30 November 2005

One of my favorite things when I talk to the law students is to compare our versions of history. Today, for example, they said that the Soviet Union went in to Afghanistan in 1979 to help Afghanistan and protect it. I'd love to read the history books they've read.

We also talked quite a bit about corruption. They said corruption would become less of a problem when the economy was better since there would be less need to accept bribes. To me, the corruption is hampering economic growth. I asked about wealthy people who accept bribes, and they said it was simply because they wanted more money. So why would a better economy stop corruption? No idea.

29 November 2005

"Indeed, seeing that his expenditure was only one-fourth of his income, he might have been called a prosperous man."

I finished Return of the Native last night. Like I said, I've decided again that fiction is good. A friend of mine here asked me to loan her some English novels so I'll be passing this one onto her. I'd love to start an English-language bookstore or library here both for foreigners and locals.

Would you think yourself prosperous if you lived on 1/4 of your income?
The phone bill has been paid. :)

It has been very different to live in a foreign country as a mother instead of as a student. While it's certainly restricting in some ways (it's often not quite worth it to join my husband on long trips around the country), there are other opportunities that come up that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Some are a result of not working, like being able to to go the baby house often. Few are able to do that here because of other commitments. But some are simply because I have children. I'm a mother, not some American girl running around the world. I've done something that many people here think is worthwhile. Good for me.

26 November 2005

The phone bill hasn't been paid, so we've been without the phone or the internet for the last few days. Hopefully we'll be back online soon. I'm just stopping in quickly at an internet cafe right now.

24 November 2005

Law Students Again

Yesterday we talked about religion, terrorism, and why they think their particular town is the best.

We talked about Islam for a while. They asked what Americans think about Islam. It is beyond them that many Americans think that Islam is a violent religion (it's beyond me too), but it was particularly interesting to hear them talk about it since Islam for them is more cultural than religious. They said some people might do the dawn prayer but nothing else, like wearing long sleeves. I pointed out that long sleeves aren't necessarily a sign of a good Muslim and that there is no right way to be a Muslim.

I asked about Kyrgyz converting to Christian churches and they all thought that was fine. Most seemed to think it was more a family thing- if your family allowed it, then a person could convert. One of the Russian students said of course a person should convert if they wanted to be a Christian. I also asked if a person would still be Kyrgyz if they weren't Muslim, and they said of course.

They were shocked when I told them that some American scholars think that radical Islam would go to Central Asia soon. They completely disagreed. These weren't just students from Bishkek, but also Batken, Talas, and also Osh and Jalalabad in the Ferghana Valley. We decided to talk about terrorism next week. I hope they will bring some news articles with them. I think it could be a very interesting discussion.

To give the students practice writing thoughtful and persuasive papers, my husband assigned them to write about why their town is the best place in Kyrgyzstan (or not). I asked them a bit about that. I'd like to read the papers when they come in. The students from Osh and Jalalabad were the most outspoken about their towns being the best.

I love to talk to these students. Several of them sit quietly most of the time, but I hope that they are listening carefully. I usually prefer to sit quietly so it doesn’t worry me very much. They were surprised that my husband and I can speak some little Russian. We make an effort to only speak English to them. It’s hard sometimes to not try to practice Russian with them, but they have so few opportunities to talk to a native English speaker and I have Russian around me all the time. I think that they would be surprised how much someone can do here who doesn’t speak Russian though, like my American friend.

23 November 2005


Some of the law students took me to Osh bazaar today to pick up a bread stamp (chekich). This is what people use to make the interesting designs on tandoor bread. These will be much better than using a fork!

22 November 2005

I finished The House of Mirth a few days ago and decided I wasn't cross that I brought so much fiction. I think I loved it even more the second time through.
It's interesting to see what search terms bring people here. It's obvious that President Bush drank mare's milk in Mongolia because I've had a reasonable number drop by to read about that, and also to read about the bone games.

A week or two ago hundreds came by searching for the Karakorum Highway. I had mentioned a while ago that it claimed to have the world's highest drivable passes.

Usually there isn't much here that a regular person would stumble on, but every so often it happens.

21 November 2005


These are a couple of street scenes from Osh (if you look on the map on the sidebar, you can find Osh in the south). Osh is in the Ferghana Valley and is mostly Uzbek.

This is the father of the groom. He is from a small village on the Tajik border (it is technically in Tajikistan- I'll write more about the border disputes soon). My husband took our chuko bones with him and this man played with them with his grandchildren a bit. He said that in his village they use yak bones instead of sheep bones.

This is a Central Asian cradle, or beshik. I'm hoping to bring one of these home myself.

[Update] Here are a couple of websites about these cradles and the traditions surrounding them. Search for beshik. And one about the possible dangers of using one (although to me they are not inherently any more dangerous than anything else we use for babies- just use common sense!).

After staying the night in Osh, they went north to Jalalabad. The most direct route takes you through Uzbekistan, which isn't an option right now, so they took the longer road through Uzgen. This is the entrance to the bazaar in Uzgen.

