31 December 2011

This Year in Books

Usually at the end of the year I look back on the books I've read, but this hasn't really been a reading year, at least not of books I could write about here.  There's always reading, but most of it was for different projects, not just for fun or general learning. 

So, first we moved

Then I was very busy (January-June) and did a reasonable amount of reading

Then I was very hot (July and August) and reread books

Then we moved again

Then I did more research and writing for several different projects and not much reading

And now it's a new year and I don't know how my reading will go this year.  Probably depends on where I go this year, and your guess is as good as mine on that one.

24 December 2011

The Christmas Tree Blessing

Our first real Christmas together was in New Jersey, and just the two of us.  We didn't have much money, like the stories always go, and we couldn't afford a Christmas tree.  That mattered to me a lot, especially when we couldn't do much else. We'd gone to several lots on the first Saturday in December looking for something that would work, but between the tree and the stand, the money wasn't there. 

When we got to church the next day, the Relief Society President tapped me on the shoulder and handed me an envelope with "For Christmas Tree" written on the outside.  Inside was the same amount of money we'd figured we'd need to buy our tree and our stand.  I don't know who gave us that money, or why, or how, but I will never forget how I felt that day.

Some people I know might say this was a result of our paying our tithing or doing something else right, but I don't think so.  I think that when we do what the Lord asks us to do, He doesn't bless us with a better job, or a Christmas tree, or enough food for Thanksgiving.  He blesses us to be more like Him, because that's the goal.

I think it's more likely that the person who gave us the Christmas tree money was the one who was truly blessed because they were the one who did something that led them to be more like Christ.  I'm not inclined to think it was a coincidence that someone thought to give us that specific amount of money for that specific purpose. I think that person had to have been doing something right.

My husband and I were blessed, yes, but I don't think it was because we had done anything right.  We were blessed because the Lord takes care of his children, everywhere, no matter what we do, because he loves us 

But the blessings I really want are those that help me become more like Jesus Christ.  I think it's easier for the Lord to bless us that way when we're already trying to do what he asks us to do.

23 December 2011

Christmas in Bishkek

It's starting to feel Christmasy around Bishkek, or at least like New Years, with all the trees and decorations in the stores downtown, and even at our little bazaar next door.  It was a little jarring to hear "O Holy Night" being sung as we walked into Children's World today.  The stores were a little busier, it seemed, and despite the cold (I think we might have gotten to 8 degrees today- the forecasts still don't seem to have noticed), there were people dancing on Ala Too Square.

We're trying something new at our house for Christmas, something that I've always wanted to try but never has worked out well.  We'll be doing the real 12 Days of Christmas starting on Christmas Day.  In the US there's usually a bit of Christmas fatigue by the time December 26th rolls around, but none of us are even close to being tired of the season this year.

So we're taking off the entire two weeks, getting ready for New Years, Epiphany, Eastern Christmas, and anything else we think up between Christmas and January 7th.  I hope we all love it.

22 December 2011

The Friendship Doll

I was curious about Kirby Larson after reading Hattie Big Sky and this book looked interesting.  It was a pleasant and interesting little book that I'd recommend.

21 December 2011

It's Cold Outside

The weather forecast and the actual temperature are again having serious conflicts here.  It was supposed to be 15 degrees last night but I'm fairly sure at was, at best, -10.  The low tonight is supposed to be 9, but we've only just made it to 3 degrees (this is all Fahrenheit) and it's sunny outside. 

The best is when I look at an hourly forecast that has nothing to do with reality.  Like I said, it's 3 degrees outside right now, but it's supposed to be 13 degrees in the next hour.  If you're 10 degrees off, it may not be worth having an hourly forecast if you don't bother checking your hourly forecast very often.

I like the way the snow squeaks when it's cold.  And I like that I am finally not hot in my apartment, although most of us are still wearing summer clothes.

20 December 2011

Why It's Good to Have So Many Bills

In Bishkek there are lots of bills to pay.  There's the hot water, and the cold water, and the electricity, and the gas, and the phone, and other things that are just basic things everyone pays.  All the typical bills come to your door or get handed to you by the person who runs the show in your apartment building.  For us, that person also sells socks outside on the corner, so she keeps her stack of bills with her and hands them to us when we walk by.

None of the bills are very much, from an American point of view, except for the heating in the winter (which is still a lot less than heating a house with coal).  You usually pay the bills at the post office (or other places- we've just always gone to the post office in Bishkek) and they scan your bill and you pay it and get the ever-important receipt.  It's not too big of a hassle unless you show up when the lines at the post office are long.

One thing that's really convenient about having so many different systems running through the apartment that have to be paid for is that when something doesn't work, it's not the end of the world.  In the US, having the electricity off for a while usually means no hot water, or no water at all, no A/C and possibly no heating, no running any type of appliance, and sometimes more things.  It can be a major annoyance.  Here, the electricity can go off for hours and it's not a big deal.  If the gas goes out in the US, you might not have heating or hot water, and maybe no cooking.  Here, it just means I use the electric parts of the stove.  The hot water is off?  At least there's cold, or the other way around (although just having hot water isn't really fun).  There's always a backup.

And best of all, it's cold enough on the balcony right now that it doesn't matter if the fridge doesn't work.  That's handy to remember since I think we're starting rolling blackouts which is usually attributed to people using space heaters when it's cold.

I won't go into the fact that it is still 10 degrees warmer in your average Bishkek apartment than in your average rural coal-heated house which can't afford the luxury of space heaters.

19 December 2011

Samarqand in the Spring

Way back, nearly seven years ago, I changed the name of this blog to The Golden Road to Samarqand.  It had had a couple of names before that, but the new one seemed better.  It from James Elroy Flecker's poem which reads in part:

Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells,
 When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
 Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.
We travel not for trafficking alone;
 By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
 We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

I still haven't been to Samarqand, despite living next door for nearly two years, but we're really hoping to make it there before we finish this round in Kyrgyzstan.  It's unfortunately a lot more expensive to go now that it was in 2005 or 2006, but still relatively inexpensive.  I can't tell you how much I want to see Khiva and Tashkent and Samarqand and especially Bukhara. 

17 December 2011

A New Kyrgyz Nativity

I like to get new, interesting nativities when we can, but we already had the style of nativities you can generally buy in Bishkek.  A friend of ours gave us this felt one in 2005. Most of the nativities for sale here are yurts like this one, although the ones I've seen this year are much more colorful and have lots more figures.

We also put together this wooden nativity last time (you'll have to excuse the blue cloth; I didn't have lots of options when I took the photo- and don't forget to notice the wise woman), and this year I thought I'd try making a similar one out of balbals.  So we went to Tsum today, looking for likely balbals, but then stumbled on this different felt nativity.  I love this one, although it's hard to get a good shot of it, and you can't see that it's hanging from a tunduk (the design from the top of a yurt that's also the center of the Kyrgyzstan flag).  The owner of the store told us the maker was trying a new design to see if it would sell well.  So maybe we have a one-of-a-kind nativity, but I still like it if it's not.  And if it is, I hope the designer is encouraged to make more because I really like it.

16 December 2011

A Bit of Color

Sometimes it's nice, on December days in Bishkek where everything seems to melt into puddles of gray, to remember June.

15 December 2011


We had some friends over on Sunday and we were looking through old photos from when we lived in Bishkek before, laughing to see each other's faces from six years ago.  Except one of the women hadn't been there then; she joined our group a few months before we moved here this time.  She also happens to live in the building next to our old building.

So it was a fun surprise when she found her own son in one of our photos from 2005.  Maybe we didn't know her, but he was part of the group of boys our kids hung out with (even though he's older than my boys).

14 December 2011

State of Wonder

I'm not really sure how I feel about this book.  The story was unique and interesting, the writing was excellent, so I liked the book.  But now that I've finished it, I'm left feeling like it didn't really do anything.  Yes, Marina does what she set out to do, but other than that, I feel like the book didn't go anywhere.  Dr. Swenson was the better character, but she was too often lost in the story.  It asked a lot of interesting questions, but it felt a little preachy at times (even though I agreed with the sentiment behind some of the preachiness), and I thought it ignored some other important questions.  And there were so many details that didn't go anywhere at all.

Still, I don't regret reading it, although I can't say you really have to.

