31 August 2011

Eid al-Fitr, the Bazaar, and Independence Day

I have a few more hours of unlimited internet access before it turns off for our move, so I wanted to get some photos up from the last few days.

This is the only store in the Tokmok Bazaar that nearly always has decent pasteurized milk.  Both women who work there got to know us very well.

The orientation is odd, but this is Layla who sells me all my laghman and salads.  I'll miss her.

The only way I've gotten most people to let me take their picture is to tell them we're moving soon.  But this woman was happy to pose for us.  She sells me nearly all of our rice, cracked wheat, oil, and beans.

Doesn't it look great?

There were lots of people at the bazaar today for Independence Day and Eid al-Fitr.  Lots of buses from the towns and villages around Tokmok.

30 August 2011

It's Not Eid al-Fitr for Everyone

There are a handful of mosques in Tokmok (and elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan, for all I know) that are not celebrating Eid today.  They'll wait till tomorrow after the moon is sighted.  I honestly don't know how this affects people's celebrations.  Do you visit friends and family who attend a mosque who hasn't finished Ramadan yet?  It's not very many mosques in town that are waiting, but I wish I knew if it made much of a difference.

29 August 2011

Sounds Like Eid is Tomorrow in Kyrgyzstan

I can't find anything official online, but based on what we're hearing from all the mosques around us, Orozo Ait is tomorrow.  Told you.

27 August 2011

Scheduling Muslim Holidays in a Not-So-Devout Muslim Country

So I've mentioned before that there's a scheduling conflict in Kyrgyzstan this year because Eid al-Fitr (Orozo Ait/Ramazan Hayit) falls on August 31, which is Independence Day.  And not just any Independence Day, but the 20th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's independence.

First it was assumed that Eid al-Fitr would be celebrated on August 30, then one minister announced both holidays would be on the 31st.  But that doesn't work because that makes for some serious scheduling conflicts, especially in Bishkek.  And outside Bishkek the two holidays are celebrated differently from each other.  A good comparison is Christmas Day and the Fourth of July in the US.  Christmas is a family and friends holiday, but the Fourth is a public and community holiday.  The same goes for Orozo Ait and Independence Day.

So the Grand Mufti in Bishkek announced last Tuesday that no one would know the date of Eid al-Fitr till August 29th.  I'm not sure why that is the date (Eid al-Fitr always comes with a little mystery since it's based on sightings of the moon and can come a day earlier or later than expected- although astronomically it should be entirely predictable, but I digress) that Eid al-Fitr can be determined, unless we really do end up with the 30th as the date which would actually be the most convenient because September 1st is the first day of school and generally you don't mess with that.

Now that I think about it more, that last theory seems to be the most logical.  If the Mufti waits for the announcement till the evening of the 29th, he can see the moon then and Eid al-Fitr will be on the 30th, Independence Day on the 31st, and First Bell on the 1st.  Eid al-Fitr would appear to be based on the lunar calendar instead of the state calendar (even though the moon wouldn't really be visible), but it all would work out according to the convenience of the state calendar.

Anyway, I've enjoyed Ramadan in Tokmok.  It's hardly noticeable in Bishkek and in-your-face in the Middle East (not that I mind that at all; sometimes I wish for a bit more religious conviction), but it feels a bit like the month of December here.  People visit friends and go to iftars often, and on Ramazan Hayit and the two following days everyone will visit everyone.  Almost no one fasts, especially after the first few days of the month, but everyone has a good time.

24 August 2011

The Weather Mystery

In the US I'm used to weather forecasts that are quite precise. I could check the hourly forecast in Seattle to make sure it wasn't going to rain on us during our walk.  The high temperature is nearly always within a few degrees of the forecast and generally you can rely on the forecasts.  Sure, there are exceptions, like when that promised snowstorm doesn't show up (and they usually seem to mess up the big events more than the every day) but the vast majority of the time we know what the weather will bring.

It's a little more exciting here.  I check two weather websites and they'll often have radically different forecasts.  They also aren't updated very often and the temperature will often max out at least 10 degrees less than they were forecasting.  There have been several times this month that that's happened.  I remember checking the forecasts in early April and there was a 40 degree difference in the forecast between the two sites. 

