Your first question for Jyldyz Djunushbekova might be, “How'd you end up in Durango?”
The native of Kyrgyzstan, which sits almost exactly halfway around the globe longitudinally, has a quick answer:
“I was sitting in my backyard and digging.”
So, people from Central Asia can have a sense of humor. Who knew?
Djunushbekova – she shortened her first name to Jyl for us Westerners – has lived in a variety of spots around the world. But she hasn't forgotten her roots. At local fairs and bazaars she sells scarves from Kyrgyzstan, and the profits go right back to the economically challenged women who made them.
One of her favorite quotes, from Albert Einstein, underscores the project: “Our separation from each other is an optical illusion of consciousness.”
“When you travel so much throughout the world, you understand how much we are alike,” Jyl says, the words coming out in bursts, often with a smile or chuckle. “We all laugh the same, we all cry the same. ... I do believe we're all one, really,”
If you attended Music in the Mountains last summer, you might have seen her there, selling the silk scarves with intricate felt designs woven in, cotton handbags and pillowcases. Jyl forwards the sales revenue to her mother, Shayirkul Makmutova, a cardiologist who lives in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital. Makmutova goes out and finds more scarves to purchase.
This is Jyl and her mother's way of helping Kyrgyz women provide for themselves. The U.N. estimates the country's poverty rate at 40 percent.
The scarves are thin and soft and come in a variety of patterns and brilliant colors – pinks, reds, periwinkle. Like the Navajo rug-makers who toil for many hours and days to create one piece, the Kyrgyz women are not making a huge profit per hour worked. Jyl says many mothers struggle to keep their children in school, to keep the boys from working and girls from prostitution.
Jyl sold about 50 scarves at Music in the Mountains for $110 each, with 40 percent of that going to MIM. “They were selling like hotcakes,” she says during an interview near her office in Three Springs. “It was the right audience, right market, I guess.”
She also sells them at local fairs and bazaars, where the prices are more like $60 to $80 – cost plus shipping. She says she's seen similar scarves in Aspen priced at $360.
Jyl grew up in Soviet-controlled Kyrgyzstan. A communist. She loves and appreciates America, but the Soviet system had advantages.
“Feminism was very strong,” she says. “Girls had as much opportunity as boys.”
Her father was a civil engineer and a perfectionist.
“'B' was not acceptable,” she says.
Jyl attended the same engineering school her father had. About that time, the Soviet Union collapsed, and everything state-run faltered.
After working for a while as a marketing manager for the new republic's first privately run company, in Bishkek, she transferred to Moscow with the same company. Thus began her world journey.
The company looked to the West, and she did too, moving to London in 1994. That's when she shortened her name. Wanting to “make a difference,” she left the company and joined the U.S. Agency for International Development, helping the Kyrgyz government catch up with the times. That's where she met an American with whom she had two children – Enver (born in Kiev, Ukraine), now 14, and Cecilia (born in Rotterdam, Netherlands), 9 – and moved to Durango six years ago.
Jyl doesn't sit still for long. She pursued and earned a degree in art at Fort Lewis College, and in 2008 began a job with the Southern Ute Growth Fund in information technology. On March 8 this year, she became a U.S. citizen.
“I feel that I have lived for at least 140 years (if not more), not because I feel old but because of the things I've seen and experienced in my life,” the 39-year-old writes in an e-mail before the interview.
Selling the scarves raises money, and it also connects the world and raises awareness of another culture, Jyl says.
“With each purchase, I give a card that says your purchase makes a difference for a woman and her family in Kyrgyzstan, 10,000 miles away from Durango.”
It's a big world, but “everywhere you go, people respond to kindness,” she says. “I find Americans are very kind people.”
After a few minutes with Jyl you learn that to be true about at least one person from Kyrgyzstan.
firstname.lastname@example.org John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.
This column has been updated to correct the spelling of Kyrgyzstan in the headline.