In Kyrgyzstan, as in many “Russian” cities, the center of the major cities is heated with a hot water system that feeds the radiators in your apartment. This can be both good, it’s cheap, and bad, we have snow on the ground and no heat yet because it isn’t the right date. For many people who live in houses, they still heat their homes with wood or coal boilers. This means that people need these fuels and you can tell when the heating fires have started by the smoke throughout the air.
Coal is somewhat abundant in Central Asia in general but of course it costs money to purchase. The alternative, wood, is often free but there aren’t great forests to harvest lumber from, making it a little more scarce. There are, however, trees planted by the Soviets along almost every road. They do make it quite pretty. They also make for easy access to heating fuel.
As you would expect, it is illegal to cut down these public trees lining the roadsides, yet it happens anyway. People need to heat their homes and often cannot afford to purchase fuel. I knew this was the case but had never actually seen it in progress, until this week.
We lost power at our apartment suddenly one morning. This is not an unusual occurrence. We have been without water, power, or both every day this week but one, I think. So when it went out again, I thought nothing of it other than to hope it wouldn’t last several days like the last time. As Magevney and I were leaving for our Russian class, we heard a chainsaw, a sound I’d never heard here before. (I’ve seen logs brought to mills that were cut by axes, but not by chainsaws.) Our car was blocked in so I walked toward the sound of the saw to find out whose car needed to move when I saw a crew topping a 70ft tree and a crowd all around watching.
I thought this was just an official crew, perhaps it was, and a whole bunch of spectators. As the top of the tree fell, a crowd of twenty or so men, women, and children, ran full sprint to the felled tree and attacked it with hatchets, axes, and their bare hands. It was total mayhem, first come, first served. We watched as people drug away branches in any way they could. Some small boys pulled them on small carts or in wheelbarrows, older women carried them, and we even saw a younger woman with a large branch around her neck, dragging the ground several feet behind her.
This continued all day until the four massive trees were gone and all signs of them removed. My only regret is that I didn’t have a chance to video the entire spectacle. I’d have had a YouTube sensation on my hands.