30 September 2005

You can buy a nice bunch of flowers here for just a few cents. I like having fresh flowers in the house again.

29 September 2005

More Food

Most Central Asia travel books point out that no one goes to Central Asia for the food. And in comparison to the great food that is available in other parts of the world, this would have to be true. I’d choose a Turkish, Indian, Chinese, or Lebanese restaurant over a Kyrgyz one any day.

There are several reasons for this, but I think the main one is that much of Central Asia was nomadic until very recently. Culinary refinements aren’t quite as easy to achieve when the main ingredients are animal products- mostly meat and milk. The Kyrgyz didn’t even make bread till the last 200 years of their over 1000-year history.

I think Uzbekistan generally has better food, but they have a longer sedentary tradition. I’ve not tasted Tajik food, but I’m inclined to think it would be very good. I’ll have to see if I can find something Tajik here- the Tajiks are Persian, and Persian food is delicious. These three (nomadic, Uzbek/sedentary Turk, and Persian) are the main types of cuisine available in Central Asia.

Beshbarmek (five fingers), is considered to be one of the few truly Kyrgyz dishes. It is made for special occasions and is basically noodles topped with meat. Koumys is the most famous Kyrgyz drink, made from fermented mare’s milk. Maksym, a thick wheat drink, is very prevelant here in Bishkek, with stands on nearly every corner. I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet.

Dungans (Chinese Muslims) prepare ganfan, meat and vegetables served over rice (I had this for dinner tonight and it was quite tasty), fyntyozi (another noodle dish), and jusai (steamed buns). There is plenty of Korean food here. You especially see lots of Korean salads available in the bazaars. Tofu is easy to find. Turkish restaurants are fairly common in Bishkek since there has been a reasonable amount of Turkish investment going on here.

Naan, the typical Central Asian flatbread (although you do see lavash, which probably has nomadic roots, is widely available in Bishkek, but we couldn’t find any tandoor naan at Issyk-Kul. My flatbreads cookbook doesn’t have much about Kyrgyzstan, and I understand better why it doesn’t. There are a wider variety of Uzbek breads. I especially want to get some bread stamps.

Plov is also pretty basic in Uzbekistan, but not so much in Kyrgyzstan, although it is generally available in Bishkek. The plov recipe I gave below is a pretty basic plov (adding shredded carrots with the onions is good too), but sometimes fruit or garbanzo beans are added.
Shashlyk, or kebabs, are easy to find here, which makes sense since meat on a stick roasted quickly over a fire is the ultimate nomadic food. I haven’t had a chance to try any here, but I’ve had Uyghur and Afghan kebabs that were wonderful.

Laghman is a very traditional noodle dish. The noodles are often topped with a sauce/stew with mutton, tomatoes, peppers, and/or onions. We’ve also had shorpo, which is the stew without the noodles. Typical Russian food is widely available, but we’ve eaten very little of that.

We like to eat salad, which we call Uzbek salad since we first had it with Uzbek friends in the US. It’s very simple to make. Simply chop tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions and mix them together. Don’t skimp on the onions since they give the salad a lot of it’s flavor. The only seasoning is salt and pepper (we like red pepper)- don’t insult an Uzbek salad with lemon juice or some other kind of dressing.

Then there are the ubiquitous meat dumplings. They are usually filled with a mixture of meat, onions, and maybe some spices. You can get them boiled (chuchvara or pelmeni), baked (samsa), fried (piroshki), or steamed (manty). Variations on this are found from China to Turkey. Samsa, manty, and pelmeni are widely available in Bishkek, and manty is available just about everywhere in Kyrgyzstan. I enjoy these, but more for a snack than a meal.

There are plenty of milk products available here. Smetana (sour cream), kefir, milk, and cream are all easy to find. Apparently they do make yogurt here (katyk), but I haven’t found any yet. I’ll have to visit the dairy market the next time I go to the bazaar to ask. The yogurt is often drained to make what I call yogurt cheese (kurtob) that is dry enough to roll into balls. I’m going to track these down too because I loved to eat these in the Middle East. The milk used is usually not pasteurized, but the cultured products are safe if they were kept refrigerated or if they are very fresh.

Another Meme

chronicler tagged me for the 5th sentence meme. And I'll do this one too. My fifth sentence in my 23rd post said, "Why would we want to spend our time doing anything else?"

I was specifically referring to the things we'd be doing at Christmas, but this is pretty much the way we run our lives. Why would we want to live in the US when we can live in Kyrgyzstan for a year? We're still US citizens with all the benefits no matter where we live. Why send my children to school when we can have lots of fun at home and learn a lot in the process? Why fill up my day with commitments when I like to be at home? Why shouldn't we spend lots of time at the orphanage playing with charming babies?

This is why I like to be a mother. I get to choose what I spend my time doing. I think I have far more control over my day than my husband does. Sure, there are things I have to do that I don't like, but I rarely have someone telling me what to do and when I need to do it. A lot of people seem to think that being a mother means that you lose control over your life. And you do, when you have a baby. But children aren't babies forever, even though it seems like they might be when they're 6 weeks old. You won't be changing diapers or nursing a baby forever (and really, no one spends all their time changing diapers, even the women at the orphanage taking care of 12 babies). And there certainly are benefits to babies- how about all that reading time while you're nursing? But overall, I feel like I'm in control here.

So, nope, we don't choose to do things differently. And I'm glad we have the choice.

28 September 2005

Food and Such

They sell incredible ice cream here. Almost every little store has a freezer full of ice cream. An ice cream bar usually costs around 25 cents. We've been taking advantage of that.

The bread is also very good. There is a tandoor oven very close to our house. I've been trying to replicate tandoor breads ever since I came back from the Middle East, so to have a tandoor bakery within steps of my house is great. A loaf costs 5 som, or about 12 cents. The authors of my favorite flatbread book wrote this article about making your own tandoor bread.

I can get most fruits and vegetables right around my house, except peaches. I bought a kilo each of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and carrots for $1.25.