13 December 2011

Happy Birthday

It's my littlest's birthday today, but it's also 7 years since I started this blog.  So while the little one is watching Cars, I've been poking around old posts (well, sort of, since I can't actually access the blog itself at times this afternoon).  Mostly there's been good food, good books, interesting places, and, best of all, good friends.  Thanks to everyone who's made this so much fun for so many years.

Capitalism vs. Communism

I was buying some herbs today at my little bazaar when the vegetable man started telling me that the bunches of herbs I was buying for 15 som each used to be 1 som (ruble) during the Soviet Union.  Seeing your food increase 15 times in price (at least local foods that are supposed to be affordable) after switching to capitalism has to be pretty disheartening.  Of course there are a million other factors involved, and both he and I know it, but still.

12 December 2011

Wish I Had a Lowe's to Boycott

It doesn't really surprise me that someone would think "All-American Muslim" is a problem, but it does surprise me that Lowe's thinks it's a strategic move to remove its advertising from the show.  Maybe I'm out of touch with American feelings about Islam.  Islam is not scary or extreme, no matter what the Florida conservatives say, or anyone else in America.

11 December 2011

The Obligatory Christmas Tree Post

Pamir Ram (Marco Polo Sheep)
So we made a good effort this year with our tree, although you wouldn't know it from these photos.  It has lovely, glitter-tipped branches which make the whole house sparkly, and the lights are all green with a lovely clear plastic cord that can't be hidden.  And the whole thing leans.  But there are some Lego and origami ornaments.  And there are a few Central Asian ornaments I picked up here.  There's also a chuko bone, but I couldn't get something even close to a decent shot of it (not that these photos are great).   But I'm still happy to have a tree.  It's also nice to get it up this early; last time we couldn't find trees this early in December.  Next up:  a balbal nativity.

Kalpak (Kyrgyz hat)

Tyubiteka (Uzbek hat)
The whole thing

09 December 2011

If You're Dialing Lots of Numbers

If you're sitting in the US and you realize the number you're calling has more than 10 numbers, you can assume the party you're calling is not in your time zone. 

If you're calling someone who is not in your time zone, you should figure what time it is there before you make the call.  Take that into consideration before placing the call.

If you follow these two simple rules, you won't call us at 2 AM.

08 December 2011

Exponent II Essay

I've only had a few minutes to glance over the new issue of Exponent II, but I loved Emily Clyde Curtis' essay about being a chaplain.  Her experience teaching parents to baptize their children in the hospital was beautiful.  I look forward to reading more when I can get it downloaded onto a more convenient device.

And I have an article in there too, starting on page 14.  It's a Mormon magazine, so it's a Mormon article, although I can never leave Central Asia out of anything.

I debated posting this here, since this blog is sort of a separate life from my article, but that's okay.

07 December 2011

I Know It's a Cliche

But my brain really did explode when I read this about Indians and Pakistanis coming to Kyrgyzstan for medical training.  There are a few people making a whole lot of money off this one.

06 December 2011

My Bishkek isn't Your Bishkek

Liked this post from another American living in Bishkek.   There are a lot of good things in the post, but here's what I think really matters: "...I can only write what I observe and what I feel, and to realize that my truth may be different from your truth."  That's why I think it's important for more people to write about all the places and people there are in the world, because my Bishkek and Cairo and Seattle and family and homeschooling and church and everything else are different from every single person's out there.  So I write about mine.  And it's interesting to see how my Bishkek changes as time goes on.

There.  A post that isn't about food.

05 December 2011

Eating in Bishkek

This post could be about restaurants and cafes in Bishkek, but since I almost never go out, it's not. It could be about trying to cook American food in Bishkek, but since that boring, difficult, and expensive, it's not.  So it's about cooking good food at home in Bishkek without either spending a huge amount of money or traipsing all over Bishkek every week trying to find every ingredient. 

I really enjoy cooking here now, but it took a long time to figure things out. We like to eat a variety of ethnic food and I think that's the easiest way to go in Bishkek unless you're willing to eat a totally local diet, which I'm not.  There is a lot of good local food in Bishkek, but it's limited in some ways, especially in the winter.

While there are a few things you can't get here, there are lots of things you can eat here that are hard to find anywhere else, or at least more complicated to find. Jusay (garlic chives), tofu sticks, black vinegar, Pakistani rice, green garlic, laghman, and so many other things are easy to find here and you can make some amazing new dishes.  Especially if you look at Uyghur, Dungan, Uzbek, and Tajik dishes, your mouth will be happy.

I also cook Thai, Mexian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic foods besides just Central Asian ones.  I hear there are black beans in town, but I'm happy using the brown and white beans I can find at any bazaar.  Salsa's easy to make yourself and the Pakistani rice makes amazing red and green rice.  The one Mexican thing I miss is corn tortillas because I don't have a good way to make them, and the only cornmeal/masa type thing I've ever seen here is coarsely ground.

Middle Eastern food is easy because Beta Stores is Turkish and you can get tahini, garbanzos, bulgur, red lentils, feta, and more (although a lot of these things are avaialbe in some bazaars now, although they're more expensive than at Beta Stores).  Indian food has been really easy too, although sometimes you have to hunt a bit to find all the spices.  And I've never found tamarind here, so I bring that with me.

Thai food is generally easy since there are a couple of Chinese grocery stores around, although I have never found fish sauce or coconut milk, unfortunately.  But I have a nice mother who sends fish sauce periodically to satisfy our craving.  Coconut milk is less pratical to mail so we don't have much of that.  But I generally prefer non-coconut milk Thai food anyway.  There's plenty of rice noodles at the bazaars or even in tiny stores, and black vinegar and sesame oil.  You can find yucky soy sauce in stores, but the Chinese groceries have good soy sauce and rice vinegar and soybean paste and brown sugar and tofu (and lots of other Chinese ingredients)

I also bring maple flavoring for fake maple syrup and it's nice to bring some extracts too since I've never seen vanilla here.  Now you can get decent chocolate here, but I've still never seen good cocoa.  I also like to bring yogurt starter.  You can buy yogurt (ayran) here, but we eat enough yogurt that it's worth making our own.  There's also yogurt in the stores, but it might be even sweeter than American yogurt. 

When we lived here the first time I managed a two-week cycle of dinners, but now I can easily do four or five weeks.  We all love laghman so we have that every week, and plov comes up pretty often too.  All of the food we make is easy to add vegetables to, or to serve with vegetables.  The vegetables are amazing here from about June-November, and not too terrible the rest of the year.

All in all, it's been an adventure to make cooking here work, but it's been worth the time. 

04 December 2011

Prices Then and Now

So it's not so long ago, the then part, but I finally found where I'd posted some prices from nearly 6 years ago. Food prices in particular have gone way up, sometimes at least four times.  No wonder I was so shocked in January, even in Tokmok where things are less expensive.  Here's some of the original post from February 2006 and current December 2011 prices in bold:

Five som is worth about 12.5 cents. In Kyrgyzstan, five som buys a loaf of flatbread, about 9 inches around. It takes you one way on a minibus anywhere in Bishkek. It buys one head of garlic, or a small Kit Kat, a package of Ramen noodles, or a pound of potatoes or onions.

Five som is currently worth about 10.5 cents.  A small loaf of flatbread (smaller than the comparison in 2006) costs 10 som and a standard loaf is 20 som.  A marshrutka ride is 8 som, a head of garlic is 15 som, a small Kit Kat is 10 som, and a pound of potatoes or onions is at least 20 som.

20 som buys a bag of milk, one banana, a pack of four rolls of toilet paper, or a kilo of cracked wheat.

A bag of milk is 35 som, a banana is still about 20 som, 4 rolls of nice toilet paper are about 40 som, and a kilo of cracked wheat is 40 som.

25 som is a minibus ride to Tokmok, about 80 km away.

It costs 50 som to ride to Tokmok.

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.

Apples range from 30-80 som with 50 being average, although they're still in season here.  A bottle of dish soap is probably 50-70 som, I have no idea how much the water is now.

40 som is for a kilo of Batken rice, a jar of tomatoes, a kilo of white rice, or a liter of apple juice.

A kilo of Batken rice is 70-80 som, I think (I don't buy that now; Chinese Elita is 60-70 som and Pakistani rice is 60-70).  A jar of tomatoes is 80-90 som.

50 som is for a short taxi ride around town.

You have to pay 50 som in Tokmok now.  Bishkek isn't less than 80 for a short ride.

