dash board


We then set off, and I think we got about 50k before the entire dashboard flared up in a light show fit for Bastille Day. Then silence. Then I imagine a few choice four letter words in Kyrgyz. Then silence. The second silence was quieter but not so peaceful, it was like somebody in the next room was being tortured and had fallen quiet. Something bad, you knew it. And although I knew it, I had to find out all the same, maybe in case I could help. But there was nothing anybody could do. To their credit they tried for hours, insulating the ignition with pieces of wood hoping to get moving and not need the ignition wiring. But although they made some inroads into solving the problem, it was never quite enough and each time we drove twenty yards we ran the risk of exploding. So we shut up shop and went to bed, in the car.
I woke up first, Iíd probably only slept for an hour but it was already getting light. I walked up the road a bit and took some photos, a few of them are on the main site. Then family man Snr woke up and thanks to him the my image of mobile phones changed in seconds. I donít know what he said, but in half an hour somebody came to pick us up tow us not so far up the road to an auto-electric place, where we were to remain for another three hours. Itíd have been two, but at that time the mechanic was not about to turn out for a job like that, so we had to find somebody else.
My friend wasnít as relaxed as she had been, and I felt I knew why. From speaking so proudly about her soldier husband earlier in the journey she tried to avoid the subject, and my account of how I believed that everything happens for a reason didnít seem to reassure her. I donít know what was bothering her, but later in the week I met her by chance and she said in a soft defeated voice that heíd got angry when she arrived late. Yes, we were 8 hours late, it made a mess for everybody, but it didnít leave any scars. Not for me anyway. I found it quite a fun adventure. But this girl could only envy my freedom, and I saw it in her eyes. And I wanted to take her away and make everything all right. But I never saw her again.