Well, my time has expired in this part of the world, and with a bittersweet goodbye I part ways with Kyrgyzstan, her land and her people. Such things have happened in the time that I have been here since January with the Central Asian Studies program, and I can’t in good conscience say that I am entirely the same man I am now to the one that I was when I came. Certainly the hair and the beard have me looking something like a caveman, but it is a change that was just as much within me as it was without me. And see, words wouldn’t really be able to fully explain that change, but I sure am going to try.
So few things in my life have sat me down with awe, and maybe I took it as a point of pride in some adolescent machismo attitude in some way, but so much here left me humbled and feeling as small as the day that I was born. It is easy to travel to these parts of the world as a westerner and feel big, but at some point early on I saw myself shrinking in history in the midst of such great things before me. I walked on the streets of Bukhara and Samarkand, two of the world’s oldest cities, with streets that Alexander of Macedonia, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Marco Polo and so many other giants in the book of mankind all passed through. And as humbling as that was and as small at that may have made me feel, even if only for a moment, I felt larger and grander than anything I had ever been before.
After being dwarfed by the timelessness of the land in my travels, I felt myself growing. With all the enormity of that around me, it was the small intimate moments that truly caused my world to turn. Moments shared above all else, and having taken part in something great with others. A beautiful moment is wasted without people to share it with and for that memory to live on in, and I know all of those moments and all the people that took part in them with me will hold onto them the way I will, all the same. I rode horses on the shores of Issyk Kul. I danced in a Turkmen wedding after swimming in a geothermally heated underground lake. I talked politics with bizarre political dissidents in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I saw the true freak-show wonderland that is Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. I walked among the giants of antiquity in southern Uzbekistan, men I admire in the deepest chasm of my being. And not one of those things was done by my lonesome; they were all moments shared.
There may have been trials and tribulations, and I would not trade any of those for a second of my time here. I was told once that iron should pass through fire to become steel, and while I feel that this part of the world may have been a fire in so many ways, it was a fire that nurtured and grew my soul more than tempering it. It may be the brilliant and blazing sun, which grew me over time into the strongest I have ever been, or maybe it was just the warm and intimate bonfire that I sat beside with so many others for a little bit and we all were warmed and nurtured by it in the middle of a vast and expansive steppe driving ever onward.
I step back from that fire now and traverse the steppe on my journey home, and the further I go from Kyrgyzstan the more all of the intimate moments and memories will seem to blend into one kaleidoscopic vignette in time. I really don’t know if I am leaving Central Asia, or going home now, but whatever it is that I do, I do it with a deep and abiding joy coupled to a deep and abiding sorrow. A joy that this all existed at some point in time and I bared witness and took part in it all, and a sorrow that I will now be departing all of that, and how glorious it will be to look back, even if it makes me a pillar of salt. I am going now, and perhaps I will return to these lands one day, though perhaps it was only a memory.