31 October 2005

Time Zones

We've spent quite a bit of time the last few days trying to figure out what time it is. We'd read that daylight savings time was supposed to end on Sunday, but no one had said a word about it. We figured we had to be on daylight savings (and that it would end sometime) because we were still 5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

But we finally sorted it out. We just changed time zones. Now we're the same time as the eastern half of Kazakhstan. I'm not too picky about which time zone we're in, just so long as I know what time it is right now. And right now there is no daylight savings in Kyrgyzstan.

Time zones in this part of the world are a bit screwy anyway. Kashi, in China, is almost directly south of Bishkek, but for the last several months has been three hours ahead because all of China is on Beijing time. Nepal is +5:45 of GM time. Some time zones get almost entirely skipped.

But at least I know what time it is now.
One of my favorite things about blogging is all the wonderful people I’ve been able to meet. I’ve gotten to know many better through emails than blogging, but most I met through their blogs.

I’ve found homeschoolers like Julie, Bryce, Laura, Alaska, and Diane; people interested in Central Asia like Johnna and others; fascinating people like Rachel and Dan; friends like Melissa and the women at Conversation; and more.

Blogging has been especially nice for me because we’ve moved so often. Those of you that I know online seem just as close here in Kyrgyzstan as you did when I lived in Idaho. The internet has been a real blessing for me. Online friends haven’t replaced real friends, but they are important friends.

I’ve seriously considered turning the comments off several times, but I keep them on because I’ve learned a lot from the comments. I’ve also discovered great new blogs through them. While I don’t blog for the comments, they’ve been a nice benefit.

I started this blog to have a place to think things through on my own so I could quit bugging my poor husband about things he’s not particularly interested in. I’m lucky that I married someone with so many similar interests (do you know many men who actually want to live in Central Asia? who will design quilts? who speak Arabic? who love Islam?), but he does get tired of hearing about everything I’ve been thinking about. He doesn’t want to hear about volcanoes, geysers, what I read on other blogs, homeschooling, and a lot of other things all the time.

I love to blog, but I do it for me. My sisters and mother recently discovered this blog. But I don’t write it for them- there are other things I write that are just for them. This isn’t about our travels in Central Asia, it’s not about homeschooling, it’s not about the LDS Church- it’s really not about anything specific. It’s just what I think about. And writing it down helps me sort through it.

30 October 2005

Today we visted the Ala Archa cemetery on the west side of Bishkek. Some friends of ours took us; one also had some relatives buried there. Many famous Kyrgyz are buried here with elaborate markers, as you can see in this picture.

Kyrgyz used to know their ancestors back seven generations. But most of that was forgotten with the Soviets, and since records weren't kept during the Soviet years, very little is known now about most people's ancestors. The best our friends have been able to do is learn the names of a few of their great-grandparents.

There are several other cemeteries around town; I'm hoping to be able to visit those too. Cemeteries are quite interesting here in Kyrgyzstan.

The old section of the cemetery. It is filled with graves (you might be able to pick out some of the mounds), but most are not marked and no one cares for them anymore. Our friend said that some people want to relandscape this side so more high-profile people can be buried here.

Our friend's great-grandfather's tombstone. It's written in Uzbek using the Arabic script.

A general view of the "regular people." In the US spouses are often buried next to each other, but in Kyrgyzstan our friend said that often isn't the case.

29 October 2005

The Most Interesting City in the World

Samarqand is the beauty of the earth, but Bukhara is the beauty of the spirit.

Bukhara has a fairly similar history to Samarqand up till the Timurids. The Timurids didn't do nearly as much with Bukhara, but the Uzbeks who ruled afterwards made Bukhara their capitals. Bukhara is what it is today because of Abdullah Khan and his descendents.

Bukhara also had a thriving Jewish community for many years; almost all have emigrated to Israel. They used to make up 7 percent of Bukhara's population.

But one of the most fascinating things I've read about Bukhara is a description of everyday in the late 1800s. By this time Bukhara had declined quite a bit from its glory days in the 1500s. In the summer the only water source was often the open canals and pools throughout the old city- obviously less than sanitary. Nasty parasites were a real threat. The city government was thoroughly corrupt. Basically all the bad things about living in an old, relatively poor city were there. But George Curzon, an Englishman who traveled to Central Asia in the late 1800s said:

For my own part, on leaving the city I could not help rejoicing at having seen it in what might be described as the twilight epoch of its glory. Were I to go again later years it might be to find electric light in the highways. It might be to see windowpanes in the houses, and to meet with trousered figures in the streets. It moight be to eat zakuska in a Russian restautant and to sleep in a Russian hotel; to be ushered by a tchinovnik into the palace of the Ark, and to climb for fifty kopeks the Minor-i-Kalian....Already the mist of ages is beginning to rise and to dissolve. The lineaments are losing their beautiful vague mystery of outline. It is something, in the short interval between the old order and the new, to have seen Bukhara, while it still may be called the Noble, and before it has ceased to be the most interesting city in the world (quoted in Uzbekistan by Calum MacLeod and Bradley Mayhew, page 248).

This picture probably is better with the Samarqand post, but I couldn't get it to go up yesterday. But Ulugh Beg (his scientific achievments are represented in this picture) did build a madrassa in Bukhara and that's good enough for me.

We're hoping to visit a cemetery in Bishkek tomorrow. Pictures will follow, of course, if we make it.

28 October 2005

The Pearl of the East

As you can tell by the name of this blog, I’ve long wanted to go to Samarqand (and also Bukhara and Khiva).

When Alexander the Great came through Central Asia, Samarqand was part of Sogdiana and was Persian. It was a famous city even then, but like any important ancient city, it’s had its ups and downs. Here is a brief history, or you can go to Silk Road Seattle's (as always) excellent site for more information.

The Sogdians were Zoroastrian until the Arab invasion brought Islam to the area. Samarqand was taken in 712 and much of the population was deported. The Arabs went on to win a battle with the Chinese in the Talas Valley (in what is Kyrgyzstan today) in 751 that effectively kept the Chinese from moving farther into Central Asia.

