31 December 2011

This Year in Books

Usually at the end of the year I look back on the books I've read, but this hasn't really been a reading year, at least not of books I could write about here.  There's always reading, but most of it was for different projects, not just for fun or general learning. 

So, first we moved

Then I was very busy (January-June) and did a reasonable amount of reading

Then I was very hot (July and August) and reread books

Then we moved again

Then I did more research and writing for several different projects and not much reading

And now it's a new year and I don't know how my reading will go this year.  Probably depends on where I go this year, and your guess is as good as mine on that one.

24 December 2011

The Christmas Tree Blessing

Our first real Christmas together was in New Jersey, and just the two of us.  We didn't have much money, like the stories always go, and we couldn't afford a Christmas tree.  That mattered to me a lot, especially when we couldn't do much else. We'd gone to several lots on the first Saturday in December looking for something that would work, but between the tree and the stand, the money wasn't there. 

When we got to church the next day, the Relief Society President tapped me on the shoulder and handed me an envelope with "For Christmas Tree" written on the outside.  Inside was the same amount of money we'd figured we'd need to buy our tree and our stand.  I don't know who gave us that money, or why, or how, but I will never forget how I felt that day.

Some people I know might say this was a result of our paying our tithing or doing something else right, but I don't think so.  I think that when we do what the Lord asks us to do, He doesn't bless us with a better job, or a Christmas tree, or enough food for Thanksgiving.  He blesses us to be more like Him, because that's the goal.

I think it's more likely that the person who gave us the Christmas tree money was the one who was truly blessed because they were the one who did something that led them to be more like Christ.  I'm not inclined to think it was a coincidence that someone thought to give us that specific amount of money for that specific purpose. I think that person had to have been doing something right.

My husband and I were blessed, yes, but I don't think it was because we had done anything right.  We were blessed because the Lord takes care of his children, everywhere, no matter what we do, because he loves us 

But the blessings I really want are those that help me become more like Jesus Christ.  I think it's easier for the Lord to bless us that way when we're already trying to do what he asks us to do.

23 December 2011

Christmas in Bishkek

It's starting to feel Christmasy around Bishkek, or at least like New Years, with all the trees and decorations in the stores downtown, and even at our little bazaar next door.  It was a little jarring to hear "O Holy Night" being sung as we walked into Children's World today.  The stores were a little busier, it seemed, and despite the cold (I think we might have gotten to 8 degrees today- the forecasts still don't seem to have noticed), there were people dancing on Ala Too Square.

We're trying something new at our house for Christmas, something that I've always wanted to try but never has worked out well.  We'll be doing the real 12 Days of Christmas starting on Christmas Day.  In the US there's usually a bit of Christmas fatigue by the time December 26th rolls around, but none of us are even close to being tired of the season this year.

So we're taking off the entire two weeks, getting ready for New Years, Epiphany, Eastern Christmas, and anything else we think up between Christmas and January 7th.  I hope we all love it.

22 December 2011

The Friendship Doll

I was curious about Kirby Larson after reading Hattie Big Sky and this book looked interesting.  It was a pleasant and interesting little book that I'd recommend.

21 December 2011

It's Cold Outside

The weather forecast and the actual temperature are again having serious conflicts here.  It was supposed to be 15 degrees last night but I'm fairly sure at was, at best, -10.  The low tonight is supposed to be 9, but we've only just made it to 3 degrees (this is all Fahrenheit) and it's sunny outside. 

The best is when I look at an hourly forecast that has nothing to do with reality.  Like I said, it's 3 degrees outside right now, but it's supposed to be 13 degrees in the next hour.  If you're 10 degrees off, it may not be worth having an hourly forecast if you don't bother checking your hourly forecast very often.

I like the way the snow squeaks when it's cold.  And I like that I am finally not hot in my apartment, although most of us are still wearing summer clothes.

