Central Asia Debate and Media camp: journalism showcase 2

The second week of the 2012 Central Asia Youth in the 21st Century camp has now drawn to a close. During the final three days of the camp, participants alternated preparation for a series of exhibition debates with work on their final journalism and media track projects - full feature articles on the everyday controversies, ideas and struggles that represent life in Kyrgyzstan.

During the camp's presentation day, a number of participants got the opportunity to share discuss their feature pieces in front of an auidence. This article gathers together a selection of this year's best Youth in the 21st Century stories.

Bosteri now and 30 years ago
By Ekaterina Shoshina, Shamsullo Mirzoev and Sanavbar Urunova

The good and the bad of tourism
Bosteri is a resort town on the north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan. Most people who live rely on tourism for their income. Some sell fruits and berries from their gardens, others make souvenirs, some rent apartments. Many members of the local population are employed in hotels and restaurants.

“Tourism is the only way for our people to survive. The money which locals make during the holiday season will feed their families for the rest of the year.” says Seyid Bayke, a 53 year old grocer.

Aigul Arynova, 37, a housewife who rents out rooms to support her family in the Bosteri district of Issyk-kul is sure that “tourism in Bosteri developed because of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Previously all hotels were state-owned, there was no competition between hotels, and only citizens of the USSR could stay here. Now the level of service has increased, and people from all over the world come here,” Aigul explains.

According to the Kyrgyz Revenue Service (responsible for collecting taxes), there are 243 resorts and recreational establishments registered in the province. Thirty years ago, there were only two guesthouses.

Gulmira, 51, who does not want to give her full name says, “Because of increasing tourism, our district has changed a lot in last three decades”.

According to Gulmira, Bosteri has “developed a lot; the quality of peoples' lives has increased, citizens have become more civil and polite.

“Surely, we developed our native land in order not to feel shame when foreigners come to rest here. The quality of life in Bosteri has improved and this was done for tourism, and this has improved our lives”.

However not everyone supports the idea that Bosteri has become more prosperous over the last thirty years. Tatyana Afanasyeva, a 48 year old primary school teacher claims the, “there is no doubt that the life here in last 30 years has become worse. Why? In comparison with past, we [local people] don’t have reliable running water or electricity. Nobody cares about living conditions of locals, everything [electricity, lands, working areas] go in hands of hotels’ owners.”

Tatyana like her friend and neighbor Aigul Arynova, support her family by renting out her apartment. “In our house block there are four to six apartments only for renting. As I know almost all house blocks [in Bosteri] have such kind of flats – only for rent to foreigners. Actually, we bought ours 25 years ago, in order to present it to our son when he will grow up. But unfortunately we can’t do it – renting this apartment is almost the only way to feed ourselves.”

According to Vitaliy Shermakov, a local baker, “the only thing which was developed in Issyk-Kul is pollution.”

“The Quantity of our guests increased, but the quantity of trash increased ten times more,” the 62-year-old says. However, Vitaliy says that, “throwing trash on Bosteri streets is not the main problem.”

Vitaliy believes that the most significant cause of environmental pollution in the province is the “negligence of officials” and inadequate public services. Aigul agrees: “They [the officials] don’t control sewerage systems treatment at all. Hotels are built as fast as mushrooms grow, and their waste products go straightly into the lake.”

Statistics gathered by the ecological organization Aleyne have revealed that 120 resorts and recreational establishments in the Issyk-Kul area, out of a total of 176, do not have sewage treatment plants.

Arynova says that “20-30 years ago sewerage systems were controlled. We could not imagine that Issyk-Kul would be so polluted by sewage, because every hotel had its own working cleaning system. Now there are a lot of them, but nobody cares about their trash: quantity became more important than quality.”

Dangerous for life
Kalychbek, 45-year-old firefighter worries about another Bosteri's concealed problems: its water supply. “Our water access to water is often cut off; the pumps are broken all the time. Water is not available in houses; and for most important things as fire extinguishing also. This might cause deaths: one day we may not have enough water to save someone's life.”

