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I. August

    Bishkek, August 21/2002

    Dear Clemencia,

    The sun shines through the window of our wide and yet derelict apartment in Central Bishkek. Yes, we were warned in our contract that our living conditions in Central Asia would be quite different from those in York and Philadelphia. Vive l'Union Sovietique! And yet we cannot but regret the filthiness of our landlord. Since we arrived at five in the morning we went directly to sleep, unaware how dusty our eiderdowns were. As I woke up I realized that our soles were full of dust. We picked up a dozen of dust-loaded carpets and shoved them into a cupboard. Just as we were wondering about the reason why our landlord had covered the floor of our apartment with useless rugs, Anais stepped over a loosen nail, hurting one of her toes. She is also getting a flu, surely as a result of the unwholesome air we had to swallow during our first night in Bishkek.
    We spent most of our first two days in this Silk-Road post, dusting, washing and fumigating our 5-bedroom apartment. Though we did our best, it still looks as empty, eroded and unwholesome as when we saw it first. Built on a second floor, the front windows of our new home face a polluted main street where old Lada cars cross back and forth. Our backyard is a but common ground where, conveniently preserving their Soviet habits, our neighbours hang and dust off their carpets next to a pile of common rubbish. About five families survive in that mountain of rotten fruits and meat. This morning three women attacked and cut the face of a beggar who dared to sneak out a can of processed kidney pork from their territory. I denounced the misdeed to Melissa, the Local Director of DWO (Democratic World Organization), the NGO I'm working for, but she just advised me to forget it altogether, retorting that beggars get frequently killed in this city. The poverty of this beautiful land is striking indeed. The slopes of the Andes and the savannas of Africa must be more generous than the tundra and eroded mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Colombia, after all, is a summer land mitigated by fertile valleys and unconquerable mountains. Medellín or Bucaramanga are quite prosperous in comparison, believe me. Even in Bogotá the most miserable or despicable man can get a bowl of chocolate at Holy Baby Jesus Church. Would it be hasty of mine to conclude that the Catholic Church is a charitable institution whose function can only be appreciated after experiencing the impervious indifference of a NGO bureaucrat in an ex-Soviet society?
    Our flight from France went smooth. Only when we crossed the Caspian Sea we were able to grasp the true nature of our enterprise. 'You are bold', were the nervous words of Professor Sulkfold, my previous employer, who was unable to understand why did we want to move out from York. England, after all, is one of the most prosperous countries of the world, and since we have shipped all our books and appliances, there is no reason why people should not think that we are moving out from the civilized world to the middle of nowhere, never to return. Only a careful reading of Kierkegaard's works would be able to throw some light on our motives and inspiration. We are people who believe. I have abstain myself from writing that we are religious people, or people of faith, though that happens to be true as well. But our belief is anterior to our faith, and this anterior to our approach to religion.
    We were received at the airport by Taka, a five feet Kyrgyz boy with slanting eyes and hesitating disposition. He wore jeans, a pair of snickers and a rugby t-shirt. 
    ‘How are you doing guys?’, was his unorthodox greeting as we stepped down from the airplane.
    ‘Fine’, I replied, ‘You are...’
    ‘Taka. But you can call me Rob. That’s my American name.’
    ‘I’d rather call you Taka’,  replied Anais. ‘Likewise, I hope you’ll be able to call us Cándido and Anais.’
    ‘Nice to meet you both’, Taka smiled as he absorbed Anais’ irony.
    ‘How long have you been working for DWI?’, I asked as I shook his hand.
    ‘I was just hired’, he tattered, ‘Come this way, please’.
    Taka took our passports and guided us through a narrow corridor with walls decorated with portraits of whom we rightly assumed to be the members of the presidential family. On our way out we crossed the immigration bureau, in which most of our fellow passengers, bearing a grim countenance, were standing, waiting almost inmovile in a long queue.
    ‘Foreigners’, Taka muttered. 'They don’t have idea whatsoever of how do we run this country’.
    We entered to a small air-conditioned lobby where a slim girl offered us some water. Soon after a middle-aged blonde woman approached us and asked us some questions in Russian, which Taka, to our great relief, answered punctiliously. The woman invited us to sit down in one of the many leather sofas spread around the lobby. No sooner had we obeyed her that we saw Taka taking out his wallet and handing out two fifty dollar bills to the woman. The public servant smiled to Taka and gave him an invoice in return.
    ‘Welcome to Kyrgyzstan’, she said in plain English.
    Taka helped us with our luggage and introduced us to Abel, the DWI chauffer, a short round-face robust man in his late forties, too prompt to smiling, who also happened to work for the police national force.
    ‘But don’t let anybody else know’, added Taka with an air of mystery. ’Otherwise he may lose his job’.
    Although it was about four in the morning, we were more than awaken, victims of the excitement that only the first impressions of an unknown city, language  and culture can arise.
    The air was cold cutting when we entered into Abel’s four-door German car.  Taka talked about his recent experience in New Mexico, where he had just finished an internship. His English was good, though as it was the case with many Russian native speakers, he displayed a tendency to suppress definitive articles.
    Abel started his car and our eyes were caught by a succession of empty loots, derelict houses and dirty buildings. Strangely enough, we discover glimpses of prosperity: a modern gas station and several road adds from banks and multinational corporations, glamorous tokens as evanescent as the wealth of the foreigners who had to make their way  from the airport to their five-star hotels. 
    About twenty miles ahead we turned into Bishkek’s main street: Chuy Prospect, a long broad avenue surrounded by small bushes, built according to the spirit of he Second French Republic, that’s to say, without walls, ditches or facades that may allow would-be revolutionaries to set up barricades near the Presidential Palace.
    We heard to our amazement that Chuy prospect was Bishkek’s most illuminated street.
    ‘Darker than this would be pitch dark’, I snarled against my will.
    ‘In this country we don’t waste our resources,’ was Taka’s instinctive dry reply.
    Then, out of darkness, and covered by a thin mist, we moved alont the impotent figure of a giant.
    ‘A statue of Lenin’, exclaimed Anais. ‘I thought them all to have been  destroyed after the fall of the Soviet Union’.
    ‘It’s our history’, affirmed Take with a defiant look in his eyes. ‘We cannot deny what we are’.
    I had the impression then, dear Clemencia, that Communism had not been quite forgotten by the people of this country. Would it be possible that the dream of equality and justice to us all might blossom in this forlorn land? Don’t forget that Kyrgyzstan has never experienced a civil war. In 1992, after several neighbouring countries claimed their independence from the Russian Federation, the Kyrgyz nation discovered itself to be severed from their tyrannical motherland. 
    I hope your play you will succeed in the incoming theatre season of Bogotá. Please let me know of the state of your fight against nepotism and corruption. As Hamlet remind us, to be honest is a virtue or a state of madness.
    Yours truly,

    Cándido Rodríguez

Hugo Santander Ferreira © First Film Productions 2011