31 August 2006

Directions to Navikat

Navikat was one place in Kyrgyzstan that we should have gone to and didn't. Well, there were lots of places, but Navikat is a day trip from Bishkek, and Sary Moghul and Talas aren't.

Navikat isn't all that easy to get to and I only ever had general directions of where the place was. But someone over on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree posted the directions. Now I just have to get back to Bishkek and we can to go Navikat.

30 August 2006

Spinning and Weaving and Creating

I don't know why, but I have really wanted to start doing traditional handicrafts again. The last few years before we went to Kyrgyzstan I mostly just crocheted and did some quilting, but I didn't do any spinning or rug-making or bobbin lace. And that's what I want to start doing again (although crocheting is nice because I can read while I do it). But all my stuff is in storage and you don't just go down to Wal-Mart to get a hand spindle or a bobbin lace pillow or a loom.

Maybe I've felt too thrown about the last little while. Maybe traditional handicrafts help me feel settled down (I've long wished it wasn't tacky to spin in Relief Society). Maybe I just need to feel like I can produce something worthwhile.

29 August 2006

You'd think all I've been doing recently is reading and you'd be about right. We've starting school again for the boys and my husband's back is finally starting to get better, so maybe we can start moving on with our lives soon.

I cannot express how wonderful it is to be near a library again.

25 August 2006

Funny in Farsi

I needed something a bit lighter after Soul, and Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas was just right. Dumas is an Iranian-American who first came to live in the US in 1972 before the Iranian Revolution. It's unquestionably breezy and not particularly insightful, but that was pleasant today. And it's a quick read.

24 August 2006


I reread Soul, or Dzhan by Andrey Platonov this week. This time I was able to get the newer translation done from an unedited version of the story.

I liked this newer translation better; I felt that this translation was more aware of the Central Asian setting. It was also interesting to compare what was taken out. Actually, little was taken out the first time. The ending was the biggest difference because there were two different endings written by Platonov. The most noticeable change other than the ending was the many positive references to Stalin. Stalin has been pretty much excised from the version published in the USSR in the 1960s.

The translators chose to title this translation "Soul" instead of "Dzhan." Since dzhan is a Persian/Turkic word and the book was originally written in Russian, it was originally titled with a foreign word. One of the translators lobbied for the title to remain "Dzhan," but the English-speaking translators chose "Soul" because "English readers tend to be put off by titles that are difficult to understand or pronounce." I was disappointed in the reasoning and the decision.

I still recommend this book, and I recommend the new translation by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler and Olga Meerson. It is not a light or easy book, but one that I think is worth reading.

23 August 2006


I want to start spinning again. And this time I'd like to get a wheel. And a loom. Or maybe I should just see if I can get my quilt frame and half-finished quilt out of storage. But I need something to do besides crocheting if I can't be overseas.

A bit of an contradiction, that I either want to live overseas (in Asia) or stay in the US and quilt and spin and weave (but not sew).

22 August 2006

A Midwife's Tale

Yes, I know I should have read this book by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich a long time ago, but I finally got to it now. I mistakenly returned it to the library on Saturday so I can't quote anything from the book, but I'll do the best I can.

This was far and away one of the best scholarly history books I have ever read. Ulrich takes the diary of Martha Ballard, kept from around 1785-1812. Using the diary and a variety of other primary sources from the same time and place, Ulrich reconstructs what life was like for Martha Ballard.

The book is not a biography; while I learned a lot about Martha Ballard, she was not the sole focus of the book. But Ulrich doesn't take Ballard's experiences and generalize them to the eighteenth- or nineteenth-century life, nor to midwifery or women or to anything. It is simply a picture of the time and place through Martha Ballard's eyes.

This is a fascinating book and I'd love to read more like it, but there are few that focus on the individual in such an enriching way. The attention to detail in the diary shows how familiar Ulrich was with Martha Ballard. If the fully transcribed diary wasn't so expensive, I'd get it.

I also read Ulrich's All God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir and enjoyed that too. There was one quote in particular that I liked at the very end of "Poor Mother," but since I already returned that one too, you'll just have to read it yourself

20 August 2006

Geyser Locations on the Webcam

This first picture is from the NPS website showing the locations of some of the geysers visible from the new webcam. These are the most well known of the geysers in the area. The picture below shows what Beehive Geyser looks like when it erupts. Beehive's Indicator is just to the right of Beehive and it often goes 10-20 minutes before an eruption. If you see that, or see a crowd starting to gather at Beehive, keep watching and you might get to see Beehive on the webcam. While Beehive isn't really predictable, it does seem to like the hours around midday and I'd be more inclined to watch for it between 10 and 2 than, say, early in the morning or just before sunset.