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.

I can still get a kilo of tomatoes right now for 80 som, but I expect that will increase in the next few weeks.  A jar of jam is probably 150 som, but I make my own, so I'm not sure.  A bottle of jam is at least 150 som for the same price.  A longer taxi ride is 100 som.  No idea on the diapers, but there's no way they're 80 som.  A bottle of shampoo might be 120?

About 200 som buys a kilo of reasonably priced cheese, 500 sheets of paper, or a package of pancake mix.

Cheese is closer to 400 som, and I don't know what the other two things cost.

02 December 2011

Goodbye, Otunbaeva

Really liked this article about Roza Otunbaeva

While some will always see her as the president of Kyrgyzstan in June of 2010, I don't think it's reasonable to blame her for what happened (and what didn't happen).  Osh was and is a lot more complicated than anything Bishkek is capable of handling, or capable of wanting to handle, and I don't know that any president from the north would have been able to do more.  That unfortunately results in Uzbeks in the south having absolutely no support from anyone because it seems everyone has abandoned them except the international community which really can do very little right now.

Anyway.  This was supposed to be about Otunbaeva.  I think she has good reason to be satisfied with her tenure despite some serious missteps and I look forward to seeing what's next for her and Kyrgyzstan.

Easiest and Best Laghman

There are about a million things you can serve with laghman, but I think my favorite might be to simply top it with cabbage and black rice vinegar.  I like the cabbage barely stir-fried with garlic or pickled.  I don't think I've ever seen it served that way at a restaurant or for guests, but it's great for street food (not that Bishkek does laghman as street food) or for a quick meal at home, especially if you can just buy the noodles.

01 December 2011

Happy Inauguration

So there's a new president in town.  Fairly elected, relatively speaking, ready to go, and, at least from what we hear, a pretty nice man too.  Hoping that Kyrgyzstan is starting on a new path.  Good luck.

Hattie Big Sky

I generally liked this book although I thought it tried to do too much which resulted in my feeling like most of the issues it raised were just skimmed over.  I’m also still skeptical about a 16-year-old girl trying to prove up on a homestead alone. 

Caleb's Crossing

This was really slow book to read, but I still liked it a lot.  Geraldine Brooks is always a good writer.

The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife

I’ve read the first two book from this series and expect I’ll get around to reading the third, but I’m not feeling all that driven to do so.  I like the series and don’t think has to be read as anti-religion (any more than The Chronicles of Narnia have to be read as pro-Christian).  I like Lyra a lot and am curious to see what happens to her and Will.  I also think these books are creative.

29 November 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Yes, I do still read, although don't post about the books I've been reading as consistently.  But I did really enjoy this book.  Definitely peculiar, never boring, and always making you wonder what the author would do with the story. 

Good Stuff with Paneer

I started making paneer a lot more often when we lived in Tokmok and even though buying fresh whole milk isn't quite as convenient in Bishkek, we still eat lots of paneer.  Here's what I like to do with it now.  The third recipe is based on a Bhutanese dish, the last is similar to a Greek dish, and the first two are mostly Indian.

When I say spices, I mean to just add what you like.  For these recipes I add about a teaspoon each of coriander and cayenne pepper, then 1/2 tsp of turmeric, cumin, fennel, mustard seed, and nigella.  Other people like garam masala.

Paneer and Garbanzos

Paneer made from three liters of milk, cubed and fried till golden
2-3 cups cooked garbanzos
One chopped onion
Lots of minced garlic
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a wok, then add the spices and stir-fry till they're fragrant, then add the onions and stir-fry till they're just starting to brown.  Add the garlic a little before that.  Add the paneer and garbanzos and salt and stir-fry for a few minutes.  Adjust the seasonings, then stir in the chopped cilantro.  This is good right off the stove, but it's also good warm.  Serve with naan (and of course Central Asian is best).

Paneer and Potatoes

This is the same as the previous recipe, except use diced cooked potatoes (boiled, baked, or fried, just don't use mushy ones) instead of the garbanzos

Paneer with Spicy Tomatoes

4 cayennes, chopped, or more if you want them seeded- 8 isn't too many if you seed

1 large onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups water

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
Paneer from 2-3 liters of milk, cubed (you can fry it ahead of time if you like)
1 tsp salt, or to taste

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Put the chiles, onion, water, and oil in a medium pan and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and garlic and bring back to a boil to simmer for 10 more minutes. Add the paneer and salt cook for a few more minutes.  This is best served warm, so remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for ten minutes before adjusting the seasoning and stirring in the cilantro. You can serve this with rice, but I think it's best with naan.

Potatoes Simmered with Tomatoes with Paneer

About 8 potatoes (not baking, if possible), peeled and cut into wedges like an apple
1 cup water
1 cup tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer the above till the potatoes are just barely tender.  While it's simmering, heat some oil in a wokand add some spices that make you happy.  I did cumin, coriander, mustard seed, cayenne, turmeric, and nigella.  Add a chopped onion and as much garlic as you like and fry till the onions are soft.  While that's cooking, heat oil in another frying pan and fry 1/2 pound of sliced paneer till it's crispy and golden.  Or you can skip the frying; the cheese will be quite soft if you don't fry it first, although it won't melt.  Add the fried-or-not paneer to the onions and cook for a couple more minutes.  Season to taste and dump into the potatoes and cook a minute or two more. Like always, best with hot, crusty naan.

28 November 2011


Mormons don't follow a liturgical calendar (unless, I suppose, you want to count Pioneer Day and the Sacrament Meeting Presentation), but that doesn't mean that individual Mormons can't follow one of their own.  We've been celebrating Holy Week for years (although not Lent) and this year we're doing Advent.  There are lots of different things you can do to observe Advent, but we have have four candles that we put in a circle and verses to read from the Bible and Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.  And since it's always nice when someone else organizes things for you, we're using this website.  I'm quite sure that Christmas cookies will also make an appearance each week, thanks to the peppermint extract my mother mailed.

Holy Week is hard to do at home with just one family, but Advent is a lot more suited to independent observation which is perfect for us right now. 

23 November 2011

Raxmat and Thanks

I've been around, despite not posting, dealing with normal-life things that are the same as what I'd be doing in the US.  Mostly.  Bishkek does put an interesting twist on anything we try to do. 

Can I do a ubiquitous thanks for stuff post too?  Yes, I can.

I am still grateful every.single.time I turn on a faucet and hot water comes out of any of the four different faucets in my house.  I don't care that it's not potable; potable water is over-rated.  It's hot and clean and reliable. Or I can choose to have cold water come out.

I'm delighted that it's so easy to do the dishes now.  Dishwashers are over-rated too.

I love that I can buy milk and cheese a block away and even more I love the little bazaar next door that has funchooza, sparzhe, all kinds of vegetables, all kinds of rice, toilet paper, notebooks, fresh naan, toilet cleaner, vegetable oil, sesame oil, black vinegar, laghman, and a million other things. 

I'm even more in love with the fact that my oldest son is willing and able to go to that bazaar and buy pasta for lunch on his own.

I am happy I can buy peanut butter, tilapia, tofu, bok choy, gochujang, bulgur, red lentils, garbanzo beans, tahini, and dark chocolate even if I have to walk a few miles. 

There are 6 local women here who make life better, even though I don't get to see them as often as any of us would like.  Two in particular make it possible for me to do what I need to do here.

I'm so happy that my oldest is finding some friends.  I hope middle son has some success with that soon.

My husband is doing such interesting research.  I've been doing some interesting research too.  Not that the two have anything to do with each other or necessarily the following, but I'm so glad I can live in Bishkek right now.

I'm grateful for ereaders and ebooks.  They're so normal to us now that I don't even think about it, but they have completely changed our lives and made so many things possible.  I'm also fanatically enthusiastic about our speedy internet connection.  Everything has been so much easier in Bishkek.

But still I'm so glad I had the chance to live in Tokmok most of this year.  I miss it- the quieter streets and the friendly neighbors (although the neighbors are friendly here) and the bazaar.  I learned a lot there that changed my thinking in many ways.

There are other things I wish I could have been thankful for, like having a branch of the LDS church here, or having been to Uzbekistan this year, or knowing what we're going to be doing in the next few months, or being able to buy good cheddar cheese (I suppose the cheese is small potatoes).  But you can't have all the big things, and there are a few big things I do have.

