30 May 2006
I've put off reading anything by Ella Maillart for a long time, not for any good reason. But I decided to give one of her books a try when I found Turkestan Solo at the embassy. I'm glad I finally did. I am very much enjoying the book.
Ella Maillart is a fascinating woman who traveled extensively in Asia in the first half of the century. She took a number of photos of her journeys and wrote quite a few books. Actually, her Forbidden Journey was the inspiration for Night Train to Turkistan. She also competed as the only woman in the 1924 Olympics (sailing) and was a member of the Swiss skiing team. One of her early experiences in Turkestan Solo is her skiing down a 5,000-meter mountain in the Tian Shan.
But the thing that has impressed me the most (so far) has been this story:
Then from the cauldron out comes the liver, which is cut into slices, in addition to chunks of fat- all their [the Kyrgyz] sheep have fat tails- and the table is laid. The meal is eaten with the fingers, by making small sandwiches of liver and fat which are plunged into a bowl containing salt passed from hand to hand. The delicate flavor is delicious: I would willingly have made it my main sustenance.
She goes on to describe her pleasure in eating the sheep's head, then besh barmak (not quite the same as it's been served to us here), and finally the broth that the meat was boiled in. She would have made a wonderful guest. I just leave all my meat in a heap on the side of the plate. I know it will go back into the pot where someone else can enjoy it later.
29 May 2006
I finished the last book I borrowed from Naryn, Bones of the Master by George Crane. It's basically the story of a Buddhist monk, Tsung Tsai, from Inner Mongolia and an American writer who go to Inner Mongolia to find where the monk's teacher was buried. The goal was to cremate the bones, to rebuild the monastery that had been destroyed during the Great Leap Forward, and to visit the cave where his master lived.
The trip wasn't particularly successful, but it's all made worthwhile by hearing what Tsung Tsai had to say. It is a bit like a travel book, but not much. There is quite a bit of poetry throughout the book, partly because Crane and Tsung Tsai translated some Buddhist poetry together.
The only parts of the book I didn't much like were generally where the author was talking about himself instead of Tsung Tsai. Tsung Tsai was far more likeable. Crane has recently published another book, but it looks like it's all about him, so I don't plan on reading it.
Well, there was one part I liked where he talked about himself. The title of this post is something his daughter said when she was a little girl. And despite that one small complaint, I very much liked the book and recommend it.
28 May 2006
Demonstrations again yesterday. We saw groups of people meeting in various parks around town, but we didn't go down by the square. The military had planned a parade for the same day, but they changed it to Monday, so there weren't any conflicts.
It sounds like there were a similar number of people there as the one on April, or slightly less. Actually, the biggest difference between April's and May's was the government's reaction. The government was considerably less worked up about this one and I think that made a huge difference in people's perception of it.
I was glad to see the government has been calmer about demonstrations. I personally disagreed with this article that said that demonstrations were contributing to instability in the country (actually, I thought most of the article was great and just disagreed with that one part). Certainly there have been demonstrations that have been problems. And the road-closing isn't helpful (but that's illegal, isn't it?). But these large, peaceful demonstrations are not causing instability nor crippling the government. The government had been crippling itself with its unreasonable response to the demonstrations and I'm glad to see they didn't respond the same way this month.
27 May 2006
26 May 2006
I finished China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Asia by Peter C. Perdue this week. It was an interesting book on a fascinating topic, but my goodness, it was long and detailed in places. I skipped large parts about Qing troop movements against the Zunghars and grain production in northwest China.
Perdue basically looks at Qing China from a different perspective- neither the traditional European ideas nor the Chinese interpretation. He argues that the Qing dynasty, which was Manchu (and therefore Central Asian) was significantly different from previous dynasties. This is partly shown by the Qing's ability to conquer large pieces of land surrounding China- basically creating what is China today. Perdue has the advantage of using a variety of sources for this time period instead of the official Qing sources and that shows in his conclusions.
He focuses much more on the Qing's interaction with the Zunghar empire that what is traditionally thought of as Central Asia. I would have been interested in learning more about the Qing's relations with the Turkic tribes to their west in addition to the Mongol tribes to their north.
Perdue argues against the traditional Chinese idea that China has always had today's "natural borders" and that Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and parts of the south have always been part of China. But he also disputes the idea that China was not a modern state as is commonly believed by many in the West. He believes China was advancing in a similar way to the West until about 1750-1800 when the Qing began to decay. He also clearly demonstrates that China has not always been peaceful, non-aggressive, and static. China is far more dynamic than either Chinese scholars or Western scholars have generally given it credit for.