Of the other geysers marked in this photo, Lion is the only other one (besides Old Faithful of course) you're likely to see. Aurum and Plume erupt fairly often, but they're hard to see since they're right behind Old Faithful. Giantess only erupts a few times a year, so you can be pretty pleased if you see that. Lion's eruptions aren't easy to predict, but it usually erupts in a series with a larger eruption followed around 60-90 minutes later by usually one, but sometime more roaring sorts of eruptions. The length of time between the series varies quite a bit but is often around 10-12 hours.

This photo is a lot more detailed. Here's a list of what you're seeing here (with help from various geyser gazers):
A- Little Cub
B- Lion

C, D, E, F, and G are probably hot springs like Ear Spring, Heart Spring, and Goggles, and maybe a small geyser or two, like Pump or Sponge or Plate (especially F and G). You might get lucky and see something here, but it would be hard to tell what it is.

H- Giantess
I- possibly Solitary
J or K is probably Depression
L- Beehive
M- Beehive's Indicator
N- Old Faithful
O- Possibly Bronze Spring
P- A geyser down the basin; big steam clouds like this could be from Grand

I've got books to review and geysers to identify, but it's not going to happen tonight and probably won't happen tomorrow. But maybe it will on Monday.

18 August 2006

Geyser Watching

The Old Faithful webcam is up and running again, at least temporarily. They had to take it down a few months ago when they started working on the visitor's center.

This new version is much better than the old because it shows more geysers than just OF. I'll come back later with a post on which geysers you can see now and some information about them.


17 August 2006

Tatars and Tartars

Can we have a little chat about Tatars and Tartars? I see these names used incorrectly all the time in all sorts of places, many of which should know better. Of course most people don't care, but I do.

The Tatars are a Turkic-speaking people living mostly in Russia. The name is pronounced Ta-TAR, at least by the Tatars we know. There is quite a bit of diversity among the Tatars though and they certainly don't just live in Russia. They also have a very interesting history depending on where they live.

Tartar is the name Europeans applied to the Mongols when they were harassing Europe. Tartarus is the name of a Greek god of the underworld and the name was confused with the Tatars who lived west of the Mongols at the time. The Europeans apparently thought it was a more fitting appellation for the Mongols.

This is all well and good, but Tartar has hung around for far too long. The names Tartar and Tartary started to be applied to all sorts of peoples and places from Siberia to Tibet. That means you often can't even tell who is being referenced when the term is used.  Are they Tatars?  Kyrgyz?  Sakha?  Turkic-speaking people?  Mongolians?  People who aren't like me? Who knows?  It's not a modern name and it really has no modern use. It also has a derogatory connotation.

When you're reading history books or other types of books about Eurasia and they call the Tatars Tartars or use the words interchangeably for various groups of people, it's not impressive. As a general rule, if you're talking about a modern person or place, don't ever use Tartar or Tartary. And if you're dealing with history, there are many more specific words that can be used to identify the various people living in Central Asia.

16 August 2006

I hate being so isolated from Central Asia right now, and especially from Kyrgyzstan. Doesn't anyone care about Kyrgyzstan? There are practically no decent websites or books about Kyrgyzstan. Even AKIPress isn't loading for me anymore.

14 August 2006

The Sewing Circles of Herat

While this book wasn't really about the sewing circles of Herat (although they are mentioned), it was a fascinating book about Afghanistan. Christina Lamb spent a lot of time reporting in Afghanistan before the Taliban took control of most of the country and then returned after the Taliban were deposed in 2001. She adds a lot of the history of the region, but mostly it's about the people and places she knew in the late 80s and early 90s and how they fared through the Taliban years.

Her comparisons of various cities in Afghanistan, especially Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar were very interesting. She interviews a huge number of people and writes about everyone from Hamid Karzai to the people selling in the bazaar.

The stories of covert resistance to the Taliban were some of the best parts of the book. Artists who painted over figures in oil paintings with watercolors that could later be washed off, men and women who worked secretly to continue educating girls in the country, and people trying to get their stories told to the rest of the world when they felt like the world had forgotten Afghanistan all are here.

