Things are peaceful, quiet, and simple in the little village of Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. Tourists have started coming into the city to go hiking and to explore the nature of Kyrgyzstan. They arrive in their big buses, with their North Face backpacks and hiking boots. They stand out so much. They are so much bigger than the local people. I probably stick out just as much as they do, but I do not realize it. They walk around with their big maps and automatically draw attention from people on the streets wherever they go. The tourists do not realize that the people of Karakol have been waiting for them (and their money) for 10 long months. Last year in September I remember hear people talking on the streets how they are excited for next year’s tourist season and the economic help it will bring.
Even though we do not sell our products locally the women of Shai-Kesh are also for some reason excited for these tourists. It is as if the coming of tourists means that their country has reached a state of stability and development that Europeans, Asians, and Americans feel safe to come. It’s funny, even though the women at Shai-Kesh know we will not be selling locally this year they still sometimes women talk about how they are excited to sell our products to the tourists…
The women who work at Shai-Kesh are all really great, and getting to know about them and their lives during the past 2 months has been fascinating. Each of the women who work with us has a past full of hardship and perseverance. Some of the women have left their families and life in the villages to come to the city to find employment, some are living in 1-room apartments with four or five other people in order to save money, and some have escaped bride kidnapping in order not to face a bleak future milking cows and taking care of the chickens. We have grown together, developed new products new together, and are really trying to build a company in the rural reaches of Kyrgyzstan.
Luckily we do have some real talent in our company and with this talent we have designed a new line of summer scarves reflecting images found in Lake Issyk-Kul, Shyrdaks, and Turtle Toys. Shyrdaks, are essentially Kyrgyz carpets. They are made out of felt, thick, and really act as great insulators. They are found in almost every Kyrgyz household. However the colors and quality which are found locally would not really be accepted by the international community. Based on this we are setting out to create ‘Avant-Garde Shyrdaks’ – beautiful modern renditions of the traditional shyrdak. Our local partner The Union of Artists is giving us a ton of advice on design and material quality. We hope to start producing shyrdaks in July or August. Whoever though that a NYU – Stern Business Scholl Undergraduate would be researching how to produce shyrdaks in Kyrygyzstan…It’s an extremely fun process though – driving to different factories, examining the quality of felt, sitting with the local people discussing economics and business, hearing the Russians still call Kyrygzstan ‘Kirgizia’ – It’s all part of the experience.