20 December 2011

Why It's Good to Have So Many Bills

In Bishkek there are lots of bills to pay.  There's the hot water, and the cold water, and the electricity, and the gas, and the phone, and other things that are just basic things everyone pays.  All the typical bills come to your door or get handed to you by the person who runs the show in your apartment building.  For us, that person also sells socks outside on the corner, so she keeps her stack of bills with her and hands them to us when we walk by.

None of the bills are very much, from an American point of view, except for the heating in the winter (which is still a lot less than heating a house with coal).  You usually pay the bills at the post office (or other places- we've just always gone to the post office in Bishkek) and they scan your bill and you pay it and get the ever-important receipt.  It's not too big of a hassle unless you show up when the lines at the post office are long.

One thing that's really convenient about having so many different systems running through the apartment that have to be paid for is that when something doesn't work, it's not the end of the world.  In the US, having the electricity off for a while usually means no hot water, or no water at all, no A/C and possibly no heating, no running any type of appliance, and sometimes more things.  It can be a major annoyance.  Here, the electricity can go off for hours and it's not a big deal.  If the gas goes out in the US, you might not have heating or hot water, and maybe no cooking.  Here, it just means I use the electric parts of the stove.  The hot water is off?  At least there's cold, or the other way around (although just having hot water isn't really fun).  There's always a backup.

And best of all, it's cold enough on the balcony right now that it doesn't matter if the fridge doesn't work.  That's handy to remember since I think we're starting rolling blackouts which is usually attributed to people using space heaters when it's cold.

I won't go into the fact that it is still 10 degrees warmer in your average Bishkek apartment than in your average rural coal-heated house which can't afford the luxury of space heaters.

19 December 2011

Samarqand in the Spring

Way back, nearly seven years ago, I changed the name of this blog to The Golden Road to Samarqand.  It had had a couple of names before that, but the new one seemed better.  It from James Elroy Flecker's poem which reads in part:

Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells,
 When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
 Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.
We travel not for trafficking alone;
 By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
 We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

I still haven't been to Samarqand, despite living next door for nearly two years, but we're really hoping to make it there before we finish this round in Kyrgyzstan.  It's unfortunately a lot more expensive to go now that it was in 2005 or 2006, but still relatively inexpensive.  I can't tell you how much I want to see Khiva and Tashkent and Samarqand and especially Bukhara. 

17 December 2011

A New Kyrgyz Nativity

I like to get new, interesting nativities when we can, but we already had the style of nativities you can generally buy in Bishkek.  A friend of ours gave us this felt one in 2005. Most of the nativities for sale here are yurts like this one, although the ones I've seen this year are much more colorful and have lots more figures.

We also put together this wooden nativity last time (you'll have to excuse the blue cloth; I didn't have lots of options when I took the photo- and don't forget to notice the wise woman), and this year I thought I'd try making a similar one out of balbals.  So we went to Tsum today, looking for likely balbals, but then stumbled on this different felt nativity.  I love this one, although it's hard to get a good shot of it, and you can't see that it's hanging from a tunduk (the design from the top of a yurt that's also the center of the Kyrgyzstan flag).  The owner of the store told us the maker was trying a new design to see if it would sell well.  So maybe we have a one-of-a-kind nativity, but I still like it if it's not.  And if it is, I hope the designer is encouraged to make more because I really like it.

16 December 2011

A Bit of Color

Sometimes it's nice, on December days in Bishkek where everything seems to melt into puddles of gray, to remember June.

15 December 2011


We had some friends over on Sunday and we were looking through old photos from when we lived in Bishkek before, laughing to see each other's faces from six years ago.  Except one of the women hadn't been there then; she joined our group a few months before we moved here this time.  She also happens to live in the building next to our old building.

So it was a fun surprise when she found her own son in one of our photos from 2005.  Maybe we didn't know her, but he was part of the group of boys our kids hung out with (even though he's older than my boys).

