31 March 2006

Demonstrations

Things are a little unsettled around the White House right now. Ryspek Akmatbaev, our popular criminal, is demanding both that he be allowed to run for Parliament and also that Kulov, the Prime Minister, resign. Ryspek doesn't much like Kulov in part because he thinks Kulov orchestrated his brother's murder last year (Ryspek wants to run for his brother's parliamentary seat). As of this evening though, the demonstrations are breaking up, possibly because of talks with the government (or maybe the rain). Some renters in the nicer stores downtown did start packing up, just in case.

Personally, I don't want Ryspek running for Parliament. He was released in January after being charged with several murders. The state prosecutor said the case couldn't go forward because some of their information was gathered illegally, so they had to acquit him. Everyone knows he's a criminal, but he's a powerful criminal and it's dangerous to oppose him.

Apparently Bakiev promised Ryspek that the courts would review the decision to not allow him to run. The current reasoning for his not running are some of his previous convictions, and also that he has not been living in Kyrgyzstan for the last five years. He was on the run for several years and only came back to Kyrgyzstan last May. It will be interesting to see what the courts decide. Everyone knows they're not exactly independent. And rumor has it the judges are scared of Ryspek anyway.

Parliamentary elections are coming up next week. If Ryspek is allowed to run, he'll win. That will bring a lot of legitimacy to Parliament.

Kulov's party has announced they will be holding a peaceful demonstration on Sunday.

I wonder if the universities will be taking role at any of these demonstrations like they did on revolution day. ;)

I guess we won't be going downtown for dinner tonight.

30 March 2006

Our Religious Holidays

I haven't written about religious holidays for a while. Since we're in Kyrgyzstan, we've had a whole new set of holidays to observe and I haven't gotten to some of the religious holidays we usually try to celebrate. But others like Nooruz, Eid al-Adha, and Eid al-Fitr have been better. There also is little we can do for some of the Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, so they're usually rather quiet. Here is our list of holidays we try to celebrate:

Eid al-Adha (December 31, 2006- it comes twice this year)

Eid al-Fitr (October 24, 2006)

Pesach (April 13-20, 2006)

Hanukkah (December 16-24, 2006)

Rosh Hashana (September 23, 2006)

Yom Kippur (October 2, 2006)

Sukkot (October 6-13)

Tsagaan Sar (usually the same date as Lunar New Year- which we sometimes celebrate, but Mongolians insist they are not related) See here, here, and here for more information

Navruz (March 21st or 22nd) See here and here. Of course, you could argue that this is hardly a religious holiday anymore, and I'd agree with you.

Below are holidays that we don't really celebrate, but use as an opportunity to learn about other religions since I haven't experienced these holidays personally (I need to spend a few years in South and SE Asia!):

Vesak- Buddhist (May 13, 2006)

O Bon- Shinto (July 13-15)

Paryushana- Jain (August or September)

Diwali- Hindu (October 21, 2006)

Guru Nanak's birthday- Sikh (November 5, 2006)

Diwali is a fun one to celebrate and it's easy to find resources for it in the internet. The rest are simply to learn more about Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Shintos. Actually, the biggest problem with the several of the holidays listed above is that we have moved 7 out of the last 8 summers, so I'm not thinking about my own holidays, much less any others for a while after the move.

It's also interesting to point out that a lot of religious holidays have significant cultural connections. Nooruz in Kyrgyzstan is considered to be a Muslim holiday, but the Kyrgyz Mormons still celebrate it because that's what the Kyrgyz do. The Russians don't. The Kyrgyz Mormons also don't celebrate Christmas and Easter because those are seen as Russian holidays, not necessarily Christian ones. And Nooruz wasn't Muslim in the first place, it was Zoroastrian. So do we celebrate it as a Zoroastrian religious holiday or a Central Asian cultural one? I'm inclined to think holidays represent what the celebrators choose, so Christmas is about Christ for us, not a pagan holiday, Pesach about the Lord saving my ancestors, and Eid al-Adha for learning about Islam.

I do feel strongly that it is important to make sure my children understand the importance of these holidays to the people who are celebrating them as their own religious holiday. It's too easy to simply have a party with food from a different part of the world. That's great for learning about cultures, not religions. Religious celebrations are more than their food. So we try to do things like I suggested in my post about Eid al-Adha. Of course we don't try to recreate the holidays ourselves- we can't. But we can have a nice meal, talk about what people of that faith do that day, and maybe do a few projects related to that holiday. I can't see how that's any different from what a homeschooling family might do any day of the year.

