Ait mairik bolsun! (Eid Mubarak)

By Rob Packer, KF9 Kyrgyzstan

This is a repost from the Kiva Fellows’ Blog.

Islam in Kyrgyzstan feels different; more of a personal matter compared with other countries I’ve travelled in. While it’s probably an exaggeration when the Lonely Planet for Central Asia says that the Kyrgyz “limited it to what they could fit in their saddlebags”, there is probably some truth in the matter in a culture where kymyz, fermented mare’s milk, is a key cultural pointer and a toast with vodka is often not that far away, especially amongst the more Russified population of northern Kyrgyzstan. When you remember that the Kyrgyz are a people with a nomadic heritage who were first permanently settled under the Soviet Union’s policy of ‘militant atheism’, you might expect the relationship with religion to be a little different from the norm. (more..)

An Islamic cemetery outside Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan’s Windy City

By Rob Packer, KF9 Kyrgyzstan

This is a repost from the Kiva Fellows’ Blog

In the middle of October I spent a week away from the Bishkek office of my MFI, Mol Bulak Finance, to see microfinance in action in their Balykchy branch. Part of the training as a Kiva Fellow is to complete an online course from the United Nations Development Program on microfinance, which seemed to tell me continuously that microfinance is a low-margin, high-cost business. No matter how many times this message is drilled into me, it still comes as a shock.

The town of Balykchy sits at the start of Lake Issyk-Kul, the world’s second-largest mountain lake after Lake Titicaca. The lake is a summertime holiday Riviera and a former Soviet naval testing ground far away from the prying eyes of the West. Compared with its more visitor-friendly lakeside neighbours of resort town Chopon-Ata and trekking or skiing centre Karakol, Balykchy suffers from a bad reputation in Bishkek. Bishkek was a sea of yellow leaves at the time, but I was warned that I would need warm clothes for the cold and sunglasses for the wind. As we drove out from Bishkek, the ever-present fields and mountains became drier and when we finally left the steppes and arrived in the massive valley of Issyk-Kul, the landscape looked more and more like a mountainous desert, camels included. During my time there, I never experienced Balykchy’s gale force delights but the wind’s presence seemed to hang over the town like a dragon in the mountains.

The modern-day Silk Road just outside of Balykchy

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Добро пожаловать, граф Картошка! ジャガイモさん、いらっしゃい!Welcome Mr Potato!

By Rob Packer, KF9 Kyrgyzstan

This is a repost from the Kiva Fellows’ Blog

Inter-Cultural Exchanges in Kyrgyzstan

The words ikebana and prazdnik started spreading around the offices of Mol Bulak Finance, my MFI last week. Prazdnik was the easy part: it means holiday, festival or party in Russian, but the word ikebana was new to me. My first thought was “That word sounds a lot like the Japanese art of flower arrangement!” and then decided it didn’t really sound all that Russian, and used my limited knowledge of Kyrgyz (eki means two) to convince myself it must be Kyrgyz. When I asked I was met with shocked expressions and told it really was the Japanese word and that on Thursday flowers would be arranged, or lunch prepared.

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A Sunday outing, MFI-style

By Rob Packer, KF9 (Kyrgyzstan)

This is a repost from the Kiva Fellows’ Blog

I feel it’s almost become a cliché to write about the inspiring professionalism and overwhelming dedication of MFI staff on these pages. I’ve now been at my Kyrgyz MFI, Mol Bulak Finance, for a week and have now seen where the clichés come from: reality. As if to drive the point home, MBG’s indefatigable Credit Manager, Renat was waiting outside my apartment at 9am on a sunny, but cold October morning to visit borrowers in and around Kara-Balta, Kyrgyzstan.

The view from Bishkek

The road out of Bishkek was my first trip outside of the capital within Kyrgyzstan after my night-time journey from the airport into town. Our route out took us past Osh Bazaar, one of Bishkek’s largest, and Kyrgyzstan’s largest used car market, which is a phenomenon I hope to write about in a later blog. Along our route thousands of kilometres of flat Kazakh Steppe and West Siberian Plain crashed spectacularly into the snow-capped Toblerone blocks of the Alatau Mountains, the advance guard of the Himalayas, which rise 3500 metres within the space of 50 km. (more…)

Countdown to Kyrgyzstan

By Rob Packer, KF9 (Kyrgyzstan)

This is a repost from the Kiva Fellows’ Blog

It’s been a short six months since I first found out about Kiva and in that time I’ve moved from having an interest in poverty alleviation and a vague desire to “do a bit more” to graduating yesterday as a fully-fledged KF9 Kiva Fellow. And my physical journey to Kiva has been no less of a complete change of direction: it started six months ago with me working for an investment bank in Hong Kong, and continued with persuading Indonesian internet cafe owners to let me have interviews over Skype in the dead of the night, returning to my hometown of London, England for a few weeks to say goodbye to friends and family, and finally arriving at Kiva Fellows training in San Francisco. My journey to my placement with Mol Bulak Finance in Kyrgyzstan will take me most of the way back to where I started.

KF9 Graduation with Kiva Staff and KF9 Kiva Fellows

One of the most obvious differences between my placement and most other Kiva Fellow placements is that I won’t be dealing with extreme heat. (more…)

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