When they got to Jalalabad, the men were cooking the sheep. The large kazans are filled with meat and the fires underneath were also used to cook shashlyk. As you can imagine, the whole sheep was used.

And here is the meal ready to eat. Definitely a typical spread here in Kyrgyzstan.

This woman is carrying burning juniper branches, a very old tradition in Kyrgyzstan. I'm about as likely to see a bunch of juniper branches on the rear view mirror of a bus as any Islamic symbol.

This woman brought water around for everyone to wash their hands before the meal.

After the first meal, the groom's family went to get the bride. They had to bribe her family to let her go, then they all sat down for the next meal.

The groom is the man in the tall white traditional Kyrgyz hat.

Here you see some of the wedding gifts and a few of the women at the meal. The other picture is the groom's sister-in-law pinching his ear while he gets out some money for her. I couldn't find anything about this one, and a Kyrgyz friend of ours from the north didn't really know anything about it either.

Afterwards they walked to the city hall to register the marriage, but the batteries died before then. Everyone lined the way into the building and clapped while the bride and groom went inside. They also took pictures later on in a popular place.

He got new batteries for the drive home the next day. It was about an 8 hour drive from Jalalabad to Bishkek. They stopped along the way to buy some honey and also found a family grinding their corn crop. And, as always, some boys ready to pose for a picture.

19 November 2005

Indian Ocean and Great Central Asia Articles

I haven't pointed out Saudi Aramco World's July/August on the Indian Ocean and the trade routes there.

One of the things I like best about Saudi Aramco World is that it is not written solely from a European perspective. While this issue has an article on Marco Polo's writings about the Indian Ocean, it also has articles about Ibn Battuta (I still need to write about him) and Zheng He, the Chinese admiral who sailed the Indian Ocean extensively. It also covers the earlier history of the Indian Ocean and much more.

This is a fascinating issue. And there are plenty more interesting articles at Saudi Aramco World. Try these on the flags of Central Asia, Central Asian textiles, Muslims in China, the battle of Talas (where the Arabs defeated the Chinese in 751), Mir Ali Shir, the famous Central Asian poet, and of course, The Golden Road.

If you're not quite as hooked on Central Asia as I am, you can also search for articles yourself; there's a spot to do it at the top of every page.

18 November 2005

I'm going to be posting a bit over at Times and Seasons for the next week or two; it's a Mormon blog, so it won't appeal to everyone. I don't expect it to affect my posting here, but you never know.

Independent Thinking vs. Helping Each Other

I've mentioned a few times my concern over the lack of independent thinking here. But it's not all bad- there are some advantages too. We emphasize independent thinking so much in the US that we lose sight sometimes of the need to work together.

I have noticed that people are very willing to help and ask for help here. In the US, we tend to keep to ourselves- we don't want to bother other people. And few would expect someone to go out of their for them. Of course, many Americans are very helpful, but it's more common here. I've been asked to help many strangers, and have been given help by many more. I like it.

My husband also commented that his students here are much better at negotiation skills. They easily see what would benefit everyone instead of individually holding on to their own position.

While I see plenty of sad results of communism, I do see some real benefits.

17 November 2005

Russian Geysers

I came across a website (in Russian) about some of the Kamchatka geysers. What good practice. :)

Another Day With the Law Students

There were fewer students yesterday at the English Club because of some scheduling conflicts, but sometimes it's nice to have a smaller group. They all were able to speak and to give their opinions.

We talked about Kyrgyz history first. I had read that students here learn a lot more about Russia than about Central Asia, and that came through yesterday. They don't learn anything about any other Central Asian countries even though their history is closely tied with them, and they were vague on several parts of Kyrgyz history, especially between the arrival of the Kyrgyz and the Khokand Khanate. Things picked up a lot when we got to the Russians.

We also talked about Russian literature. They highly recommended Pushkin's Eugene Ovegin. They said that they can check a book out of the National Library for 3 som a day, or about 50 cents a week. Not too bad, but comparing a typical US salary of $30,000/yr to a Kyrgyz one of $600/year, that would work out to be about $25 a week in the US. Obviously the library is a luxury for most people. Villages have smaller libraries where you don't have to pay, but with smaller collections of older books.

Of course, libraries would be completely worthless in the US if you had to pay that much to borrow a book; you'd buy it instead.

