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Guy from New York in Bishkek: I would not have done this at home

Chris Edling came to Bishkek from New York practically without knowing anything about our country. He did not know where he would live — in a city or in a small village, but he believed that amazing discoveries were waiting for him. Chris writes a book about bride kidnapping and hopes that readers in America and Europe will look at this custom from different sides, as he did.

-What surprises you in Kyrgyzstan?

— I came to Kyrgyzstan as exchange student. I always dreamed of becoming a writer and writing humorous works. Therefore, after getting a bachelor’s degree, I went to Hollywood and worked there for some time. But then I came to Armenia as a volunteer, and my life has changed. There, I first became acquainted with the bride kidnapping custom. I did a little research, but it seemed to me that this was not enough. Then I decided to write a book about bride kidnapping.

I’ve been here for 18 months and heard a lot of stories. Some of them were tragic, when women were kidnapped, beaten, forced to live with the unloved. This is one of the types of gender inequality, and it is very difficult to talk about it and listen to such stories.

Inequality is everywhere, but bride kidnapping is a new kind of inequality for me.

Chris Edling

But not everything is so straightforward. I heard other stories, romantic, when a bride was kidnapped upon prior agreement. And if the first variant we would call a kidnapping, then the second is more like elopement. If people hear about bride kidnapping for the first time, they do not understand the reasons that push people to it. They do not understand the factors that put pressure on people, but these are economic reasons, pressure of parents and much more. One of the chapters of my book is devoted to this. I do not want people to see only a barbarous custom, not understanding all the factors.

-What disappoints you in Kyrgyzstan?

— I’m annoyed at taxi drivers who meet at the airport. They see that I am (speaks Russian) a FOREIGNER, and immediately rise prices. I, of course, try to be polite, but sometimes it does not help. The pressure from taxi drivers is a strong cultural shock for a man from the United States.

-What are three things you like in Kyrgyzstan?

— The first thing I liked was nature. Before I came to Kyrgyzstan, I never took a great interest in hiking. Here, I made dozens of different hiking tours with different people. I really liked walking tours, and if I stayed in New York, I would never have done it.

The second is mutual assistance and mutual support of people. I walk down the street and see that someone has problems with a car. And strange people come and help. I think it’s great.

And one more thing — lepyoshka (flatbread)! This was the first thing I tasted in Kyrgyzstan. I arrived late, was very hungry, went to the store and did not know what to buy. I chose this special kind of bread, and it was incredibly delicious! So, the first impression of Kyrgyzstan is lepyoshka.

-Do you have favorite places in Kyrgyzstan?

-If you come to Kyrgyzstan and stay only in Bishkek, you miss the main beauty of the country. I was lucky: I could travel. I was in the west and in the east, I saw Cholpon-Ata and Naryn, Osh and Karakol. Cultural differences between regions are very large — how people dress, how they behave, what they eat. I stayed at a hotel only once during my travels. Tourism in Kyrgyzstan differs from other countries by a large number of guest houses. And to live in them means to understand the life and culture of the country better.

In Kyrgyzstan, I went skiing for the first time. It was in Karakol. It was very beautiful around, but it was not the simplest six hours of my life. I fell on the snow all the time. But I would like to return there.

My favorite town in Kyrgyzstan is Toktogul. This is not the main place for tourists, and it is a pity that they do not see this beauty — a town surrounded by mountains, where in the evening it seems that the sun sets right in the lake.

Chris Edling

I took my camera, laptop and went for a walk. I looked at the houses scattered over the hills, heard dogs barking, people doing their own things, and all this created an amazing pacification. And when I was returning back, I found my foot on the football field. The boys were kicking the ball around.

But this ordinary picture seemed incredibly majestic to me because of the magnificent mountains and thanks to the nature around. And this is the image of Kyrgyzstan that inspires me. This photo is my Facebook cover now.

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