Community Based Tourism and My Newest Job
As strange as it may seem, I actually work in the tourism industry here in Kyrgyzstan. My organization, Altyn Kol, makes shirdaks (felt carpets) and other handicrafts to sell to tourists so they can remember their trip to the “Switzerland of Central Asia” (I’ve heard it more than one place, so it must be true. And now it’s on the internet, so it is doubly true). In addition to my formal role in the industry, to quote Sly and the Family Stone, “It’s a Family Affair.”
My family works for an organization called Community Based Tourism (CBT). CBT’s business plan is quite simple: use local people to provide the tourism services necessary to attract people to the region. A nonprofit organization, CBT gives 82% of the money it earns directly to its service providers. Kochkorites provide housing, transportation, guided tours, and food to those who come through the area. My family fits into all of these areas: our house is a guesthouse; my brother Nurdin drives people to beautiful Lake Song Kol; my brother Azamat takes tourists on treks through the area mountains; and my mom cooks for anyone who stays with us.
Funny enough, I have picked up a job myself: translator. I never quite realized the ubiquity of the English language until I came to Kyrgyzstan. No matter where the tourists are from, at least one of them speaks more than respectable English. Since my host brother Azamat is still in Bishkek finishing his first year of university, I have become the family’s resident English speaker. The tourists enjoy having a fluent speaker in the house, but I don’t think they quite realize I don’t exactly how to translate their needs into Kyrgyz. I usually just do whatever it is they need done.
I do admit that the one thing that one learns first in this language environment is how to express needs, especially simple ones like hunger and thirst, likes and dislikes, and how to gather simple information. Since these are the primary concerns of most tourists, I seem like a natural, dare I say fluent translator. Little do they know, if they asked almost any question outside of the three aforementioned categories, I would probably just have to lie to them.
So far, we have had some really interesting guests (we call them “konoktor” instead of “tourist-ter” so they don’t know we are talking about them). Our first big group of the year was actually a group employed by Land Rover to drive from London to Singapore. They were a pretty cool group of Brits, I must say. We’ve had a couple of French tourists and Erin’s family has had people from America, Slovakia, and, believe it or not, Kyrgyzstan. From what the CBT director tells us, most of the tourists that stay in Kochkor are from France. I guess I should start polishing up French!