30 September 2011

Can't Stop Eating the Pickles

The fridge is stuffed with pickles and I cannot stop eating them. Cannot.  There is even dark chocolate sitting in the kitchen and it doesn't compete with the pickles.

29 September 2011

Two New Recipes, Bishkek Style

In my opinion, it's best to use local food and local food sources when you're living overseas.  It's not cheap to cook American food in the US; it's either too expensive to impossible to do so in the rest of the world.  There are a few ethnic ingredients I can't get here (fish sauce, tamarind paste, curry paste, and coconut milk) and a few American ingredients I bring or beg relatives to send (cocoa, good chocolate chips, and vanilla), but everything else is local.

Bishkek has been nice because there is so much more available here than there was five years ago, or in Tokmok now.  I don't know of any stores that stock American brands; Beta Stores is the closest thing to a regular American grocery, but since it's Turkish, it has a lot more tahina than Jif (actually, it seems like I could find things like brown sugar and maple syrup and peanut butter there in 2005, but I can't now).   

So now there's more room for creativity (actually I could have made both of these in Tokmok).  The first recipe is very loosely based on a Greek recipe for potatoes cooked in tomato sauce and topped with feta, but I've always thought it was a little boring and since my paneer is cheaper than feta, it's Indian now.  The second recipe uses sparzhe differently than they do here (it's usually cold in salads), although it's not so different from some parts of the world.

Potatoes with tomatoes and paneer

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

Simmer the above till the potatoes are just barely tender.  While it's simmering, heat some oil in a wok (yes, I have a wok! and a qazan!) and add some spices that make you happy.  I did cumin, coriander, mustard seed, cayenne, turmeric, and nigella.  Add a chopped onion and as much garlic as you like (I did 4-5 cloves) and fry till the onions are soft.  While that's cooking, heat oil in another frying pan and fry 1/2 pound of sliced paneer till it's crispy and golden.  Or you can skip the frying; the cheese will be quite soft if you don't fry it first, although it won't melt.  Add the fried-or-not paneer to the onions and cook for a couple more minutes.  Season to taste and dump into the potatoes just before they're ready and cook a minute or two more.  If you have a picky child like I do, leave the onion and cheese out and use it for a topping.

Sparzhe (tofu sticks) and Peppers

Soak a package of tofu sticks in boiling water for about 30 minutes till soft, then cut into 2-inch pieces.  Drain well.  Meanwhile, slice 5-6 peppers and 5-6 cloves of garlic.  Heat oil in a wok and add the tofu and fry, moving it quickly around to prevent too much sticking.  I like tofu sticks to not be so very soft, so I fry accordingly.  Add the peppers and garlic after a few minutes and continue to stir-fry till the peppers are soft and you like the way the tofu is.  While it's cooking, add soy sauce or fish sauce to taste, sesame oil, cayenne, and sesame seeds.  It's good with rice.

Manas and Erkindik

Here's a photo from 2006 of the old Erkindik statue, and the new Manas statue behind the fountains.  Erkindik means freedom and the statue replaced, if I recall correctly, Lenin in the main square.  Manas is the epic hero of the Kyrgyz and honestly, you wouldn't necessarily know from the statue if you were looking at Manas or Timur.  Erkindik was far more interesting and unique and it represented something the entire country could get behind.  Manas is for the Kyrgyz citizens of the country, not the Ugyhurs or Dungans or Uzbeks or Tajiks or Russians or anyone else.

28 September 2011

The Candidates

Here's a list of the 20 candidates for president.  Over the next few days I'll post bios of each.  The photos of above are of Almazbek Atambaev and Arstanbek Abdyldaev.  Atambaev's giant billboard is at the railroad crossing on Soviet and I saw the truck with Abdyldaev's name across the street.  We've also gotten campaign literature for Kubatbek Baibolov and Omurbek Suvanaliev so far.  I'll certainly look for more.

Kamchybek Tashiev

Adakhan Madumarov

Kubatbek Baibolov

Marat Sultanov

Roman Omorov

Omurbek Suvanaliev

Temirbek Asanbekov

Anarbek Kalmatov

Shamshybek Medetbekov

Iskhak Masaliev

Kurmanbek Osmonov

Almambet Matubraimov

Marat Imankulov

Akylbek Japarov

Kubanychbek Isabekov

Almazbek Atambayev

Arstanbek Abdyldaev

Sooronbay Dyikanov

Jumabek Toktogaziev

Almazbek Karimov

Rumors of Atambaev's New Constitution

Excellent.  This will be a reasonable way to post now, especially since I have a suspicion that the elections might put even Kyrgyzstan over the edge on media censorship.  Last might Parliament banned foreign media from television for the next month.

