31 July 2011

Ramadan Kareem

Orozo, the Kyrgyz term for Ramadan, starts tomorrow.  My Muslim friends and non-Muslim friends who live in the Middle East are gearing up for it, but I'll be interested to see if it affects anything here.  Ramadan was hardly a blip in people's lives in Bishkek, although I expect more in Tokmok.  I do hope for Ramadan singers though. 

Eid al-Fitr (Orozo Ait) should be on August 31st, but since that's Independence Day here, it'll probably be officially celebrated on August 30th.  You can do that in Kyrgyzstan.  It'll also come up for Eid al-Adha (Kurman Ait) which should land on November 7th.  Since that's October Revolution Day, Kurman Ait will probably be officially observed on November 6th.  Ironic.

27 July 2011

What We've Been Doing for Fun

There's a chance we'll be moving to Bishkek in the next few months, if all the stars align correctly (when all of the government funding for your grants gets cut and others try to make it up, it gets complicated to know where you're going when, but we're glad someone else is stepping in to help).  So the new entertainment at our house is looking at apartments for rent in Bishkek.

The only reason I mention it is that there are photos of a lot of the apartments and I love to see how people have redone apartments.  Some are rather unique.  It's too bad they don't take a photo of the outside of the building too (not that that would be good advertising), just to compare what you'd expect with what actually is inside.

Let me know if you find something amazing.  Or amusing.

26 July 2011

The Real Reason to Have a Language Class

One of the things I do with my Russian tutor is to read the local newspaper.  I'd been doing this before, but it's nice to read it with someone who can fill in lots of other interesting information.  Both my husband and I spend a lot of time quizzing our language teachers about whatever we can think of.  This summer both of our teachers are Uyghur and it's interesting to compare what they say.

I've noticed that since the current acting mayor went into office recently, he's been very busy making rather public city improvements.  Every week there are several articles in the paper about what he's been doing.  I haven't been reading the newspaper long enough to know if this was unusual so I asked my teacher about it.  It turns out that the previous acting mayor didn't do anything, but this one does because he has lots of rich friends whom he's asked to pay for projects.  And since the mayoral election is coming up in the fall, he has lots of incentive to do public projects.

It works out great for the rich friends.  Helping someone get elected to office benefits you too, when you're in Kyrgyzstan.  I must say that I prefer this system because at least Tokmok is getting some much-needed repairs and supplies.  We now have new lawn mowers and chain saw, 60 new street lights that turn off and on automatically* and, best of all, a repaved square at the entrance of the bazaar.

It's fun to go to the bazaar every day to see how that square is turning out.  The marshrutkas went back to their parking lot a few days ago and now a big, sorry-looking building looks like it's turn is next.  I don't know what they're going to do with it though.  Another section of the square is being prepared for repaving and a lot of people working in the bazaar were moved, I assume temporarily.  I wonder if they're going to repave inside the actual bazaar.  It turns into a bit of a bog in the winter.

I also read an article about the Russian Orthodox Church in Central Asia, and especially in Tokmok and Kyrgyzstan.  They're celebrating 140 years since the Church came into Central Asia with various activities.

We also talked about the price of food here.  Sugar keeps going up slowly and flour is still high.  To me, the price of the local vegetables in the bazaar is ridiculously cheap, but my teacher said that they are much more expensive than they were two years ago.  I'll watch to see how low the tomatoes go; she said they used to be 2 som a kilogram.  I don't think I'd even feel good about paying that price.  People's time has to be worth more than that, even here.

*We have a streetlight across the street that isn't automatic; it has a switch.  I'm always tempted to switch it off when I want to look at the stars.  From the photos in the paper it looks like the new streetlights are mighty beacons that would seriously impede stargazing.

25 July 2011

Gas Rationing

Kyrgyzstan gets most of its gasoline from Russia, but a few weeks ago most of that gas from Russia stopped being delivered.  As always there are lots of reasons floating around to explain why this happened, from just sorting out issues regarding a customs union to Russia's desire to control the next elections.  It was important enough that the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan flew to Russia to talk to Putin about it and last week it was announced that Russian gasoline would again be sent to Kyrgyzstan.