The best is when the temperature is a lot lower than they were forecasting.  Today I was gearing up for a hot day over 95 degrees and it didn't even make it to 90.  And both sites agree that it'll cool off to the 70s in just a few days.  Maybe I will have the energy to clean the house before we move.

Why Are You Doing That?

A friend of mine from a few cities ago is just starting to homeschool.  I asked her what people said when they heard she was starting to homeschool, and she said it's "WHY?"  In my experience this is the number one question when someone hears that we homeschool and I was interested to hear than my friend whose homeschooling reasons and circumstances are different from mine still gets asked to explain herself.  (I'd rather explain why than listen to the concerned questions some homeschoolers get though.)

As long as you have a good reason you can navigate that exchange fairly well and move on to other things.  My go-to answer is that we move a lot; it's quick, simple, and most people won't argue with it unless they want to get into why we move so often, but that's getting a little more personal and most people don't go there.  If you try to give a long explanation, or are critical of the local schools, or if you just sound wishy-washy, the sailing isn't quite as smooth.

I never know what to say when people who are just starting to homeschool or are thinking about it ask for advice since everyone homeschools differently and for different reasons, but maybe I'll just start telling people to have a good answer when people ask them why they're doing it.

I probably ought to come up with something that sounds better to explain all the moving though.

23 August 2011

Папины дочки

I've written about our selection of television stations before, but besides all the government-sponsored stations, we do get some regular Russian stations.  So in the afternoons while I'm making dinner I get to practice Russian by watching reruns of Daddy's Daughters.  It's pretty popular in Russia and I like it too.  I'm already a little predisposed to it because there are five daughters in the family, like mine (and I always think it's interesting how common it is, relatively speaking, to see five daughters in books and movies), but it's just a fun show no matter what.  I obviously don't get much of what's going on, but it's easier for me to understand this show than a lot of other things I can find on TV.

21 August 2011

Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan

It's been interesting to learn more about Uyghurs living in Kyrgyzstan the last few months, mostly from talking to various Uyghurs here in various situations.  Sean Roberts has done significant research on Uyghurs in Kazakhstan, especially around Almaty, but little research appears to have been among Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan.

There seems to be three fairly distinct groups of Uyghurs.  The oldest group are those who've "always" lived here, since before there were borders.  There wasn't a distinct Uyghurstan any more than a distinct Kyrgyzstan or most any -stan, and especially around Issyk Kul and Tokmok (and to some extent, around Osh) there are many Uyghurs who don't have a connection to East Turkestan.  For example, here in Tokmok nearly all Uyghurs are called Uzbeks on their passports and they are part of the mix of ethnicities that all interacts together in Tokmok.  I've read that it's the same around Issyk Kul where Uyghurs don't speak Uyghur and don't have any political or cultural interest in East Turkestan.

The next group are Uyghurs that left China in the '50s and '60s when China was exerting far more control over their lives than it ever had before.  Many who left at that time and came to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were either wealthy, well-educated, or politically powerful.  And many of them and their children and grandchildren now live in Bishkek and some suburbs and towns east of Bishkek.  There is a much stronger sense of being Uyghur among this group.  This is also the group that is more likely to tell you that they are from a certain city or area in East Turkestan and they are far more likely to know what is going on in China now.  They also are much more likely to have relatives in China.

(The two previous groups aren't entirely separate.  We know Uyghur families who left Kyrgyzstan in the '30s and '40s when things were bad in the Soviet Union and then returned 20 or 30 years later when the Soviet Union was a better place to live than China.  I've gotten the impression that these people remain part of the first group though, and didn't necessarily switch to the second, although I imagine it mostly depends on where you live- I hope we can talk about this more with the Uyghurs living in and around Bishkek.)

The final group are Uyghurs who hold Chinese passports and are in Kyrgyzstan to trade.  I've never talked to any of them and I've read that because they are interested in China's continuing to allow them to cross the border, they aren't connected with other Uyghurs living here. 