I've not been able to find skim or 1% milk, but I hear it's available at some of the big grocery stores. I can get 2.5% instead of whole milk though. The hard cheese costs about the same as it does in the US, although there isn't any cheddar. A man (we call him the ayran man) comes around every day selling milk, sour cream, and yogurt in front of all the apartments. We don't buy it since it's not pasteurized. We use kefir now instead of plain yogurt since I haven't been able to find any here. I miss yogurt. I'm hoping to get starting on making my own again when I have a starter.

We do have to boil all our water, and I also filter our drinking water. It got old quickly, but I've gotten more organized and it doesn't annoy me anymore.

27 September 2005

Bishkek Apartments

The building in this apartment was the first luxury high rise in Bishkek. I'll have to get some pictures of some more typical buildings.

Kyrgyz Mosques- If You've Seen One, You've Seen Them All

This is what most of the mosques look like around Bishkek. We passed a lot on the way to Issyk-Kul, and this is in Tamchy. Apparently some group or country came in with a nice little design that they're putting up all over. Most of the mosques in the country were non-functional or gone after the Soviets.


Bishkek Street

I've mentioned all the trees in Kyrgyzstan and the mountains to the south of the city. This is a block away from our house (we live in the center of town) looking towards the mountains just after the first snowfall about a week ago. Although not all streets in Bishkek are like this, this is certainly a typical view.

25 September 2005


We went to Issyk-Kul this weekend and had a lovely time. Issyk-Kul is a large freshwater lake in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It is the biggest tourist attraction in the country, and deservedly so. It's the second largest mountain lake in the world, second only to Lake Titicaca. It is a beautiful place.

We stayed in a small village called Tamchy on the north side of the lake. We stayed in one of the houses arranged through CBT and were very impressed. The food was good, the rooms were spotless, and the people were wonderfully friendly. My children had a great time playing with the children at the house. Little children have made traveling much different. I'll have to write something about that sometime.

This part of Kyrgyzstan looks very much like Utah and Idaho.

23 September 2005

Kyrgyzstan Blog

Damian Wampler, a student Fulbrighter who is living in southern Kyrgyzstan (in Osh) has an interesting blog about his travels in Kyrgyzstan. Make sure to check out his photos too- they are beautiful.

[Update] And here's one from a couple who is here for the semester.

Plov, Or Something Like It

We're getting better at cooking at home. I've come up with my own version of the local rice dish (actually this is more Uzbek, but we're not too picky right now). It's called plov. This isn't really plov though, because I use olive oil and not enough of it. So there.

Saute two chopped onions (mine aren't really big) in a bit of olive oil for a couple minutes, but not till soft. Just get it warm. Then add two cups of rice. (I use something called Batken rice, but I bet you don't have that. Use whatever you can. Basmati would be good.) Stir the onions and rice till the rice is coated with oil, then add about 3 -3.5 cups of boiling water. Turn the heat down and simmer till the water is just gone. As soon as the water is gone (the rice won't be fully cooked), tuck a bunch of unpeeled garlic cloves down into the rice. I use a whole head. Cover the rice with lots of crushed red pepper, cumin, and some salt. And I mean lots of cumin and as much red pepper as your family will eat. Use the handle of a spoon to make some holes in the rice down to the bottom of the pot. Pour a bit more olive oil over the top, cover, and turn the heat as low as it will go. If you have an electric stove, you might want to set the pot on top of a pair of tongs so the bottom doesn't burn. Let the rice steam till the garlic is cooked. If you get worried, you can add more water. The goal is to have a nice brown crunchy shell on the bottom. It'll take at least 30 minutes. Stir it all up when you're done and enjoy. Pop the garlic out of its skin to enjoy it.


22 September 2005


By special request, today’s topic is yurts, or gers as they are known in Mongolia. The photo here is a ger that is partially set up, but a yurt is fairly similar to a ger. This photo was taken in Idaho while my husband's class attempted to set it up. The tunduk is the central circular frame and is represented on the Kyrgyz flag. The trellis wall is called the kerege, and the poles are kanats. Once all the poles are in places, the walls are lined with woven reed mats, then covered with layers of felt. A yurt requires 3 hours to put up (if the people are experienced- this yurt my husband's students tried to set up hadn't gotten very far in 2 hours with a number of people helping). The right hand side is for women, the left for men.

Yurts often evoke a rather romantic feeling, but this poem by Aaly Tokombayev (a Kyrgyz poet) is brutally honest about the realities of living in a yurt:

How can they breathe in smoke so thick?
How keep together body and soul?
The young housewife takes a stick
To open the chimney hole.
In vain- the wind drives back the smoke,
Tears blanket up our smarting eyes.
And what a cough! More troubles here
Than anyone can realise.
The wind, run amok, tears the felt
With all its ever-growing strength.
Like the eagle's wings, the tatters flap
As if to fly away at length.
To keep the yurta from crashing down
We go and prop it up with poles.
The guests extend their freezing hands
To warm them at the hearth, poor souls.

The Manas epic is more positive:

Look at her beauty! White as snow she was.
Made not from felt, but from cloth.
Trellised wall varnished was.
And a mat, made from chij
Was with silk braided.
Ropes round the yurta
Of quaint beauty were.
When Manas came in the yurta
By luxury and beauty he was
Deeply surprised.

Quick Thoughts on Rita before I'm Booted off the Internet for the Day

I hope that Rita weakens before it hits Texas. There's a good chance it will- lots of hurricanes have looked appalling out in the ocean and then weakened considerably before making landfall.

I am glad that evacuations are starting early. You learn something every time, and I hope a lot was learned from Katrina. But if this hurricane fizzles, people will be less likely to evacuate next time. It's hard to really evacuate well.

And, if there's going to be a hurricane in the Gulf, I have to say I'm glad it's heading toward the US instead of Mexico or Central America. We are much better able to deal with them in almost every way. I wouldn't wish a major hurricane on anyone though.

