When Germans come to Tokmok, they want to find Germans.
When Chinese come to Tokmok, they want to find poets.
When Americans come to Tokmok, they want to find terrorists.
I came with the night, looking for everything.
It was dark, and some of the buildings seemed to be empty. I set up the tripod in a hidden spot, wanting to stay unseen, but the night sent me a group of young men. They were dressed in black, and one of them was wearing a skinhead. He introduced himself as Ruslan. It turned out they were all very nice.
I told them I was taking footage for a project about Kyrgyzstan, and Ruslan said the buildings were dangerous. Bad people were living in them, was I not able to hear their voices? He pointed to his ear, and yes, there were faint sounds coming from the hollow insides of the buldings. He offered to take me there the next day, but I never heard from him again.
I stayed for a few days, and I found the terrorists first. Or rather, I found the place where they used to live, where they went to school, where they played with their friends before they moved to the US and blew up the Boston Marathon. People knew them still, but they seemed tired of foreigners asking questions, so I looked at the unloading of sugar beet instead. Lots and lots of sugar beet. I figured I had found my terrorists.
Then I went looking for the poet. I took a cab and told the driver to go in a direction southwest of town. We went on and on until I pointed to a place with a few holes in the ground. The driver shook his head and left, and I set down my gear and gently stroked past the ruins that were once Suyab, the supposed birthplace of Li Bai, one of the greatest poets in history. I looked at the green valley and at the mountains in the distance, and it slowly dawned on me that they hadn't changed much during the last one and a half millenia. I had found my poet.
The next day I took another cab to a place called Rotfront, a former German village. Life had never been easy for the residents, but it got worse when Stalin enslaved them into gigantic construction projects while their children were growing up with nomads in the pastures. Decades later, when the Soviet Union fell, most of them somehow ended up back in Germany, a place that they had not set foot in for two hundred years, a place where people looked at them as "Russians". I stayed with Wilhelm, a gentleman from Germany who had moved here to teach the language and keep the memory alive. He advised me to visit the graveyard, which I did.
At the graveyard, I found an old man who was putting down flowers at another old man's grave. He was of Russian descent, and he didn't mind talking. "This was my best friend," he said, pointing at the grave stone. I read the name on the plate. It was Rudolf, one of the children of the pasture.
I asked a stupid question: "Was he your very best friend?"
The old man laughed: "When Rudolf came down from the mountains, he was about 10 years old, and his Kyrgyz was better than his German or his Russian. We were the same age, and we became friends right there and then. We never left this village. He was the best friend I ever had!"
I could see the old guy's eyes turn a bit watery, so I bid my good-bye and walked around the graveyard some more. I didn't expect to come across an inscription that would burn itself right into my soul:
I AM HOME. ARE YOU COMING, TOO?
I had found my Germans.
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This footage was taken in October 2014 in and around Tokmok, the Kyrgyz industrial town on the border to Kazakhstan.
▶GPS: N42.84391 E75.29810
▶Shot with DLSR 15mm 55mm
▶Soundtrack: Geroeva Alena - "Sad Heart"
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