In other news, we're hearing rumors that Almazbek Atambaev fully expects to be the next president and also wants to get a new constitution on the ballot next month.  A parliamentary system is nice if you're the Prime Minister, but not so much if you're the president.  He's angling for a return to a presidential system. 

But we can still be optimistic that this will be a free election and that there will be some competition. 


I am terribly sorry about the awful template this blog has right now.  I don't think there is anything I can do about it right now though.  If I can ever change anything again, I'll disable the comments and get back to a white background because black backgrounds are the worst thing ever.  [Edit: fixed, although I'm not sure I love the new template, but I can't be too choosy.]

And now I am curious if I can post photos by mail.  If there is a photo here, it's the new Manas statue that replaced Erkindik about a month ago.  I like Erkindik much better in every way.

27 September 2011

2011 Presidential Campaign

I'm testing posting by email.  Hope this works.

Campaigning started yesterday in Kyrgyzstan for the election on October 30th.  Just 5 weeks of campaigning for us; too bad for all you Americans who can look forward to about 5 million more weeks of campaigning.  Campaign posters are going up and yesterday while I was walking in the park a man handed me an eight-page newspaper about one of the candidates.

Twenty of the 83 people who registered for the election have been approved to run.  Each needed to pass a Kyrgyz language test, pay  a fee of about $2200, and get 30,000 signatures.  There are two who were not approved based on their signature counts who appealed to the Supreme Court, but I'm not sure what's going on with that.  The only reason to pay much attention to that is that one is a woman and there are no women among the 20 approved candidates.

Most of the candidates are currently in Parliament, in particular, Almazbek Atambaev, the Prime Minister.  There are also a variety of businessmen.  I'm working on a list of everyone and what sort of people they are and hope to post it soon.  

About that campaign newspaper yesterday.  It was for Omurbek Suvanaliev and he turns out to be one of the most interesting candidates in the mix.  He's a retired major-general in the militia which isn't typical, but he's also had some administrative experience in Naryn and Osh (he resigned in Osh right after the June events of last year).  He's well-known for fighting corruption (including good old Ryspek) and is known as Corrado Kattani.  I'm also trying to pin down whether he's in Ata-Jurt or Ar Namys which makes a big difference since different stories have different party affiliations listed. 

25 September 2011


It's nearly impossible to live in the center of Bishkek and still be within walking distance of a good bazaar, and we didn't manage that.  We do live near Ak Emir Bazaar, and I like it, but it's so very civilized.  It's also more expensive than the other bazaars and it's more likely the prices will double when a foreigner comes by.  

So I went to Osh Bazaar yesterday to do some shopping and it was so nice to be in a real bazaar again.   When we lived in Bishkek before, Osh Bazaar always seemed huge and confusing and overwhelming and I didn't do much shopping there.  But after Tokmok, Osh Bazaar is still huge and I don't know my way around, but that's not a problem. 

It was fun to stumble on places we went last time.  Later I'll try to post some then and now photos, if Blogger cooperates.

23 September 2011

Dear Kazakhstan: I'd Like to Blog

I don’t know if it’s just the new server we have now that we’re in Bishkek or if I’d be having trouble accessing Blogger again anyway, but I’ll blame Kazakhstan either way.  Be brave Kazakhstan.  Blogs won’t destroy you.  

I was going to use Beeline which is one of the few providers in KG that doesn’t work through KazkahTelecom, but I couldn’t get the connection to work.  So I dragged out the radio phone for the old Tokmok connection through KyrgyzTelecom (they must be braver than Megaline) and all is well again, except that I’ll probably do multiple posts at a time till Blogger is back to normal.

But everything else is wonderful with the internet.  It’s like having a new iPad now that it can use the internet on it again.  Even without the internet it’s been worth it because we knew when we bought it that we wouldn’t always have an internet connection for it, but iPads really are designed with the internet in mind.

Just having a faster connection is wonderful.  Like I’ve said, it’s slow for the US, but it’s blazing fast after Tokmok.  Lots of things seem blazing fast after Tokmok though.  Except for posting on Blogger.