20 November 2011

An Authoritarian Church without the Authorities

I wrote this almost five years ago and posted it on a now-long-defunct blog, but I keep thinking about it this time around. I'd emphasize some different things if I were writing this now, but it's all still basically true for me now:

It is a rather interesting experience to be a member of an centralized, authoritarian (if we're phrasing this in governmental terms) church, but not have anyone in authority over you. In most parts of the world, you have a long line of authority and there is always someone to go to, whether it's a question or something you need help with.

But there's no one to turn to Kyrgyzstan. The best we can do is email a busy General Authority [in 2011, we email the secretary to the GA over us] who understandably may or may not have time to deal with stray members living in odd countries. If this were a decentralized church, like many Christian sects are, it would matter far less. In fact, many Christians come to this part of the world and organize their own services, do missionary work as they please, and so on (this creates its own set of problems, but that's not what this particular post is about).

Our church isn't that way. While we're encouraged to be anxiously engaged in a good cause, there are things we could do here that would not be appreciated. In the US, we didn't have to ask permission to read the Book of Mormon with anyone, member or not, or to tell someone about the church, or even to pray outside our home. But now that we have more questions, there is no one to ask. Some of those questions we want to ask might not have an answer even if we find someone to ask. But it could be a problem if we just go ahead and do what we think is best.

It was simple in the Middle East. You just didn't talk about the gospel. There was no confusion. We also were interacting with people in an entirely different way there. There also were branches there so even if we had had questions, there would have been someone to ask.

While we still love (and I mean love) homechurching [another 2011 update- the love is a little different with older kids], the isolation here is sometimes hard to deal with. While I am busier and more service-oriented than I ever was in the US, and while I have plenty of friends, it has been trying sometimes.

19 November 2011

Are You Waiting for Me or Expecting Me?

One word in Russian that I always have trouble with is ждать.  It can be used to mean to wait for or to expect.  In my English brain there is a big difference between the two and it's made worse because I hate to be late.  So if a Russian speaker tells me they're expecting me, I always panic and hear that they're waiting for me, even if I know we'd agreed on a later time.

I'm finally starting to get a little more rational and after thinking they're waiting, I realize they're simply expecting me at the appointed time. 

18 November 2011

Comments Again

Comments are back on for now, although they'll be back off at the first hint of trouble.  But when wordpress blogs made a reappearance this morning, it made me optimistic enough that blogger isn't going anywhere tomorrow.  Just barely; Kazakhstan seems a little antsy right now and I expect internet censorship will be a result. 

But whatever, comment away for now.

15 November 2011

The Laws on the Books and the Laws on the Ground

Bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan is against the law and has been for a long time.  In fact you have over 80 years of its technically being illegal.  So why did it increase during the Soviet Union, a time when there was certainly the will and ability to stop it?  Why is it still so prevalent today?  That's because the laws on the books are not the only laws, or the most important laws, people follow. 

There is a different law in place that is much more strongly enforced in Kyrgyzstan:  If a girl spends the night at a man's house, whether she has sex or not, consensually or not, she must marry him.  This is more than some nebulous thing called customary law, or a tradition, or a custom, and its impact is significantly more strongly felt than many laws on the books.  It is enforced as strongly as any codified law might be.

We heard an interesting story today about a Soviet leader's daughter who was kidnapped.  I'm not going to identify him because although he has died, his daughter has not.  Suffice to say that he was not a minor leader in Kirghizia.  Obviously Soviet law didn't allow kidnapping, but the daughter would also be breaking the law by not marrying her kidnapper.  Her mother knew that, so she didn't tell her husband (the Soviet leader) about the kidnapping* because she knew the consequences of breaking the second law.

Those consequences (there are several, but the most important is the perception that the girl will never get married if she doesn't marry her kidnapper) are usually considered worse than the consequences of staying with the abductor.  If that law doesn't change, it doesn't really matter how many laws the politicians pass or the foreign legal community clamors for, because that law is the one people will follow. 

There can be consequences to breaking the first law, but probably not jail time.  In my opinion, the value the first type of law has is in giving leverage to the girl's family.  Threatening to go to court often is an extremely effective bargaining tool here and making the laws on the book deal with the entire crime** is useful in making the threat more potent. 

The laws regarding bride kidnapping here conflict and are not simply about the laws written in the criminal code.  There are many things that should help reduce kidnapping here but relying on a legal solution than only looks at successful criminal prosecutions ignores other laws and also ignores ways the laws on the books might be used as leverage by the girl's family even if a case never gets to court.

A few more thoughts- It is so interesting to me that there is such strong pressure to not go to court here for any reason, especially since the defendant is almost certain to get convicted if he/she is taken to court.  If you take someone to court, you'll win.  But you still don't go.  It's also naive in my opinion to rely on the state law because no one is going to take their husband to court just for a kidnapping. It appears that if the girl's family does use the state law as leverage she can go if they agree to not take the boy's family to court.  Unfortunately it's very unlikely that a state prosecutor would pursue a trial on his or her own without the involvement of the family.

*While that might seem odd to many Americans, keeping information like this from a spouse is more normal here  

**Currently it appears that only the abductor(s) can be charged with non-consensual bride kidnapping, but there are many other players, from the boy's mother who forces the girl to put on the white scarf to the people who pressure the girl to "consent" to the marriage.  If there were more legal consequences for the actions of more people involved it may well give the girl more leverage.

13 November 2011

A Sunday in Kyrgyzstan (or life as an isolated Mormon)

Religious post ahead.  Updated April 27, 2015.

Our church isn't recognized here and currently there are no other expat Mormon families living here that we know of.  We're not part of a mission or any other organization except the East Europe Area; we're directly under the area.  Those two sentences make our situation sound like a typical isolated family thing, but that is not the case.  I can't tell you more about that though.

Mormons are big on meeting together every week for church, but that looks a little different for my family because we don't have anyone else to meet with.  We're rather jealous of isolated members in Alaska who get to have church over the phone and the online expat branch in China.  Especially the expat branch because we live as close to Beijing as some of them do.  Anyway, we have church at home every week and since we don't have an online branch, we're finally getting creative in creating our own.  So here's a Sunday at our house in Bishkek.

8 AM ish- get up and make breakfast (crepes today) while we're getting all the devices ready for church.  Eat every crepe.

9- Husband and older sons go in one room to Skype with their uncle and grandpa for priesthood meeting.  I go in another room to Skype with various sisters, grandmas, and cousins for Primary with the little one.  This was the first time we'd done Primary over Skype and we had to work out a few glitches, but it went well in the end.  Various cousins say prayers and talk about the sacrament with my littlest. 

10ish- Since most of the family is dressed for church we decide to do sacrament meeting.  Husband gets things ready for the sacrament while I get the music ready.  We have a keyboard and piano players but it generally works best for us to use the sacrament meeting collections because we like to sing fast.  Everyone takes turns giving talks which doesn't make the older boys happy.  I tell them that they'll be able to make some good jokes in a few years about the number of talks they've already given in sacrament meeting.

11ish- Clean up from church and breakfast and hang up the laundry.  Diddle around and eat lunch.

1PM- Do the dishes again while husband cleans the bathroom and we all get ready for some friends to come visit which we plan on every week.

1:55- Friend calls to say she'll be late and no one else can come today.  Play games with the boys till she come.

2:30- Talk and read with friend for an hour.  The boys watch a movie.

3:30- She goes home and we diddle around some more and I do some family history.  You shouldn't be accountable for every minute on Sunday, should you?

4:45- Start dinner (plov, pickled cucumbers, and naan)

Do rest of the evening stuff which doesn't really have anything to do with today's being Sunday

PS:  If you're moving to any sort of isolated area of the LDS church, please don't assume that there are no members there.  You might be surprised.  But isolated members aren't easy to track down.  In the Middle East where the church isn't organized in many countries you can contact the Middle East Desk at middleeastdesk@ldschurch.org for more information.  If you're coming to post-Soviet Central Asia you need to get in contact with the East Europe Area office.  If your bishop can't figure out how to do that, I can.  If you're LDS and have any connection with Kyrgyzstan or any other part of Central Asia we'd love to hear from you, especially if you'll be in Bishkek because we'd be delighted to invite you to church.  Just be ready to give a talk.

