30 September 2011
29 September 2011
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.
28 September 2011
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.
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.
26 September 2011
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.
24 September 2011
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.
23 September 2011
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.)
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.
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
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
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
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.Love it.
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.
And apparently I am having a posting frenzy today, but I think this is it.
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.
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.
14 September 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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
|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.|