It was an unusually quiet summer morning in Osh, the southern capital of Kyrgyzstan. As soon as I woke up, I knew that something was not right. I couldn’t hear the noises of bypassing cars outside my bedroom window overlooking a usually-busy road. I could, however, hear other unfamiliar sounds that reminded me of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Every year on December 31st close to midnight, hundreds of people back home come out to the streets with their families to greet the new year with fireworks. For over 30 minutes, every neighborhood in the country lights up with colorful explosions in the sky, and the air fills up with cheerful shouts and the sounds of exploding fireworks.
Sounds of exploding fireworks - that’s exactly what I was hearing outside, instead of the usual sounds of car engines. I looked out of the window, but couldn’t really see anything; the road was empty. There was smoke coming up from a couple of places in the city, and I could feel the smell of something burning. The rest of my family gathered in my room; no one was exactly sure about what was going on. There was nothing unusual in the news or anywhere on Kyrgyz TV channels. So we just sat there wondering and calling up our friends. Only a little later, we found out about the ethnic clashes that had started that night between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz peoples.
After some time, I finally built up the courage to go out and see everything myself. Luckily, our neighborhood was far from the epicenter of the fights. That didn’t save the little bazaar 2 blocks away from my house though. Once the place where I used to buy freshly baked bread every morning, it was now on fire. There were a lot of people: some were trying to put out the fire and save their shops, while others were trying to grab as much free stuff as they could to take home. There were no firetrucks, no police cars, no ambulances. For the next 4 days, I was stuck at home waiting for this to be over, while in New York, my internship at Google had already started, and I was probably already behind all the other interns.
A month later, after escaping the city on a Russian plane bringing humanitarian aid and experiencing having a gun point in my face by a guy shaking with adrenaline, I was visiting Boston for the weekend of July 4th. I will never forget the terrifying memories that were brought back to me that night while I was watching the fireworks explode in the sky. They were exactly the same sounds, but this time there were smiles everywhere and a happy atmosphere.