Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road


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The Perfect Guy

I wrote last week about the interesting discussion my students had about what the perfect wife should be like.  The girls’ idea of a perfect husband, however, was fascinating and really eye-opening for me.  Of course they wanted him to be handsome, stylish, and muscular, but there were several characteristics that threw me off guard a bit.  The first is that the girls wanted guys to be sad.  Now I can relate to girls wanting a guy to be “soft” and willing to show some emotions, but these girls said they wanted their husbands sad.  The second is that they wanted their husbands to be busy.  This was initially completely unexpected by me since it seems to me that a busy husband doesn’t make time for his family, but once I considered some of the issues of alcoholism many men suffer with it all began to make sense.  The busier you are and the more purpose you have, the less idle you will be and therefore probably not as tempted to fall into those kinds of lifestyles.

The most shocking quality given by the girls though, in my opinion, is that they wanted angry husbands.  I still to this day don’t know what they meant by an angry husband (Angry at them? Angry at their children? Angry when something went wrong? Angry when someone did wrong?).  One guy said it was good for a man to be angry if his food wasn’t prepared on time.  Mostly the guys agreed with the girls, except for the emotional part, so I began to talk about the United States and how in many (if not most) families the husband will either help out with house work or even do it entirely.  The girls thought that that was a good thing and even said that they expected their husbands to help out a bit but the guys protested bitterly to helping around the house at all. In fact one said that if his wife didn’t cook he would be fine with that but that he would eat fast food everyday before he’d ever cook himself!  The entire hour and a half of class was so interesting and such an educational time for me as I learned about what the cultural expectations are of a husband and wife in Kyrgyzstan and what the reasoning behind each characteristic was.

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Public Transportation Etiquette

As a newcomer to any country it is always best to find out what is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior. Public transportation is one of the main forms of transport for most people in Kyrgyzstan. Even though car use has increased dramatically in the few years we’ve been here (which means more time sitting in traffic, bleh), marshrutkas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshrutka), trolleys (in Bishkek), and buses are still used often. My favorite form of transport is the marshrutka. Marshrutkas have many routes to all parts of the city and are usually very easy to get to. Legally, a person is supposed to get on only at bus stops but when the police aren’t around a person just needs to stick their arm out to wave one down and it will stop.

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They are the most expensive of the three forms, with passage costing 10 som (about 21 cents). Buses offer more head room, for those in need of the extra space, and while they can still get pretty stuffy the extra high ceiling alleviates the claustrophobic feeling just a bit. They cost 8 som (about 17 cents). If you don’t like lots of people touching you and would prefer to wait a little bit longer to get extra room then trolleys are the way to go. They aren’t nearly as packed but have fewer routes and often a person has to wait anywhere from 5-15 minutes. These also cost 8 som. Regardless of what you prefer there are a few common sense rules that must be followed:

1. Young people offer their seats to older people. Although if you fall asleep in your seat, it’s perfectly okay to keep your seat.

2. Pregnant women and people with young children get preferential seating as well. A person who is able to stand on their two feet must give up their seat to these people.

3. Keep talk to a minimum. Generally people don’t talk while they are in transit. Foreigners are usually easily spotted because they are the only ones speaking. I did witness this one incident where 3 local guys were listening to a comedian on a phone. The phone speaker was on in a way that all those in hearing distance could hear the comedian as well. It was pretty cool to see the other passengers smiling and laughing silently as the routine went on.

4. As much as you can, use exact change to pay. At the very least use small bills. I have seen some people pay for fare with a 200 som bill and sometimes a 500 som bill. Not cool.

5. Hold on to the railing at all times (that is, if there is a rail to hold on to). Nothing is more embarrassing than losing your balance and falling into the lap of a person sitting. This was embarrassing story #47 for my husband. These modes of transportation start and stop so suddenly that any moment you feel safe in letting go is a bad moment. Lesson learned.

