28 February 2006
So I leave the phone line connected to the computer most of the day. Much quieter.
Yesterday he crawled. He has absolutely refused to crawl in the past. Certainly some babies never crawl, but since he wasn't moving on to walking, it seemed that helping him crawl was a good option. I'd get him into a kneeling position then lower his hands. He would always flop back down on his stomach even if I tried to hold him in a crawling position. But yesterday when I tried it again, he just crawled off. It looked like he'd been doing it forever. Since he's 18 months, he should have been doing it forever.
He still can't change positions very well. Lying/rolling to sitting or standing is impossible. But I'm so pleased that he is improving. His little personality comes through a lot more strongly. He talks a lot. I hope that he will be more likely to be adopted or taken home if he seems to be a bit more on track developmentally.
Esen isn't likely to be adopted for that reason, and that's sad. He is a sweet boy. But adoptions are a business, and few families are looking to fly halfway around the world to adopt a baby who will need a great deal of care.
I picked up The Fierce and Beautiful World, a collection of short stories by Andrei Platonov, at the little bookstore a week or two ago on the recommendation of a Russian woman at the bookstore. I had never heard of Platonov before, but the book sounded interesting, especially when she told me the first story was set in Central Asia.
The translation from Russian of all the stories was done by Joseph Barnes and first published in 1970. However, the translation of Dzhan, the story of a man who returns to the deserts around the Aral Sea to help his people, was done from a censored Soviet version. There is a new translation that I'd love to read (apparently not available at Amazon's US site, just the UK one) . Tatyana Tolstaya, who wrote the introduction, was a bit critical of the translation.
I rarely bother doing more than glancing through the introduction written by "experts" to most books, but this introduction was surprisingly good (I always save them for the end though). Originally written in Russian, it captures some of what I loved about these stories:
The central theme running through Platonov's work is the happiness of the mind and the happiness of the heart in their complex interaction; he studies what happiness really is, why and how it appears, where it goes, how to find and hold on to it.
While the stories certainly aren't happy, this is exactly what I thought while I was reading. The characters find, or don't find, or lose happiness in many different ways. And even though they're not happy, they are satisfying.
It was also interesting to read how he used sleep as a way for people in very difficult circumstances to get through them. It reminded me of Lily Bart who just wanted to sleep, just to have a little rest.
If you can track any of Platonov's stories down, I recommend reading them. Do see if you can get a newer translation though, or at least one of his the full text.
27 February 2006
The biggest concern was the money spent and the obligations of various family members. Many customs in Kyrgyzstan are based on nomadic traditions. It's almost impossible to visit a Kyrgyz family, no matter how poor, without them offering you something to eat. If they've invited you over, you can expect a lot of food and to be sent home with leftovers. A logical tradition if you've traveled for miles to see someone and will have a long journey home.
But funerals can get a bit over the top. We've been told that depending on your family relationship, a gift of between $25-$75 is appropriate. That's at least month's salary for many families. I'd worry a bit if I were required to give thousands of dollars every time a close relative died.
Interestingly, many of the people who thought that the funeral traditions were too expensive and unnecessary thought that the wedding traditions, which are at least as extravagant, were fine. People in the US might spend $20,000 on a wedding or a funeral, but taking the awful Kyrgyzstan economy into consideration, the $5,000 that might be spent in Kyrgyzstan is even more difficult to come up with.
Personally, I thought the Kyrgyz funeral we attended was beautiful, and my husband enjoyed the wedding he went to. But both could still be meaningful events without the expense.
25 February 2006
But today, the tracks were replaced. You can open and close the curtains without fear. And in Kyrgyzstan, that is something to cheer about.
(We do have a great landlady though, even though she apparently doesn't close her curtains.)
24 February 2006
We're just about a month away from the total solar eclipse.
23 February 2006
I love to learn new language because it opens up a new world of people to talk to. You don't have to know a lot of a language to start opening those doors. One of my favorite travel stories goes something like this (from Vikram's Seth From Heaven Lake- the story is told much better in the book):
The author, a man from India, was traveling through Xinjiang Province in China, a Uyghur area. Uyghur is written in the Arabic script, as is Urdu which is closely related to Hindi. He stops to buy a cap from an Uyghur shopkeeper and they are able to communicate in Chinese through the shopkeeper's grandson who learned Chinese at school. The shopkeeper doesn't quite believe or understand that the man is from India till he (the man) writes "Hindustan" in the Arabic script. The shopkeeper's face light up when he reads the writing. He then proceeds to make the cap stronger by reinforcing the seams, for no extra charge. The man from India leaves with a salaamu alaykum.
