Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

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Trip to the Bazaar, #2

Recently I went to the central bazaar in Karakol with my friend to get some last minutes supplies for a student holiday event. We drove around looking for a good parking spot and found a place at the back entrance. We had our list in hand and made our way in. The first few steps right into the bazaar we saw a couple of locals girls slip on ice but they didn’t fall to the ground. They laughed and walked off. But not too far behind we heard them laugh at us as my friend and I slipped on the very same spot.

The whole bazaar was slick from packed snow that fell earlier in the week. In the middle of this small bazaar we found some vendors selling vegetables.  We got what we needed and moved on. Leaving the vegetable vendors, we saw a couple of guys dragging car hoods by some rope attached to them. I thought this was odd and I chuckled to myself. We quickly scouted for the rest of our items and we entered a small store among the “candy” aisle. The doors opened and the fresh smell of  meat greeted us. I was hungry. The smell was so strong it made my mouth water. It was not a great idea for me to shop in the bazaar on an empty stomach.

We left the aisles and picked up some bread. It was the last on our list. We started our way out and I noticed the men with car hoods again. They were loading piles of snow from various aisles and shops. The hoods were used to transport the snow across the icy paths. I smiled and thought to myself, “What a great idea. I need a used car hood to go sledding sometime.”  I slipped on the same area as before as I thought about the car hood idea. It as a quick trip, but I saw something that day that I had not seen before. I saw a great way to sled using car hoods.

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Holiday Memories

near the squareIn a world where an expensive camera and a nice picture are hard to come by, you get creative when you take just a couple of family pictures. Family is very important in Kyrgyzstan and just like it is for us, we like to see how the kids are growing, we like to give grandparents a snapshot that they can gaze lovingly at and we like to hang pictures of the whole gang proudly on our living room wall.

Probably the most prevalent camera in all of Kyrgyzstan is the camera in people’s cell phones. I often get to see someone’s entire ‘photo album’ when they whip out their cheap little cellphones and show me pictures of their whole family. These pictures are never good enough quality to be hung on a wall. So, for the times that they want to take a picture that they can really look at, they get really creative, go all out and make it an incredible picture!


the squareSo, on holidays there is money to be made creating a truly spectacular scene for those wanting to buy a picture. It is really fun to walk around the central square in Bishkek and check out the plethora of different settings for fabulous photography. Often the date and the current holiday are proudly portrayed in the picture and the kids get to sit on cool toys to either make them happy or at least make them smile for the camera. I don’t think they are too enthralled by the animals, though, as this little boy seems to be having a bit of a tough time with the dove on steering wheel. Either that or he was really hoping to take the car out for a spin instead of just posing next to it.unhappy boy

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When the Cows Come Home

As I mentioned in a previous post, there is never a dull moment in Kyrgyzstan. Recently, our water heater stopped working. Well, “stopped” isn’t necessarily a fair way to put it. Maybe it would be better to say our water heater started working too well. We would turn on the faucet, and steam would come shooting out. We would get in the shower, and the bathtub itself would nearly burn us. Our water heater was working too well.

So, I called our landlord to let him know, and shut it off. (The “power switch” would be called a “circuit breaker” in the U.S.) He came by and we looked at it together. We turned it back on with the little tiny power control knob turned down (to 50C/122F – aka not really very hot). Sure enough, everything was fine… for a while. The first day was great, because the water was an appropriate temperature and we could shower and wash dishes. The second day – steam, scalding hot steam.

I shut the heater off again, and we decided the temperature regulator must be broken. Our landlord tried to get it out of the water heater, but lacked the tools and finally called a plumber.

“This man drinks a lot, but he is a great plumber,” he tells me as he prepares to leave town.

Sure enough, the next day a semi-drunk plumber shows up with his apprentice in tow (they rode together to our house on one of those little machines Sarah loves).

“Some guy I don’t really know called,” he says, “But I knew his father. And I don’t know what the problem is.”

I show the plumber everything, straining to understand his mumbled, occasionally slurred, sometimes colorful Russian. After a few minutes, something hits him: “You aren’t Russian?” (This is perhaps more a sign of his state of intoxication than of my facility with the language, unfortunately.) He rushes home with the apprentice to get the right tools, and when he returns we begin to take apart the water heater. I, like usual, try to strike up a conversation with simple things, “Are you from here?” “Do you have family?” and so on.

As he’s telling me about how his parents and his wife’s parents fought in WWII and were either behind enemy lines in Belorussia or living through the bitter fighting for St. Petersburg (his father-in-law died not long after St. Petersburg from wounds sustained there, and his own father was moved to Central Asia for the good climate for rehab after being wounded on the Eastern Front), we are interrupted by a loud noise outside. A moment later, two cows poke their heads into the tiny room we’re in!  We cry out in shock (they’re close, and they’re big!), and the cows proceed to make themselves at home in our barn, our driveway, and our orchard. I didn’t get to hear more about the war, but in the end we did get our hot water heater working (I know how to fix it myself next time), and I got to chase cows around my yard.

the cows

My new friends like our orchard

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I’ve talked before about how easy it is to pick out foreigners in Karakol, particularly the backpacking tourists.  We aren’t backpacking or skiing tourists, but we know that we don’t quite look like the locals. We don’t fool them. They can easily pick us out in a crowd. But, maybe, just maybe we are able to fool the other foreigners!

