30 June 2012

One Turkmen Kitchen

Posting this just before our internet is gone for a while.  This is the only Turkmenistan food blog I know.  I'll be experimenting when we're settled again.

Something to Love a Day in Kyrgyzstan: Good Friends

I can't post photos for this one, but our friends here are what made us happy to come back to Kyrgyzstan and stay here for another 18 months.  There are plenty of things I love about Kyrgyzstan, but there is a small group of women that keep our hearts here.  I hope it isn't another five years before we get to see them again.

29 June 2012

Something to Love a Day in Kyrgyzstan: Holidays

Kyrgyzstan celebrates many of your old Soviet holidays like Victory Day and Women's Day, but that's not worth a post, at least not on this blog.  The holidays I love here are Nooruz, Kurman Ait, and Orozo Ait. 

We've celebrated Nooruz here three times- in 2006, 2011, and 2012.  We always celebrate it in the US too and even managed a pretty good time in 2007

Kurman Ait is Eid al-Adha.  I don't seem to have any photos posted from last year's celebration, but we visited friends and ate lots of good food.  Orozo Ait is Eid al-Fitr, one of our favorite holidays no matter where we live on the planet.  There are a few Orozo Ait photos mixed in this post from last year.

We're just missing being here again for Orozo Ait which is disappointing.

And so you know, orozo means fasting, so Orozo Ait (Eid) is the [end of] fasting celebrating. Kurman comes from qurban which means sacrifice and specifically refers to the sacrafice associated with the Hajj and Eid al-Adha.

28 June 2012

Something to Love a Day in Kyrgyzstan: Uyghur Culture

In addition to learning more about Dungans while we were in Tokmok, we also learned a lot more about Uyghurs.  I wrote a post about Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan about a year ago near the time we left Tokmok and since then we've met a lot of Uyghurs in the second group I wrote about- people who came here in the last 50ish years.  We live near the Uyghur quarter where many of them initially lived and our taxi drivers have often been Uyghur. 

I didn't see much evidence of Uyghurs in Osh except for all the Uyghur restaurants around.  Unfortunately I wasn't with a group who thought trying one of those places was the way to go.  Uyghur food is the best.

I still think someone could do an amazing dissertation here by interviewing Uyghurs who left China in the 50s and 60s.

27 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Historical Sites

Kyrgyzstan really isn't that great for historical sites, at least in comparison to Uzbekistan or some other parts of Central Asia.  But we've been to a few interesting places like Navekat, Tash Rabat, and the Burana Tower.

26 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: The Food!

Kyrgyzstan, and Central Asia in general, doesn't really have a great reputation for food.  No one travels here for the food, and that's probably reasonable.  But if you're coming for other reasons, the food can be one of the side benefits of coming here, especially if you know what you're looking for.

Kyrgyz food is good once in a while, but it's mostly meat, white flour, onions, and fat (beshbarmak and oromo are perfect examples).  In the right hands it can be truly amazing (one of our best friends here is an excellent cook), but usually it's just okay.  The exception to this are samsas which is nice because they're great street food.  You can always find meat samsas, but if you look around Bishkek, you'll see potato, cabbage, jusay, cheese, mushroom, and other fillings.  Different fillings are popular at different times.  Just look around a little. 

Some Central Asia foods like manty are pretty similar whether they're Uzbek or Kyrgyz or whatever, but most things are better if you don't get the Kyrgyz version.  Uzbek plov is always better than Kyrgyz plov, for example, at least in my opinion. 

Fried pelmeni is also a really tasty treat.

When it doubt, go to a minority cafe.  Dungan and Uyghur cafes are all over Bishkek and you can still get your traditional Kyrgyz foods if you love them, but you also have other choices like laghman.  Ashlyamfu is a really good Dungan dish, and so is ganfan, and anything make with sparzhe (tofu sticks) or funchyoza (bean thread noodles).  There is also some amazing Korean food here.

I always like shorpa, the clear soup that is often served at the beginning of a meal.  Meat is simmered in broth, then you add vegetables.  They're usually not cut very small so you get a bowl of broth with a hunk of meat of some kind, a small potato, and maybe a carrot or a radish in the soup.  It's usually garnished with dill.

Shashlik is good too, although it's also really dependent on the cook.  It's hard to mess up shorpa, but it's easy to make nasty shashlik. 

