31 January 2006


I saw this nifty little thing at MFS' site and decided to try it. Looks like my blog.

30 January 2006

Two Official Kyrgyz Plov Recipes

I still like mine better though.


Ingredients: rice 0.5 kg, meat 0.3 kg, carrots 0.3 kg, 0.2 liters of oil, 2 onions, spices (cumin seeds, basil, salt)

Instructions: (flame should be middle) Roast onions until they are dark, then add the meat and salt, continue frying, after 2-3 minutes add cut carrots and fry them for about 10 minutes. Pour 1 liter of water, boil it and put in the rice. Boil it until water evaporates. At this point, put in the spices and close the lid. Now make the flame very low and wait for 5 minutes. Turn off the stove and wait 5-10 minutes. Now it's ready to eat. You can also decorate plov with parsley and dill.



Ingredients:
Lamb (posteriors and shoulder) with fat 1.5 kg
Onions 800 gr.
Carrots 700 gr.
Chinese rice 1 kg.
Oil 150 gr
Salt 50 gr
One piece of garlic
Raisin 100 gr
Peas 100 gr.
Pepper, kinza, cumin seeds


A bowl with peas fill with hot water, leave for several hours, cut onions into small cubes, meat into pieces of 30-40 grams, chop carrots. Clean rice, wash in cold water. Put 150 grams of oil to kazan, get it hot, put onions, fry until it becomes of gold color. Then put meat and fry, add peas and spices (pepper, cumin seeds, kinza), don’t add salt. Stew it on middle fire for 30 minutes. Then onto meat layer carrots, rice (together with raisins), add hot water (in which 50 grams of salt was put) so that water will be 1 centimeter over rice and put a bulb of garlic in the center. Make fire strong, when water goes under level of rice (5-10 minutes) make fire the minimum, close kazan with a lid (wrapped with a towel). Leave it for 30 minutes, then turn off fire and leave plov for more 15-20 minutes

(Just copied and pasted, so I'm not responsible for the wording or the flavor :))

29 January 2006

Excuse Me

I just got an email from a woman asking some questions about working in Bishkek. I accidently deleted the email when I went to reply to it. Would you (I don't want to put your name here, in case you'd rather I didn't) write to me again? I don't know that I can be much help, but I have a few ideas for you.

Kyrgyzstan Blogging

I've been reading the argument at Registan with a bit of amusement for the last few days, especially the accusations that certain bloggers are out to get the "Armenian blogosphere." I hardly think Nathan is out to get them- he's always griping about the boring American-written blogs in Central Asia.

I've been thinking about this a lot though because I am interested in encouraging my husband's law students I work with to blog a bit. There are a variety of reasons I'd like to do this, but the main one is that there are so few Kyrgyz bloggers. (Are there any?)

I'd like to encourage them to write about Kyrgyzstan- anything they'd like. American showbiz and what they did that day would not be allowed though. I'd like to see them write about the government, the revolution, Kyrgyz culture, bride kidnapping, education in Kyrgyzstan, and all sorts of other topics. I could set up a separate blog for them, post them here, or see if we could get some of the better ones posted on other Central Asia blogs.

But mostly, I'd like to give them a chance to write since they have so few. The students at the American University have all sorts of opportunities, but the students at the Law Academy don't get much encouragement. I think it would be an interesting experiment.

(And can I say again how silly it is that the Blogger spellcheck doesn't recognize words like blogger, blog, blogs, etc, even if you try to teach them to the thing?)

28 January 2006

Central Asia at the University of Washington

In the never-ending search of what to do with oursevles when we finish whatever the current project is, I've finally discovered a university that has interest in Central Asia and offers both a decent LL.M. for my husband and MA for me- the University of Washington (well, SOAS in London does too, but my goodness, who could afford to have two people going there at once?).

So maybe we'll go to Seattle when we're done bouncing around Central Asia. Seattle has nice weather too. And it's close to the ocean. What more could anyone want?

China

Arts and Letters linked to an interesting (and long) article about China, discussing what China's goals are. While I don't think it's quite accurate to say that the country is communist (totalitarian, certainly, but at least with communism you're supposed to have a lot more economic equality than China manages; or is that really a requirement of communism anymore?), I liked reading the article. And I was glad to see internal stability listed as the first goal. China is far more diverse and unstable than we think it is. Or we just think of Tibet, and there is much more to the story than that.

China absolutely did not feel communist to me in the same way Kyrgyzstan still does. But it is unquestionably not free. But there are many ways to repress people. My husband had an interesting discussion with a Chinese on one of your flights. He was perfectly happy living in China and felt that he had "all the basic rights." I would have been very curious to ask him what those rights are that he has. I can think of few basic rights that I value that the Chinese have.

26 January 2006

Yogurt

Fresh homemade yogurt is really good. Even my husband who usually isn't at all interested in eating yogurt has been eating it.

Hamas

I was rather surprised by the election of Hamas yesterday. Not that Hamas would have had such strong support, but that Fatah actually went out. While I’m not opposed to Fatah losing its power (what has it done in the last 40 years?), I’m not at all pleased with Hamas. However, there’s no way to know at this point what their plan is at this point.

However, I do think Israel can make a strong case now that they don’t need to work with the Palestinians. But I’ve thought for a long time that Israel should go about trying to reach its goals without concern for what the Palestinians are up to.

Israel’s two main goals are a secure and Jewish country. A democratic country is a nice goal too, but let’s stick with the two obvious goals that I think almost every Israeli could agree on. Israel is Jewish right now (if it were democratic, that would be threatened), but it is far from secure. By definition the settlements cannot ever be fully secured. Any small enclave in a hostile territory will always be in danger.

Apparently Sharon finally saw this when he pressed for the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel should pull out its settlements from the West Bank too. Then it can hunker down if it wants to and create secure borders that will protect its people. In my mind that is the only way Israel can truly provide security for all its citizens.

