Tuesday 31 May
I should be in China now right? Hell I should be in India – but tell me something I don’t know. Apologies to sound like a broken record, but the visa situation hasn’t changed, and I’m still stuck in Bishkek. As there has been very little in the way of shenanigans to regale you with of late, I’ve thusly regressed into tardy blogging, and haven’t been bothered to let anyone know I’m still alive. This is due in part to me behaving myself and staying out of trouble for once. Unfortunately for the sick minded amongst you, I’ve recently been bequeathed a great deal of trust of sorts, so herein lies tales of only a wholesome nature. Welcome to Responsibility Part One: Camping with Kids.
Six months ago when I crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan in steady falling snow, if you’d told me I’d still be here in June putting a tent up in blazing sunshine with a load of ten and eleven year olds I’d have said you’re off your rocker. But nonetheless, that is where I find myself over the course of a two day camping trip with students from the QSIB International School. It’s the same educational establishment at which I’m directing the upcoming Shakespeare scene production – but more of that anon. Here I’ve been roped in – willingly I might add – to assist in chaperoning the lovely darlings. This should be a riot because I can barely look after myself.
And it doesn’t stop there, no! Not only that, but I’m told I’ve got to take four of the said kids in the car – along with a load of equipment – in convoy behind the mini-van with the rest of the tearaways. Now I’m not usually one to shirk driving anything or anyone anywhere (I once had to drive a 12 hour, 580 mile round trip from Oban to Blackpool carrying a live giant Octopus). But I must admit a little nervous pressure in keeping my charges safe; not least because the roads here are a nightmare and people can’t drive for shit. More of that later too.
So almost shaking my head in disbelief as to the situations I get myself into, we set off singing songs, playing eye spy and having my ears flicked from behind the driver’s seat. This is punctuated by yours truly yelling “AGE APPROPRIATE!” while the kids fall about laughing every time they come close to talking about something they shouldn’t be at such a tender age. This includes the constant third degree barrage of inquisition surrounding the nature of my relationship with their teacher – Ms. Alex. As I’m sure many of you parents and teachers are aware – it takes great skill to successfully dodge a malapropos line of questioning from the mind of a ten year old. “Oh look! A tree!”
100 or so kilometres outside Bishkek and you’re in the Shamsy Valley, which is a gloriously lush green on the floor, and brilliant pure white at the top. Every head needs to be covered from the beating sun, especially up here at around 2400 metres (7874 ft). This applies particularly to me, as I attempted to cut my own hair with clippers recently and ballsed it right up – so I’ve had to shave it all off. No picture exists at the camp without my Bolivian head scarf firmly hiding my embarrassment.
Working in teams, the kids set up camp with aplomb – which I must say I’m more than surprised at. I’ve been reliably informed that it’s their third time doing it – and there were tears the first time around. However the screaming matches between my ex-girlfriend and I while attempting to erect a two man tent at a festival every year would make your blood run cold. For my own part, it’s been a while since I did this, but I’m having a blast getting back to nature, trying to look like a seasoned pro and kidding on Bear Grylls has got nothing on me. This falls to pieces when I get a splinter while trying to fashion a working longbow from a bent branch.
And then there’s the cold at night. Survivalist I am not. When the embers of the camp fire have died and the last of the marshmallows devoured to the sounds of tall tales and ghost stories, the mercury just drops away. In a small tent of my own grouped with the trek leader and other teachers, I’m shivering uncontrollably all night. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold – and I’ve done an ice hotel in the Carpathian Mountains. I was wearing every stitch I owned, but still spasmed in my sleeping bag while listening to the endless screech of an owl, a dog barking and what sounded like a cow giving birth to an elephant. Needless to say I was in a stinking mood in the morning.
Ahhhh but I can’t throw temper tantrums here can I? I have responsibility remember? I can’t throw my shit out of the pram and withdraw into a beer bottle. I’m “awake” around 6 am not sure if I’ve slept at all, disturbed by a giggling alarm clock of bairns beyond the walls of my tent. But after a decent breakfast of scrambled eggs (the kids make all the meals themselves – which can be hit or miss), the warmth of the sun begins to dispel my grogginess, and we throw ourselves into the day’s hike.
And then it’s outdoor kids’ stuff 101 – which actually brings back memories. Geography lessons, scrambling down a river, learning to use an orienteering compass and walkie-talkies, finding interesting stuff you’re not allowed to take home because it’s disgusting – that kind of thing. To quote the owl that kept me awake – it’s a hoot. But it’s when we return to camp that the real fun starts – because none of them has ever played “capture the flag.” By the end of it I’m wheezing like an old man and bleeding from several scratches earned from diving through bushes. It was brutal – but I think in their feedback before returning home they all cited it as their favourite moment. That’s alright for them – I need a new lung.
For some reason the school decides to send the school driver to pick up the kids that were in my car as we prepare to return to base. This has me somewhat miffed and upset – especially since he terrifies them by bolting back at stupid speeds – and I really do enjoy the time I’ve been spending with them. A drive-home de-brief would have been lovely. However it’s actually a blessing in disguise, as the return journey is riddled with (albeit somewhat trivial) incidents. Just little niggles from other drivers or traffic laws here that get my back up and turn the air blue. But it gives way to something a little more serious.
With everyone safely back at school and into the arms of their thankful, relieved, loving parents; Alex and I are returning home after a successful two days. Maybe I’m still annoyed at incidents during the journey back, or that a speeding, no-fun, stone faced Kyrgyz guy with little or no connection to the kids was preferred to drive them home over me, but there’s a straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m slowing to stop at a red light, when this douche bag behind me sits on his horn. Just sits on it. Once the light turns green, he’s still on it even though I have to slow to allow a pedestrian to cross on my right turn. This is how they do things here. They’re on time for nothing, yet are the most impatient wankers when behind a wheel. I lose my shit a little – but only to the point of just slowing down enough to get his back up – while still actually doing the speed limit of 40 on this road.
Eventually he blazes past us, Alex smiling in the passenger seat, but instead of just driving on, he cuts us right up, forcing me to slam on. This huge, obese, hideously ugly, Jabba-the-Hut oaf then leaps out the driver side door and waddles over to my open window, yelling something unintelligible. Fearing a fat fist coming into my face, I’ve reversed quickly and pulled around him – but not before both myself and Alex are pretty shaken. There’s a possibility he realised we weren’t from here (and not knowing who we are – feared our connections to important ex-pats) and pulled out of his road rage attack. Suffice to say – they are animals. It put a damper on an otherwise wonderful couple of days. My CS gas canister is now in the glove compartment.
But not to leave on a sour note – and hey – it wouldn’t be “lookingforstu” if something bad didn’t happen. The trip was awesome, and all this responsibility stuff is actually keeping me on the straight and narrow. The more I work with these kids, the more I remember how much fun it is, and it might just be rekindling something I long thought dead. Coming soon is Responsibility Part Two: Shakespeare with Kids. Some of them might become friends on my Facebook! Surely that’ll mean I’ll need to be careful what I spout on here, right?! Curb the swearing like a sailor?! No more unadulterated filth?! But worry not dear readers – no doubt I’ll fuck something up really soon.