It also brought up a lot of questions for me again- mainly that of what the US should really be doing in its international policy. Sure, the Taliban is gone, but nearly five years later, we've largely forgotten Afghanistan again and the country is still neither stable, peaceful, or democratic. We can't fix other countries. But do we have a responsibility to help countries with awful leaders? Is there anything we can do where we can't be blamed for messing things up or for not taking enough action? I don't think so.

I recommend this book, particularly as a good introduction into the history of Afghanistan (although her interviews will make a lot more sense if you know who the people are that she's talking about). Lamb clearly and is not there just because she is assigned or because it might be the most popular war around for a while. She simply loves Afghanistan.

One of my favorite comparisons was near the end of the book when Lamb was trying to find a woman, Marra, who had sent her some anonymous letters near the end of the Taliban occupation. Lamb knew the general area where Marra had lived at one point and sets off to find her armed with some letters. As she knocks on strangers doors, she is invariably invited in and offered food and help. She compares that to the reception an Afghan wandering around her neighborhood in London in similar circumstances would have gotten. There's a lot we can learn from others.

12 August 2006


WorldCat goes public. I've added a search box for it on the sidebar.

11 August 2006

Frontiers of Heaven

This book by Stanley Stewart was a quick and enjoyable read. He manages to write about his travels without focusing on the travel (no detailed bus rides) even though he spends quite a bit of time on buses and trains. He also writes well enough to make just about anything that happened to him interesting.

His travels took him overland from Beijing to Islamabad in Pakistan. Most of the book is spent in western China, which is another reason why I liked it. He went to the places I'm interested in.

So I recommend this book over most China travel books.

10 August 2006

Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World

I finished Sons of the Conquerors by Hugh Pope today; I'm not going to do a full review of the book because there are lots of reviews out there about it. I very much enjoyed the book and highly recommend it to people who are interested in history and cultures.

Pope speaks Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, and at least some Russian, all of which made his travels far more valuable. He's lived in Turkey for the last 20 years and has traveled extensively through the Turkic world. I am envious of all the things he has done. He also has a very high opinion of Turkish Airlines, something I'm still working on.

I was very disappointed about how little attention he gave to Kyrgyzstan. While it is certainly the smallest of the current independent Turkic states, it still should have had a chapter about it. There also was almost no mention of the Turkic people living in various parts of Russia.

But I wondered if Kyrgyzstan fit with his various assumptions about Turkic culture (as I pointed out before, I never quite managed to shake the feeling that he was trying to apply things he's learned about Turkish Turks to the rest of the Turks). His first section is about the military power of Turkic nations, and that hardly applies to the Kyrgyz and never has, except for a short time 1200 years ago. Hardly a military tradition.

His second section was about the Turks love-hate relations with strong leaders. While this is unquestionably the case in Kyrgyz and the rest of Turkic Central Asia, it is difficult to know if this is the result of the Soviet Union or if this is truly a Turkic characteristic. I think in the case of the Kyrgyz, it's not so historically ingrained.

I did feel that there were too many generalizations in the book, but I did like his summary of "Turkic qualities" in the epilogue: "I would count an engaging bluntness, loyalty to the family, fearlessness and a rash love of risk...an inordinate respect for elders, an aversion to planning, a tough resistance to pain, a refusal to apologize or recognize faults, a love-hate relation with leaders, and an in-born animus to take charge." Sounds about right to me, if you can ever make a statement like this.

I hope more attention is paid to the Turkic world as a result of this and other books that are being written about it. With around 140 million speakers stretched out across Asia, they are an important group.

09 August 2006

Central Asia Resources

The Silk Road website at the University of Washington has been updated. As always, it's an excellent resource for the Silk Road and Central Asia in general.

I also picked up the Cultures of the World series' collection of books on Central Asia at the library (here's a link to the Kyrgyzstan one). These are unquestionably the best children's books available on individual Central Asian countries. The text is for older children (older elementary), but there are plenty of pictures and my younger-than-that children enjoyed looking at the books with me and reading some from them.

I have a few more children's books on the Silk Road to review soon.

08 August 2006

Wishing on a Shooting Star

The Perseid meteor shower will be a bit of a dud this year because the moon will be nearly full on the night of the 11th, so you won't be able to see much.