But many settlers think an idea is more important than security. They are willing to put their lives and their families lives in peril because they believe that because their ancestors lived in a certain place, they should too. (Zeniff in the Book of Mormon comes to mind). The government’s willingness to support them with the IDF only increases the problem.

Security should be more important than proving a point. Those settlers can live safely in other places that also belonged to their ancestors. It is not worth it to live in Hebron, or Samaria, or any number of other places.

Xi'an







I wrote about Xi’an before we left for China and said it was the place I was looking forward to visiting the most. It didn’t disappoint. The University of Washington’s Silk Road website has more information about all the places I mention.

The first places we visited with the Small and Big Goose Pagodas. We loved the city walls. Apparently you can now go all the way around the city (they have bikes to rent). The walls aren’t complete, but we heard that they have something to connect the sections. Since they didn’t have bikes for children, we weren’t able to find out what the setup really was.

I’ve already written about the Great Mosque and the Muslim quarter. We also went to the Drum Tower and the Bell Towers.

The Chinese have a saying that says something like "If you want to see Chinese history for the last 100 years, go to Shanghai. If you want to see Chinese history for the last 1,000 years, go to Beijing. If you want to see Chinese history for the last 2,000 years (or maybe 5,000 years; I heard it both ways), go to Xi’an. You could feel that Xi’an was an older city, and I liked that.
We both like the older architecture too.

The Goose Pagodas were simpler than some of the later architectural styles- like what you see in the 14th-century Great Mosque. What we’re really like to do is live in Xi’an for at least a few months. It’s the kind of city I’d like to poke around- like Jerusalem and Cairo; and, I imagine, Samarqand.

Russian Fatigue

I really have little desire to study Russian. Never have. And I still don't even after nearly 6 months here. Yes, I am studying it, and I've learned enough to get around Bishkek reasonably well, but I don't want to learn anymore.

I liked studying Arabic and I wanted to learn it before I ever started. I choose to learn it because I wanted to talk to Arabs. I don't have the same desire to talk to Russians even though I like Russians.

I finished the Russian book I was working through. I've learned the basic grammar and it would be silly to completely drop it. I couldn't anyway because I need to use it in Bishkek.

But what I really want to do is switch to Kyrgyz or Uzbek because I want to speak to Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and have the option of branching out to Uyghur. There aren't a lot of resources for learning Kyrgyz, even in Kyrgyzstan. My brother-in-law was kind enough to download two Kyrgyz language resources for me, and we have our Uzbek books here, so I think it's time for a change.

And I've never learned an agglutinative language. Maybe it will be easier. All I know is I'm sick of the case endings in Russian.

More on China still coming. I was going to do more pictures yesterday, but the phone wasn't working. Bishkek requires patience. It has made a huge difference for my older son for whom patience was never a virtue.

And finally, an interesting article discussing Christian proselytizing in Kazakhstan. Interesting because it's one of the first I've read- from a local or foreign perspective- that has not been entirely critical of proselytizing.

24 January 2006

Books Picked Up in China and the Embassy

Islam in China by Mi Shoujiang and You Jia (it was much, much cheaper in China)

China's Ethnic Minorities (paints a rather rosy picture)

The Silk Road: Xi'an to Kashgar by Judy Bonavia (also much cheaper in China)

Old Xi'an: Evening Glow of an Imperial City by Jia Pingao

The Tea Road: China and Russia Meet Across the Steppe by Martha Avery (she also wrote Women of Mongolia that I mentioned about a year ago- this book was $4.00 in China)

If anyone knows anything about any of these last three, I'd like to hear it. I picked these up at the embassy and know nothing about them. Hopefully they're worthwhile.

Shooting the Boh: A Women's Voyage Down the Wildest River in Borneo by Tracy Johnston

The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel

Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America by Alma Guillermoprieto

Terra Cotta Warriors

I think a lot of popular sites around the world are popular because we talk about them so much. The Terra Cotta Warriors aren't nearly as famous, so many people don't visit them, or if they do visit without much background, they're not very impressed.

But we were at least as impressed with the Terra Cotta Army as we were with the Great Wall. The Chinese will sometimes call it the Eighth Wonder of the World.

This picture only shows a tiny corner of Pit 1. It's taken across the shorter width of the pit. The length of the pit is nearly 4 times longer than the width you see here- pretty big. This front part of the pit is being filled with the repaired soldiers. They were destroyed shortly after Emperor Qin's death. It is a slow process to repair the soldiers.

They were discovered officially in 1976, although farmers in the area had been digging up broken pieces of terra cotta for centuries. 4 farmers were digging a well and dug up the pieces of a head. 3 of the farmers were frightened (like everyone else had always been) and didn't say anything to anyone, but the fourth farmer did tell people and the archaeologists came. The discoveries have been amazing. There are three pits where the soldiers have been found and many other pits filled with other things.

But the best thing was to see them myself. If you go to China, do not miss this sight.

23 January 2006

One of the most noticeable differences between Bishkek and China were all the colors in China. Bishkek is sadly bland. Kyrgyz and Russian culture are both very colorful, so it's sad that Bishkek is so gray. Good thing for the trees. I hadn't really noticed it till we got to Xi'an.

I also picked up an interesting little book on the ethnic minorities in China.

The Great Wall of China


The Terra Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall of China are billed as two of the must-see things in the world. And now that I've seen them myself, I have to agree. They were each as impressive as the Sphinx and the Pyramids. My husband, who has also seen many of the famous sites in Europe, agrees.

We went to the section at Mutianyu (I have postcards for you from there, Julie). Most people visit the Great Wall at Badaling. Combine that with a January weekday, and we nearly had the wall to ourselves. Apparently that is a rare experience.

The Wall was a bit icy in places and we saw several people slip. One older man went down pretty hard. It was generally clear though on any south exposures.