Overall, I'd recommend this book to people with a particular interest in China, Mongolia, Central Asia, and maybe Russia.
And I didn't actually read all of Monuments of Central Asia: A Guide to the Archaeology, Art and Architecture of Turkestan by Edgar Knobloch, but this is a book I'd love to always have on hand. It is an excellent comprehensive guide to a huge number of interesting places in Central Asia. He also includes a chapter at the end about how Afghanistan's monuments have faired since most of his visits to the region were before the current troubles there (he first visited Central Asia in 1959).
He doesn't focus on any one religion or time period, nor on anything like the Silk Road. He even manages to find a few places to write about in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. There are a number of color and black-and-white photos throughout the book.
My only complaint is that the writing is pretty dry- that's why I didn't just sit down and read the entire thing. But if interesting places in Central Asia are your thing, this is the book for you.
25 May 2006
24 May 2006
My mother was kind enough to mail this excellent new book by Camille Fronk to me this week and I highly recommend it.
The story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 has never sat well with me; it's always seemed much too simple to just say that what Martha's actions were wrong and the Mary's were right as if one were better than the other. I've read several commentaries on this story, but none have come up with an interpretation that really worked for me because, well, of course it was good for Mary to sit and listen to the Lord, but Martha's hospitality certainly wasn't anything to criticize.
The main point of Fronk's book is that instead of there being one “better part” for everyone, something specific that we each should do, that we each need to seek the one needful thing- Jesus Christ:
Choosing the “better part” is therefore remaining steadfast in Christ regardless of our circumstances, challenges, or talents. It is neither what Martha was specifically doing or what Mary was specifically doing. The better part is finding the One Needful Thing.
Fronk suggests that Martha’s problem in Luke was not her service. It wasn't a problem that she was making dinner instead of sitting and listening to the Lord, but instead the problem was that she had lost her focus on the Savior and was thinking about her troubles and what Mary wasn’t doing to help.
I rather like this interpretation because I’ve never felt that what Martha was doing was unimportant and that the Lord isn’t saying that it isn’t important. The Lord is not comparing Martha’s and Mary’s service; instead, he is simply saying that at that moment Martha had lost her focus. This interpretation is supported by John 12:1-5 where (after the earlier story of Mary and Martha), Martha serves a meal while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet. Jesus condemns neither sister for their actions, only Judah’s criticism of Mary.
Of course, it’s hard sometimes to keep your focus. Many women feel great pressure over the upbringing of their children, a dinner for guests, or whether they are reading the scriptures often enough. But as soon as we put our focus on something else besides the Lord, things get harder. Even if those things are important, the Lord is the most important. She has an interesting discussion of this (p. 99) where she talks about a survey of college-educated Christians who were 3 times more likely than non-college-educated Christians to put the second commandment of loving one’s neighbors over the first commandment of loving God.
She also discusses competition over differences- when we think we have somehow chosen the better part instead of our own good part:
Regardless of which path is chosen, someone will certainly criticize that choice. I considered declining future invitations to speak when a woman commented at a “Know Your Religion” lecture, “After hearing you, I felt discouraged because I will never know the scriptures as well. But then I thought, instead of going to school, I chose to follow the prophet- I married and had a family.” Without knowing my choices, she had judged me as disobedient and seemed doubly irked that I was happy about it. . .
Because we can easily detect differences between Mary’s and Martha’s approaches to service, we may unwittingly introduce the unwarranted “better” to the account, exacerbated by a tendency to label one activity good and the other one bad. What is better for one, however, is not always better for another.
I’ve no doubt that many people have experienced these comparisons and have also at times compared themselves favorably to others because they have more children, stay home with those children, read the scriptures more, or make more meals for new mothers than someone else. It’s easy to think you’ve chosen the better part when your outward appearances look like they are in line with what the prophet counsels. Fronk points out that the First Presidency in 1913 warned against this:
People who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led away by false spirits, who exercise an influence so imitative of that which proceeds from a Divine source that even these persons, who think they are the “very elect,” find it difficult to discern the essential difference.
While the focus of Fronk's book is clearly Mary and Martha, she also brings up some other points throughout the book like Jesus' treatment of women, Mary's missionary, and her suggestions for finding your own good part. But it wasn't really heavy on personal application (thank you).
Overall I very much liked this book. My only complaint is that it is altogether too short and I did feel that she was deliberately keeping it a bit light. I would have appreciated citations when she says things like “most scholars assume...” or when she mentions ideas that she disagrees with. I very much hope that she will continue to write (has anyone read her In the Hands of the Potter?) books like this—and I’d even have a few suggestions of some women she could cover.
