America is the best country in the world. This statement goes in tandem with one that Kyrgyzstan, China, and likely Kazakhstan are not. I've beens slowly acclimating myself to China's problems, but since I'm only in Kyrgyzstan for a week or two, I'm getting a fast-track course.
The girl who's helping me learn Russian (who's name is something impossibly close to "Allah") tutored me again last night. After I felt too discouraged from not being able to pronounce the word for "three", I let the conversation drift to whatever she wanted to talk about. She told me that she had been to the hospital today to see her friend who was having a baby. Allah is my age, so I expressed surprise that a friend of hers was already married and having a baby.
Casual as can be, Allah explained that her friend had been kidnapped. This didn't seem to be an explanation of the situation, but after she came up with a few more synonyms, my understanding still hadn't improved. Then I remembered a short passage in my guidebook about an ancient Kyrgyz practice: bride kidnapping.
As this might be unfamiliar to you, I'll explain it. A young man who has his eye on a girl but doesn't have the money (or reciprocated affection) for a proper wedding kidnaps the girl (by horse, I think, in the old days) and she becomes his wife. Divorce is impossible because no one wants someone who isn't "whole", to use Allah's expression.
When I read about bride kidnapping in my guidebook, I figured it belonged to the same part of Kyrgyz history that moats and dragons belong to in Western tradition, but here I was talking to a girl whose friend had been married by the process of what we would call "rape."
The girl, Allah told me, had known the guy for a month before she was kidnapped. At first it was difficult, Allah said in the perfectly heartbreaking way non-native English speakers sometimes manage, but then "she got used to him."
After I sat stunned for a few minutes trying to wrap my mind around this, tons of related questions poured forth. Kidnappings were rare in Bishkek, so Allah wasn't afraid. She thought it was just the way things were done, "horrible", but not about to change. Some girls dreamed about being kidnapped, but usually girls didn't look forward to it.
All of Allah's juicy stories about bride kidnapping had to do with extra twists: one girl who betrayed her friend by helping a man kidnap her friend, and so on. For me, the amazing part was the reality of the stories at all.
Kyrgyzstan also has a really corrupt legal system organized by wealth and connections, and an infuriating process for getting a Kazakh visa (which is why I implicated Kazakhstan in my list even though I haven't been there yet). God bless America.