There were plenty of watchtowers. We didn't go along the entire section of the Wall because on end was quite steep and we didn't think we could get the boys up very easily. I'd always heard that the Wall was somewhat steep, but it was nothing in comparison to the long set of stairs I had to climb up to get to the Wall itself. My husband and the boys rode up the cable car.

The best part though was how excited the boys were. We'd read about the Wall in history and they have spent a lot of the last year pretending to be Mongols. We all had a very nice time.

22 January 2006























We really had a wonderful time in China. We didn't have much time because we had to squeeze the trip between semesters. We also had to cut a few days off because the visas weren't quite ready in time. We didn't do any traveling around western China, but we very much hope to be able to go there before we leave Kyrgyzstan.

We spent our time in Beijing and Xi'an. Beijing was rather crowded and things didn't go very smoothly there. They are building several subway lines that will be ready just in time for the Olympics. That will be a big help. If we go back to Beijing, I'd go in the winter again after the Olympics.

We loved Xi'an. More on that another day.

We're seriously out of practice with bargaining. We were good at it in the Middle East, but it's been nearly 10 years since we were there. People do bargain in Kyrgyzstan, but not nearly to the same extent. For example, when I bought five pairs of pants for the babies at 35 som each, my Kyrgyz friend had the seller take 5 som off the total price. It's hardly worth bargaining here because so many things are quite inexpensive. We also know a lot of people we are buying from now and I know none of them are well off. That 5 som, or even 100 som, means a lot more to them than it does to me.

But in China! They will quote you an outrageous price and you have to bargain. I'll generally tell them how much I'll pay, show them the money, and leave if they're not interested. I just don't like to play the game anymore. I think that could partly be because I have little children who aren't interested in shopping.

It was interesting comparing flying habits of Central Asians and the Chinese. Central Asians will jump out of their seats as soon as the plane lands and make a dash for the exit. Chinese will wait till the plane has stopped. Chinese are also much less likely to bring shopping bags on board and have actual luggage. I have to say it was much more pleasant flying with Chinese than Central Asians.

We were on a good airline all over the country. I don't have terribly high expectations when it comes to airlines, so someone else might not have been impressed with the airline. But I'm happy when you get a decent meal and several opportunities to get something to drink, even on a flight that's only 90 minutes.

I am sure my impressions of China were different because I was going there after living in Bishkek for several months instead of straight from the US. It seemed like everything was there. Certainly there are many, many people who are very poor in China, but there are also many people who are middle class and reasonably well off. It was very different from Kyrgyzstan.

The boys weren't ready for all the attention they got. People ignore us in Bishkek, or they discreetly look at us. Not so in China. My younger son in particular had people coming up to him and talking to him, asking to take their pictures with him, and in general paying him much more attention than he cared for.

There were so many fruits and vegetables available! Some things were much cheaper than Kyrgyzstan. For example, my husband bought an apple and an banana for 1 yuan. In Kyrgyzstan the same thing would cost nearly the equivalent of 6 yuan. Bananas are quite expensive here. When I went to my little market yesterday and saw the paltry amount of produce, it was sad.

There was plenty of tandoor bread in Urumqi (where we just stayed overnight) and Xi'an. It was very good. It would be interesting to learn more about flatbread in China.

We didn't eat much street food this time. The trip was so short that I didn't want to spend any of it sick, and I didn't want the boys to get sick. My younger son has had trouble with the food. But we'd probably have been fine after Kyrgyzstan.

This was the first time we'd gone somewhere that we really didn't know any of the language. We both knew some Russian when we got here and that made a big difference. I literally don't know how expats who don't learn the language can stand it. It was inconvenient to not be able to say anything besides thank you. I am interested in learning some Chinese now.

There's lots more to say, but I'll save it.

21 January 2006

The Great Mosque of Xi'an and the Muslim Quarter






















The current buildings in the Great Mosque of Xi'an were built in the 14th century, although it probably was established as long ago as 742. It is a large complex with many buildings. There is still a local Muslim population in Xi'an (as opposed to Beijing- its native Muslims are long gone even though there is a good-sized community there now).

I love to see mosques around the world. Many beautifully incorporate local architectural elements into the design of the mosque. As I've said many times, I love the diversity in Islam. I also love how peaceful mosques are and this one is no exception.

As usual, my husband was able to go into the off-limits parts by speaking Arabic to the men there. This particular mosque has a rather plain prayer hall, but he said the mosque in Beijing had a beautifully decorated hall.

The pictures below (if I can get them to post) are of the streets surrounding the mosque. We spent several hours wandering through here.








20 January 2006

Kyrgyzstan Constitution Politics

It appears that a referendum on the Kyrgyz Constitution is still possibly in the works. Bakiev announced that the country should prepare for one through the summer.

The Law Academy is looking into publishing a short pamphlet on the basics of the different systems and distributing it to educate the people. This education would be vital. Presidential systems are quite popular here, but there has been a push towards a parliamentary system.

I think it would be fascinating to see a parliamentary system implemented here. A country (and region) with a tendency towards super-presidential systems could really benefit from a parliamentary system.

Just a Few Pictures





Women Imams

I came across a fascinating article while I was in China about women imams in China. I had always wondered if there have ever been women imams but had never heard of any. There have been a few stories in the last few years about these ahongs, but they neglect to mention that women's mosques in China are not a new development. Some researchers believe they go back at least 300-500 years. The only thing that is new about them now is that the Chinese government didn't allow much religious expression for several decades. Male imams were a novelty too 20 years ago.

Arab Studies Journal reviewed a book on women's mosques in China a few years ago. Unfortunately, it is even more expensive now than it was then. ILL?

I think women's mosques are a great idea. Women are too often excluded from mosques. Not always, but often. Women should be able to take part in the religious life of a mosque, and if that requires women's mosques and imams, then that's the way to go. But I'd rather see a greater number of more inclusive mosques that allow women to participate in the mosque. They're already out there, but not enough.

