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Πepexóд (Transitions)

Kyrgyzstan, June 3, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mary Tam/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A young boy plays around the fountains of Ala-Too Square in Bishkek. Photo: Mary Tam/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Mary Tam/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The bucket on the right contains Kumus, a national drink of fermented mare's milk. Photo: Mary Tam/Mercy Corps

We were flying from London to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan via Almatay, Kazakhstan. I was in a semi-conscious airplane daze when my Kazakh neighbor tapped me on the shoulder, pointing out the right side of the plane.

I peered down at a navy tone, which bled into scattered clouds. Above that the sky faded effortlessly between oranges, yellows and reds, eventually trailing off into cobalt. In the middle, a nearly full moon glowed white; a solitary orb suspended amidst raw color. I noticed a piercing red-orange light coming in from the left and realized that on the other side of the plane was the sun. There we flew, temporarily nestled between day and night. It didn’t last long, but I was grateful to have been awoken to absorb this moment of transition.

I have been working on a transition of my own. After one week in Bishkek, I’m finally getting used to the differences between my new habitat what feels like a previous lifetime. I haven’t eaten this many meat dishes in one week since I was in the eighth grade. I’m slowly expanding my vocabulary beyond Da (yes), Nyet (no), Privyet (hi) and Dasveedaneeya (bye), but am far from being even remotely conversational. Apparently I look Kyrgyz, and when people try to speak to me on the street I sheepishly reply, Ya nye gavaryoo pa-rooskee (I don’t speak Russian). Each time I am forced to stomach furrowed-brow looks of surprise and disappointment. I’m not sure what’s worse, that or all the meat dishes.

Yet my transition is small karatoshkee (potatoes) compared to that of Kyrgyzstan. I have been speaking with people to hear what they have to say.

One local told me that everything appears to be back to normal in Bishkek, but below the surface there is still great turmoil. There are stories of longstanding corruption and the disappearance of government funds. I have heard mainly support for Rosa Otunbayeva, the interim president and first female president in Central Asia. From what I understand, she has accepted terms that prohibit her from running for president in the future, in part forfeiting her political career to see Kyrgyzstan through this transition. That’s taking one for the team.

Speaking of teams, the Mercy Corps and Kompanion teams are comprised of staff from diverse professional backgrounds — agronomists, IT experts, community organizers, accountants, communications specialists — and they continue to dedicate themselves to making their country a better place. One of my first assignments relates to improving data and knowledge management.

As a social business, Kompanion must look to measures of social performance — rather than financials — to determine overall success and efficacy. Additionally, Kompanion seeks to document best practices that have the potential to benefit its own projects, Mercy Corps programs in other countries and the greater international development community.

As I begin to take my first steps with this internship, Kyrgyzstan is already in stride towards a new (and hopefully improved) political era.