Whatever the politics behind the whole thing, having that much less gasoline coming into Kyrgyzstan was a problem.  The price of gas didn't go up much because I assume the price is regulated; it went up less than 25 cents a gallon which is only a small percentage, but still noticeable.  Instead, gasoline has been rationed.  I've seen the limits placed between 10 and 20 liters per fill up.  Apparently most of the rationing went on in Bishkek, but since that's the place that used far more gas than any other part of the country, the rationing would have been more noticeable there even if it was the same throughout the country.

When we were in Bishkek yesterday there was far less traffic than there would have been on Saturday.  The marshrutkas also weren't running from Bishkek to Tokmok in the late afternoon (they weren't the week before either) and the shared taxis were charging 100 som per seat rather than their usual 50-60 som.  There also weren't as many marshrutkas running around the city and it was more difficult to get around. 

I don't know how quickly things will get back to normal.  Since we don't have a car and there isn't a huge amount of traffic in Tokmok, I probably won't notice unless we go to Bishkek.  But it's lucky we haven't needed to go anywhere for the last few weeks.

24 July 2011

And That's Why Personal Revelation Is So Personal

Margaret Young has a fascinating series going on right now at By Common Consent (parts I, II, and III) about the past LDS Church restriction on Black LDS receiving the priesthood and temple blessings.  The series is worth reading for any reason, but I was particularly struck by the two very different opinions of two Black Mormons about that restriction described in the first part. To be brief, both base their beliefs on personal revelation and both believe strongly in his individual revelation.  But one believes that the restriction was God's will and the other believes it was not.

This isn't the first time I've come across conflicting personal revelation.  A more personal area for me where I've seen these conflicting ideas is regarding miscarriage.  I know many women who feel intensely certain that babies they have lost through miscarriage are part of their family.  They remember and think about those babies and feel a great sense of loss.  They believe that a child or children they have lost will be part of their eternal families and feel that this has been confirmed through personal revelation.  I do not doubt their revelation and I know it is very comforting to them.

But I feel quite intensely the opposite.  In fact, it is distinctly not comforting to me to think of so many spirits having their complete experience on earth the little bundles of cells that are usually miscarried.  I don't think there are four additional children in our family that I've never met.  I much prefer to think that if there were spirits that were going to come to those bodies, they'll have a chance to go to other bodies, maybe bodies in other families.  I have prayed about this.

So am I right, or are these other women right?  Did God want the priesthood revelation, or didn't He?  There are lots of other examples- vaccinations, different opinions on gay marriage, so many things.  Can we all be right?  And if we can be, how do we get any closer to the truth?

It seems quite often to me that we get an answer that comforts us. We're all so different from each other that there can't be only one right answer for everything.  But some things, things that seem more like doctrine, feel like they ought to have one right answer.  But I'm not so sure that they always do.  And that's why personal revelation is so personal.

23 July 2011

Cleaning the Park

We spent the day picking up trash at Ala Archa Park today.  Well, we actually only spent about 20 minutes picking up trash because that was how long it took to fill our 16 Target and Narodiy bags completely full of trash.  And I'm not even sure that anyone would notice that the spot we cleaned looked any better.  Before and after pictures might have helped, but we didn't have any way to carry out more garbage.

The rest of the day was spent getting from Tokmok to the bus station in Bishkek, then to the meeting place for the buses to the park, then the ride to the park, then an opening ceremony, then the cleaning, then a closing ceremony, back to the buses to Bishkek and then back to Tokmok.  Over 5 hours of travel time.  The things we do to get our children's service hours done.

And we forgot the camera which was unfortunate because Ala Archa is a beautiful and pleasant place.  But it was cool and breezy and wonderful to not be hot for an hour.  Even all those ceremonies weren't too bad because it wasn't hot.

It could be just 30 degrees in a couple of days.  We can hope.

22 July 2011


The reports of damage from the earthquake in the south are slowly trickling out.  First Kyrgyzstan reported that there were just some cracks in some buildings and everything was fine (how could they even know so soon?) This morning it was reported that 500 homes were damaged and 34 community buildings.

We've talked to some friends here who are involved with disaster relief in Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz friends, not foreign) and the picture continues to get worse.  Hopefully the government will get the story a little clearer soon because, from the preliminary reports, there are many people in Batken province who can't go in their homes- hundreds of families.  Many more than 200 homes have been heavily damaged.  A maternity hospital has been heavily damaged and the main road between Batken and Osh was blocked by a landslide, but that has apparently been cleared. 