(It is unfortunate that I have to post without pictures right now since I finally have some to post.  I’ll hope Kazakhstan relaxes soon.)

Basic Vegetarian Summer Laghman Sauce Recipe

This is for a saucier laghman, not a dry one.  I prefer drier toppings for laghman when I’m using winter vegetables and wetter ones in the summer.  I never put meat in my laghman which isn’t traditional, but other than that, this recipe tastes a lot like what you’d be served in someone’s home in Tokmok.  My husband started asking if I’d bought the sauce too, in addition to the noodles. 

You can use all sorts of vegetables like summer squashes, carrots, green beans, green garlic, and lots of other things.  I happen to love eggplant and peppers together.  You can also use real tomatoes instead of the tomato paste.

1 large onion, sliced
Lots and lots of garlic, chopped or sliced or minced or crushed
1 pound sliced sweet peppers
1 pound julienned eggplant
Chopped hot peppers or crushed red pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste (or less because my tomato paste isn’t as solid as in the US)
Salt to taste

Heat a qazan or a wok or a large heavy pot or a frying pan or a cast iron skillet to high, then add some oil, as much as you choose.  Add the onion and the peppers (sweet and hot, if you’re using hot) and stir-fry for a minute or two, then add the eggplant and garlic and stir-fry another minute or two, till the onions and peppers are starting to soften.  Add the tomato paste (or a couple chopped tomatoes) and enough water to not cover the vegetables, but you want to be able to see it.  Bring to a boil and add the salt and crushed red pepper, if using.  Simmer till the vegetables are as cooked as you like them (I prefer some crunch left in them), then adjust for salt and spice and turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes or so because it’s better not too hot.  Serve over laghman or rice noodles or rice.  It also happens to taste delicious the next day on top of plov. 

This is especially good topped with chopped jusay, sliced tomatoes, lazy, and vinegar.  Cucumber is good too. 

Trading Problems

Any time you move you know you’re trading one set of difficulties (and good things) for another set.  This is especially true in Kyrgyzstan.  I knew when we left Tokmok that I’d largely be leaving the water problems behind, but I knew some other things would take their place.

But so far we’ve been pretty lucky.  The biggest problem in the new apartment is that many of the outlets don’t work.  Outlets are always a problem in places built before people needed to plug in much stuff, no matter where you are in the world, but I’ve never lived in a older home in the US that hasn’t been remodeled.  The outlets in Tokmok were actually pretty good; only one set didn’t work and they weren’t important.  It was interesting having one socket in the bathroom which was shared between the washing machine and water heater (and any other electrical item you might normally use in a bathroom), but I never had a reason so complain about them.

At least half the outlets here don’t work or the appliance cords don’t reach an outlet.  The microwave and the fan over the stove share an power strip which would be fine, except they are 2 meters from each other so they can’t be going at the same time.  Not a big deal.  The A/C cord can’t reach anything either and there is an elaborate set of cords and power strips from the one functioning outlet on one half of the house.  So much for the fire safety merit badge.

But the outlet annoyances are nothing compared to the water annoyances in Tokmok, and I really can’t think of any other inconveniences here.  It’s quiet (for Bishkek- the traffic noise will never stop), the windows work well, the neighbors are nice, the building is reasonable, the stores are nearby, and the water is usually on.  Even when it turns off for the day, it’s not a big deal, because it always comes back.

20 September 2011

Looking for the Good or the Bad in Kyrgyzstan?

After posting a relatively positive bit about Bishkek yesterday, a not-so-positive post from a volunteer in Bishkek came across my reader.  (I'd link to it, but sometimes I can't pull up blogspot blogs on our current internet connection and this is one of those times, so maybe I can add it later.)

Yes.  There are problems here.  There are people who don't have places to live, or enough to eat, or any way to find work or to educate their children.  Some days you think you can't stand it anymore and wish you could fix everything.

But sometimes it feels as if some of the humanitarian people, the volunteers, the missionaries, aren't trying to figure out what's working here or they just don't see it.  And there is a lot that works in Kyrgyzstan.  My husband's research here isn't specifically about solving humanitarian problems, but he has learned a lot about how problems in general are resolved, whether it's a dispute with a neighbor, a house that burns down, or a family who doesn't have money to buy coal for the winter.  It doesn't surprise me to hear that when a family is robbed, their neighbors bring food and clothing, or give them money.  It doesn't surprise me to hear of a woman whose house burns down and the neighbors take care of her and help rebuild. Neighbors take care of each other and so do families.