Of course, I have not done an exhaustive study of all Christians, Muslims, Jews, Mongolians, Hindus, etc. to see if they are offended by our celebrations. I have never had anyone tell me they are, and a number of Muslims know we observe Eid al-Fitr. I don't mind that people of a variety of religions celebrate Christmas even though their celebrations might be quite different. So we'll keep celebrating these holidays and teaching our children about them. It's simply something our family likes to do.

Besides, who wants to sit at home when the rest of the country has a day off for a holiday you refuse to celebrate?

It's always a bit sad when I go to the baby house to find the one of the babies is gone. Most of the babies that were there when I started volunteering there have gone. Several have been adopted, both domestically and internationally, and others have gone on to older groups. Some have been taken home by their mothers.

But there are always lots of new babies. There are three now that are 1-2 months old and then lots who are crawling. This current group of babies is a lot better with crawling than the last. Still, I miss the little ones I knew at first.

29 March 2006

Another Student Post and Law Student Discussion

One of the law students has written about the revolution. It's only in Russian right now and is only the first of at least two parts, but is rather interesting.

I also talked to the law students again today about the revolution. We focused mostly on celebrating the revolution last week; today we mostly talked about the revolution itself. There were a variety of opinions from those who participated in the revolution to those who supported Akaev the entire time.

We did talk about celebrating revolution day a bit because I wanted to ask them about university students being required to attend the celebration in Ala-Too Square. When my husband arrived at one of his universities last Thursday (the 23rd), he was told all the classes had been cancelled because the students were getting ready for the next day. They all had to be there on Friday to wave flags and hold banners. Two of the students said they refused to go and while they didn't have trouble because of it, they thought it might have an effect on their exams (shows you how fair the exams are!).

The same thing happened last year. Students were told to attend pro-Akaev demonstrations in the days leading up to the revolution. Some of the students wanted to go (like Sandro who has posted on the student blog) and others went because they were forced to. Others, like the one who posted today, was helping with the revolution itself.

I asked about the looting because I've heard all kinds of stories about it- that it was specifically targeted against ethnic minorities especially. The students said they thought not and that it was mostly people taking advantage of the situation. One student whose family owns a container in Osh Bazaar (I'll have to write about the container system in the bazaars here) said the people working there guarded the bazaar in shifts for three days. I asked what happened to all the stuff that was looted and they had all kinds of stories about selling all kinds of things.

The new post at the student blog really is a good place to read more about the revolution if you read Russian. Even though he supported the revoluion. he has not been pleased with the results of the revolution and didn't support celebrating it even though he was one of those in the White House on the 24th. He did say today that a revolution was not planned that morning, only a demonstration.

We also had another interesting discussion about various forms of government. One student (who is writing about bride kidnapping- that should be a very good post) said it is good for people to fear the government. Since the Kyrgyz are lazy, they need the government to make them to things. She was not in favor of a democracy because she thinks rights- people doing whatever they want- are the main focus and that is a bad thing.

I've heard this said a lot, that the Kyrgyz are lazy and I don't particularly agree. Certainly there are lazy Kyrgyz, but I see the people as being more reserved than lazy. But that's just my opinion. I also tried to explain democracy is more than rights, it's the people having a part in the creation of the laws and then having the elected leaders follow those laws. Too many democracies in the world forget about that part.

They did all think communism was bad even though life under the Soviet Union was easier. I was glad to hear that.

As always, it was a thoroughly interesting two hours and I look forward to this every week. They are writing about some good topics.

Eclipse



The clouds parted just enough for us to get a glimpse of the eclipse without ruining our eyes. You get a prize if you can see the 70%-eclipsed sun in this picture- I promise it's there. While I'm sure we weren't the only ones in Kyrgyzstan who were looking for it, there certainly wasn't a lot of attention paid to it. We should have checked to see if one of the science universities did anything for it. But we didn't.

Eclipse Day and Other Stuff

The eclipse is today. We weren’t able to go to Kazakhstan, but that’s okay. It’s been raining all morning so that’s the bigger concern. I’m hoping for better weather this afternoon.

The heat was turned off on Monday. A bit of a problem since the radiators were my clothes dryers and yogurt maker, but we’ll survive. At least the house didn’t flood like several people’s when the water went off. The hot water itself will go off in about a month for a month. We do have a small hot water heater in the bathroom.

There was an interesting discussion on a homeschooling board about learning foreign languages. Several people said that they didn’t see any point in learning a foreign language that wasn’t useful. While I can see that it wouldn’t necessarily be worthwhile for an adult to sit down and learn, say, Tagalog if they had absolutely to connection to the Philippines, I think that for students, any language is worth learning. Of course, if you want to learn Tagolog, then it would be worth learning.