One side note to give a little perspective about the economic situation in the south.  One town has about 2000 households, many of whose homes were damaged.  But of those 2000, 25 percent are empty because the residents have had to move elsewhere for financial reasons.  That is a huge number.  Kyrgyzstan is poor, but the people of Batken province especially will need a great deal of help.

Cталинки, Хрущевки, и брежневки

I finally sorted out the Soviet apartment block styles.  If you walk around a post-Soviet city like Bishkek, it's obvious that there are different building styles and after my Russian teacher told me a little about it, I found out more online.  The series numbers I have listed are what my teacher told me, but I haven't been able to confirm them very well online.

Upscale Stalinka

Stalinkas (104 series) are (obviously) Stalin-era buildings (1927-1953).  They have high ceilings and are built in a more ornate style, but their wooden interior floors cause major problems today.  Stalinkas built for ordinary Soviets weren't very ornate though. The rooms are relatively large, especially the kitchen.  They don't have elevators, although that's not too terrible since these buildings usually aren't taller than four stories.  If I lived on the fourth floor of one, though, I might feel differently.  I also would feel differently about them if I'd had to share one with another family as was common during the Stalin era.  From what I've read, the hot-water system in these buildings wasn't very good either, although the bathrooms and water system obviously vary dramatically since they were built over 25 years.  Currently a Stalinka in good repair is considered to be the best option of these three series, but a Stalinka that hasn't been updated probably can't even handle a vacuum cleaner being plugged in.  I don't believe there are any Stalinkas in Tokmok, but there are in Bishkek.
Khrushchyovka.  I see these often in Kyrgyzstan.

Block method Khrushchyovka

Khrushchyovkas (105 series) are common in Tokmok and Bishkek.  They don't have a great reputation with cramped interiors, thin walls, and narrow passageways.  I've been in my share of these and they really are uncomfortably tight.  Whoever planned the apartments forgot that everyone had to stop at the front door and take off their shoes.  There aren't usually elevators either, but they are generally five stories or less.  The flats usually have from one to three rooms.  Khrushchev built a huge number of these buildings and they began to relieve the housing shortage in the Soviet Union.  In addition to brick buildings, they also used a block method and a panel method.  The panels in particular didn't insulate the flats very well and we often hear that the older blocks are cold in the winter.  Again, the flats have from one to three rooms, but often they didn't have their own bathroom.  I've been told that four families (usually one floor of flats) shared one bathroom.  This series isn't exactly well-regarded today in general, but living in your own apartment in one of these buildings was better than sharing a Stalinka.  One other problem with these flats is that they generally were designed to be occupied for 25-50 years.  Do that math and you'll decide too than a Khrushchyovka isn't for you.


Brezhnevkas (106 series) (1964-1982) are often described as advanced or better Khrushchevkas.  There are lots of these in Bishkek and some in Tokmok.  They generally have toilets in each apartment instead of communal toilets, I believe.  These buildings are often the traditional high-rise examples of Soviet-era apartment blocks and there generally are elevators that might work.  I've been in a nice Brezhnevka and it's not too bad.  I believe that this style of flat is more likely to open into a main hall with all the rooms going off it and there is often a second balcony which is a very nice thing.

(A lot of this info came from various websites, but this master's thesis has lots of information about the 104 and 105 series.  Wikipedia has the most detail about the three styles with lots of information and floor plans and there are other pages on the Khrushchyovkas.  Definitely worth a look.)

21 July 2011

I Can't Hear My Complaining

 When Blogger wasn't accessible for a few days, I'd been planning on posting about all the things that weren't working right in our house.  So I wrote that up and posted it elsewhere and felt a lot better the next morning.  And there really are a lot of things that are going okay here.  Here's a few:

  • Even though most of the Uzbeks in town think we're spies, our neighbors don't
  • Both the fridge and the freezer are working.  The freezer is slowly icing up, like usual, but there should be a few weeks until I have to frantically thaw it out before everything goes bad.
  • The pump is working again.  There is nothing more I need to say about that happy event.
  • Most days haven't been over 35 degrees
  • We would have been going to Khujand, Tajikistan next year if the US government had funded the Fulbright-Hayes.  I don't think this is a good one, but my children do.
  • The internet works as long as the electricity works.
  • Walnuts look very interesting inside before they dry
  • There are currently 6 liters of milk sitting in my fridge.  6!
  • After trying for six months to find someone who could come to the house daily to help me with Russian, I finally have a good Russian teacher
  • We have 4 fans
  • There are chocolate chips in the freezer and peanut butter in the fridge (hot kitchen)

17 July 2011

Lego in Bishkek

We finally found the place to buy Lego in Bishkek.  When we lived there 6 years ago there was one store that sold a few, but now lots of places sell some.  But there's one place that's really the Lego place.  And since it was a little hard to find out about (I suppose that expats with kids in Bishkek might all know and tell each other) (we couldn't find much when I searched online in English, but I found this place when I searched in Russian), I wanted to post it here.

