Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road


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Milk….mmmh…

our friend's dairy cowI am a true Wisconsin girl. I can’t fathom life without milk. Let’s get more specific: life without cream in my coffee, without ice cream or a milkshake on a hot summer day, cereal and milk in the morning, cheese on my food, or just for a snack, dessert without whipping cream… life would be very dull indeed. While exploring the possibility of moving to Karakol we tried to buy milk in the downtown area. We went from one store to the next looking for cartons of milk. Hmmm… this turned into a slight problem when we realized that cartons of milk are not in ready supply, let alone 20% cream (American interpretation: half-and-half). This was going to be a problem for our long term (or daily) sanity. Upon further investigation we realized that people generally buy fresh, raw milk off of a neighbor who has a cow and is willing to do business. Now we have an interesting proposition: can we switch to raw milk after being so spoiled by the “one flavor and one flavor only” perfectly pasteurized, tested and approved cow milk of America?

Well, there isn’t a question that the attempt had to be made in order to satisfy the above mentioned craving for milk. Life without milk is just… water and powdered creamer… I shudder to think. So, part of our prep work for getting started was simply this: I needed to figure out a way to get a steady supply of milk before we landed in Karakol for good. Therefore, my morning cup of coffee which is 60% milk and 40% coffee would be in place on arrival.

Through some friends we were introduced early on to a very sweet family that has a cow and was willing to sell us their milk. We would often arrive in the evening, and they would not have milked the cow yet, and so we would start the process of getting our milk by sitting down and having a cup of tea and some good conversation for about an hour. Then the process of milking started, followed by the straining and transferring to our container… and the transaction was complete. Then, when we realized this cow does not have enough regular milk for us (three families are dependent on the supply), we started to turn our attention to the milk ladies who yell “MalakOhhhh!” as they wander through the apartment complexes early every morning. Sometimes it is too early. I shoot out of bed at 7 AM knowing I don’t want to miss the milk lady, throw on some clothes and hastily grab a 5L jug to get a hold of the milk of the day.  If we try to schedule regular delivery, that somehow always falls flat, so it is a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of transaction.

Nevertheless, we are figuring out a way to get the milk to the table each morning. The process of pasteurization is a whole other story, better kept for next week.


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Love and Marriage

Kyrgyz bride and groom

“Life goes by. If you will be crying, life will go by; if you’re laughing, life will go by. I think it is better to enjoy it.” – A Kyrgyz shop owner at the bazaar (translated by me)

Sometimes people say things that catch your attention. At the bazaar recently, a very friendly shop owner made the comment above about life when a local person I was shopping with commented on his jovial mood. The comment is interesting, but not particularly “Kyrgyz” – it could have been said by anyone just about anywhere. But what was interesting was that my friend noticed a friendly, happy shop owner and thought it important to point it out. This Kyrgyz man was jovial and energetic and helpful in a way that distinguished him from the other people working in the bazaar (a typically stressful work place).

Another conversation caught my attention recently. Two Kyrgyz classmates were catching up after not seeing each other since high school.

“You have a nice house. It is built really well,” the man said.
“Yes, but I can’t take credit. My husband built it,” answered the lady.
“Well, you have a great husband. Where did you find him?”
“He found me.”
“What do you mean? Did he find you on the internet?”
“No, his parents made an agreement with mine.”
“Were you kidnapped?” I interjected. (See this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_kidnapping, or  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ala_kachuu)
“No, not kidnapped. He came and talked to my mother. My mother told me to marry him, because he is a good man and he comes from a good family. ‘That way I won’t worry about you when I’m dying,’ she said. I didn’t want to marry him, but how can I say no?”
“Do you love him?” the Kyrgyz man asked. I was surprised at this, since it isn’t a common question here.
“No, I don’t love him. I did at first, but with age love goes to the kids. I love my kids. He’s still a good man and I respect him a lot and honor him, but I love the kids now. That’s normal,” she answered.
“I think love between husband and wife should increase with age, not decrease,” the Kyrgyz man said.

A side note to this interesting conversation: I’m told that for Kyrgyz people, getting divorced is very shameful. Rather than divorcing, they just live separately (in this case, the lady’s husband lives on a different continent), but remain married to avoid the shame of divorce. This practice skews divorce statistics, which don’t reflect the number of single-parent homes we find in Kyrgyzstan.


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Baking Adventures

Today I did my first real from scratch pie. Before I moved overseas I had never made my own pie crust. Honestly, I think I’d only made one or two pies period, and for those I bought crusts. (I’m more of a cookies kind of person.) I’ve been overseas almost one year now and I just made my own pie crust about a month ago. I had made a pie before that but I splurged for a graham cracker crust that was imported from the states. For that pie I made a really simple chocolate pie that doesn’t even have to bake in the oven. I made that same chocolate pie for my first made from scratch crust. For this, my second made from scratch crust, I am attempting a Caramel Pecan Pumpkin Pie from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I am calling this my first real from scratch pie because the chocolate pie has like three ingredients and like I said doesn’t even cook in the oven.

I’m a little concerned about this pie because it did not exactly fit in the pie pan. It has been spilling over the entire time it has been cooking (good thing I thought to put a cookie sheet under it). I probably should invest in a pie pan. No pie pan you ask? Then what are you using? Hahaha! I’m using the disposable aluminum pie pan that the imported graham cracker crust came in. So this is the third pie that has used that pie pan, a pie pan mind you, that I would have thrown away without even a thought back in the States! I’m pretty sure I can get a real pie pan here, I just haven’t really looked. Anyway, here’s a picture of the pie. Let’s hope it tastes better than it looks!

