Glance at the parking lot outside parliament, at the fleet of Lexus SUVs kitted out with chrome, and you might think Bishkek is the capital of a wealthy country. A block down Chui Avenue, a shiny new Range Rover is parked on the sidewalk. Police drive their own BMWs.
Look a little closer, though, and the real Kyrgyzstan comes into focus.
In the shadow of the hulking White House – as the parliament building is known – Enjegul Kydyralieva, 50, sells lollipops and nuts from a blanket spread on the ground. On a good day, she clears about 250 soms ($5.20). “One hundred percent” of that – after she subtracts 50 cents for daily transportation to and from her village 45 minutes away – goes to feeding three children and three grandchildren, including the four-year-old she’s babysitting on the curb.
“If anyone gets sick we try to save money to buy medicine,” Kydyralieva says as the steel gate opens and another shiny new SUV glides past. “It’s not fair. They drive around with these cars that cost thousands of dollars and we are here working all day to earn a few hundred soms. Plus, they try to chase us away.”
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.