Wednesday, 20 August 2014
Osh Market, Bishkek
This morning we went to Osh Market before the heat became overwhelming. We walked up the cracked and crumbling steps, past the locals at the front selling white tutu hair puffs for school girls, luggage, magazines and handkerchiefs, and into a system of narrow alleyways. Into and under a mosaic of brightly coloured scarves strung at angles to keep out the sun, a canopy we zig zagged through as we walked.
Aisle upon aisle of men and women, their brown skins and wide cheekbones distinguishing them from their ex-soviet countrymen. Children and babies crowded in the throng, holding hands or each other. Bundles of dried noodles stacked higher than us, spices overflowing in colourful heaps from shot glasses: fire-engine red chili powders, amber ground cumin, purple garlic, feathered dill and bunches of fresh coriander. At several adjoining stalls plump bunches of grapes were strung up with pink gift wrapping ribbon above pyramids of golden and red 'bald peaches'. There were crates upon crates of almonds, walnuts from the forests nearby, brazil nuts still in their rough shells, yellow, black and purple dates, bright fuschia-coloured berries to soak and boil, dried salted fish. The air was heavy with the hum of wasps clustering on amber rock sugar, honeyed nuts, it was heavy with ripe tomato and melon, heavy with the smell of fields and earth and heat.
We wove around and through, into the center of the market where we found rice, lentils, beans, sacks the size of large dogs: whole wheat and buckwheat, cornstarch and white flour ground so finely it looked like face powder or the purest ash. Up the metal stairs, we were above the bustle, with women and girls fingering bolts of fabric from Turkey, Korea and who knows where else: wool and viscose, cotton, denim and cordouroy in burnt oranges and blacks, torquoise and royal purples, scarlet lace, creams and whites delicate for brides, zippers in stacks like tiny coloured teeth. At each purchase, a negotiation: heads to the side, some scowling, a nod and a handing over of blue or red or silver som then a спасибо, спасибо (spasibo, thank you).
Back downstairs and outside rows upon rows of flat, golden bread, endless barrels of dried cheese, shaped, they say, by rolling into a ball beneath an armpit, on others, the fingerprints still visible in their husked shapes--as delicate and as ridged as small white leaves.
I've come away with an entire feeling for this city. All things today have been remarkable: the sliding yet stuttery throat vowels of Kyrgyz or Russian, the fruit-ripe air and dust, the shining heat on my bare shoulders at 100 / 36 degrees and the snow covered mountain peaks in the backdrop like a mirage, where we will be heading in another day's time.