I think it’s better to let a student study a language they’re really interested in instead of trying to figure out what will be useful. You have no idea what will be useful in 10 years anyway, since you don’t know what the international situation will be or where your children will be living. I’ve been studying Russian here because it’s useful. But I haven’t really enjoyed it. Kyrgyz isn’t really useful, especially outside Kyrgyzstan, but since I want to learn it, I've liked it a lot better. And aren't you supposed to enjoy learning?

Besides, it’s highly unlikely that any homeschooled or public schooled student is going to learn a foreign language really well anyway. Languages are learned when you spend a lot of time with native speakers and that’s pretty much impossible in a school setting (of course, some people have had success with this). That’s why I like Latin as a first language. You don’t have to worry about the conversation and you can learn how languages work. Then you can go on to whatever language the student is interested in. You never know what might come in handy. At least you be better prepared to learn another language later on if you want.

I don’t know why Fox News is available here. CNN and BBC are also, but they make sense because they have an international perspective. Fox News is so centered on the US that it’s hardly worth watching here. It would be like a news program from Russia being broadcast in the US in Russian on the most basic cable package.

I am about ready to go nuts without more books. I’ve been able to scrounge up enough book that I always have something to read, but I’d really like more choice and I’d really like to have more books for homeschooling. I’ll be shipping a stack of books here soon, I think. We were able to find some Tatar, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz dictionaries though.

And I will never complain about Wal-Mart quality again. Never. Almost everything you buy here is along the lines of dollar-store quality. Furniture falls apart, plastic is flimsy, toys break, legos don’t work. That’s not all. Buildings crumble, phone lines lie on the floor for you to trip on, the internet runs incredibly slowly sometimes (I have been sitting here for an hour trying to check my email). The washing machine can only go once a day or it won’t spin right. I’m lucky to have a washing machine and at all and to not have it be tiny, but with little children, sometimes it’s not easy to keep up. Now I am done complaining.

27 March 2006

"We Really Have to Protect People from the Wrong Choices"

The Giver is one of my favorite children's books. One of my older sisters recommended it not long after it came out before all the controversy about it started. I simply was able to enjoy it. And I still do, despite some people's efforts to ban it and make it into some kind of book that promotes suicide and euthanasia.

One of the natural rights that gets batted around is the freedom from fear. It sounds nice and I like the idea. But is it really possible? Can a government do anything less than what Jonas' community does to nearly eliminate fear? I don't think so. There will always be fear and sadness as long as we love other people. Most of my fears are in relation to my family- whether they are safe and happy.

Certainly people shouldn't have to fear their government. That is something we can work for. But complete freedom from fear just wouldn't work.

I love Jonas and the Giver's conversation about choices. Jonas wishes that people could see colors and choose which color of shirt they want to wear. But the Giver points out that people might make the wrong choices. Jonas immediately sees the danger in letting people choose their own spouses and jobs- they might choose wrong. He knows it is much safer to let others make the choices, even though all the minor choices were eliminated too.

As my mother points out with this book, the people in the community chose to live like this- to give up the love and the grandparents and the individualism to avoid the jealousy, the fear, and the pain. While things aren't that extreme here, I do see countries choosing to give up their choices for more security. My husband's students are writing constitutions and the most popular style of government is a monarchy/superpresidential system. It is safer to have a strong leader. You think your country appears to be stronger. It is easier to have those choices taken away. And it's easy to not care. And it's hard for me to explain why they should care.

If my husband's students knew English better, I'd be interested to see what they think of this book.

26 March 2006

In No Particular Order

Reading, reading, reading

Central Asia, Middle East, Islam

Arabic, Russian, Farsi

Travel, food, cooking

Quiet, quiet, quiet

Mormon, homeschooler, 3 boys

Geysers, mountains, ocean

Spinning, quilting, crocheting

amirabook@gmail.com

For My Sisters

World Champion Pooh Sticks

Debt

Kyrgyzstan has formally requested major debt relief from the IMF and World Bank under their Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. According to IWPR, Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt is 2 billion dollars, or 80 percent of the country's GNP. The point of the initiative is obviously to keep poor countries from drowning in debt when nothing else will work.

It will be several years before any relief starts happening if Kyrgyzstan is accepted. There are also a number of requirements like privatizing energy and mining, improving business conditions, and reducing corruption. Novel ideas.

There are many people in Kyrgyzstan who are concerned about the country's reputation if they join the HIPC, partly since most of the countries participating are in Africa (the other four are in South and Central America). But really, Kyrgyzstan has no economic reputation at this point. Foreign investment in this country is extremely risky. I wouldn't even trust someone to build a reliable house here, much less invest millions of dollars in anything.

I'm no economist (thank heavens), but this looks like it could be a good option, even if it's only for the reforms the HIPC would require.

