Recently I had the idea to write a post cards. Yes, a real card, solid paper and a picture on one side. It was an adventure. It lead me into the depth of Kyrgyz culture.
A friend was visiting and we were desperately searching for postcards for her family and friends.“Let´s go to the post office,“ she said „they will know“. Her hopes were high, mine were not. The post office here sells magazines, you can pay bills for telephone, gas and electricity. It is a big place, that has seen better times and busier business. Five out of eight counters are empty. The entering visitor wonders if to disturb the quietness and peace of the place.
To our surprise, the ladies behind the counters were busy. Facebook, Solitaire, pictures…lots to do!. As we came to the counter, one lowers here glasses and raises her look on us. Speechless. „Do you sell postcards?“ I ask. Silently she turns around, gets off her chairs and slowly moves herself to a place a few meters away, arranges some papers and booklets and comes back with a choice of five different motives. The cards are not exactly Bishkek of today, but real postcards. That is all we need. Even a snow lion is among her great choice. We decide to take all motives, some even twice. She takes a rubber band, ties the remaining cards with a huge rubber band, and rearranges them back into the shelf. Mission done.
But now we need stamps. Real stamps, that is, for writing to Germany. With a grim face she looks at us, sending not exactly friendly messages across, above her glasses. She calls for her colleagues. “ Come, I need your help. These people want stamps. For Germany. They discuss, and finally open a huge safe in the back, the heavy door opening silently. The key must have been lost ages ago. We can hear her shuffling paper, and after a few minutes she slowly comes back with a good number of stamps, modern, bright colors, clean print even. „Here you are,“ she says in Russian. „XXX Sums.“ Quickly, I multiply the number of stamps with their values. But it does not her match her number. I ask back to her…maybe I misunderstood? „XXX Sums“ she repeats and puts on a strict look. „Tax on Stamps!“
Later I ask my colleagues about the tax. They smile. They have never seen or heard about a tax on stamps. „That’s Kyrgyzstan!“ one says. And smiles with a twinkle in his eye.