Anyway.  It's on the northwest corner of Soviet and Moscow.  There's a fountain in front of the building and a poster with the Lego symbol on it.  They have a pretty good selection and the prices aren't unreasonable.  We had some very happy boys after visiting there.

14 July 2011

Kyrgyz in China

I've been looking at doing a loop around China, from the Torugart Pass through the Kyzylsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Region and Kashgar and back to the Irkeshtam Pass, mostly to see if I can learn a little more about the Kyrgyz minority in China.  We meet people often with relatives who live there, or with grandparents who were there for a few decades.  And we hear bits about how Kyrgyz are diffferent there, and how they are the same.

So I was delighted tonight when Radio Free Europe had a story tonight about a Kyrgyz woman who did that very thing, although things didn't turn out the way she'd wanted them to.  I don't know if we'll be able to go there (the logistics are daunting- and expensive- for a family of five) but it's nice to learn a little more.  It's hard to find much information at all about that area.  I was lucky to find a book in the library about it.  It has lovely pictures and some interesting information, but it would have been a lot more interesting if it hadn't been an official Chinese publication. 

The New Kashgar

So I'm always griping about China being called a world power when so many people who live in China live without basic necessities.  But it's not quite fair for me to imply that China isn't doing anything about it, because it does spend a lot of money on infrastructure. They just don't spend it where I want them to spend it.

A good example of this is Kashgar (where I have not been and keep trying to figure out a way to get there; I could be there tomorrow if there wasn't an international border).  Kashgar is a very ancient city in western China with a majority Uyghur population.  Historically it has not usually been part of China and it's still very much on the edge of China.  It also has a bit of a reputation for housing Uyghur separatists which doesn't exactly make the Chinese government happy.

The government has decided to reconstruct a significant part of Kashgar.  There is good reason for this; much of the old city would fall apart if there were an earthquake in the region, and there are relatively few modern conveniences (like water) available.  Those are concerns very worth addressing.  However, the government's solution is to demolish and rebuild.

There are several problems with this.  Obviously a vital part of Kashgar's cultural heritage is being lost, but even more, it's unlikely the Kashgar's Uyghur residents will end up back on their old land in new, safer, (and boring) buildings.  Throughout China when old cities, towns, and neighborhoods have been demolished for new construction, the original inhabitants aren't able to stay.  It's too expensive, or they can't wait around for a new building.  I don't know if this will happen in Kashgar, but if other parts of China can serve as an example, it's likely that Kashgar will have much higher Han population as a result of the reconstruction.  Safer in every way, I'm sure, from the government's point of view.

And can we have a little chat about the new construction?  Generally tried-and-true building styles develop over centuries of a town's existence.  Courtyard-style homes like they have in Kashgar are excellent for warm climates.  High-rise buildings are not, unless you can afford good air conditioning (and the plumbing works well).  I've learned that this summer with our Russian-style house.  It's designed for cold winters and mild summers, not the 40-degree weather that so many Russian-style homes in Central Asia sit in.  There's often a reason why people build the way they do. 

I think it's entirely possible for China to make Kashgar a safer, more efficient city without demolishing so much of it.  I just wish there were a reason for the Chinese government to want to do that.

13 July 2011

Спаржa, Not Спраже

I was spelling and pronouncing the Russian word for tofu sticks wrong. Not wrong enough that people didn't know what I was asking for, but wrong enough that I didn't find it in the dictionary.  I should have looked at the package more carefully.

For some unknown reason (Google didn't know, at least) the word for tofu sticks is the same as the word for asparagus.  So even though I messed up the spelling, I wasn't as wrong as one blog I saw that referred to it as white asparagus.  I'm not sure that it would be possible to make the vegetable sparzha look like the soy sparzha. 