Even in places that are very poor, there are local social systems, often informal, created to help people.  There are wealthy people in this country who donate significant amounts of money to make sure their neighbors aren't freezing, to rebuild public spaces, and to help individuals who ask for money.  It's not enough, but it's far from non-existent.

The NGOs and missionaries and whatever are important.  A person living here has to be part of those social systems to get help and people who are outside them are the ones whose situations are desperate and need help. NGOs can make a big difference for those people and there are many wonderful examples of the things they have done

But please, don't try to convince me that the people of Kyrgyzstan aren't doing the best they can for themselves and each other.  I believe that they are and often they do a very good job.

19 September 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Bishkek

We've only been back in Bishkek for two weeks (besides about 15 bus trips here the previous 8 months), and I knew things would be different, but I really am surprised at how much has changed.  I've talked to a few people, both local and American, who feel the same way.  There were a few things I'd noticed in Tokmok, like dating couples holding hands, but I hadn't spent much time in Tokmok before so I really couldn't know what had changed there.

But Bishkek is different.  There was a lot of new construction in 2005/6 underway and most of that is finished.  The city looks newer and more put together in general.  There are little things too, like seeing armored security doors on more apartment blocks.  You can tell more flats have been remodeled by the huge number of new windows in all the buildings.  There is a general feeling that people have more money, and that doesn't only come from the higher prices for everything.

There's also a lot more products and services available, or they're much easier to find.  We were satisfied to get 28k dialup in 2005 because, as I recall, the only other real option was slightly faster internet for nearly $100/month.  Now we're getting unlimited broadband at home (it's slow for broadband, but still) for $50/month, and it was quick and easy to connect. 

One Kyrgyz friend I talked to about this also mentioned that she feels that people are kinder to each other and more willing to help, and that many of the changes I'm seeing happened since the last revolution.  She's happier with Roza Otunbaeva as president, and she felt that what happened last June made people realize what could happen here, but didn't.  It was an interesting conversation.

Anyway, I do feel that Bishkek has changed for the better.  Not just because I can find red lentils at the bazaar next to my house, but because the city feels different.  It feels, maybe, a little like hope.

16 September 2011

Laughing in the Peanut Butter Aisle

I was searching for places to buy peanut butter that isn't 8 dollars a kilo when I found this:

On a trip to the local marketplace, my host family was completely baffled when I started snapping photos. The brilliant spices piled into neat cones were just "life as usual" to them. And when I handed over my jar of peanut butter to lighten my load before departing, they were equally puzzled. We didn’t share enough language for me to explain that the brown goo inside was made from the same legumes they munched almost every day.

Fortunately, my Bishkek family had a chance to come visit me the next year. Using our mutual language of pantomime and Russian-English dictionary flipping, they managed to tell me they wanted to buy some peanut butter. I took them to the local Safeway, where they were just as transfixed as I’d been at their local market. I started laughing as they snapped photo after photo. Suddenly they understood my bizarre behavior back in Bishkek. We all laughed and laughed, right there in the peanut butter aisle.
Love it.

And apparently I am having a posting frenzy today, but I think this is it.

Narodniy is Boring

I think I miss the social aspect of shopping in the bazaar.  Narodniy is wonderfully convenient and I will never complain about being able to buy milk there, but I like getting to know the people I'm buying from.  I'm a little surprised by this since I'm not exactly outgoing, but I looked forward to seeing people I knew in the bazaar in Tokmok.  Maybe I am just so isolated right now that any friendly face is nice.

I wanted to live near Ak Emir Bazaar because I knew I could get decent produce there and it's an easy place to shop, but even that's turning out to be rather civilized for my taste.  It's still a great place to shop, but I'm exploring all the places I can shop instead in Bishkek, places that are a little more personal (which is everything besides a Western-style grocery store). This involved sticking your head instead any open doorway and seeing if there's something for sale that you want.