Update:  With the announcement of a new Central Eurasian mission in July 2015, it's likely that you'd need to contact that mission office in Istanbul to find out where members are in Central Asia.  There are nearly always members in all of the countries of Central Asia.

12 November 2011

Responsibility of Authority- More Ala Kachuu and Penn State

So here's my biggest problem with Penn State and bride kidnapping and many abuse cases and other crimes: people who are considered authorities often do not do anything, or they do far too little, or, worst of all, the tell the victim or witness to do the wrong thing.  Victims and often people who witness crimes too, for a variety of reasons, are not able to protect themselves or those they see getting hurt.  While it blows my mind that people can walk by someone who was hit by a car without doing anything, or see a child getting abused and not stop it, or ignore a woman getting beaten by her husband next door, I am not surprised that people would be confused and scared about what to do in those situations. There is plenty of research about this and even though, particularly in the case of witnesses to violent crimes, that may not be an excuse for not protecting someone else, it is our reality and difficult to change.

In some ways the grad assistant at Penn State who saw a child getting abused did react in an expected way for his situation- he told several authority figures (his dad and Paterno at least) what he saw.  Of course he should have gone to the police first, but when he didn't, those authorities ought to have gone themselves.  It is part of the responsibility of being in authority. McQueary's father and Joe Paterno did not respond appropriately.  (This is not to say that I think McQueary shouldn't get fired, but I think there are some extenuating circumstances there that do not apply at all to Paterno.)

The same thing happens with bride kidnapping, although to a different extent.  Nearly always there are a variety of authority figures involved- her parents at least, his parents, maybe some neighbors, and often aksakals.  These are all people the woman has been told for years that she must respect and obey.  Nearly always all of those people (every.single.one) tell her that she must marry the man if she stays the night.  There is no other option.  Those authority figures do not protect her and, instead, tell her she must get married.

There are many reasons why those authorities do what they do- a major one is that, more than protecting victims, they want to protect social or insititutional order, to put it kindly. Jerks.

We're slowly, slowly getting to a point in the US where laws regarding authorities' reporting of child abuse will make a difference and I hope Joe Paterno's firing will drive that home a little better to all people in authority in the US.  The legal system in Kyrgyzstan doesn't work that way though and I'm not at all convinced that a legal solution is best regarding ala kachuu, although it ought to be part of a solution.  But that's also another post.

11 November 2011

Football Power

The whole mess with Penn State is really bothering me, probably because I'm tying it all up in my head with bride kidnapping here.  A lot of my husband's research is focused on kidnapping (not because it's kidnapping, but because it's one of the many "disputes" here that isn't taken care of in court even though a state law is broken) and we've talked about it for hours and hours and hours (and I'm sleepy because of all those hours spent talking). 

The connection might not be obvious, but what the Penn State mess (and please don't call it a sex scandal because it is about child abuse) boils down to is too many people didn't go to the police when they saw or knew of a violent and awful crime being committed.  Nope, they just covered it all up and went on with their merry football lives.  Anyone who feels sorry for Joe Paterno right now ought to remember that if he'd only made sure this went to the police 10 or 15  or 20 years ago and fired what's-his-bucket right then instead of just having him resign and burying his head about the fact that he had access to young kids all the time, things wouldn't be anywhere near as bad for his football program right now, not to mention the kids that wouldn't have been molested. 

There are too many times where people don't call the police or turn someone in because it's financially or socially risky to do so.  If you see someone lighting a fire in the basement of an apartment building you don't call your boss and wonder what to do.  You call the police (or I hope you do).  If you see a child getting molested, you should call the police.  The risk to the people in the apartment building or to the child is much greater than your potential risk. It's simple. 

However, I know it's not always so simple.  It's against the Kyrgyzstan criminal code to kidnap a bride and has been for quite a few years.  It appears that no man has *ever* been convicted for kidnapping even though more than half of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan are a result of kidnapping.  Even though there is a law and people do have access to the courts, there are other significant, hugely significant, pressures playing against women who might want to take their kidnapper to court.  In short, women don't take their kidnappers to court because there is a great deal of pressure not to. Did the same thing happen at Penn State?  And if it did, what does that say about football and money and power in the US?

And I have more to say about this, but it will have to wait for another day.  Because it is time to make dinner.

08 November 2011

Glimpses of Village Life in Kyrgyzstan

My family might not own many paper books anymore, but we did keep our big picture books of the Middle East and other interesting parts of the world during the book scanning fest last year.  They're in storage right now, but we like to get books with lots of pictures about the places we've been or love.  So we have books about Mamluk Cairo and the Dome of the Rock and the Alhambra and lots of other wonderful places.

We don't have anything about Central Asia however. There are a few about Uzbekistan which would be great since we want to go to Uzbekistan someday, but I also want something that's about Kyrgyzstan and I hadn't been able to find anything.  But I did find Glimpses of Village Life in Kyrgyzstan and I really like this book.  It's not big and fancy, but it's the first thing I've seen that really portrays Kyrgyzstan the way it is outside Bishkek.

The author, Meredith Thorpe, lived here in early 2003 and spent a lot of time in rural southern Kyrgyzstan.  The book is mostly her watercolors that she did here; you can tell wasn't just running in and out of places, but really seeing what is here.  She covers so much in this book that I've never seen in any other book on Kyrgyzstan.

My only quibble about the book is that ethnicity isn't dealt with very clearly.  Maybe that was intentional because Kyrgyz in the south are a lot more like Uzbeks than they might like to admit, but a reader might not be able to tell if a tradition or practice described is Kyrgyz specifically or more generally Central Asia or possibly just Uzbek.  Sometimes it seems like Uzbeks completely disappear into the background when they are a significant part of southern Kyrgyzstan. 

Still, that doesn't take away from the book too much and there's still a lot to like about it. 

Now I just need to find something about the edges of China.  Most slick picture books about China aren't exactly interested in the parts of China I like.

05 November 2011

Birds in Central Asia

Birds I've seen and identified in Central Asia.  All the photos posted are my own, taken with a mediocre camera.  They are named in English, Latin, Russian, and Kyrgyz based on Joost van der Ven's Looking at Birds in Kyrgyz Republic.

The best part about seeing new birds in Central Asia is finding out they're birds I've read about, but never seen before, like mynahs, hoopoes, and rooks.

A million sparrows and doves

Great Tit




Masked Wagtail

Black-billed Magpie 


Common Cuckoo

Little Owl

Slavonian Grebe

Black-Headed Gull

04 November 2011

Child Labor, part two, girls edition

I think one of the things that bothers me about the argument that we can't rearrange school schedule to avoid planting and harvest seasons is that we're ignoring a lot of other work done by children, particularly girls.  Girls, especially those who are part of the first generation in their family to go to school, are often still expected to do a great deal of work at home.  It's not necessarily enough to keep them out of school (although it might every so often), but it is plenty of work.

So why doesn't anyone get up in arms about that?  The work girls do at home can be as labor-intensive, time-consuming, and difficult as nearly anything anyone does outside.  By the same logic used above, school should be in session very early in the morning at least to keep girls from having to do early morning work.  But everyone knows that many girls wouldn't be able to go to school if they couldn't still work at home, so we don't mess with that.  Seems like there's a bit of a double standard here.

(For the record, I think one of the biggest goals in international development ought to be easing the work burden on women and girls.  Too many women and girls are spending a huge amount of time taking care of basic needs- time that could be spent in other, more productive ways, like education or a million other things.  What if the average woman in the world suddenly had 4-8 hours a day to spend doing something else besides hauling and heating laundry, washing clothes, cleaning, gathering fuel, and so many other things?  What changes might we see in the world?)

03 November 2011

American Kids, Kyrgyz Kids part 3

So I'm not the most efficient blogger and have one more thing (maybe) to say about this.  We were talking with our friend who works with the UN.  He asked, as everyone does here, where our boys are going to school.  After a brief bit about homeschooling and that our children won't be stunted forever because of it, he talked about the problem here in Kyrgyzstan of more and more children not going to school.  The Soviet Union created a very educated society here and certainly the people of post-Soviet Central Asia are far more educated, as a whole, than the people of the rest of Central Asia, or the Middle East.  Education is highly valued here.

But there are increasing numbers of children who aren't going to school.  Our friend mentioned the problem that's common everywhere of older teenagers not wanting to go to school, especially if they're struggling with it.  And as is common in many places, even if a free public education is guaranteed to all children, it's not truly completely free.  There are many things, from school uniforms to gifts for the teacher to reket that make it impossible for poor families to send their children to school. 