I love the salads.  There are some Russian-style salads with too much mayonnaise, but mostly they don't have mayo and they're delicious.  One of my favorite thing about going to a wedding is trying the salads.  A Central Asian salad cookbook would be amazing.

And don't forget the bread.  I like all types of tandyr naan, of course, but I also really like the Kyrgyz domed bread that's baked in an oven.  It's also really easy to make at home.  And I cannot think of the name right now.  It's not very easy to find in Bishkek, but if you get out of the city, you're probably more like it find it than tandyr naan, at least in the north.

25 June 2012

Something to Love a Day in Kyrgyzstan: Yurts

I should say boz uy though, since that is the name for a yurt in Kyrgyz.  "Yurt" does come from a Turkic word, but it wasn't actually the word for the structure itself, but the ground a yurt sits (or sat) on.  Today urt means homeland in many Turkic languages. 

Kazakhs use kiyz uy (uy or something close to it means "house" in many Turkic languages), and Turkmens use ak oy or gara oy, depending on whether it's white or black.  Ak is white, kara (gara in Turkmen) is black.  Karakalpaks use qara uy too.  Mongolians, of course, use ger, which simply means house.

The Kyrgyzstan flag uses a tunduk, the hole in the top of a yurt's roof, in its center. 

Even though very few people still live in yurts in Kyrgyzstan, they're certainly still around.  You'll see them set up around Bishkek every so often for funerals, and it's not too uncommon to see one packed up somewhere.  They're set up for Central Asian holidays like Nooruz (not for Victory Day).  And anytime you get out of the city you'll see yurts where you can get a meal.

They're also popular for tourists.  We stayed in one last year in Sarala-saz.  The Kyrgyz couple stayed in the wagon and the tourists stayed in the yurt.  Here's a realistic take by Aaly Tokombayev on why wagons have become more popular for Kyrgyz:

How can they breathe in smoke so thick?
How keep together body and soul?
The young housewife takes a stick
To open the chimney hole.
In vain- the wind drives back the smoke,
Tears blanket up our smarting eyes.
And what a cough! More troubles here
Than anyone can realise.
The wind, run amok, tears the felt
With all its ever-growing strength.
Like the eagle's wings, the tatters flap
As if to fly away at length.
To keep the yurta from crashing down
We go and prop it up with poles.
The guests extend their freezing hands
To warm them at the hearth, poor souls.
A manaschi's version might explain why a tourist would choose the yurt:

Look at her beauty! White as snow she was.
Made not from felt, but from cloth.
Trellised wall varnished was.
And a mat, made from chij
Was with silk braided.
Ropes round the yurta
Of quaint beauty were.
When Manas came in the yurta
By luxury and beauty he was
Deeply surprised. 

24 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Cemeteries

These are just a few of the cemeteries we've seen and visited in Kyrgyzstan.  They're always interesting.

23 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Birds

I did hoopoes on their own at the beginning of the month, but since the month is rapidly winding down, I thought I'd do all the other birds I like here in one post.

Some of the interesting to me birds are only interesting because I've mostly lived in the western hemisphere instead of the eastern.  But since I'm an American, I rave over the rooks and cuckoos, and not just the Central Asian birds.  The rooks are everywhere.  The cuckoos are noticeable in the spring.  I heard one this spring and it immediately reminded me of Tokmok where we had a cuckoo living near our house for weeks.  Let's just say I understood the name much better after that.

Mostly there are sparrows and doves and pigeons in Bishkek, but there are also a lot of great tits and mynahs.  The tits are pretty little birds, and I like to listen to the mynahs.  I also love the wagtails even though they aren't really common in Bishkek.

I really didn't see that many birds while I was here, at least to identify, even though I was always paying attention.  I'd see birds I didn't know when we were driving places, but I didn't have any way to find out what they were.  One of the few I managed to identify while we were out and about were the red-headed buntings.

22 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Dungan Culture

When we lived here the first time, I was just barely aware of Dungans in Kyrgyzstan, but since Tokmok has a significant Dungan population, I was able to learn a little more about the culture last year.  We had quite a few Dungan neighbors on our street in addition to Uzbeks/Uyghurs. 

Jusay, funchyoza, laghman, lazy, and ashlyamfu are just a few of the Dungan foods or ingredients I love.  It's also nice to know that you can get spicy (at least, spicy for Kyryzstan) food in a Dungan restaurant.

