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Mathematician Iain Webb: I really like Bishkek

Iain Webb is a mathematician. He is from Buckinghamshire, the UK. Iain first came to Kyrgyzstan in 2010 to visit his friends, and he liked the small mountain country so much that he decided to stay. The Briton told 24.kg news agency how a fateful acquaintance with a Kyrgyz girl made him move to our country.

-I first came to Kyrgyzstan in 2010 to visit two friends I had here. One of them I’d met in the queue for customs at Sheremetyevo Airport the previous year.

I’d commented on the bright blue colour of her passport and she asked me to guess which country she was from. Kyrgyzstan was the second country I guessed.

Iain Webb

— I had a friend who’d just moved there, and she commented: «Not bad, not many people know it. You should come visit!».

The other friend had moved to Naryn a couple of years before with the Peace Corps. She’d written inviting me to visit her, so it was inevitable I’d make a visit!

I moved to Kyrgyzstan in 2011. When making the visit to Aisuluu and Barbara, whom I have mentioned above, I had some time to myself in Bishkek and met some great people.

I heard about a job at the American University of Central Asia, which fitted perfectly with what I was looking for.

— What has fascinated you in acquaintance with the locals?

— Firstly, the number of languages people are comfortable with here. It’s not uncommon for friends of mine to know three, four or five languages, or at least be able to understand them. It makes me slightly ashamed of my own Russian and Kyrgyz skills.

Also, after living here for a full year, I realized that regardless of it being 30C or −20C outside, people seem quite comfortable with the weather.

Iain Webb

In Britain, our seasons have less variability, so it took me a while to get used to extreme changes in temperatures.

— What has disappointed you?

— Not very much has disappointed. I’ve had a couple of strange interactions with people about apartments — last minute requests to move out for example. Though similarly, I’ve had landlords suddenly ask me to host a family member for a time which is quite a funny experience and has always turned out to be enjoyable.

I have witnessed some violence, and been subject to it, once because of a street mugging and most recently on Women’s Day, when peaceful marchers were attacked by masked men in kalpaks, which was really shocking.

Iain Webb

— Do you have many friends here?

— I’ve got a great group of friends here. People always have time to meet and have a chat, and I really missed seeing them all these past couple of months.

There’s always something going on in Bishkek, and I volunteer at a couple of organizations and meet great people through those too.

— Do you like Bishkek? What is your favorite place in the city?

— I really like Bishkek. Its size is really manageable and as it’s quite flat it’s easy to get around. I like the markets (like any foreigner living here!) and the parks are great to escape to and talk a walk through.

I’ve always liked the fact you can see the mountains from the city, and it gives you a sense that nature isn’t too far away. Some of the architecture of the city is really striking and beautiful too, and I feel proud when showing visitors around.

— Where have you been to, except for the capital?

— Lots of places in and around Chui at the weekend for hikes. Issyk — Ata is my favorite place to visit.

I have a lovely memory swimming in the sulphur pool there, when my sister came to stay, as snow swirled around our heads!

Iain Webb

I love visiting Issyk-Kul lake and have a few friends who live on the southern side.

I enjoy skiing and there are some great places for that close to Bishkek, as well as, of course, Karakol.

I’ve visited Osh a couple of times, and Naryn with its stunning scenery where I went horseback riding. I’ve also had a couple of great trips to Arslanbob and the walnut forests there — the second time we cycled from there to Osh which was a great experience! Climbing the Burana Tower was fun, too.

— What national dishes do you like?

— At home I’m vegetarian, so love all the delicious salads, pumpkin samsa and manty, oromo, kaimak, boorsok, and veggie lagman that you can easily buy now.

My guilty pleasure (as it has meat in) is ashlan-fu — it’s so refreshing in the spring! I love the jams made of different fruits and berries, and the dried fruit and nuts you can buy in the markets.

Kyrgyzstan is a meeting place of so many delicious cuisines that even as a vegetarian you’re spoilt for choice!

Iain Webb

Maksym is delicious and I’ll often have a bottle with me at work. I love that tea is so popular here as it gets me through the day.

— What would you never eat and why?

— When I visit people’s homes, I’m not vegetarian, as I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to prepare something different just for me. However, no matter how much I’ve tried, I just can’t fall in love with kazy. There’s just something about the taste that I struggle with.

— What would you like to change in Bishkek?

— The grid layout of Bishkek seems to be perfect for introducing bike lanes all throughout the city, and I really like that lanes have been given to buses, trolley buses and marshrutkas. I think improving public transport and generally the walkability of the city would help reduce the smog by putting less cars on the road.

The smog has definitely increased over the past few years.

Iain Webb

I got hit by a car on a crossing a couple of years back and a car drove into the taxi a friend was in recently, so I definitely feel fewer cars would help everyone be a bit calmer on the roads!