The best place so far has been an unassuming place just a door or two down the street.  It doesn't look like much from the entrance, but once you're inside there are piles of stuff all over the place.  There's meat in the back (I don't think I will ever buy meat here no matter how accustomed I get to everything else), good produce, school supplies, pasta and all sorts of grains, hair stuff, and lots more.  We've been there often enough that we're getting smiles from some people.  We're a memorable family anyway, with three American boys, a wife who asks for Dungan ingredients, and a husband who speaks Uzbek and Uyghur.

Another benefit to going to new places is that I'm a lot more likely to get local prices than at places where lots of expats shop.  Nearly everything is 10-20 percent more expensive in Bishkek than Tokmok no matter what, but I've had a few too many people at Ak Emir try to double the price of their peaches when they see me.  So I'm hoping that the new little "bazaar" works for us.

Freezer Pickles and Green Beans

I was pleasantly surprised, last winter, when I could find such a variety of vegetables for sale.  They were expensive, but I hadn't expected to find much more than potatoes, cabbage, radishes, carrots, and potatoes.  I could buy peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, green garlic, various herbs and greens, and a few more things even in January and February. 

But like I said, they were expensive.  The prices for most produce easily go up 10 times here in the winter.  And there are plenty of things that aren't available at all.  My freezer is currently nearly full of strawberries, raspberries, apricots, plums, green garlic, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and pumpkin.  I need to get some peaches in there, and lots of green beans, and some freezer pickles. 

I'm a little skeptical about the freezer pickles.  I can't believe they stay crunchy even though I've been assured they do, but I also can't pass up the opportunity to save some cucumbers now and not pay through the nose for them in the winter.  And pickled cucumbers are delicious on plov and laghman. 

Summer Reading

It's been months since I posted about what I've been reading.  The next posts here are the books I read this summer than weren't rereads.  There were a lot more rereads than first reads this summer (and in general, the rereads were better).  I don't think I remember all of them, but hopefully most of them were there. 

Lost in Translation

This book is set in China and was published about 10 years ago.  I picked it up because it was supposed to be set in NW China, but it turned out to be the Chinese version of NW China, not mine (it would be like calling Minnesota the northwest of the US; sure, it's farther north and west than Pennsylvania, but you're forgetting half the country).  It was a nice little book but nothing amazing.

The Grand Sophy

I hadn't read Georgette Heyer ever before reading The Grand Sophy for a book group.  Jane Austen she's not, but this book was enjoyable enough that I picked up a few more Heyers after this one.  That had a lot to do with the temperature of my house this summer; I don't think I could have taken more than one of these if I hadn't been too hot to think.

Frederica, The Reluctant Widow, and The Talisman Ring

These were the other Heyers I read.  They were fun, predictable (or on the opposite, unbelievable), and fluffy.  And they certainly felt like historical fiction despite all the research Heyer did.  I'm not saying that she's not a good author, or didn't write well-researched books, but after trying four, I can't say they were much more than fluff.  But I'll remember Heyer if I'm air-conditioner-less next summer.

Wives and Daughters

I read another Elizabeth Gaskell book a year or two ago (North and South) after watching the film and ended up being disappointed with the book.  Wives and Daughters, however, is better as a book, and that's saying a lot, because I like the film.  This was definitely a pleasant and interesting read.

The Russian Way

I've had this book sitting around for years, probably since the last time we lived here.  It's a useful book, but it's nearly 10 years old which means some parts of it are out-of-date.  Borrow it instead of buying it. 

14 September 2011

Six Years Ago in Bishkek

I've been looking back at my posts from 6 years ago when we moved to Bishkek the first time.  There's this one about stuff I wish I'd brought with me.  This time I was smart enough to bring good knives and even though I forgot the clothespins in the last-minute shopping, my mother brought some when she visited.

All the stuff on that list is available here though, and I know where to find it this time.  The biggest difference is that then I had a four-year-old and a six-year-old, and this time my children and 12, 10 and 3.  It is much easier this time to find things and honestly, like I keep saying, after Tokmok Bishkek is the land of plenty and ease.

And there's a post about the first time I went to an orphanage.  I haven't done that this time around.  It might be easier to get out with three children, but homeschooling them sucks up almost all of my time.

13 September 2011

Street Food

I was a little surprised when we got to Tokmok at how little street food there was.  I shouldn't have been, since street food is more a city thing, but at first it seemed like there should be more.  But we got used to there being plenty of restaurants and almost no street food.  There are a few places near the bazaar, but not much.  We were also disappointed that we couldn't find our boys' favorite-in-the-world cheese samsas in Tokmok or even on our few quick trips to Bishkek.