More on Islam in China later. We visited several mosques this week.

14 January 2006

You really can't access any blogspot blogs in China.

12 January 2006

Spotty blogging the next week while I'm in China. :)

11 January 2006

Rereading Reading Lolita in Tehran in Bishkek

I enjoyed Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi the first time I read it, but I loved it this time because I’ve read or reread several of the books she writes about, and because I’ve been in Bishkek.

While Kyrgyzstan is very, very different from Iran, there are also many similarities. There are even more similarities if you take Central Asia as a whole and compare it with Iran. There is no country in Central Asia that restricts women as much as Iran, but Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are at least as restrictive in every other way. There are many, many ways to oppress people.

Nafisi also writes often that the people of Iran allowed the repressive regime to come into power. I completely agree, and I understand better now why she write that. There is so much resignation to the idea that nothing can be done to have a better government. But the biggest problem is that a known difficult situation can be dealt with, while anything unknown is downright scary. At least most people in Kyrgyzstan are surviving right now. The revolution in March really didn’t change anything; in fact, it made things worse for many people. Is it really worth trying to change things?

It was fascinating to read about her troubles with the various universities she works at, and some of her difficulties with the students. Again, leaving out the obvious Islamic implications, my husband has experienced so many of the same things in the last few months. Classes cancelled and rescheduled without any apparent logic, students memorizing the lectures and repeating them on the exams with absolutely no analysis, and an administration that seems to have no interest in making sure the students really are learning.

I found the section on Henry James to be much more interesting this time because I’ve read three of his books now. I had just finished rereading Washington Square and Daisy Miller when my husband brought RLiT home from the embassy and I had been trying to remember what Nafisi had written about those books. It is interesting that Daisy was the character that caused the most uproar in Nafisi’s classes.

I’ve also realized how important these books are to me. I’ve always loved reading, and I’ve always known that. But my books one of my few connections to a different time and place while I’m here. I have loved every book I’ve read even more than I liked them in the US. I can see more clearly the great importance books have, and why books are often one of the first things that are restricted by less-than-desirable governments.

Why I Love Islam

Originally posted on Conversation

Quite often I’ll read statements in various places that say the Qur’an is violent, Islam is violent, and so on. I understand that it is easy to say things like this. There are plenty of violent statements in the Qur’an. Historically Islam has had violent periods, just as Christianity has. Islam has never had a good image with Christians, nor can Muslims be very impressed with Christians.

But I love Islam. I’m not an expert on the religion. I don’t know Arabic well enough to read the Qur’an in Arabic. I am not Muslim myself. But I have taken the time to learn as much about Islam as I can.

More importantly, I have spent a lot of time with Muslims, talking to them about religion and politics. We’ve talked in English, Arabic, and Russian. They have been from Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, Pakistan, Iraq, the United States, and more. The only Muslim region that I haven’t had any contact with is Southeast Asia.

Certainly the Muslim world view is different from the Christian world view. It is also vitally important to separate cultural traditions from Islam. That becomes much easier when you talk to Muslims from completely different cultures, but most Americans don’t have that chance. We just see the veils, hear the stories of domestic violence and repression, and think that represents Islam. I can’t believe that it does because I've seen loving couples, women who choose to wear the veil, or not wear the veil, and talked to feminist Muslims (sounds about as unlikely as feminist Mormons).

In the end, what I know about Islam comes from my experiences with Muslims. And my impression over the last 10 years is that Muslims are not violent. I have never feared when I have spent time with Muslims, despite all the quotes from the Qur’an that say it’s fine to kill a non-Muslim. All I know is that almost all of the Muslims I know are good, kind, and peaceful. They are mothers and fathers. They try to take care of their families. They are culturally and religiously very different from me, and I can easily make allowances for that, just as they make allowances for my cultural oddities from their perspective.

There are some very violent Muslims, those who are violent in the name of their religion. I have talked to a few. There are also Jews who are violent in the name of their religion (I’ve talked to some personally of them too). There are violent Hindus and Christians. In my opinion, it is the interpretation that is violent, not the religion itself. If Islam truly promoted violence, wouldn't the world have descended into chaos long before this?

I cannot condemn a religion based on the actions of a few of its adherents or on my misperceptions, especially since I am a Mormon. My church has spent its entire existence defending itself against similar accusations (although violence hasn't played quite as large a role in those accusations) and I will not do the same to Islam because I have not seen the proof that it is a dangerous religion.

Why I Love Islam

Quite often I’ll read statements in various places that say the Qur’an is violent, Islam is violent, and so on. I understand that it is easy to say things like this. There are plenty of violent statements in the Qur’an. Historically Islam has had violent periods, just as Christianity has. Islam has never had a good image with Christians, nor can Muslims be very impressed with Christians.

But I love Islam. I’m not an expert on the religion. I don’t know Arabic well enough to read the Qur’an in Arabic. I am not Muslim myself. But I have taken the time to learn as much about Islam as I can.

More importantly, I have spent a lot of time with Muslims, talking to them about religion and politics. We’ve talked in English, Arabic, and Russian. They have been from Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, Pakistan, Iraq, the United States, and more. The only Muslim region that I haven’t had any contact with is Southeast Asia.

Certainly the Muslim world view is different from the Christian world view. It is also vitally important to separate cultural traditions from Islam. That becomes much easier when you talk to Muslims from completely different cultures, but most Americans don’t have that chance. We just see the veils, hear the stories of domestic violence and repression, and think that represents Islam. I can’t believe that it does because I've seen loving couples, women who choose to wear the veil, or not wear the veil, and talked to feminist Muslims (sounds about as unlikely as feminist Mormons).

In the end, what I know about Islam comes from my experiences with Muslims. And my impression over the last 10 years is that Muslims are not violent. I have never feared when I have spent time with Muslims, despite all the quotes from the Qur’an that say it’s fine to kill a non-Muslim. All I know is that almost all of the Muslims I know are good, kind, and peaceful. They are mothers and fathers. They try to take care of their families. They are culturally and religiously very different from me, and I can easily make allowances for that, just as they make allowances for my cultural oddities from their perspective.