The Persian Samanids rebuilt Samarqand in the 9th century. Various Turkish groups rules Samarqand after the Samanids until the Mongols arrived. The population was almost depleted, the canal system destroyed, and the walls torn down. Despite this, ibn Battuta (a far more interesting traveler in my mind than Marco Polo; I’ll have to write about him sometime) in 1333 when the city was still largely ruined said it was "one of the largest and most perfectly beautiful cities in the world."

Timur arrived on the scene in the late 1300s and Samarqand is what it is today mostly because of him. Timur’s son Ulugh Beg also built some amazing buildings in Samarqand, and so did another descendent, Babur. The Uzbeks took control of Samarqand after Babur went to India and established the Moghul Empire. Various Turkic khans ruled Samarqand till the Russians came in.

Tajik is still widely spoken around Samarqand and Bukhara even though Turks have controlled the area for so long.

More on Bukhara sometime soon. If anything, Bukhara is even better than Samarqand. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I want to go to these places.

27 October 2005

Orphanage Happenings

I got new pictures at the orphanage today. I'm trying to get good ones of each of the babies. It takes some time to get 11 babies smiling, so I just got a few today.

We also might have accidently hit on a good way to help too. My friend had some extra diapers that she gave to the nurses today. We had heard that they needed diapers, but we couldn't figure out why since they never use them. But another nurse specifically came to thank her when she saw the diapers. We're thinking they might like to use them at night. No one is in with the babies at night, so diapers would be much better.

We can easily get diapers here, so we'll bring some more diapers over the next few times and if they appear to be helpful, we'll stick with those.

KG News

First, a new KG blog. [Added later] MK lives in Bishkek and is learning Kyrgyz. She has left several interesting comments this week.

And yes, I am aware of the demonstrations going on in Bishkek. Here is an IWPR article explaining what is going on. We've not been affected at all. I don't have any reason to go to that part of Bishkek, and as long as I see people out on the streets and the children at school in my neighborhood, we'll go on with our lives. If something does happen that might affect us, I think our neighbors' actions will be a quick indicator that we should stay home.

26 October 2005

Defining Islam in Central Asia

Damian Wampler, one of the Fulbright students, has a fascinating new post. He is conducting research on Islam in Kyrgyzstan and is living in Osh, a much more religious city than Bishkek. Bishkek and the north in general are quite different from the south. Many of the things I've mentioned about religion here apply specifically to Bishkek.

Damian asks a couple of very good questions: What does it mean to be Muslim? And who gets to decide who is Muslim, and who is not?

The same questions can be asked about Christians. But in any situation, they are rather interesting questions. And it is interesting to see how those questions are playing out in Central Asia.

I'm mostly concerned that people here don't have enough access to information about the diversity in Islam. I've known Muslim women who wear a burka and Muslim women who dress pretty much like me, and everything in between. Some work, some stay at home. Some live in the US, some live in Uzbekistan, some live in Palestine, some live in Sudan. There is no one right way to be a Muslim, just as there isn't one right way to be a Mormon.

No Cold Water

The cold water has been spotty over the last few days. In Bishkek, there is a central hot water system, so your cold water and your hot water come from two different places. That's rather different from the US- it would be practically impossible for a person to only have hot water- you either have both or only cold.

I hate it when there's no hot water, but I've discovered that no cold water is not any better. The toilet fills with cold water, and our washing machine is only hooked up to the cold water. I did figure out how to keep the toilet and washing machine going my filling them by hand with water from the sink.

But showers were trickier. The hot water takes at least 5 minutes to really heat up, but once it does, it is hotter than I care to stand in. For two nights there was just a trickle of cold water and we all just managed to not roast ourselves.

So now I'm just glad for water. The cold water seems to have revived itself and we hear that that's just the way it is sometimes. Often when something doesn't work here (like the telephone), it's because the bill wasn't paid. They'll turn things off quickly here if you don't pay. I was worried we'd have to sort out the bills to get the water back on, and I didn't want to do that.

25 October 2005


The education system here has been rather interesting to deal with. Most of the Fulbrighters, past and present, have been and are at the American University of Central Asia which is obviously on an American system. Most of the schools are on a Soviet system. My husband is teaching at two of these universities.

The main difference between the two systems is that there are few choices here (well, you could count the corruption too, but we'll stick with choices today). The classes and schedules are all assigned. You are always working with the same people. There is very little class discussion and critical thinking is generally not encouraged.

But the lack of choices was very clear this week when one university completely overhauled the entire schedule in the middle of the semester. My husband's schedule was included even though he only teaches there Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the new schedule has him teaching there on Thursdays and Fridays when he's at a different university.

This doesn't happen at just one university; the girl who cleans our apartment had a class rescheduled to Saturday mornings and had to change the time she comes here.

The students don't seem to get too worried about all these changes. They just go on with their lives as best they can. The very high absentee levels are much more understandable now.

I have to admit that the system would drive me nuts. I'd hate to not be able to choose my own classes or even my own schedule.

I'm also very curious why there are always people at the middle school next door. Monday through Friday from 7 in the morning till after dark there are always children there.

24 October 2005

Aren't You Cold?

It appears that people in Kyrgyzstan don't like to be cold. Jackets appear at the least hint of anything cooler than 80 degrees- people were wearing them when we arrived in August.

If this were a country that was hot all the time, I'd understand it better. But it's cold here half the year. Several of the places we lived in Idaho were colder than Bishkek and we all enjoyed not having cold weather for a while. You'd avoid bundling up for as long as possible. When it's 60 degrees outside and you know that soon it will be below freezing, that 60 degrees doesn't seem so bad.

It's nice that it's definitely jacket weather for us now also. But for about a month, I couldn't take the boys outside without being questioned on why they weren't wearing more clothes or if they were cold. I'd always ask the boys if they were cold, and they'd always deny it, which would stop the questions till the next person came along. We took a trip to the mountains and one of the men with us kept giving me jackets to wear.