He also mentioned that many children in rural areas don't attend school during the spring and fall to help their families plant and harvest  Many rural families depend on the food they are able to grow and the income from it to survive the winter, and they expect their children to help.  He said he suggested changing the school schedule in some areas but was told that was impossible because it would allow child labor.  I guess that's another place where some of my American-ness is disappearing because I think changing the schedule might be a good idea.*

I'm obviously not a fan of exploiting children, but I'm not sure that children working with their families to harvest food for the winter is "child labor," at least in the negative sense we use it today.  Taking your kid out of school to hire him out to your neighbors?  Adopting children to work in the fields for you and not educating them?  Forcing every able-bodied person in the country to pick cotton on state farms for weeks, even very small children?  Not good, along with many other worse examples.  But adjusting the school schedule in rural areas so that kids who would already be taken out of school in the spring and fall for financial reason can get a better education?  I'm not seeing that as the most horrible option.

It's so often financial reasons that kids aren't sent to school. Improving a community's financial lot takes a long time and there will be children who won't be educated because their families can't send them to school at the appointed time and place for a host of reasons.  Might it not be reasonable to change the schedule now to meet the needs of some children while working to make it possible for every child to go to school, whatever the schedule?

*I was interested to read a conversation a few weeks ago on a message board about whether a US family in financial straits ought to use a son's earnings from a paper route to support the entire family.  Most people thought that was definitely not okay (and I can certainly understand why people would feel this way), but if my family were  having a difficult time meeting basic needs, I wouldn't  be okay with one child who was able to get a job spending money that our other children had no access to.

02 November 2011

American Kids, Kyrgyz Kids, part two

I was going to write about this in the last post, but I forgot.  After dinner last night our friends gave us a ride home in their car.  In the US it would seat five people and if you suggested that any more could fit, you'd either get a lecture about seat belts or accused of endangering your children.  Here it fit all nine of us (four adults, two big kids, and three little kids) with no problem; in fact, suggesting that it wasn't safe would have been strange. 

I remember asking on a message board once if there were any good contraptions out there for some sort of restraint that could be used in a variety of vehicles from planes to trains to buses to cars that didn't rely on the car having a seat belt, and was also portable and inexpensive.  A few people who'd lived in places like this made suggestions (although there really isn't anything out there like that that I know of), but I got more of the lectures about NEVER putting a child in a car without proper restraint.  I hope those people always live in their well-ordered world because in most of the world, things don't work out quite so neatly.

(If our friends hadn't given us a ride we would have either taken a taxi, which certainly wouldn't have had seat belts, or a marshrutka which I imagine might frighten those well-ordered American families more than the 9-people-in-the-Camry option.)

01 November 2011

American Kids, Kyrgyz Kids

We went out for pizza with some local friends this evening who have two children around the age of my little one.  They were being normal little kids and doing normal kid things which was fine with the patrons at the restaurant sitting around us.  In fact, one of the children from another table joined our group while they were drawing pictures for a couple at another table.

My American self was cringing the entire time because you.don't.do.that in the US.  But I was the only tense person; people don't mind kids here.  I went with the idea that as long as my kid wasn't the loudest and the family I was with wasn't trying to corral their kids, then everything was okay.

(Don't think they were running wild or anything like that.  They just weren't sitting quietly at the table like American kids are expected to if you take them out in public.)

29 October 2011

Election Day Tomorrow

This rather quiet campaign is nearly over.  If weather has anything to do with it, tomorrow should be sunny with maybe a few inches of snow on the ground (if we're lucky).  If the weather has anything to do with protests following the results, it's supposed to be in the 40s all week with maybe a little rain.  Not too bad, but not quite protesting weather either. 

Of course, Bishkek isn't the place where protests would start, if they did.  They're a lot more likely in the south, but it looks like Osh won't be much warmer than Bishkek this week.  Personally, I'm not worried, but we're still supposed to have a few days' worth of food in the house.  Just don't mess with my internet.

28 October 2011

Heat=Votes in Bishkek

The heat came on last night, about 7-10 days earlier than usual.  You wouldn't want people to come from chilly homes when they vote on Sunday. 

It's not like it's been cold enough for the heat to be on either.  Yes, today there was snow falling out of the sky, but it didn't stick, and my apartment was still 72 degrees when the heat came on (with windows open).  It's been sunny and in the 60s recently.  I was hoping for a few more days to try to cool off a little more. I won't quite wish for 60-degree indoor temperatures this winter like we had last year in Tokmok, but I won't enjoy having the apartment this warm all winter either.

26 October 2011

Black-Headed Gull

I think this is a Black-Headed Gull.  If it is, I wish I could have seen it in the spring.

Slavonian Grebe

I think this is a Slavonian Grebe in non-breeding plumage.  We saw it at Issyk-Kul and, unfortunately, this is the best shot I was able to get. 

25 October 2011

Community-Based Tourism vs. Regular Tourism

Last week's trip to Issyk-Kul was the first time I'd stayed in a regular tourist place in Kyrgyzstan.  We've done community-based tourism for the rest of our traveling around or stayed with friends.  If we'd been planning the trip we wouldn't have chosen the place we stayed, but it was interesting to try something new.

The resort was lovely, tucked away from the road and right next to the lake.  It was well-manicured, the rooms were clean, the beach was nice, and the food at the restaurant was good.  Overall we had a nice stay.

However, it didn't make me want to switch from CBT.  When we've done CBT or stayed with friends, we feel like we're part of the family, not guests, and especially not paying guests (I can think of one instance where I didn't feel that way, but it was just with one thing, not the entire stay).  At the resort, we felt like we were an inconvenience in every way.  It was difficult to get sheets for the beds, we weren't allowed any extra blankets for the three-year-old who was sleeping on the floor, and they wouldn't let us leave the resort at all till we'd paid for the dirty towels that housekeeping had picked up the night before and not replaced.  (Since it was clear someone had to pay for those towels, it was fine with me that it was us because I felt like they would have made an employee pay for them instead.)

While we were out on our sheet and blanket hunt, we talked to one of the cooks.  She told us is from Karakol, a town on the east side of the lake and several hours away.  She has four children and is only able to see them on the weekends; the rest of the time she sleeps at the hotel.  She also works 16- to 17-hour days.  No, I wasn't impressed.  I wish I'd asked her how much she was making, which is a perfectly acceptable question to ask here, but I'm enough of an American that the thought couldn't have crossed my mind till later.

The women who have CBT homestays (and even if it's a man who's supposed to be running things, it's the women who are doing the work) work hard, but they're not working 16-hour days to host tourists, even on the jailoo where everything is more labor-intensive.  They're also living with their families.  And the money is paid directly to the family with a percentage going to the main CBT office.  Of course, working at a resort is more reliable and you don't have to wait for a tourist to come to your house. 

The room and two meals at the resort cost $122 (plus $25 for the towels- I had no idea towels in KG could cost that much) for a family of four; like I said, there was nothing available for our three-year-old.  A CBT in Karakol costs $50 for a place to sleep and two meals for all five of us.  Certainly the resort was nicer, but I am ever so much more comfortable with CBT. 

24 October 2011

Campaign Signs and Other Election Wonderings

I was curious, last week, to see whose campaign signs we'd see in Issyk-Kul.  Since I have to stare out the window every single second of any car ride, I don't think I missed much on my side of the bus.  I'd say Atambaev had less than half the signs, but not by much.  Mostly it was the same signs I see in Bishkek, just in different proportions.

We were also wondering what Roza Otunbaeva will do next year.  There isn't exactly a prescedent for what former presidents in Central Asia ought to do.  Bakiev and Akaev are former presidents, of course, but their leaving wasn't exactly amicable.  Neither lives in Kyrgyzstan anymore (Akaev teaches in Moscow and Bakiev is still  in Belarus).  But I suspect Otunbaeva will stay in Kyrgyzstan and I'll be interested to see what she does.

21 October 2011

Submit to the Roads

We were defeated again this week by Kyrgyzstan's difficult roads.  We went to Issyk Kul at the beginning of the week and I hoped to go to the Suusamyr Valley at the end of the week, but there just wasn't a good way to get there.  Actually we probably could have gotten there, but finding our way out of a little village in rural Kyrgyzstan isn't easy unless you're able to pay for the driver's return trip also. 