We're back in street food heaven now.  Bishkek is so convenient.  There's a samsa place next to our building that has chicken, meat, potato, and cabbage, and we finally found cheese samsas again less than two blocks away.  There are all sorts of fried breads stuffed with all sorts of things, and even a donut place just like the one at Pike Place Market in Seattle.  There were even flyers in our building for pizza delivery. 

Beyond street food, there's plenty available right outside the door.  I can buy fresh milk on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, there's a produce place, and a man was selling pears out of his truck all day long.  I know it'll all slow down when it gets cold, but it's fun now.

12 September 2011

Adjusting to Bishkek

We're settling in here nicely, after just a week, with the boys already taking soccer and art and guitar lessons.  I've found all the food I wanted to find and can walk to all of it, even the pressed tofu and the bulgur.

Acutally, and of course, after 5 years of being away, there is unquestionably a wider variety of food available everywhere in Bishkek.  In 2005 I had to go to Beta Stores to get red lentils and bulgur and garbanzos beans reliably, but now I see them all over the place.  Even feta cheese is around (and is one of the cheapest types of cheese available here).  All the local food is everywhere too, even though it's not quite as much fun to shop here as in Tokmok. 

Bishkek feels so big after Tokmok.  If we'd come here from Seattle, it would have seemed small, but it's almost overwhelming sometimes.  There are so many Russians and Kyrgyz.  When we lived here before it didn't seem very Russian, but after Tokmok, it does.  And after living in a neighborhood of Uzbeks, Uyghurs, and Dungans in Tokmok, it also seems very Kyrgyz here.

People also react differently to me as an expat here.  There aren't many expats in Tokmok and even those that are don't hang around the bazaar or our old neighborhood. I went the entire summer without hearing English spoken by a native speaker, except for my husband and children.  If you don't speak Russian or Kyrgyz or Dungan or Uzbek, you're out of luck there.  But it's a lot easier to get away with it here.  Even after being here just a week it seems that we meet more English speakers and more English-speaking expats than we did five years ago.  People in the stores aren't bemused by my inability to speak Russian decently. 

In a lot of ways it feels like our trip to China in 2006.  China is hardly known as the land of plenty and convenience in the US, but it (at least Urumqi and Xi'an did) felt like that in comparison to Bishkek.  And now Bishkek feels like that compared to Tokmok.  My oldest son, who has sworn for years that he never wanted to live in Bishkek again, was excited to move here. 

But I still miss Tokmok.

10 September 2011

September 11th from Central Asia

So it's the tenth anniversary of September 11th.  And, as there should be, there's plenty of coverage in the US about it.  That was a huge day for the US.  I could tell you about where I was that day, or what I felt, like lots of Americans are doing right now.  But instead of talking about how that one day changed us, I wish we'd acknowledge better how our actions the last ten years have changed the world, especially the Middle East and Central Asia.  

I'd have hoped, ten years ago, that by now Americans would know more about the Middle East and Central Asia. We do know a little more, but it's only the most superficial of information- where the bad guys live and whom we're fighting. We know very little about the people whose lives we've turned upside down, about the way they live, what they consider a good government, and what we can do to help create and support good government in the Middle East and especially Central Asia. 

We've had the focus in the wrong place nearly all this time.  We wanted to stomp out all the bad guys (remember how we celebrated just a few months ago when the biggest bad guy of all was killed? and how we cheered when Saddam Hussein was captured?), but I doubt Americans are safer as a result. 

And I certainly don't think these last ten years have created a positive legacy in the Middle East and Central Asia.  It's unfortunate we haven't cared more about that.

07 September 2011

Back to Bishkek

No photos yet because they’d take too long to upload, but we survived the move and getting the stuff up three flights of stairs. 10 50-pound suitcases might not be a lot of stuff from an American perspective (although it is from a Central Asian one), but it’s still not much fun to haul it around. We moved in and got the owners to move all their stuff out (that took most of the rest of the day) and now we’re mostly settled in.