The babies at the orphanage are over the top though. Even in 90 degree weather we had to put hats, jackets, and boots on the babies. We'd take off the extra layers as soon as we were outside. Now we have to put on two hats and extra pants to even be allowed out the door. That's in addition to the two shirts they're already wearing.

I hear the apartments are uncomfortably warm all winter. Joy.

23 October 2005

Mystery Fruit

These are called kurma. That is a tricky name because it turns out that it means lots of things. Kurma is an incarnation of Vishnu, or it's a type of curry, or it means dates. My Kyrgyz dictionary translated kurma as dates or figs. However, I can't believe these are dates. They look nothing like dates.

I'm hesitant to say they're figs because I didn't think figs had a skin like this. I had figs right off the tree one time when we visited a Palestinian family in the West Bank so I'm not totally unfamiliar with them, but still, I'm no expert.

These little guys are about the size of a tomato and look and feel very much like tomatoes except for the larger leaves on top. They're not quite ripe yet so I haven't had a chance to taste one yet.

Does anyone have any guesses? Or does someone who knows about figs think that's what these are? I'm quite curious.

[Update] I've have a vote for persimmons, and that seems quite likely. Unless anyone objects, these are persimmons.
I wanted to have my pictures back on the sidebar so I'm trying Flickr. It seems to be working well. You can click on the picture to find out what it is.

22 October 2005

Walking and Riding

Have I ever mentioned the handy little program we have with all the bus routes in Bishkek? You just click on the place where you are and the place you want to go and it maps out all the different bus routes. It's been a lifesaver.

Usually we walk though. During the week the boys and I almost never ride a bus. This sometimes means walking four miles a day, but that's what you do here.

It's a mile round trip to the grocery store. (I could find everything I buy there closer to our house, but I'd have to go to five different places and we'd probably end up doing just as much walking. And I much prefer being able to just take what I need off the shelf rather than trying to explain what I want in my limited Russian. And I don't have to bargain.)

It's a three mile round trip to the law school where we usually have our Russian lessons. We'll nearly always walk at least one way, and sometimes both ways.

But I do ride to the orphanage. That's a 10 mile round trip, and I'm not interested in doing that. But even the ride is tricky because the buses get crowded and it's difficult to get off at the right place.

When we first got here we rode the buses a lot. I thought it would be easier with the boys to ride and they wouldn't walk so much. But we've discovered that it is usually a lot more pleasant to walk and that the boys are good at it. So we join all the walkers around Bishkek.

21 October 2005

Things I've Learned This Week

When I was at the orphanage today, one of the babies was out with a young woman who turned out to be his mother. I suspected that the young women I've seen there were mothers. Most, if not all, of the babies are not technically orphans. Some of the mothers have given up custody, but I think that others have not and could take their babies home if they wanted.

There are different words for adopting a boy or a girl. I was asking about this today and our Russian teacher thought it was a great idea for us to adopt a Kyrgyz baby.

I'm getting better at communicating with people who don't speak English. This is nice because I can bring up some of my own topics. It's been interesting.

Our Russian teacher's wife gave us a big jar of raspberry jam. They said that when you're sick, you're supposed to eat jam and drink tea. The jam is delicious. I can't stop eating it. I guess I'll be really healthy.

Sometimes all the milk in the neighborhood disappears. I did manage to find one carton after searching for a few days. Luckily I had bought a lot before it all was gone. We need to buy the long shelf life stuff. I hadn't really wanted to try it, but since it was all I could find, we tried it. It was perfectly good and it's a lot easier to keep around. And I hear that you can get 1%. I'm getting tired of whole milk.

We've also been told that there is no need to visit Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is only worthwhile if you go to Tashkent, Samarqand, Khiva, Bukhara, or Urgench. But just about every place is worth visiting in Kyrgyzstan.

Our Russian teacher has decided that I speak much better Russian than my husband. I don't have to do much for him to be impressed.

20 October 2005

Language Policy

As I hope you've noticed, Central Asia is a rather diverse place. As a result, language policy is rather interesting.

Russian was and remains the language educated Kyrgyz use. In fact, few Kyrgyz can speak educated Kyrgyz anymore- it has simply not been used in a long time. Many speak Kyrgyz at home but use Russian for business and education. In Bishkek, Russian is likely to be used at home too.

The president is supposed to be able to pass an examination in Kyrgyz which probably has something to do with Bakiev's ending up as president. Some of the other main contenders probably couldn't have passed a test in Kyrgyz.

This all came up today while my husband was attending a meeting at the law school here in Bishkek. The rector was discussing the need to use more Kyrgyz, but he was speaking in Russian. A woman from the US Embassy apologized for not being able to use educated Kyrgyz well enough to say what she wanted to say. In fact, the person there who could speak the best Kyrgyz was a man from Turkey who has lived here for 15 years and has obviously spent a lot of time reading and studying Kyrgyz literature. The reactions of the Kyrgyz there was interesting.

Uzbekistan is making a much bigger effort to move to Uzbek, and Kazakhstan seems to be rather unconcerned about the switch. Overall, I like policies that preserve languages or try to reverse trends towards imported languages. But sometimes they are too much. Uzbekistan really is far too diverse to switch to using exclusively Uzbek. For now, Russian is a handy lingua franca.

19 October 2005

Bishkek Maps

It's been lovely to be in a new place and have a lot of new maps. Kyrgyzstan maps are not widely available in the US; a few, yes, but hardly enough for me. So we've been collecting maps since we arrived here.

The Bishkek map is my current favorite even though I do need the online one to get the names of every street. It's always a bit tricky though since many of the street names changes with independence. Some of the old names are still commonly used.

Street names are posted on the corners of buildings. I haven't figured out any pattern for knowing which corner of the intersection to look at, so sometimes we pass a few streets before I can figure out how far we've gone. And you've got to know exactly where you are when you're riding a bus (you can always find someone to help if you get lost though).

Like I mentioned yesterday, it's easy to just get driven around the city. You don't even have to know which way you're going. But when you're out walking and riding buses, that map is essential. So I can indulge myself in one of my favorite pastimes- memorizing a map. What fun.