21 September 2005


Bishkek is a lovely city to live in. I can't really recommend it for tourists, since it's pretty boring, but for everyday life, it's a good city. Of course, I'm talking from a foreigner's perspective with enough money to eat at a restaurant, have a washing machine, and buy soft toilet paper.

Every time I read about other Central Asian countries, especially Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, I'm even happier we live here. We don't have police checking our passports every day. We've never been stopped by anyone. I don't think that would have been the case in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. We had no trouble getting a year-long multiple-entry visa. Many people can even get a visa upon arrival in the country. Don't try that in Kazakhstan. The people are pleasant and friendly, and while careful, don't seem to be overly concerned about government oppression.

All in all, I'm glad we ended up here in Bishkek. Who knew it would be such a great place to live? I can see us staying here for a long time.

20 September 2005

Orphanages in Central Asia

I visited an orphanage today. I had been planning on volunteering in one, so it was handy when a friend of mine here happened to already be going to one a few times a week. I found someone to take care of my boys so now I can go too.

I knew what I was getting into because I've done a reasonable amount of research on orphanages in Central Asia because we've been looking into adopting from Kazakhstan. The awful stories you might have heard about the orphanages in Romania don't really happen here. The children were clean and well-cared for, with some stimulation, reasonably good food, and kind caregivers. There were about 3 babies for each "mother" today. Some of the babies are perfectly healthy, others have various problems ranging from minor to serious. I am not sure when/if children with disabilities are segregated in Kyrgyzstan.

The baby houses are for babies and children to age four. If they have not been adopted by then, they are sent to other orphanages for older children. I don't know as much about those orphanages, but I do know that a child's situation gets worse the longer he or she is in one of the orphanages.

Of course, there are problems (quite a few in fact, as this article points out- although many of the problems it addresses are more specific to older children), but overall, I thought the baby house we visited did a good job with what they have to work with. Again- I'm not saying there aren't major problems, like corruption and theft within the orphanage itself.

About 15 of the children are adopted locally from the orphanage we visited. It has never had an international adoption, although I understand that babies have been adopted internationally from Kyrgyzstan. Actually, most healthy babies are domestically adopted in Kyrgyzstan. It's the babies with a variety of problems that need the international adoptions. For all the skepticism about international adoption (and I share some of it), there truly is a great need in many places in the world for international adoption.

The babies were charming, as babies always are. We took four outside to play a bit since there rarely is an opportunity to get them out (it's not very easy to take 3 babies out by yourself). My friend goes specifically to help a little boy with FAS who has some serious problems. His best hope is to go to the West on a humanitarian visa to get the care he needs. He is doing much better than he was a few months ago because of the extra care given him by a few women who come in to work with him.

Here is an article on abandoned children in Kyrgyzstan, and don't miss this article on orphanages in Uzbekistan. It is disturbing in parts. The part about the orphanages begins a little way down the page.

19 September 2005

Things I Would Bring to KG Next Time

Or at least things that would have been nice.

Good knives
Teflon frying pan
Dish drying rack
More clothespins and hangers
Clothes drying rack
More plastic wrap and plastic bags
Small plastic containers

I'm sure I could find many of these things here. But getting them home with two children on a minibus when I don't know much Russian makes it not quite worthwhile going out and looking. It's not like I can call and ask if someone has something. You have to trot yourself to the store to look yourself.

But I do have lots of handy things, like a microwave, a water heater, and a washer. I really am rather lucky.

Poetry and More

I discovered a few months ago that my boys love listening to poetry. We brought a small collection of poetry anthologies with us and I've been reading them to my younger son while tucking him into bed. We're also memorizing about a poem a week for school. I love what MFS says about poetry in this recent post at M-Mv.

So, what are some of your favorite poems? I usually just flick through our books and choose one that is a good length for the boys. I'd love to pick up more collections if they were available here. Maybe we'll have to start memorizing portions of Manas.

And hypatia tagged me. I'll even do it here:

5 things I plan to do before I die:

Travel, travel, and more travel
Live in interesting places
Write a book
Have more children
Get a masters degree

5 things I can do:

Learn languages
Be quiet
Waste my time
Cook inexpensive yummy food

5 things I cannot do:

Ride a unicycle
Eat a sheep's head
Sing a solo
Make anything out of paper to my son's satisfaction
Take my children to Osh Bazaar by myself

5 things that attract me to the opposite sex:

Likes children
Sparkly eyes

5 things I say most often:

Yallah bina
I don't know what you want to eat
Put on your shoes
I love you
Do you need a hug?

5 celebrity crushes: You would be appalled at how little I care about celebrities. I didn't even care as a teenager.

18 September 2005

Two New LDS (Mormon) Blogs

I found two new blogs today, thanks to Peggy's site. They are both LDS ex-pats.

Midwest Mormon in the Mid-East is almost exclusively about the Book of Mormon, but with other interesting tidbits about life as a Mormon mother of a Muslim family.

My House has Many Mansions is more general about a family who recently moved to Germany.

I think I'm going to track down a few more ex-pat sites.

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan

This interesting IWPR article talks about new allegations from the Uzbek government about Kyrgyzstan's involvement in what happened in Andijan in May. It is generally agreed by everyone except the Uzbek government that a large number of people were killed and that this wasn't an Islamic uprising. Uzbekistan says less than 200 were killed and that most were armed rebels rather than bystanders and unarmed protestors.

Uzbekistan is saying now that the rebels were trained in Kyrgyzstan and supplied with weapons there. As usual, Uzbekistan thinks its problems stem from other more liberal countries in the area rather than its own policies. The trouble is that Uzbekistan appears to be willing, and has in the past, tried to take matters into its own hands. In 2000, it bombed a village in Kyrgyzstan that Uzbekistan claimed had Islamic militants.

It concerns me that if Uzbekistan does get huffy about things and tries to exert more control over Kyrgyzstan that the West will largely ignore the situation. Sure, they'll say something, but not necessarily do anything about it. But the West has an interest in keeping Kyrgyzstan independent and in promoting liberal policies here. How about helping KG build some hydroelectric plants?