24 March 2006

Tajikistan's Possible New Religious Laws

It's not often that Muslims, Jews, and all types of Christians agree on something, but there aren't too many religious people who like Tajikistan's proposed restrictions on religious practice in Tajikistan. It would basically end any form of proselytizing, control those who go on the Hajj, limit the number of mosques, bar any non-Tajik citizen from having any kind of leadership role in any religious organization, and make it nearly impossible for any new religious group to register in any town. It even appears that parents would not be able to teach religion to their children in their own homes: "Additionally, under Article 10 of the draft Religion Law, religious education in private homes is outlawed, as is teaching religion at all to children younger than 7."

I support efforts to create a secular government, but my goodness, this is unreasonable.

23 March 2006

Death Penalty for Apostasy

There has been a reasonable amount of coverage in the news about a man in Afghanistan who has been accused of converting from Islam to Christianity and may face the death penalty. He has been a Christian for 16 years after converting while he lived in Canada. His family reportedly turned him in after a custody dispute.

The Afghanistan constitution allows Shari'a law to be in effect as long as its rulings don't conflict with principles or laws set forth by the constitution. While I am very concerned that the constitution does not ban the death penalty or limit it only to capital murder convictions, I am not opposed to Shari'a law still having a role in a Muslim country (although it should only apply to Muslims) as long as there are limits and when more reasonable forms of Shari'a law are used.

There is no one form of Shari'a law. I've written about the different schools of Islamic thought (also here) and some of the different interpretations of Islamic law. This article from the Sisters in Islam website, while a few years old and specifically related to Malaysia, nicely outlines the controversy over apostasy and its different interpretations. A few of its most important points:



Surah An-Nisa', 4:137, states that "those who believe, then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve, and then increase in their disbelief - Allah will never forgive them nor guide them to the path." If indeed it was Allah's intention to impose the death penalty for apostasy, then such occasion of repeated apostasy could have provoked such a punishment. But neither the first instance of apostasy, nor repeated apostasy brought about capital punishment.

Those who advocate the death penalty for apostasy based their reasoning on a hadith which proclaims, "kill whoever changes his religion". But this hadith is open to varying interpretations on several grounds.

First, this hadith is considered a weak hadith with just a single isnad (this means there is only one chain of transmission or narration) and thus according to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence, it is not enough to validate the death penalty.

Second, this hadith is also considered a general ('amm) hadith in that it is in need of specification (takhsis); for it would otherwise convey a meaning that is not within its purpose. The obvious reading of the hadith would, for example, make liable the death punishment on a Hindu or Christian who converts to Islam. This is obviously not the intention of the hadith.

According to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence, when a text is interpreted once, it becomes open to further interpretation and specification. Therefore, many scholars interpret this hadith to apply only to cases of high treason (hirabah), which means declaring war against Islam, the Prophet, or God or the legitimate leadership of the ummah.

Third, and most importantly, there is no evidence to show that Prophet Muhammad saw or his Companions ever compelled anyone to embrace Islam, nor did they sentence anyone to death solely for renunciation of the faith.

Based on these three reasons and the Qur'anic principle of freedom of religion, prominent ulama from the seventh to the twentieth centuries have come out with the position that there can be no death penalty for apostasy.


Islam is an incredibly diverse religion with many different interpretations. There are Muslims around the world working for less restrictive interpretations to be used. This interview with a woman attorney from Iran highlights one problem: "In my opinion, it is the patriarchic culture that gives men priority in all issues...We need an interpretation of Islam that recognizes women's rights."

These interpretations are out there and used in many parts of the world. Instead of trying to make Islam look like one homogeneous, intolerant religion, let's support the more liberal interpretations. I'd much rather live in Central Asia than Saudi Arabia!

22 March 2006

Photos

Gazeta.kg has some pictures from Nooruz. These were taken at Ala-Too Square. We didn't stay there long since it's always hard to see well there- too many people blocking the view.

And here are some lovely photos from around Central Asia.

"China...is a country run by people who are supposed to be helping us"

The NY Times had a fascinating article a few days ago about the Dongxiang people, a Muslim minority in China. While it's easy to think of China as a rather homogeneous place, there are many ethnic groups (some officially recognized, some not) and not all have been influenced much by China, despite being under Chinese rule for many years.

The article talks about the possible origins of the Dongxiang (probably Central Asian) and a few of their traditions. They live mostly in Gansu province in western China. They are one of the many Muslim groups still existent in China.

One of the most telling quotes in the story was this: "I know what China is," said Mr. Tie, 68. "It is a country run by people who are supposed to be helping us."

As I've read more about China's ethnic minorities, it is interesting to see the difference between the official government line and the actual opinions of the people. This is one excellent example of that. China is an amazingly diverse place that I wish I could explore more- especially western China.