18 October 2005

Not Quite There Yet

It's interesting to see the various lifestyles among foreigners here. I was thinking about that today as I was driven to the orphanage today by my friend's driver (she wasn't able to go today). Riding along alone in the back seat of a nice car, passing the crowded buses and minibuses, felt strange. Later on, we went to a party at this same friend's house- a house that is significantly nicer than ours.

I haven't met a lot of foreigners here. But said friend knows quite a few people who are living in places that seem as much nicer than her apartment as her apartment is nicer than ours. And our apartment is better than many we've seen, although not as completely out of line as the others I've mentioned. Most of our neighbors are Kyrgyz and Russians; most of theirs are foreigners (that's why I've met few foreigners).

I've always been uncomfortable with the extravagant lifestyles many people have while living overseas. I really can't see any reason for living so far above most of the people around you. I wouldn't want to do it in the US, I don't want to do it here.

So, again, I still feel like I don't fit in. A Kyrgyz woman at the Embassy even commented that I'm not quite like the other American women who have come here. Apparently, I'm not supposed to want to live the way we do since I can afford to have so much more. Or I'm supposed to do so much more- why in the world am I staying home with my children when I can easily afford to pay someone to take care of them while I go out and really help people?

Too bad for them. I'm used to not fitting in. :)


I made laghman at home last night. It's basically noodles with vegetables. Here's how I made it:

Cook as many thick noodles as you think you'll need. They use homemade noodles that are about a half a meter long here, so you've got plenty of options. I used the thickest dried noodles I could find.

Saute 2 onions in olive oil till soft, then add 6 sliced bell peppers and a few chopped cloves of garlic. Add as much salt and crushed red pepper as you like and let the whole thing simmer till the pepper start letting off some juice. Add a bit of water so there's some liquid with the vegetables.

After draining the noodles, saute them in a bit of oil (getting them crunchy is best if you have time) and serve with the peppers over the top.

Worrying about Bird Flu

You know, I'm having a hard time getting as worked up as apparently I should be about bird flu. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I don't watch the news and most of the news I read focuses on Central Asia. I imagine that most people here aren't even aware of it.

I prefer to worry about things that are real threats to my family. Crossing the street and riding in cars are far more dangerous to us right now and only a pandemic of the worst proportions will change that.

The virus hasn't even mutated yet into a form that is transmitted between people and no one knows if it will. Even if it does, that doesn't mean that it will necessarily be in an easily-transmittable form or as virulent a form.

If the worst happens, I have no doubt that Kyrgyzstan would not be a good place to live. The necessary antibiotics wouldn't be available and education would be sorely lacking. That is not the government's strong point. However, I've long thought that the scare tactics the US uses (don't put your baby on her stomach or she will die!) aren't very helpful. Certainly there are things we can do to lower the risk of bird flu or SIDS, but terror is not helpful. And we're straying into terror in bird flu.

So we're not going to worry right now. And we're not going to play with the pigeons.

17 October 2005

Cairo and Bishkek

Cairo really has more character than Bishkek. But I'm not sure if that minaret is going to fall over. Minarets are notorious for collapsing.

But they don't have laghman in Cairo. I'll post a recipe in the morning (or this evening, depending on your point of view).

16 October 2005

My husband went to Karakol and Naryn to do some presentations this weekend. Just in case we're not all able to get to these cities (getting around Kyrgyzstan requires very long car rides, not fun with little children), he took lots of pictures for me. This is a very typical view in Kyrgyzstan.

They stopped for kymyz on the way home. Kymyz is made from fermented mare's milk and is very popular here. We've managed to avoid tasting it so far- it doesn't quite sound appealing to us, but I imagine we'll have some before we leave.

They also were selling dried yogurt balls, very much like the yogurt balls in the Middle East. Yogurt here is made with sour milk though, so the taste and smell is rather different.

And this is another very typical view with some lower mountains. It is amazing how familiar the terrain is here.

You can see Karakol next to Issyk-Kul (the lake) and Naryn in the center south of Issyk-Kul. Bishkek is in the very far north.

Dungan Mosque

This is the Dungan Mosque in Karakol. As I've mentioned before, the Dungans are Chinese-speaking Muslims who came to Kyrgyzstan (or what would later be KG) when the Chinese took over Xinjiang in the 1800s.

It is one of the few mosques in Kyrgyzstan that survived Communism.

Here is a closeup of the minaret.

15 October 2005

We had our fifth group of Ramadan singers stop by tonight. Apparently word has spread that we give a lot of money. A teenage boy in the US wouldn't be impressed with a quarter, but these boys are more than pleased to get the Kyrgyz equivalent of 10 som.

They always sing the same song and then bless us after we give them some money. I rather like it. I'm going to start asking people for more details on what they are singing, since the boys can't ever tell us much since they don't speak enough English.

IWPR had an article two years ago about this tradition in Uzbekistan. It also gives a bit of the history behind the tradition.

Kyrgyzstan would be just about perfect if it only had some geysers.

14 October 2005

David O. McKay's World Tour

I just found this book about President McKay's trip around the world as an apostle. I've been interested in reading more about it, and I found David O. McKay Around the World. This book was written by Hugh J. Cannon, the man who traveled with Elder McKay. He wrote it shortly after their return, but the manuscript was lost.

Anyone care to get this book and tell me if it's good? Is there anything else about his travels that I could read?

More Central Asian Earthquakes

Several Central Asian capitals (or what are capitals now) have been hit by large earthquakes. I mentioned the one near Bishkek, but Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan both had significant parts of their capitals destroyed in the last 60 years.

Ashgabat in Turkmenistan was hit on October 6, 1948 by an estimated 7.5 magnitude earthquake that killed as many as 110,000 people. It took the Soviets five years to clear everything out. Tashkent, Uzbekistan has much of its old city destroyed in 1966 by a 6.5 magnitude earthquake. Luckily, that one only killed around 200 people.

These tables (pre-1900 and post-1900) list a number of Central Asian earthquakes. They're not necessarily very accurate or complete, but the best I could find.