We ran through the current rumors floating around today with the law students. One is that Ryspek Akmatbaev wasn't really killed a few weeks ago but is actually in hiding. Another is the Bakiev is planning to dissolve Parliament (he denied that yesterday). One student had heard the US had agreed to pay the entire $200 million/year for Gansi Air Base, but I can't find (and I hope not to find) any confirmation of that. And the last was that Kyrgyzstan will probably not join HIPC. We'll see if any of these pan out.
As I expected, there isn't much support for Saturday's demonstration. It certainly isn't getting a lot of attention here and I wouldn't be surprised to see it not be very well attended.
It was interesting to hear them talk about Ryspek. There's a lot more sympathy for the man now than they used to have. Some even were saying he was a Robin Hood who protected Kyrgyzstan from other criminals. How nice of him.
When we talked about HIPC, they said jokingly that Akaev should be responsible for Kyrgyzstan's debt, not Kyrgyzstan itself. Another reason why it's good to put some checks on the president, but my husband's been trying to make that point all year and most still don't agree with him.
When we moved in to our apartment an discovered that a number of thinks didn't work or were on the verge of breaking (i.e. sitting down in a chair resulted in the bottom falling out, the intercom doesn't work, so you have to run down three flights of stairs if someone comes to visit, the bed has a large hole in the middle, etc.), we decided not to rock the boat that early.
When the curtain rod came off the wall and almost brained me shortly after we moved in, I just laughed when our apartment manager said the reason it had come off was because I had tried to open the curtains.
When my son broke the glass in our bedroom door (can I tell you how annoying it is to have glass on your bedroom door?) we paid for the repair. It took over two months to get the repair man to come, but it was fixed.
When we asked and asked for more pans for the stove and oven (I'm still making pancakes one at a time in a pot and only have one cookie sheet for the oven) and never got anything because the owner had already spent all our rent and couldn't do anything for the apartment, we finally gave up.
When my husband's back started to hurt because of the hole in the bed, the owner refused to buy a new bed. He now is in a great deal of pain and has been to several specialists in Bishkek who say there's nothing they can do for his back.
When the drain in the tub plugged up and the repair pulled out a wad of black hair and said it was my fault, I didn't point out that obvious fact that I have blonde hair. I found out later that he expected us to pay for the 5-minute repair because it was our fault. (He's the repair guy for the building.)
When the doors started falling off the kitchen cupboards and bookcases because the screws were stripped, the manager said it was our fault because "the boys were hanging on the doors." If they'd been hanging on the doors, more would have happened than the screws simply getting stripped.
When the woman downstairs came up at 11 at night and yelled at us for being too noisy, it took quite a while to convince her that it was someone else being noisy and that we had been asleep and not stomping around. She comes up quite often in the late afternoon because the boys have been too noisy. My older son is in tears at least once a week from being reminded to walk quietly and to not break the flimsy furniture.
This is the first time that I can't wait to move.
22 May 2006
I finally got around to reading all of The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron. It was written nearly 15 years ago shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union and is still one of the few books of this type that cover all 5 Central Asian countries.
There were certainly many parts of this book that I enjoyed. It was fun to follow Thubron around Central Asia as he visited many places I'd love to see. He usually didn't skimp on describing people and places. He did describe too many drunken feasts though (those get old quickly, and I got tired of those descriptions about 5 years ago).
But this book really is very out of date. It was republished after September 11th but really has absolutely nothing to do with Afghanistan or terrorism. Central Asia is a very different place now and this book falls more into the category of history that current events.
He visited Kyrgyzstan last and he seems to have gotten tired by then. All references throughout the book to the Kyrgyz depict them as basically being oafs. Here's the cream of that crop describing the Kyrgyz he saw in Bishkek:
They lumbered along the streets as if breasting mountains, and would drop unthinking to their haunches on the pavements. Their mastiff necks rolled into barrel chests. Their hair was cropped into a utilitarian black bush, beneath which the jowled, brachycephalic heads belonged in Mongolia...Their rolling-pin arms swung out from muscle-bound shoulders, and their felt hats lent them a doltish gaiety.
He does say they are more refined Kyrgyz, but personally, I've never seen people who match this description in any part of the country, whether they've been in Bishkek all their lives on never set foot in the city. So I don't recommend this book if you want to learn about Kyrgyzstan. It's strongest on Uzbekistan, then Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan's chapter is nearly as short as Kyrgyzstan's, but he seems to think the Kazakhs have a bit more potential than the Kyrgyz.
