31 May 2011

Guide to the Tokmok Bazaar

No, there isn't a guide to the bazaar, but I need one.  It'll never be written, because there are about 5 other people on this planet who would find it useful. 

My biggest problem with finding things, especially spices and foods that are specifically Dungan or Central Asian, in the bazaar is knowing what to call them.  Today I discovered black vinegar and sesame oil.  I'd bought both at a Chinese grocery in Bishkek and I was delighted to find them here, but I wish I'd known they were here earlier.  I'd looked before, but I had no idea what to ask for and today I just happened to see them at the spice place I like to go.  Looking names up in Russian either in my good dictionary or online works sometimes, but certainly not always.

And there are always interesting vegetables, but when I ask what they are, I get a Dungan word.  That's totally logical, but it doesn't help me figure them out.  Even if I learn the Russian name, it's not so likely to be in my dictionary.  Maybe someone just needs to come up with a Central Asian edition of a good Russian dictionary. 

The guide would also have the secret of the mystery "Dungan spices" that so many Dungan recipes call for.  I have to find someone who'll tell me what's in there so I can recreate it in the US.  

I'm not complaining, really, because I'm generally finding what I need.  But I hope that someone soon I'll be able to report back that I have figured out where I can buy tofu sticks in Tokmok.  I know they're here somewhere because I've seen them in the salads.  But you can be assured that there is not a word for "tofu sticks" in any Russian dictionary I've looked in.

30 May 2011

Walking around Tokmok

Car wash

Stupid cows

29 May 2011

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl: Stories
I enjoyed Yiyun Li's The Vagrants when I read it last year, so I was happy to have a chance to read a collection of her short stories.  They were also excellent.  I look forward to her next book.

28 May 2011

(Black-Backed) Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail (and I think it's probably a Black-backed Citrine Wagtail, but it's hard to be certain from this photo).  Photo taken in Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan on May 17, 2011.

27 May 2011

Title VI and Fulbright-Hays

So the bright budget-crunchers in the US Congress have cut funding for international education, particularly critical language, study by 40%.  They'd already cut some grants last year, but this year's cuts are even bigger.  Just to give some perspective, Fulbright-Hays was completely cut this year for a savings of $5.8 million dollars.  That's less than 4 Tomahawk missiles.

Programs funded through Title VI and the Fulbright-Hays grant (F-H) help fund American students to study and research around the world, especially in languages and cultures considered critical to the US government.  We've been hit twice now by these cuts, and my husband's research is unquestionably in languages and issues that are considered critical US defense.  But this post isn't about us.

The only other really viable alternative for the government to get area specialists like this is to train employees themselves, at an estimated cost of $100,000 per employee.  There's an addition cost too- the employees don't get the rich and varied overseas experience that, for example, F-H grantees get.  You will never be able to convince me that the US government, especially the Department of Defense, can do as good a job teaching language and culture as everything that was just cut does.  There is a world of difference between my Arabic education and study abroad experience than the experience of people I've known who learned Arabic in the military and then in Iraq. 

It boggles my brain that someone thought that cutting $50 million here was a good idea.

Common Sandpiper

 Common Sandpipers photographed on May 17, 2011, in Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan.

26 May 2011

Strawberries and Jam and Local Produce

The strawberries went local today.  They've flooded the bazaar for the last few weeks, mostly from Uzbekistan and costing about $1 a pound which was a great price for someone used to buying strawberries in the US.  But today they were local (and I learned the word for local, which I knew, but didn't know it was used that way) and cost 50 cents a pound.  Even better.  I imagine the price will go down more, but I'm happy with where it's at now.

So I've made lots of strawberry jam.  I have a little pectin, but I want to save that for the raspberries and peaches and apricots that will be coming later.  Strawberries seemed like the best option for trying no-pectin jam (and jam is runny here anyway, and we don't care).  So I cleaned and hulled 12 cups of strawberries and mixed them with 3 cups of sugar in a huge pot and simmered them for about 10 minutes.  I used a potato masher to mash them up a bit, but it was still chunky.  It would have jammed better if I'd cooked it longer, but I prefer less cooking on my jam.  After it was done cooking, I poured in 6 tablespoons of lemon juice, then stirred and skimmed the foam, poured it into containers, cooled the jars on the counter, then stuck them in the fridge overnight, and then into the freezer because I don't can.  The jam is delicious and runny, but still jammy.  Perfect. 

