Staff, 2022-11-03 18:19:10,
On a slightly overcast day, felt artisan Chinara Makashova and I sit together in Restoran Pishpek, a bistro built to resemble a 19th-century fortress. We’re here to eat, but we’re also here to talk about the country’s storied history, which is intricately intertwined with shepherds, sheep, wool, and mutton. On the walls around us are large, framed, felted artworks. One depicts buzkashi, a Central Asian sport similar to polo, that involves men on horseback chasing after the headless corpse of a goat in place of a ball. On the table are beets, borscht, all manner of fried bread, and no shortage of meat.
We’re in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, near the Kazakhstan border. Here, there are no ancient stone buildings or cobblestone streets or tourist-swarmed historic districts. Rather, Bishkek is characterized by cool, tree-lined boulevards, the scraggly rose bushes of its public parks, Soviet-era plazas, and imposing brutalist architecture. In the downtown district around the restaurant, soldiers in uniform stand on street corners next to young women in hijabs and older women in babushkas. Vendors sell shoro—a fermented barley and milk drink—out of blue coolers at little kiosks on almost every street corner.
Home to nearly 7 million people, Kyrgyzstan is a swath of green in the heart of arid Central Asia. About the size of Nebraska, the nation has long been coveted for its vast natural resources and abundant farmland—as a…
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