What worries me most is that earthquake education doesn't seem to be a high priority here. A well-educated woman living in Bishkek was telling me a few days ago that earthquakes only happen in southern Kyrgyzstan and there is nothing to worry about in northern KG. Maybe she was just trying to reassure me, but if people in Bishkek really don't know an earthquake could happen here, that's not a very good sign.

13 October 2005

Donating to the Orphanage

Several people have emailed or asked about what they can do to help the orphanages here in Kyrgyzstan. I've been looking into that because I've been trying to figure out what I can do too, but it's not as easy as it would seem to be.

I can't just donate money to the orphanage because I've been told the director of the orphanage is probably corrupt- the money won't necessarily get to the children. Items donated have been sold by the director- again, not very useful for the children. I don't really care to take my chances on this option.

Possibly the best option right now is to donate to an Eagle Scout project one of the expat members is starting. He is gathering winter shoes for older children in an orphanage about 75 km east of Bishkek. This would be reliable and the shoes would really get to the destination and be used by the children.

However, I'd also like to do something to help my babies. We're working on getting sippy cups for them since they are going straight to a cup at about 6 months and they can't handle it. They really do have most of the basics, but I know this orphanage is better equipped than many in the country.

So, there are three choices: send money for the shoes, send money and I'll figure something out, or wait till I have something more concrete.

I'm not soliciting donations here; I don't want anyone to feel guilty if they don't care to be involved in anything with this. I can think of many reasons why it wouldn't work- most of you don't even know me. But if you might be interested, email me at amiralace at juno dot com with any questions and I can tell you how to get money here.

12 October 2005

American Culture Classes

Today I has a discussion with the English teachers at one of my husband's universities about education in America. He has been teaching them legal English and legal issues in these classes, but they also wanted someone to talk about American culture (rather broadly defined), so I was volunteered.

I has a good time. It is a small group, so it wasn't at all intimidating. Since they have varying levels of English, I had to keep it simple. We talked about the American university system since it is quite different from the Russian system, and we also talked about public schools (and homeschooling) in the US.

I'll be doing this every other week. I'm planning on talking about religion next time, and then marriage and family. I think politics would be good too. Obviously it's interesting for me too because they volunteer a lot of information. I have lots of questions to ask about different things.

What questions would you want to ask these teachers if you could?

Kyrgyz Plov

We went on a picnic to the mountains with some of the professors from one of my husband’s universities on Sunday. We made plov while we were there, and since I’ve already posted a highly modified version of plov, I thought I’d show you how to make real plov (at least the Kyrgyz version) complete with pictures.

The first picture should have been of cleaning and soaking the rice. I’d always read in cookbooks that you should clean your rice, and I never bothered. But when I got here, I discovered that if your rice needs to be cleaned and you don’t do it, you’ll know. I also like to rinse my rice, but they didn’t. Then the rice soaked for about 2 hours. I believe there was 1-2 kilos of rice.

This picture is of the onions deep frying in oil. There’s a kilo of chopped onions and a liter of corn oil. The pot is called a kazan. It's a sort of a wok/dutch oven, and I want one. But a smaller one. I don't need to cook plov for 20 very often. They have much bigger ones than this too.

After the onions are soft, add a kilo of sliced carrots (I usually grate them) and lots of meat (cutting up large portions of mutton on site is highly recommended, and don’t bother removing the fat.) Cook till the meat is done.
Add the soaked and drained rice, along with 2 liters of water (spring water is good from a leaky pump near your fire). Allow it all to cook till the rice is soft. Add plenty of salt.
And here is what it looks like when it’s all done. Kyrgyz plov isn’t anywhere near as flavorful as Uzbek plov (I prefer Uzbek) because spices aren’t often added. We also had plov with another Kyrgyz family the day before and it was very similar.

11 October 2005

Islam in Bishkek

I’ve been having a very difficult time finding any real research on Islam after Communism, which I can’t figure out because I think it’s a fascinating topic. Most studies or foundation on post-Communist societies focus on Russia and eastern Europe. As always, Central Asia doesn’t really fit in.

Some suggest that Islam never had as strong a hold on the nomadic Turks as it did on the Arabs. This article on Central Asian religion is the best I’ve been able to find about Islam and shamanism and its practice in Central Asia. I highly recommend reading it.

I’ve started watching and asking people here in Bishkek what they think about Islam. I know the answers will be different in Bishkek because the Russian influence is much greater.

Most Kyrgyz here are rather indifferent or oblivious to Islam; in fact, when I ask about Islam, many talk about Muslims as "others," rather than as a group they are part of. Alcohol is popular, although eating pork has never become widespread. Few people pray and I almost never hear the call to prayer. My husband asked his students how many are fasting and less than 10 percent are. I’ve never met anyone here who has been on the Hajj, and I’d run into Hajjis fairly often in Jerusalem and Cairo. I have real doubts about zakat, or almsgiving, since that was pretty much done away with by the Soviets.

But there are some older traditions that have remained. The picture at the top of this post is of a tree covered with small strips of cloth that people tie on to make a wish or a prayer. Friends tell us this is a Muslim tradition, but really, it’s an old shamanistic tradition that wasn’t lost when Islam came in, nor with the Communist takeover.

It is also popular to visit tombs of religious saints. The Soviets were never able to stamp that one out. It got to be so widespread that they did everything they could to make the pilgrims look like regular tourists instead of people doing anything religious. However, this isn’t specifically Islamic either- it’s a very ancient tradition.

So when it’s all taken together, it seems to me that the 5 Pillars of Islam (declaration of faith, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage to Mecca) are largely unnoticeable, but the older, shamanistic practices have remained.

10 October 2005


Corruption is a real problem here in Kyrgyzstan as it is in many parts of the world (and, yes, I don't doubt that there is corruption in the US- but that's not the point here). Students buy grades, judges are easily persuaded, and positions are often bought. It's not a good way to run a country by any means.

