Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

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The Sights

Kyrgyz MountainsFor the time being, there will be a small hiatus on my observations from the classroom since we are on winter break. I will be sure to share those insights when classes begin. Until then, we move on to other topics.

When you live near a popular visiting spot, you don’t visit it, right? I suffer the same thing. We’ve lived in Karakol for almost 7 months and not once have we ventured into the mountains. Apparently, Karakol has some of the best mountains for skiing in the region. People come from neighboring countries to get in a few days of skiing. We also live next to an amazing lake (which, to this sounthwesterner, looks like a sea). It is a very popular vacation spot for all types of people, yet I have not been there since we’ve moved to Karakol. As I write, I look out my window to the mountains in the distance, brimming with snow. When we visited this town in the past we always spent one day in the mountains. I was so excited to move here because that meant that we could go to the mountains more often. Alas, that has yet to happen….whether from being busy, or being afraid to ask, or just being tired.

I remember during one of our past visits we went high up in to the mountains, near where a gold mine operates. We could’ve easily sang “Over the river and through the woods,” because that is exactly how our trip went. We passed signs that said, “Оснорожно! Лавины!”which means, “Be careful! Avalanches!” We all laughed because my name in Russian means avalanche. We came up to the top, but still not the summit, and my breath was taken away: there was snow everywhere. Kilometers and kilometers of untouched sparkling snow, the best kind, because that’s the type I like to touch. It’s undisturbed beauty is wonderful to behold, but making the first steps into it is exciting, like blazing new trails.

The cold air burned my nostrils, the glistening snow blinded my eyes. We had a picnic in the back of our friend’s truck. Shivering through bites we found shelter in the heat of the vehicles. Even though we may have spent no more than three hours on the whole trip it was a day well spent. I looked forward to creating those types of memories for my kid when we moved here but have yet to explore the cold, snow-drenched wonder of the mountains with him. Hopefully, before the snow is gone, we can carve out time to do just that. And maybe along the way teach him to sing, “Over the river and through the woods…”

kyrgyz mountains

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First Time All Over Again

I woke up yesterday with a jazz song stuck in my head. I did my usual routine in the morning. I got ready and had breakfast. My wife and I made our way to the center of town to get some stuff done. We got into a small bus and it wasn’t fully packed, just enough people to feel uncomfortable. This was my first bus ride since I have been in Karakol. I felt everyone’s eyes on me. It felt exactly like the first time I rode on a bus in Bishkek when I first moved to Kyrgyzstan. It was stuffy, crammed, and uncomfortable. We got off and walked to our destination. When we arrived, LaVena had to get some documents in order at this narrow office.

In the tiny waiting area, all the local people stared at us, curious about who we are. A man asked us where we came from. We told him we are American. He continued to ask us where we came from and insisted that we were from India. We corrected him and then he tried to figure out our ethnicity.  “Surely you must be Indian, because you look like you are from India” the man told us. We told him we are from America where there are lots and lots of different people. After a few awkward moments we went into the office area. Once there, the administration lady asked us if we were Turkish or Arab. “No, we are American.” I replied. She smiled and we continued our business. It was interesting to see the expressions on people’s faces as they all realized that we are from America, and yet they could not place our ethnicity. It felt like I had entered a new country all over again.

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Observations from the Homeland #2

Last week I talked about supermarkets that have the power to just shock me every time I go back to the U.S. I know it is coming and I just surrender myself to the experience as I walk through the sliding doors and am hit by the heat blast of a perfectly temperature controlled store that meets all my shopping needs. Then there are the things that surprise me that I totally don’t expect. I know those are coming, too, but I just don’t know what form they will take when I plant my feet on American soil. There were a lot of very pleasant surprises, like the extreme helpfulness of almost every sales person even though it was the “harried shopping season”, but that isn’t the main subject of this piece of musings.