 


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Stories of the Road, Part 2

One evening in Bishkek , my wife and I were leaving our student center to head for a dinner. We left the center early to beat the traffic and get to the group dinner. We had heard that there was an amazing amount of traffic that was caused by road blocks. This was caused by a “Leaders of Central Asia” summit that the Kyrgyz President was hosting. Every day after 5pm, it was impossible to get anywhere from the center of Bishkek. We knew this and we left around 4:20pm to beat the traffic rush. But that day the President of Kyrgyzstan decided to end the summit an hour early so we still got caught in the traffic. It was the worst traffic jam I had ever been in. We tried to avoid the main north-south street “Manas.” We took another south street that was a mile away. Well, a thousand other people also had this same idea. Traffic was so bad that we were only able to get across 4 blocks in an hour. When we hit our turn to get off the south bound street, we saw that many other vehicles were all heading that same direction. Traffic was trudging down this one way street, despite oncoming opposite vehicles. It was madness!

We were slowly plowing forward and the opposite traffic had nowhere to go. They couldn’t go backward or forward. This situation came to a 30 minute halt. There was a compromise of slowly letting one car go at a time through a narrow passage off to my right. I eventually got out of this nightmare. But before I could fully escape, a junky car came too close to my front right bumper and scraped it. He got a bad scratch, me not so much. He gave me the worse stare down as if I was at fault. But what could we do? Call the police? We couldn’t even get out of our cars, the traffic was so bad. After a few awkward stares, I was finally free from the grip of this madness when my street came up. I escaped to my left and I didn’t look back. It took us over 2 hours to get out of traffic. Obviously, we were late for dinner.

Our old VW car...broken down, of course

Our old VW car…broken down, of course


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Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Western Medicine has gotten ahead of itself. We are amazing at keeping people alive with the barest thread of life. But, this is only made possible with our astounding use of technology. Without technology our practices would be reduced to a much more basic form of life preservation. Based off of our technological dependence we create practices that we as practitioners use to monitor our patients for the purposes of said technology. It is hard to understand the tight bond between our patient assessments and our technology until you get to the end of the assessment and realize that you just correctly diagnosed the need for certain technology, but it isn’t there…. Now what?

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Case in point: doing the Glascow coma scale which assesses the neurological status of a patient with a series of easy questions and observations of a patient.  This neurological assessment then allows you to quickly assess if their neurological status is too low to provide adequate oxygen flow for neurological function: we have a catchy phrase in the US: less than 8 – intubate.  So I taught all nurses who were training for Emergency medicine this assessment, for which they need nothing extra but a flashlight – great, right? Very empowering, right? Hmm…. Not so much, when assessments reveal neuro status way below 8 and there is not as much as an oxygen tank available. Now what?  How do you look in their faces and say, well, let’s move on to the next patient.

This brings up a moral dilemma for medical workers here: so often you watch life slip away, and there is nothing you can do about it, so you grow really callous. A callous heart and spirit won’t look for ways to improve medicine, because improvement doesn’t change your own quality of life, and you have to have an spirit that says: no matter how hard I fight for change, and whether I see change in my life time or not, I will continue on. Resignation and fight do not go hand in hand.


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The Translation Gig

I guess being asked by your friends to translate for them is a compliment, but wow is it work! While out running on Saturday, a friend called to ask for my help with translation for some Americans visiting Karakol on Sunday. Would I be interested? Yes, of course, I’m always interested in translating, since it is so much fun, but I don’t necessarily have the time and energy to do it, as it is also very draining.

Actually, my enjoyment of translation has been a real surprise for me. I didn’t expect that I would find it so invigorating trying to move from English to Russian and back again, but whether you’re talking about working on a document or a live conversation, it is really a blast.

Probably part of what I like is that I don’t have to work to come up with the words. When I’m trying to speak Russian, I usually have a hard time finding words in Russian. I could also try thinking in English and then translating in my head, but that’s not very ideal long-term, so I try to think in Russian as I go, and it means that my conversation can be limited to the words I can remember in Russian. It is easier to have someone else say something in English, and then the Russian words are actually associated with those English words in the brain, so when I hear the English one the Russian one more naturally comes to mind.