We also talked about Manas and manaschi, the people who can recite from the Manas epic. They didn't know if Manas was a legend or not, or if he was the same man as the first leader of the Kyrgyz, Barsbek. They told me about Kurmanjan Datka, a famous Kyrgyz woman who lived in the 19th century. See here, here and here for a little information (search for her name). She is quite popular here- she is on the 50-som bill and even has her own stamp. Here is a bit more about her:

One of the famous historical-legendary daughters of the Kyrgyz people was the "tsaritsa Alaia" --Kurmanzhan-datka. She was the only woman ruler, tsaritsa, in the conditions of a Muslim kingdom completely ignoring the interests and rights of women. She won the respect of her contemporaries. Of her was written, "She is an energetic and wise woman."... Her character and strength of will was evident in her youth. Declining to marry the man whom her parents chose for her was a protest against the enslavement of women. But in 1832 she married Alimbek-datkhu who was the ruler of the Andizhan territory and who had considerable influence in the Kokand khanstvo. He was drawn to her intelligence and energy and they lived together for 29 years, during which time she was his helpmate in ruling. After his death, because of her personal qualities and authority, she was recognized as the ruler, and was given a title of honor by the Kokand khan and the Bukhara emir, and she was also recognized by the Russian tsar's government.

I asked them about bride kidnapping. One girl was very outspoken against it, but it sounds like it has happened quite often in her family- her great-grandmother and mother were both kidnapped, and at least two of her sisters-in-law. I should have asked her where she was from because her family clearly is not from Bishkek. Another girl wasn't nearly as opposed; even when I explained that I meant that the girl did not have much say in the matter and when her parents did not know it would happen.

One girl seemed to think I was also asking about arranged marriages (and again, there is a huge variety in types of arranged marriages) but bride kidnaping can't really be described that way. It's either eloping or a forced marriage. They said that if akidnappeds kidnapped, she could refuse or her parents could refuse and she could go home, although she would be "disgraced." It is a "bad sign" when a girl refuses. They said she could go to a different town where people didn't know her. It all followed what Russell Kleinbach's research found.

They always ask me about Hollywood and media people that I am clueless about. They always seem surprised that an American wouldn't care about that. Either they'll decide that I'm a really strange American or (hopefully) that Americans aren't all the same.

16 November 2005

Lack of Curiosity, or Lack of Thinking

I wrote a hasty reply to MFS’ post a few days ago about a lack of curiosity. I’m not sure that a lack of curiosity is really the problem here, any more than it is in the US.

It’s the avoidance of independent thinking. We all know that the Soviets didn’t like new ideas. One friend talked about being basically blacklisted because she had expressed an interest in learning more about democracy. Under any kind of controlling government, it is safer to not think too much. You’ll see this in Iraq, in Kyrgyzstan, and in plenty of other places around the world.

In some ways the lack of curiosity is far more appalling in the US because of the opportunities we have there. I’ve always loved learning, but I have seen more clearly how lucky I am to even have the chance to be able to learn, and to continue learning. The library and the internet have been two of my best friends for continued learning, and for most people in KG, neither are available. Sure, there are other ways to learn, but the resources are seriously limited here.

My two goals with the English group I meet with every week are to give them chances to practice English in a different setting from their English classes (and with a native speaker) and to encourage them to think. While they are in school they have access to more information than they might ever have again. But if they don’t learn to think, they’re out of luck.

14 November 2005

Gifted with Languages?

Johnna had a really good comment a few days ago about languages that I wanted to bring up again:

I think this myth about some unusual talent for language is one of the reasons so few Americans speak another language--almost everyone expects language learning to be a special gift he or she in particular does not have. That, and the challenge of finding someone to converse with. There is an unusual giftedness--rare individuals can learn a second language to native-speaker capability.

I completely agree. When I was studying Arabic, I was amazed at how many people commented that they could never learn a language like that. I always wanted to ask them if they had ever even tried. Is it possible that almost every American only has the ability to learn English, while many people around the world are conversant in several languages?

And why do we think near-native ability is the goal? It takes years for even gifted people to get to this point unless the second language was learned very early. I am far from fluent in Arabic (and I'm seriously out of practice) but if we lived in Cairo, I wouldn't be concerned about the language. There is a huge range in language ability and native ability is rarely necessary.

The truth is that learning a language takes a lot of work. If you've got a gift, great. Use it. You're still going to have to work; vocabulary won't magically appear in your brain. And if you're like the rest of us, study hard. I have experienced few things as satisfying has being able to converse with someone in a different language.

And to end, I'll quote Jane Austen like Johnna did:

My fingers do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution.

13 November 2005

This picture is at the Ala Medin bazaar in NE Bishkek near the east bus station. We're standing on the top of a big flight of stairs leading into the main bazaar.

The butcher at this bazaar wasn't able to round up any smaller chuko for us. So we're back to the beginning with finding more bones. One of my sisters and my mother want some of their own, but the 28 I have now won't go very far.

I think I'll switch back to asking stray people about them. I'm sure to find some people who would be willing to sell me some (already-cleaned!) chuko.

12 November 2005

This Week in The Times of Central Asia

As usual, The Times of Central Asia provided some entertainment this week. After firing the last of nearly 200 government officials in the last 14 years (usually for corruption), Niyazov (Turkmenbashi) said, "We must admit that either we cannot find worthy high officials or that high government posts corrupt the people that hold them."

Turkmenistan also celebrated Health Day. The article points out that Niyazov has banned smoking in public to improve public health. It didn't point out that he also closed all medical facilities outside the capital, a sure sign of a good health system.