The biggest unexpected shock of the American experience this time was the gargantuan parking lots in front of every store. I have just not been around parking lots for a couple of years and had forgotten about them. Let me give you an idea of how you can forget about parking lots: We lived in the down town of the capital city in a 13 story high rise with about 150 units. We had parking for about 30 cars and we almost always had a spot to park our car.  Now we live in a much smaller, more rural setting 6 hours from the capital and you can imagine the amount of cars and therefore the demand for parking spaces is even lower.

How can a parking lot be a shock? Well, there is the sheer size of them, and then there are the parking habits of drivers. For one, we really take care of our elderly and infirm in the U.S. because there is a ton of handicapped spots right in the front of every store. Impressive. Then, there are the habits of the rest of us who want to get the coveted door spot. This seems to be something people can feel very strongly about. If you feel strongly about this, it adds an extra layer of stress to your life… you circle and circle and keep an eagle eye on others circling and watch for the person that just might take that spot away from you, or you see a spot open up right behind you, or you pull up, turn on your blinker and wait for someone to fill their trunk with their purchases and slip into the driver’s seat, make their adjustments before slowly pulling out while holy smokes, a better spot opened up behind you and you know you made the wrong choice. Oh, the stress of it! I had forgotten the parking lot stress. Daryl and I decided when we were driving we were just not going to engage in this cultural phenomenon, so we usually parked at the end of the row and walked a bit. And there you have it, this is why parking lots took the cake in the “I didn’t think it would shock me, but it did, category.”

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Tastes of Kyrgyzstan, Part 2

Last week I wrote about laghman and ganfan, and suddenly I had the irresistible urge to go out and get some boso laghman for lunch. Thankfully, after posting my blog on Monday, the opportunity to go out for lunch presented itself, and I went out and had a big plate of gyuru laghman, which was the closest thing I could get at the restaurant we attended. It was wonderful.

Today I am hopeful that after posting this blog I can – once again overwhelmed by (at this point merely anticipated) cravings – go out for lunch and enjoy a big plate of plov. Like the dishes I discussed last week, plov is not really a Kyrgyz dish, but is enjoyed across Kyrgyzstan. The way it is prepared in Kyrgyzstan originated in the Ferghana valley among Uzbeks, though variations are available across a wide swath of Asia and the southern hemisphere. Basically, plov is rice prepared with carrots, garlic, maybe a couple spices (depending on the chef), and meat, which is usually mutton.

In Kyrgyzstan, the best plov is made according to the Uzbek tradition ( this Wikipedia page contains a great little photo of Uzbek plov being cooked, and a description of how it is prepared), and many people are willing to pay a higher price for a special reddish rice from the Uzgen region of Kyrgyzstan. (see ) Uzgen is a medium-sized town atop a hill at the far eastern edge of the Ferghana valley with a grand view of the Tien Shan to the east and the Ferghana valley to the west.

UzgenThe photo here shows the main bazaar in Uzgen (with “Uzgen” written on the left side and “bazaar” almost spelled out on the right – part of the sign is broken). The first time I drove through Uzgen, I was surprised to see the typical pastureland and crops that are omnipresent in Kyrgyzstan replaced with rice patties. But of course, that makes sense for a town that has a type of rice named after it!

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Living in the Arctic

the viewHaving grown up in Western Africa (primarily in desert countries) the shock I received from the cold once I arrived to Kyrgyzstan was enough to set me aback.  The indoors stoop easily into the low 60s and 50s, and you can imagine how cold the outside gets!  Before I came I was warned about the cold temperatures during Kyrgyzstan’s winter months-and believe me I took everyone’s advice to heart, practically my entire Christmas list this year was warm clothing of some sort-but sometimes you just have to experience it before you can really understand.  This is definitely one of those cases.  Whereas I am more familiar with living in 110 F with no air conditioning, the locals here live in the negatives during winter with little to no heat.