But you can still see earthgrazers, and that's our favorite part of the Perseids. We generally go out just after dark, around 9, and look north. Meteors at this time on the 11th could well be earthgrazers, slower-moving meteors that might leave trails. We've seen some beautiful ones in the past and it's certainly worth looking for an hour that evening. The moon won't be up till after 10.

My wish list is a fair piece longer now (and I have a few more books on hold at the library) after going through Julie's wish list. Anyone else have a good wish list to share? Maybe I'll wish on one of those earthgrazers.

04 August 2006


Thanks to charging the airline tickets, we have $250 in free books at Amazon.

I always have a hard time deciding what to buy. Since I can get what I want at the library now, I'm really not feeling sorry for myself in the book department. And the Amazon gift certificates wouldn't have helped anyway in Kyrgyzstan because their shipping is atrocious.

I'd get a good Persian or Uzbek or Kyrgyz language program if there were one. But there's not.

We have all the homeschooling books we need for the year.

ILL is always available.

There are a few books I'm considering, like The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia, Monuments of Central Asia: A Guide to the Archaeology, Art and Architecture of Turkestan, or maybe the Historical Dictionary of Kyrgyzstan.

Or maybe I'll just blow it all on an mp3 player. Sad to do that at Amazon though.

03 August 2006

Kyrgyz Diplomats Kicked Out

The US has kicked out two Kyrgyz diplomats from the US. As you might recall, Kyrgyzstan kicked out two US diplomats not too long ago. No one had a particularly good reason for anyone getting sent home.

I'll have to try to find out what really went on there. We get along better with the Kyrgyz Embassy in Washington than the US Embassy in Bishkek.

Central Asia from a Turkic Perspective

I'm a few chapters into Hugh Pope's Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World. It's interesting getting a different perspective here because Pope is coming at Central Asia from his perspective of living in Turkey instead of the more common route of through Russia or the former Soviet Union (the other path seems to be through the Middle East and Islam, like my husband and me).

I'll do a more thorough review when I've finished the book, but from what I've read so far, Pope seems to take what he's learned or theorized about Turkey and try to apply it to other Turkic areas of the world. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's nice to see a book like this out there. The Turkic world has been sadly ignored.

02 August 2006

Land Beyond the River

Just finishing Land Beyond the River by Monica Whitlock. It's a very brief history of western Tajikistan, eastern Uzbekistan, and northern Afghanistan. Whitlock lived in Central Asia as a correspondent with the BBC; her writing is pleasant to read and informative as a reporter's should be.

This is an important book because it doesn't starkly divide Afghanistan from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It's also a nice mix of history and personal accounts of people, especially Muhammadjan Hindustani about whom I'd like to learn more. Recommended for people with an interest in the area, or who would like a little more background about the region and influences around Afghanistan.

01 August 2006

Learning More Languages

So, I want to learn Persian. There are more resources for Persian than Kyrgyz or Uzbek which makes things a little better, although there still isn't nearly as much as there is for Russian. If anyone has any suggestions of good books for learning Persian, I'd be most appreciative.

Persian is a handy Central Asian language to learn because it's spoken not only in Iran, but also in Tajikistan and a lot of Afghanistan. Persian and Dari are written in the Arabic script and Tajik in Cyrillic, but I'm comfortable with both alphabets now.

Here are my goals of where I'd like to be someday with languages:

1. Conversant in Arabic. This one's a little tricky because I know the Palestinian dialect, and it's nowhere near as formal as the religious Arabic most non-Arabic-speaking Muslims learn. I was conversant about 10 years ago, but as of this minute, I'm not. It was nice to feel somewhat comfortable when I spoke in Arabic.

2. Fluent reading and conversant in Russian. I'd say I'm at a survival level with speaking and reading right now. I'd like to be able to read the Russian-language scholarship on Central Asia and Siberia, and I'd like to be more comfortable with Russian instead of always feeling like I was just hanging on (although I learned enough Russian that I felt like I could handle most situations).

3. Conversant (or at least survival) in Uzbek/Uyghur and/or Kyrgyz/Kazakh. I'm only at a basic level now in Kyrgyz, and I'm still not sold that Kyrgyz is the best choice anyway. I think I may switch or Uzbek/Uyghur and just keep track of Kyrgyz, unless the stars align themselves so that we can go back to Bishkek soon.

4. Conversant (or survival) in Persian/Tajik/Dari. I have this book right now for starting on Persian. We shall see how it goes.