Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Report of what it's like to live there - 01/16/15
Personal Experiences from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Yes- as a government employee. We lived in Belgium for a year as students.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Oregon. From Bishkek to Oregon, count on 34 hours. Bishkek is an hour away from the airport, then you sit and wait in their cold, dirty airport. Then it's to Turkey, Germany, San Francisco, then Oregon.
3. How long have you lived here?
19 months, with a 3-month medevac back to the States.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of a Foreign Service Officer.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The houses are very large, as well as the apartments. Every house has 3 levels, including kitchen, dining room, living room, extra rooms in the basement and bedrooms upstairs. Closets are unusual. The layouts can be strange or even awkward. Every house is decorated to the extreme. Our curtains are a ritzy shimmery gold, a chandelier in EVERYBODY'S bedroom and every ceiling has dramatic sculpture and detail to the woodwork. Nobody enjoys the style of their house, but they are nice houses and very spacious. Certain aspects of the houses are cheap- baseboards might fall off the wall easily from bumping into them, if you need to wipe something off the wall- suddenly the paint is all washing off on your rag, etc. Everyone's bathrooms smell like the sewer and it's gross. Somehow there is no blockage to the smell from the sewer and it therefor smells often. It is gross. Commute is around 20 minutes, unless traffic is bad.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
In the summer veggies are DIRT CHEAP. Everyone buys strawberries and freezes them for the winter. Winter prices go up quite a bit. Prices may compare to the States in the winter. You will never see a sweet potato, and the mangoes and avocados are worthless- but you can find everything else here. Obviously, peanut butter and other products are harder to find, but definitely not impossible. There are specialty stores that carry western products.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
You can get anything through amazon. Just bring a lot of the liquids- like Peanut butter, or your favorite shampoo. You can get everything else here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is nothing recognizable here- not even a McDonald's. Everything is local. Lots of good restaurants. You can get a really nice main course, appetizer, dessert and beverage for less than US$20.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO- I haven't clocked it, but I would say it takes around a month to get your mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Around US$3 an hour for nannies and cleaners. I've noticed an unspoken rule for the maids that they get paid for 8 hours of work, though they only work 5. A full-time driver is around US$20 a day. A gardener US$10 a day for 3 hours of work.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a couple gyms.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Everyone operates on cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think there is one Christian and one Catholic church.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks Russian, but Russian is a really difficult language to learn. Most set out to learn in with a tutor and give up after a couple months and decide to be fine with a small base to get by with. I know about 5 words and point and motion and it works in the market enough. There are some nannies and drivers who speak English well, and they can help you when you need.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not a wheelchair friendly place at ALL.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are fine.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
The roads are insane. You'll never ride over so many bumps and dips in your entire life. They don't repair anything well. If there is a man hole opening, they won't cover it- they will stick in a tree branch so you don't run over it. In the winter, everything is covered in ICE.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes- US$100 a month and reliability varies. This year seems to be better than last, but I know several people who seem to always have their internet out. I think the key is being attentive and as soon as it goes out, try to reset it at home (that works a lot) and if it is still out, to call your service and get someone on it right away. They rarely need to come to your house, you just make a call and a few hours later it's working again. When it IS working, we'll stream movies on multiple devices at the same time, with no problems.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Everyone gets one at the Embassy. They're not great.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
The only ones I know of are with the schools.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Most people get SO EXCITED when they find out you're American, are very friendly, and love to speak English to you- to the point of annoyance. I haven't experienced any hostility, besides observing one protest against America outside a coffee shop I was at (but it was only 5 people and mild tempered). Things go bad when it's late and/or people are drunk- which is often. People here love to drink vodka (it has it's special section in every store). The police are unreliable and Kyrgyz are SAVAGE when it comes to fighting. They will have an entire group against one guy and beat him to a bloody pulp. They have incredible road rage. During my stay, a friend got in a fender bender and stayed in their car, because the other driver was acting aggressive. The other driver proceeded to get so violent and out of control he RIPPED OFF THE DOOR HANDLE. But for day to day life, I am a mother with 3 small children, and I have always felt completely safe. I always go to the parks by myself and have had no problems, same for when my husband and I go out alone for dinner. It's when you're at a bar late at night, when things get troublesome.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Basic health care has been great. There are two local doctors at the Embassy who are wonderful and competent and now there is a PA and before him there was a Nurse Practitioner. We have been to the Embassy Health Unit often with our kids and have felt very well taken care of. For anything serious- the local care is bad. Even educated people here think their back aches because they slept with the window open. I was told not to sit on the cold floor at an airport because I was pregnant, they are obsessed with kids wearing hats, and someone told me that if you wear glasses, they make you have a C section. I did, however have an ultrasound for US$12 that went very well.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Moderate. Winter is are a bit nasty because everybody burns coal. The intensity varies. Trash burns all over the place in an unorganized fashion. Trash piles or cans will be smoldering for hours on main or residential roads. Summers aren't so bad. Last winter seemed so intense, but I think I've grown accustomed to it. Last year I would always want to open the windows for some "fresh air" and it would smell like a campground instantly.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
DRY. You will invest in humidifiers. We have them in all our rooms and some people have them in the living areas of their house. My 4 year old daughter told me the inside of her throat "had a rash" when her humidifier broke. Dry skin can be a major problem, as well. The soles of my feet are constantly dry and cracking.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I've had little experience with ESCA and all the teachers there seem very nice.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are preschools EVERYWHERE. You won't have trouble finding one.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Varies. Some people love it here. Some people hate it and leave very early. Certain aspects of living here are stressful. Some of the people here are very friendly and warm- but at the same time, they lie to you and try to cheat you. When it comes to driving, and crossing the road on foot- people are just plain stupid. I can't count how many times we've almost run people over or hit other cars because people are SOOOOOO wreckless. There is SO MUCH DIRT EVERYWHERE. If you have small children you carry around, be prepared to be constantly covered in thick dust. It's ugly here. Every building is square and cement. It is so unattractive. It improves in the summer with leaves and trees, but the winter is so ugly. Broken windows, falling apart houses, smoldering trash, pollution- it's just not a beautiful city.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Restaurants, hiking, rock climbing, bars. Entertaining at home.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's good for everyone. There is a lot to do for kids. Indoor playgrounds and bouncy houses everywhere. I've known a lot of single women here who all seem to be happy here.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The only thing I enjoy here are the incredible mountains. Words cannot describe how spectacular they are. But in the city, you can't even see them because of pollution. That's about it. The local dishes are good, but there are only a few- lagman and plov are good.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
At first glance, there's not much to do here. But there are a lot of restaurants, mountain activities (hiking, rockclimbing), opera house and ballet (for cheap). There are random activities going on all the time- butterfly exhibit, special performances, art exhibits, etc.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Felt everything. Really cool rugs.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Saving a lot of money. If you like to hike, the mountains are simply unforgettable. Really glorious. You can eat at some decent restaurants for pretty cheap. The variety of restaurants is surprising. Georgian, Lebanese, American, Chinese, pizza and of course local food.
8. Can you save money?