The people of Turkmenistan must feel so lucky to have someone like Turkmenbashi who has not been corrupted by power and was so worthy in the first place. Or, at least someone who doesn't have anyone above him to find out.

The paper did finally confirm that the Kokaral Dike has been completed and seems to be working. It looks like it was finished in early June. Sturgeon are now being reintroduced. Some European filmmakers are working on a documentary of the project. I'm glad Kazakhstan has stuck with the project despite Uzbekistan's complaints. Uzbekistan has not almost nothing to help the Aral Sea and Kazakhstan has every reason to do the little it can even if it means the rest of the sea will dry up a little more quickly.

I've written about the Aral Sea before. For a history of it, see here, and for more information about the dike, see here.

We also missed a horse festival at Issyk Kul. It would have been fun to go. I'll have to post about Kyrgyz horses sometime; they are rather interesting. And they make kymys possible.

Another Interesting Book

Heather mentioned her interesting Art of the Book class on her blog and the text for the class. I think The Evolution of the Book by Frederick G. Kilgour is also going to be on the list of books to read when I find a real bookstore.

11 November 2005

Despite the fact that I am homeschooling my children, I don't really feel like a "homeschooler." I don't do a lot of things that homeschoolers do, like pour over curriculum, plan schedules, or hang out with other homeschooling families. (Of course there aren't many in KG, but we didn't participate in homeschooling groups in the US either.) I don't think about homeschooling much. I think of myself as a person who does lots of things, one of which is homeschooling.

We just do what works. The past week or two reading has worked. My older son has been able to read for a long time, but because of who-knows-what has had some kind of hangup about it. So we haven't worried much about it. If it had gone another year with him refusing to read, I'd have tried something else. But something clicked last week. He had had all the information he needed for over a year and he finally decided that he could do something with it. He has been asking to read and plowing through our reading book as quickly as he can. I am so pleased.

It was handwriting for a few weeks before that, and math before that. Handy little guy. And nice that the younger one is happy learn along with his older brother. It's easy to homeschool these little boys.

And a reminder to stop by the Old Faithful webcam. Predictions aren't posted right now, but I just happened to catch an eruption (about 9:30 AM), so there will probably be eruptions today around 11 AM, 12:30 PM, 2 PM, 3:30 PM, and 5 PM. These are all local Yellowstone time which is posted with the webcam.

10 November 2005

Lentils and Bulgur

We are finally at the point where we almost never eat out anymore. The final discoveries were bulgur and red lentils. The red lentils I found are tiny. I bought them in a neat little package at the grocery store, but I also found them in the bazaar. I made kichree last night and it was delicious. Red lentil soup will be next if I can figure out a good substitute for beef broth. We're trying bulgur pilaf tonight.

I have been so glad that I learned how to cook creatively before we came here. I don't use any cookbooks or recipes, but I know more than one thing to do with rice, bulgur, lentils, pasta, and vegetables. We don't really have a hugely varied diet, but we're getting what we need. And I can buy everything we need within a block of our house. Handy since I have to carry it all home.

It's also a good thing that so many Turks live here and brought their food since I've cooked food from that part of the world for years.

09 November 2005

John Adams

"Posterity who are to reap the blessings will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors." ~Abigail Adams to John Adams during the American Revolution

I just finished John Adams by David McCullough and I enjoyed it very much. John Adams is one of the most overlooked men from the early days of our country and it was good to learn more about him in a thorough biography instead of just reading about bits and pieces of his life in other history sources. He led a fascinating life. I also liked reading more about Abigail Adams and I'd love to read a biography focused on her.

John Adams did far more than most of us give him credit. He played a crucial role in creation of the Declaration of Independence and also was instrumental in Europe during the Revolutionary War. He was committed to peace at a time when war could have been disastrous. He was completely devoted to his country and worried that his efforts would be forgotten- and they have been. The Alien and Sedition Acts, the XYZ Affair, and other things, some of which were entirely not his fault, seemed to have tainted him. I remember when this biography came out a few years ago that people said Adams would replace Jefferson in our affections. I don't know that has happened, but Adams should at least be considered Jefferson's equal, even though the two were entirely different.

My only complaint with the book is the focus on Thomas Jefferson. It seemed that every time we heard something negative about Adams, there was something negative about Jefferson. It often didn't help me understand Adams better; it seemed to be an attempt to bring Jefferson down. I won't argue that Jefferson perfect, but I'd prefer to read about Jefferson in his own biography where I could get the whole picture instead of having Adams and Jefferson consistently compared. This wasn't the right setting for the comparison in my mind.

There is one problem though- this is the last non-fiction book I have here. I made the huge mistake of bringing more fiction. I love fiction, but I always need non-fiction. I am hoping the little Embassy book exchange has some worthwhile non-fiction.