Anyway, I guess it's sometimes called Korean asparagus or soy asparagus here, for obvious reasons, especially since any generic "Eastern" dish gets "Korean" tacked on, unless it's more clearly from some other place. I'm a little skeptical that it's entirely Korean, especially in my town.  I've had plenty of sparzha with Dungans.

I'd be interested to learn more about this, but I'm not really sure where I could look.  I can at least ask around here to find out if people think it's specifically Korean.  Even if they say it is though, that might just mean that's it's officially culturally Korean, even if Dungans or Uyghurs also brought it with them. 

12 July 2011

Trying to remember that at least I'm not living in Ashgabat right now where it's 40 degrees for weeks on end.  I'll just live by the fan till Thursday.

And I'm also grateful that we have a well with an electric pump since the city water is off half the time now.

And I'm glad the refrigerator works.  It doesn't like having the electricity go off very often. 

The Vegetables Are Very Fresh

I remember reading The Geography of Bliss a few years ago (and not liking it much, but that's not the point here) and how people in Moldova kept telling the author how fresh the vegetables were in the summer.  The author had traveled there (in the winter) because people were supposed to be very unhappy in Moldova and apparently all they could think of that was nice about the country was the fresh produce.  Silly book.

Anyway.  The vegetables really are very fresh here.  That is unquestionably one of my favorite things about living here, plus all the wonderful things people do with their vegetables.  I did run off to the bazaar early this morning and got 4 eggplants and a kilo each of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers for $2.50.  The apricots are perfectly ripe and delicious, there are all sorts of berries, and the melons are just coming in. 

And you can go to the bazaar before 8 AM and find all of that.  Fresh vegetables are worth talking about all winter.  And there's more to post-Soviet countries than apparently miserable people.

11 July 2011

Eggplant Salad

I'm still debating whether I'll brave heat tomorrow to get eggplant and tomatoes and peppers at the bazaar tomorrow.  If only they were ripe in the garden.  But if I do, this is what I'll try:

2 eggplants
5-6 tomatoes
1 onion
2-3 peppers
lots of garlic

Slice and salt the eggplant, squeeze and fry the eggplant with the sliced onions and peppers and crushed garlic in oil.  Add the chopped tomatoes and then season it.  I haven't decided if I'll use sesame seeds, black vinegar, a bit of soy sauce, some rice vinegar, some cayenne, and a bit of sugar (just a bit), or if I'll do dill, lemon and salt and pepper.

10 July 2011

I ate the best laghman I've ever had today at an Uyghur house.  It was simple with some stir-fried meat and cabbage and beans, but you could also top it with jusay and eggs or tomatoes and garlic (or both) and there was plenty of lazy.  The tomatoes were perfectly ripe and it was lovely to eat something spicy at someone else's home.  The woman who made it is hopefully going to be my Russian tutor this summer and I'm definitely going to get some recipes from her.  Everything was delicious.

Last night we went to a party and there was an eggplant salad there that was beyond delicious.  I must find that recipe too. 

When we go to other people's houses, it often seems like the food is the same, and basically, it is, but there are definitely some ethnic differences, and you can always tell a good cook.  Even when you're eating plov.

09 July 2011

The Turkic Word for Rainbow

My husband, who's studying Uyghur this summer, came home with the interesting tidbit that the word for rainbow in Uyghur and Kyrgyz is hasan-husan (or asan-uson) which are the names Uzbeks give to twin boys.*   It appears from a google search and also after consulting our Dictionary of Turkic Languages (which is so vital here that it wasn't scanned) that Kyrgyz and Uyghur are the only two Turkic languages that use that term, although an Uyghur friend of ours here thought the word was Uzbek, not Uyghur.

We find there is a lot of mixing of Turkic languages in Tokmok.  Kyrgyz is obviously the most commonly spoken Turkic language here, but there are also a large number of Uzbeks and Uyghurs.  Most people say the Uyghurs in Tokmok are a lot like the Uzbeks and mostly speak Uzbek, but the Uyghur language is here too.  Anyway, there is certainly a mixture of Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Uyghur here. 

Back to rainbows.  I'm really curious why Kyrgyz and Uyghur are the only two Turkic languages that use this term (or if they really are). Several other Turkic languages appear to have borrowed the Arabic word, and Uzbek used kamalak.  And I'm curious if there's a story behind the term too.