There are lots of explanations for the corruption; low salaries are often cited. Policemen aren't paid a lot, and accepting bribes can help feed your family. But while some say higher salaries would help, many believe the corruption goes deeper than that. And it obviously can't be completely based on not having enough money because I see the large houses being built by corrupt officials.

Some people have told us that the first time many people encounter corruption personally is when they go to the university. It's altogether too easy to bribe a teacher to give you a good grade. A friend of ours told us that if his university didn't have such a strict policy against corruption (it is a Turkish-run university), he would certainly bribe his teachers since it is so much easier. In the same breath though, he tells us that corruption is very bad for the country. No one likes a corrupt government.

When the new government came into power, they promised to make it easier for people to start businesses or begin construction projects. It has become easier, but the real reason may not be less regulation, but simply fewer requirements, which necessitates fewer officials to bribe.

Many people say that the most corrupt people here are the policemen and the lawyers and judges. How can the system change when those interpreting and enforcing the law are the most corrupt? A government official who was going after corruption was recently fired because, as some say, he was getting too close to corruption in very high levels of government.

For the most part this corruption doesn't affect us. We've never been stopped by the police, and I don't expect any legal trouble while we're here. What does concern me is enforcing building codes. Why should I believe that our building was built to any kind of code? Even if I could ask someone, could I trust the answer?

All of these example are bad, but the thing that annoyed me the most about the system was when my husband's translator asked for some money because his wife was due to have a baby any day. Medical care is supposed to be freely available to all here, but if you want the doctor to take good care of your baby, you have to pay him $50. That's a lot for many people; $50 is a month's salary for many university professors and policemen. Therefore, the US equivalent could be around $4,000, not much less than the actual cost of having a baby without insurance in the US. What's the point of a health care system in that case? It bothers me a lot that a doctor would take better care of a patient with more money (again, I'm not saying this doesn't happen in the US, but the poor have far more options there).

And what's most frustrating is that I really don't see a solution. It seems that either a significant majority has to decide that corruption isn't any option anymore, or you have to have a government that is willing to pass and enforce anti-corruption laws. But that lessens a government's power (or the personal power of officials), and I haven't seen many governments or individuals anywhere interested in doing that.

A History of Inner Asia

I finished reading Svat Soucek's A History of Inner Asia last night. It was excellent and I highly recommend it. It starts with the Arab conquest of Central Asia and go up to the present time. I'm still looking for a good book that covers Central Asia before that time.

Central Asia really is an interesting and important place even though most Westerners neither know nor care about it. This book is very readable and I think it would be a good introduction to Central Asian history for just about anyone.

09 October 2005

Stray Thoughts

I hope no one has gotten the idea that Kyrgyzstan is entirely a developing country. Of course there is a broad range of economic circumstances in the country, just as there are in the US or any highly developed country. The rural parts of the country, which makes up most of the country except Bishkek and surrounding areas are generally worse off, as you'd expect.

Horse meat is considered to be the best meat in Central Asia, and therefore the most expensive. A well-educated, well-off woman whom I was talking to today said her family buys a horse every winter and it lasts them three months.

I've been quizzing Kyrgyz on how to pronounce Kyrgyzstan and that sneaky -i- isn't really there. But I'm still not very good at saying it.

I've been trying to find anything I can about Islam in post-Communist countries, and there just isn't much there. I read often that Islam was pretty much stamped out by the Soviets, but I think that's far too simple an explanation and there's much more to the story. More on that later...

08 October 2005

Kyrgyzstan Earthquakes

The earthquake in Pakistan brings up the point that there are lots of earthquakes in Central Asia. Most are not well known, but several have caused major destruction in capital cities, or ancient cities on the Silk Road. Here are four of the biggest recent earthquakes in Kyrgyzstan. I'll do some other Central Asian countries later.

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit the Fergana Valley in Kyrgyzstan in 1992 and a similar one again in 1997.

A strong earthquake in 1885 near Bishkek (probably around 6.9)

A 8.2 in Kemin, along the road from Bishkek to Issyk-Kul.

A 1946 7.6 Chatkal earthquake near Karakol.

These are some big earthquakes in the last 120 years in a relatively small area. Most haven't caused too much loss of life because of low population usually, but if an earthquake hit near Bishkek again with its many people and multi-story concrete buildings, I wouldn't have much hope for the city.

More on President McKay

One of my favorite parts of the David O. McKay book was the discussion on his effect on the international church. Honestly, this book partly filled a gap for me because most of what I know about church history stops in around 1900. I didn't realize that so many changes were made under President McKay; I would have guessed that some things were more gradual. I find church history interesting, but there are too many other books that sneak in. If someone can recommend a good book about the Church in the early part of the last century (I'd love to read something good about Heber J. Grant), I'd appreciate it.

About a year before President McKay's death, he was asked what his most outstanding accomplishment had been as President of the Church, and he replied, "The making of the Church a world-wide organization."

In 1920, President McKay (then Elder McKay) left for a trip around the world. He was the first General Authority to go around the world. He spent time in a variety of places and with a variety of members. He also served a mission in Europe.

The policy of gathering to Utah also changed during his years as president. Soon after becoming the prophet, he announced the building of temples in Europe. When the members overseas had temples to visit closer to them, it wasn't necessary to gather to Utah anymore.

He also made an effort to use local leadership overseas instead of American missionaries or expatriates. I loved some of the stories about that.

Translation of Church materials into other languages also became much more coordinated and a new Translation Department was formed in 1965. I was so pleased to hear that the Book of Mormon is being translated in 46 more languages right now! I'm hoping for Kazakh or Kyrgyz soon.

I'm glad that the focus changed 50 years ago and not more recently. The new international emphasis certainly laid the groundwork for the many temples we have today. As someone who is living overseas right now, I'm grateful for the changes he made.

One more thing I liked (well, there's a lot more I liked, but just one more thing now)- President McKay kept Ricks College in Rexburg instead of moving it to Idaho Falls, as seemed quite logical at the time. It was a difficult decision to make, but in the end, President McKay said that he hadn't ever felt right about moving the school to Idaho Falls. I have to agree. Ricks, and now BYU-I, belong in Rexburg.