This is the Dungan mosque in Karakol.  It's a little over 100 years old

One of our best experiences was going to a Dungan wedding.

21 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Bazaars

One of my favorite things in Tokmok was shopping at the bazaar nearly every day.  I didn't always love it, especially on really hot days when the 3 km round trip with a load of vegetables and milk wasn't fun, but overall, it was great. 

I rarely get to real bazaars in Bishkek.  Most of them aren't in the center and the few smalls ones that are in the center are expensive for Bishkek.  They're also just barely bazaars.  That's probably part of the reason why I loved the Jayma bazaar in Osh.

20 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Osh

I finally made it to Osh this week after hoping to go there for years.  I loved it.  I loved finally getting to go to the Fergana Valley.  I love seeing Suleiman Too.  I loved seeing the mosques.  I loved the bazaar, all strung out along the river.  I loved the mahallahs.  The fruits and vegetables were wonderful.  I loved hearing Uzbek. 

Unfortunately for you though, we left our camera in a taxi just before we left and weren't able to get it back in time.  So it's all in my head.

I didn't have a lot of free time because I was tagging along with some doctors who were doing neonatal resuscitation training and I was helping with that.  That's its own post entirely.  But I did have some time in the afternoons to go out on my own and explore the city while the rest of the group rested at the hotel. 

One of the things I was specifically looking for was Uzbek pottery but all the places I had written down to check didn't exist anymore.  That kept happening, but it really wasn't too surprising.  Osh changed a lot two years ago.  In some ways I felt that so much of what I'd read about in the past and was prepared to see there is gone forever.

I did find one platter in the bazaar though. It was from Rishtan in Uzbekistan which is a famous town for ceramics.  I was disappointed because all the pottery that I can find for sale in Bishkek is mass produced  and has the exact same pattern.  Everywhere.  I like the design, but I also like variety.  It's also extraordinarily expensive in Bishkek.  For example, the plate I got in Osh was 150 som, a little more than 3 dollars.  A plate in the official Bishkek design is 2000 som at TsUM (although you should never pay that); the cheapest I've seen it marked is 900 som.  So yes, I was disappointed. 

I was also looking for some sort of Uzbek fabric, and there was, of course, plenty in the bazaar.  But I bought some from an Uzbek woman who was doing her own embroidery .  She even had a namaz cloth (unfortunately, machine embroidered) that is likely to go on our wall in the US.  She couldn't understand my Russian, but at least I could understand her Uzbek. 

Some of the taxi drivers said horrible things about Uzbeks, and there were some billboards around town that I thought were menacing.  One the afternoon when I was wandering in the mahallahs, I came across one that had been largely destroyed two years ago and was still in the process of getting rebuilt.  But there was a lot of work going on there, there were families in the streets, it was obviously Uzbek (those mahallahs are the only place in Kyrgyzstan I've seen where the signs advertising meat say gosht/myasa instgead of et/myasa). 

I saw the brand new mosque on the southwest side of Suleiman Too that had just opened last week, the giant statue of Lenin that's still standing on the south part of the center of town, Kurmanjan Jatka's statue, and Navoi's statue.  The bazaar was lots of fun to wander, especially since you could go back and forth over the river, and it was strung out for a couple of kilometers.

I also didn't have time to climb Suleiman Too, but maybe someday we'll be able to finally live there.  It would have been so different if we'd been in Osh instead of Tokmok last year liked we'd planned.

My only other regret was not having my husband there.  Exploring new cities is one of our favorite things, and the only time he's been to Osh was 7 years ago when he didn't speak much Uzbek.  But I still had a great time.  And even though I've never been to Osh, I was comfortable there. 

18 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: The Milk People

When we lived here the first time, the ayran man would come around every day with his car full of dairy products, calling "Ayran!  Smetana!  Mo-lo-ko!"  I always loved that sound. 

Then when we were in Tokmok, I bought milk from our neighbor.  Lots of people in Tokmok keep a cow in their backyard and sold the milk.  You'd see signs advertising the milk on lots of gates around town.

This time around in Bishkek there are people selling fresh milk in plastic bottles most mornings.  There's always a few people around the bazaar, but you can find people in other places too.  I sort of miss the ayran man though.

But I love being able to buy fresh milk here.  I miss that so much in the US.