Revolution, Education, and Other Interesting Topics with the Law Students

I had a nice chat with the law students yesterday- the first time in a few weeks because of holidays and other things that came up. The students who have been coming since we started have improved a lot in their ability to speak and understand English. It is fascinating to talk to them and hear their questions.

I started off by asking them about celebrating the revolution. Nearly all weren't interested in celebrating it. They talked about the same things that have been reported in plenty of other places- that it was a victory for the looters more than anything else and that real change hasn't happened. Bakiev should have dissolved the Kenesh and instituted some real constitutional reforms (the referendum is now apparently only going to be able the death penalty, which means it won't be a referendum on constitutional reform at all). They weren't aware that the Kenesh voted against celebrating the revolution on Friday.

One student did say that she likes Bakiev because he cares about the people. She didn't think celebrating the revolution was a bad idea. The students generally agreed that it is too soon to know if the revolution was a good thing. If people think it was after 10 years, then celebrating it might be a better idea. But for now, a year later and no changes, it's not worth celebrating.

They did say that the one thing that was worth celebrating was that the voice of the people was heard in the revolution. This even is questionable, but I do undoubtedly get the impression that the people of Kyrgyzstan wouldn't allow a leader like Karimov or Niyazov to take power. And if that is really the case, that is worth celebrating.

They had all kinds of questions today about a variety of topics from religion to the death penalty to immigration and international politics. One student asked whether I thought the American system or the Russian/Kyrgyz system was better. I tried to be as polite as I could, but one reason that we're homeschooling is because I am thoroughly unimpressed with the school system here. I told them that I think the American system is better because university students have choices and there is less corruption (I don't doubt there is corruption in American universities, but there is no comparison). I also said that I think it is important for professors and teachers to ask the students for their opinions and allow them to disagree. If you're never allowed to question authority, even in school, how will you ever dare to try to effect changes in your government?

There should be a new post on the student blog tomorrow. There's always a bit of a delay because we don't have a floppy disk drive at home, but it should be up by Thursday morning in the US.

21 March 2006

Flickr

I've decided to make better use of Flickr and start uploading more pictures there. I uploaded some today and will continue to do so at the rate my slow connection lets me. You can see the pictures by clicking here or clicking on any one of the pictures on the sidebar.

There are always many more pictures that I ever post here, so when I'm able to get them all uploaded, there should be quite a few. And I might even organize them.

Mairamyngar Menen Nooruz!



Hopefully I spelled that right. We went downtown this morning and had a great time. There were lots of people in traditional clothes, we caught the changing of the guard at the National History Museum, and even saw Lenin directing the dancing.












Chuko Games and Bakiev and Kulov



We stumbled on a chuko bone game being played. I was very pleased since the only games I had ever seen were because I asked people to show me how to play. This was a variation on the most common way to play- basically, trying to knock bones out of a circle.

There were two teams, red and white. The red team had younger players. They took turns throwing large bones (we were guessing yak bones; you can see the difference in size in the second picture where the larger bone is in the lower right hand corner) to knock the smaller sheep bones out of the circle. It seemed that if someone knocked a sheep bone out but was able to keep their yak bone in, they could go into the middle to knock bones out by hand- obviously a lot easier. The picture above shows this. One you'd placed your left foot, you had to keep it there. Each team would collect the bones (fourth picture) it knocked out and whoever knocked out the most won. The last picture is of the beginning of a game where all the bones are put in a small circle in the middle of the much larger circle.




















In the middle of one of the games, Bakiev and Kulov walked by. Everyone else had been told to walk around the game, but when their huge group of suited men came by, they marched right through the game. Although they were careful not to kick any of the bones. The game went on afterwards.

There were many older men watching, calling out advice and even throwing out a bone every so often. It was fun to watch.








I went back with my younger son to watch some more while my husband and older son checked on shashlyk. While I was standing there, a reporter from the local news station starting talking to me- if I knew what they were playing, about the bones, etc. I told him about my interest in the game and then they interviewed me. They also asked if I thought these games were being lost, which was nice since they are and that bothers me. Too bad our TV doesn't pick up that channel anymore.








20 March 2006

Happy Nooruz!

We'll be going downtown today and I hope to post some pictures later on. Most people celebrate this holiday at home though.

Tajikistan Political Parties Online (at least a few of them)

The Democratic Party of Tajikistan

Social Democrat Party

National Democratic Party of Tajikistan (the ruling party)

Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (not much on this one)

16 March 2006

Kyrgyzstan Student Blog

We've launched the Kyrgyzstan Student Blog with the first post from one of the law students. We're working with students from around four universities in Bishkek and Karakol. Not all are law students, but many are.

The first post is by a Russian student who has lived in Bishkek all his life.

