After too many flights over the last two weeks to count, we finally got to drive to another country. We packed up an embassy van and headed out of snowy Almaty with the Tien Shan mountain range. We drove through the slushy traffic until we reached the empty frozen tundra. There was a serene whiteness to the surroundings. On one side just empty whiteness, with a smattering and scattering of shaggy sheep and wild horses; on the other, the majestic Tien Shan mountain range.
After about 2 hours, we stopped at a rest stop and switched into a van for the US Embassy to Kyrgyzstan, then we continued our drive on to Bishkek. We crossed the border with no issues, and made our way into the Kyrgyz capital. We had a traditional Kyrgyz lunch with our Embassy staff. I had a phenomenal Kyrgyz lamb kabob with grilled eggplant and shredded onions wrapped in lavash (thin pita). We checked in, and I had an aforementioned St. Louis-shwarma evening free.
The next morning, the Dellas had a program at the Krasnaya Rechka Orphanage. We drove about 40 minutes outside the city until we got to the orphanage. Apparently, US army folks stationed at the Manas Air Force base come out to the orphanage on a semi-weekly basis to play with the kids and help out with some general repairs and the like.
We set up in a room for about 40-50 kids, many of whom had down's syndrome. The Dellas played, shared music and love with the kiddies. The whole thing was wonderful and poignant. There was one adorable girl with down's syndrome who hooked her arm in mine and wouldn't let me go. After the show, the Dellas let the kids play with their instruments, which the kiddies absolutely loved. The kids didn't want them to leave.
We drove back into town, and stopped at a music boarding school. The Dellas played for the music students, who then reciprocated with some traditional dombra stomps and songs. After the music exchange, the Dellas met with their doppelgangers, a 5-girl Kyrgyz folk troupe named Ustad Shakirt, who they would be collaborating with them for their big concert at the Opera House. It was interesting, the girls all collaborated well, but there was definitely a different culture of music arrangement. The Kyrgyz folk troupe was much more managed, and waited for ques from their manager and were very hesitant to take any solos without prompting, while the Dellas are a lot more freewheeling. Cultural differences...