17 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Marshrutkas

I wrote this in May of 2006:

The four of us hopped on the bus in Kashka Suu, about 20 km south of Bishkek. As usual, it was a minibus and had seats for 14, including the driver. Since we were so far out of town, the price to downtown Bishkek was 15 som each instead of the 5 som we pay in town.

We’d flagged him down a few hundred meters before the true beginning point for the route because he was looking for passengers. We waited at the official starting point for 10 minutes and were off to Bishkek with a total of 6 passengers on the bus.

The driver continued to look for passengers, waiting for several to run to the bus. Then we started to pick people up from the side of the road, as usual (you don’t see a lot of drivers waiting for passengers). When we were up to 17 people in the bus (the three children were on their respective parents’ laps), we picked up what looked like a soccer team of around 10 teenaged boys. They stayed crowded in the front of the bus and hopped off a few kilometers later in another town. We also picked up a few more people along the way and let off a couple of people.

We drove on for a few kilometers, picking up more people than we let off, including a woman with a baby and a toddler. Of course, one of the younger people in the front of the bus gave her his seat. As we turned onto what would became Manas street, we picked up around 10 little girls who had just spent the day at an amusement park south of town. They were all quite cheery a bouncing little rubber balls that lit up. They perched themselves around the bus wherever they could with a few passengers holding some.

At this point we counted about 30 people on the bus. We were sandwiched in the very back corner and were wondering how we were going to be able to get off on our street without disgorging all the passengers in front of us since it’s a lot easier to wriggle past 15 people when you’re not carrying two large bags and shepherding two children also. Luckily, the crew of cheery little girls was getting off on the same street we were and we quite effectively emptied the bus of all extra passengers and everyone sat down. And it went on its way for a few more minutes to Osh Bazaar.

Marshrutkas are still my preferred mode of transportation if I'm not walking. But hardly ever don't walk, so I haven't ridden them much this time around. My husband has switched to taxis, but I think it's mostly because most of the taxi drivers in front of our building are Uyghur and he loves talking to them. Here's another post from last year:
We don't ride marshrutkas much this time around in Kyrgyzstan because we can walk everywhere we need in Tokmok, but it's always fun to ride them when we go to Bishkek.  Riding public transportation in the US, especially long distance, can be a little dicey, but everyone rides a marshrutka sometime in Kyrgyzstan.

We nearly always find someone to talk to on the bus between Bishkek and Tokmok.  A few times we've sat with someone we know who happened to be on the same bus (that happens a lot in Kyrgyzstan) and even if we don't know anyone when we start, we usually do by the end.  An American family isn't the most common sight on the bus here and when people discover that my husband speak Kyrgyz and/or Uzbek, things move along nicely.  I'll never forget the expression on one man's face when he realized that he was speaking Kyrgyz.  Priceless.

Today's ride was with a very outgoing woman who gave me a history of Kyrgyzstan's revolutions, all the places we need to visit, and all the people she knows in Tokmok, all in Russian.  She also figured out that another man on the van works at the dentist's office next door to our house (our living in a house instead of a flat is also cause for surprise).  She's ready to take us all sorts of places.

We also met a refugee from Afghanistan a couple of months ago.  He lives in Kant, a town outside Bishkek.  His parents live in New York now as refugees.  I can't even quite imagine how it would be to leave Afghanistan as a refugee and end up in Kyrgyzstan during a revolution and the ethnic violence of last year.

And some trips we get to sit quietly and enjoy the ride.  I appreciate that because marshrutkas are a recipe for motion sickness for me, with their bumpy rides and stifling interiors. 

And my favorite marshrutka experience ever:

We were riding home on a marshrutka from Bishkek today when a car passed us with its passengers waving their arms at us.  So our driver pulled over to open the hood, checked the engine, and then hopped back in the marshrutka and turned around.  We drove back toward Bishkek for a few kilometers looking for something on the ground.  Finally one of the passengers in the front spotted the missing fan belt.

The driver pulled over again, got the fan belt and put it back on and dumped a couple of liters of water in the radiator and took off again.  We picked up a stray passenger in Kant and on the way out of Kant, it was clear the driver was looking for something new.  It turned out to be a car wash where he pulled in and asked them to fill up the radiator.  The car wash people had a good laugh along with all of us in the marshrutka.  I don't think they get asked that every day.

So we pulled out of the car wash and immediately there was a snapping sound.  Yes, it was the fan belt, but this time there was no way it was going back on.  This time the driver crossed the road and flagged down another marshrutka.  He hopped on that one and disappeared down the road.  By this time we were all pretty amused (what else can you do?) and we waited to see what would happen.