14 December 2011

State of Wonder

I'm not really sure how I feel about this book.  The story was unique and interesting, the writing was excellent, so I liked the book.  But now that I've finished it, I'm left feeling like it didn't really do anything.  Yes, Marina does what she set out to do, but other than that, I feel like the book didn't go anywhere.  Dr. Swenson was the better character, but she was too often lost in the story.  It asked a lot of interesting questions, but it felt a little preachy at times (even though I agreed with the sentiment behind some of the preachiness), and I thought it ignored some other important questions.  And there were so many details that didn't go anywhere at all.

Still, I don't regret reading it, although I can't say you really have to.

13 December 2011

Happy Birthday

It's my littlest's birthday today, but it's also 7 years since I started this blog.  So while the little one is watching Cars, I've been poking around old posts (well, sort of, since I can't actually access the blog itself at times this afternoon).  Mostly there's been good food, good books, interesting places, and, best of all, good friends.  Thanks to everyone who's made this so much fun for so many years.

Capitalism vs. Communism

I was buying some herbs today at my little bazaar when the vegetable man started telling me that the bunches of herbs I was buying for 15 som each used to be 1 som (ruble) during the Soviet Union.  Seeing your food increase 15 times in price (at least local foods that are supposed to be affordable) after switching to capitalism has to be pretty disheartening.  Of course there are a million other factors involved, and both he and I know it, but still.

12 December 2011

Wish I Had a Lowe's to Boycott

It doesn't really surprise me that someone would think "All-American Muslim" is a problem, but it does surprise me that Lowe's thinks it's a strategic move to remove its advertising from the show.  Maybe I'm out of touch with American feelings about Islam.  Islam is not scary or extreme, no matter what the Florida conservatives say, or anyone else in America.

11 December 2011

The Obligatory Christmas Tree Post

Pamir Ram (Marco Polo Sheep)
So we made a good effort this year with our tree, although you wouldn't know it from these photos.  It has lovely, glitter-tipped branches which make the whole house sparkly, and the lights are all green with a lovely clear plastic cord that can't be hidden.  And the whole thing leans.  But there are some Lego and origami ornaments.  And there are a few Central Asian ornaments I picked up here.  There's also a chuko bone, but I couldn't get something even close to a decent shot of it (not that these photos are great).   But I'm still happy to have a tree.  It's also nice to get it up this early; last time we couldn't find trees this early in December.  Next up:  a balbal nativity.

Kalpak (Kyrgyz hat)

Tyubiteka (Uzbek hat)
The whole thing

09 December 2011

If You're Dialing Lots of Numbers

If you're sitting in the US and you realize the number you're calling has more than 10 numbers, you can assume the party you're calling is not in your time zone. 

If you're calling someone who is not in your time zone, you should figure what time it is there before you make the call.  Take that into consideration before placing the call.

If you follow these two simple rules, you won't call us at 2 AM.

08 December 2011

Exponent II Essay

I've only had a few minutes to glance over the new issue of Exponent II, but I loved Emily Clyde Curtis' essay about being a chaplain.  Her experience teaching parents to baptize their children in the hospital was beautiful.  I look forward to reading more when I can get it downloaded onto a more convenient device.

And I have an article in there too, starting on page 14.  It's a Mormon magazine, so it's a Mormon article, although I can never leave Central Asia out of anything.

I debated posting this here, since this blog is sort of a separate life from my article, but that's okay.

07 December 2011

I Know It's a Cliche

But my brain really did explode when I read this about Indians and Pakistanis coming to Kyrgyzstan for medical training.  There are a few people making a whole lot of money off this one.

06 December 2011

My Bishkek isn't Your Bishkek

Liked this post from another American living in Bishkek.   There are a lot of good things in the post, but here's what I think really matters: "...I can only write what I observe and what I feel, and to realize that my truth may be different from your truth."  That's why I think it's important for more people to write about all the places and people there are in the world, because my Bishkek and Cairo and Seattle and family and homeschooling and church and everything else are different from every single person's out there.  So I write about mine.  And it's interesting to see how my Bishkek changes as time goes on.

There.  A post that isn't about food.

