Monday, June 28, 2010

Finding Compassion in Kyrgyzstan

Jialoo and his wife Azhar stand in front of their home garden. As earlier participants of the Apple Project, a Mercy Corps program launched in 2005, they have improved and increased their yields.

On a cool, cloudy day in eastern Kyrgyzstan a man named Jialoo Mamatov stood tall, his outstretched arm pointed proudly towards a lush green garden. His delighted gaze needed no translation. Beyond the long rows of garlic and budding fruit trees spring runoff threaded around rolling foothills, its twisted path extending up to the Jety-Oguz Mountain Range.

Unfortunately, the serene moment between a man and his garden was in direct contrast to the crisis unfolding in Osh and Jalalabad, two cities located in southern Kyrgyzstan. The tour of Jialoo’s garden was part of a scheduled trip to visit Kompanion field offices and Mercy Corps programs near Lake Issyk-Kul however; the timing was clearly at odds with recent events.

Hundreds of miles from Jialoo’s village the fear, confusion, and senseless violence were finally subsiding. But back in Bishkek, and on the other side of the globe, Mercy Corps and Kompanion were ramping up staff and resources in preparation for a substantial humanitarian response. A flood of meetings, maps, laptops, and logistical plans descended on conference rooms across multiple time zones.

Far from the action at headquarters the view from my conference room table was slightly different. Curls of steam rose from my cup of tea as I sat at a large dinning room table and listened to Jialoo's prayer. With a commanding presence and sincere, gentle tone he spoke about peace in his country and around the world.

The recent eruption of chaos, though far from his farm house, weighed heavy on his mind. We spent an hour trading questions and sharing cultural nuances. He enjoyed telling stories about growing up in Kyrgyzstan. In the dirt driveway, surrounded by his family, we said our goodbyes with handshakes and hugs.

Lost in the shadows of this renewed violence and mayhem are the amazing citizens of Kyrgyzstan who embody compassion and generosity. Spending the afternoon with Jialoo, seeing his face creased with a wide smile, I realize his pride in Kyrgyzstan is not an anomaly. It is representative of the enduring sense of patriotism that can be found across this beautiful country.

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