The jusay was the first produce to go local.  It had been coming from China for 10 som a bunch, and now it's 10 som for three bunches and comes from a town just outside Tokmok.  Then the red radishes (although I don't know how much the price dropped because I don't do radishes) and then the cucumbers dropped.  The cucumbers went from about a dollar a pound to the current 35 cents a pound.  And the green onions are local now, and there's fresh garlic too.  Yay for spring.  And Dungans who produce excellent produce. 

25 May 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

This was a fun book to read, although I don't really need to move on to the next books in the series.  Flavia was a likeable heroine, even if she was annoyingly precocious.  But that was to be expected.

24 May 2011

Living on the Jailoo

As I've mentioned before, we live in a house in Tokmok, Kyrgryzstan.  A completely normal house in Tokmok.  That means that going to a CBT homestay in Kochkor isn't very exciting.  It was nice to not cook a few meals, and I suppose it was exciting to sleep in real beds, but mostly it was like being at home. 

Visiting the jailoo was not like being at home.  Except for when it was.  The dishes had the same patterns ours have, and we slept on tushuks like we do at home.  The broom was the same, and taking off our shoes, and eating laghman and soup and bread and jam.  The outhouse was familiar too, especially since we'd had seven people sharing one bathroom in Tokmok for a few weeks.

But really, the jailoo is not like home.  Jyldyz and her husband live in the trailer for six months.  It consists of two rooms.  There are tushuks for sleeping on, a table, and a sheep-chip stove that was used to heat the trailer and for cooking.  You can see the "sink" outside the trailer; there's a small container that is manually filled with water and you use as little as possible, especially since it's so difficult to get water.

I can't even imagine dealing with paying guests here. I loved spending some time there, but I was really conflicted about the amount of extra work we created for Jyldyz.  She took care of almost everything.  And I know a lot better now what it's like to cook in a kitchen like that.  I do have a gas stove, but that's the only way that my kitchen is better than Jyldyz's.

When we got back to Tokmok, I was grateful to use the washing machine and take a shower (even though it was difficult to get the pump to work and I thought we'd have to pump water ourselves and heat it for showering).  But while I was carrying buckets of water into the kitchen, and going in and out of the house a million times to fix the pump, and trying to make dinner for seven with the simplest of ingredients, and steering people to the outhouse because someone was showering, I couldn't stop remembering the jailoo and the things that were the same and the things that were different.  I've rarely felt so disoriented when I've come back from a short trip.

In some ways life on the jailoo is as different from life in Tokmok as life in Tokmok is different from life in the US.  But in other ways it felt more familiar than life in the US. 


There are too many photos in this post, and I'm sorry for that, but it'll be easier for me than splitting them up.

This was a CBT yurtstay.  It turned out that it was only 35 miles from our house in Tokmok, but it took nearly 5 hours to drive there because there isn't a road over the Shamshy pass.  We drove around the mountains to Balykchy to Kochkor and up to the jailoo.

Shamsy is the village below that supports the herding in the mountains.  A few families live on the jailoo from about April to October to take care of the horses, sheep, cows, and yaks.  All are used for meat and/or milk.

Jyldyz studied music in Bishkek and sang a few songs for us after dinner.

Feeding the sheep chip fire.  Good fuel and it didn't smell.

Sinister yaks.  Acutally, it's just the lighting.  They came off the mountain and posed neatly for us.

The demented chicken looking for a way into the yurt.

Jyldyz and her husband stay in the wagon and use the yurt for tourists.  We met her father-in-law in the village below and I hoped that she got a least a little of the money we paid since she had to do most of the work for us while we were there.

Cars aren't designed to get to places like this.

The chicken yurt and the sheep chip pile.  You can also see the little ditch that brings water down near the yurt.  That's the only water source for the family.

The neighbors.


We spent the night at a CBT in Kochkor. It was a nice little town, but when you live in a house in Tokmok, CBT homestays get a lot less interesting. A yurtstay, however, does not.
The road between Kemin and Issyk Kul likes to slip off into the Chui River and have rocks crash down on it.  The goal is to keep at least one lane open.  This is the only time we had to completely stop while we waited for some boulders to get knocked off a cliff above so they didn't fall on anyone later.  Worth waiting for.

Just like our house and yard.

I Think I'll Be Buried Here Instead


Balbals from all over northern Kyrgyzstan are in a sort of open-air museum at Burana.  Since we still love balbals, here are more photos of them.

23 May 2011


We made it to Burana a week or two ago.  The other time we'd been there was in the fall of 2005, so it was nice to see everything green.  Spring really is the best time in Kyrgyzstan.

What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw: And Other AdventuresThis is a collection of articles and essays by Malcolm Gladwell.  There were lots of interesting things in the book, but when I'd pass something on to my husband, he'd ask (as always) what the book was about.  And I always had to say that I didn't really know what it was about.  I didn't at the end either.  It was certainly typical Gladwell too.  I enjoyed reading it.

20 May 2011

Fan Belts

We were riding home on a marshrutka from Bishkek today when a car passed us with its passengers waving their arms at us.  So our driver pulled over to open the hood, checked the engine, and then hopped back in the marshrutka and turned around.  We drove back toward Bishkek for a few kilometers looking for something on the ground.  Finally one of the passengers in the front spotted the missing fan belt. 

The driver pulled over again, got the fan belt and put it back on and dumped a couple of liters of water in the radiator and took off again.  We picked up a stray passenger in Kant and on the way out of Kant, it was clear the driver was looking for something new.  It turned out to be a car wash where he pulled in and asked them to fill up the radiator.  The car wash people had a good laugh along with all of us in the marshrutka.  I don't think they get asked that every day.

So we pulled out of the car wash and immediately there was a snapping sound.  Yes, it was the fan belt, but this time there was no way it was going back on.  This time the driver crossed the road and flagged down another marshrutka.  He hopped on that one and disappeared down the road.  By this time we were all pretty amused (what else can you do?) and we waited to see what would happen. 

About five minutes later our driver appeared in yet another marshrutka and loaded us onto that one.  After asking where we wanted to go, we drove off to Tokmok. 

The best part really was the car wash part.  Marshrutkas don't often stop with a full load to get their car washed, let alone to fill the radiator.  The look on their faces (and ours too, probably) was priceless.

19 May 2011

Posting Again!

I guess it took going up to a yurt on the jailoo for a few days to get access to blogger again.  Lots of photos to post later if I can.

12 May 2011

Paxlava and Ashlyanfu and Other Great Names

I have new recipes I'm working on that need to be posted, but it's not going to happen for the next week or two.  I definitely need to post updates to the ashlyanfu, and I also need to work on a new recipe for paxlava.  And I've simplified my pilau with garbanzo beans so I don't have to think quite so much to make it. 

Next I have to figure out how to make gyuro laghman.  I ate that last night for the first time in 5 years.  I have to learn how to make a meatless version of it.  Of course, then it won't be gyuro laghman, but I don't care.

I also think someone should write a new Central Asian cookbook. There are plenty of cookbooks where you can find Central Asian recipes (like Please to the Table, or The Art of Uzbek Cooking, or Flatbreads and Flavors, or Beyond the Great Wall, or Silk Road Cooking), but I've never found a good cookbook written in English that really covers Central Asia and just Central Asia (for example, Dungan food is almost completely ignored by English-language cookbooks even though it's completely delicious).  It would be an astonishingly international cookbook.  How fun would that be?

(This cookbook looks interesting though, even if Central Asia is far from the focus of one of the projected volumes.  But upon further checking, it looks like the recipes should have been tested better.)
This has been a good food week. We had visitors come and they brought fish sauce and coconut milk.  Then one of the grandparents forked out a lot of money to ship nearly 10 pounds of chocolate chips here.  I bet your in-laws aren't as cool as mine.

And we had one of the best days ever yesterday which I can't write about, but that's okay.  Maybe someday I'll be able to.

10 May 2011

Educating Mormon Kids in Tokmok

I get asked a lot about where my children are going to school.  Homeschooling is basically unheard of here, but teaching foreign kids Russian in the public schools isn't much less unheard of.  Public schools aren't unfamiliar with dealing with children who don't speak Russian fluently, since not every child in Kyrgyzstan does speak Russian fluently, especially if she recently moved from a Uzbek or Kyrgyz or Dungan language school.  But to have a child show up who doesn't know any Russian at all?  I don't think my kids would get the help they needed.  Even in countries where public schools are prepared to support a large number of immigrant children, it's expected that the first year will be spent learning the language and that's all.  I think that would be optimistic here.