About five minutes later our driver appeared in yet another marshrutka and loaded us onto that one.  After asking where we wanted to go, we drove off to Tokmok. 

The best part really was the car wash part.  Marshrutkas don't often stop with a full load to get their car washed, let alone to fill the radiator.  The look on their faces (and ours too, probably) was priceless. 

16 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Shyrdaks

These are some older photos of shyrdaks for sale in Osh Bazaar in February of 2006.

If I had plenty of money and someone to ship my stuff, we'd use tushuks for most of our furniture and shyrdaks on all the floors.

15 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: A Common Language

This is from February of 2006:
One of my favorite things to do in the Middle East was to wander around with my husband (except he wasn't my husband then) and find people to talk to. We talked with a muezzin in Nazareth, beggars outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, spice sellers in Cairo, and more.

I love to learn new language because it opens up a new world of people to talk to. You don't have to know a lot of a language to start opening those doors. One of my favorite travel stories goes something like this (from Vikram's Seth From Heaven Lake- the story is told much better in the book):

The author, a man from India, was traveling through Xinjiang Province in China, a Uyghur area. Uyghur is written in the Arabic script, as is Urdu which is closely related to Hindi. He stops to buy a cap from an Uyghur shopkeeper and they are able to communicate in Chinese through the shopkeeper's grandson who learned Chinese at school. The shopkeeper doesn't quite believe or understand that the man is from India till he (the man) writes "Hindustan" in Arabic script. The shopkeeper's face light up when he reads the writing. He then proceeds to make the cap stronger by reinforcing the seams, for no extra charge. The man from India leaves with a salaamu alaykum.

We have had experiences like this here, but not as often as in the Middle East since we're busy with children and work. But today we went to Osh Bazaar to pick up a tushuk and passed by a shoe repair section. My husband stopped to have his shoes reglued and we started chatting with the repairman and another customer. We started off in Russian, then the other customer turned out to know a bit of English, about as much English as we know Russian. Since he is from Osh, he knew some Uzbek, so we traded our Uzbek phrases back and forth. A couple of teenagers walked by and someone mentioned Arabic, so we started speaking Arabic to the teenagers. We finished off the conversation with my husband reciting the first sura of the Qur'an. As always, we are proclaimed to be Muslim at that point even though we assure them that we are not (we're not trying to be deceptive here). The shoe repairman refused any payment and sent us on our way with his hand over his heart.

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Issyk Kul

The view from Tamchy on the south side in the fall of 2005.

North side sunset in the fall of 2011

Bokonbaevo is a village on the south side.

A Slavonian Grebe on the north shore.
Issyk Kul is the pride of northern Kyrgyzstan.  If you spend any amount of time in this country, you'll be asked if you've been there.  But I've known many foreigners to be underwhelmed with the lake.  I suppose it depends on your perspective and where you stay. I think I'll put it this way: the lake is lovely and a pleasant place for a vacation, but the mountains are what make Kyrgyzstan truly impressive.  If you live here with the mountains your entire life, the lake is pretty cool.

14 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Gates

I still love to get out of the apartment blocks and see people's gates.

13 June 2012

Bride Kidnapping, Again

This post wasn't sparked by an article like this sort of post usually is, but by the wedding celebration we're going to tomorrow.  It's the result of a kidnapping of our friend that took place several months ago.  It would technically be defined as consensual, but that doesn't mean it's gone over well.

Here are a few seemingly little-known facts about bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan:

  • Bride kidnapping is a defined as a private offense.  That means that the police cannot get involved unless the girl herself brings the charges. Of course, her family can be involved too, but the decision rests with her.  That rarely happens because there is tremendous pressure for her to not get the police involved.
  • Mullahs are not supposed to perform the niqah unless the marriage has been registered by the state.  Mullahs are aware of this rule and the fine that can be levied.
  • Mullahs are also not supposed to marry anyone against their will.  My husband has interviewed a number of mullahs.  It is not their intent to marry people who don't want to get married.
  • In addition, the boy's family gets the girl's consent before the niqah takes place, very often with her signed statement.  That doesn't mean her consent was freely given, of course, but it does make it hard to prove that she didn't want to get married.
  • This isn't specifically about bride kidnapping, but it applies here- many, many people in Kyrgyzstan think that a prison sentence is often, to put it in western terms "cruel and unusual punishment."  The prisons here can be horrific.
  • Again, not specifically about kidnapping, but laws in Kyrgyzstan are not designed to protect people's rights, but to further the needs of the state- this is a post-Soviet legal system.  The prison/legal/court system here does not perform all the same functions that the prison/legal/court system does in western countries.
Right now there's a proposed law floating around that would put a mullah in prison for 10 years if he married a couple without both parties' consent.  While that law sounds good, it would be useless for several of the reasons listed above. A lot of the laws foreigners lobby for here about kidnapping sound good, and they might get passed (because they can further the needs of the state by satisfying foreigners), but they don't change much, if anything.