It is interesting to note that the country with the most repressive policies (I'm not counting Turkmenistan here- who knows what's up with them) of the four in the area has the most trouble with Islamic militants. Uzbekistan clearly hasn't hit on an effective way to handle things. Maybe repression doesn't work quite so well? Hmm?

17 September 2005


I can't keep living in and writing about Kyrgyzstan without talking about Manas- both the epic and the influence that Manas has had on this country.

The Manas Epic is quite the poem. As this site points out (and this is an excellent site to read parts of it in translation, or to listen to it being performed, or to reading more about the epic), its longest version is 20 times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, and even more than two times the length of the Mahabharta. It is difficult to find in English in the US (we couldn't find it in any language there), but we've found several versions in English here. Ours is in two volumes and is certainly not small. We'll see when I'm brave enough to tackle it.

Here's a brief overview of the Manas Epic:

The epic has three key figures, Manas, Semetei (his son) and Seitek (his grandson). The hero is Manas, a Kyrgyz leader who embodies bravery, strength, justice, great skill in horsemanship and marital arts. The epic tells of his adventures and search to find a homeland for his people. With the help of his advisors and trusty knights, he goes to war with bigger more fearsome foes, finally winning victory at a battle in which he is mortally wounded. It tells also of his marriage to the wise Kanykei, a daughter of a Samarkand khan, as well as her expulsion with baby Semetei after Manas' death and their ensuing adventures. It describes the great traditional festivities of the day and Manas also finds time to provide philosophy and guidance on moral and everyday problems. (Rowan Stewart in Kyrgyz Republic, page 50.)

Clearly Manas is much more than great poetry. It is actively being promoted by the government, and things in Kyrgyzstan that have nothing to do with him are being attributed to him. For example, we went out to the Burana Tower today, and our taxi driver cheerfully told us that it was built by Manas. The Kyrgyz government spent an exorbitant amount on a "1000 Years of Manas" celebration in 1995- estimates range from $5-8 million dollars which is quite pricey for a country as small and poor as Kyrgyzstan.

The manaschi are another important part of the Manas tradition. They are bards and storytellers who are able to recite the parts of epic but also bring in other traditions and their own interpretation. A manaschi traditionally wears a chapan, a heavy blue and black embroidered velvet coat. There are even manaschi schools where children learn the text, tempo and correct gestures of the epic. Those children will be judged according to their skills, and if they are good enough, will be allowed to improvise.

However, today's manaschi aren't quite the same as they were 100 years ago. The oral tradition is largely dead. It is lucky that the epic was recorded before that death. Before the Soviets, the manaschi would recite for as many as 24 hours in yurts. As one book states, "the shifting, artful improvisations on time-worn themes were radio, television, rap music, performance poetry and myth rolled into one." (Bradley Mayhew in Central Asia, page 247.)

Interest in Manas is definitely noticeable here. Books, operas, movies, comic books, and TV programs are based on the series and we've certainly heard a lot about him and his story. Saudi Aramco World has a nice article about Manas and the celebration from 1996. As Mayhew puts it, "Kyrgyzstan is now charting its course into the 21st century with the aid of an epic poem." (Central Asia, page 247.)

Giant Geyser

Giant Geyser has erupted 3 times in the last month or two.

16 September 2005

Community Based Tourism

Kyrgyzstan has a neat little homestay organization called Community Based Tourism. The idea is to provide affordable sightseeing, hiking, and accommodation options within Kyrgyzstan while also helping local people. It sounds like a great idea, and from everything I've been able to read, it works well.

They have all kinds of trips available on jeeps, horseback, or foot. You can stay with Kyrgyz families in their homes or yurts, or sometimes in empty apartments. Many provide full board for $8-10 per person (we still haven't figured out how much children cost- travel books don't provide much help for those traveling with children).

Certainly this is an inexpensive option, but the thing I like best is that its purpose is to benefit local people. You're not paying a large amount to a tourist agency. CBT will also arrange for you to visit local women who sell traditional handicrafts, or eagle hunters, or local musicians. It sounds like a great idea, and we plan to take advantage of it. Of course, when tourism slumps, as it did after the March revolution, you get stories like this.

Too bad Uzbekistan doesn't have something like this.

15 September 2005

Geysers and Auroras

It is a lovely day in Yellowstone. Don't forget to check the webcam. The next eruption should be a little before noon mountain time, and then around evey 90 minutes after that. I'll miss it because it is time for bed in Kyrgyzstan.

Unless there are auroras.

Other Ethnic Groups

As I mentioned yesterday, there are quite a variety of ethnic groups throughout Central Asia. Most of the Europeans in the area came in the last 200 years. The Russian, Germans, and Ukranians were the most prevalent, but many, if not most, returned to their respective countries in the early 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The Europeans in the area came for different reasons. Some were colonizers in the late 1800s or in the mid-1950s. Some were deported at various times (Central Asia was often erroneously called Siberia during deportations. I imagine Central Asia felt as isolated and far away from home as the Siberia would have.) The Germans mostly came from the Volga region and there are still a few towns in Kyrgyzstan with German names although most don't have many Germans left in them.

There are several other Turkic groups. The Crimean Tatars (emphasize the second syllable) are a Turkic people from, you guessed it, Crimea. They started coming to Central Asia in the mid-1800s, but many were deported by Stalin. The Meskhetian Turks, originally from Georgia and also deported in WWII, live mainly in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan and two valleys in Kyrgyzstan. There are around 500,000 Uyghurs in Central Asia (many in Kyrgyzstan). The Karakalpaks have their own area in Uzbekistan near the Aral Sea.