21 May 2006
The four of us hopped on the bus in Kashka Suu, about 20 km south of Bishkek. As usual, it was a minibus and had seats for 14, including the driver. Since we were so far out of town, the price to downtown Bishkek was 15 som each instead of the 5 som we pay in town.
We’d flagged him down a few hundred meters before the true beginning point for the route because he was looking for passengers. We waited at the official starting point for 10 minutes and were off to Bishkek with a total of 6 passengers on the bus.
The driver continued to look for passengers, waiting for several to run to the bus. Then we started to pick people up from the side of the road, as usual (you don’t see a lot of drivers waiting for passengers). When we were up to 17 people in the bus (the three children were on their respective parents’ laps), we picked up what looked like a soccer team of around 10 teenaged boys. They stayed crowded in the front of the bus and hopped off a few kilometers later in another town. We also picked up a few more people along the way and let off a couple of people.
We drove on for a few kilometers, picking up more people than we let off, including a woman with a baby and a toddler. Of course, one of the younger people in the front of the bus gave her his seat. As we turned onto what would became Manas street, we picked up around 10 little girls who had just spent the day at an amusement park south of town. They were all quite cheery a bouncing little rubber balls that lit up. They perched themselves around the bus wherever they could with a few passengers holding some.
At this point we counted about 30 people on the bus. We were sandwiched in the very back corner and were wondering how we were going to be able to get off on our street without disgorging all the passengers in front of us since it’s a lot easier to wriggle past 15 people when you’re not carrying two large bags and shepherding two children also. Luckily, the crew of cheery little girls was getting off on the same street we were and we emptied the bus of all extra passengers so everyone could sit down. It went on its way for a few more minutes to Osh Bazaar.
19 May 2006
I finished two more books, Journey to Khiva and Night Train to Turkistan. I know I’ve at least started Night Train to Turkistan, but I don’t know if I finished it before. I doubt it, since I didn’t really have a desire to finish it this time. It’s about a group of people who want to travel from Xi’an to Kashgar in China in 1987. I would LOVE to travel from Xi’an to Kashgar, but the author managed to make the trip sound like complete torture. There was hardly a word about what they saw or the people they met on the trip. Instead it was page after page of dealing with Chinese bureaucrats and riding on scary buses. I’ve had enough of that myself to not need to read about it in some else’s book. So I don’t recommend it.
I liked Journey to Khiva better, although I skipped quite a bit. The author’s main interest in Central Asia was from the perspective of Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries and that really isn’t my interest. Lots of Central Asia travel books suffer from this flaw of talking too much about Europeans in Central Asia instead of Central Asians in Central Asia. Anyway, I skipped the parts about Europeans and enjoyed the rest.
Except that he was incredibly disappointed with Khiva and Samarqand because they didn’t live up to his ideal- too restored. (We often hear this about the Great Wall of China too.) Personally, I don’t have a big problem with restorations. In fact, my favorite historical sites are usually ancient places that have been restored and are still in use, like Qayt Bay mosque in Cairo and the Dome of the Rock. I really didn’t have a problem with Tash Rabat which really wasn’t restored well at all-it was fun to be able to go inside with my children instead of looking at a heap of rocks. I saw enough ruins in Israel to last me a lifetime. Besides, is it really less authentic to see an imperfect restoration than to see a heap of rubble? The terra cotta warriors would have been a lot less impressive of they’d been left in pieces as they’d been lying there almost since they were placed in the pits. I’ll (usually; there are exceptions) just be happy to be in those places at all and not complain about what others have done.
Glazebrook is a good writer and there were a couple of quotes from the book that I particularly liked:
Impossible ever to complete your travels into a survey of the globe, when you look at the thinness of the line traced across its surface by each trip: you can’t possess yourself of the world in a net formed of those criss-cross lines, as you might take home a melon in a string bag, but it is an allowable illusion, when you stand on a mountain pass and strain your eyes to see beyond what it appears, to massage eyesight into making a grand intersection now and then, so that the world does not seem hopelessly and infinitely large.
And we’ve experienced scenes like this more than once, especially on longer-distance rides:
I could see the van was packed to the windows with people. A glance within encountered the same dull and hostile glint of eyes. But when I made it clear I was joining the ship, the crew’s attitude altered at once, the women’s especially. As a frosty mass separates into particles under a charitable sunbeam, the crowd in the minibus stirred, under a charitable instinct, and separated into a collection of individuals, some welcoming and some not, but each reacting as a fellow creature to the conundrum of finding me a space. A seat was out of the question- there were already fourteen people of a half a dozen races in a van with seats for ten- but the minute I was aboard I was amid the friendliness of an Indian bus, or a Turkish dolmus, a fraction of room squeezed for me on a wheel-arch, those nearest to me packing robes and children tighter together and smiling out of softened dark eyes. My spirits rose...
