The mountains surrounding Lake Issyk-Kul (photo: Paul Emmet)

The Sound of Falling Acorns

Late summer, some 29 degrees, Bishkek, the capital of a tiny green oasis called Kyrgyzstan, sandwiched between China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Am walking the tree lined avenues catching some relief in the dappled shade. Finding a route across the city through parks and the bowery paths is fun. Seeking the shadow of the more than occasional random soviet monolithic buildings with their vast beds of roses. The pavement shaped from wavy tiles, then hexagonal, then square and octagonal in-laid with flowery motifs. Beside the path always the network of concrete gullies, it is early autumn in Bishkek and they are dry, waiting patiently to carry the wintery water melt. Today only oak leaves lay curling in the sun, the parks and streets cleaner and greener than most European cities. Kids play a piano under a tent day in the park, and the acorns drop around them at dusk as weird birds roost in trees that shriek and whistle.

One year ago in September 2018 I was invited for the first national cleanup day in Kyrgyzstan, the cities’ parks and streets had the familiar bottles, wrappers and cigarette butts thrown willy nilly. This year I noticed a big change moving around on foot between my hotel and the Italian restaurant Prego which served as the makeshift headquarters for the Eco Demi Foundation cleanup team. Meeting with over 70 regional organisers in Bishkek, one week before World Cleanup Day I was struck by the professionalism, good nature and broad range of participants behind this years’ event. Prego was the nerve centre and a parade of journalists, politicians and local celebrities would stop buy and pledge their support, in the form of gloves, bags, column inches and tv promotion. I was invited onto several national tv shows with Aijan Chynybaeva as my delightful, yet forceful, host and head of Eco-Demi and Let’s Do It Kyrgyzstan. We were given more than 30 minutes on each the top talk and news shows. During the build-up to World Cleanup Day 2019, everybody in Kyrgyzstan knew about the event.

On September 21st we travelled to the outskirts of the city with a team of volunteers from the United Nations and Eco Demi. As we were handed re-usable gloves and bags the excitement was noticeable, as was the presence of some rather large security people. Suddenly a motorcade arrived and the prime minister, his wife and two children emerged. Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev, immediately puts on gloves and began to clean the surrounding fields with the magnificent mountains glinting with snow in the background created a dazzling backdrop. The prime minister’s wife spoke excellent English and we briefly discussed the national and international unity in tackling ensuring that nature remains unpolluted and the importance of raising awareness and a sense of national pride.

And then the prime minister made the following speech:

Today, several hundred thousand of our citizens were involved in a day of service for the community, to clean their yards, villages, and cities from garbage. We understand that Kyrgyzstan is our common home, that we must keep it clean and tidy. We must pass on our homeland to the young generation with a clean and beautiful nature. I am very glad that our youth is the initiator of this event, one of them is the civil public organization Eco Demi. I want to express my gratitude to these girls, who, despite being very busy, with a large volume of work, go out, show initiative, and encourage the public to take part in such large-scale actions. Kyrgyzstan should be clean before all other things. I believe that if our youth is involved, not only as participants but also as initiators at the forefront, we will have a bright future.

meeting Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev

World Cleanup Day has now spread to more than 186 countries, and 20 million people, and how on this day more than 600,000 people (10% of the population) from a nation of 6 million were engaged in cleaning up their country. And also the tremendous impact that a core team of less than 10 people at Eco-Demi had mobilised an entire country, every school, government department, NGOs, the EU, UN, Rotary club and individuals in communities across seven territories. From all the countries in the world, this was the highest percentage of the national population, meaning that if you want to learn how to mobilise your population, take some notes from Kyrgyzstan.

The Wind Waving and Winding Mountain Motorways

A fiery leafy wall is waving, leaving Bishkek and the autumn colours are erupting, the road a sweeping arc, then a long straight, patchwork brown and orange mountains of Kazakhstan to the left, in the hazy distance snowy peaks on the way to lake Issyk-Kul, it looks flat but you can feel a gradual upward motion, going from 600m to 1600m in 4 hours. The fields either side of the freeway look dangerously dry, it’s another hot day and am looking forward to the cooling water and the clean air. Cows nibble bushes on the side of the road, occasionally crossing unconcerned while horses roam and roll in the fields unfenced and free. Nearing the lake and large flat fish hang drying in the sun old ladies waving, cops with roadblocks and impossibly wide brimmed hats.

The Kyrgyz are nature loving and they especially love flowers, gigantic beds of marigolds, roses and pansies line the streets of the passing towns where tree trunks are painted white and monuments to freedom struggles of the past rear up in gold and bronze paint, murals of Lenin and soviet stars are common alongside coco-colas invasion. A mountain river snakes by, lush greens and red stone banks and turquoise waters that glitter like a liquid precious stone, a landscape flashing by so lovely, ancient and dotted with modern and former soviet history knitted together, flying between the impossibly large loom mountains that frame a pure blue sky and say, nothing you do matters, here geology biology and physics are the teachers not the subjects, adapt and survive and remember your roots. While suspicious of foreigners at first glance when the ice is broken Kyrgyz people are warm friendly and humorous, a perfect combination, actors in a timeless stage, with a love of nature so deep they are inseparable from it despite the rapidly expanding modernity and connectedness of things.

Pre-World Cleanup Day event with EU in Kyrgyzstan

One week previously the European Union had hosted a beach cleanup event next to the spectacular Lake Issyk-Kul. Luminaries such EU Ambassador, the British Ambassador, UN representatives and Eco Demi pooled resources, rolled up their sleeves, donning gloves and reusable bags to remove unwanted trash from the shores. Today the beach was spotless and the waters sparkling, the thousands of cigarette butts that had been collected and the truck full of garbage from more than 100 volunteers had left a pristine environment, ready to welcome next season’s visitors. Cleanups really have no borders, and local action, combined with government, NGOs, schools and single mindedness can keep nature free from trash and work to implement policies and initiatives that keep it clean.

inside and outside the lake was cleaned

And Post September 21st the cleanup initiatives and activities are continuing: two mountain tops were tackled by specialist teams, an agreement with the ministry of education signed for a ‘How I Can Save My Country from Waste’ drawing competition, each school and university is to adopt a location and do a monthly cleanup, together with over 100 local businesses, and a cleanup in the Talas region (bordering Kazakhstan) took place with 21,000 people.’

#worldcleanupday, #WCD2019, #zerowaste, #ecodemi, #kyrgyzstan, #keepitcleanplan, #letsdoitworld




writer, copy editor, proofreader and photographer with a particular bent towards nature, philosophy and waste management (zero waste)

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paul emmet

paul emmet

writer, copy editor, proofreader and photographer with a particular bent towards nature, philosophy and waste management (zero waste)

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