29 April 2013


So we already know the next place we're going- five months in advance!  That's that longest advance notice we've had in years.

Guadalajara isn't where I was hoping to go, although I was expecting it.  It's hard to hear people refer to Central Asia as the "Ickystans" when I so much would rather be there (and they'd probably rather be in Guadalajara).

But there is a lot to look forward to.  Here's what I've come up with so far.
  • It's not as hot as most of Mexico (but the people who refer to it as perpetual spring don't define spring the way I do)
  • If I'm not in Central Asia, at least I won't be in the US (not that I dislike the US, I just don't want to live here all the time)
  • Visitors!  Kyrgyzstan didn't exactly attract a lot of people (even though it should have).
  • Great food.  And I'll get to learn how to cook it.  
  • Mangoes.  And other fruit.  All year.
  • Lots of things to do in the city and nearby
  • Lots of Mormons
  • Spanish.  It's time.
In fact, nearly all the things that are tricky about Central Asia don't apply to Guadalajara.

But there are some things that make me itchy.  There's a Wal-Mart there.  And Costco.  And a bazillion retirees.  And it does get hot for several months.  And we can't take the bus or the metro.  But I can get around a lot of that (please mock me if I ever admit to going to Wal-Mart while I'm there).

22 April 2013

Tokmok and Other Stuff about Boston

So when the news started trickling out on Friday about the background of the Tsarnaev brothers, I listened especially closely because they were supposed to have connections with Kyrgyzstan.  Since there aren't many Chechens still living in Kyrgyzstan, and since we knew Chechens in Tokmok, I wondered if they might be from Tokmok.  There was plenty of confusion as the day went on whether they were from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan which doesn't* surprise me, but by the end of the day, they were from Tokmok.

Some articles had them bouncing all over the Soviet Union, but it sounds like that's really not how it was.  From what I've read, their path, while not quite typical for Chechens, was far from unusual.  If you're short on Chechens' recent history, here's a quick summary.  Stalin deported the lot of them after WWII, as he liked to do, and sent them mostly to Central Asia (all those stories you hear about being sent to Siberia?  well, often they were actually sent to Central Asia).  They (and other deportees) were allowed to leave Central Asia in the late 1950s and most returned to Chechnya, although a reasonable number stayed in Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan.

The Tsarnaevs stayed and lived in Tokmok. Tokmok is right on the Kazakhstan border and it's easy to cross there, and many extended families are on both sides of the border.  After the breakup of the Soviet Union, most Chechens living in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan left for Russia, but some, like the Tsarnaevs, returned a few years later because of the war in Chechnya.  They apparently moved into a house across the street from School #1 (I probably have a photo of the gate on this blog somewhere because it was just down the street from our house).

Finally, the family left Kyrgyzstan with their Kyrgyzstan passports about 10 years ago, arrived in the US, and were granted asylum.  The older brother was about 15, and the younger was about 8.

I know this is mostly only interesting to me since we lived in Tokmok. I doubt the brothers' Kyrgyzstan roots have anything to do with what they did and I'm skeptical that they have connections with alleged Central Asian terrorist groups just because they grew up in Kyrgyzstan.  But if you're interested in their background, look at the Chechen diaspora in Kyrgyzstan because that was the family's community- and it still is, in some ways.  Chechen boys growing up in Tokmok would have had a significantly different experience than Chechen boys in Chechnya.

And about the parents' reaction to the accusations against their sons?  It's completely unsurprising, and I'm quite sure that most Americans would have the same reaction to hearing that their children were accused of a horrific crime in another country, especially one whose government they didn't trust.

*I do think it's crazy that the Czech ambassador had to release a statement saying that Chechnya has nothing to do with the Czech Republic.  I'm not surprised that lots of people made the mistake on Twitter or whatever, but if you're in a position to want to contact the embassy about it, you might notice that the spellings, at least, are quite different.  But there it is.

10 April 2013

Fort Ward

Since we're only in DC for a short while, we're getting out as much as possible while we're here.  I won't blog typical stuff like the standard Smithsonian museums and the monuments unless there's some amazing reason to, but I do want to write about less well-known things we happen to find.