It would be interesting to talk to Uyghurs in the second group to learn a little more about what life was like in East Turkestan/Xinjiang before they left.  It's so difficult to find anything about China at that time and place and it seems that Uyghurs here could be a good resource, although many left before the Cultural Revolution really took off. 

20 August 2011

Toilets and Cell Phones

Yes, there is a connection between toilets and cell phones, and no, it doesn't have anything to do with dropping your phone in the toilet.  I'm not the biggest fan of cell phones, but they've revolutionized communication around the world for one simple reason.  They work.  As long as there's a cell phone tower around (and there is just about everywhere now), you can use a cell phone.  If your city's phone system has crumbled into dust or never existed, it doesn't matter.  Cell phones are separate from poor infrastructure.

About a month ago there was a crop of articles (mostly amusing or bemused) about Bill and Melinda Gates granting $42 million to 8 universities around the world to fund new toilet designs.  It's a great idea because right now billions of people don't have access to a decent toilet of any type. That's not likely to change with current toilets because there has to be a significant municipal system in place to use a toilet at all.  If you're not connected to both functioning water and sewer and possibly electricity, a flush toilet doesn't do you any good even though it's an efficient and sanitary design. 

It's a pretty daunting project to get water and sewer access to everyone.  In short, it's not going to happen, just like no one waited around for phone lines; we just bought cell phones. 

So the Gates Foundation wants a different toilet available. It has to function without water or electricity and there must be sanitary disposal of the waste (preferably producing something useful), and it has to be cheap to operate.  That's a pretty tall order, but it's really the only way to begin to solve the problem.

(And no, the composting toilets that are already out there don't fulfill all the requirements.  If you have low population density composting toilets could work, or outhouses (that's the norm in my town and it works), or any number of other solutions that have been in place for a long time, but high-density areas need something that has not yet been invented.  And thank you to the Gates Foundation for tackling something like this- toilets aren't exactly attention-grabbers.)

16 August 2011

Best Eggplant Ever

I got this dish perfect tonight after a couple of somewhat successful tries over the last few weeks.  It's called a salad here, but in the US it would just be a side dish, although it can be served hot or cold or at room temperature.  I think I like warm best.  Here's how I made it.

Vegetable oil
5 small eggplant, sliced thin
5 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
3 small peppers (hot or sweet or a mix), sliced
Handful of jusay, chopped (you could use chinsay, or a bit of dill, or rayhon, or green onions)
4 large cloves of garlic, chopped
Sprinkle of 80% vinegar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce, optional
Salt, if needed
Crushed red pepper, if needed

Fry the eggplant in vegetable oil till soft.  Eggplant sucks up oil so you might end up using more than you wanted to.  You could also steam the eggplant first in the microwave or roast it in the oven, but I think it's best fried.  When the eggplant is soft and just starting to fall apart, add the tomatoes, peppers, jusay or other greens, and the garlic and stir-fry for a minute or two till the tomatoes and peppers are starting to soften.  Turn off the heat and add the vinegar (obviously you'll need more if yours is only 5%- using a stronger vinegar results in less liquid at the bottom of the dish), soy sauce if desired, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately or let it cool off a bit.  It's also delicious the next day with fresh naan.

Bishkek Apartments

I like to see the creative ways that apartments have been updated in Bishkek.  One of my favorite is when people knock down walls.  I remember the first time I walked into a remodeled Bishkek apartment where they'd taken out a wall or two and what a difference it made.  The apartment was still tiny, but it felt so much more open.

Another idea is to buy your neighbor's apartment and combine the two.  There are lots of things you can do when you have twice the space.

And you never, ever know what you'll find through any door in Bishkek.  You might climb up a set of dark, not-so-clean stairs (although usually they are clean, they just don't look great) and keep climbing for 5 or six floors, knock on an old door, and be taken inside an apartment that bright, clean, remodeled, and cheerful.

C's comment below about apartments is so true too, because even though a place might look spiffy, you know something isn't going to work or is going to stop working soon.  I suppose no one is ever really done remodeling here.