I can't make any promises about how often something new will be posted, but we'll be encouraging the students to write as often as possible. Since many of the students don't have internet access, my husband and I will be administrating the blog for now. Posts will be in Russian or English, and hopefully both if possible.

I Wish I Were in Yellowstone...





15 March 2006





Revolution Day Festivities

It's interesting to see the line the government is walking down for Revolution Day. Clearly the number one goal is to avoid any kind of trouble. Bakiev isn't at all interested in that.

But he also doesn't want everyone staying home that day. That wouldn't look good either. So they're planning all kinds of events for March 24th, like intercollegiate sports competitions, to get people out but out in a controlled way.

It'll be interesting to see what happens. Personally, I don't think there's anything to worry about. But still, we'll probably spend a nice quiet day at home. That sounds the most pleasant anyway. And I think a reasonable number of people in Bishkek will stay home too.

Inflation



We just found out that this house we built in Boise for less than $140,000 in 2002 and sold in 2004 (I can't remember how much we got for it- the goals were to not lose money and to sell it quickly, and we didn't and it did) is back up for sale for $214,000.

I hope they get every penny. It's a great house.

14 March 2006

Persian New Year?

I came across this blog post about getting Google to recognize Nooruz (insert your favorite spelling). There are some creative ideas there. I do have to quibble with calling it the Persian New Year though, since there are lots of Turks who celebrate it too (the request to Google recognizes this). But what would be a better name? Central Asian New Year? Not really since that might not include every country, depending on your definition of Central Asia. Muslim New Year? It's often referred to as that in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, but it's hardly accurate. Zoroastrian New Year? It might have its origins in Zoroastrianism, but I doubt the Iranian government would approve of its people celebrating a non-Muslim holiday. Asian New Year? People would get it confused with Chinese New Year even though Nooruz is celebrated over a much larger part of Asia than Lunar New Year.

I can't think of a good descriptive name for this holiday.

13 March 2006

A Few Central Asia Events and Articles

Music and Voices of Central Asia will be performing at Colombia University this weekend. There will be a variety of performers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, including a manaschi. The Aga Khan is supporting the performances, which will also happen Wednesday and Thursday evenings in Washington DC, then in Texas, New Mexico, and Ohio.

Utah Valley State College is holding a conference on Central Asia on Friday with several ambassadors and Frederick Starr moderating. Baktybek Abdrisaev, the former Kyrgyz ambassasdor to the US is teaching at UVSC right now (since he found himself a bit out of favor after Akaev was kicked out).

Saudi Aramco World has a good article on Turkmen food.

12 March 2006

Nooruz

Nooruz (the Kyrgyz spelling) is coming up next Tuesday. I wrote a long post about it last year, based mostly on traditions in Iran. Here are some more sites related specifically to Central Asian traditions:

Kyrgyzstan

Uzbekistan and Uzbekistan (search for "Navruz")

Tajikistan

Kazakhstan (search for "Nauryz")

Turkmenistan and Turkmenistan

Partial history of Nowruz in Central Asia

Attempts to recognize Nowruz on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list

Revival of Navruz after the Soviet era

I am very much looking forward to Nooruz. We've been celebrating this holiday in the US for the last several years and it's one of our favorites. But it will be much better to celebrate it here.

Barley Plov

Dusty grain without the bran all looks a lot alike. I accidentally picked up a bag of what was probably barley instead of rice. I started making plov, but when I washed the grain, it was clearly not rice. The grain really is incredibly dirty if you can't see the difference between rice and barley (well, if you're someone who's used grain a lot and should know the difference). So I made barley plov instead. It's not bad, but I'm not going to start promoting barley as a substitute for rice.

I miss my wheat grinder. And black beans. The food I miss most in the US is my own cooking. I can make some of the same things here (like my favorite bulgur pilaf and kichree), but I'd love to have chilaquiles again. And my own homemade bread.

But I will still make plov when I get back to the US.

10 March 2006

Orphanage Life Again

Registan has a translation of an article from Ferghana.ru about an orphanage in Tashkent. Is it any wonder that despite all the problems, I am a stong proponent of adoption, both domestic and international? But it's not the healthy babies that need the most help. It's the children with special needs and the older children.

09 March 2006

Geysers on Saturn's Moon?

Who could pass up a story like this? Cassini may have taken pictures of geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. It joins Io and possibly Triton (and of course, Earth) as the only known places in the solar system with volcanic activity.

Getting to Tibet's and Kamchatka's geysers isn't easy. I don't imagine there will be geyser gazers on Enceladus anytime soon.

Cassini will be swinging by Enceladus again in 2008 and hopefully will be able to get more data.

Women's Day

It's interesting to see all the different perspectives on Women's Day around the world. Here in Kyrgyzstan, it's a major holiday and we got the day off. The day before was practically a day off with parties and celebrating at work. I had unknown men stop to kiss me on the street and seats given up for me on the bus. There were flowers for sale all over the city- at about double the usual price.

