Posted by: cousindampier | 2 June 2014

The Way Home, Day 6

-Leamington Spa-

Yesterday, as I sat flipping through my notes from the past month, I came across a name and an address written in Russian, with a translation just below – and I am suddenly reminded of a very important task I have to fulfill.

Just about two weeks ago, I was in Bishkek with a friend, Angie.  Getting from Almaty to Bishkek is an easy process, the only hassle being the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border crossing, we spent two days wandering up and down Chuy Prospekt (Чуйский проспект) in Bishkek – quite literally.  The hostel was at one end of Chuy, and the coffeeshop was at the other.

One evening, walking through a square hosting the monument to the Soldiers of the Revolution, there was a man standing around with a telescope.  He was short and older, maybe 55.  He’d charge people a few som to look through the telescope, and on that night Saturn and Mars were clearly visible.

Bishkek is Kyrgyzstan’s largest city, but it holds just under 850,000 people.  Almaty, meanwhile, holds just over 1.35 million – and more importantly, it is nearly double the area of Bishkek.  All this is to say that the stars in Bishkek are somewhat clearly seen, especially relative to Almaty.  Closer to the border, the light from Almaty is easily seen, even over the 4,000 meter peaks.

This guy – Viktor, as I would later learn – was space crazy.  Angie speaks both Russian and English, and was able to talk to him with ease; and when he determined I was from America, he was excited for though he knew no English conversation, he knew English words.  He knew Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, Mount Hamilton and Big Pine.  He knew Mount Wilson and Table Mountain, and not only did he know the list of astronomical observatories in America by heart, he knew the telescopes and the size of their lenses and what they could see.

And we got to see Saturn, a small orange-white dot with those broad rings; and if you leave the telescope on Saturn for a couple of minutes it disappears out of sight, because it is curling and moving the entire time.  We could see Mars, larger and redder, which stuck in view for much longer, and then Viktor started to show us both stars, two big stars close together and ask us to guess the colours of them, and we never guessed correctly.

This was all a random circumstance.  I was trying to figure out where Old Edgar’s bar was located at, and we happened to walk through the square when Viktor encountered a lull.  But it was such an opportune circumstance, because I used to be an incredible space nerd.  I probably still am, but that doesn’t matter; because to randomly meet a Kyrgyz man who loves space enough to know the size of telescopes around the world, and to dream of looking through one, was enough for me to ask Angie to get his address because I want to send him some of the photos I’ve saved over time.

He didn’t live in Bishkek.  He lives outside of the city in a village. And while he ranted – to Angie, at least – about the stupidity of people today, he was doing his best to show people something bigger.  I have no idea what he does for a living, but he drives his telescope into the city on weekends to make a little extra money, and whenever we saw him from then on he was surrounded by three or four people, telescope pointed up and stars shining down.

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