14 August 2011

Pros and Cons

While there are two very good reasons for us to move to Bishkek now, and those are the two reasons we're going, there's a lot of things I'd miss about Tokmok if we move soon.

  • It would be easy to find the bagged milk the family likes, but I'd miss buying fresh milk from our neighbors.
  • We're looking to live near one of the bazaars in Bishkek, but it's a lot more civilized than my bazaar here. And a lot smaller.
  • We'd be trading our house with a yard for a small apartment and lots of stair climbing
  • The kitchen would have running water and a decent stove and cupboards (I can't decide which would be the most exciting), but it would be much smaller than our current kitchen
  • I can get a much, much wider variety of food in Bishkek, but I'm not sure how easy it'd be to find some of my favorite Dungan and Uyghur ingredients.  And the produce is more expensive there.
  • There are lots more Russian teachers available in Bishkek, but I'd miss my tutor here
  • Houses are just more pleasant than apartments.  Especially if your downstairs neighbors don't like children much
  • Mosques are few and far between in Bishkek (although we're aiming to live near the mosque*)
  • Bishkek is more diverse than Tokmok, but it's also a lot more European.  I like the diversity in Tokmok
  • Bishkek has so many more cars and it's so much busier
  • But I would spend much, much, much less time dealing with food in Bishkek.  Much.
  • And I think we've seen almost everything there is to see in Tokmok

*I did just have one happy thought, after hearing the muezzin at the nearest mosque calling the adhan- I can always hope that the muezzins at the Central Mosque in Bishkek are a bit more experienced.

13 August 2011

After a sweltering week when the temperatures almost got to 40, it was delightful this week.  Most days didn't even get to 25 and there was rain and wind.  The best part was getting the house cooled off, if only for a few days.  And there was even snow in the mountains.  It's back to normal now, but it was lovely to have a brief respite during this air conditioner-less summer.  And it was really nice to not have to deal with the fans for a few days.  Except for the one from the US, they're rather tempermental.  They just need to survive another month till it cools off for good.

07 August 2011

More Jaramazan

It took a lot of searching, but I finally tracked down the lyrics to the Jaramazan song.  Unfortunately they're all in Kyrgyz and I don't know much Kyrgyz, nor does Google Translate, so all I can do is understand a bit and read it, but it's still fun because I know the tune. I've posted a couple of variations because I don't trust that any of these websites will last forever.  And here are a couple of discussions about the song.  And maybe someday someone will write about it in Russian so I can read it.  Well, actually, I did find one article that connects the song with older Kyrgyz beliefs and had bits of the song.  It's an interesting read, although I wasn't entirely convinced.  Maybe I'll read the article with my Russian teacher and see what she thinks.  Anyway, here are two versions of the song.

This site's version:
Ассалому алейкум, жарамазан,
Он эки айда бир келчү орозо жан.
Орозоң кабыл болсун кармаган жан.
Адыр-адыр тоолордон,
Айгыр минип мен келдим.
Айгыр оозун тарта албай,
Ушул үйгө туш келдим.
Будур-будур тоолордон,
Бука минип мен келдим.
Бука мурдун тарта албай,
Ушул үйгө туш келдим.
Ушул үйдүн үзүгү,
Ак кочкордун чуудасы,
Ушул үйдө жеңейим,
Азыраак уктап, тыңдачы!
Ушул үйдүн үзүгү,
Көк кочкордун чуудасы,
Ушул үйдө жеңейим,
Көп уктабай, тыңдачы.
Курут алып жатат бейм?
Курут болсо алып чык,
Катыр-кутур чайнайлы.
Курут берип кубантпа,
Куру сөзгө жубатпа!
Таруу берип тамшантпа,
Таң аткыча какшатпа!
Улак берсең албаймын,
Караңгыда бакыртып,
Ушул үйдүн үзүгү,
Үзүлүңкү көрүнөт.
Ушул үйдө жеңейим.
Сүзүлүңкү көрүнөт.
Төбөдөгү төрт жылдыз.
Батайын деп баратат.
Мингеним жаман тай эле,
Жатайын деп баратат.
Шалдыр-шулдур шакек чык,
Саймалама жоолук чык!
Жоолукту белге чалабыз,
Шакекти колго салабыз.
Чымы-чымыр-чымыр чык,
Буудай майлап кууруп чык!
Бычак учу жылтырайт,
Май томуруп жатат бейм?
Майың болсо алып чык,
Сака, мурут майлайлы.
Казан-аяк калдырайт,
Убалына калбаймын.
Эртең-бүгүн деп коет,
Катыным жаман киши эле,
Карышкыр, бөрү жеп коет,
Бука берсең шайлап бер,
Мурунтугун байлап бер.
Мурунтугун үзбөсүн,
Какылдаган ырчыңдын,
Кардын жара сүзбөсүн.