On reaching Urgench it became a great question amongst them as to where I should be put down. I had become their own foreigner, an infant in their hands to be passed to the boat’s gunwhale and thrown into the sea with directions for my route ashore. The van even waited an instant, when I was set down, and all those friendly eyes watched me set out. Then they were gone.
Blocking off roads is becoming a popular protest option in Kyrgyzstan. Ryspek's supporters blocked the Bishkek-Karakol a number of times (even after he died!) and now supporters of another Parliamentary candidate have been closing the Bishkek-Osh road.
This is a rather effective strategy because there is at best one paved road to any place in this country (that road might not always be paved either, but at least being paved some of the time is a real benefit). Another problem with roads here is that quite a few go through other countries since they were built by the Soviets. The Bishkek-Osh road, an extremely important connector, was recently refinished with new sections that avoided going through Uzbekistan. The main Bishkek-Talas road runs through Kazakhstan for quite a long time; if you're not from Central Asia, you have to have a visa or go the much longer way on a worse road.
The road to Naryn was generally paved, but the passes weren't. And the road from Naryn to China progressively got worse and worse the closer you go to China. It was only paved for a short time and there were large ruts and piles of dirt in the road. It was sometimes a better option to use the dirt track next to the real road.
And once you get off one of these "main" roads, well, anything goes. We've driven around bridges that were out, rattled our way down rutted, rocky roads, and dodged boulders. It's like driving in the mountains for hours and hours even when you're not really in the mountains at all.
Makes you appreciate I-70.
18 May 2006
I just wanted to thank the Turks, Dungans, Uighurs, and Koreans for making the culinary experience in Kyrgyzstan much more pleasant. Traditional Kyrgyz food consists of boiled meat. The fat is especially prized. I have no problem with this people choosing to eat this diet, but I'm not particularly interested in it.
So I appreciate being able to buy bulgur in the grocery store, to eat laghman with some flavor and zip, to eat all the tasty Korean salads available on every corner of Bishkek, and so much more.
17 May 2006
I've had a lovely time reading some different books for the last few days:
The Perfect Storm- First time I'd read this one. Fascinating book. I think Julie wrote about this one, but I couldn't find it on her blog. I much preferred when he was writing about what really happened during that storm than trying to reconstruct what might have happened on the Andrea Gail and never really got into their story. I'd have loved to have heard more about Reeves' experience on the Japanese ship.
Dealing with Dragons- Quick one to read. I think Melissa wrote about this one, but like the previous book, I couldn't find it on her blog. A cheery and thoroughly unobjectionable book with a likeable heroine, although the plot was a bit contrived at the end. None of the other books in the trilogy appeared to be at the embassy.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl- This was actually the first time I'd read the diary of Anne Frank. It's one of those books that's assigned so often that people almost stop picking it up on their own accord (one reason why I generally dislike teachers assigning certain books). I very much liked it and thought it was well-written. I've read a reasonable amount about the Holocaust and it was good to read this one also.
Anne brought up several times that she and her mother had two different outlooks when things got hard. Her mother's was to think of the people whose lives were harder than hers (and despite being Jews in hiding for two years in Amsterdam, there were millions of people who had it harder than the Franks did while Anne was writing) and Anne's was to think of all the good that was still her in life. Anne thought her mother was thinking about all the misery in the world and that she (Anne) was thinking about the goodness in the world. Personally, I think they were both getting at the same thing. When you think of the people who have it worse than you, it's easier to see what's going right in your life. Anne just skipped that step.
Anne Frank Remembered- This was written by Miep Gies, one of the Dutch women who helped hide the Frank family. I read this one right after I finished with Anne Frank and it was interesting to get a different perspective on what was going on and to fill out the story a bit. Miep is a likeable person and I am very impressed with all she did.
So who had it harder, those who were actually hiding or those who helped the people in hiding? Both placed themselves at great risk, as evidenced by the fact that many people who hid Jews were sent to concentration camps. The lives of both were controlled by the Nazis. Miep spent a lot of time making sure the families in hiding had enough food- no easy task during the war. I think she had a much greater responsibility. But at least she could do something instead of waiting and hiding.
16 May 2006
I saw yaks last week for what I think was the first time. At least a lot of them together; I imagine I've seen a few at a time before. We ate our lunch with yaks roaming the hills behind us. We were at around 11,000 feet.