We have had experiences like this here, but not as often as in the Middle East since we're busy with children and work. But today we went to Osh Bazaar to pick up a tushuk and passed by a shoe repair section. My husband stopped to have his shoes reglued and we started chatting with the repairman and another customer. We started off in Russian, then the other customer turned out to know a bit of English, about as much English as we know Russian. Since he is from Osh, he knew some Uzbek, so we traded our Uzbek phrases back and forth. A couple of teenagers walked by and someone mentioned Arabic, so we started speaking Arabic to the teenagers. We finished off the conversation with my husband reciting the first sura of the Qur'an. As always, we are proclaimed to be Muslim at that point even though we assure them that we are not (we're not trying to be deceptive here). The shoe repairman refused any payment and sent us on our way with his hand over his heart.
21 February 2006
They set up a yurt in the yard in front of the house. People came for something like a viewing and to visit the family in the morning, then the family prepared the body for burial before noon. The imam was there and there was a lot of praying, chanting, and mourning over the body. A lot was familiar from the Qur'an. It was beautiful to hear again. Then the men went with the body to the cemetery and the women went to a meal at a hotel. This family is better off than many, so they were able to do the meal at a nice hotel with plenty of horse meat.
I did try some today (tasted a lot like beef), but I couldn't bring myself to try any of the unknown pieces. Luckily, they have a handy system here- you take home all your leftovers. They loaded up our plates with all kinds of horse parts (and I mean all kinds), we all ate a bit, then we loaded up the plastic bags provided by the hotel. After we got home, we gave our meat to one of the people on the street who would appreciate it far more than we would.
I do love the salads here. One in particular is my favorite- thinly sliced cabbage, onions, garlic, and carrots. I need to get a recipe for that one.
They said several prayers at the meal also. Some were from the Qur'an, others were in Kyrgyz. They prayed specifically for the family members, including the ones we know, which was nice to hear. The men came to the hotel after the women had finished so they could have their meal. Handy system. Several of the closest female members of the family weren't at the women's meal though, although one of the daughters was in charge of the meal. Since our friends weren't at the meal, they assigned other relatives to keep track of us at the hotel.
The woman who died was 96 years old. She was born in 1909 and it's interesting to think about all the things she saw during her life. She was born 8 years before the Russian Revolution, saw the entire history of the Soviet Union, then lived her last 14 years in the uncertainty of the new Kyrgyz Republic.
20 February 2006
Putin's course in Russia- I especially noted this line: "In exchange for rolling back democracy, and isolating Russian society from the rest of the world, Putin has promised the Russian people security and prosperity. He believes that a more autocratic, less pluralistic, regime will make the Russian state stronger and more effective." Yep, I hear that all the time. Lots of Kyrgyz love Putin.
Several of the babies have been adopted recently by local families. A local newspaper did a story on the baby house and several have been adopted as a result. As always, if you're looking into adoption, remember that a local family will always have priority over a foreign family, even if you've been "promised" a certain child.
As always, I still see agencies saying FAS isn't a big risk in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. While it's not as prevalent as it is in Russia, it is still a greater risk than many other areas of the world. Of course, most babies in Russia and Central Asia are not born with FAS and it's likely that if you adopt, your baby won't have a problem. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared for the possibility.
A typical building in Bishkek has long hallways of apartments with each set of four apartments sharing a bathroom. Since the government owns the land and the buildings, there is little incentive for the residents to maintain the buildings, or even their own bathrooms. The people on the lower floors don't care if the roof is having trouble, no one cares what's going on in the basement. The government is supposed to take care of things, but you can imagine how often that happens.
But there is a lot of variety in housing in Bishkek. When I take the bus out to the baby house, I pass incredibly run-down buildings and palatial new houses. And you can be surprised by what you find in individual apartments. I visited a friend today whose apartment was amazing. I expected a nicer-than-usual apartment because of the area of town we were in, but I'll never get over the surprise of seeing a beautiful apartment inside an awful building.
19 February 2006
18 February 2006
17 February 2006
And a couple of interesting posts/blogs about Central Asia:
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
I asked around some more about the colorful cushion/quilts I wrote about earlier, and the consensus has definitely been that tushuk is the word that is used, at least in Bishkek.