Scott and I were walking through the bazaar this week and I noticed two young American (I think) girls standing by a shop to our right. One girl said to the other, “Look, they’re American”, clearly talking about Scott and me. I looked at the girl without a smile or an acknowledgement of my understanding, and then heard her say, “Oh, no they’re not.”

I can’t figure this whole thing out! What did we do to make her change her mind? Was it because I didn’t smile at them? Or was it because I didn’t confirm her suspicions that we could relate to her? Or was it more about me not speaking English back to her? So interesting! Do people (particularly Americans) find an automatic affinity with each other when they meet on the street of a foreign land? Do I want an automatic affinity with every American I may happen to run into in Kyrgyzstan? I’m not sure!

While I ponder these things, I can’t help but be delightfully amused and pleased that we were able to fool these girls!

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I think it goes without saying that life in Karakol is quite a bit different from life back in the good ole’ U.S.A. We do most of our shopping in an open air bazaar rather than in a grocery store. We eat far more made-from-scratch foods than processed foods. As with most of the world, the metric system reigns supreme and the American Standard system is virtually unknown here. Sometimes, though, the differences come in some less than expected ways.

Stateside, when I needed gas I stopped at virtually any major intersection and there would be at least 3 gas stations there, sometimes even four or more! I bought my regular unleaded using pay at the pump and moved on my merry way with little thought. I remember seeing full service stations as a kid but those are now mostly long gone.

In Karakol, while there are gas stations all around town, most of them you don’t want to use unless you have no choice. There are two major Russian chains, mostly on the outskirts of town, which we try to stick with, though I have only used one of the two brands. And most of the stations I’ve been to here are something close to full service in that they usually have an attendant whom you pay and he or she does the pumping for you. You see, I still usually get pay at the pump, just with cash to a person instead of a card to a machine. I have seen a station or two that takes credit cards, though just in Bishkek.

The biggest difference comes from a side benefit of going to this one particular gas station. It is on the northern road out of town and it takes several minutes to get there. It is definitely not the closest one to me, but I think you’ll agree, the view is worth the drive anytime.


View coming back from the gas station in Karakol

View coming back from the gas station in Karakol



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Lightly falling, dancing on wind currents, and lying like a blanket covering the land.  Fun to play in, great to stay indoors from, peaceful to watch. Day spent looking out the window, watching, and thinking.

Heard a story that day, about an elderly mother wishing she could see her daughter, whom she had not seen in three years. The daughter, working far from home, received a telegram from her mother: I’m in poor health, won’t make it through the winter, I want to see you. Me? Go back there? It’s boring in that small village and the train ride is unpleasant. The telegram was placed on a desk to be forgotten. Another telegram. Daughter tried to make it home for the funeral but wasn’t successful. She arrived two days after, regretting not returning home earlier.

I watched the snow fall that day listening to that story in Russian class. The gray sky, white snow playfully (or was it wistfully) falling, orange-brown leaves in the background. How do you feel, the teacher asks, What are you feeling right now? Grief, pity, remorse came to mind. They came to everybody’s mind. Your homework: If you were sitting across from the daughter on the train ride back to the city and she told you her story, what would you say to her?

I walked home after class, cold snow on warm cheeks. Snow, usually cheerful, went with the mood of the story that day: cold, blistery, gray.

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Going to the Bazaar

Going to the bazaar is refreshing at times. My wife and I went this past weekend to get some of our usual groceries and some warm clothes for our son. We arrived at the bazaar in the afternoon on Saturday. It was muddy from the melted snow. We set off to look for some toddler leggings, gloves, boots, and socks. Entering the bazaar, there were many plastic drapings overhead to keep the snow and water from spilling on the venders. But these coverings do very little for the shoppers walking through the aisles. Shoppers huddled under the coverings and dodged as much as possible. In tight aisles, there were pedestrian bottlenecks, everyone trying to keep clear of the dripping snow water. Down below we hopped over streams and puddles that were hard to avoid. Every path was iced and slippery. Along one of these aisles I slipped on ice a few times before I stepped completely in a puddle of freezing water. That was my left foot. We walked deeper into the bazaar.

As I walked past the aisle of boots, I felt cold drops of water on my head. We looked at a few snow boots but saw none that we liked. My head was cold. We continued on and then I stepped in another puddle with my other foot. Now both my feet were cold and wet. We bought some things along our stroll and my head kept getting colder as I walked through the aisles trying to avoid the drips of ice water. We eventually got out of the area where water was dripping. Then we entered the muddy side of the bazaar. We looked for produce and grains. We were dodging mud splashes from other people while we walked and bargained. We finally got all the supplies we planned to get. My feet were cold, my head was freezing, and I was mud spattered. Next time I’ll remember to bring a hat. Nonetheless, it was still a refreshing afternoon and we were glad to get out of the house. I’ll keep these thoughts in mind when summer hits.