05 December 2011

Eating in Bishkek

This post could be about restaurants and cafes in Bishkek, but since I almost never go out, it's not. It could be about trying to cook American food in Bishkek, but since that boring, difficult, and expensive, it's not.  So it's about cooking good food at home in Bishkek without either spending a huge amount of money or traipsing all over Bishkek every week trying to find every ingredient. 

I really enjoy cooking here now, but it took a long time to figure things out. We like to eat a variety of ethnic food and I think that's the easiest way to go in Bishkek unless you're willing to eat a totally local diet, which I'm not.  There is a lot of good local food in Bishkek, but it's limited in some ways, especially in the winter.

While there are a few things you can't get here, there are lots of things you can eat here that are hard to find anywhere else, or at least more complicated to find. Jusay (garlic chives), tofu sticks, black vinegar, Pakistani rice, green garlic, laghman, and so many other things are easy to find here and you can make some amazing new dishes.  Especially if you look at Uyghur, Dungan, Uzbek, and Tajik dishes, your mouth will be happy.

I also cook Thai, Mexian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic foods besides just Central Asian ones.  I hear there are black beans in town, but I'm happy using the brown and white beans I can find at any bazaar.  Salsa's easy to make yourself and the Pakistani rice makes amazing red and green rice.  The one Mexican thing I miss is corn tortillas because I don't have a good way to make them, and the only cornmeal/masa type thing I've ever seen here is coarsely ground.

Middle Eastern food is easy because Beta Stores is Turkish and you can get tahini, garbanzos, bulgur, red lentils, feta, and more (although a lot of these things are avaialbe in some bazaars now, although they're more expensive than at Beta Stores).  Indian food has been really easy too, although sometimes you have to hunt a bit to find all the spices.  And I've never found tamarind here, so I bring that with me.

Thai food is generally easy since there are a couple of Chinese grocery stores around, although I have never found fish sauce or coconut milk, unfortunately.  But I have a nice mother who sends fish sauce periodically to satisfy our craving.  Coconut milk is less pratical to mail so we don't have much of that.  But I generally prefer non-coconut milk Thai food anyway.  There's plenty of rice noodles at the bazaars or even in tiny stores, and black vinegar and sesame oil.  You can find yucky soy sauce in stores, but the Chinese groceries have good soy sauce and rice vinegar and soybean paste and brown sugar and tofu (and lots of other Chinese ingredients)

I also bring maple flavoring for fake maple syrup and it's nice to bring some extracts too since I've never seen vanilla here.  Now you can get decent chocolate here, but I've still never seen good cocoa.  I also like to bring yogurt starter.  You can buy yogurt (ayran) here, but we eat enough yogurt that it's worth making our own.  There's also yogurt in the stores, but it might be even sweeter than American yogurt. 

When we lived here the first time I managed a two-week cycle of dinners, but now I can easily do four or five weeks.  We all love laghman so we have that every week, and plov comes up pretty often too.  All of the food we make is easy to add vegetables to, or to serve with vegetables.  The vegetables are amazing here from about June-November, and not too terrible the rest of the year.

All in all, it's been an adventure to make cooking here work, but it's been worth the time. 

04 December 2011

Prices Then and Now

So it's not so long ago, the then part, but I finally found where I'd posted some prices from nearly 6 years ago. Food prices in particular have gone way up, sometimes at least four times.  No wonder I was so shocked in January, even in Tokmok where things are less expensive.  Here's some of the original post from February 2006 and current December 2011 prices in bold:

Five som is worth about 12.5 cents. In Kyrgyzstan, five som buys a loaf of flatbread, about 9 inches around. It takes you one way on a minibus anywhere in Bishkek. It buys one head of garlic, or a small Kit Kat, a package of Ramen noodles, or a pound of potatoes or onions.

Five som is currently worth about 10.5 cents.  A small loaf of flatbread (smaller than the comparison in 2006) costs 10 som and a standard loaf is 20 som.  A marshrutka ride is 8 som, a head of garlic is 15 som, a small Kit Kat is 10 som, and a pound of potatoes or onions is at least 20 som.