16 February 2006
Studies show that the young generation is gradually changing its views on the tradition. Numerous young Kyrgyzes* changed their minds once they witnessed abduction of a bride or participated in it. Farida, a student of the local university, saw her friend abducted once. The girl was very bright and promising but the marriage she had never even considered forced her to abandon all plans for the future. "I had thought it very romantic once, like in movies," Farida said. "When I saw my friend abducted, however, I understood how horrible it was. I would not want it to happen to me."
This is the main reason why education is so important in stopping kidnappings. I've talked to young Kyrgyz women several times about kidnapping, and I did get the impression that there was some level of romanticism involved. Some girls seemed to think it would be exciting to be kidnapped, or a compliment. (Is anyone going to kidnap a girl they don't think is pretty?) Educating girls about the realities of kidnapping- the divorces, the end to any kind of formal education, possibly marrying someone you don't like or into a difficult family, etc- can help change attitudes.
*Is "Kyrgyzes" a word? I've never seen that one before.
15 February 2006
The book I've linked to above has a different editor and a new translation (it was originally written in German); my copy sticks with the old translation and old terminology, although it explains some of the older, less familiar terms (like Mahometan). I also have a short introduction that doesn't try to do too much interpreting and analyzing. Can I just say how much I dislike most introductions? If you need some expert analysis, put it at the end of the book, please. That's when I'll read it, if I bother.
An Arabian Princess Between Two Worlds: Memoirs, Letters Home, Sequels to the Memoirs, Syrian Customs and Usages also has her memoirs, along with other things listed in the title. I'd like to read this one too.
This really was a fascinating book. She covers many details of her life in Zanzibar, and she tells it the way she sees it. For example, she is pro-slavery and anti-polygamy and defends her positions. It's also interesting to read this account from her point of view. Even though she became a Christian when she married her husband, she doesn't criticize Islam. She sees advantages and disadvantages to both European and Arab culture.
It's also good to read this from a woman's point of view. Few people of her generation could write, so this is a unique story.
I also asked about the recent troubles in Iskra between the Dungans and the Kyrgyz; they said it wasn't a big deal. The Kyrgyz and Dungan aqsikals (white beards= city elders) agreed that the troublemakers should leave (apparently, they also agreed that all the troublemakers were Dungan?). This brought up ethnic relations again, and they students nearly all agreed that ethnic relations are fine here in Kyrgyzstan.
So I asked about the possibility of a civil war, and they again thought it could happen. They clearly worry about it. I asked how they thought people would take sides, and most thought it would be ethnic.
In my opinion, ethnic relations in Kyrgyzstan are fine on the surface, but there are plenty of problems that don't need a lot of provocation. I'd hate to see this country divide along ethnic lines. But I'm not inclined to think a civil war is imminent. Possible? Maybe. But we're not there yet.
I also asked if there is a person in Kyrgyzstan who could be the kind of leader they really want to see, and they said there isn't one. This is often true in the US, but our system of government makes that one leader, the president, much less important than the president is in Kyrgyzstan. Finding a good leader is much more important here.
One more interesting article- wolves are on the rise in Central Asia. Maybe they ought to take a few to Yellowstone?
The drawback is that we miss some of the primetime events. They either don't replay them, or they're on the next afternoon when I'm out. The other drawback is that curling seems to be a lot more popular here. The only thing more boring that watching a 5-minute summary of a curling match is watching the entire match. Still, I know a lot more about curling now.
I also discovered that my children were learning the Europe flags while watching, so we pulled out our map of Europe so they could jump on each country when it came up. Since I've been putting off teaching them the countries of Europe (Asia and Africa are so much more interesting), this will work out nicely.
13 February 2006
The Silk Road is the most common topic for Central Asia, but even that often focuses on Marco Polo's travels, or on the Chinese or European ends. While the trade routes were vital to Central Asia for many centuries, they are hardly the entire story. I'd like to cover what is now Xinjiang province in China, Mongolia, the Stans, and northeastern Iran.
Here's one book on the Silk Road that looks pretty good. I did find one book of Central Asian stories and another on Silk Road stories (this one actually looks rather promising). Two others I already own and love (and highly recommend) but are only somewhat related to Central Asia are House of Wisdom and Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354.
But compare this list to the hundreds of similar books you can find on the rest of Asia (and especially China) at Amazon.
This would take some doing, but this might be a fun project to work on. I could include the shagai/chuko bone games, and other games I've learned here, and maybe come up with some projects to do too. I have no doubt that there would only be about 3 other homeschoolers interested in this, but that's okay.
