Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

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The Ice Land Shuffle, Part 1

Coming from the southwest I was familiar with snow, but it usually wouldn’t stick around long enough to transform into ice. Our formidable foe, the sun, would come out and decimate it quickly. Our first winter in Kyrgyzstan was the coldest in years. I was excited at the idea of snow everyday. But that excitement waned as we had to learn to shuffle across the ice without slipping. The temperature would never get warm enough for the snow to melt so it would just get compacted into ice several inches thick…everywhere.

It was pretty obvious who the foreigners were and who were locals because the locals had already figured out the ice dance. There would even be women in stiletto boots that would walk confidently across compacted snow and ice. We were convinced that they transformed the stiletto heel into an ice pick and that’s how they got their traction. In the middle of almost every sidewalk there would be a sliver of exposed black ice, like the painted stripes in the middle of the road. After seeing these slivers my husband coined the term “ice demon” because he was sure that little demons would come out every night to create patches of super slick black ice in the middle of the sidewalks. Who would intentionally create these patches, right? The locals cleverly navigated these booby traps of embarrassment by gracefully sliding across them. Once my husband was walking alongside a friend and before he knew it he was parallel to the ground and fell on his side. Thankfully I only slipped and fell a couple times that winter and soon developed the delicate waltz that is the ice shuffle. However, that was in Bishkek. My Karakol ice shuffles are yet to be told.

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A Learning Child

It’s great to watch my son grow. It’s even greater to hear him talk. Lately my son has been saying a ton of words and small sentences. He has been saying numbers, colors, animals, and his wants. When we visited the zoo in Karakol (, he repeated us as we named all the animals. When we watch movies, he often tries to quote his favorite characters. He expresses his wants when we go to the bazaar or to shops around town (days like this… Yes, he has been repeating EVERYTHING we say. So we often stop ourselves and make sure he says things correctly.

Here are his top 6 favorite words/phrases:

6. tak (means “like so” in Russian)

5. fish

4. Diana (he thinks all cats are called this)

3. see you later

2. kiss…hug (they always go with each other)

1. MORE!!! (in an ascending pitch)

On many occasions he babbles. But in the babbling he mutters Russian words! I noticed this after I saw him “talking” with his babysitter one day before I went off to work. They were holding a very simple call and response conversation. Hearing him say “da”, “nyet”, and other simple Russian words made my heart melt. Ever since then I have kept a sharp ear out for when he speaks to determine what he is saying. In some of his rants I have heard him speak words in English or Russian. This new phase in parenting is very fun and I am so excited to see my little boy grow in his languages.

He's growing in his painting skills also!

He’s growing in his painting skills also!

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Bathrooms vs. Outhouses

Our plumber had to come visit again. It sounds bad, but really, I’m always excited whenever he comes over. He is just one of the most jovial, friendly, and patient men I know. I always have a good time with him, and I usually end up learning something interesting as well. This time we took apart a toilet tank, a shower head, and worked under the kitchen sink.

Our toilet had stopped refilling after a recent water outage. I assumed it was because our water in Karakol is really dirty, particularly after “maintenance” or upgrades or whatever else the city does when it shuts off our water. So, the water was off for a day or two, and when the water came back on, the toilet didn’t work. I was pretty sure it was plugged somewhere, I just wasn’t sure how to clean it out. Plumbers are cheap (and ours is friendly), so it isn’t a big deal to call one up and watch what they do so you can learn. In the case of my plumber, no “watching” is involved, as he usually talks and teaches as he goes, explaining things and forcing me to do them. In the case of the plugged intake valve on the toilet, for example, “we” (read: I) used a foot pump (like for bicycle tires) to force the muck out of the valve with compressed air. He told me that in Karakol it is good to use an air compressor twice a year to clean all the plumbing in our house out due to the glacial silt in the water.

While we were talking (he got halfway through some interesting stories from childhood and his time in the army in Turkmenistan before remembering that he wanted to get the job done and leave!), I mentioned how we didn’t have water for a couple days, and how I realized that I don’t mind using the outhouse. “My wife, however, really likes her toilet to work, so I’m really glad you came to help me fix it,” I said.

He smiled and said, “I also prefer using the outhouse.”

“Why is that?” I asked, curious.

“Well, when I’m in a bathroom, I’m ashamed – people might be able to hear me or hear the water and know what I’m doing. I don’t like that. It is shameful. So I prefer to go outside.”