Yaks don't sound much like cows, even though they don't look too different from cows. They sounded like they were sighing and moaning instead of mooing like cows. Of course, if I hadn't heard cows all my life, they'd probably sound pretty strange to me too.
15 May 2006
Things are moving forward in restoring diplomatic ties with Libya.
Younger son will be so pleased (since he loves Libya's flag). We'll have to start planning that trip through North Africa now. Start in Cairo (or how about we live there for a year or two?), then on to Tripoli, Carthage, Tunis, Casablanca, Marakkesh, and Fez. We might have to stay a year or two in Morocco. But we'd still better skip Algeria.
14 May 2006
We finally were able to get more chuko bones this week in Naryn. I'd been looking for them in Bishkek since last fall but had only managed to find a few. So we told our friends in At-Bashy that we wanted bones and they came through for us. Now I'll have enough to share some with my sister and mother who think they're cool too.
They were rather appalled though that their neighbors sold us the bones instead of just giving them to us. Personally, I was more than happy to pay for them since they had been cleaned. And they even painted some of them for us.
They also had a bone from a cow. You can see it on the top to the left, since it is so much bigger than the sheep bones. The games they showed us in At-Bashy were similar to the ones I'd already heard about.
12 May 2006
The hot water is officially off for the month (hopefully) in Bishkek. We're fortunate to have a water heater in the bathroom. I could survive cold showers for a month, but getting two boys to take baths in cold water for that long wouldn't be a picnic.
The water from the water heater smells like rotten eggs though. I don't mind the smell at Yellowstone, but I don't care to smell it in the bathroom.
But I really can't complain, because at least I have running water. Boiling water to do the dishes isn't that bad when I can just turn on the tap to get it. And many people in Kyrgyzstan aren't that fortunate.
At least you always know someone has it worse than you. And I really hope Karakol's city services are more along the lines of Bishkek instead of Naryn.
We spent the last few days travelling in the southeast corner of Kyrgyzstan in the Naryn region. Here are a few pictures from our trip.
This is Tash Rabat, a small caravanserai from maybe around 500 years ago. Actually, there's no agreement on how old the place is. The boys had a good time checking out all the 30 rooms, and wondering if any of the alleged tunnels really go all the way to China.
There really are very, very few (if any) people who still live in yurts in Kyrgyzstan. Many families still own and use yurts, but they will usually have some kind of permanent structure where they usually live. Still, whether you're living in a yurt or a metal trailer or a mud brick home, you're still pretty isolated when you live a long from anywhere over a very bad road. These yurts were 15 km up a slow dirt road. The dirt road was 60 km from At Bashy, and that was not a comfortable drive, especially with 4 people in the back seat of a car. I wouldn't have minded seat belts.
At Bashy has around 15,000 people. Life isn't really easy there. There aren't a lot of jobs available. A lot of the homes don't have running water, much less hot water. The electricty is not reliable and there aren't a wide variety of things to buy. But it is a pretty little place with beautiful mountains. Some of the best shyrdaks in Kyrgyzstan are made in this part of the country. It's really the last place of any size in this part of Kyrgyzstan before you get to China.
The drive to and from Naryn would be a lot faster if you didn't spend a lot of time waiting for sheep, horses, goats, and cows to get out of the way. But the potholes are a bigger problem. Actually, this particular road is nothing to complain about after driving along the stretch between Naryn and China.
We were in Naryn yesterday where my husband did a presentation at Naryn State University. We met a few of the Peace Corps volunteers in Naryn and I was very impressed. One of the volunteers has put together an amazing English-language library at the university. They even had children's books, something I have not seen since outside our apartment since we got here. They were kind enough to let us borrow some books and the boys have been cheerfully reading Magic School Bus books all day today. I can't even imagine the work it would have taken to get that many books to Naryn.
This was the first time we'd really talked to any PCV since very few of them live in Bishkek.
Bakiev has made some changes in the government. Some are similar to the changes demanded by the opposition.
Ryspek Akmatbaev was killed a few days ago. I wasn't in Bishkek at the time and I haven't had a chance yet to talk with many people about it. No one seems too sad about it though, except in Choplon-Ata (which is actually his hometown, not Balykchy as RFE/RL reported) and parts of Issyk-Kul province. There have been conflicting reports of what actually happened that afternoon and who was behind it. Personally, I think it's a lot more likely that his death wasn't politically motivated and it
There was also a nasty little spat on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border early this morning. Not much yet on what was up with that, but at least 2 or 3 people were killed.
It was also Victory Day on Tuesday to commemorate the end of World War II. That war is still an incredibly big deal here. We were driving through Kyrgyzstan that day and saw a number of celebrations going on.