My nephew was visiting last week, and in addition to all the typical stuff, we went to Fort Ward because I wanted to get him to a Civil War site since he's always lived in the western US.

Fort Ward was part of the defenses surrounding Washington during the Civil War and so is obviously a Northern site.  That was a change after seeing Confederate sites for the last year around Charlottesville.  There's a small but interesting and free museum, and then you can walk around the fort, including a corner of it that has been reconstructed.

It turned out to be the perfect place for our group to go since there was room to run around, some walking (but not too much) involved, and some history too.  We had three older boys and a 5-year-old. It's not necessarily something that should be high on your short list of places to go, but it's a pleasant and quick visit that was convenient for us.

02 April 2013

Colonial Williamsburg

We have finally moved into our new place in DC, but before I do anything about that, I wanted to write about our quick trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  I think I'd been there once before, but since it was 30 years ago and I was only 7, I don't remember any of it.

The place was fascinating for so many reasons.  You have the whole theme park/resort/spa/vacation side of things with the hotels, Busch Gardens, the water park, etc.  Then there's the history side of things in Williamsburg itself with the museums, archeology, and traditional trades, but it was really interesting to see how the acting side of things interacted with the "real" side of things.  

I'm not saying at all that the actors weren't doing real jobs, but the wheelwrights and blacksmiths and coopers weren't acting- they are wheelwrights, blacksmiths, and coopers even though they have to wear period clothing to work.  One of the wheelwrights in particular made it clear to visitors that he wasn't doing his work for the visitors, even if that was a side benefit of doing the work at Williamsburg.  Sometimes the whole thing felt theme parkish, with the clean streets and reenactments, and I understood why he made a point of saying that to so many people.

The family as a whole enjoyed watching the tradespeople most of all, although one of my sons really liked the reenactments.  I felt like I could ask whatever I wanted and everyone had lots of interesting things to say.  One of the coopers showed us all sorts of tools, and I talked to another cooper, a woman, about her job and Colonial Williamsburg's (not the 18th-century town, but the modern organization) past policies on women and minorities.  There's a lot more to CW's history than what they put on display and it was very different talking to the people who practiced a trade instead of acting.

One thing that I learned that should seem obvious is that the colonies really did have a colony-type relationship with Britain. I knew we'd had a hard time transitioning our economy during and after the war, but I hadn't realized how little our economy had developed before the war.  It was a traditional send-your-natural-resources-to-Britain system on our side and a traditional we'll-send-you-everything-you-need-and-you-can-only-buy-it-from-us system on their side.  There were so many times that people would say that this or that was made in England because it was cheaper to buy made-in-England products instead of made-in-the-colonies.  Fascinating stuff.

I was also really curious about the work the modern tradespeople did and the value of that work.  Colonial tradespeople's labor wasn't valued (for example, iron tools were simply sold by weight, no matter the labor costs), but valuing a bedrug that a weaver makes in 2013 is a totally different thing.  So it appears that CW pays a salary to its employees who are tradespeople and those employees create things that are, for some of the trades, priceless because they are the only people with the skills to create those items in that way. 

There were a few items for sale from the silversmiths and the difference in price between pieces created with modern techniques and colonial techniques was huge, and I'm still betting that the prices of the colonial-style pieces didn't reflect their true value.  From what I asked, it sounds like a lot of what is produced in CW is used on-site (for example, the blacksmiths have been doing lots of work for a new building in town), or produced for other museums.  A museum in North Carolina provided the materials for a couple of bedrugs and the weavers at CW are making them- apparently all the NC museum will pay is for the materials (which is historically accurate, in a way).  The wheelwrights were working on the carriage or whatever you call it for a cannon.

In the evenings after the shops closed, I went over to the museum twice.  They had a really interesting but really short display about the hospital that the museum is in, and while I was there the last night, looking at the amazing display of musical instruments, one of the CW musicians came and tuned and played several instruments to get ready for a function that night.  That was cool because I was the only one around and he answered lots more of my questions.

The whole thing was really interesting and gave me a lot to think about.