It’s October 3. And in Bishkek, one person remembered that October 3 is the Day of German Unity, celebrating the unification in 1990. It was Oskar. Oskar works at my university, where he sells baked goods for the local German bakery, the Schwarzwald Baeckerei. Every day, I walk past Streuselstückchen, Käsekuchen, Rosinenschnecken, gefüllte Plunder, Mandelschnitten, Frucht- und Sahnetörtchen, Laugenstangen, and Brezeln. There is much more to the Schwarzwald Baeckerei, but that’s a different story for a different blog post. But, if you got curious, you can catch glimpses of German deliciousness in Kyrgyzstan:
There are a lot of friendly people who work at my school. But Oskar is the friendliest of all. He always has a smile on his face, and even at the busiest times, when students gather impatiently around him to grab tea, coffee, or a snack between classes, he manages to start a conversation. Even though he does not speak English and I don’t speak Russian (but I am learning—hear, hear!), we get along splendidly. He speaks a little German, so every day, we communicate with a limited but growing set of German sentences.
Over the past two months, I have found, and appreciated, that many young people in this city are trying hard to speak to me in my first language, even though for them, speaking English would be easier. And, I have learned that a lively, and often funny, conversation can sustain itself with few words, real and invented, drawn from different languages, and supported with a wide range of expressive gestures.
Today, Oskar called out to me as I was rushing past the German bakery stand. He told me in almost perfect German that today is a national holiday in my country, and that he had a present for me. It was waiting for me on the counter: a cup of black tea and a Pretzel—the two things, Oskar knows, that I get every single day at his bakery stand. And today, both tasted particularly delicious to me.
Over the past 22 years, no one has ever given me a present on October 3. In fact, over the past 15 years of living in the U.S., people have rarely acknowledged that siginificant day. Today, in Kyrgyzstan, no official speeches, no flags, no photo op with politicians and state representatives. Today, in Bishkek, a thoughtful young person, a simple but meaningful gesture that crossed cultures, national histories, and languages, and a present commemorating that happy day in October, back in 1990. The historical event that is tightly interwoven with Kyrgyzstan’s Day of Independence, which I witnessed here in Bishkek on August 31. Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Deutschland, aus Bischkek. With the perfect present: a cup of black tea and a Pretzel.