Finally, there is a hodgepodge of other ethnic groups. Koreans were deported here during World War II. All the markets here have plenty of Korean salads for sale. It was a surprise when I first looked at an Uzbek cookbook and saw a recipe for kim-chee. Kurds also came during World War II and many live in Kazakhstan (not a great site, but the best I could find). Some think there may be as many as a million Kurds in Central Asia. A large group of Jews lived in Bukhara for many hundreds of years, but most have emigrated to Israel and the US. The Dungans are Chinese Muslims who left China because of persecution in the mid-1800s. Many of them live in Kyrgyzstan.

And finally, there are even Central Asia gypsies. Called luli, they live a very marginalized life as gypsies do everywhere. There are about 30,000 and they speak Tajik and originate from areas around Samarqand.

It is interesting to see the number of people here who are the descendents of deportees. I'd love to see some research on that topic.

The diversity is obvious here in Bishkek. My husband has students from a variety of places, and today I was chatting with a Han Chinese from Urumqi in China and a Uyghur.

14 September 2005

Ethnic Groups in Central Asia

As a commenter pointed out earlier this week, there are quite a variety of ethnic groups in Central Asia. I'm going to try to point out some of those groups over the next few days.

Obviously, the most well known are the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Turkmens, and Tajiks (I'm not including Afghanistan in this discussion, although it can reasonably be included in Central Asia.) Most of these groups live in their respective countries, but significant minorities can be found in most Central Asian republics.

The Kazakhs generally are recognized as a separate group from the 1400s. They divide themselves into three main groups: the Great Zhuz (southern KZ), the Middle Zhuz (north and east KZ), and the Little Zhuz (western KZ). It is still important to know which zhuz a person belongs to even after Soviet rule. Kazakhs were nomadic until the 1920s. There are 8 million Kazakhs in KZ, about a million in China and Uzbekistan, about 700,000 in Russia, and smaller numbers in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan. Our Kazakh friend in Idaho grew up in Mongolia. His grandparents emigrated there about 50 years ago.

"Kyrgyz" is one of the oldest names in Central Asia. The ancestors of the Kyrgyz lived along the upper Yenisey (Yenisey means "Mother River" in Kyrgyz) in what is today the Tuvan Autonomous Republic in Russia. Some believe the Kyrgyz and Tuvans are related, or that the Tuvans are also descended from those same ancestors. The Kyrgyz moved to what is now Kyrgyzstan from about 900-1400. Some of their reason for leaving may have been to get out of the Mongols' way. Manas is a very important historical figure (more on him another day). Clan affiliation is still important. There are 3 million Kyrgyz in KG, and smaller numbers in Uzbekistan, China, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan.

The Uzbeks came to Central Asia from southern Siberia or the Kazakh steppe by 1400. They became sedentary at about this point too, probably since the Amu Darya lends itself to irrigation and a sedentary lifestyle. The Uzbeks are the largest Turkic groups after the Turks. They are more active in getting rid of Russian influence. There are 18 million in Uzbekistan, 1.6 million in Tajikistan, 1.3 million on Afghanistan, and another 1.5 million between KZ, KG, and Turkmenistan. Because they are a sizeable minority in so many countries, many other ethnic groups get a little touchy about their presence. Uzbekistan also has most of the great ancient cities in its borders, like Samarqand, Bukhara, and Khiva, when those cities actually had a much wider sphere of influence. Those cities might be in Uzbekistan, but saying they're exclusively Uzbek (or that Tamerlane was Uzbek) is a stretch.

Turkmen origins are a little harder to define. They probably wandered into the area over the centuries. There are around 100 Turkmen clans. There are a larger number of Sufis here than other parts of Central Asia. The Turkmen language is rather closely related to Azeri, and they've had a literary language since the mid-1700s. 3 million Turkmens live in Turkmenistan, 1 million in Iran, and around 650,000 in Afghanistan.

The Tajiks are different from all the above groups because they are Persian instead of Turkic. They are long time residents of Central Asia, descended from the Sogdians and Bactrians who were influential nearly 2,000 years ago. I'll write more about their history sometime. Some Tajiks still have red hair and green eyes. There are 4.4 million Tajiks in Tajikistan, 3.5 million in Afghanistan, and less than a million in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, and Kyrgyzstan. Tajiks claim, not unreasonably, that Samarqand and Bukhara were originally Persian and should have gone to Tajikistan.

I'll write later about the Europeans living in Central Asia, like the Ukranians, Germans, Russians, other Turkic groups, and the myriad other people living in Central Asia.

13 September 2005

The Aral Sea in History

I've posted before on the Aral Sea, but as I was reading yesterday, I came across a reference to a course change the Amu Darya made in 1576. Till then, the Amu Darya flowed into the Caspian Sea:

A peculiar feature of the Amu Darya is the fact that all of its water did not always flow into the Aral Sea. At certain periods one branch swerved, shortly after having reached the apex of the delta, northwest and then southwest, passing by medieval Urgench. Called Uzboy, this branch then pursued the southwesterly course all the way to the Caspian Sea, which it entered through a wide coastal plain south of Krasnovodsk (Turkmenbashy)...In 1576 the river swerved back toward the Aral Sea, and the definitive decline of Old Urgench, thus deprived of its water supply, is by some historians attributed more to this natural cause than to devastations wrought by the armies of Genghis Khan and Timur.

This interesting little book first published over 100 years ago studies the old course. The Syr Darya has also had a changing course over the years.

This site details the changes well. It appears that irrigation played a part in the course change: "Jenkinson, the envoy of Queen Elizabeth, wrote in 1558-59 describing how the Oxus ran in the Uzboi channel but no longer reached the Caspian Sea, and predicting that the demands for irrigation would soon lead to a complete desolation of the region. "

From 1221 to 1576ish the Amu Darya flowed into both seas. There was a change in the river in 1221 because the Mongols destroyed a dam on the river. At different times before then, the water flowed into both seas, or just the Aral Sea. Finally, the Seleucides considered building a canal between the Caspian and Black Seas so that merchandise could be transported up the Amu Darya (which was obviously flowing into the Caspian at the time), across the Caspian and through the canal to the Black Sea. It's amazing to think of shipping going on across those areas!