But here's what I think is really important and that doesn't seem to be clear.  For bride kidnapping to become a regular crime in the way an American might think of it (in other words, wouldn't you call the police if your neighbor publicly kidnapped someone on your suburban American street?  it wouldn't do you any good here), bride kidnapping would have to be reclassified as a public crime.

I'm not sure there's much will for that to happen here.  Domestic crimes like spousal abuse have only recently moved out of the private sphere in the west anyway, and in my opinion that was a result of major social changes in the west that haven't happened here yet.  I don't think there's much desire here for the police to be allowed to get involved in what people consider private family issues. 

Also, even if a woman is willing to go to the courts, it can be beyond appalling what she is put through by the extended family (sometimes, even hers, not just his), the police, and the legal system in general.  Like I said, the courts are not set up to protect rights in these circumstances and while her life itself might not usually be in danger if she goes to the police, everything else might be.

A legal solution to bride kidnapping is not reasonable without some serious underlying changes in the legal system here.  Personally, I'm not willing to wait for that to happen.  I'm a lot more optimistic that social expectations regarding kidnapping can change, and change more quickly.  That's where NGOs and such ought to be focusing their efforts.

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Kalpaks

These are the traditional Kyrgyz men's hat.  We have many, many of them (more than pictured here) and I can't even remember where they all came from.  But my favorite is probably the one with black embroidery.  A friend of ours gave it to us last time and his mother made it.  You'll see plenty of machine-made ones for sale. 

12 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Balbals

We were intrigued to learn about balbals the first time we came here.  Here's a good explanation of them, so read that if you want to know more, but in short, they are usually thought to be grave markers, nearly always male, the figure is often holding a bowl in his right hand, and they generally date from the second half of the first millennium AD.

There's a fairly large collection of these at Burana from all over northern Kyrgyzstan.  You can also see some balbals gathered in Bishkek, particularly around some of the museums downtown. Most of the photos here are from Burana in May of 2011, but some are from 2006 and from Bishkek.

11 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Yaks

You know you're up pretty high in the mountains when you see yaks.  The first photo is at Tash Rabat in 2006 and the second is Sarala-saz in 2011.  I love how they sigh.  And pardon the possessed look of the second bunch.  At least they posed nicely.

10 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Tushuks

These are some of the things I most wish I could take back to the US. We slept on tushuks in Tokmok and they were the most comfortable bed ever. They're so much easier to move that a mattress and they're way more flexible.  I could buy the covers and then stuff them in the US though, if there's room in the suitcases.

09 June 2012

So I suppose I came up with a few more good reasons to move to the US.  Here's the current list:

  • No ice, either because people can shovel, or because ice doesn't stay for months
  • Clothes shopping
  • Clean water
  • Building codes (I won't miss the wiring in this apartment)
  • Mangoes, asparagus, avocados (I think you can get some of these here at times, but imported produce is rarely a good idea in Kyrgyzstan)

There are, of course, many other things I like about living in the US, but I'm an American wherever I go.  It's very different living here as an expat than a local.

The list of things where I get something good in the US, but lose a similar good thing here is a lot longer:

  • Cheese- I love the Gollandski cheese here, although the US has a definite edge because there is a much wider variety of cheese available there.  But the US can't win this one because fresh, raw milk is so much cheaper here for making my own cheese.
  • Friends- We'll see old friends and family in the US and meet new friends in our new state, but there are so many people we'll miss here.
  • Grocery shopping- It's easy to shop in the US, but so much more fun to shop here.  And the local produce here is so much better and so much cheaper than the US, but the US does non-local produce better and cheaper (see the mangoes above)
  • Bread- I can't tell you how delighted I am to eat homemade whole wheat bread again.  We searched for whole wheat flour here, but short of bringing a grinder along, it's not really possible despite everyone telling us it existed.  I did use something that was like atta flour, and that was way better than plain old white, but it wasn't whole wheat.  But I'll miss the naan.  How could I not?
There's not time to work on this anymore, so I'll come back to it later.