I'd love to know more if you can tell me more. 

* In Uzbekistan, if you have twin boys, the older is named Hasan and the younger named Husan.  Twin girls are named Fatima and Zuhra.  If you have a boy and a girl, you'll either name them Hasan and Zuhra or Fatima and Husan (we happen to know a Fatima whose twin brother is named Husan).  Fatimah Zahra (Arabic spelling- Fatima is pronounced with the stress on the middle syllable in Uzbek, instead of the first as in Arabic) was Muhammad's daughter who was married to Abu Talib.  Hasan and Husayn were their two living sons.  Uzbeks aren't Shi'a, as you might expect from these names, but they are Sufi which explains the names. I haven't been able to determine if any other Central Asians or Turkic people use these names.  And I don't know how prevalent the practice is in Uzbekistan either.  And I don't know why Uzbeks split Fatimah's name into two parts.  I believe that if the names are used in most Muslim countries, they're just for one person, not two.

08 July 2011

Language Policy

There have been a few news stories recently about language in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (there are always here, but I'm highlighting a few today).  Roza Otunbaeva was reported to have said that she supports more Kyrgyz language instruction in schools in Kyrgyzstan with more subjects being taught in Kyrgyz instead of Russian.  Another article was about Uzbeks in the south who support Kyrgyz being taught in schools instead of Uzbek.  A third article was from Kazakhstan where two schools in one city were changing their language of instruction from Russian to Kazakh in the fall.  Apparently hundreds of lawsuits have been filed.

I've written on this topic often.  In some ways I am uncomfortable with Russian being the most common language of instruction in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; it's almost universal in the universities, although not completely.  Russian is the native language of less than half the people in Kyrgyzstan (although it's not only the native language of Russians; there are many Central Asians who speak Russian more comfortably than Kyrgyz, for example).  Russian is also best described as a colonial language in Central Asia.  It also has great potential to replace Kazakh and Kyrgyz as spoken languages, although that isn't likely to happen any more, at least in all parts of each country.  It also carries Soviet baggage with it.  Some of that baggage is positive, but not all of it.

But there are some excellent reasons why Russian should be used.  There are far more books published in Russian than either Kazakh or Kyrgyz, and students who are confident in Russian have much greater access to world literature.  And even though Russian has its problems and isn't a neutral language here, it's probably more neutral than any other potential common language. 

And there is a need for a common language.  Kyrgyz (in KG, obviously) is in many ways a logical choice.  The majority of the people in Kyrgyzstan are Kyrgyz, and a significant minority speak closely-related Turkic languages.  But Russians and Dungans and Koreans especially don't speak Kyrgyz or anything like it and many would probably prefer using Russian rather than Kyrgyz as their common language.

I don't really think there are good answers to any of these questions.  I wish it were easier to educate people effectively in Russian, Kyrgyz, and whatever the student's native language is (Uzbek, Dungan, etc) if it isn't Russian.  That would be ideal, but it's not really possible.  Compromises have to be made somewhere.

07 July 2011

Can't Believe I Missed This

I stumbled on a new-to-me Uzbek cooking blog.  It is excellent with lots of recipes and photos.  Definitely the place for Uzbek recipes.  Everything is there.  Even sumalak.

06 July 2011

Bazaar and Other News

So these aren't big things, but they're a slice of life in Tokmok.  The neighbors cut down at least 5 huge trees in front of their house.  There's supposed to be some sort of disease floating around killing trees in Tokmok, and I don't know if this had anything to do with it, but the house looks naked now.  Maybe they're redoing the yard.

Apricots are local now and just 30 cents a pound.  30 cents.  I have an apricot tree in the backyard, but the apricots aren't very good.  Doesn't much matter when I can buy a treeful of apricots for less than 5 dollars.  A small tree, which is what I have.  I've made jam and apricot nectar so far.  The freezer is definitely getting a workout since I don't can.  I may try sun drying some of the apricots.

A woman stopped me on the street on the way home to ask why I'd bought 4 kilos of apricots.  I don't suppose you see too many Americans walking down the street with that many.  She approved of my jam-making though.

