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Jennifer Tasker: Kurut is a good substitute for strong cheese

Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Bishkek Jennifer Tasker arrived in Kyrgyzstan a year ago. During this time, she has managed not only to get acquainted with the country, but also to find something that Bishkek and London have in common.

— Have you ever heard of Kyrgyzstan before coming here?

— I’ve previously worked in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan so was reasonably familiar with the Central Asia region. A few of my friends had also been on holiday in Kyrgyzstan and so I’d already heard plenty of stories about the beautiful scenery and friendly people.

— What was the first impression of the country? Did it change later?

— I first arrived in January in a cold and icy winter, which is great for skiing, but probably doesn’t show Bishkek at its most beautiful. I loved seeing the city transform in the spring and summer as the parks became a lush green.

I got to enjoy sitting on the terraces of Bishkek’s many cafes, enjoying cool iced fruit tea and delicious ice cream.

Jennifer Tasker

-What surprised you the most in Bishkek?

— I was surprised how close the mountains are to Bishkek. Whenever I am having a stressful day, I love looking out of the city and seeing the mountains rising majestically in the distance. I find the view very calming.

-Have you had any funny cases in Kyrgyzstan?

— Not really funny experiences, but I’ve had some amazing experiences from making my own shirdak, to watching an incredible Kyrgyz break dancing competition, and seeing the beautiful Issyk-Kul lake from the quiet ski slopes of Karakol.

But wherever I go in Kyrgyzstan, I am most impressed by the people.

Jennifer Tasker

I’ve met incredible young people with bright ideas to support Kyrgyzstan’s future development, especially during interviews for the UK’s Chevening scholarship program. And I’ve had fascinating conversations with older people who have seen huge amounts of change in Kyrgyzstan during their lifetimes. Wherever I go, I’ve found people welcoming and friendly and ready to share their experience with a stranger.

— What in Bishkek reminds you of your hometown?

— I think these are the parks. In London, as well as in Bishkek, we value our green spaces. I love to wander the parks, especially in summer seeing all the people enjoying the good weather and getting outside.

-What do you miss in Bishkek?

— In general, I love living in Kyrgyzstan — of course I miss friends and family in the UK, but apart from that I do miss strong cheese. Kurut is a good substitute, but it’s not quite the same.

— Do you have a favorite place in Kyrgyzstan?

— I don’t think I have a favorite place, but in Bishkek I love the art museum. Kyrgyz art has such rich colors and I particularly like all the textiles. But I also getting out into the Kyrgyz countryside.

I really like Bokonbayevo on the south shore of Issyk-Kul and getting to stay in a yurt was fantastic.

Jennifer Tasker

The mountains around Karakol are stunning too ... There are just so many beautiful and varied places here.

-What national dishes do you like and what are you afraid to even try?

— I really like Kyrgyz food in general, whether it’s a hearty kuurdak or plov, or a dish of boorsok and honey. The fruit and vegetables in the summer are also delicious and really great quality. There are no dishes that I would be afraid to try. I’ve had really positive experiences with Kyrgyz food.

-What has fascinated you in close acquaintance with the local population? And what disappointed?

— I’ve met so many different people, and heard fascinating stories about people’s lives and their ideas for the future. I’ve really enjoyed watching crafts people work, and learning more about the customs and traditions of Kyrgyzstan. I don’t think anything has really disappointed me, but I do wish I had more time to travel within the country, always a challenge with a busy job!

— Is it worth returning to Kyrgyzstan again?

— Definitely, I’d love to come back in the future and see how things have continued to change, and of course to catch up with friends here.