I also found an interesting little website about traveling with children. It's better than the usual one with more interesting destinations (i.e. not just Europe and the US). I thought the section on China had good recommendations based on our short stay there. Egypt was good too, although we've never been there with children. Maybe I'll write to them to see if they want to add Kyrgyzstan to their list. :)
12 February 2006
Stories like these drive me nuts. If my baby house, which is well-equipped and -staffed, had a fire in the night, I don't expect that all the children would make it. My babies have 1 women for 12 babies at night. I don't know if the older children even have someone in the room with them.
I chatted with a woman last night who visited an invalid orphanage in Jalalabad recently. They need help there. I know there are plenty of orphanages and boarding schools in Kyrgyzstan that need help. I'm volunteering at the place that probably needs the least help. But I can't get to any other place on a regular basis.
11 February 2006
There is one lone Kyrgyz representative- a snowboarder [I just checked the official site and they had him as a skier; maybe that one got lost in translation]. He had a group of six others to go with him though. It's a bit dangerous to be associated with the Olympic movement in Kyrgyzstan. Several of the recent assassinations have had ties to the Olympics, and the current head criminal in the country wants to head up the Kyrgyz Olympic Association.
10 February 2006
And to top it off, only 7 of the 90 legitimate busses from KG actually made it to Saudi Arabia. Some are stuck in Iran right now.
09 February 2006
20 som buys a bag of milk, one banana, a pack of four rolls of toilet paper, or a kilo of cracked wheat.
25 som is a minibus ride to Tokmok, about 80 km away.
30 or 40 som is for a kilo of apples, a bottle of dish soap, 5 liters of water, or a half liter of kefir.
40 som is for a kilo of batken rice, a jar of tomatoes, a kilo of white rice, or a liter of apple juice.
50 som is for a short taxi ride around town.
80 is for a kilo of tomatoes in the winter, a jar of jam, a bottle of shampoo, a package of the least expensive diapers, a longer taxi ride in Bishkek, or a bottle of honey.
About 200 som buys a kilo of reasonably priced cheese, 500 sheets of paper, or a package of pancake mix.
300-400 som is a taxi ride out to the airport.
500-600 som is for a night in a homestay and all your meals.
2000 som is the average salary in Bishkek.
500 is the beginning salary for a public school teacher in the regions.
A horse (for eating) costs 20,000 som. So does a computer.
A flight to the US costs 60,000 som. Whether your employer pays for it or not.
A new apartment in central Bishkek costs 1 million som.
The mayor of Bishkek paid a 10 billion som bribe to become the mayor.
08 February 2006
Of course, you probably all think I'm deluded and brainwashed since I still don't think Islam is evil and violent.
I brought up their blogging and several seemed to think it was a good idea. Since there is no internet access at the law school and none of them have the internet at home, I'll have to run the blog but I don't plan to write much, if anything, there. Since the point of my being there is to help them with English, I'm encouraging them to write in English if possible. But I'd much prefer that they write in Russian than write nothing at all. I'm hoping that we'll be ready to start in the next 2 or 3 weeks.
I asked them about the Muhammad cartoons. One of the students most vehemently against them was one of the Russian students. They all thought the cartoons should not have been published. They generally seemed to agree that violence wasn't the way to go. Certainly none of them had been involved in any kind of violent protests. But they did seem to think the cartoons were the worse part of the mess, not the violence. And I think that's where the real difference was between our two perspectives. If we hadn't wanted these violent protests, the cartoons should have not been allowed to be published.
It was good to be back with the students again. They are very interesting to talk to. I hope some of them decide to write so you can see that too.
07 February 2006
But if you love someone, what's the use of wondering if he's good or bad?
06 February 2006
Can a non-Muslim violate Islamic law? No, no more than I have to worry about the laws in Turkmenistan. Was it blasphemous to publish the cartoons? No. Unquestionably there are things that should not be printed. There is no value in them being printed. These cartoons fit that category. But it's not worth anyone's death.
My biggest concern is the reaction to the articles. It is incredibly foolish for these Muslims who are protesting to be violent. Absolutely foolish. It will only confirm in many people's minds the sentiments expressed in the articles.
Education and reasonable protests would be far more effective. Many people in the West might not understand why these cartoons were so offensive on so many levels. Really, I can't think of anything worse that could have been published. But people are shocked by the violent response- and that's what they'll remember. Not why the cartoons were so bad, and not that most Muslims aren't violently protesting this. For example, I've not heard a peep about this in Kyrgyzstan, which is over 80 percent Muslim.
