Martin McKinney, Report of volunteer I

Every day brings new surprises here in Kyrgyzstan . the soviets were not the first it appears to use the local spring water for their famous sanatorium. It is said that job (yes THAT job) also availed himself of the waters healing properties to soothe his afflicted body. And for those here who bemoan the presence of 2 polish Catholics in this a Muslim city, there is genuine surprise that less than 70 years ago polish Catholics here outnumbered the local populace 2 to 1, when some 10 000 polish soldiers languish in a Central Asian backwater of population 5 000 you know that somewhere somehow a dictator has to be involved. Good old uncle Joe. The Jesuits here are involved in a process with the polish military attaché for Kazakhstan and the local government to commemorate the polish men who were sent here by Stalin during the second world war .it is astonishing to think that only a few decades ago the mysterious walled enclosure in the central park was purposely built as a huge open air church for the polish troops and what is now the national university was once their infirmary. The locals however remain largely ignorant of these facts and will do until memorials and plaques are finally put in place. In the meantime the sight of a Jesuit priest saying prayers and lighting candles on the graves of catholic soldiers will look like nothing more than a middle aged guy acting strangely at the rubbish tip in the Kurdish district of town.

Other surprises can leave you scratching your head…. The sudden autumn fad for putting goats in the back of cars (and im talking the seat not the boot) ; the fact that a grown woman needs a calculator to work out the change from 100 som for a 15 som stamp (yep that’s right it was at the post office) and the enigma of the 7 year old girl next door who looks older than her mother (who incidentally looks older than me but is considerably younger… which means I look younger than a 7 year old, not bad considering I still have my beard). At least the locals have gotten accustomed to seeing me about town; im easy to spot, im one of only three people in the country who wears spectacles (or so I hear, I have yet to see the other two), my students inform me its because I read too much- its bad for you apparently…the woman in the post office must have 20-20 vision. It is also commonly accepted that rain is enough excuse to be absent from school or college. I fear that with this attitude the entire population of Britain would be illiterate. Still, when your father has decided that you, as his daughter, will marry whomsoever he chooses, or you , as his son, will go to Moscow to earn your pittance it probably doesn’t make too much difference whether or not you attend school every day. “life is what you make it” has never sounded so hollow. The reality for most is that life is what slaps you on the face every morning you wake up.

It is tragic and never a pleasure to watch alcoholics fall off the wagon, nor is it edifying to witness church goers arguing as to who should or should not be allowed to attend mass. It is also tragic when an otherwise normal child is institutionalized alongside the severely mentally and physically disabled for the sole reason of bed-wetting. One is left feeling chastised when ones work is met with the remark ”what, you don’t have poor and disabled in your own country?” having long since given up the pretence of serving social justice, one is left with a recourse only to prayer. ‘pray constantly’ exhorted St. Paul. The real tragedy here is that we need to be reminded. A slap in the face can work wonders.

Martin McKinney
volunteer in Dzalalabad Parish of blessed Mother Teresa from Calcutta,
teacher of English language

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