Bishkek is still illogical to me, even on my third stay. The question of the direction of development in this country – completely indecipherable, because all players and factors are inconsistent. And development requires the existence of some system reliable enough for people to make future predictions.
Take this photo for example: I’m not quite sure what is happening, but there are a lot of potatoes, a lada-taxi, and a marshrutka (minivan bus) right outside the gats to the apartment complex where I live in Jal, one of the southern districts of Bishkek. Jal itself is an odd place – home to some of the only modern highrise apartment complexes in the country, and a few thousand “American style” private homes in wretched messy suburban sprawl, all with no sense of landscape architecture or street planning. Interspersed in between are old soviet style apartment blocks and railroad cars that have been converted into temporary homes; bulletins for new complexes and fashion stores; restaurants and stores serving the poorest of food for the cheapest of prices; chain grocery-convenience stores open 24 hours a day and women selling apples on the street, mushy after winter and still more expensive than good produce in the US. Development isn’t by design. It just happens, haphazard.
The cars are just sitting there. With bags of potatoes on the road. The marshrutka driver was just sitting there, feet up on the dash board. No idea where they were going, or how the potatoes ended up on the road, but it seemed to them an acceptable state of being. (And a lot of people I’ve talked to in Kyrgyzstan seem similarly directionless – some complaints, some desires, but no solid comprehensive vision of a future that is any different from today)
Police (The State): None there, though there are always a ton about, bothering people and collecting bribes for made-up traffic infringements like turning right on a green light or sitting in a car without your seat belt on. But the police presence (like the government presence) isn’t consistent – they won’t necessarily show up to direct traffic when needed, and there’s little sense that they will consistently enforce rules, that the rules really make sense, or that people will be held accountable to an indifferent and unwavering law. Laws, furthermore, aren’t really used to build and enforce community values. When broken (real or imaginary laws), most people choose to pay the police on hand a fine-bribe, and then go on with their day.
So what will Bishkek look like in five years? How will it develop? It’s hard to say – especially when there doesn’t seem to be a plan, there are no consistent actors, no steadfast rules or guidelines, no clear objectives. I have no idea, but I’m guessing development will look a bit muddled, whatever direction it takes.