There are some very violent Muslims, those who are violent in the name of their religion. I have talked to a few. There are also Jews who are violent in the name of their religion (I’ve talked to some personally of them too). There are violent Hindus and Christians. In my opinion, it is the interpretation that is violent, not the religion itself. If Islam truly promoted violence, wouldn't the world have descended into chaos long before this?

I cannot condemn a religion based on the actions of a few of its adherents or on my misperceptions, especially since I am a Mormon. My church has spent its entire existence defending itself against similar accusations (although violence hasn't played quite as large a role in those accusations) and I will not do the same to Islam because I have not seen the proof that it is a dangerous religion.

(I’m going to be out of town for the next few days and I might not be able to respond very quickly to any comments.)

Land of Plenty

I have to admit that I'm getting very excited about going to China- for the shopping. Now, I hate shopping. Hate it. Except for books. And there are English-language bookstores in Beijing. And toy stores. We need more K'nex.

And I might even be able find womens shoes larger than a size 8. They are non-existant in Bishkek (at least according to my shopping friends).

Of course I'm more excited about the other things we'll see. Aren't I?

10 January 2006

Kurman Ait




Today is Eid al-Adha, or Kurman Ait as it is called in Kyrgyz. In Bishkek one of the main squares, Ala Too, is turned into an outdoor mosque. My husband went down with some of the US Embassy representatives. I wish I could post the videos he took because it was not a common thing to hear the call to prayer in Bishkek. The lower picture is of the temporary mihrab that was set up. The higher one is of the the men ready to prayer.

January makes Mecca more pleasant, but Bishkek had a chilly Eid/Ait.

09 January 2006

Bishkek Belly?

When I started to look for more information about moving to Bishkek, someone on the WTM boards recommended Real Post Reports (or talesmag, or Tales from a Small Planet). It is a handy little site and even had a recent report from Bishkek which was very helpful.

They put up a new report a few weeks ago. A couple of things in it amused me. She was very opposed to taking any kind of public transportation- she said those who ride the minibuses "must have strong stomachs or no sense of smell or a grand sense of adventure." I wonder which one of those I have. And what is her thing with "Bishkek belly"? I've never heard that before, and I've certainly been no worse off than I was in the Middle East.

The thing is, most expats couldn't live the way the US Embassy people do, and that's who's writing most of the reports for this website. Business expats could, but there aren't many in Bishkek. I couldn't possibly afford the over-$2000/month rent; the full-time driver, nanny, gardener, and housekeeper (that would add up to around $500/month); and the $1000/month tuition at the International School.

I think it's reasonable for expats to have a similar standard of living to what they did in the US. We're reasonably close to ours, although it's a little lower here. I do have someone clean once a week, but other household chores take more time here, especially boiling and filtering all the water. Other than that, I don't have anything here that I didn't have in the US. And I don't have a library (sob).

It's the living an extravagant lifestyle in a poor country that bothers me. Tales of a Female Nomad mentioned this. She spent some time with some expats in Guatemala (although clearly a limited set) and summed it up pretty well- "the ex-pats are living in luxury for next to nothing." Well, maybe for next to nothing compared to what you'd pay in the US, but it really can add up- and your tax dollars pay for it.

Eid Mubarak

I love to think of the Hajj going on right now. I hope that nothing worse than last week's deaths happen this year. Actually, I'm often impressed at how well Saudi Arabia handles 2 million pilgrims every year. Glad to see they're spending some of that oil money on something very worthwhile.

RadioFreeEurope had an interesting article last week about Central Asian pilgrims.

Logic Puzzles

I've loved all kinds of logic problems for many years. My mother kept me supplied with logic problem books while I was growing up. My husband always thinks it's a bit odd that I'd sit around doing for fun what he hated doing on the LSAT. So I was very pleased today when my mother pointed out this website with one of my favorite types of logic puzzles- sudoku.

I've done other online logic problems, but usually there weren't very many to do. Number ones like sudoku can be computer generated, but word ones are harder mass produce.

If you've got any good logic websites, let me know!

08 January 2006

Registan.net

I have to say again that Registan is far and away my favorite Central Asia blog. It has a variety of people commenting and posting, but I particularly like Nathan's commentary. It's always interesting and he even updated the sidebar recently so most of the links actually work now. How pleasant.

It really is a good place to find out more about Central Asia from people who really are living here or even from here instead of the travel sites you usually find. Or the commentary from people who don't really understand this part of the world.

And who can forget the highly amusing Fashion Week in Almaty?

07 January 2006

Central Asian Total Solar Eclipse

Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but one of the first things I realized when we found out we were going to Kyrgyzstan was that we'd be able to see the total eclipse on March 29th. While at least a partial eclipse will be visible throughout Central Asia, Libya and Turkey will be better viewing locations.

This particular eclipse runs from the easternmost edge of Brazil across the Pacific, through Africa from Ghana to the Egypt-Libya border, over the Mediterranean, through Turkey and the Volga River delta in Russia, then northern Kazakhstan, and finally reenters Russia briefly. Check out this website for an animation of the path and details on the percentage of totality in lots of cities.

Near the end of the track, the shadow of the moon will pass right over the capital of Kazakhstan which will probably be the most convenient location for us to see the total eclipse. If we can't make it to Kazakhstan though, it will be about 70 percent eclipsed from Bishkek. That still would be interesting to watch even though you'd have to know it was happening to notice anything.

I am curious to see if there will be much reporting here about the eclipse, or reporting from Kazakhstan. Total solar eclipses don't happen every day.