The biggest bazaar news is that they seem to be redoing the marshrutka area at the bazaar. It's a huge area that's mostly level, although there are lots of rocks around.  It's fine in the summer, but in the winter it mostly turned into a bog and made crossing perilous.  All the marshrutkas have been gone for at least 2 days (I don't really know where they are; I'll have to explore a little tomorrow) and today there was a grader working and some men drilling out old pavement.  I don't think we ever took a before photo, which is unfortunate.  I'll have to look through the pictures we have.  I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.  Yes, my life is exciting. 

The biggest neighborhood news is the circumcision celebration for the neighbor's three-year-old son.  My husband has been invited to the circumcision, and we're both going to the party the next day.  I don't believe I have ever attended such an event before.

05 July 2011

You Have to Provide Toilets

One of the sidebars in Hungry Planet was about the lack of indoor toilets in India and the problem it causes.  Yes, there is a significant middle class in India, as large almost as the population of the US, but there are also twice as many people as that who are very poor.  China is similar; there are hundreds of millions of people in China who can afford a reasonable standard of living, but it's not a great idea for anyone to have to use the toilets most people use in China. 

Toilets are just one example of decent, reliable, and affordable infrastructures not being available to so many people on this planet.  Throughout post-Soviet Central Asia, countries derived from a nation that was supposed to provide for its people, you find significant numbers of people without decent sanitation or indoor plumbing.  It's not just a result of crumbling pipes because most people in Central Asia didn't have those things during the Soviet years either, although the ensuing 20 years haven't done much for any of the 5 countries' infrastructure, except Kazakhstan.

There is no doubt in my mind that no nation can truly be a world power unless its people are provided with basic services.  Sanitary toilets and indoor plumbing with both hot and cold water and reliable, clean, and safe energy sources should be a basic human right.

04 July 2011

The Americans

We are known as the Americans in our neighborhood.  We're rather an anomaly in Tokmok because we're foreign but we don't live in a remodeled apartment or in one of the complexes built by the Christian organizations. So we're the token Americans on this end of Tokmok.

I don't like many things that the US represents, but I like being an American.  And there are some great things that the US represents that I do like.  But even though the US is a comfortable and easy place for me to live, I prefer to live overseas.

But there are some things I really miss about the US.  I love the western US and have lived most of my life there, but it wasn't till I read Wallace Stegner that I understood better how I really feel about it.  I love the open spaces, the browns and yellows and golds, and especially the stories of the people who made the West home.  All of my ancestors, and my husband's, have lived in the West for at least 150 years and it really is my home too.  I think that Westernness that some of us have make us different sorts of Americans.

I don't feel as much a citizen of the US as I do a citizen of the world.  I wish nationality were less important, if only because it contributes so much to dividing people economically.  I can't believe that it's right for me to have so many opportunities simply because I was born within the boundaries of the US instead of the boundaries of the former Soviet Union (although, if I had been, it would be a lot easier to get those visas to Uzbekistan). I wish Americans were more interested in sharing what we have instead of worrying that we don't have enough.

I'm grateful to be an American and for the privileges it affords me, but there are so many other wonderful places in this world that grant some amazing privileges.

02 July 2011


We get lots of thunderstorms in Tokmok, many more than we ever did in Bishkek.  It really helps to keep the temperature down and I'm grateful for every thunderstorm that comes our way.

This morning we've had 4 roll through in the last 2 hours.  I have to keep turning the internet and computer off, especially the internet because we're not supposed to use it during thunderstorms.  I don't know why exactly, but with the way most things (don't) work in Kyrgyzstan, I'm not about to take any chances.  The power usually goes off during them too, but so far it's been on today.

People walking down the street take cover wherever they can when the rain starts.  A couple spent the last rainstorm next to our gate where there was a little shelter.  

Here comes another one.  Signing off.

Hungry Planet- Tell Me More

I've been rereading this book (actually, I'm not sure if I've ever sat down and read every word in it, or just read sections and looked through it a lot) but this time around I'm reading it with very different eyes after spending 6 months in Tokmok.  A year in Bishkek didn't make a big difference, because shopping, cooking, and eating weren't quite so different from what I was used to in the US.  This is not to criticize the book at all; it's just that I've found that there's more to what a family eats than what this book covers.

There are 3 things so far that I wish the book addressed better: water, kitchens, and the logistics of actually photographing the food.  All of them are covered in the book, certainly, but I think all three should play a more central role.  Every section has photo of the family with their week's food surrounding them, a list of that food and how much it costs, and how the family can cook and preserve food.