We have an English discussion group taking place with mostly younger people. I took a survey, just out of curiosity, of how many of them prefer outhouses to bathrooms. The verdict? Most of them said they prefer using outhouses (one said, “For the fresh air”… not sure what outhouse he has been in lately), though a couple waffled due to the winter. Seems like more research might be needed here…

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Kyrgyz Waiters and Grandmas

my daughter and her ice creamWe were in Bishkek recently at one of the most western malls in town, Vefa Center. We decided to sit down and eat at Imperial Pizza. My daughter is a very picky eater and we were having trouble deciding what to order for her. She has not really discovered that most kids like pizza and she should too. The most we can usually get her to eat is some crust.

The waiter had already stopped by a few times to take our order and we were just not ready. He understood the dilemma and started to flip through the menu in front of us. I’m thinking…I know ya’ll don’t have a kids’ menu, so what are you so sure that we should order for her? Guess what he flips to? The desserts of course! He points out a pretty picture of chocolate ice cream in a tall glass and then adds to that blini (Russian pancakes). We caved and ordered them for her. He knows how to make a sale at least!

When he pointed to the ice cream, I was immediately reminded of Kirsten’s grandmas. Because we live so far away, they aren’t really privy to Kirsten’s day to day eating habits. They only hear from us that she is a picky eater. When we visited the states over the holidays Kirsten stayed with each of them at different times while Scott and I had a date or a meeting to attend. When we asked them how she ate for them, they would respond with something along the lines of “She ate great! She loved the happy meals, pancakes, ice cream….etc.”

Well, Scott and I know that she’ll eat that stuff! What we really want to see her eat is more fruits, vegetables, and protein!

I guess there is no point in trying to win over Kyrgyz waiters or grandmas offering ice cream.

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The Earthquake

A few weeks ago, as I was lying in bed, enjoying a show before I fell asleep, I felt my bed move a little bit.  My first inclination was that it was the house cat (Diana) jumping on my bed.  However, my bed kept shaking and it soon felt as if someone was at the bottom of it pulling it back and forth.  For those who have experienced earthquakes before I’ve no doubt that this would have been easily identifiable as such, but seeing as I have never actually experienced one before, and therefore don’t know what to expect, I was just a little thrown off guard by it.  I eventually realized that it had been an earthquake that I had just felt and decided to check online just to be sure.  As I searched, my suspicion was verified and I found that a 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit the neighboring country of
Kazakhstan, and Karakol, only 66 miles away from the epicenter, felt some of its effects.  I’m glad that I can now say I’ve experienced an earthquake, and fortunately there was relatively little damage done and no deaths in the incident.

Location of earthquake

Location of earthquake

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Pitter Patter of Busyness

The click-click of keyboards, the hum of music from earphones, the drone of quietness… they’re the only things we’ve heard for weeks. The November-December session of teaching finished, the New Year holiday came and went, and the lull of waiting for another session continued. Here, winter holiday starts with the New Year and lasts a couple of weeks. It’s also the time of examinations for university students and prep time for the next semester. One of the hardest things for me to get used to was working through Christmas. From age 4 to 22 my brain had been conditioned to slow down mid-December to beginning-mid January. Pushing through Dec. 20 onto Christmas and beyond till Dec. 31, was difficult. Who knew moving break by just a couple of weeks could wreak havoc on conditioned minds? When students were winding down for their break, I kept wanting the activity to pick up.

February is here now and even the town looks like it is awake with activity. The activity ebbs and flows with the start and stop of semesters. It is the wonderful way of college towns. Even our language center was humming with activity as people came in to register for classes. With each class filled to capacity, the droning hum of quietness is now replaced with the pitter-patter of people climbing up the stairs to get to their lessons. The sound of activity. The sound of busyness. The sound that it is time to get back into lesson planning, preparing to meet fresh new faces, and reacquainting with old faces. I love that sound.

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My Conversation

I met a young man who is a part of our language program in Karakol. He wants to practice speaking English and he’s pretty good at it. The 1st conversation we had included agriculture business. I had a few questions about how agricultural business is done in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. The following was very interesting to me.

I asked him a few questions:

1.“What is success?”

2. “What does success look like?”

3.  “How do you succeed?”

The questions were posed under the situation of a cattle seller in Karakol. I found this student’s opinion very interesting. He thought that if a seller could sell $15,000 worth of cattle, that seller would be successful. So we mapped out how to accomplish this with a diagram of what the business would look like. The crude drawing included one family unit, the expenditures of the family unit and the expenditures of the business.


In this awesome, crude drawing, we included what is important and what are some basic needs and wants. We got carried away and didn’t finish our “business plan” before he had to leave. I am very excited to see more of him and find out some of the keys to what business looks like in Karakol.