Another aspect of translation that I find interesting is how often I can’t think of the right word. This is to be expected going from someone’s English into Russian, but it is surprising how often I understand the Russian just fine and yet it takes work to figure out how to express it in my native English.

Finally, translation highlights the fact that there are words for which Russian is like my first language since I never used them in English, such as смородина. Immediately when I hear that word, the Russian is obvious, the Kyrgyz comes to mind (карагат), and I have to work to find the English (currant, typically the black ones). Imagine – there is at least one word for which English is my third language!


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The Perfect Girl

In one of my conversational classes I thought it would be interesting to discover some of the cultural views of the roles of women and men in Kyrgyzstan, more specifically within a spousal relationship.  From a recent presentation I heard, most men and women have entirely opposite ideas of what the opposite sex likes or should be like which leads to miscommunication and misunderstandings.  I will be doing a two part blog on this, the first about what the guys thought the perfect girl should be like and the second is what the girls though the perfect guy should be like.  My class is mostly girls (which might have tempered some of the answers a bit from the guys!) but I had everyone split up into girls and guys and make lists of the characteristics they thought were most important in a husband or wife.  As the guys began to read off their list I chuckled at some of the required characteristics such as “must like football (soccer)”, or “must have long hair”.

Two of the first qualities written by the guys were cooking and cleaning (at the mention of these the girls made a little protestation, but it was mostly accepted by them as well).  The guys even wanted their wives to be sweaty!!  This was a mispronunciation I soon found out as they meant to say sweetie instead!  Once I began probing the guys a bit more on what they thought a perfect wife should be like they ran into some opposition coming from the girls’ side.  On top of being a good cook and cleaner, their wife needed to be a good dancer, singer, humorous, beautiful, thin, romantic, respectable, and tall.  This list got the girls going while the guys were trying to explain their points.  The overall idea given by the guys though was that a wife’s responsibility, regardless of whether she works or not, was keeping the house in order and that she should be a woman respected by others and beyond reproach.

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Spring Holiday

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We have now entered into what we like to call “holiday season.” The spring season has many holidays that the Kyrgyz celebrate. For example, Women’s Day was on March 8, Nooryz on March 21, Revolution Day on March 24, Easter (for Russian Orthodox), and Unity Day, Constitution Day, Victory Day are all in May. One of my favorite Kyrgyz holidays is Nooryz, a holiday that celebrates traditional New Year and spring (which coincides with the spring equinox). It’s my favorite holiday because everyone is in the festive mood. The dreary winter season is over and the weather is light and pleasant. People are still bundled up but the layers are getting lighter.

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The smell of shashlik (meat kebabs) and plov (rice with meat dish) fills the air. The town square is filled with people. Traditional and modern dances are being danced, and traditional and modern songs are being sung. Crowds gather around a local game being played called “ordo”. In this game a three to four meter diameter circle is drawn and in the middle are several small sheep vertebrae bones. People stand on the outside of the circle and try to hit the small bones with a larger vertebrae bone. It’s like a larger version of marbles. Crowds also gather around to watch wrestling and arm wrestling matches. Several Kyrgyz yurts are set up. Some are used as backstage areas and others allow visitors to take a look around. There will be several kiosks of people selling food: plov, shashlik, boor sok (fried pieces of bread), and my absolute favorite, a traditional drink called “sulumak”. It is described as a drink made by boiling wheat, oil, sugar, fruit, nuts, and etc. The first time I drank this magical drink it reminded me of our Navajo ground cake, only in liquid form. Missing home soul food, I quickly drank one cup and wanted another. I look forward to this drink every year, since it is only made at this time. The other great thing about Nooryz, and spring in general, is that this is when the “shoro ladies” come out. Shoro is a company that sells a commercially made local drink called maksym. It is another one of my favorite local drinks. When the ladies who sell shoro-brand drinks out of big barrels start selling in the street that’s when we know spring has really arrived. Oh, what a happy day it is when the shoro ladies come out. Despite the fact that there are no shoro ladies in Karakol, I can’t wait to celebrate in our new home.