One of the strangest things about living in Bishkek is the uncertainty of timely seasons. We do have all four seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter – but they don’t come in blocks. You might see children playing outside in shortsleeves in February, and then be covered with snow three times in March and April. One week in summer could see temperatures ranging from above 100F (38+C) to a mild and rainy 70F (21C). Since October this year it’s alternated between damp cold and snowy, rainy and muddy, and April-esque. I think the snow has melted over a dozen times and, while it was a frigid -10C on Thursday, yesterday was balmy and today the campus was covered in green grass poking its delicate head through the black mud.
Most of this variation can probably be attributed to Bishkek’s location – just south of the Kazakh steppe, locked between a river valley and the mountains that rise behind the city. But even in town temperatures vary – it’s often near ten degrees warmer around our flat than just a few kilometers away in the city center. I left our flat around ten thirty on Wednesday morning to take a small break from work by going to the Osh bazaar. The temperature hovered around zero here; the bazaar, which sits by a river bank, was whipped by cold winter winds. Men huddled around the sidewalk secondhand bazaars where stiff old jackets hung for sale in the dull winter light. Vendors kept their vegetables from freezing in bulb-heated glass displays. I pulled up my full hood when crossing the streets, and still my eyes stung with tears.
And the other odd attribute to Bishkek’s weather: while mornings are often crisp, clear and cloudless (L, 8am), by noon a haze of brownish-grey often settles over the city and sticks until nightfall (R, 5:40pm). Sometimes in the dusk it turns a dull pink. While locals and Bishkek-defenders alike are eager to dub it ‘haze’ in the spirit of Beijing air officials, we suspect it’s a mixture of dust (roads, construction) and pollution (cars, coal still burned in winter) clinging to the think layer of actual fog. Either way, it makes for many a disappointing and subdued afternoon.