Look Both Ways…Or All Four

Being a pedestrian in Bishkek is a perilous sport.

I’ve been almost run over by drivers rushing the red-turning light, almost run over by drivers sped by impatience for that coming flicker of green, almost run over by drivers turning left or right onto the street that I’m crossing, almost run over by drivers humping the shoulders.  But today was the first time I was almost run over by  driver running the middle of the red light (ten seconds from turning red, ten seconds left until green) on a main thoroughfare (Manas/Mira) right between two popular cop-spots (crossing Ayni).

I always wait for the light, I always cross at the crosswalks, even if it means doubling back half a block, simply because I don’t trust that 5% of drivers.

So today around 11:40 am I waited for the green light and was nearly halfway across the street – striding in front of the patient marshrutkas and long line of lunchtime commuters – when I saw a car heading towards me, still some 50 yards off from the opposite side of the street.  They had enough space to stop, and I assumed they would.  The screech and stop is, after all, not an uncommon phenomenon. It wasn’t until they had crossed the pedestrian walk on the other side of Manas/Ayni and were driving across the middle of the street that I realized they were headed straight towards me.  No swerving, no brakes, just heading straight at me with a steady pace, as if they literally could not see me (or the red light, or the cars from Ayni that had swerved out of their way, or the traffic police at the junction ahead). As is we were all invisible. I quickened two steps, just enough to be half a pace away when the car passed and turn around to take a look at the plates.

Two young male Kyrgyz, age 22-25, driving a light tan Toyota Camry, probably 2002-2004 model (newish, but not new enough to have those modern curves), licence plates 2133SK, no visible markings on the car.

Believing that nothing would come out of it, I still called E and asked him to have his secretary (a local fluent in both Kyrgyz and Russian, and accustomed to dealing with government offices) call in and report the car. They might not have hit me, but they will eventually hit someone if they keep blindly running red lights [especially on main streets with heavy traffic and at a juncture flanked by no less than three major universities with students streaming out during the breaks…]. Basically asshole behavior that somebody should curb and reprimand.

But Kyrgyzstan isn’t a transparent democracy, of the people for the people.  The first time G called no one answered.  Government hard at work at their lunch break.  The second time – she found out that it was a car registered to an unidentified government office, and thus no complaint could be lodged, no counter action would the state talk.  Because government cars are covered by complete immunity, even when they’re taken for a joyride by some low official’s son and his friend.  So…another reason to check all four directions again…and again…and again every time you cross the street (sadly, the same applies for one-way streets too).  Or just buy a jet-propelled titanium suit for your interblock adventures.  Because nobody is there to protect you, or hold up your rights be you crossing a street or shopping for a cellphone or (as happened to a dear local friend) watch on CCTV as your co-worker steals your phone off your desk and have your boss refuse to report and the cops refuse to search or arrest…until you give a kickback.

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