05 January 2006

Besh Barmak

Besh Barmak is often said to be the Kyrgyz national dish (although I believe the Kazakhs claim it too). We tried it in a relatively nice restaurant one time and weren't particularly impressed, but we have discovered that it is essential that Kyrgyz food is prepared by the right person. So I'm certainly not going to say that besh barmak isn't good. I just haven't eaten it in the right place yet (but a collection of meat, onions, and noodles really doesn't have much hope). I love to read this recipe though. How often do you see something that calls for a sheep? I don't even want to know what to do with a sheep if I had one. If you want to try this in true Kyrgyz style, don't throw away any fat from the meat.


1 medium sheep or 3 kilograms of mutton or beef
1 kilogram onions
4 cups of flour
1 egg

Put the meat in a large pot along with onions and boil for two hours. While the meat is cooking prepare the noodles (store bought noodles can be substituted). Make a pile with the flour. Beat the egg and add it to the flour, then mix in warm salt water (1-2 teaspoon salt) until it holds together but is not so sticky. Knead well and then let stand for 10 minutes. When meat is done it is removed from the water and the noodles are then boiled in the same water to give the noodles a meaty flavor - noodles only need to cook for 5 minutes or less.

Besh barmak is usually the dish that is made for special celebrations such as weddings, special visitors, or a housewarming. It is usually the final dish of a three-course meal. Guests will wash their hands before the besh barmak is served. The meat is brought out first. The guests eat some of the meat and the host and a few guests chop most of the meat into small pieces. The noodles are then brought in and mixed with the meat and some of the broth is added as well to make a thick stew of meat and noodles. The guests then eat this mixture out of a large bowl using their fingers as utensils - hence the name besh barmak - or "five fingers."

I Don't Expect My Prophets to Be Perfect

I've mentioned before that the Old Testament is my favorite book of scripture. I love each book equally for different reasons, but the OT is special to me for many reasons.

I first really studied the OT in Jerusalem when I was there there first time. We slung stones in the Valley of Elat, read about the fires of Lachish going out, and sat atop Bethel. We were also studying ancient Near Eastern history at the time and the two went together perfectly. I particuarly like the OT because of the memories it brings back and because of its historical context. In no other book is history so clearly visible.

But there are other reasons I love the OT. It is by far the most diverse book of scripture we have. I remember reading a quote by Victor Ludlow (that I can't find) that said something to the effect that the OT is a collection of family histories, tax records, censuses, General Conference reports, fatherly advice, and more. I imagine it's quite a bit like what Mormon worked with to produce the Book of Mormon.

The Old Testament is also fascinating because it has so much about women. I find many inspiring stories about women in its pages, and (hopefully) I'll write more about some of those women through the year.

But one of the most important lessons I learned from the Old Testament (one I didn't even realize I'd learned till a few years ago) is that I don't expect my prophets to be perfect. Simply reading Genesis and Exodus carefully should cure anyone of that misconception.

Two of our greatest prophets in the Old Testament are Abraham and Moses. They were great leaders in many ways. They were blessed with tremendous revelations. Yet both did things that make me cringe. Abraham forced his wife and son to leave his house and sent them into the desert. Moses killed a man. Abraham married a young girl when he was more than 100 years old. Moses had no qualms about hacking down thousands of people. Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son.

Were all of these things commanded by the Lord? I don't know. Some clearly were. Others it isn't at all clear that they were commanded. Certainly their actions need to be seen in the context of their own cultural and historical settings. It is very important to remember that we don't have the whole story. We don't have anyone's entire story. I also believe that even prophets can make mistakes, and some of these things (and others I didn't list) could well have been mistakes or sins.

So when things like this come up about modern-day prophets, it doesn't bother me. Again, I don't have the whole story. But what I really need is the same faith that I have that the Lord didn't make a mistake with Abraham and Moses. I believe He's the only one who doesn't make mistakes. And if I can believe that, I can also believe he didn't make a mistake with Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or any of the others. Because I have faith that the Lord called those men just as he called Abraham and Moses.

(However, I can understand why some people are uncomfortable with the idea of a prophet making mistakes and committing sins or simply doing things that just don't seem right. Shouldn't the Lord call people who are a bit better? Or make sure those whom he calls do better? I think this question is similar to those who believe in Biblical inerrancy- of course the Lord could have kept the Bible inerrant. But I don't believe he chose to. And I don't believe that the Lord chooses his prophets based solely on things that make sense to us.)

04 January 2006

Adopting from Kyrgyzstan


Edited to add on February 12, 2014:

Kyrgyzstan announced yesterday that adoptions are beginning again.  Since adoptions have stopped and started there quite a few times in the last 10 years, it will take some time to learn whether this is promising or not.  As an American, I wouldn't begin an adoption in Kyrgyzstan at this point, especially since no US agency is currently approved to facilitate adoptions in Kyrgyzstan.

This post is very old and based on my experiences in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2006 which means a lot of what is posted below is very outdated.



------------------------------
These are a few things I've learned about adopting from Kyrgyzstan because of my experiences there and the six years I have been researching international adoption. I worked in the Bishkek baby house, and if you are told you're adopting a baby from Bishkek, it's likely she will come from this baby house. Note that I am not an adoption expert, nor have I done an international adoption myself. I have no connections with any agency. I have been away from Kyrgyzstan for over a year and there are better places to find updated information. These are two posts I've written in other places about the Bishkek baby house and some of the children there (here and here).

I loved living in Kyrgyzstan and volunteering at the baby house in Bishkek and I want everyone who goes there to have a good experience. And thanks to those who have emailed who are adopting from the Bishkek baby house. It's been wonderful to hear that some of those babies are on their way to being adopted. And if anyone happens to get a referral for a little boy named Arsyen in the Bishkek baby house (he was born in the fall of 2004), will you let me know? He was such a sweet little boy and I'd love to hear what happens to him. I can tell you a lot about him.



There is a Yahoo Kyrgyzstan adoption group that is very friendly and helpful. This group is definitely the place to go for all sorts of information because I really am out of the loop now. There are links there to adoption blogs. There are many Kyrgyzstan adoption blogs out there now.