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Bone Games

Bone games (see here for the real post about it) are one of my favorite things about Kyrgyzstan, even if the few real-life friends I have think it's weird that I like them, not that many real-life friends know I care about them.  Central Asia is largely separate from my real life in the US.

This photo is of my four original bones that a Mongolian student in Idaho gave me about 8 years ago, so I guess these are technically shagai.  All the rest of my bones are chuko from Kyrgyzstan, mostly the Naryn region.

Here's a story about bones that I posted before:

A friend of ours told us a good story today about chuko bones. Apparently collecting chuko bones when you are pregnant will ensure that you have a boy (and like many countries, boys are best in Kyrgyzstan), so our friend's mother was advised to collect bones when she was pregnant with her fifth child after having four daughters. She proceeded to get a nice large collection of bones.

Then one day before the birth, our friend (she was around 10 years old at the time) saw some little boys climbing a cherry tree and eating the green cherries. She was so worried about the boys (again, not surprising at all that a girl in Kyrgyzstan would feel like she needed to take care of stray little boys) that she said she would trade them the chuko bones for the green cherries.

Her mother had a girl. And she knew why when she found out what had happened to the bones.
I love that story. I hadn't thought about it for a long time, but I remembered it after my third son was born after I collected dozens of chuko in Kyrgyzstan.

Here's one more old post about bones:

I'm still interested in finding games, stories, and traditions about the sheep bones in Central Asia. I have a couple of stories, but not very many, and there's not much about the bones online, and most of what is online is about the games. Since they're called by so many different names, and not necessarily spelled the same on every website, they can be hard to track down online. But here are some new things:

One new tradition I found recently is that the groom at a Kazakh wedding might be given these bones from the sheep slaughtered for the meal to represent the hope that the couple would have a son who would play with the bones.

Here's a picture of a Kazakh boy's drawing of children playing with the bones.

There are a couple of traditions here from Mongolia about exchanging bones as a sign of friendship (I got my first 4 bones from one of my husband's students in Idaho when he saw how interested I was in them and some people in Kyrgyzstan were a bit surprised that their neighbors sold us bones instead of giving them to us- that was fine with me, because I wanted a lot) and about how the bones might be used in fortune telling.

"Shagai is also used in fortune telling. Four Shagai are rolled and depending on which sides they land on, a person will have a question answered. The sides with the convex humps are considered lucky to roll, with Horse being more lucky than Sheep, while the sides with the concave indents, goat and camel, are considered unlucky to roll. All four landing on the four different sides is considered very lucky."

And a mention in Manas:

The original meaning of the word "ordo" comes from the Kyrgyz traditional game called ordotompoy (horse knuckle bone) with the aim of driving them out of the circle. This circle is compared to the kingdom of a khan and his army. In Manas, the game is mentioned several times. In the earliest episode of Manas, the young Manas is attacked by enemies while he was playing the ordo game with his friends.

08 June 2012

Stiff Upper Lip

So everything set to move back to the US next month, specifically to the east coast, and I am trying to think of good reasons to want to leave Kyrgyzstan. I've thought of a few that are unquestionably good.  Maybe tomorrow I'll post the things that are a little more questionable because I'll be getting something good there, but losing something good here.

  • I won't have to spend the entire winter walking on ice. I was closest to being ready to leave Bishkek at the end of February.
  • It's so much easier for me to buy clothes in the US.  After 18 months, we need to go shopping.
  • Clean water comes out of the tap in the US.
That's everything I can think of right now.  Maybe I'll come up with more later.

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Archa (Juniper)

Juniper (archa in Kyrgyz) is an important tree in Kyrgyzstan.  The women in the photo is carrying burning branches at a wedding.  The man in the photo doesn't look like he's enjoying it much, but it's traditional to carry burning branches around the room or house like this, possibly before a wedding, or maybe at Nooruz, or when a yurt is set up, or when someone is sick, or at other times.  You don't see juniper for sale everywhere, but it's easy to find in Bishkek, and it grows all over the place outside Bishkek.