05 May 2006
Niyazov has come up with some unique new accusations of his top government officials (he had to, since he sacks them so often, and the old accusations were getting boring). He accused the recently retired prosecutor of stealing buckets:
...she apparently appropriated their assets, acquiring dozens of houses, shops and cafes across the country, over 20 cars, thousands of sheep and, for reasons still unexplained, 30,500 buckets.Excellent question.
"I am astonished at your greed," Niazov said to Atajanova, in remarks shown on Turkmen TV. "You took 30,500 buckets - why?Â"
04 May 2006
I met with the university students again last yesterday (we didn't meet last week because they were at a presentation on bride kidnapping). We talked about the demonstration, Bakiev and who might run if he resigned, the media, and passports.
They were nowhere near as negative about the demonstration as they had been. In my mind, one of the most important things about Saturday's demonstration was that it was peaceful and that many people were there (more on that below). It was very common to hear that demonstrations cause instability and that they aren't worth it. But the reaction to it has generally been more positive that I would have hoped for.
My husband and I have asked a variety of people who were at the demonstration for an estimate of the number of people there and we've had a range of 500-20,000 people. 5-8,000 seems to be the best bet though. Most are quite sure that there weren't as many as 10,000. The students said that many people who were there had been paid 400 som ($10) to show up. A common accusation in Kyrgyzstan, and not hard to believe.
There were students at the demonstration, although none of the ones I talked to had attended. Many people commented on the large number of older people there. It's pretty clear to me that many students were too scared to attend. I think the numbers might have been a lot higher without the intimidation from the government.
The students said some rumors say the demonstration was run by Kulov again Ryspek Akmatbaev (who still is in limbo about his Parliament seat; apparently he doesn't have it, since he has been charged again in a murder, and deputies are supposed to have immunity from prosecution). Other rumors say the Akaevs funded the demonstration, although they couldn't actually be there.
They weren't pleased with Edil Baisalov's speech on Saturday; they thought it was over the top and unrealistic. They had been quite positive about him before though.
They sounded generally willing to give Bakiev another year. I get this sense from a lot of people, and that's why I don't think Bakiev is in any real danger right now. Another factor in Bakiev's favor is that the opposition media only has a real influence in Bishkek. The opposition TV stations aren't available throughout most of Kyrgyzstan, so most people in the regions just get the official state news. Hardly comprehensive.
We did talk about potential presidential candidates if Bakiev did reform. Here were some of the names they came up with:
Almazbek Atambaev- just resigned as a minister and is the leader of the Social Democratic Party
Marat Sultanov- current speaker of Parliament
Omurbek Tekebaev- former speaker of Parliament and a leader in the demonstration
Azimbek Beknazarov- current deputy, former prosecutor, and lots of other things; also currently charged with writing three draft versions of the constitution
Rosa Otumbaeva- former foreign minister and ambassador
Adahan Madumarov- currently the vice prime minister
They though Madumarov and Sultanov had the best chances in that hypothetical race.
We talked briefly about the Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan and that they are not going to be refugees anymore in a few months. They would like them to go back to Tajikistan (most are ethnic Kyrgyz) because they feel that Kyrgyzstan can't possibly take care of any more people.
Then we talked about passports. One student is finally getting his new passport after a year of effort. Many people have old passports which aren't accepted by many western countries because the old passports were too easily forged. Kyrgyzstan has had a great deal of trouble getting new passports printed (they went to Moldova first, but they botched it; now they're working with South Korea) and many people aren't able to travel to many countries.
03 May 2006
So, most of the Kyrgyzstan ministers attempted to resign yesterday, but Bakiev refused to accept their resignation. Since the resignations were in response to a vote on Friday by Parliament, Bakiev blames this round of instability on Parliament.
Actually, there is very little Parliament can do to get rid of the government. The best they can do is a no confidence vote, but it's not a very effective no confidence vote, because the president gets to choose if he will ignore it. If he does, Parliament can do a no confidence vote again (2/3 majority required both times) within three months, and then the president chooses whether he dissolves the government or simply dismisses Parliament.
No worries for the president there.** And he's said that if anyone tries to storm the White House, he'll be waiting for them.
Of course, maybe Bakiev will start to see the writing on the wall. Despite the fact that most of the rest of the country is nowhere near as annoyed with him as many in Bishkek are, those supporters certainly aren't giving him a lot of help. But he still seems quite determined to keep himself in power. Maybe he hasn't yet made enough money to make up for the bribes he must have paid out a year ago.