The pie


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Lessons in Language Learning

So, last week Magevney and I resumed our Russian classes. We had been studying in Bishkek before moving to Karakol but stopped for the move and then had to wait on new classes to resume at the University, plus an extra month for the University to determine how and what to do with us. Switching to another location and another system for learning has brought some unique challenges.

In Bishkek, we had three different teachers in our five and a half months at our language school, in addition to a private tutor. The language center, Glossa, was focused on teaching Russian, and to a lesser extent Kyrgyz, as a second language for foreigners. They are experienced. The University in Karakol didn’t even know what to charge us for classes or even how to enroll us. Okay, no big deal. This is just logistics.

The big challenge has come in working with a new teacher. You see, when we switched teachers in Bishkek, we were still at the same school and in a single system. They knew where we were in our learning process. Here, they had no idea. I missed the first couple of days because I was back in Bishkek so Magevney went solo. When I returned, they put us together with LaVena, who has several years of practice in Russian. Needless to say we are not on the same level. Soon they switched things around so that it was just Magevney and I together. I expected some growing pains as they determined what we knew but thought the proficiency exam we had taken would speed things along. It didn’t speed things along as much as I would have liked.

Our lessons are still generally over our heads, though a few of them have been right on target. We really do believe our teacher wants to help us but she just doesn’t know how to teach Russian as a second language. The Russian department at the University primarily teaches Kyrgyz students how to speak better Russian, which is much different than teaching Russian from scratch. As we now start our foreign language center teaching English as a second language, I know a little more about the effort required in determining where the students are in their knowledge. Now if only I can figure out how to express all this in Russian, without sounding like I know a lot more than I actually do.


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The Reservation on the Other Side of the World, Part 1

When I first arrived in Kyrgyzstan I knew absolutely no Russian. Honestly, I guess I did know до свидания (do svidanya), which means good-bye, thanks to the cartoon Anastasia but that was it. But I quickly picked up on two non-everyday words. First was the Russian word for avalanche because that’s what everybody said my name means, which in my opinion is pretty cool. Sometimes I like to joke when first meeting someone and quickly say after my name that I’m a natural disaster. After a couple seconds, they get it and smile. Talk about not forgetting someone’s name.

The second word I picked up on was relative, родственник. After our daily embarrassment (see: Can You Guess Where I’m From) we’d hear, “You’re family!” because the Kyrgyz believe that today’s Native Americans are descendants of long-ago Kyrgyz. They believe that a band of Kyrgyz went north to explore, up to Siberia, and eventually crossed the land bridge from Russia to Alaska. Now, the Kyrgyz aren’t the only ones who claim Native Americans as their own. We’ve also heard this from other Central Asian people.  Even the Turkish claim that there is one American president that is Turkish! And that’s because he is part Native American and therefore part Turkish. I don’t know how true it is that Native Americans are direct descendants of the Kyrgyz people but there are many similarities between their culture and the Navajo culture (of which I’m from and is my main framework), and this is much more than just coincidence in my mind. Stay tuned to find out how similar these two cultures are.


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The Wet Willy Haircut

I need a haircut. I have not had one since June. I scratch my shaggy head as I recall my first haircut experience in Kyrgyzstan. Here is
that story.

I walked into a small shopping center called Beta Stores in the city of Bishkek. I had heard many reviews of this so called “Turkish”
hair salon from many of my friends. I was nervous but excited to try it out for the first time. I walked into the salon on the second floor
and was greeted by a lone man with sheers in his hands. I sat and he prepped the stool, adjusting the height. I told him how short I wanted my hair to be and he started right away. With sheers in his hand, he was constantly snipping my hair. I heard him snip the sheers repeatedly, even when he was not cutting my hair. It was hypnotic. After a while, he took clippers and finished the rest. I thought it was over, but then he took my head over the sink and washed my hair. “Ah, how pleasant” I thought. He washed my face and then, to my surprise, washed the inside of my ears, wet willy style. He brought me up and dried my face off and then squeezed my head tightly. It felt good. He proceeded to massage my head down my neck to my shoulders. He took my arms and waved them loosely before he finished the massage. He took my head and twisted it until it cracked. It was very relaxing. It was a great way to end the experience, until he brought fire into the equation. He put a long q-tip into some alcohol and lit it on fire with a lighter. I was very interested. “Close your eyes” he told me. I did. Less than half a second later, he was batting my face with the flame around my nose, cheeks, and ears. This was a bit shocking and still relaxing at the same time. He put the flame out and splashed my face with a little cologne and it was over. I paid the barber, feeling like a new man.

Needless to say, I had never had such an experience like this before. This little barber shop has ruined all others for me.

Shall I settle for a boring haircut or return to this particular barber?


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Sunrise Bazaar

early at the bazaarBazaar shopping has its certain charm: walking between the colorful stalls, looking for treasures, comparing deals as you go from person to person asking the price of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and cabbage. Sometimes you get a great deal, and sometimes you get to pay “foreigner tax”. The best part is finding the occasional treat: fresh basil or fresh celery, chili powder… yes!

Then there is the bazaar shopping for bazaar sellers: the early morning hours when the farmers and whole-sellers line the streets with trucks in front of the bazaar and open the truck beds to unload huge sacks of vegetables. The sun barely peeks over the mountain ridges, the ice crunches under each footstep on the ground as we walk from truck to truck and inquired of each seller their asking price for veggies.

Having found the best price, we pull the van around and load up 90 pound sacks of potatoes, onions, turnips and beets. These bags will hold us for the entire winter. Yeah, they might get a little more wrinkled, and dry, but at wholesale prices we got a steal in veggies for the winter. Now, all I have to do is go into the basement to pick out my veggies for tomorrow’s Kung- Pao chicken dinner. Yum!

shopping DarylLada at the bazaar