UNESCO has some maps of the previous forms of the Aral Sea. These maps are very interesting and if you don't click on anything else in this post, check out these maps. Archaeologists have been able to learn more about some of the earliest towns near the Aral that were later flooded (search for Aral).

You might think I'm odd, but I think this is fascinating, especially to see how both artificial and natural changes have had such an effect on this little lake. I love it when history, science, and geography come together.

12 September 2005

Bland World History

I've never been very impressed with the focus on western history in world history classes. Even the world history book I'm using leave something to be desired because of its focus on Western history. (Admittedly, it's much better than a lot of books I've seen since it does make an effort to cover the entire world. It just goes into much more detail about Europe in comparison to the rest of the world.)

This is not to say that I'm a proponent of promoting diversity in history. It is a simple historical fact that a vast majority of the movers and shakers in history have been men. Outside Africa and recent history in the Western Hemisphere, blacks haven't had much of a global impact. If you want to study women and minorities, I suggest learning about daily life. That can give a broader picture of what people's lives really were like since most people, men or women, or whatever else, didn't do much worth the writing.

I've been reading about the history of Central Asia again. In world history courses and textbooks, Central Asia usually gets its only mention in relation to the Mongols, and even that is a rather cursory glance. Many people don't realize that the largest empire in history was the Mongol Empire. It is a fascinating time in history, but since the Mongols didn't penetrate very far into Europe, we in the West just don't hear much about them.

There are other gaping holes regarding Central Asia. Mostly it is portrayed as a vast steppe with roaming nomads who took it into their heads every so often to go out and slaughter lots of people. There is rarely any mention of the Moghuls, the sedentary lifestyle of many of the people, the great rivers, the origins of the different people there, or anything like that. But you do hear plenty about various European tribes.

So, here's a link to some Central Asian history. It really is a fascinating place. And reading about it will have to do for me till we can do some traveling around here.

11 September 2005

There is no frigate like a book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Emily Dickinson

10 September 2005

Food Storage and a Difficult Economy

Bishkek has a rather interesting economy. The average salary here is $50 a month, and that's for people with advanced university degrees. Obviously, that's not a lot of money. It's hard to live on that kind of salary here or really anywhere.

Many people try to find ways to supplement their income. Babysitting and cleaning for foreigners is a good way, because you can make that $50/month in just a few hours of cleaning or taking care of children. Teaching Russian to foreigners is also popular.

But of course not everyone can work for foreigners. There simply aren't very many in the city. And in any other town in Kyrgyzstan there are almost none. It concerns me that well-educated and hard-working people are not able to make a living wage. More people have advanced degrees in Kyrgyzstan that in the US.

A friend of ours from Naryn, a large town east of here, had an interesting perspective. His father is a government employee and his mother is a teacher. His family buys extra food when they have money to make sure that if a time comes when there isn't money, they will have food. For all the talk that the poor can't afford to prepare, I wonder if the poor can't afford not to prepare.

Our friend also told us that, even though the official population for Bishkek is around 1 million, it is much higher. People here aren't supposed to move to a different area without official permission, but many don't get that permission. He is still counted as living in Naryn. Still, the city doesn't feel like it's bursting. And it helps that Osh is a large city so there isn't quite as much pressure on Bishkek.

09 September 2005

Too Many Miles

So, it's about 3000 miles from San Francisco to New York City. 3,000 miles from Bishkek takes you to Athens, St. Petersburg, Seoul, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, or Phnom Penh.

Bishkek to Baghdad is the same as Boston to Denver.

New Orleans to Boise, San Francisco to Dallas, and Bishkek to Katmandu are all the same.

Bishkek to Tibet equals Chicago to New York City

Bishkek is about the same latitude as the Utah/Idaho border, Madrid, Rome, and Beijing.

Bishkek to Madras equals Salt Lake City to New York City.

And finally, these are all the same: Bishkek to Moscow, Bishkek to Beijing, San Francisco to Pittsburgh, and the width of Kazakhstan.

We are closer to Samarqand here in Bishkek than Salt Lake is to San Francisco.

Aren't you glad you know that now?

10 Books (Or So)

MFS and SFP and Jill and others have been writing about a list of books that reveals something about you. So here's mine, since I didn't get over to the WTM Boards this morning. It's probably not a perfect list, but here's what I came up with today.

Frog and Toad

Witch, Goblin, and Sometimes Ghost

The Screwtape Letters

Glimpses into the Life of Marjorie Pay Hinckley

Flatbreads and Flavors

Volcano Cowboys

Gathering of Days

Little House on the Prairie


The Scriptures- Bible, Book of Mormon, Qu'ran, and more

The Geysers of Yellowstone

08 September 2005

He's At It Again

Turkmenbashi, the rather eccentric leader of Turkemistan, is at it again. After announcing plans for a ice palace in the desert, closing all medical facilities and libraries outside the capital, banning all recorded music in the country, and even sending his own guidebook for being a good Turkmen citizen into space, now plans to build a zoo complete with penguins. A true necessity for a country with a per capita income of less than $3,000 a year.

But, lucky for everyone, he recently had surgery that actually made him younger and replaced his gray hair with black hair. He'll have years to solve Turkmenistan's problems while living in his ice palace and playing with penguins.

I'll have to start asking people here what they think of him. I've met Kazakhs, Tajiks, Uyghurs, Russians, and Uzbeks here, but no Turkmens.
I've always loved reading travel books and history books. That's been the only way I've gone to India, to Tibet, or been able to return to Cairo or Jerusalem.

But here in Bishkek, it's refreshing to read familiar classics like Little Women and Persuasion. Those books always take me to a different world, but it's far more noticeable here. When I get tired of the strangeness, it's nice to have a friendly old book on hand.

07 September 2005

"Taste Buds Savoring the Food"

"My fingers, which a second before had been taste buds savoring the food a little ahead of my mouth..." From Life of Pi

This is the perfect description of eating with your fingers. I've eaten with my hands lots of times, but the experience described above doesn't happen very often for Americans. Fried chicken and corn on the cob are the closest I can think of.