Chatting with the Law Students

I had another interesting chat with the students at the law school today. They brought me some chuko bones and taught me a couple more games (below) and then we talked about politics and history. It was interesting to hear their take on WWII and the US's involvement. They said the US joined the Soviet Union when we saw the Soviet Union was winning. I told them our joining the war had a lot more to do with Japan's bombing the US. But the Soviet Union's suffering during WWII is often overlooked from our point of view.

They also said, as everyone has whom I've asked, that life was much better under the Soviet Union. Although I will never agree that communism is a good system of government, it really did have many benefits for the people of Kyrgyzstan. Nearly everyone had a higher standard of living under the Soviet Union. As one person said, they didn't worry about democracy and freedom. Life was simpler in many ways.

I asked the students if there is any racial tension between the Kyrgyz and the Russians. The Kyrgyz students all said no, and so did the Russians, but they didn't sound quite as definite. One Kyrgyz student said the Russians brought culture and education to the country and she is glad they are there. I asked the Russian students why their families didn't leave after independence like so many did, and they said it was their home and they like it here. One Russian student's family has been here for over 100 years, another's family came in 1948.

We talked a bit about the revolution in March, and about Andijan. One said that because Kyrgyzstan is a democracy, the government was able to change and since Uzbekistan isn't a democracy, Andijan didn't make any big changes in the government. They clearly don't believe the official Uzbek version of Andijan. They're all glad they don't have Karimov for a leader. One girl said the Uzbeks are sly.

I love going to talk to these students. The main goal is for them to practice their English. Some speak much better than others. Some are very quiet, but I think they understand more than they let on. They seem to be willing to share their opinions. That's one thing I'd had often heard about Kyrgyzstan- people aren't afraid of the government. They will give their opinions about it without fear.

One girl (see? the girls say they don't play, but they always know the rules) showed us the rest of the game that is like jacks. You toss out five bones or small rocks, then choose one to toss up in the air. Pick up one rock before catching the tossed stone. Repeat 3 times till you've picked up all the stones, then do it again, picking up 2 stones at a time, then 3, then 4. After you've successfully picked up 4 stones at once, you make a little tunnel with your thumb and forefinger and flick one stone at a time through the tunnel while tossing the stone.

The girls said they play a game called akjoluk, or white scarf. The children sit in a circle and close their eyes while one girl holding a white scarf goes around the outside of the circle. She drops the scarf behind one girl, then all the girls guess (I've also heard a running version of the game, but I think this one was just guessing) who has the scarf behind her.

08 November 2005

Real Life in Bishkek

It’s hard to really give a good picture of living Bishkek. Disruptions come up often that we’re not used to dealing with in the US. No utility cannot be counted on. There are an unreasonable number of wrong numbers. The furniture is not sturdy. Work schedules are incredibly flexible or even chaotic. Any food item may disappear from the shelves at any time. Packages and letters might take 6 months to arrive, if they arrive at all. Any store may be closed for no apparent reason. I could go on.

But I don’t want to talk about all these things because mostly of the time life goes reasonably smoothly, especially if you’re flexible. I prefer to stick with the basics. I can always get somewhere by walking and I know more than one bus number to get home from any place I go. I cook with what’s easily available instead of going from western grocery store to western grocery store looking for certain things. If something doesn't work, we live with it. And we don't try to do too much or expect too much.

If you come to Bishkek and want to make your life as much like it was in the US, you’re going to be disappointed or frazzled. But if you come and realize that lots of things are going to be different and that you’re going to have to be creative, you’re going to be fine. This really is a nice city to live in if you take it for what it is.

If you want a different look at life in Bishkek- still positive, but different, try Phil and Lori's Sabbatical Adventure. There are also lots of links to Kyrgyzstan blogs at Registan.

Empires of the World

I found another new book to add to my growing list of books to read when I get back to the United States. My homepage is Arts and Letters Daily and it many links to reviews of new books, which is where I found this review of Empires of the World: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler. I'd love to read this one.

Maybe it will be out in paperback when I can finally read it.

07 November 2005

Bone Games

Update 9/5/09- I'm always looking for more games, stories, and traditions about these bones. Feel free to leave a comment if you know something about them, or email me. amirabook@gmail.com

I’ve been able to to find out more about the sheep bone games popular in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tuva, and Mongolia. The games are similar to knucklebone games that you may have heard of from Europe (see this site for lots of information). A Kyrgyz friend said that he hasn’t seen children in Bishkek play with chuko for several years but that in other town, especially in the north, it was still popular. It doesn’t appear to be a traditional Uzbek game. Everyone has said that girls don’t play the games, but every girl I’ve asked has known quite a bit about the rules. I’m not convinced that girls don’t play.

Anyway, here are the names of the bones in various languages: assyk (Kazakh), chuko (Kyrgyz), shagai (Mongolia), kazhyk (Tuvan), and alchik (Russian). And before we go further, the Tuvans live in Russia near the headwaters of the Yenisei and are very likely related to the Kyrgyz.