The best way to get information about legitimate agencies should be to email the US Embassy in Bishkek at ConsularBishkek@state.gov. While they can't recommend any agency, you can ask them how long a certain agency has been in the country and how many adoptions they've completed. Be specific with your questions- they don't want you to have a bad experience. We have found the Consular Section at the Embassy to be very helpful and friendly.

Do be sure to talk to as many agencies as possible, especially since there are so few. There are surprisingly significant differences between the adoption process with different agencies.

Not all of the babies and children in baby houses and orphanages are actually available for adoption; in fact, many probably aren't. (Most of the children in my photos are not available.) They have been placed in the baby house by their mothers and their mothers still have custody of them. Some were abandoned and some mothers have formally given up their rights. Since I worked in the baby house, I don't know much about the situation with older children, but many of the babies will have to have their mothers give up parental rights to be adopted.

If you're concerned about conditions in the baby houses themselves, read what I wrote here about the baby house in Bishkek. While the baby houses and orphanages won't be as nice in some other parts of the country, in general you can count on the children being well-attended to.

Please be aware of the many, many ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan. While your baby is most likely to be Kyrgyz, there are many other cultures your baby might be from. Find out as much about that culture as you can, especially since there are very few Uyghurs, Tatars, etc. in the US. Kyrgyzstan is not a Russian country, although you might adopt a Russian baby. Please don't assume that Russian language and culture is all you need to learn about.

Many of the Kyrgyz children will have names that have a specific meaning in Kyrgyz. For example, Ay (pronounced eye) means moon and many girls' names start with Ay-. Gul- (rhymes with tool) is another popular beginning for girls' names and means flower. For boys, some common names are Bakyt (mean happiness), Bolot (mean strong), and Belek (means gift). I'll add more to this list when I get a chance. Arabic names such as Jamal and Jamilya are popular too.

We (my husband and I and two small children) lived in Kyrgyzstan (pronunciation guide) for one year. We never felt in the least bit in danger. We didn't have a car or a driver and were out on the streets every day. The people were universally kind and friendly. We rode the minibuses and walked around the city. We traveled around the country. While it is important to be sensitive, you needn't be frightened. Basic travel etiquette and being aware of your surroundings should be enough.

Please do not be scared to travel to Kyrgyzstan. It is by and large a safe country to visit. It is safe to be on the streets in Bishkek. It is safe to go to the store. It is safe to visit other cities and sites around the country. It is safe to go to the bazaars. Of course there are reasonable precautions you should take, as you should when travelling to any foreign country, but Kyrgyzstan is not dangerous.

Most of Kyrgyzstan's population is Kyrgyz, traditionally a nomadic group of people until they were settled by the Soviets. "Kyrgyz" is both singular and plural and is a noun and an adjective. "Kyrgyzes" and "Kyrg" are not words. The abbreviation I saw used for Kyrgyzstan by locals was KG. The Kyrgyz are one of the most ancient nations in Central Asia, see here and here for short histories of Kyrgyzstan. There are still a very few Kyrgyz who are nomadic, but almost of them live in China. The Kyrgyz language is closely related to Kazakh and is also related to Uzbek, Uyghur, Turkmen, Turkish, etc. (but not Tajik).

Learning some Russian or Kyrgyz before you come would be a great idea. Russian is more useful in Bishkek, but many Bishkekers know Kyrgyz- the women at the baby house often speak Kyrgyz. If you go to any other city or town in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz would be a good choice. Still, either is good- it's a lot easier to find Russian resources in the US (we recommend the Pimsleur CDs and/or The New Penguin Russian Course). Look at this website for suggestions on learning Kyrgyz.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country with fascinating people. Take the time to enjoy your stay (although with the current schedules, you'll probably have little time to do so) and get out to do some things. While traveling around the country might not be an option, you should at least be able to have a good time in the town or city your are adopting from. Bishkek isn't a particularly exciting city, but maybe you could ask your coordinator to introduce you to some locals. There are some museums in downtown Bishkek. If you're outside Bishkek, you might see if you can learn some chuko bone games.

There are few dishes that are specific to Kyrgyzstan; most are more generally Central Asian. I have some Central Asian recipes here. Kyrgyz cuisine has traditional been based on meat and milk products. Mare's milk, dried yogurt, horse meat, mutton, etc, are all commonly eaten in Kyrgyzstan, although horse meat has become very expensive and is saved for special occasions like weddings and funerals. Laghman is a noodle dish with endless variations. I generally prefer Uyghur versions. Plov is a rice dish with even more variations than laghman. We ate a lot of plov in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz plov is generally less flavorful than, say, Uzbek or Uyghur plov, or pilaus from Iran and Tajikistan. Beshbarmak is called the Kyrgyz national dish, although the Kazakhs claim it too.

Travelling around Kyrgyzstan isn't hard (although it can be slow), and your agency should take care of all of that anyway. You might hear horror stories about the roads, but we found them to be a lot safer than in the Middle East and the police have been cracking down on drunk driving. Enjoy the scenery if you get to go to other parts of the country.

The longest trip you'll probably take is from Bishkek to Almaty. We had no trouble crossing the border (except that my 5-year-old threw up all over me and there was no place to clean up), but I have heard of some adoptive families having a very difficult trip to Almaty. I am not sure why we had no trouble and some do, but I hope this doesn't happen to you.

Some interesting places to visit in the north (since that seems to be where a lot of the adoptions are taking place) are Tash Rabat, the Burana Tower, Ysyk Kul, Ala-Archa park, and if you can get there, Navikat. There really isn't much to do in Bishkek, but if you happen to be there on a holiday, be sure to go to Ala-Too (pronounced toe) Square.

