In my last blog, I left off telling you about my lovely visit “on horseback” in the Kyrgyzstan mountains outside of Bishkek. I had taken off with a guide, marshaling my skills to stay in the saddle on a scrawny but feisty equine. As we traveled up the dirt road-trail, it was evident that my mountain pony was full of energy and a handful. We trotted and danced a bit, and I was using my best skills staying in the saddle. We were passed by a couple of cars racing up the dirt road and leaving a cloud of dust which didn’t help my nervous horse, and my guide kept a close eye on me. After a short ride into the hills he had me weave my way up a side trail so he could take my picture with the rocks and mountains in the background. As he was fiddling with my camera, a car came racing back down the dirt road and stopped just behind him, shouting out the car window. He looked at them, at me, back at them, and then shouted something to me in Kyrgyz, pointing and gesturing. I didn’t understand, so he raced his horse up the hill and shouted “Passport? Passport?” I said yes, I had it in my pocket, and pointed. “Show, show!” he said, and when I dug for it, the money was there but the passport was gone. During the horse-dancing and prancing, it had apparently worked its way out of my pocket and fallen by the side of the road. We looked back toward the car and the driver was waving a very familiar-looking little blue book out the car window and sporting a very mocking grin.
You can imagine that my rapidly increasing unease translated directly to my horse and he started a bouncing act amid trees and rocks, and dangerously close to a downhill cliff behind me. It was nearly impossible to get off without killing myself—but get off I did, handed the reins to my guide and ran downhill toward the car. The driver and his two passengers looked to be about college age, laughing and saying “road, road” and in gestures we communicated they had found it, showed me the picture and said “you!”. Now, since passport pictures are like driver’s license pictures, and I was shaggy and windblown, any reasonable passport control agent would have looked twice for verification…but it was indeed me. What they wanted was money and had they given it back I would have given them all I had, and gratefully. But the young man holding it did not offer it back, and raced the car engine. I was a bit angry and said rather forcefully “that is mine, you give it back!” I reached into the car and grabbed it from him, amid more laughter and a bit of harassment from his passengers that now he’d lost it and “no money!” By then my guide was standing behind me and the two of us were more of a menace than they were interested in, so they laughed and raced on down the road. Whew. After a few deep breaths, my guide looked at me with a very serious scowl and said “put passport HERE!” and demonstrated by shoving his fingers down the front of his shirt. I immediately followed directions and we trotted on back. My ASCP colleagues were waiting for me as we jogged back up the driveway at the resort and I quickly borrowed another $20 bill, tipped my guide heavily and thanked my lucky stars that:1) the passport didn’t fall out of my pocket into the river; 2) the kids in the car were more interested in a little fun money than fencing it and; 3) the driver had slow reflexes. Later that evening over a much-needed glass of wine, I reflected I had probably used up a couple of my “nine lives” on that adventure!
So if you are ever in the mountains outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and want to go horseback riding, I have a wonderful guide and a rather skinny Cossack pony I can recommend, just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. However, I would advise putting your passport close to your body somewhere OTHER than your jeans hip pocket!
–Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.