Global Voices had a lot of reports about Women's Day from all over the world from bloggers' perspectives. Central and Eastern Europe (interesting take on whether it's a Soviet holiday), Morocco, Africa parts one and two (this one is particularly good), Iran (a women's gathering), and Pakistan.

08 March 2006

Reciting the Qur'an

Originally posted at Conversation

We had a[nother] rather unique experience today. Since today is a big holiday here (Happy Women's Day!), we went to the cemetery with some friends of ours who recently had a death in the family. The Kyrgyz observe many traditions associated with Muslim death rites and mourning goes on for 40 days. The cemetery is often visited during those 40 days. I believe daily visits are ideal, but usually not possible.

As I've mentioned before, many Kyrgyz are not religiously observant. But reciting or reading from the Qur'an is still very common, and an important part of visiting graves. Although we were with a group that was mostly made up of Muslims, none of them knew the Qur'an well enough to recite anything. So it was up to my husband, a Christian, to recite from the Qur'an at each grave, then another man prayed in Kyrgyz.

There's always a balance between giving up old traditions and taking on new traditions when a person or family joins the church. Can you still have a traditional Kyrgyz funeral? Do you prepare tea and allow alcohol to be drunk in your home? How strict is your sabbath observance going to be? Is it a good idea to try to proselytize to your Muslim friends? These and similar issues can be sticky for any new convert, and often still can be difficult at any time. I hope that respect and tolerance are always encouraged. Throwing the Qur'an out the window isn't a good idea- I know that my husband's ability to recite from the Qur'an has gone a lot further toward mutual understanding than anything else we could have done for some people.

My husband and I have to figure out the right balance too. We don't want to encourage people to be part Muslim and part Mormon. There are many people we've known who think we're about ready to convert to Islam (we're not); the balance my husband and I find is going to be different from the balance many other families might find. But for now, it feels like reciting from the Qur'an, discussing Islam with Muslims (again, we often know more about Islam and Islamic law than they do), and many other similar things, are working. And I hope it's the right balance to encourage the members here.

A Link, Learning Kyrgyz, and Sly Uzbeks

RFE/RL on the media's reporting on religious freedom in Central Asia (or the lack of it)

That's just a link. I'm not writing anything about it.

I have noticed that people are a lot more impressed with our efforts to learn Uzbek and Kyrgyz than they ever have been with Russian. I am getting far more encouragement and that is very helpful. Well, maybe it's an exaggeration to say people are impressed with my husband learning Uzbek. Uzbeks aren't exactly popular in Kyrgyzstan. As they always say, Uzbeks are sly. Tajiks aren't too popular either, although Kazakhs are, at least relatively.

I wonder what other nationalities in the region say about the Kyrgyz?

06 March 2006

International Women's Day

This is a big holiday in this part of the world. A bit like Mother's Day in the US, but much more of everything. There are flowers all over the city and most of the children were taking flowers to school this morning. We even get the day off tomorrow. We went to a program yesterday for IWD at the children's center where the boys have their art and chess classes.

March has lots of holidays here. There's also Nooruz on the 21st and the 24th is now Revolution Day. I'm hoping for another day off.

Kyrgyz Coursebook

I finally tracked down a Kyrgyz language book. After looking in bookstores in Bishkek and contacting various NGOs who were supposed to have language material, we finally tracked down the only copy of the Peace Corps manual at the embassy and borrowed it. I knew there wasn't a lot of Kyrgyz language stuff in Kyrgyzstan, but this really is unreasonable.

The PC book isn't perfect, but I think it will do, once I get the whole thing copied, although it doesn't sound like the book is a hot item at the embassy, so I could probably keep it for a while. I did find older electronic versions of it (thanks brother-in-law!) and this one from 2003 has a lot more grammar than the others. The first was basically a collection of phrases to memorize.

Uzbek has a lot more resources.

Evangelicals in Central Asia

There have been a few more articles and blogs recently criticizing Christian evangelicals in Central Asia. I always feel a bit torn when I read things like this because, while I think many of the concerns voiced in these types of articles are valid, I also happen to be a member of a church (Mormon/LDS) that actively proselytize in most of the world- basically, where it's legal. However, I am not in Kyrgyzstan for any kind of religious reason. The US government is paying for us to be here.

I would like to see my church recognized in Kyrgyzstan. I'd like to see missionaries from my church here. But I'd also like to see it legally and respectfully done. I've heard plenty of horror stories about insensitive and downright offensive missionaries. I cannot tell you how many missionaries have told me they are here (or wherever they are) illegally. I don't think that is the right way to go about proselytizing. Regulations are clearly needed in this matter because there are problems and people who go too far in what they try to do to get converts. There are some scary stories out there.