Water is listed in the beverage section; if a family purchases bottled water, it's in the photo, but if there's plumbing or if the water is hauled inside, it's not there.  The family in a refugee camp had their ration of water listed, but I don't think anyone else has their water usage listed, and I think that's an oversight because water usage varies so greatly around the world.  It also make a difference if there's a family well, and if it has a pump, or how far water has to be hauled if there isn't a water source nearby.  All this does come out in the text, usually, but I feel that it should have been more clearly addressed in the tables at the beginning of each section because water is even more important than food, and it's a precious resource.  And because I think lots of people reading this book look at the photos and the tables more than reading all the of text (like me).

I also think there should be photos of every kitchen.  Some of the families are posed in their kitchens or cooking areas with their food, but you can't see the area very well, or there isn't a photo of it at all.  If you're going to write about food, kitchens are important, especially when the target audience of this book is certainly wealthy people.  Honestly, before I moved here, I would have thought that I could never have cooked in a kitchen like the one I have now.

Finally, I wanted to know more about how they actually managed to photograph all that food.  As an American, it doesn't seem odd to go to the store and purchase a week's worth of food and then photograph it.  That's a fairly normal thing to do (the purchasing part, not the photographing part).  But it would be totally crazy to buy that much food here at once.  They do mention, like in the section on the rural Chinese family, that no one there would ever buy that much food at a time, and the authors write about having to help carry all that food home, but that just underscored something else that was missing- how food was transported.

I couldn't produce a photo like that of my family's food for a week in Tokmok.  I physically couldn't carry that much food home, and half of the produce and the milk would go bad before we could get to it.  In fact, the milk would be the hardest thing to photograph and I'm not sure I could even find enough bagged milk in Tokmok in one day, nor can I buy a week's worth of milk from my neighbor (I use that milk for cheese and yogurt and butter).  But there were photos in the book that acknowledged that the amount in the photo was only one day's worth of one type of food.  Of course, if you're growing most of your own produce you can preserve it or store it so that you don't have to shop for it every day; you could photograph a week's worth of it.

So I'm left more curious about the kitchens and the water, and far more curious about how the photographs were managed, and what happened to all that food after.

01 July 2011

Bhutanese Cheese

I've been trying some Bhutanese recipes recently, but I cannot find a recipe for what appears to be the typical homemade Bhutanese cheese, made from cow's milk.  There's also a yak cheese called churpi, and I bet I could even track down some yak milk if I wanted to, but I'll stick with the cow milk cheese for now.

I can't even figure out if the cheese should be one that melts or not.  I have found a few videos, but since my internet connection is so slow I can't watch them, and I don't know if they're just showing someone making the cheese, instead of trying to give the recipe.  I can't imagine the process is very complicated.  I've been using paneer which seems like a reasonable substitute, but if I'm using homemade cheese anyway, I'd rather make the real thing.

It would be interesting to try making cheese from yak's milk or mare's milk though.  It's not like I'd get a chance to do that anywhere else.  Or to learn more about traditional cheeses in Asia.  There are a lot here, despite what you might think.

The Introverted Expatriate

When you look at a list of what the typical expat ought to be, introverted characteristics aren't usually on it.  People expect expats to be extroverts and stereotypically extroverted character traits can serve expats well.  You're thrown in the middle of completely new situations, new people, and new languages all the time.

It's especially hard for me, because I'm an introvert who also doesn't deal well with new situations.  I'm not someone who loves change, although I am getting better at dealing with it.  Being an expat requires a lot of action, especially at the beginning, and that's when I need time to figure things out.  It's also hard for me when I'm trying to learn a new language because you're never going to learn to speak a language if you don't get out and try it.  You might be able to read it, but speaking requires overcoming some introverted tendencies.  Some days all I want to do is curl up in the house and not speak to anyone in any language and read familiar books that remind me of living where I'm a little more comfortable.

But being an introverted expat isn't all bad. You ought to expect some isolation as an expat (especially in a situation like ours) and that doesn't bother me at all. I don't depend on others to help me be content. There are also a lot of interesting things I can learn on my own- it doesn't all have to be about being with other people.  And despite my distaste for new situation, I love new cultures, new languages, and new food. I can't experience all the things I want to in the US.  Curious introverts can make great expats.

And I'm lucky to have a husband who has all the "right" expat traits.  I'll supply the overlooked ones.