07 October 2005

David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

I recently finished reading David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Gregory Prince and I loved it. I read it because of Julie's review a few month ago. I only skimmed the review then, but I went back to read the entire thing tonight and I think she gets it exactly right.

As she says (and the author in the introduction says) this book isn't for everyone. The book does talk about some uncomfortable things. However, in my opinion it is a bit limiting to only talk about a person's trials that come from bad things happening to you. Bad things happen to everyone, and you really don't have a lot of control over what does happen to you.

But it is entirely different to talk about trials that occur because of your own weaknesses. We all have lots of weaknesses, and it is helpful for me to see how others deal (or don't deal) with their weaknesses and the results. I don't glory in the fact that others aren't perfect, but I do take heart that some of the things I struggle with aren't specific to me.

This book increased my appreciation for a living prophet and I am glad I read it. Even though there were some uncomfortable parts, and parts where I didn't agree with the conclusions or assertions of the author, it was worthwhile.

And, for what it's worth, there was absolutely no discussion of sacred matters, like the temple. A non-member would probably have been confused by some parts in the temple chapter and no effort was made to explain what some of the quotations were referring to.
This little guy is very serious until you start tickling him, then he laughs and laughs more than almost any of the others. The white cloth around his waist is to keep he pants on since most of the pants don't have elastic anymore. They also don't wear diapers. I've been lucky so far.
The older babies play in a giant playpen after eating and sitting on the toilet for a while- or maybe for a long time. That's the best time to play with them because they're happy and ready for playing. The little boy I wrote about on Conversation is the smaller one in this picture.

I wish I could have gotten a picture of this little girl smiling. Her whole face lights up and she smiles all the time. I'll have to try again. They thought the camera was pretty interesting.

06 October 2005

The Future of Disabled Orhpans

Originally posted on Conversation

I visit an orphanage here in Bishkek twice a week to help feed the babies and take them outside for a few minutes. It's actually a baby house, designed for children ages 0-4 years. When a baby is 6 weeks old, she leaves the maternity house for the baby house. The women who take care of the babies do a good job and the children are generally well-cared for, although many people are shocked by some things the first time they go to an orphanage.

Most of the children in the baby house aren't actually orphans, but are children with mental or physical problems, or who were abandoned or left to the care of the state. The picture here is of a little boy with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Although he looks like a happy little 5-month-old, he is actually 15 months. A 15-month-old child is usually walking, talking, and a delight to be around. This little boy is a delight to be around, but just learned to roll over in the last few weeks. He was so sick a few months ago that a doctor said that he would die.

An American woman living in Bishkek started to work with him about 6 months ago. She came as often as she could to work with him, help him exercise, feed him better food, and just give him the extra attention he required to survive.

He still needs a tremendous amount of care, and pretty much the only way he can get that care is to be adopted by a family with tremendous financial and emotional resources to provide the treatment and support he needs. There really are few families here in Kyrgyzstan that can do that, and international adoption has been almost completed off limits for the last years, although some adoptions appear to be going forward now.

It's frustrating to see this very sick little boy and know there's really nothing that can be done to help. Even if he could get to the US for a year on a humanitarian visa, FAS isn't curable. He'd come back a year later better than he was, but in no way ready for life as an "invalid," as disabled people are called here.

Some of the employees at the orphanage are concerned with all the extra treatment he is getting, and it's not hard to see why. There are 3 groups of 12 babies there, with one nurse for every three babies. There isn't a lot of time for extra attention. I'm sure they were concerned that the American woman wouldn't continue coming and leave them with an attention-starved baby on the mend (relatively speaking). That hasn't happened, but really, what kind of future does this sweet little boy have? What can any disabled child without a family expect in Kyrgyzstan?

I finally remembered to take my camera to the orphanage today and got some pictures of some of the babies. I'll post more pictures when I have some time. This little boy is about 5 months old and one of the youngest in his group right now. And I cannot remember his name.

I am now the proud owner of a dish-drying rack, plastic containers, and even a colander. Who could ask for anything more?

05 October 2005

я живу в бишкеке

я живу в бишкеке

I figured out how to type in Cyrillic today. Handy for telling your parents what street you live on so they can find it on the Russian map. I think I typed the sentence above correctly.

I'm still trying to figure out if/how Russian is spoken differently here. Our (Kyrgyz) Russian teacher certainly isn't as picky about case endings and word order as the Russian CDs we've been listening too.

I want to know if the Russian we're learning makes us sound like hicks. When we studied Arabic, we focused on colloquial Arabic, specifically Egyptian and Palestinian. While it's great for chatting with Egyptians and Palestinians, it's not very helpful in more formal situations. But it wasn't worth really studying the more formal Arabic, because we were there to chat with Palestinians. Standard Arabic wouldn't have been right in many situations.

I wonder if we're getting into the same situation here and if our Russian won't be quite right if we went to Odessa or Moscow.

Happy Ramadan!

I forgot to mention last night that Ramadan has begun. I will be interested to see if there is much observance here- I don't expect there will be.

Last night some boys from our building knocked on our door and sang for us for Ramadan. They go around and sing, and then people give them money or candy. They sang very well and then told us why they were there, since we had no clue.

I liked Ramadan in Jerusalem. We would go to concerts in the city on Thursday nights and there was a general feeling of excitement, even though many were fasting all month.

We're also partial to Ramadan because our younger son was born on Eid al-Fitr, the day commemorating the end of Ramadan. We celebrate his birthday on Eid al-Fitr instead of his birthdate on the solar calendar.

As they'd say in Jerusalem, Kul 'am wa intum bakhayr! We'll have to find out what a traditional greeting is here.

04 October 2005

Pronouncing Kyrgyzstan

I have heard Kyrgyzstan pronounced by Americans about every way imaginable, so here's a quick lesson on how to pronounce it correctly.

First you have to decide if you want to be totally authentic or not. The Russian pronunciation is close, but not quite right. However, it is easier for us to use the Russian translation:

keer-GEEZ-i-stan (the -i- syllable isn't quite there, but it isn't not there either).