This site's version
Ассалому алейкум жарамазан,
Он эки айда бир келген орозожан,
Орозоңуз кабыл болсун туткан адам.
Орозодо союлган кара борук,
Аталардан калган экен ушул жорук.
Жарамазан айтып келдим эшигиңе,
Ак кочкордой уул берсин бешигиңе.
Ал балаң жакшы чыкса кешигиңе,
Кимдер келип, кимдер кетпейт эшигиңе.
Адыр адыр тоолордон
Айгыр минип биз келдик,
Айгыр оозун тарталбай
Айлыңарга туш келдик
Будур дудур тоолордон
Бука минип биз келдик,
Мурунтугун тарталбай
Ушул үйгө туш келдик
Үйүң үйүң үй экен,
Үйдүн үстү чий экен,
Ак сарайдай зыңкыйган,
Кайсы байдын үйү экен.
Ушул үйдүн үзүгү
Үзүлүнкү көрүнөт
Ушул үйдө жеңекем
Сүзүлүңкү көрүнөт
Казан аяк калдырайт
Май томуруп жатабы
Ачкычтары шылдырайт
Акча берген жатабы?
Кош арыктан аттаган койдун изи,
Кой жашырып берем дейт байдын кызы.
Таш арыктан аттаган тайдын изи,
Тай жашырып берем дейт байдын кызы.
Улак берсең албаймын,
Убалына калбаймын.
Акча берсең аламын,
Ак чөнтөккө саламын.


We had our first Jaramazan come by last night, the Kyrgyz boys who come around at night and sing.  We didn't know the two boys, but they were kind enough to sing three times for us, the last time so we could record them.  I hope I can post the audio file here because I want to be sure to save the song.

I'll be asking around to see if this is specifically a Kyrgyz (and Kazakh?) thing, or if Uyghurs and Uzbeks do it too.  I'm guessing it's Kyrgyz because the song uses the word Orozo and from what I understand, it has something to do with the mountains.  But if there were a place in Central Asia where one group borrowed a interesting tradition from another, it would be here in Tokmok.

Actually, I'm assuming that because of what the singers are called, that there's more to the story than just a traditional Kyrgyz song.  Maybe there's more than one version?  Anyway, I hope more boys stop by because it's one of my favorite parts of Ramadan.  Hopefully we gave them enough money that they tell their friends it's worth coming. ;)

05 August 2011


I think this has been the most boring week ever and no one in the family even cares enough to do anything about it.   It gets close to 40 degrees outside every day and the house hovers around 30 degrees, give or take a few degrees in the morning and evening.  I honestly can't think of anything else to do besides sitting by the fan reading novels or doing logic puzzles, and my boys play video games and read books.  And we play card games, although that's a little tricky with the fans.  Meals are a bit dicey because the kitchen is 35 degrees by dinner time.

It does cool off to about 20 degrees at night so if I get up early I can run around and get the garden watered and the shopping done, and then I do Russian for a few hours so at least I'm getting a few worthwhile things done.  But afternoons are painfully hot and boring.  I can't think of any way to solve the problem, but I thought I'd share some of that boringness with the world.  Lucky you.

01 August 2011

Dinner's in the Garden

So maybe the garden isn't financially worth doing, but it sure is nice when I can skip a trip to the bazaar because we're going to be eating beet greens and corn for dinner.