There appears to be a book about Tuvan games, but I couldn’t find it actually available anywhere on the internet. It is called Kazhyk!: Sheepbone Dice Game Rules by Ralph Leighton.

There are four sides to each bone (well, technically 6, but we’ll get to that later). I’ve had different people tell me different names, but there seems to be agreement about which sides are the best, or get the most points. In these pictures you see, from top to bottom, shah or ayqur, pirk, chik, and ta or tava. Ayqur is considered the best (because it's hardest to roll), then tava, pirk, and finally chik.

In Mongolia and Tuva each side is named for a different animal. Again in order of the pictures, you see camel, sheep, goat, and horse for the Mongolian version; the Tuvan is horse, sheep, goat, and cow. The Tuvans also name the other two sides (the very small sides) which are difficult to roll (although my husband did one time) camel and yak.

It is hard to find the bones in the US. My understanding is that you can’t buy real bones like these. You can get resin ones if you like. Or you can make your own, like I am. I went to a butcher and told him what I wanted. He had a collection of bones for me when I went back today and I brought them home and boiled them to clean them. This site about knucklebones has more detailed instructions (it also has instructions for some Roman variations). The butcher had done most of the work for me, so it really wasn’t icky to do this. This would be a cheap and interesting way to get your own bones. I got pig bones today which are about twice as large as sheep bones. The butcher said he’d round up some smaller ones (hopefully from sheep) by this weekend. We’ll see how it goes. I'll post pictures when I have some finished.

And finally, here are the games I’ve found so far. I’ll post more whenever I am taught a new version.

Toss out all your shagai bones (20 or 30 will do) then you can start flicking them with your fingers. Flick a horse at a horse, a sheep at a sheep, etc. If you do this without hitting another bone, you can pick up both pieces. If you miss or hit the wrong bone, the next person gets to go until she misses. The point of the game is to collect as many bones as you can.

These are the basic rules for this game. This site (search for "The Anklebone Shooting Game) has more detailed instructions near the bottom of the page.

(Mongolia) The Horse Race Game
Line all your bones up, horse side up. You want at least ten bones, and you can make a nice curving pattern if you like. You’ll also need one bone for the dice and a marker for each player. Line up all the markers, horse side up, next to the first bone. Take turns throwing the dice. Whenever you shake a horse, move your marker up alongside the next bone. Whosever marker gets to the end of the line first wins. (This involves more skill than a dice game we’re familiar with because there is a knack for shaking horses and camels. There’s not much you can do to shake a certain number with a regular 6-sided die.)

Another version is a lot like jacks. Put four bones in the floor, then toss a fifth bone in the air. Pick up one bone and catch the tossed bone. Repeat till you’ve picked up all the bones, then repeat by picking up two bones at a time. For the third round, put the bone you toss of the back of your hand to toss it in the air. That’s as far as we got. :)

This one is a bit like soccer. Toss out a small number of bones. Choose two bones at one end of the playing area to be the goal. The idea is to get as many bones as possible through the goal-bones. You do this by flicking one bone between two other bones. If you miss or hit another bone, that’s bad. I hope this one made sense; some are hard to explain in writing.
See who can get four different sides up by dropping four bones from a foot in the air.
Line the bones up in the center of a circle, saving the biggest bone. Stand a few feet away (someone said seven foot-lengths) and using that bigger bone, try to knock the other bones out of the circle. You win whichever bones you knock out.

See who can throw their bone closest to a small pile of bones.

Draw line in the dirt and see who can toss the most bones behind the line.

All of the above games I’ve been personally taught. I found the ones below online.

In this game sets of 8 or 12 bones are 'shot' towards a target two at a time, using a special plank as a sling. The winner is the one who has the greatest number of bones by the end of the game. (http://mongolia.worldvision.org.nz/news/story12.html)

"Mongolian Jacks are played a bit like modern Jacks, but without a rubber ball. A given number of bones (the more bones, the longer and more difficult the game) are thrown on a hard surface. One player immediately has to pick up all the bones that have fallen on the "horse" side from the pile, without touching any other bones. If he does, the turn goes to the next player, who gathers the remaining bones and throws them again, to repeat the process. The player with more "horses" wins. An interesting variation of this game is using a small square piece of chain mail as a ball, throwing it upwards and picking the bones with the other hand. If either the player touches other bones that are not "horses", the bones fall from the hand, or are picked with the other hand, the player loses the turn." (http://colynethorfinna.tworavens.org/GamesGuild/articles_shagai.htm)

There is a slightly different version of the horse race game called a’t charyshtyrary in Tuva, found at this site:

"Again, any number of people can play --- the more the better. One bone for each contestant is placed horse side up along a starting line, usually on a carpet. In turn, each player takes four bones and rolls them onto the carpet. The number of bones that land horse side up determines how far you move your own horse around the race course and back. Getting one or more horses results in an extra roll. As you roll the bones, call out encouragement to your horse! ("SHOO-dah!'" means "Giddyap!"')"



