Today, on March 8, yet another national holiday is being celebrated in Kyrgyzstan: International Women’s Day. It’s an important day, like it is in many former Soviet countries. Here are eight thoughts prompted by March 8 in Bishkek, told largely through 2013 photographs.
1.) Cake and Carnations instead of Bread and Roses
It was the day of flowers, of red roses and carnations. By the end of the work day, women left office buildings with bouquets of flowers. My university organized a reception to honor its female employees, a flower for each included. Colleagues, cab drivers, store clerks: all congratulated on International Women’s Day. Flowers in abundance, also on street corners and at markets. Sold out of buckets and pots.
Then there were the decorated cakes:
How many? Vanloads of cakes…
In Ala-Too Square, colorful variations on a number. Make your pick (out of eight options, of course):
The eighth 8, off Ala-Too Square:
3.) What Women Want (Or Not)
In Ala-Too Square, vendors sold the “matching” accessories. Perfume, toiletries, stuff.
4.) March 8 Makes for Strange Encounters (Or: How to Meet a Princess on International Women’s Day)
Expect the unexpected on national holidays in Bishkek. Meet Princess Fiona in Ala-Too Square. She stands out from the crowd, really.
You can even shake hands with her. Not into Shrek? There are other curious creatures to meet and greet. No reason to be shy:
5.) Wired: The Hardware of Visual Effects
A look behind the cardboards of Ala-Too Square:
Wood&wire for special effects:
6.) Fried Chicken and Fanta are for Girls
A special offer on March 8 by Coca-Cola and Begemot, with congratulations. Decorated with flowers, of course, because it’s all about women on March 8. Begemot is the popular fast food chain in Bishkek; you can spot the food stands from far away because of their distinct design (red and white stripes) and the lines of waiting customers. The local equivalent of McDonald’s in the absence of western corporate chains: burgers, fries, and soda. Only on March 8: buy fried chicken and get a Fanta for free! Does this mean burgers and Coke are for guys?
7.) The Party is On (Kyrgyz Hospitality)
The jolliest moment of March 8: at Dordoi market, in passing, a spontaneous invitation to eat, drink, and be merry in cheerful company. In the narrow and freezing shopping aisles, between stacked containers filled with goods from China, a sumptuous buffet and the generous offer -no, insistence- to dig in. Salads, meats, bread, pickles, chocolate, champagne, and cognac, spread on newspapers. And, in Kyrgyz fashion, many toasts. Here’s to you, friendly people, for including us strangers in your impromptu celebration.
8.) What it’s all about. And what it takes (Or: Women’s Rights and Courage)
March 8, told through a recent experience of feminist activists in Bishkek. A different use of public space; very different from the colorful spectacle in Ala-Too Square. A different story of March 8. One without photographs. Beyond the photogenic scenario that consists of sweet cakes, pretty plastic flowers, red hearts, and elaborate cardboard congratulations described above, an ugly and violent reality is lurking: