29 June 2011

Paying Teachers a Living Wage

No, this post isn't about the US.  Someone else can take that topic up.  This is about salaries for teachers in Kyrgyzstan.

As I've mentioned before, the salary for a school director (a principal, basically) has been about $100/month in Tokmok and teachers are payed less.  Teachers and administrators have nearly always been paid more in Bishkek and less in the regions.  That makes some sense because the cost of living is higher in Bishkek, but it also means that teachers in the regions have been paid very little and therefore there aren't many people who want to teach there.

The government recently raised salaries significantly though, as much as 2-4 times. Teachers in the regions get paid more than teachers in Bishkek now (I think that's best, even though there are good arguments against that policy).  Medical workers also are getting paid more.

But where's the money going to come from?  It's not clear that the higher salaries are actually getting paid yet, or if they're getting to the right people.  The new state budget is significantly higher than last year's and it's unclear how Kyrgyzstan can afford it at all.

Certainly there is a perception that there should be less corruption now with Otunbaeva. But she's just one person and a huge amount of money is still wasted or skimmed off, leaving Kyrgyzstan with few foreign investors or countries willing to loan it money.

One suggestion is to raise energy prices, but people, especially outside Bishkek, are already barely able to afford the current prices and I don't think anyone will forget soon that increased utility prices were a significant factor in Bakiev's ouster.

I'm all for paying teachers more.  I just don't know if it's possible here.  I think there is enough money in the country for teachers to be paid a reasonable about, but it's not in the right hands.

28 June 2011

The Convenience of Being American

You often hear, when they go to the US for the first time, or return after being away for a while, people talk about the overabundance of American life.  So much food, such big houses, so much obesity, such huge stores.  And they're right, but what I notice is the abundance of convenience in the US.  Friends here often tell me that life is better in the US, but I always disagree because I don't think life is better there; it's just easier.

I'm getting a lot less comfortable with that convenience as time goes on.  It's expensive, it's energy-consuming, and it's large self-centered.  We complain about accidentally vacuuming up Legos, about not being able to use the kitchen while we're remodeling it, about have it take 3 minutes for the water in the shower to heat up.  We complain about 10 gallons of gas costing an hour or two of work, or paying the bills online, or having your food budget take 15% of your salary.  Or we don't like paying a day's worth of work to heat our houses to 72 degrees for the month, or two days' work to cool it in the summer. 

I think a little perspective would help.  Owning a decent vacuum, or even a stripped-down kitchen, or a water heater is a luxury.  10 gallons of gas costs at least 2 days of work in many parts of the world, paying the bills takes all day and physical trips to at least three different places, and food takes at least half your salary.  Many people have to pay a month's salary just to keep their homes at a livable temperature in the winter, and they certainly don't have air conditioners. 

But when the all the perspective you're getting comes from your American neighbors, you're probably going to miss some important points.  You forget or never learn what life really is like for the typical inhabitant of this planet.

26 June 2011

More Adventures on a Marshrutka

We don't ride marshrutkas much this time around in Kyrgyzstan because we can walk everywhere we need in Tokmok, but it's always fun to ride them when we go to Bishkek.  Riding public transportation in the US, especially long distance, can be a little dicey, but everyone rides a marshrutka sometime in Kyrgyzstan. 

We nearly always find someone to talk to on the bus between Bishkek and Tokmok.  A few times we've sat with someone we know who happened to be on the same bus (that happens a lot in Kyrgyzstan) and even if we don't know anyone when we start, we usually do by the end.  An American family isn't the most common sight on the bus here and when people discover that my husband speak Kyrgyz and/or Uzbek, things move along nicely.  I'll never forget the expression on one man's face when he realized that he was speaking Kyrgyz.  Priceless.

Today's ride was with a very outgoing woman who gave me a history of Kyrgyzstan's revolutions, all the places we need to visit, and all the people she knows in Tokmok, all in Russian.  She also figured out that another man on the van works at the dentist's office next door to our house (our living in a house instead of a flat is also cause for surprise).  She's ready to take us all sorts of places.

We also met a refugee from Afghanistan a couple of months ago.  He lives in Kant, a town outside Bishkek.  His parents live in New York now as refugees.  I can't even quite imagine how it would be to leave Afghanistan as a refugee and end up in Kyrgyzstan during a revolution and the ethnic violence of last year.

And some trips we get to sit quietly and enjoy the ride.  I appreciate that because marshrutkas are a recipe for motion sickness for me, with their bumpy rides and stifling interiors. 

23 June 2011

The Classifieds

I'm finally getting around to posting the Classifieds section from the local newspaper.  Most of it is houses and apartments for sale.  Here's what was available this week:

  • Small house on Oxotnich Street with a large yard convenient for for livestock
  • House with 6 rooms on Saadaev Street, gas, bathroom, garage, owner-built, outbuilding, shed, temporary building (I have no doubt these aren't exact translations, but my dictionaries aren't designed to translate details of houses in Central Asia)
  • House near the bazaar, summer kitchen, banya, plumbing, price reduced 8,500 som (a little less than $100)
  • House with 5 bedrooms (furnished possible) on the bank of the rive, owner-built, summer kitchen, banya, garage, reduced 10,600 som.  Used furniture, barrels, worldwide literature.  Pudovkin Street near the water tower.
  • House in the center, 4 rooms, kitchen, 3 floors?, electric and coal heating, water in the house, bathroom, garage, owner-built, vegetable garden, near the airplane monument
  • Urgent 1-room apartment in 3rd microrayon
  • Urgent 2-room apartment, remodeled, 4th floor, armored door, glassed balcony?, near "Chainoy"
  • 2-room remodeled apartment in 1st microrayon, first floor with garage
  • 2-room apartment on 2nd floor of brick building, sanitary remodel?, 3rd microrayon
  • 2-room apartment near the hotel in a brick building, Czech design, 5th floor, Euro remodel, can pay in installments
  • 3-room apartment across from the bus station, iron radiators, double doors, new lavatory pan? (there's got to be a better translation than this), and some more stuff
  • 3-room apartment in microrayon 3, 4th floor
  • 3-room remodeled apartment on the second floor, not on the corner?, partly furnished, glassed balcony, 3rd microrayon, building 5, apartment 38
  • 3-room apartment, 4/5th floors, gas meter, near military town
  • Trade a house for a 3-room apartment on Jantaeva Street
  • 5-room apartment, individual plan, center, one floor in brick building, Euro remodel, finished bathroom with tile and plastic, ariston?, satellite?, large storehouse, rooms, and cellar.  Convenient to offices and business with a driveway and parking spaces

There's more, but that's enough for today.  I believe that the apartments in general have running water (although the city water isn't always on) and that they are on city heating.  Houses have coal heating and no indoor plumbing unless otherwise stated.  A summer kitchen is a separate building (usually a building) that is used in the summer.  It might have a place for cooking large quantities of food too. 

Homes start at $15,000 and go up to about $100,000.  I'd guess the home we're in is about $30,000 because it has gas (that's not always a selling point though because gas costs twice as much to use even though it's much cleaner and easier). 

There are many, many homes for sale in Tokmok.  One of the primary reasons people tell me for that is Russians leaving Kyrgyzstan.  It's not uncommon to see a house for sale with all its furniture.  It's very difficult to sell a home because the supply greatly exceeds the demand. 

22 June 2011

Being Muslim in Kyrgyzstan

So Sarah asked yesterday about how Kyrgyz practice Islam differently from Arabs.  There's lots to say about that.

You could start with the five pillars of Islam.  The Hanafi school, which most of Central Asia is part of, emphasizes the Shahada.  It's important to profess your faith. Just being Muslim is vital here.  There are Arab Christians and Arab Jews, but, at least until very recently, there are no Kyrgyz Christians or Turkmen Jews (although you can make a case that there are Uzbek Jews, but that's another argument).  So, if one is Kyrgyz, one is Muslim.  I don't know if a formal profession of faith is often done though.

In most of Central Asia you'll hear the call to prayer 5 times a day.  Big Russian cities like Bishkek and Almaty are exceptions.  But very few people actually pray five times a day.  Certainly Arabs don't all pray five times a day, but attendance at the mosque is significantly higher in the Arab world than in Central Asia.  In fact, we've had friends tell us they were advised to not pray too often since that can lead to being labeled an extremist.  But that's another post too.

I've hardly ever met anyone in Central Asia who fasts for the entire month of Ramadan.  We've met a few people who've told us they're trying it out for a few days, but it's not common for people to fast from sunup to sundown for the entire month.  I understand that Uzbeks are more likely to fast (and pray), but not really the Uzbeks I've known, and we've never lived in an Uzbek town.  Unfortunately.

Zakat isn't happening much either, at least not in the formal definition of 2.5% every year.  I think there is a great deal of charitable giving here, and it should be considered Islamic, but it might not necessarily be zakat.  Yet another post.

And the Hajj.  We have met less than a handful of people who've been on the Hajj.  We'd meet Hajjis all the time in the Middle East.  It's difficult and expensive to go on the Hajj here, especially since the Ministry of Religion controls who goes and you have pay a hefty bribe to get on the list, but whether because it's been nearly impossible to go for at least 100 years, or if it's because there's really not much desire to go, there aren't a lot of Hajjis here.

Kyrgyz dress modestly in general (not always in Bishkek), but the traditional clothing is different from Arab Muslim clothing.  Head scarves are very common, but they're not the hijab.  Even women who wear their scarf in a manner that's more like a traditional Muslim headcovering, it's still rarely the tight, face-hugging look.  I think I've only ever seen one women here with fabric covering her face.

So that's the 5 Pillars.  But there's a lot more to Islam than that and Islam has major differences in different parts of the ward.  

For example, there's disagreement over butchering.  Kyrgyz are nomads and obviously have their traditions for slaughtering sheep.  Those traditions aren't technically halal, although I think you'd find Kyrgyz who considered them Islamic.  Alcohol might fall into this category too.  Early Hanafi interpretation did allow some types of alcohol to be drunk and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Kyrgyz who'd say that kymyz is forbidden.  There are also many people here who drink vodka and eat pork (although pork isn't as common as alcohol) and say they are Muslim.

Of course Arabs aren't all strict by-the-book Muslims.  What's different here is what constitutes being a strict Muslim.  Simply doing any of the basics at all usually makes you strict here.  And there are customs and traditions that are technically not Islamic that must be done here.  Islam is very closely tied with culture here and sometimes it's nearly impossible to separate the two even if it's easy from the outside to say that Kyrgyz aren't very good Muslims.  But that's not true.  Kyrgyz are perfectly good Muslims.

21 June 2011

Missed the Missionaries

The neighborhood missionaries came by yesterday.  "Missionary" isn't the best word for them; the Uzbek word means "people who invite" and that's a lot closer to what they do.  They're from the nearest mosque and knock on doors inviting people to come pray. 

Our neighbor saw them before we did though and told them to move on.  Made sense, since the inviters aren't looking for converts, but to get Muslims to come to the mosque.  But we were still disappointed because we wanted to talk to them.  One was Kyrgyz and the other two were Chechen.  There are a handful of Chechens in Tokmok and you certainly can tell when you see one.  They are the only men in town who look stereotypically Muslim (at least according to American stereotypes.)

There are a reasonable number of Christian missionaries in Tokmok, but the foreign missionaries are usually doing humanitarian work.  Locals are the ones going door-to-door.  I don't know that I've ever seen a foreign Christian missionary actively proselytizing.

Certainly Christian missionary work isn't popular with a lot of people in Tokmok, whether they're Russian Orthodox or Muslim, but the Muslim missionary work isn't always popular either, especially if the inviters are foreign.  It's not uncommon for Kyrgyz or other locals to be angry with Muslims who want them to be Muslim like Arabs are Muslim, instead of letting them be Muslim in the way Kyrgyz are Muslim.

20 June 2011


This is a simple Central Asian version of paxlava. I'm still working on the precise amounts, but not right now since it's too hot to bake.  This makes a small amount.

2 cups of flour
1 egg yolk
1/3 c sour cream
1/3 c butter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vinegar

1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup sugar
1 egg

Mix and knead the first section into a smooth dough, then divide into thirds and roll out each piece.  Mix the second section and use half as a filling between the layers.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

19 June 2011

Rainbow Salad

Like any good salad, there are a million versions of this one, but when I've eaten it, it just has vegetables and eggs and croutons.  It's served with all the different parts in sections and then mixed together just before dishing it up.  You can use tomatoes, green onions, carrots, beets, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, radishes, whatever.  I've always seen it with diced vegetables, but you can use sliced too, if you like.  Boil and dice the eggs or potatoes if you use them, and use mayonnaise to hold it all together.

16 June 2011

A Year Ago in Kyrgyzstan

In the middle of June last year Kyrgyzstan was still reeling from the revolution that had happened in April and in the middle of horrific ethnic violence in the south.  Many of the earlier links right now on the sidebar are about that. It was a horrible time for anyone living in Kyrgyzstan and for anyone who cared about Kyrgyzstan.

I don't really know much beyond what I can read about what happened in the south.  Most of our friends are from the north and even though there have been displaced people who've come north from the south, we haven't met very many of them.  Those we have met have had a difficult time.  But even though the violence didn't spread to the north, fear certainly did.

The people whose house we are renting fled their home, this very house.  They weren't the only Uzbek family in Tokmok to do so, and some never came back.  Kyrgyz friends in Bishkek left for Kazakhstan if they could, although most couldn't.  Most people didn't have anywhere else to go. 

No one much wants to talk about last June yet.  I don't think I would either if it had happened to me.  But we've also learned about some positive things that happened.  When it became painfully clear that the state had no intention of protecting any minorities, minority leaders came together to make plans to support each other and their communities.  Neighbors of all ethnicities helped each other hide, or rebuild, or feed their families.  It wasn't all horrible.

The ethnic violence had a huge effect on my family too.  Last June we were getting ready to move to Osh, just a few weeks away from buying plane tickets and getting visas.  We were all looking forward to living in an Uzbek mahalla and learning Uzbek there when everything we'd planned had to be thrown aside.  There was no way we could take a family there, and our grant certainly wouldn't let us go.  We spent the next 6 months in an ill-fated effort to get visas to Uzbekistan (a logical place to study Uzbek if we were German), then Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, and finally ended up with a plan to come to Tokmok (a decidedly not-logical place to study Uzbek).  Tokmok isn't Osh and even though we have the huge advantage of being closer to our dear Bishkek friends, Osh would have been the better place for us to live in every other way. 

Obviously my family's problems were tiny in comparison to what so many people have dealt with this last year in Kyrgyzstan.  Minuscule.  But our lives have also changed because of it, and not necessarily for the better.

Kyrgyzstan is a different place from what it was when we left it 5 years ago.  It's different from what it was last May.  I'm not entirely sure it's better either.  There's a parliamentary system now and incumbent-less president elections coming up which might be good.  There are far more products available to buy, and even though people are still poor, many are at least a little better off than they were five years ago (although they might not be better off than they were 2 years ago).  But there's more fear and distrust and, it seems, not a lot of hope. 

15 June 2011

Food Again?

Yes, food again.  It takes up a lot of my life.

I remember talking to a friend from Sweden once who'd been living in the US for a while.  She commented that she didn't cook much when she lived in the US even though she was a good cook in Sweden.  I totally understood because I didn't cook much either when I lived in Bishkek.  Certainly I cooked, but not a huge variety of stuff and dinner was always a challenge.  It's really different cooking in another country because most of what you made at home either doesn't work or requires a lot of creativity to get it done.

I'm doing a lot better this time though.  I'm almost up to three weeks worth of dinners (I never got past one week in Bishkek) and there's a lot more variety.  The last week or two we've added paneer which everyone loves, although I don't have a lot of recipes that use it because it's never been very cheap to make before. It's not necessarily cheap now, but it's affordable.  I'm still hoping to try cooking fish someday, but I haven't yet been brave enough to buy any.

It turns out that my Indian cookbook has gotten the most use here, which I didn't really expect.  Recipes from Southeast Asia are a little hard to pull off since I don't think fish sauce or coconut milk are sold here (I haven't given up hope though).

And we're just starting to eat from the garden.  We had beet greens tonight and tomorrow there will be enough cucumbers. 

14 June 2011

I got a telegram today.  I didn't even know it was possible anymore, but there it was.  The funniest part was that it was from a US-based company, but they've obviously figured something out about the local system here. 

13 June 2011

Food Prices

Here's the early June edition of the Tokmok food prices:

Chinese rice: 60 cents/pound
Pakistani rice: 60 cents/pound
Kazakhstan rice: 45 cents/pound
Sunflower oil: $2/liter
2nd quality flour: 25 cents/pound
1st quality flour: 35 cents/pound
Cracked wheat: 32 cents/pound
Black vinegar: $/ liter
Sesame oil: $3/liter
Fresh milk: 45 cents/liter
Rice noodles: $1/pound
Laghman: $1/bag
Cheese: $3.76/pound
Eggs: $1.20/dozen
Pasta: 40 cents/pound
Ayran: 70 cents/liter

Green garlic: 30 cents/pound
Cucumbers: 10 cents/pound
Carrots: 30 cents/pound
Potatoes: 25 cents/pound
Garlic: 45 cents/head
Green onions: 18 cents/bunch
Strawberries: 50 cents/pound
Garlic chives: 20 cents/pound, at most
Tomatoes: 80 cents/pound
Cabbage: 15 cents/pound
Sweet peppers: 80 cents a pound

There's a lot more, but I can't think of any more prices right now.  I'll try to add more later.

12 June 2011

And the Vegetables

The onions (this year's) and tomatoes are from Uzbekistan and the rest of the produce here is local.  The garlic at the front is very fresh, or you can get bagged cloves.  The curly stuff is green garlic and there's lots of green onions and various herbs and plenty of this year's cabbage.

The stalks sitting on top of the potatoes are some sort of cabbage stalks.  All I've been told is that they are cabbage.  You can hardly see them, but this is the only photo they made an appearance in.

Yes, the cucumbers are 10 cents a pound.

Brooms and spices.  Most of the spices are various types of crushed or ground red peppers.  There are also lots of bottles of vinegars and some oils and other delicious and unknown things.

11 June 2011

Bazaar Photos

Photos today because I dragged my husband with me to the bazaar yesterday.

First the people:
This couple wanted us to take their photo and print it for them. I thought it turned out nicely.

Totalling it all up with a calculator

Some people mark prices, some don't.  The cabbage is 15 som a kilo, which neatly works out to almost exactly 15 cents a pound.  Any price you see will be in kilos and som, but it also happens to be the same in pounds and cents.


Ha!  I bought tofu sticks today. In Tokmok.  I found someone selling carrot salad with them in it and bought laghman from her and then asked what the tofu sticks were called and where I could buy them.  It turns out they're called cпраже (sprazhe), at least here.  So I wandered off in the general direction that she'd pointed and found a package of tofu sticks pretty quickly.  I'd actually seen them before and thought it might have been what I was looking for, but I had no way to know for sure (although if I'd looked closer and noticed the all the soybeans drawn on the package, I might have bought one to try it).

I cannot figure out the name though.  I can't find it in any Russian dictionary, online or paper.  I guess it's a Dungan word, but I don't know how I'd figure that out. The Chinese words for tofu sticks don't sound anything like it.  The package was printed in Chinese with the word cпраже across the top.

So I'm still curious about it, but at least I know how to buy it in Tokmok.

10 June 2011

Everything's a Lot Different with Kids

Obviously. Life's different with kids.  But sometimes you don't expect it when you're going overseas with kids, especially if you've done it without kids.
In my opinion, the biggest disconnect I've had between what I've experienced as a single person and therefore expected as a parent, and what actually has occurred as a parent, relates to language.  Learning a new language is a lot more complicated that showing up as a willing learner in a new country.  I can't tell you how often I've heard, before we've gone overseas with our children, that we'll all learn the new language quickly.

That's not exactly true.  My husband and I are far from being inexperienced language learners (for example, with a little dusting off of Egyptian Arabic, he would test at at least a level two in speaking in four different languages besides English; I could do probably two right now with some notice), but the languages we've worked on as parents in new countries have been significantly more difficult than the languages we worked on before we were married.

Most of this is simply because when we were single, we could put ourselves in a nearly perfect language-learning environment (this was particularly true for my husband when he learned Spanish and was basically dropped into it, full-time, and had to learn to speak to survive).  Arabic was a lot the same way.  We learned a huge amount of Arabic when we lived in East Jerusalem, speaking Arabic all the time and taking a full load of Arabic classes. I do, however have an atrocious Palestinian accent.

It can't be the same here because we can't devote that kind of time to language learning, nor can we isolate ourselves from English speakers because our kids speak English.  I spent at least 8 hours a day working on Arabic 15 years ago, but I can, at best, spend 2-3 hours a day on Russian right now, and those hours aren't as effective, and the family suffers when I spend that much time on it.  It's obviously going to go more slowly.

There's also a really common myth that children just pick up new languages with no trouble.  Yes, they'll usually learn languages more quickly than adults, but the setting matters just as much.  If you're living in Europe you'll probably be able to send your kids to a good local school or international school than emphasizes learning the local language.  Generally within a year your child will be speaking reasonably well if they're in a local school that's experienced in helping children who don't speak the local language. 

But that will also be all that your kids learn that year if you go that route.  That might be good, but it's not necessarily the best option for everyone, especially if the stay overseas is only a year or two, or if the language is fairly obscure.  And if you don't have access to a school where learning the language is emphasized, then it's very unlikely your kids will become even reasonably fluent in a new language, or able to read and write in it, etc.  Playing soccer on the street doesn't produce much language ability, even if lots of other good skills are learned while playing. (The situation is often different with younger children, say, kindergarten or younger, if you can get them into almost any environment where they're hearing the new language a lot.  I wish I had a four-year-old brain sometimes.)

This is not to say that learning a new language isn't important or worth sacrificing for.  It is.  But it's also important to be realistic in what your family can do, and to figure out what's really important for your family. And I still hope that everyone in the family will get better at their new languages. It's so important to be able to speak to the people around you.

(I wish all Americans could experience this because Americans as a whole need a lot more empathy in our attitudes regarding language learning. We appallingly bad at it, both in the US or abroad, but have unrealistic expectations of those who come to the US without knowing English already.)

08 June 2011

On the Habits of Flies and Other Lower Life Forms

Have you ever noticed that fly habits are a bit seasonal?  Or that the habits of flies that appear in different seasons are different?  I'd noticed this before in the fall when the flies would get a little smaller and less annoying.  The fat flies of summer died off and even though there were still flies around, they weren't so bad. 

I'm becoming very well acquainted with the fly habits here since the kitchen door is open a lot because the kitchen is hot.  Most of the flies that join me in the kitchen are smaller flies that don't land on the food or the dishes.  They just fly around in circles under the light fixtures.  I have no idea why they do this, but I've watched a lot of them do it.  I also get big, fat, angry flies that bluster around the room till they find the door again.  They're noisy, but they get out. 

So far, these flies aren't too bothersome, but the last day or two I've had what I consider to be typical flies in the kitchen.  The sort that get into everything and are gross.  It's enough to make me keep the door closed, and that's saying a lot because I hate to be hot.  Stupid flies.

I'm also learning more about slugs.  We have lots of little slugs outside that gather on the faucet outside, the one I use to fill up my kitchen water bucket.  They're slimy little guys and I sincerely hope I don't learn any more about them.

07 June 2011

молоко или кефир?

When we lived in Bishkek I learned the hard way that the bags of milk and kefir were easy to confuse since they're both blue (at least for 2.5% milk and kefir) and they'd usually be sitting right next to each other at Narodniy.  I finally figured out that I had to check the bags at least three times to make sure I'd gotten milk instead of kefir (not that I dislike kefir, but I don't want to put it on my cracked wheat). 

It's not just me that gets confused.  My husband brought four bags of kefir home yesterday.  He's an expert about checking the dates, but ended up with kefir.  I've also gotten kefir accidently when I've bought it at a typical store here where someone else gets your food for you. 

But even the milk and kefir producers get confused.  The best time was when I opened a bag of what was labeled milk and kefir poured out.  You never know what you're going to get.
I'm still loving the vegetable section at the bazaar.  It seems that there are new things every day.  I wish though that I knew how long some things would be in season.  I assume the green garlic won't be around for more than another month, but maybe it'll last into July.  I saw local tomatoes for the first time today (the man asking about them was a bit incredulous).  There's also some sort of cabbage stalk that I'm curious about.  I really ought to take my camera again and get photos of the vegetables.

05 June 2011

So It's Not Sarajevo or Beijing or London or Prague

I've been poking around some expat family blogs this afternoon.  Families who live in places like East Asia and Europe.  Places where, when people look at your blog, they wish they could see those places.  Their children are beautiful.  They have houses in interesting places and cars to take them to other interesting places.  They always have access to their blogs.  They eat cheese and drink milk with impunity.  And probably peanut butter too.  They have drains.

And then I looked at my blog.  When I post pictures, they're of gates around my town and that's because there's really not much else to see.  We have done pretty much all of the siteseeing that's possible since all that's possible in northern Kyrgyzstan is the Burana Tower and the mountains (although we'll still do Issyk Kul again, but you won't be impressed). I get stuck on marshrutkas and haul water around and stumble over Russian.

I have seen some interesting animals though.  New birds are always fun, and there was a demented chicken at Sarala-Saz, and some possessed yaks.  I see cows and horses and chickens and geese and sheep every day. 

I don't have pictures of my children here, but they still are beautiful.  And they're good. 

My town won't get any more interesting to look at, but at least I can buy really good produce here.  It gets better every day.  And I really like to cook.

And I have lots of ebooks.  Kyrgyzstan doesn't get any credit for that, but life here is a lot more pleasant because of that.  I really like to read.

And even if I can't post on my blog, I can still write.  There are so many things to write about here.

I don't want to live in Europe anyway.  Or Beijing.  Visiting would be lovely, but I'd rather be an expat in Central Asia. The yaks are ever so much better here.  (I do want to live in Samarqand though.  But there are no blogs from there to make me jealous.) 

04 June 2011

Green Garlic Sauce

Usually I just stir-fry some vegetables when we eat laghman, but last night I cobbled together a few real recipes I'd found online for a real sauce.  Sauces for laghman are incredibly flexible, but here's one way to do it.  The green garlic is the best part and I am in heaven right now during green garlic season. 

3 bell peppers, sliced
3 small onions (you could probably use one big American-sized onion), sliced thinly
3 bunches of green garlic, chopped into 1/2-inch bits
2 fat carrots, julienned
Oil (at least a tablespoon or two, or more)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Cayenne to taste
Salt to taste
300 ml water

Dump the vegetables and the oil into a qazan or a wok and stir-fry for a few minutes.  When the vegetables are a bit cooked but still crispy, add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Simmer a couple of minutes till the vegetables are just tender, or tender-crisp. 

03 June 2011

It's Not Our Fault Because the Other Guys Bribed Him

So the Kyrgyz parliament doesn't like Kimmo Kilunjen, the head of the international commission that investigated what happened in Osh last year.  No surprise (why was the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan  surprised?  seems like the only surprise was Kyrgyzstan's allowing the investigation to happen at all) since almost everyone at any level in Kyrgyzstan government has either done nothing about what happened, or has blamed Uzbeks.  I don't know why this commission would have changed anything unless you were really optimistic.

I did think it was interesting to see that one of the accusations brought against Kilunjen, and one of the reasons for discrediting the commission, was that he accepted bribes from Uzbek separatists to make the report one-sided.

Corruption is truly rampant in Kyrgyzstan and everyone knows it.  You just have to drive around town for a few minutes to get pulled over by the police and asked for a bribe.  As my husband has been interviewing people about the disputes they've been involved in, it is very common for people to accuse the other side of bribing the police (if they go to the police, which is certainly not a given) if the dispute is not resolved in their favor.  Everyone has concrete evidence that there is plenty of corruption, and everyone assumes (not unreasonably) there is a lot more.

One of the results of this corruption, however, both the known and assumed, is that it's easy to say that if things don't go your way in a dispute, then there was corruption involved. You don't ever have to take responsibility if you did something wrong.  I don't know that this happens often with regular people, but it's pretty clear to be that parliament will continue with its denial that the official response to the June events was absolutely appalling partly because it's just accusing the other side of paying a bribe. 

02 June 2011


I tried kaymak for the first time when we were eating lunch at the yurt a couple of days ago.  Unfortunately I wasn't very impressed.  I assume it was homemade since there was plenty of milk available or I'd think it was commercially produced and hope to try it again.  A bit disappointing. 

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not the biggest fan of most of the dairy products I've tried here.  Maybe I'll like kymyz if I ever get a chance to try it, but I don't love ayran or suzme. But I'm happy buying fresh milk here and making my own dairy products.  Making cheese here would be especially cool.  Cheddar.  Sharp cheddar.

01 June 2011


No, that's not lazy, but лазы, a very simple Dungan chile paste. Take about a tablespoon of crushed red pepper and put it in a bowl, then add about 5 or 6 large cloves of crushed garlic and 2 tablespoons of water.  Pour in 3 tablespoons of hot oil and half a teaspoon of salt and mix.

That's an official recipe which I need to test.  In the past I've just sauteed the garlic in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then added the red pepper and some salt.

I wish I'd learned to cook in metric terms. It would be so much easier to sort out recipes instead of having to translate the measurements into our silly system.  But I'm planning on posting more Dungan recipes that I've found and tried on Russian websites because they're nearly impossible to find in English.  Most will be from http://www.besh-barmak.ru/ and http://www.dungane.kz/rus/01/#.