A district of “elders”
Bosteri has also undergone dramatic social changes uring the last three decades. Local pensioner Anthonina Alekseevna, 84 years old claims that “Bosteri is getting older and older every year.” She that young people don’t want to live in the district. As more and more young people leave in search of work, Bosteri's population gets older and older.

“Youth generation now doesn’t want to work in agricultural jobs as they can do here, all they want to get education and become lawyers, economists, and managers. We have only two secondary schools and no universities at all! Nobody wants to be a farmer or fish seller, so they just move for study and remain live in capital or abroad.

“Because of increasing tourism, our district has changed a lot in last three decades”. Anthonina Alekseevna says.

Tatyana who rents her apartment for tourists says that all four of her nephews are now in Bishkek and they don’t want to return.

“What will they do here? No opportunities to develop, to build a career,” Tatyana says.

Anthonina Alekseevna says that all her family now live in the capital. “They come here only on holidays, the Issyk-Kul lake is the only thing for them because of which they return to Bosteri once a year”


The Kyrgyz will never stop eating meat
By Vassiliy Lakhonin and Guljamal Pirenova

“God bless кыргызское мясо!" (God bless Kyrgyz meat!)
Facebook meme, widespread among young Kyrgyz.

­­The collapse of USSR resulted in chaos in Kyrgyzstan. Most of the Issky-Kul region’s factories were closed and many people found themselves without jobs. The Altymyshev family was forced to make a difficult choice. Karypbai Altymyshev had trained as a commodities administrator and his wife was an accountant in a factory. But the end of communism forced them to revert to the nomadic lifestyle of their Kyrgyz ancestors. They had the knowledge of how to work with livestock from their parents - hereditary shepherds, cattle breeders and butchers.

Karypbai remembers returning to an agricultural way of life: “I understood from the very beginning that working with cattle breeding was my destiny. We pass the knowledge from generation to generation. I remember when my grandfather and father always brought me and my brothers to our pastures to take over their skills. We lived in the mountains, ride on horseback and grazed the herds. Literally, sheep, horses, goats and cows became my friends. I always knew what they need. I got my education only because it seemed prestigious during the Soviet times, now there is high unemployment and my specialization is not necessary.”

Karypbai, and his wife, Chinara live in Baktuudolonotu village in the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan. They breed sheep, cows, goats and horses, slaughter their stock themselves and sell the meat in the bazaar in the town of Bosteri, which is a summer tourist center. They have five children, four daughters and one son. Three of them live with their parents and help them. The Altymyshev’s are typical of traditional Kyrgyz families, with a fierce sense of loyalty and semi-nomadic life style based on a distribution of labor dictated by Kyrgyz cultural values. “We work together; my husband’s brothers live high up in the mountains grazing our herds. My husband is a great butcher. He knows everything about his business. I am responsible for household, trade and family budget. All our income is shared fairly”, says Chinara. Chinara farms fruits, berries and flowers in her garden. At the bazaar she sells huge assortment of meat: sirloin, brisket, ribs, hipbones, chucks, shanks, heads and hooves that her husband prepares beforehand.

Karypbai believes that keeping his children in the family business will help them avoid the employment problems that are affecting Kyrgyzstan. “Not everyone will have high positions of prosecutors, businessmen and diplomats. Somebody has to do cattle breeding and feed people”, says Karypbai. Their family business supply other towns and villages with meat. They look after his 20 horses, 30 cows, 50 goats and 250 sheep.

“We are not vulnerable like most of the people in Issyk-Kul region. Our business does not depend on the tourist season; it goes on all year around and people buy our meat, because there is no such thing as a vegetarian Kyrgyz”, laughs Karypbai.

“I am so happy to have a son who will take over from me. I believe that he will be the next generation of livestock keeper and butcher. I have four daughters, two of them are married, and the other two are studying for jobs in the banking sector. I let them be independent, make their own choices, but if things go bad for them, they can always come back to family business”, says Karypbai.