With the cold though, comes many benefits, one of which being the white mountains I see anywhere I go in Karakol.  Everywhere I look I’m surrounded by beautiful, huge, snow-covered mountains that tower over the entire city.  The only kinds of mountains that I’m accustomed to seeing are sand dunes so you can imagine my awe at seeing white gigantic ones right outside of my window.  These mountains (from what I’ve been told they are some of the highest in Central Asia) attract many tourists both in the winter for skiing/snowboarding/etc… and in the summer when tourists like to hike or backpack in the area.  I also hope to spend at least a couple of times enjoying myself and nature while on the slopes!  And if I ever start to complain about the cold inside my house, I always remind myself of the awesome view I get to have straight from my bedroom window.

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Snow Slide

When we returned to Karakol from our trip stateside, we were greeted with snow. No surprise there. When we left Karakol in late November there was about 10 inches on the ground. What did surprise me was that there was only about 6 inches when we returned early January. I expected quite a bit more. I’m not complaining though. I’m not a huge fan of snow after all.

Kids here, just like kids everywhere I suppose, love to play in the snow. I did as a kid, though I never experienced much of the white stuff. My daughter absolutely loves snow. She can play in it long after Daddy has frozen and she shows no sign of slowing down.

What was so cool to discover upon our return was the creation of an older Russian man in the neighborhood. Evidently, this man builds and maintains a snow slide every year for the kids. It is about five feet tall and about twice that in length with stairs made of snow. Between the weight of the kids and the sun melting the snow and it refreezing overnight, the entire slide is covered with a layer of ice that extends far beyond the end of the slide. The result is a super-fast and super-fun ride for kids of all ages!!

Snow SlideThere are lines all the time as kids wait their turn. For many, this must be a highlight of the season, a bright spot in the midst of short days and cold temperatures. I don’t know who this man is but I want to meet him. Anyone who spends this much time year in and year out building something for neighborhood kids has got to be a pretty good guy. I’d say this is just one more advantage of life in the village.

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Which Is More Important: Friendship or Love?

The story centered around three friends: two guys and a gal, around the time of the gold rush in America. The girl, Kate, worked at an inn and the guys, Kist and Rod, were about to go gold digging. They both liked her but they didn’t let this ruin their friendship. One evening it became known that the girl liked one of them, but she didn’t say which. She would reveal that when they returned.

On their trip they came upon a 14-foot chasm. Kist threw his bag across, took a running start, and leaped. He made it successfully. Rod did the same but, as he was jumping, doubt flashed across Kist’s face. The moment Rod saw it, he lost all confidence in being able to get across. He landed, but started to slip down into the chasm beneath. Kist lunged forward and grabbed Rod’s hand but was not able to stop him from slipping. Rod told Kist to let go, but Kist, feeling responsible, wouldn’t. Knowing that if they continued like this they would fall to their deaths and with love in the balance, Rod told Kist that Kate always looked more towards him. Then Rod took out his knife, stabbed his friend’s hand, and Kist let go. Kist sat looking down the chasm in disbelief. The story ended with Kist, successful in finding gold, finally making it back to the inn some time later. Kate ran out to meet him then quickly asked where Rod was. She had chosen Rod and she thought they would’ve returned together. Kist told her what happened.

Our assignment was to answer this question, “Which is more important to you, friendship or love?” In a class of 6 all except one answered that friendship is more important. Their reasons were the same: Friends stick by you no matter what, while significant others will walk in and out of your life. As I was listening to them an interesting revelation came about: Those who grow up in one place and stay in that place are more likely to have friends from childhood who will continue to be friends throughout their lives. It was interesting for me because, having moved a lot, I don’t keep in touch much with childhood friends, besides occasionally checking up on them on FB. These students attend a university that is not far from where they grew up, so even if their friends don’t go to college they are still close. They are dedicated to those who are dedicated to them. It was interesting as they told stories of girlfriends and boyfriends coming and going, and almost taking on vows of singleness. The teacher jokingly commented, “How jaded you are in your young age!” One kid, who knows that girlfriends come and go, said that he knew that when the right one comes along that it will be great, like having a best friend around all the time. He looked forward to finding that. Hearing their 17-18 year old comments made me smile as I thought about how I got married at 19, knowing at age 18 that I would be marrying my best friend.