20 som buys a bag of milk, one banana, a pack of four rolls of toilet paper, or a kilo of cracked wheat.

A bag of milk is 35 som, a banana is still about 20 som, 4 rolls of nice toilet paper are about 40 som, and a kilo of cracked wheat is 40 som.

25 som is a minibus ride to Tokmok, about 80 km away.

It costs 50 som to ride to Tokmok.

30 or 40 som is for a kilo of apples, a bottle of dish soap, 5 liters of water, or a half liter of kefir.

Apples range from 30-80 som with 50 being average, although they're still in season here.  A bottle of dish soap is probably 50-70 som, I have no idea how much the water is now.

40 som is for a kilo of Batken rice, a jar of tomatoes, a kilo of white rice, or a liter of apple juice.

A kilo of Batken rice is 70-80 som, I think (I don't buy that now; Chinese Elita is 60-70 som and Pakistani rice is 60-70).  A jar of tomatoes is 80-90 som.

50 som is for a short taxi ride around town.

You have to pay 50 som in Tokmok now.  Bishkek isn't less than 80 for a short ride.

80 is for a kilo of tomatoes in the winter, a jar of jam, a bottle of shampoo, a package of the least expensive diapers, a longer taxi ride in Bishkek, or a bottle of honey.

I can still get a kilo of tomatoes right now for 80 som, but I expect that will increase in the next few weeks.  A jar of jam is probably 150 som, but I make my own, so I'm not sure.  A bottle of jam is at least 150 som for the same price.  A longer taxi ride is 100 som.  No idea on the diapers, but there's no way they're 80 som.  A bottle of shampoo might be 120?

About 200 som buys a kilo of reasonably priced cheese, 500 sheets of paper, or a package of pancake mix.

Cheese is closer to 400 som, and I don't know what the other two things cost.

02 December 2011

Goodbye, Otunbaeva

Really liked this article about Roza Otunbaeva

While some will always see her as the president of Kyrgyzstan in June of 2010, I don't think it's reasonable to blame her for what happened (and what didn't happen).  Osh was and is a lot more complicated than anything Bishkek is capable of handling, or capable of wanting to handle, and I don't know that any president from the north would have been able to do more.  That unfortunately results in Uzbeks in the south having absolutely no support from anyone because it seems everyone has abandoned them except the international community which really can do very little right now.

Anyway.  This was supposed to be about Otunbaeva.  I think she has good reason to be satisfied with her tenure despite some serious missteps and I look forward to seeing what's next for her and Kyrgyzstan.

Easiest and Best Laghman

There are about a million things you can serve with laghman, but I think my favorite might be to simply top it with cabbage and black rice vinegar.  I like the cabbage barely stir-fried with garlic or pickled.  I don't think I've ever seen it served that way at a restaurant or for guests, but it's great for street food (not that Bishkek does laghman as street food) or for a quick meal at home, especially if you can just buy the noodles.

01 December 2011

Happy Inauguration

So there's a new president in town.  Fairly elected, relatively speaking, ready to go, and, at least from what we hear, a pretty nice man too.  Hoping that Kyrgyzstan is starting on a new path.  Good luck.

Hattie Big Sky

I generally liked this book although I thought it tried to do too much which resulted in my feeling like most of the issues it raised were just skimmed over.  I’m also still skeptical about a 16-year-old girl trying to prove up on a homestead alone. 

Caleb's Crossing

This was really slow book to read, but I still liked it a lot.  Geraldine Brooks is always a good writer.

The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife

I’ve read the first two book from this series and expect I’ll get around to reading the third, but I’m not feeling all that driven to do so.  I like the series and don’t think has to be read as anti-religion (any more than The Chronicles of Narnia have to be read as pro-Christian).  I like Lyra a lot and am curious to see what happens to her and Will.  I also think these books are creative.