For the Kyrgyz pronounciation, you use a tricky little sound that a bit like "uy" or maybe a cross between "oy" and "i." You've almost got to hear it to use it. It's a shorter sounding vowel than "ee." Also, the first syllable is stressed- KYR-gyz-stan. Those y's are where you use the other vowel sound. And make sure you roll that "r." And that "g" is a "g," not a "j."

The Russian pronunciation is fine, especially in comparison to the shudderingly awful "KIR-jiz-stan" that many Americans seem to like.

The Heavenly Mountains

The mountains south and east of here are the tallest in the world. Look on a map to find the Pamir Knot- the area where the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Kunlun, Tian Shan, and Karakoram mountains radiate out in all directions. Bishkek is near the Ala-Too range, a branch of the Tian Shan.

All these high mountains make for some pretty incredible passes in Central Asia. Many border crossings are through mountain passes. The Torugart Pass is the crossing from Kyrgyzstan into China and is at an elevation of 3752 meters (a meter is a bit longer than a yard, so this is about 12,000 feet). The Irkeshtan Pass from KG to Tajikistan recently opened; it's at 4867 meters. The Kyzyl-Art Pass from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan is at 4282 meters. The Kulma pass from Tajikistan to China is at 4362m. Nothing in the US really comes close to these high mountain passes- few mountain peaks in the US would be as high as these passes. In fact, no mountain in the Western Hemisphere tops 7,000 meters, and there are dozens that do here, including 3 in Kyrgyzstan.

The world's highest drivable pass is thought to be the Kardung La at 5602m in Ladakh (in India). Taglung La (also in India) claims to be the second-highest at 5328m, but there are several points higher than this along the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway in China. (I'm trying to convince my husband that we should bike this highway when our boys are old enough to join us. We can start in Kashi and end in Tibet and head off to see geysers. What could be better?)

Pacifying Religion

A History of Central Asia points out that the Mongol's conversion to Buddhism totally changed the Mongol people. When you think about it, the Mongolians of today don't seem much like the stories we read about the Mongols of the 14th century. Interesting what a mass conversion can do.

03 October 2005

A Real Map!

I found an online, detailed map of Bishkek with all the streets labeled! It is in Russian, but that will do nicely.

We tried to get the orphanage by minibus today. We were very close to the right street, but since I have always gone to the orphange from the north instead of south, I didn't have any landmarks to tell me where we should get off. We were told by two people that the street we were looking for was the wrong direction and I was beginning to think I was crazy. But I have been vindicated by the map and I can go to the orphange tomorrow by minibus instead of a taxi.

I am so pleased.

Flatbread of All Sorts

There has been a bit of discussion under the picture of flatbread cooking, and I thought I'd bring up a few things here since I love to talk about flatbread.

The point of a tandoor is to cook a lot of bread (or meat) quickly using relatively little fuel. You build a hot fire in the oven to heat it, then when it is hot enough, you slap all your bread onto the sides of the oven. The loaves take around 5-8 minutes to cook. When they're done cooking, they fall off and the baker fishes them out with long tongs-like things. Of course, many people today buy their bread from a baker and the fuel-saving properties of a tandoor aren't as important.

Naan is usually made with yeast, but there are many different variations. It's eaten all over Central Asia. There are other tandoor breads, but naan is generally specific to Central Asia. One of my favorites is an Afghan one made with yogurt. Central Asian naan often has a thicker ridge around the side where it isn't stamped. The designs on the bread are also traditional. I've been looking for bread stamps so I can quit using a fork to make designs in the US.

There really are a huge variety of flatbreads from around the world, from the familiar tortillas and bannocks to roti and lavash in Asia. The Bedu' in the Middle East make unleavened flatbreads that are somewhat similar to lavash, although not as large. And not quite as thin. They cook them on a convex surface over a hot fire. I've had some success making it on a wok turned upside down.

I usually make naan in the US on a stone (like some people use for pizza). Since tandoor ovens start off very hot, you want to replicate that. I preheat my stone for an extra 10 minutes before I slap my bread on. The bread comes right off the stone when it is cooked, just like in a tandoor. The stone really does a pretty good job of replicating tandoor ovens. You can also use unglazed pottery tiles and line the lowest rack of your oven with them. Just leave a 1-inch space around all the edges to allow air circulation.

My older son's favorite flatbread is batia roti, from Rajasthan in India. It is salty and filled with cumin and absolutely delicious. There are all kinds of flatbreads and toppings all over this part of the world. I love being in a flatbread place!

02 October 2005

General Conference

(This entire post is about LDS General Conference. It is a meeting held twice a year in Salt Lake City where the President of the LDS Church and other leaders speak.)

It still amazes me that I can listen to Conference anywhere in the world. Even though we are about as far from SLC as we can possibly be, we have been able to listen to Conference. We've come a long way in just a few years. Less than 10 years ago the only option was to go to your Stake Center, and there's not a Stake Center for miles (even countries) around us.

We listened to the Saturday morning session live, then this morning listened to the archive of the Saturday afternoon session (since it was a 2 in the morning here) on ksl.com. I was pleased to discover that the archives are available immediately on KSL.

I have enjoyed the talks. Several were on things that I have been thinking about a lot recently. I liked Elder Holland's advice to women to not send the wrong message to girls about body image. I will always be grateful for a mother who, while exercising and eating right, did not diet or worry about her body. Even though there were only daughters in our family, weight was not an issue, and that has been a blessing for all five of us.

I loved Elder Oaks talk. It was helpful to hear his clarification on the differences between presiding in the home and in the church. Elder Oaks' talks are often straightforward and clear. He is good at explaining misunderstood and/or difficult concepts well.

I liked the emphasis on spiritual preparedness. I'll be interested to listen to President Hinckley's talk from the Priesthood Session because it sounds like he addressed some of my questions about signs of the times- specifically awful things that have happened in the past.

We had trouble with our connection during Sister Tanner's and Elder Wirthlin's talks, so we'll go back and listen to those tonight. I always like Elder Wirthlin.