But there have been two times that my fingers have been taste buds. One was in Jerusalem when we had maqlube. It's a rice and mutton dish that is usually eaten with the fingers. But it's more than just scooping rice into your mouth. There is a flair to it that has to be mastered.

The second time was in Idaho. A friend from Uzbekistan was staying with us for a few days and she made Osh plov for us. It is made from rice, carrots, onions, tomatoes, garlic, beef, and plenty of cumin. We sat down at the table with plates and forks, but then she mentioned that they usually ate Osh plov with their fingers, and of course, we tossed out the plates and forks.

That was one of the best meals I have ever had. Fotima tried in vain to teach us the best way of transporting the food to our mouths, but the trails of rice from the platter to our mouths showed that she didn't have much luck. There is something about the way your fingers are supposed to shape the rice and meat into a ball that lets them be part of the food.

I had Uzbek plov a few days ago at a restaurant in Bishkek. I ate it very neatly with a fork. It just wasn't the same.

Confused Religion Reporting

Articles about "incomer" Christianity pop up relatively often on Central Asian newsites. I was thinking about writing about this today anyway, but then the Jehovah's Witnesses showed up at my door. Not what I was expecting, although it shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did.

Anyway, it's interesting to see the differences between different groups of proselytizing Christians. The articles I've seen from Central Asia about these Christians often get a lot of the details wrong. This one implies that Utah has a foreign policy(?) and that Utah government and Mormon leadership is the same (some in the US would agree, no doubt).

The President of Uzbekistan seems a bit confused too:

At a May 17 press conference Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov said that many insurgents slipped into Kyrgyzstan along with civilians. Karimov suggested that the Uzbek border guards in Karasuu did not halt the flow of people in recent days in order to avoid human casualties, "Since women, children, and elders were among them." He also is careful of the terminology used for the Uzbeks entering Kyrgyzstan: "I don't consider them refugees. On what basis do they call themselves like that? Is it some kind of a sect, some Mormons in the state of Utah?"

Even the US State Department (search for "Mormons") is confused. Apparently there are 10,200 Mormons here in Kyrgyzstan and we've been legally recognized for years. I think we're getting confused with the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ.

Kyrgyz Stories

Registan has had some links to a few articles about Kyrgyzstan over the last few days.

And this article that I didn't mention earlier. It might make for an interesting winter here.

You never know what you're going to find here, or anywhere.

06 September 2005

Kyrgyz Russian

Just watched Old Faithful erupt. :)

I think we are going to learn a somewhat unique variety of Russian here in Kyrgyzstan. Just as English is different in Idaho, Georgia, and England, there are obviously differences within Russian since it has been imposed on such a variety of people.

A Ukrainian friend of ours would often comment on the interesting Russian that Armenians would speak. Russian here has a bit of Kyrgyz mixed in. For example, I don't hear "odin," the Russian word for "one" much, but I do hear "bir" quite often.

It appears that the stress is sometimes different from what I've heard on my "educated" Russian CDs. I'm trying to get the hang of stressing the second to last syllable. It's also tricky to change the way I pronounce some Turkic words and names borrowed from Arabic. It took us a long time to say Fa-TI-ma instead of FA-ti-ma, like we were used to in the Middle East.

I've tried to find any research done on Russian in Central Asia, but everything I've found has been on Russia itself or the eastern Europe former republics. Maybe the differences aren't very great.

05 September 2005

Loving the Members Wherever You Go

Origianlly posted at Conversation

Jim F. has a lovely post at Times and Seasons about his first time in his new ward in London. It brings back some memories, but it also is relevant now.

We attended the Irbid Branch in Jordan for a couple of weeks while we were in the Middle East. At that time, the Irbid Branch was tiny. There were a few Iraqi Kurds, a few Jordanians, a Japanese man, an older couple, and one American married to a Jordanian Muslim. She spoke almost no Arabic but still came to church just to be meeting with the members.

The branch president was one of the Kurds. His family had always been Christian and he had served many years in the Iraqi Army. They had escaped to Jordan when they met some LDS missionaries and were baptized. Their goal was to be sealed, but for political reasons, they had great difficulty getting to any country with a temple.

The Japanese man was delightful to talk to. I have never again had the experience of communicating in Arabic with someone from Japan. He played the portable keyboard- with flair- for the branch.

Relief Society was particularly nice. I've never been a fan of Love at Home, but singing it in Arabic with the sisters there brought new meaning to the song. We translated for the American woman. I have never felt so welcome by the members till we moved here.

Of course we've met many wonderful people who weren't members of the Church. It isn't required that we share the same faith. But sharing that faith can bring an instant bond. And it is not the case that that branch was perfect. There were some very sad things that happened later because of intolerance among the members.

But I will always remember those people in Irbid. We are meeting new people like them here. They have their trials too. But despite our differences, and despite not being able to meet together for church meetings, we love the members here in Bishkek. There is something good about being here in Central Asia.


I went grocery shopping today. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but here it's a little trickier.

First, you need to steel your children for the job. It's a bit of a walk, especially carrying all your food. And they need to stick with you since the roads are a bit crazy and you'll be crossing some without lights. Little boys do not like to walk next to their mother.

Second, you need to be prepared to carry everything you buy. It's wise to bring along a few strong bags (I'm beginning to understand all the shopping bags on the plane) so you'll have a chance of getting most of your food hoping without dumping it on the sidewalk.

Then you need to plan your attack. If you have large bills from the bank, you need to pick a store that will possibly have change for the equivalent of a 10 dollar bill. People don't like to give out all their small bills. But I still haven't figured out how everyone else seems to have exact change.

Do remember that your children will get hungry halfway through no matter how recently you fed them. And that going around noon is folly, since the streets are rather crowded.