We've gotten a bit trapped before in rural Kyrgyzstan.  I don't mind if it's just my husband and me, but when you have kids with you, it doesn't always work to wing it, and we were with our kids in the rain the time we had trouble finding a ride home.  So we try to avoid that now.

I know I've written about this before, but it's always so disappointing that there are so many wonderful things to see in Kyrgyzstan and great places to stay, but not a good way to get there.  Someday it would be so fun to have a car here.  That wouldn't solve all the problems because most of the roads in rural Kyrgyzstan are awful (and plenty in not-so-rural Kyrgyzstan; we have friends from Naryn who haven't been there in two years despite having a car simply because the road is so bad, and the road to Naryn out to be a major road.)

19 October 2011


 We were able to go to Issyk Kul for a couple of days this week.  We didn't plan the trip ourselves, but went with the international students at the university. 
If you ignore the man in the middle, this is a good photo of a cultural center we went to near Cholpon-Ata.  It has a variety of artwork from the region and the buildings you see in the back are for different religions.  It was a lovely setting and interesting, although I won't make you slog through lots of photos of the place.
We stayed at one of the new resorts on the lake.  While it was nice to be in a nice place, I'm happier at a community-based tourism place.  More on that later this week. This is looking out toward the lake.

And this is looking toward the mountains.  Sometimes it almost felt like we were in the US, but there were lots of small things that said we weren't.

Looking south across the lake toward the mountains.

Looking toward the beach from the pier.

15 October 2011

This Is Why I Like Living Here

Sometimes I wonder why I like living overseas, especially in a place like Kyrgyzstan.  Yesterday on a message board I frequent I got into a conversation about why someone might want to move here.  The other person lives in Eastern Europe and is looking for another country to live in.  I didn't suggest Kyrgyzstan as an option (Indonesia, Czech Republic, and Uruguay were my ideas- she needs a place that isn't very expensive), but she was asking about Bishkek anyway and it felt so weird because no one ever asks about living here as a real option.  Later someone came on saying Kyrgyzstan is a horrible place to live and the conversation ended.

Anyway.  It made me think about why I like it here or in the Middle East or wherever else expats usually get paid extra just to live there.  I just like to observe everyday life and the less familiar the place I'm living, the more interesting everyday life is.  I don't need people to talk to me, I don't need social interaction, I don't need to see all the sights (although it's nice when there are some).  I just like to get out and see how people do things and I get lots of that in Bishkek.  There's something interesting every day.

14 October 2011

A Homeschooling Post

A year ago I was trying to sort out homeschooling supplies for two years, getting books scanned, and generally feeling a little frazzled about homeschooling in Central Asia again.  This year it was the easiest thing ever to get ready for school because I'd done everything last year.  I purchased two pdf books, downloaded 20 more free ebooks, and it was done.  Here's how it's going after a 5 weeks.  For reference, my older boys are in 7th and 5th grades.

The best thing about this new year is having a friend of ours come play with the three-year-old for two hours a day.  Like so many people here, she can't find a job in her profession, so it helps her, but it helps me at least as much since the three-year-old gets the attention he craves and I can work with the older boys.  She took care of my older boys when we lived in Bishkek 6 years ago and it's been nice to be with her again.  

I'm also loving the relatively speedy internet connection.  We weren't able to do any online school subjects in Tokmok, but we do quite a few now.  The boys are doing French and Spanish on the computer.  It's silly they're not doing Russian, but I can't make them learn it, and it's far more likely that French or Spanish would be useful to them.  They also do online Latin exercises with Lively Latin in addition to working out of the ebook.  They're reviewing countries and capitals and doing online logic puzzles too, but the best part is CNN Student News and watching these videos about the periodic table.  I LOVE them.  Science is one of the most difficult things to do here and I've pretty much given up on science experiments, but watching these guys blow things up online is pretty satisfying.

We're also working through an atlas for geography and going through logical fallacies and we use Sequential Spelling, except I just downloaded the great big book and we work through that because it's a lot cheaper. The oldest is using NEM and LOF Economics and the youngest is on LOF Biology and Singapore 6.  Both do WWS and GWG.  I've been very pleased with WWS; we beta tested it last year.  I've never been excited about GWG but it's easy to use and the boys learn from it so we've continued with it- I think this is our 5 year with it.  We read from How Science Works and other ebooks about the periodic table that I check out from the library.  I like the entire How ____ Works series and we've been happy using them for science for years. 

I'm still delighted with OUP's history series and we're working through the last three books now.  We'll finish those by the end of 2011 and then move on to US history and some more 18th and 19th century world history for the rest of the school year.  And finally, there's lots of reading.  I use the early modern list from WTM which is easy to do here because nearly all the books are free to download, and I supplement with some more diverse selections since the WTM list is very heavy on western Europe.  That's a little harder to do here, but not impossible.

We do every subject every day and it takes us 4-5 hours to get through everything, including lunch and music.  The oldest is playing the guitar and middle son is on the keyboard.  I find it easiest to just do everything instead of trying to do some subjects once or twice a week for a longer time.  For example, this week we read a chapter from Age of Empires on Monday, then the boys did a level one outline of the chapter on Tuesday.  One Wednesday they filled out their outlines and on Thursday they did some supplemental reading about the Mughal Empire.  They spent about 90 minutes total on history this week.  Science was similar.

Overall things are going well as long as the three-year-old is happy.  It's been so much better to not have to do so much housework because I'm able to do a better job with homeschooling.  I'd always wondered why Ma in The Little House on the Prairie books was always so worried about living near a school when she was a competent teacher.  I always knew she was busy, but I don't wonder anymore.  There's no way she had time to teach her children well with the life she was living.  My life wasn't anything like that, of course, but I understand better now.

12 October 2011

Bride Kidnapping and Law

I wrote a couple of days ago that researchers haven't found any cases of a man being imprisoned for bride kidnapping.  However, there is plenty of evidence that it's becoming more common for the girl's family to either go to the police, or say they will go to the police which is often as effective.  Keeping any sort of dispute out of the hands of the police or the courts is the goal for most people in Kyrgyzstan, so threatening to get the police involved in a kidnapping is effective.  It's possibly an example of laws changing practice.

But.  That doesn't mean the law is changing what's socially acceptable here.  We are aware of a woman who was kidnapped earlier this year (not Kyrgyz) whose parents threatened to go to the police before the man would let her go.  Since then she's been isolated, maybe even shunned, by her neighborhood and doesn't feel like she has any chance of getting married.  Of course, it's only been 8 months and people might forget in a year or two, but it's hard for her right now.  Even though kidnapping is illegal and no one wants the police to know it happened, it's not necessarily acceptable to leave a kidnapping. 

Of course, this happened in a fairly conservative neighborhood in a small city in Kyrgyzstan.  But even if you pat yourself on the back for passing laws that might be changing practice, even if no one is convicted under those laws, you still haven't necessarily solved the problem.

11 October 2011


Loved the post and the comments about Cain's cheerful dismissal of Uzbekistan as a small, insignificant state.  Sure, Cain's opinion will appeal to many Americans.  Who cares about Uzbekistan when you're having economic problems in the US?  But Nathan's right- it's pretty stupid foreign policy to think of most countries as insignificant (like Bush did about Pakistan in 1999).  And we wonder why so many people in those small and insignificant countries don't have much love for the US.  We don't spare any for them.

Still, there is tremendous potential for Cain and his pizza in Central Asia.  Bishkek has some decent pizza, but nothing like what Cain has created.

10 October 2011

Bride Kidnapping Lecture Notes

These are notes from a lecture Russell Kleinbach gave in Tokmok 6 months ago, and some notes from when we talked to him at our house that same day.  He's done extensive research with (usually) Kyrgyz women in Kyrgyzstan on ala kachuu.  He started off as solely a researcher but over time has turned into an activist instead.  He usually doesn't give these presentations himself; generally Kyrgyz women travel around the country to do them.