Juniper wood also can be used to make beshiks like the one in the photo yesterday, or musical instruments, or coffins.  You'll also notice that some of the sacred sites I posted two days ago are marked by juniper trees.

07 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Beshiks

I love to see a beshik when we go into a Central Asian home.  If you can't tell, we'd call it a cradle in English.  It can rock and you can see the straps that hold the baby in place. It's a nice little contraption.

Scrap Metal

C's recent post (she's doing all kinds of interesting photos in Johannesburg right now- check them out) on scrap metal reminded me I've been meaning to write a similar post about Kyrgyzstan.  Scrap metal has come up several times recently. 

We have the same problem as C with the manhole covers disappearing which makes walking at night a little risky. A week or two ago there was a protest in Kazakhstan when a child died after falling into a manhole because the cover was missing.  Sometimes people put a tree branch in the holes which makes you feel at least a little safer.

And a couple of weeks ago another statue was stolen (that's a great Kyrgyzstan site- check out his list of museums in particular).  It's not a very well-known one, although my husband and I had stumbled on it a few days earlier and used it in an orienteering course.  I have a photo but it's on the other hard drive.

06 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Votive Trees

You'll see trees like this as you travel around Kyrgyzstan. They can mark the site of a spring or another natural feature, or possibly where someone was killed in an accident (in the same way you'd see a cross next to a highway in the US), or they can be there for no immediately apparent reason unless you're with someone who knows about it. 

I don't know that "votive tree" is the best word for them, but I don't know what they are called in Kyrgyz or any other Turkic language.

This site has an interesting listing of sacred sites in Kyrgyzstan. 

A couple of months after I came here the first time, I wrote this: "It seems to me that the 5 Pillars of Islam (declaration of faith, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage to Mecca) are largely unnoticeable, but the older, shamanistic practices have remained."  I still mostly think that's true, but I think part of why that is true is that outward expression of standard Islam isn't common and sometimes is unacceptable here for a wide variety of reasons, but outward expression of older traditions that Kyrgyz Muslims do, but not Arab Muslims, is acceptable.

Anyway, I love to see trees like this. 

05 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Mountains

I grew up near the mountains- it felt like one was practically in my back yard.  So I'm always happy to live in by the mountains again.  Bishkek isn't right next to the mountains (at least from my growing-up perspective of driving for less than 15 minutes to be in the mountains; other people think they're really close), but they're big here, so they're easy to see, even from the city.  And it doesn't really take that long to get out of town.

From a friend's dacha in the summer

Sarala-saz in late May

At-Bashy in mid-May

From our house in Tokmok in August

04 June 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Tandyr Naan

Naan is a perennial theme on this blog and it's one of my favorite things in Kyrgyzstan.  Fresh bread is always wonderful, and tandoor bread is especially wonderful, but Central Asian naan is the best ever with its thick rim and stamped middle.  We lived across the street from a tandyr the first time we lived here, and a few blocks away in Tokmok.  I think the nearest one right now is about 2 blocks, but there are plenty of places around selling bread that we don't have just one place we buy it from.

Here's a post from last year that's related to naan, although not necessarily about it:

We spent a lot of the last few days waiting for some friends of ours to get married. The first scheduled date was Friday, but when we got to the mosque, we found out everything had been postponed till Sunday. So on Sunday afternoon we waited, and waited some more, but the wedding didn’t happen again. I couldn’t commit about two or three hours the wedding at that point, so my husband went for the third time on Monday. Success finally, even though it looked at the last minute that everything might fall apart again because the bride’s father, the wali, couldn’t be reached by cell phone. Apparently his earlier approval was good enough and the wedding was finalized.

We did have a good time on Sunday chatting with the neighbors, watching the hopeful couple bake lots of naan, checking out the end of the animal bazaar, people watching, and making plov outside in a qazan. It was worthwhile too, because my family’s hanging around for 5 hours made the neighbors curious and they all helped for the real wedding on Monday. This couple needs it.

See the chekich?  There are so many with cool designs at the bazaar.

I also decided that I shouldn't complain about my kitchen.  Their house has no stove and just two low tables for food prep.  And the requisite buckets.  I at least have a nice, airy kitchen with three not-so-low tables.  And a stove and oven.  And buckets.  I was jealous of their spigot outside though, because it had a drain.  I am developing drain envy since the only drain in our house that either both exists and works well is the one in the bathroom sink.  I had no idea there even was such a thing as drain envy.