Bishkek is an easy city to live in. Baby food, diapers, wipes, and baby clothes are all readily available and about the same price or less expensive than you can get them in the US. The chain of stores called Narodnye is all over the city and all have plenty of baby supplies. Your coordinator in country should be able to easily take you to stores to get what you need if you are in Bishkek.

Outside Bishkek your options are a lot more limited. A lot. There will be a lot less variety in your food, especially if you're travelling in the winter. It is harder to find baby supplies, although certainly not impossible. But unless you're spending a long time outside Bishkek and its suburbs, you should be fine. You can buy what you need in Bishkek before going to other parts of the country.

I wouldn't hesitate to take my children with us if we adopted from Kyrgyzstan. It does make some things more difficult (and if your children aren't good travellers, it might be better to leave them home), but in my opinion it depends more on the individual child than on conditions in Kyrgyzstan. Don't bother with car seats though, either for the child you adopt or the child you bring along. They are hard to deal with when you're flying and I'd be surprised if you found taxis in Kyrgyzstan that had functional seat belts, so the car seats are worthless. I think I only saw two car seats the entire time I was there; both were used by Embassy employees. I don't think I ever saw car seats for sale in the country. (This was one reason I preferred walking with our children- it was much safer. I was never comfortable with my children bouncing around in the minibuses or taxis.) But overall it might be a good idea to take your other children with you.

Since we were living in Bishkek we obviously rented an apartment. I think this is a good option even for short term stays because it can be much less expensive and because it's nice to not have to eat out all the time. There are plenty of grocery stores all over the city (Narodnye, a well-stocked grocery store is everywhere) and cooking in an apartment really shouldn't be a problem.

I never used a credit card the entire time I was there and I use them almost exclusively in the US. ATMs aren't always a good option either. There are very few in Bishkek (although more are coming all the time) and even if you find one you can use, it might be out of money.

We boiled all our drinking water in Kyrgyzstan but knew people who didn't and were fine. The water usually tests fine but we didn't want to take any chances. Be careful when buying bottled water to make sure it's not carbonated (unless you like plain carbonated water). Outside Bishkek it may be difficult to find non-carbonated water (voda bez gaz). The water is much less likely to make you sick than the food! You really needn't worry too much about the water- it's easy to buy bottled or boil your own. There really is little you can do to avoid getting sick from the food. Usually you'll be fine, but even the most careful travellers get sick from the food.

In conclusion, go into an adoption in Kyrgyzstan with your eyes open. Anyone who says it's easy is selling something. Research your agencies. Learn about this wonderful country. And most of all, I hope that if you do choose Kyrgyzstan, you will be successful.

Xi'an

It has been pretty chilly here for the last few days. No colder than northern or eastern Idaho, but I had a car in Idaho. So when I checked the average January temperature in Xi'an and saw it was 41 degrees, well, that sounds quite pleasant.

Urumqi is nowhere near as pleasant. The high will probably be around 10 degrees while we're there. So we'll spend a lot more time in Xi'an.

And that's not hard. Xi'an is a fascinating city. The University of Washington's Silk Road website has a good section on Xi'an. (I love their website. Maybe we can go to Seattle afterwards for my husband to get a degree is Asian Law and I can get a masters in Central Asian studies.)

Anyway, Xi'an has plenty of interesting sites, or the area does. The most famous are the Terracotta Warriors which we'll go out to see, but there's a lot more to Xi'an that than. It has been the capital of various Chinese empires, especially in the 1st millenium AD, when it was usually called Chang'an.

Xi'an has long been a crossroads for a variety of cultures and religions. It's usually considered to be the eastern end of the Silk Road. Buddhists, Manichaeists, and Muslims have all had considerable power in the city. Today there is a distinct Muslim quarter that I'm looking forward to exploring.

03 January 2006


The chicken pox is going around the baby house. Four of the babies are rather colorful right now because of the medicine they put on all their scabs. This little guy was happier today than he looks. The sick ones are a little quieter, but no one is really sick.

I'm not a fanatic vaccinator, but I'm glad we made sure the boys were up-to-date before we came here, including chicken pox. I wouldn't care to deal with that here. Hep B is also a problem in orphanages. Those are two vaccinations I might not have gotten otherwise.

02 January 2006

I don’t get around to reading the Ensign very often since it hasn’t found its way to Kyrgyzstan yet, but I did read this article about motherhood that I rather liked. I think many women go into motherhood with a lot of misconceptions, and this article honestly addressed some of those.

I liked what she said about people telling her "you’ll never be able to do that again." I heard that (and hear it said to others) all the time. But there are few things that I can’t do anymore that I did before I had children. The main one is that there are other people who depend on me and I can’t just run off whenever I want. But really, in my day-to-day life, I am still in control of what I do- in fact, more in control than when I was in school or working.

She also addresses the idea that mothers don’t progress intellectually. She writes:

As a mother, you will read books, learn to build things, and learn more about nutrition and health, budgeting, taxes, cooking, and running a home. You will learn to teach. Some women even learn to quilt, sew, crochet, do artwork, and do
many other things. I have also learned some even more important lessons—one of which has been to relax and enjoy quiet times with my son.



I’d have emphasized the intellectual learning a bit more here because a lot of things might not sound all that interesting. While I personally like crocheting, budgeting, and teaching my children, it’s the intellectual learning that keeps me going- learning about the world, studying new languages, reading classics. For me, the things listed above don’t make up for intellectual growth even though they do help.

It seems to me that often that mothers who aren’t working aren’t considered to really be learning anything substantial- I could read all the books required for a major in Central Asian studies and live here for two years and learn to speak Kyrgyz or Uzbek, but I wouldn’t (won’t) get the degree. Of course, this applies to anyone who isn’t officially in school, but it seems to be a bigger problem for mothers. We can only really learn practical things, not intellectual things, unless we’re in school. We’re not doing anything that can really give us the experience other people think is important.

Still, I like being a mother. And even if I never get another degree, I’ll keep learning.