I've probably posted some of this earlier after we met Kleinbach in Washington in 2005, but this also includes new research.  This is what I thought was most important.
  • Presentations like the one I heard appear to be having an effect on kidnapping in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan.  This was tested when researchers returned to some villages to see if kidnapping rates had dropped in the year since they did the presentations.  The sample size was smaller the second year, but non-consensual ala kachuu marriages dropped from 51% the first year to 27%. 
  • There is no cultural expectation to kidnap which makes it easier to advocate to end the practice.  It is currently traditional, but there are other accepted ways of getting married.
  • The newer research still indicates, despite claims to the contrary, that 80% of kidnappings are non-consensual.  Researchers asked 3 questions- Did you want to be kidnapped?  Was there deception or force?  Did you love him?  Answering yes to the first or third question or no to the second resulted in a kidnapping being categorized as consensual, and researchers feel that they were generous definition of what was consensual.
  • There is a push to criminalize kidnapping more, but that doesn't necessarily help.  Kidnapping has been illegal for some time now (it used to be a 5 year prison term, but currently it's 3), but researchers were only able to find two cases where kidnapping was successfully prosecuted.  One kidnapping resulted in the woman getting beaten severely (which is not common) and the man was imprisoned for beating her, not kidnapping her.  Another man was imprisoned for rape, and not for kidnapping.  They have found no cases where a man was sent to prison for kidnapping.  However, there have been cases settled out of court as would be expected here.  More on this below.
  • It is easier to get a divorce later than to refuse the wedding in the first place.  10-20% of women refuse to get married.
  • 35-50% of all marriages in Kyrgyzstan are the result of non-consensual kidnappings.
  • In 20% of the non-consensual kidnappings the woman does not know the man before the kidnapping.  About 20% of the kidnappings appear to involve rape.

After talking to Kleinbach who said he'd heard kidnapping happens amongst other ethnicities in Kyrgyzstan, my husband started asking the Uzbek community about this and confirmed that it does happen.  Kyrgyz do it more, but both consensual and non-consensual kidnapping happens within the minority communities (Uyghur, Dungan, Uzbek, Tajik) of Tokmok.  There's some anecdotal evidence that Kyrgyz in China do no kidnap.

I had my English conversation group go to this lecture in April.  Several of the students were high school students and one told me after that he had never thought about bride kidnapping before as a problem.  Kleinbach's presentation changed his mind and he said he thought he wouldn't want to kidnap his bride without her consent.  Made that presentation worth it. 

I also asked Kleinbach about my feeling that girls in Kyrgyzstan think it's exciting or romantic to be kidnapped (before it happens).  He agreed and also felt that both young men and women often hadn't thought about it much.  That's why the presentations help.  Kleinbach and crew are not interested (mostly, some of his fellow researchers are) in stopping consensual kidnappings.  The goal is to try to stop non-consensual kidnappings. 

Kleinbach told us about one village where they told him they don't kidnap anymore because it's too expensive.  That surprised him because kidnapping often is thought to be a cheap wedding (even though it's often not because families still go in for the whole wedding).  In this village, however, the family of a kidnapping woman did go to the police and it cost the man's family so much money that apparently no one else would risk it. 

I think it's best that Kleinbach and his associates have focused more on educating about ala kachuu instead of trying to use legal means to change this.  Ala kachuu has been illegal for a long time but that hasn't mattered.  I also appreciate that his education efforts are directed toward Kyrgyzstan instead of the West.  I'd be interested to see if there's any indication that the overall rates of kidnapping have dropped in the last 10 years since there's been more research and education directed toward the matter. 

09 October 2011

Ebooks for Everyone

Had an entire post typed out that disappeared. Here's the short of
it, inspired by an article on CNN about using cell phones to fight
poverty around the world:

When ereaders are cheap enough, and they will be soon, start a
nonprofit that donates ereaders to children through schools. Just
getting one ereader to a family would make a huge difference. You
don't need a computer or wireless access, just an outlet at home where
you can charge the reader.

The nonprofit sets up kiosks (or even better, just uses kiosks that
have been set up for cell phones) where people can get ebooks- they
could also be set up in school, but I like the cell phone kiosk idea
better. You could either access copyright-free books for your
country, or you could purchase ebooks if you wanted. You could use
cell technology to transfer the books, or just use a card.

Simple. You'd need to know copyright laws in all the countries you'd
be working, but even making only copyright-free books would give
readers a huge resource. There aren't many digital books yet in many
languages, and that's certainly a problem, but not an insurmountable
one especially as it becomes quicker and cheaper to create ebooks. It
also might encourage more local authors to publish.

We will *never* get physical books into everyone's hands, at least not
in the numbers we'd need to. But ebooks are a real possibility and I
don't think it will be long before they can make a huge difference.
It's vital to increase literacy rates, but it's as important to make
sure readers have access to books.

06 October 2011

Atambayev, Gas Prices, and Other Kyrgyzstan Stuff

I ought to at least do a brief bio of Almazbek Atambayev since he's expected to be the next president of Kyrgyzstan.  Like nearly all the candidates, he's been around for a long time, mostly as the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan since 1999 and a member of Parliament.  He's currently Prime Minister and was Prime Minister in most of 2007 under Bakiev, although the position meant something very different at that time.  He's run or considered running for president several times in the past.

He's from the north and was born in Arashan, south of Bishkek in the Chui region, so he's a northerner. Based on his website, he's either the youngest son in the family or one of the youngest.  And he likes to read. 

Moscow likes him which is an advantage for him and not necessarily a disadvantage for US interests in Kyrgyzstan, although Atambayev's campaign is unquestionably pro-Russia.  Personally, I think Kyrgyzstan could do a lot worse than Atambayev and I hope that if he is elected, he'll be a good president.  Still, he's definitely recycled and old-school. 

About that website- it's in English as well as Kyrgyz and Russian and is one of the better websites I've seen for Kyrgyzstani politicians.  Some of it just looks like Google Translate stuff, but other parts of it have better English.

In other news, it's been announced that (natural) gas prices will be dropping here soon since  Kyrgyzstan will now buy most of its gas from Kazakhstan instead of Uzbekistan.  It's supposed to be a fairly significant drop, although I won't see much difference in Bishkek because I just pay a few dollars a month for cooking (when it's on). 

For more rural families who have been able to install gas heating, this could make a big difference.  Our house in Tokmok had gas heating, but the owner was happy to move out in the winter because heating with gas was difficult to pay for.  Even more, I hope that gas heating becomes affordable for more families in Kyrgyzstan. I've mentioned before than heating a typical home in Kyrgyzstan with natural gas costs about $100/month compared to about $60/month to use coal.  The projected price drop could make the costs much closer, and, since gas is so much cleaner and easier, it might be possible for more families to switch to gas heating. 

The Potato Truck

My current source of photo subjects seems to be things I can see out my front window.  That doesn't mean that I don't get out, but that there are interesting things going on outside our building.  We live on a busy street on the edge of the center of town, and there's a bit of a parking area in front of our building which isn't always typical everywhere in Bishkek.  There's often something going on there.

This is a truck filled with potatoes that show up yesterday.  Since then there's been a constant line of people buying 50-kilo bags of potatoes for the winter. 

For a lot of the year there are a lot of trucks like this sitting outside the Tokmok Bazaar.  I'd wondered how people stocked up on potatoes and onions for the winter and now I know one way they can.  If I had any clue about how settled we're going to be this winter, I'd get some myself.  I also notice things like this more often this time around because I've lived in Tokmok.

One more thing- you often hear that people in large cities in the US don't have access to produce or decent grocery stores.  While there is plenty of good produce available in Bishkek in the summer and fall, it's horribly expensive in the winter.  Stocking up on potatoes and onions and carrots in the late fall is a good way to avoid the problem.  It seems the same thing could be done in the US.  And please don't tell me about lack of storage space or hauling stuff up stairs.  It's at least as bad for your typical family in Bishkek.  People around the world come up with creative ideas to solve problems like this and I wish those ideas were more widely shared.

05 October 2011

Fortunately Unfortunately

Unfortunately the gas is off.

Fortunately some friends of ours warned us it might be off for a week
for repairs so I don't have to wonder if there is something I ought to
do about it.

I bought fish for the first time in eight months yesterday and
intended to cook it on the stove.

My stove is a combination of gas and electric.

There is just one wimpy electric burner and it took 90 minutes to cook
a meal that should have taken 30 (the fish was delicious though).

I can bake dinner instead till the gas is supposed to come back on
next week and it's cool enough outside to consider turning the stove

I have no idea what to bake for an entire week. I rarely bake even
one part of dinner, much less most or all of it.