But we all survived and I came home with flatbread, Ramen noodles, cheese, pasta, airan, juice, kefir, and samsas. I really was rather proud of myself and it took less than two hours. And just think, I can only get better at it.

04 September 2005

Flying foreign airlines is an interesting experience especially when you don't know the rules of the game. We definitely didn't know the rules on Turkish Airlines.

First, you don't bring two pieces of luggage. You bring as many small shopping bags as you can carry. You also have to maneuver yourself to be first in line, no matter when you showed up at the airport. There is no boarding by zone or anything like that.

You also shouldn't try to put your two pieces of luggage each, if you were crazy enough to bring them on board, in the overhead compartments because they will be filled with all the small shopping bags that could easily fit under the seat in front of you. If you do try to put your luggage overhead, be prepared for a small riot when you touch anyone else's shopping bags.

When the plane lands, you should completely disregard the fasten seat belt signs. The goal here is to get to the front of the plane as quickly as possible. This makes sense, since the Bishkek airport has only 4 people checking passports for the two hundred people on the flight. And check the passports they do. It took over two hours to get through that line.

But, if you know all these rules, you can have a rather pleasant flight from Istanbul to Bishkek.
I'll leave off posting about Katrina since I can't imagine anyone is coming here to read about it. I'll just say that I sincerely hope that this propmts every American to be better prepared.

03 September 2005


I've been getting a rather limited view about what has been going on in New Orleans because I haven't had internet access and only have CNN and Fox News, so I don't know what others are saying, but I have been disgusted by the criticism leveled against the federal government the last few days. I cannot understand why the level of government and society farthest removed from this disaster is taking most of the blame.

The city of New Orleans has always known that a disaster like this was possible, yet the levees were only designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane. Even with that deficiency, there clearly was no plan in place to rescue what they knew could be up to 200,000 people stranded in a flooded city. Certainly federal aid would have been part of a plan, but a plan itself would have been nice. And that plan needed to include the possibility that help would have to be brought in from far away since Katrina was so devastating to around surrounding New Orleans.

I've also been very concerned about a lack of preparation on an individual and family level. People know this hurricane was coming and that flooding like this was very likely. A simple 72-hour kit would have made all the difference. Yes, many of these people didn't have much money before the hurricane, but a backpack filled with 3 days of food and water wouldn't have broken the bank for most of these people. Not having a few days worth of food was particularly shortsighted when a hurricane is bearing down!

It is also interesting to note the emergency preparedness people say you need 3 days of food and water in an emergency because you can reasonably expect it to take 3 days for help to get to you. That sounds about right in this disaster. It took weeks to get to some people in the tsunami. Rich nations are not protected from huge disasters. Great wealth cannot make trucks go faster.

I have been appalled at the crime going on in the city. The looting is awful, but rapes and murders? It's terrible to hear about people acting that way. I'm sure that everyone hopes those people don't end up being housed in their town.

In the end, we all have lessons to be learned. There's not a lot I can do about the government's level of preparation for a major disaster, but at least I can make sure my family is aware of specific risks in my town. We can get a 72-hour kit, if not more food and water stored. We can have a plan of what we will do and where we might go if we are separated. And we will heed warnings, both from the weather and the government.
Hooray! We have internet access at home. This is s-l-o-w dialup, but it will do.

We bought piles of delicious fruit today. Fresh apricots are still available, along with a huge variety of other fruits an vegetables. I managed to find some cracked wheat(!) and there is plenty of rice to be had. We've found places that sell good milk, cheese, and meat. My picky older son has found some things he'll eat, and there is a tandoor bakery a few steps from our house. I feel like we're getting a handle on eating here.

I also had someone clean the apartment today. Quite an odd experience to come home to a clean bathroom, fresh sheets, and mopped floors. I could get used to this. :) The girl who cleaned is a student at a university and the sister of our very helpful apartment manager. Sure, I could clean myself- I've been cleaning all my life. But the little bit we pay to have the apartment cleaned goes a lot way to providing someone with a good education.

When I was in the Middle East, I was a lot pickier about trying to save money and not paying for things that I could do myself, even when it only was a few cents people were asking for. I've realized that I was being unreasonable then, and, while I'm not going to hire a driver, a cook, and a full-time housekeeper, I have been better about compensating people for their services since there is no comparison between my financial status and that of most of the people in this country.

01 September 2005

It's interesting to visit an internet cafe. Except that here in Bishkek, most internet places aren't cafes, just places with internet access and they're cropping up all over the city. Since the revolution and the election of Bakiev, the establishment of small businesses has become far less regulated (that means far fewer bribes to pay). There is also a lot of new building going on. The city feels hopeful. Of course, I don't have much to compare to.

But these little internet places are fun. The first one I tried didn't have very reliable serive and the connection went out after 30 or 40 minutes. It costs 25-30 som an hour (there are 40 som to a dollar) for a reasonably fast connection at the place I'm at now. It's fun to see the Kyrgyz flag pop up on the stats.

But it's interesting to see the variety of people at a cafe. I was just sitting next to an old Russian grandma who was emailing her daughter. She spoke about as much Enligh as I speak Russian (polite words and numbers), but I was able to help her a bit. There are a lot of teenagers here, of course. And little boys playing games. But internet cafes, at nearly a dollar an hour, are out of range for a lot of people in Bishkek, since a good monthly salary would be 50 dollars.

Bishkek really is a diverse city. I've seen a wider range of clothing in the last few days than I have just about anywhere else I've been. Big US cities would be the only thing that would compare. There are older people in traditional Kyrgyz clothing and younger Russians who would fit in nicely at any American high school and everything in between. I've seen robes and slippers at the park and very formal clothing at Ala-Too Sqaure.

We're getting the hang of finding things to eat. The cheese samsas are a hit, along with several restaurants. Food is ridiculously cheap here. We were lucky to run into an Australian couple a few hours after we got here and they had plenty of tips on what was safe to eat and places to go in the neighborhood.

Still not a lot of time- hoping for internet access at home soon.