Crockpots and Other Stuff

I have gotten lots of suggestions to get a crockpot or other electric appliances if we have more trouble with the stove. While I am imagine that I could find a crockpot here, there are several reasons why it's not worth it.

First, I'd have to go from store to store just to find one. I can't call the store and ask. Going from store to store requires getting myself and my two children there and figuring out which buses to take. If I can manage to find a crockpot that is not unreasonably expensive (buying crockpots isn't in our budget), I'd then have to get it home on the bus with me. With my two children still in tow. One of whom can't get into the bus very well on his own.

It might be worth it to you, but it's not to me. The microwave will suit my purposes.

06 November 2005

Microwave Gourmet

We haven't had natural gas for the last day. I imagine it has something to do with Uzbekistan's refusal to send natural gas to Kyrgyzstan. Or maybe that's just the way it is right now.

Anyway, since the gas might be off a lot this winter, I'm looking into cooking more with my microwave (yes, I'm lucky enough to have a microwave). I've never really cooked with my microwave, except for oatmeal, so this is rather new.

Does anyone cook much with their microwave? Keep in mind that I almost never cook meat (I'm not really excited about meat here- see the picture below) and that most packaged and prepared foods aren't widely available, or very expensive.

I've found a few ideas on the internet, but most use ingredients I don't have or are geared for one person instead of a family. I think I'll at least be able to do pasta and rice, and I think lentils might work out too.

We'll see how creative I can be this winter.

We headed off yesterday to find the sheep bones (chuko/shagai). We tried Osh Bazaar first, but had no luck. We did find the Home Depot section, the fish section (we dodged flying scales), and the fortune tellers. These are their tents lining the way. Not a great shot, but I didn't want to be obvious with the camera.

We dropped something off at a friend's house and he offered to drive us to a different bazaar to look for the bones there. On the way we passed the main mosque in Bishkek. It was functioning (somewhat) during Soviet years.

We ended up at the Alamedin Bazaar on the east side of Bishkek. It was a good thing our Kyrgyz friend took us because I never would have been able to sort it out. We talked to a pig butcher who is going to get about 30 pig bones ready for us to pick up on Monday. He said they're a little bigger than the sheep bones and that the woman who sells sheep bones will be there Monday. If this all works out, I'd like to get a lot of these bones to give to people in the US.

I imagine you can tell what the pictures are here.

05 November 2005

The Times of Central Asia

The only English-language newspaper available in Kyrgyzstan is called The Times of Central Asia. It’s an interesting little paper; you never know what you’re going to get. We picked one up yesterday.

The lead story was a report of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's, the deputy speaker of the Duma, visit to Turkmenistan. I don’t know how a person could have written it without laughing- my husband and I certainly didn’t. It talked about how Zhirinovsky believes Turkmenistan is a model for other FSRs in its deveolpment of democracy and a market economy. I think they’re a little confused on deomcracy. Niyazov, the president, has been in for 14 years, and the main legislative body is not elected.

Niyazov also regretfully accepted his country’s refusal to allow him to retire in 2009. "We are happy with you!" This about the man who closed all medical facilities and libraries outside the capital, prohibited all recorded music, proposed building an ice palace in a country that reaches 122 degrees in the summer, wrote a book that everyone in the country must read, and more.

There are interesting little tidbits too. A week or two ago one article said the goal of the US is to bring down Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan so that Uzbekistan can be parceled out among Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. I am sure that is high on the US’s list of foreign policy goals.

There are things worth reading though, at least because I can go to the internet for more information about those things and see some different points of view (or at least to find out where the newspaper got its information!). See here and here for more information about the first women’s shelter in Tajikistan.

04 November 2005

More Languages

(I've been finding out more about shagai/chuko bones and have learned quite a bit. We're hoping to pick up more bones tomorrow. I'll pass on some of the games I've heard about the in last few days, and about bone games in general from all over the world. I guess Americans have just lost the art of playing with bones.)

It’s been interesting to study another language again. I’ve always been much better at learning grammar than vocabulary, and that has its good points and bad points. It doesn’t help that I know which ending to put on a word, or which conjugation to use if I don’t know what the word is in the first place.

But grammar is still very important. Just memorizing words and phrases, maybe from a guidebook or in a beginning course, doesn’t get you very far either. You don’t learn why a word is used the way it is so you can’t apply it to anything else.

I was able to get through fourth-year high school French in two years because I learned a lot of grammar and memorized just enough vocabulary to get by. But by the end of that second year, I knew I didn’t know enough words to go onto AP French.

It was an entirely different experience studying Arabic. I took 3 semesters of it before spending five months in Jerusalem. I learned a lot of vocabulary in those five months that would have been much harder for me to learn in the United States.

I also learned how important it is to just practice. I am far less self-conscience than I was 10 years ago and I have been much better here at just trying to make myself understood. No one minds (although some do laugh when I inadvertently say something funny) and most are willing to help me learn Russian.

I’ve also been very pleased with the Russian book Andy recommended a few months ago. It doesn’t skimp on the grammar, but it’s not overwhelming either.