I miss Tokmok. I think Bishkek will be better for us, but I loved being able to go outside and still be in our own space. And the air is cleaner there and it’s so much quieter. We’re on a big street right now and the exhaust is too noticeable on one side of the apartment. And I miss the bazaar. Yesterday I went to a little bazaar here where I don’t know anyone and was a few som short for a jar of raspberries. In Tokmok, we’d have figured something out, but here I was out of luck. And the tushuks! I slept in a real bed for the first time in 8 months and wished I was back on the tushuks on the floor.

But washing the dishes is so much easier. Water comes out of the faucet and goes away down the drain. There’s a bathtub where the water drains away again. So many drains. And the oven heats itself when I turn it on and keeps itself at the temperature it’s supposed to.

The apartment is done in very warm colors- yellows, brown, pinks, oranges. The house in Tokmok was a lot brighter with nice big windows. I’m planning to get a few tushuks to add some different colors. Usually I’m not too worked up about the color scheme anywhere we live, but we need a little help here.

I wrote all that yesterday. I was missing Tokmok a lot by the end of the day. But this morning the littlest one woke up at 5 AM and I could hear the call to prayer and the sky was dark enough that I could see Orion in the east and the Seven Sisters overhead. On the bright side of the flat I can only see the Big Dipper and Arcturus in the evening, but it was lovely to see more in the early morning on the dark side.

And when I went out in search of vegetables this morning, I found someone selling garlic from her own garden, funchooza, and jusay. We chatted a bit and it was a little like Tokmok. She told me that she’ll sell laghman in the winter when it’s colder. And it’s always a bonus to not have to search for milk.

Although I still am searching for fresh milk for yogurt.

02 September 2011

Cutting Back on Kazakh (and Uzbek and Uyghur and Tajik and...)

Inside Higher Ed has an article about some of the results of the budget cuts to less-commonly-taught foreign language programs in the US.  I've mentioned before that we've been hit hard by cuts to foreign language education and it truly blows my mind that someone thought it was financially sound to cut $50 million for these languages, especially when we're talking about a $12 trillion dollar deficit.  Maybe the Department of Defense ought to pick up the tab for these programs since they seem to have no trouble getting the money they need.  Here's a quote detailing some of the results of the cuts.

The Language Resource Centers estimate that the number of teachers they train this year will drop 35 percent, from just over 17,000 to 11,130. If the cuts are extended, about 9,300 teachers will be trained in 2012-13, according to the survey, Kazanjian [a consultant with the Coalition for International Education] said.
The number of federally designated "priority languages" taught to teachers will drop from 51 to 15 over two years, the centers estimate. Research on 35 priority languages will be dropped, including Pashto, Tajik, Turkish and Urdu, Kazanjian said. Capacity in Arabic, Chinese and Russian -- the most popular priority languages -- will be severely limited.
The survey of National Resource Centers isn’t complete. But many of the least commonly taught languages will probably be eliminated, Kazanjian said. “A number of them have engaged in stopgap measures for the first year of the cut,” she said. “If these cuts are going to continue into fiscal year 2012, something drastic will have to happen.”
The impacts of the cuts vary. By federal standards, the Title VI program is small: the cuts this year total $50 million, and few campuses lost as much as $1 million. But the money was a “linchpin” that drove universities and private donors to invest in language, Kazanjian said. “The money is not very much, but it’s actually had a multiplier effect,” she said. “Once you pull that plug, it starts to unravel.”

01 September 2011

Mystery Fruit, Tokmok, and More Orozo Ait

These delicious plums appeared (it seemed) on a sorry-looking tree in the yard a few days ago.  I think they're Chinese plums, but I need to ask someone selling them in the bazaar what they're called here.  They make amazing jam.

No one will miss mowing the lawn here.

This is a corner of a giant pile of tomato pulp one of the neighbors was using as compost. 

On Orozo Ait people leave their doors open if they want people to visit.  Everyone visits each other in turns, so generally you entertain one day out of the three.  There are some photos below of the dastarkhan.

Bus stop.  So typical.

These boys are going door-to-door, chanting and asking for candy on the first day of Eid.

This is one reason why it was such a problem that the muftiate didn't get Eid al-Fitr sorted out sooner.  There's a lot to do to prepare for Orozo Ait, and if you don't know what day it's going to be, it makes it that much more difficult.  It also caused problems for the mosques and various celebrations that were supposed to happen early on Tuesday morning because they weren't announced till nearly midnight on Monday night.  Several men apologized to my husband for not taking him to the mosques because they didn't know themselves what time anything was going to happen.