One of the subjects my husband has been teaching is constitutional law and in their assignment to create their own constitutions, it is very interesting to see how many choose a system that places nearly all of the power with the president.
**Actually, the president can be impeached, but that's so unlikely to happen it's not worth worrying about. Two-thirds of Parliament have to approve the impeachment, then the Constitutional Court has to approve the decision. If the CC doesn't approve, Parliament is dissolved (quite the deterrent). If the CC approves the decision, it returns to Parliament where four-fifths of the deputies have to approve the president's removal within two months.
02 May 2006
Of course, it's probably not the safest or most feasible of trips to take right now, but maybe someday it will be possible.
Start in Bishkek.
Drive to Talas, Kyrgyzstan, visit friends
Drive to Taraz, Kazakhstan, then through Shymkent and possibly going to Sayram
Drive down to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, spend a few days looking around and visiting friends
Drive to Jizzakh, Uzbekistan, visit friends
Drive to Samarqand, visit friends, and spend a long time looking around
Drive to Bukhara and spend another long time looking around (too bad we don't know anyone here)
Drive to Merv, Turkmenistan and spend a long time exploring there and Gonur
Continue south to Herat, Afghanistan
Go north to Balkh and Mazar-e Sharif
Continue east through northern Afghanistan, cross into Tajikistan at Ishkashim
Go up to Khorog, then drive the Pamir highway to Murgab (stopping wherever we want along the way)
Cross into China to Tashkurgan, the go up the Karakorum Highway to Kashgar.
Cross back into Kyrgyzstan at Irkeshtam then go to Sary Tash in Kyrgyzstan, with a side trip to Sary Moghul to visit friends, then on to Osh and Jalalabad. We could go from Jalalabad to Naryn and see Tash Rabat while we're at it, but I think we'd be ready to go home.
This leaves out Khiva and Konya Urgench, but there's no logical way to get there except to fly. And it would be sad to miss Mashhad. But then I'd want to go down to Isfahan, and that's an entirely different jaunt.
01 May 2006
I don't know why I love this picture, but I do. Too bad the top got cut off just a bit.
The grass in Bishkek is usually long like this. I love it this way, but I haven't been able to convince my husband that this would be a good option in the US. Maybe I shouldn't have been the one who mowed when we had a house.
I've always had trouble finding travel books that really fit our family (no, we're not looking for a list of amusement parks and McDonalds in every city in Europe). Traveling just isn't the same if you're doing the same things you could do in the US for a lot less money. But I think this could be our kind of travel book. This one looks good too, although it's harder to tell since I can't search inside. And I'm not keen on the word "exotic." I don't care to visit exotic places.
While I can understand that a lot of people aren't interested in going to unusual destinations, there really seems to be a general aversion to it- you're not supposed to take your children in vacations like this. (I even have to admit that the idea scares me to death, but when we're finally there it works out wonderfully). Even the trusty and adventurous Lonely Planet for Central Asia almost completely dismisses bringing children to any part of Central Asia. If you do, you're in for a miserable time. Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai were about the only cities that the China guidebook thought were suitable for children.
One of my favorite things about traveling with children is that people love to see foreigners with children. People all over the world love children and you are treated very differently when you travel as a family. But cities with lots of tourists aren't as impressed when you travel with children. There was a huge difference between Xi'an and Beijing.
There are lots of websites for traveling with children, but they just have endless lists of things to bring (as a general rule, it's a lot more pleasant to bring less) and suggestions of "kid-friendly" things to do in a few capital cities. Things that only a rather well-off family could afford.
So what would I love to do as a family? Cycle the Karakorum Highway from Kashgar. Spend a week or two along the Pamir highway in Tajikistan. Go rafting on just about any river in the world. Backpack in Yunnan. Rent an apartment for 2-3 months in various cities. Sail around Indonesia and snorkel in the coral reefs. And homeschool while we're at it.
We could never afford to go to Europe, staying in the types of kid-friendly hotels the books suggest and eating at fast food places. But we can afford to spend a month or two taking buses around Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan seeing some of the most amazing places in the world that most children don't even get to dream about. And we're seriously considering doing just that this summer.
Of course, I'd hate this to sound like I think parents should just do what they want despite their children. You're going to have to make concessions when your children are with you. You probably can't travel as far in a day. You won't be able to visit as many sites. You may have to take a break and play in a park. But you can make sure those breaks aren't always taken at Pizza Hut or at an amusement park. Bring a soccer ball to play with the kids following you around. Budget extra time. You're there as a family, not a couple with "kids in tow."
But just don't think you shouldn't do it.