Some people assume my husband and I are good at learning languages. My husband speaks Spanish well, we both do fine in Arabic, and Russian is coming along well enough that I think we’ll both be reasonably conversant by next summer. We’ve also worked on Uzbek, and I’ve studied French and Latin. But I don’t think either of us have a particular knack for it beyond just having some experience. We just work at it slowly, and that’s really the only way to learn a new language. Just keep working at it and find people to talk to.

03 November 2005

Happy Orozo Ait!

It was Orozo Ait today, the end of Ramadan. Orozo Ait still doesn't roll off my tongue the way Eid al-Fitr does. There wasn't much observance here in Bishkek, but it was obviously a holiday. I read through the Ramadan section of The Islamic Year with the boys and remembered the wonderful Ramadan and Eid we had in Jerusalem almost 10 years ago.

We also love Eid al-Fitr because our younger son was born that day and we always celebrate his birthday on Eid al-Fitr. Our older son thinks it would be a great idea for his birthday to come 10 days earlier every year.

I've recommended this book before, but I'll do it again. It is an excellent introduction to Islam and Muslim holidays, but it also has plenty of stories, projects, and other ideas for people like us who are more familiar with Islam, but don't have the traditions in our family. I especially like how it talks about how the holidays are celebrated in different countries, from Iraq to Bangladesh. It's definitely worth the money.

02 November 2005

We brought our little collection of shagai bones with us to Kyrgyzstan to see if we could pick more up and discovered, not surprisingly, that they are popular in Central Asia as well as Mongolia. Some of my husband's students said they would pick some up for me in the bazaar. I was happy to go myself, but they said I'd pay too much. And I would have.

There are four sides to these little guys, called chuko (or something like that). It's a bit hard to tell the difference between some of the sides without seeing it yourself. This picture shows all four sides and there is a clear difference. Starting at the center top and going clockwise, you have sha, pirk, taa, and chik (I can't make any promises on the spellings here; I just wrote them down like I heard them). In Mongolia the names of the sides corresponded to various animals, like horse and sheep, but they don't appear to here. I'm sure someone will correct me though if that's not the case.

There are many games that can be played with the bones, from ones like jacks to marbles to one that's a bit like soccer with bones. I know there are many more I've never heard it. It would be fun to informally research the different versions and write them down.

The students also promised to pick up a bread stamp for me.

I was talking to the students during their English club. We talked about different stereotypes that Kyrgyz have of Americans (we couldn't talk about American stereotypes of Kyrgyz because most Americans don't seem to know Kyrgyzstan exists). We talked about credit and rich Americans, education, famous people, and the self-assuredness of America. It was an interesting chat. Then I sat down and they asked me questions about living in America. I had a good time and I think I'll be able to go back next week. They promised to show me more games with the bones. The most interesting question was whether I like being an American.

01 November 2005

We confirmed the diaper idea today. We asked three different women (one nurse, one social worker, and one administrator) if diapers were a good idea, and they all said they needed them. They do use them at night since there is only one nurse in with all 11 babies and she spends a lot of her time feeding them. It’s hard to keep all the babies dry. So we’ll be taking diapers in now; I will keep working on finding out what other baby houses in the country might need.

My friend with a driver and I took a minibus today because her driver locked his keys in the car. It was the first time she had been on one and it was quite the experience for her. Luckily we weren’t on a crowded bus, but she wasn’t used to people chatting with her on public transportation. We also stopped at a tandoor bakery on the way home- something else she’d never done. We had a good time. It was fun to ride the bus with a friend.

The law school offered me a job today to teach what they call “Diplomatic English;” it sounds like political English is what they want. They wanted me there for 10 hours a week, something that wouldn’t be an option (they wouldn’t be able to pay me enough to afford a babysitter for the 15 hours a week that would end up requiring, nor was my older son interested in my being gone that much), but then they came back and suggested 4 hours a week, which might be an option. I think it would be an interesting experience.

I spent the afternoon on Sunday with a couple of Kyrgyz families. One had two older daughters and a baby son. Babies always get lots of attention, but it was obvious that this little boy was loved more because he was a boy. I certainly saw this in the Middle East also, and it’s not considered to be a problem.

The woman I was talking to yesterday, a delightful and interesting woman, said she cried when her second daughter was born because she was a girl. I can’t even imagine thinking that, much less saying that in front of a daughter. However, her main reason for feeling that way was that she knew she had to keep on having children until a son was born.

Usually I am not concerned by cultural differences, but this is one that drives me nuts, especially because I come from a family of girls. I hate to see the way women and girls are treated by some people.

Of course not everyone here treats women and girls this way- far from it. Women are involved in politics and a variety of other things. We have friends who are delighted with their daughters. The girls at the baby house are taken care of well.

And of course this is hardly unheard of in the US. Some parents get far too caught up in whether they have boy or a girl. But it’s nothing like the general preference for boys in so many parts of the world.