Christian converts from Muslim countries, even Central Asia, are usually in a very difficult position. Christian churches have responsibilities when they go into a new country. Converts must be supported- and I'm not talking about financial support. As these articles point out, it can be very difficult to be a Christian in Central Asia. I don't think it's appropriate for a group of independent missionaries to go into a country, convert a group of people, and then go somewhere else. A support system needs to be set up, established members need to be there, and good contact needs to be maintained with members in other countries. Many churches do a good job of this, but some don't. Supporting the members is a vital part of missionary work.

A major complaint about evangelicals is that they entice members with all sorts of financial assistance. This is a tricky one to deal with. While I don't necessarily feel a greater obligation to people of my own church, many Christians do, and I don't think that's unreasonable. I wish there were a greater sense that this issue needs to be handled carefully because so many people have this negative perception of Christian churches. But financial enticements should never be used to get converts. It's beyond me why any church would want to do this anyway.

There aren't any easy solutions. My church hasn't always done things perfectly. Missionaries aren't perfect. There are going to be people who do stupid things. I am sorry that happens. I wish it didn't. But because of this, I think some regulation is reasonable, but scare tactics aren't (on either side).

What I'd really like to see is more respect and understanding on both sides. Proselytizing should not be done illegally. It should unquestionably done respectfully when it's legal, and Christians have a lot of room for improvement in this area.

But I'd also like people to not assume that there is some ulterior motive in my desire (or most Christians' desire) to have Christianity in this or any country. There is no eternal scorecard in the heavens. I personally think the gospel should (it doesn't always, but it hopefully should) bring greater happiness to people of any country. It does not require losing one's culture or heritage. And I'd like to be able to legally and respectfully talk about my beliefs, and for a variety of reasons from scare tactics to illegalities, I'm not able to do that.

05 March 2006

New Homeschooling Board

Bryce set up an interesting new homeschooling board. While it's mostly populated by Sonlight people at this point (I never went there much because I don't use Sonlight and it was overwhelmingly Christian- not a bad thing, just overwhelming), I'd like to see this board work out. Thanks Bryce!

02 March 2006

Good Writing and Excellent Writing

The thing I liked most about Platonov's stories was that he writes well and does not need to resort to gimmicks. That's the kind of "spare" writing I love. One of those gimmicks I like the least is having too many bad things happen to the people in the book. And that's my complaint with a lot of modern fiction. I just finished rereading Karen Hesse's children's book Out of the Dust. She is an excellent writer and I didn't think she needed to have the circumstances surrounding the fire (although that set of trials was certainly a lot more realistic than other books I've read, including children's books).

That's my same complaint with The Secret Life of Bees. I very much enjoyed the story, but I thought all the things that happened to the main character were simply too much. This happens over and over in so many books. A really good writer can take things from every day life and create an excellent and engaging story without resorting to a variety of awful circumstances. From the number of times these awful circumstances crop up in fiction, you'd think everyone was dealing with these issues all the time. They use those awful things to propel the story and keep you interested. Tension and conflict isn't bad- we all have to deal with it in our lives. But it shouldn't be what makes a story, or our lives, interesting.

In short, good writers keep you reading in spite of these annoying plots. But they need some help from the gimmicks. But excellent writers keep you reading because they don’t use these gimmicks at all.

01 March 2006

Kyrgyz Teenagers and American Teenagers

Yesterday the law students and I talked about the differences between American and Kyrgyz teenagers. They were absolutely convinced that these teenagers are quite different from each other. They brought up things like looser sexual restraints in the US, more independence for American teenagers, and the clothes they wear. I thought the clothes issue was particularly interesting. They thought Americans were less concerned about their appearance because many Americans don't dress as nicely as people do here. I assured them than American teenagers are plenty concerned about their appearances!

Personally, I don't think the differences are big. If there was no language difference, I think American and Kyrgyz teenagers would get along well. They all want basically the same things- to have friends, to find a good job, to have a family that loves them, to fit in. Certainly there are some differences. But I think teenagers in both countries would be surprised to find out how much they have in common with each other.

It's hard to compare the two when there are only 4-5 million Kyrgyz in the entire world and nearly 300 million Americans.

We also, of course, discussed politics. One of the students who is particularly interested in politics is fun to talk to. For a long time he seemed to think I didn't know anything about politics and that my political views were just like all Americans (whatever that means). The only thing I possibly knew anything about was English. But for the last few weeks he seems to be realizing that I know a reasonable amount about international politics, that I keep up on Kyrgyz politics, and that I have my own opinions about it. It's been much nicer to talk to him and I've been able to get to know him a little better.