Another strong argument that the Muslims have that I've seen in several different places is that there are things you cannot print about Jews- for example, anything questioning the official version of the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda is not allowed either because of the risk to the Jews. However, the risk is usually greater for those whom the negative articles or cartoons are aimed, and not, as in this case, the people of Denmark.
It has been interesting to read of Denmark's efforts to try to convince the Muslim world, certainly no bastion of press freedom, that the Danish government does not control what is published in Denmark. Government control press over the entire Muslim world (I honestly can't think of one Muslim country with a truly free press; correct me if I'm wrong) is so common and accepted that it is understandably hard to believe that Denmark doesn't control its press in some way.
So where does the responsibility come in, as in the quote from the title? The Iranians said that when they recalled their ambassador to Denmark. Is it irresponsible for the Danish government to allow these kinds of cartoons? Would it be irresponsible to allow horrible insulting cartoons about Mormons, who are classed as dangerous cults in some parts of Europe? Where does irresponsibility begin? I'd hate to be the one who decides that.
Can free speech be taken too far? Probably. But I'm not ready to say that it has been.
04 February 2006
These are some pictures of traditional Kyrgyz shyrdaks (the links in that post are dead, but at least there is an explanation there of how shyrdaks are made- the Silk Road link is still good). I'd like to pick up a few while we're here (smaller than the ones shown here) so we went to Osh Bazaar in search of some. We might wait to buy any because they are cheaper and sometimes better quality around Issyk-Kul or near Naryn.
The old shyrdaks used natural dyes, but commercial dyes were introduced 30 or 40 years ago. The natural dyes are usually far more soothing to look at. I've seen some shyrdaks that are absolutely jarring to my eye.
Here's a stack of what you saw for sale above. These are wedding gifts. And a groom sitting on a few. He's also wearing a kalpak, the traditional hat for men. Above (hopefully, you never know about the formatting) is a game of chess in the bazaar. There are always games like this going on- reminds me of Jerusalem.
01 February 2006
I finally got curious about the background behind the story. Cheaper by the Dozen focuses a lot on Frank Gilbreth, but I was curious to learn more about how Lillian Gilbreth went on after his death with 12 children and did so many other things too. Just keeping the family together would have been a big job for many widowed parents, but Lillian Gilbreth did so much more than that (see this site, for example).
There's a lot of brief information about her on the internet, but I couldn't find anything particularly comprehensive. A biography about her was published 2 years ago that I'd like to read. She also wrote an autobiography, but it was written over 30 years before she died, so it's far from complete.
The Gilbreth Network, while clearly not updated often, has a lot of information about the entire family and links to more sites (although many are dead).
There are many, many fascinating and admirable women out there that we don't hear about, and Lillian Gilbreth is one of those. She was well educated (her first doctorate was earned after the birth of her seventh child, then she went back and earned more after she was 50). Her family was important to her and she didn't seem to let any obstacle stop her. When engineering firms didn't want a woman consulting them, she didn't quit. Instead, she focused on domestic engineering; for example, invented refrigerator shelves and pedal trash cans. She worked on creating more efficient kitchens and on helping the disabled.
Janad and Altanai were both adopted and taken to Israel. Is there an Israeli agency who has figured out the system? Belek moved on to the next group. There are 10 children now, so I expect some new children will join the group soon.
Murat is now three months old and smiling a lot. He is a sweet little boy, and still the general favorite. Although, as I've mentioned, most of the women have their favorite. Arsin is still my little favorite. He's 17 months and is finally getting his first tooth. He can stand now and sits well. It's just that crawling thing that's the problem.
Askar, who was waiting to be adopted by a couple from Brazil, is now probably going to be adopted by a Kyrgyz couple. It is certainly preferable that he stay in Kyrgyzstan, but I feel very sorry for the Brazilian couple who has been trying to adopt him for 6 months and would have been successful if they hadn't run into corruption. However, I think babies should not be available for international adoption until they are at least 6-9 months, and they chose him when he was just 2 or 3 months.
The music woman came in yesterday while we were there. She played an accordian. Diana stood up and danced, Isin went wild rolling around, and Violeta did her own dancing in a crawling position. Vova was scared by the music, but when it stopped, he would cry.
Vova should be leaving soon. I hope things go well. I'll miss all these little ones, but it's nice to know they're being adopted. They really have what they need except a family, and no one at the baby house can provide that.
I do love going to the baby house. The babies, especially Arsin, clearly know me and we have a good time together.