Tokmok was first founded as a military outpost for the Khanate of Kokand in the early 19th century. Later, Major-General Mikhail Chernyayev founded the town in May, 1864. Most notable (if known at all) in the United States, Tokmok was the former residence of Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Located an hour’s drive east of Bishkek, the city sits on the Kazakh border. Despite the notoriety of its previous residents, the citizens are friendly and welcoming. I have, of course, received more than a few stares but nothing menacing.

Lenin Statue

The city’s exact population is not clear. Some Internet sources list it at 50,000 while others cite 70,000 or even greater. There is also a small airport that is clearly significant to the city (the exact significance is not clear). In fact, the building that now houses the majority of the International University of Central Asia’s classes used to be a dormitory for Soviet pilots.

Today the Soviet era's influence is still apparent and the city lacks the amenities one would find in a similar sized city in the United States or other countries. It is, however, full of young families. From my apartment, I hear children playing in the courtyard from dawn until dusk, and people are constantly walking, mingling, and visiting their neighbors.

The city, however, has little industry. IUCA was a welcomed addition to the community and has allowed dozens of students who would not have been able or allowed to leave Tokmok to attend college. There is also a glass factory in the town but it routinely has to shut down due to natural gas shortages.

A sleepy town, most people at the university have expressed surprise when I have told them that I have chosen to live here (most teachers live in Bishkek). While my first weekend was uneventful, bordering on boring, the ability to walk to work and avoiding a 90-minute commute (one way) is more valuable than a slightly more comfortable apartment that is two or three times the price.