There are two other options in Tokmok though.  One is a Christian school.  From all accounts it's an excellent school, but after reading about the philosophy of the founders of the school, it's not for me.  Their stated purpose (at least according to their websites that are soliciting donations) is to convert Muslim children to Christianity and Muslim parents who send their children to these Christian schools are required to sign a waiver saying they won't get angry if their children convert.  In addition to your typical education, the children are also required to attend a variety of Christian and Bible classes.  There is a corner of me that would like to send my Mormon children there just to see what would happen.

The other school is one from the Turkish system that's all over Central Asia.  If we were staying here for a long time, I'd be very interested in it.  We've known several people who've received very good educations at these schools and I'd be happy to have my children go there.  Unfortunately the school in Tokmok is on the other side of town.  Maybe someday. 

So I'll spend my time fending off the questions about schooling (I try to explain that my children are learning math and science and history and writing and... at home, but it rarely seems to matter) and thinking that it's a little funny that I think my Mormon kids would be more welcome at a Turkish Muslim school than an American Christian school.

Kyrgyzstan Adoptions

It's been a long time coming, but Kyrgyzstan finally is allowing international adoption again. I sincerely hope that the new regulations they're putting in place are effective and that more children will have homes soon.
This is a nice surprise.  I haven't been able to access either blogger or blogspot for about 5 days.  I still can't see my blog, as usual, but posting is nice.  But I can't think of anything to say, since I wasn't expecting to say anything.

04 May 2011

All-of-a-Kind Family

After reading about the tenaments of New York, I had to reread this book, especially since I'd already checked it out of the library for middle son.  It's a lot shorter than I remembered (it seems like that happens a lot when I read a book again that I haven't read since I was 10), but it was still fun to read.  And nice to have a little more context with 97 Orchard.

03 May 2011

Bin Ladin

So.  Bin Ladin is dead.  It seems like everyone in the US is talking about it, but we haven't heard anything about it here except on the news.  I know people know about his death, but no one is talking about it. 

I'm glad bin Ladin isn't around anymore to inflict pain and terror on anyone.  And it's possible that his death might have made the world a safer place.  I rather doubt it, but sometimes you get lucky.

One of our major goals in this "war on terror" seems to have been a military effort to get rid of (get revenge on?) bin Ladin.  I believe that driving goal was a mistake and reaching that goal therefore doesn't accomplish what we really should have been aiming for which was stable, secure, open, and financially sound Central Asian and Middle Eastern nations.

But it's a lot easier to meet your goal if you have to destroy something yourself, rather than figure out how to support others in building something new.  Quicker too.  It took ten years to get bin Ladin and we'd only just have been getting started if our goal had been to support Central Asia.

02 May 2011

97 Orchard

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York TenementThis was such a great book. It's described as following what five immigrant families ate, but it's more a short and sweet food history of five different New York immigrant communities- German, Irish, German Jews, Lithuanian Jews, and Italians. It's not really till the end of the book that the author seemed to have enough information to give details about what the chapter's family itself actually ate, but still, having the book tied to 97 Orchard worked. 

Unquestionably fascinating and recommended.

01 May 2011

There are lots of things that fall into the Why Central Asia is Not a Convenient Place to Live category, but there are also lots of reasons Why Central Asia Is a Really Cool Place too.

Bone games!

Ethnic diversity-  I love living in a place where there are such a variety of ethnic groups and languages.  Even if that means everyone assumes I'm Russian.  Till I open my mouth.


Nooruz.  I can't even think of something to link to that describes this holiday.

Learning new languages- (This part doesn't always go well.  But we'll focus on the good parts today.)

Beautiful and Perfect Mountains



Diverse Muslims- This is just more than the ethnic diversity here, but also effects of the Soviet Union.  I don't think there is another place on the planet where Islam is so interesting.

Cute children 

Cemeteries here are always interesting

Balbals (I might like this one better though)

Cheap gardens

Food- This might be pushing my luck, because there are definitely better places to live foodwise, but Central Asia loves tandir naan, lots of vegetables, vinegar, melons, apricots, jam, samsas, ashlyanfu, borsak, plov, and laghman.  And so do I. 

Dungan mosques


Marshrutkas (so I don't always love these, but there's a lot to appreciate)