Karypbai’s son already works in the bazaar with his mother. He is 13 years old and moves happily between pools of blood and animal carcasses hanging from hooks. He already knows how to tell when beef, mutton and horse meat are fresh and how to divide up sheep and cow carcasses. He even has his own axe and a selection of knives. Karypbai regularly takes his son to the slaughterhouse, where he practices chopping and cutting on his father’s instructions. “I will take over from my father and develop our family business”, affirms his son.

As the day draws to an end, the Altymysehv family gathers together on the wide veranda of their home to share news, gossip and plenty of cooked meats. Like an increasing number of the new generation of traditionally structured Kyrgyz families, the Altymyshevs rely on meat for food and for their livelihood. For the foreseeable future at least, the Kyrgyz people will never stop eating meat.

A gifted nuisance

Stolen childhood
Gulzat's childhood was unusual. When she was seven years old, she had a strange dream: one night, an old man appeared in her bedroom and filled her hands with energy. He asked her to use this energy to help people. The experience didn't scare Gulzat; sometimes she felt as though she had been expecting a visit from the old man. Gulzat believed that she had gained the ability to see a person's “aura”. Gulzat’s belief that she had somehow gained special powers got her into a lot of trouble. She says she had to grow up quickly after that night – “Sometimes it seems to me that my childhood was stolen, I had to be adult, even if I didn’t want to be.”

Predicting divorce
Gulzat eventually married, but what started as a difficult relationship rapidly deteriorated. She thinks her ability to read auras enabled her to predict her husband's alcoholism. Things got worse for Gulzat. She says her husband didn’t support her financially; that he humiliated her; that he accused her of witchcraft. Gulzat's son continues to be skeptical about his mothers' abilities: “I know that my mother is very kind, she is ready to help and treat people, but I don’t believe that someone can predict your future. Everything depends on you.”

Her marriage gave Gulzat two sons, whom she loves tenderly. As any mother does, she wants to ensure that her sons are successful and educated people. But two young sons weren't enough to stop Gulzat's husband from abandoning her. Gulzat predicted divorce from the beginning but she refused to try and save her marriage – she didn't want to fight against destiny.

Worship of water
Gulzat believes in destiny; she is sure that we are unable to change our fates. To her, everything is predestined. Destiny dictates its own rules, which we have no choice but to accept. Gulzat accepted her talent, even though, at times, she didn't want to. She says she feels sick when she refuses to help someone. But even when she does agree to provide “treatment”, the healing process weakens her. “I know my mission on the earth, God sent me to serve people but sometimes it seems to me that prediction steals my energy.” 

Aijana, her roommate, has unquestioning faith in Gulzat's abilities: “When I have a headache, she always helps me, she massages my head.”  Gulzat visits Issyk Kul lake frequently and appears to draw strength from it. She even claims to worship the lake. She believes that it eases the pain she experiences when she conducts healings, and helps to replenish her “energy”.

On the cards
Not all of Gulzat's predictions are intuitive. She can also glimpse other people's futures by reading cards. Gulzat often refuses requests to read cards. Too often she sees bad things in the futures of the people who visit her. She sees her talent as a kind of punishment. “I don’t want to predict and be the person who brings bad news, but I can treat illnesses.”

Most of Gulzat's friends are not superstitious.  Some of them consider her claims to be sinful. “I don’t trust predictions, only God knows our future, it is a sin by Islam,” says Malika, a waitress.

Maid, not mad
Gulzat works as a hotel chambermaid. When she was younger she taught history at a secondary school, but she left her job when the “bad energy” surrounding her at the school become too much to bear. “My relatives thought that I am mad when I left school for working as maid. But I am maid now, not mad. I like my work.”

Expected death
Gulza says she knows when she will die, but this doesn’t seem to scare her. She wants to give birth to girl as soon as possible. She is sure that a girl will inherit her talent. Gulzat rarely thinks about when she will die. She lives in the here-and-now, and seems to enjoy her life despite the problems that accompany her beliefs. “I advise people not predict future, just enjoy moments, life is present itself, prophecy is not gift, it is burden.”


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