Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road


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An Apache in Central Asia

Recently, my wife and I visited a former student friend from Bishkek. She lives about 35 minutes away from Karakol. She invited us over for lunch. But first, she wanted us to visit the school where she is teaching. She was conducting a performance with her middle school students. She really wanted us to see the rehearsal on this particular Saturday. We arrived in the village of Kyzul-Soo and found the school where our friend and her students were rehearsing. She greeted us at the entrance of the school and promptly lead us to the concert hall. We heard the roar of preteens echoing through the halls. We arrived at the concert hall where there were at least 40 kids. Screaming, running, laughing, giggling, whining kids were everywhere. She yelled at all the students to get in line for the rehearsal to start. After about 3 minutes of getting the students in place, the presentation started. A couple girls started the formal greeting and explained what the presentation was about. It was difficult to hear their little voices without a microphone. They introduced the first skit and then a squad of kids came out to the stage. They were dressed as American Indians and Pilgrims.

The pilgrims were surrounded by the savage Indians. The little Kyrgyz boys dressed as Native Indians howled and pranced in circles around the Kyrgyz dressed pilgrims. They poked and prodded them with their sticks and bows and arrows. I thought to myself, “Everybody, all over the world, thinks of me this way.” I looked at my wife and we were both amused. Even my little Apache son, Ryan, was amused by the Indian and Pilgrim skit. The Indians put the pilgrims on their knees and one particular pilgrim stood up. It was Christopher Columbus. It was difficult to hear the dialogue. From what we could see, Columbus made peace amends with the American Indians and then everyone was happy and no one was killed. I looked at my wife and just smiled. The teacher came to me after the skit and asked if I could add anything to the play. Since I am a “real Apache”, her students thought I might add some good input to the skit. I smiled and said, “I am not from the east coast, but it looks like you guys are doing fine.” Afterwards, the kids asked a ton of questions about being an American Indian. I could have told lies: we still live in Tipi’s, we dress in leather skirts and head dresses, we eat only what we hunt, and we still fight the “white man.” But I really shouldn’t corrupt such young minds. Overall, it was a great morning and I had a few laughs over how this country views Native Americans.

 


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Eating in Central Asia, Part 3

I have a friend, Jengish, who pestered me a long time about eating a genuine local dish. He would talk about how much I was accustomed to Kyrgyzstan but I would not be complete without this one dining experience. So I said yes. Better yet, we got a bunch of other people involved also. It was a meal that I would never forget.

It happened during a local spring holiday. There are plenty of spring holidays in Kyrgyzstan, especially in May. We invited a bunch of local friends as well as a few other Americans. We sat crowded in our American friend’s living room as we waited for Jengish, the cook for the evening. The late afternoon was full of laughter and tea. We visited patiently for dinner to start. Jengish came into the living room, boisterous, with a sheep head. “Are you guys ready for sheep head dinner?!” he exclaimed to the crowd. We all hyped ourselves up and cheered for dinner. Jengish took the head into the kitchen where the girls gasped and yelped. Cooking dinner was ready to begin. He took the head, which was already skinned and cleaned, and put it into a pot of boiling water. No salt, vegetables, or any other spices were added. Just the pure essence of sheep in the pot.

The rest of the group in the living room chatted and others watched a comedy film. Each room in the apartment was filled with conversation and laughter. There was hardly room for people to walk by each other. After an hour, we were all getting hungry. We had tea and cookies to keep our hunger at bay. For some, tea and cookies became dinner. As for the rest of us, we eagerly awaited for dinner to be served. Then, the head came out on a large plate with some noodles sprinkled around it. The living room was set up Kyrgyz dinner style. There was a large tablecloth on the floor with pillows surrounding. The head was placed in the center and soon after we were served. I had the pleasure of getting the best part, the cheek. Others took different parts of the head, getting whatever meat they could. I tried the tongue, offered to me by one of the local girls I sat near. Then, Jengish gave me a very special part of the head dish. He gave me a small bit of sheep brain. I had never eaten brain until that night. It had the texture of tuna, but with a strong taste of sheep. It was like sheep tuna. It was gross, yet interesting. We ate every bit of that head that night. The evening came to a close around 9:00 p.m. After most of our friends left, Jengish looked at me and asked if I liked it. I told him it was okay. Then he told me, “At least you’ll be smarter now…because you ate brains.”


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Eating in Central Asia, Part 2

Eating Central Asian Style

A few weeks ago I went to lunch with my coworkers in Karakol. We thought of going to different places but one place had our immediate attention. We decided to go eat near the central bazaar in the center of our town. We had some friends visiting so we decided that this would be a great group lunch. We didn’t expect the place to be so shady. Here is our story.

After a morning of having fun talking and visiting, we decided to walk to lunch. We had approximately 13 people going to the center of town from our language center. It was a nice day for a walk. The sun was warm and there was a pleasant cool breeze in the air. After a half hour of walking, everyone arrived to the center of town and we were ready for lunch. We got some drinks at a local store and headed to the “Ashlam-foo” cafeteria. The place was directly across from the central bazaar. We walked into the large concrete structure. Imagine a large barn made with concrete, rusty old shackles of metal, random pieces of assorted lumber, and steel wires of all sorts holding the place together. It is a place that you would expect to see a Jackie Chan fight sequence. Just absolutely shabby. In this barn/ hangar structure are food vendors. Many ladies selling a wide assortment of local salads and “ashlam-foo.” What is “ashlam-foo”? It is a local cold dish made of noodles, broth, shreds of carrots and a little bit of red pepper. Back to my story. We found one stretch of open counters and sat down to order our lunch. We all ordered the same thing: ashlam-foo and perooshky (a fried bread with potatoes inside). There we sat, in two lines, with bowls of cold noodles and piping hot fried bread. We ate. Then, with much surprise, we all completely devoured our lunch. It was great! This place is the best place in town for this meal. I have had ashlam-foo before, but it had never tasted so magical. We gobbled up our meals and talked and laughed. The whole place was filled with the sound of our excitement. We had not expected to find a place so creepy and yet have great food. This visit to the lunch hangar will not be the only time I’ll eat there. I plan on going there many more times before spring is up.


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Eating in Central Asia

There are many things I take for granted in America. Like eating without any worries about what is in my food. I know that there are many things in food that I have heard around the internet. Like pink slime in ground beef, high fructose corn syrup in everything, pesticides, chemicals, and every other “non-natural” thing that is in food. But what I am talking about are tiny rocks, dirt, bugs, hair, and teeth on the rare occasion (see the story of the tooth in the ice cream). Here is one such food story:

One normal weekday, I was with my wife and we were deciding where to eat for lunch. We had just finished our Russian lesson at the university. We decided to go to the museum cafeteria on our way to the student center where we worked. We found this cafeteria some time ago with our friend, Anthony. It was a dive! You could not beat the price of the food anywhere in town. The food was okay. We walked into the small cafeteria that is located on the side of the Kyrgyz history museum. I got my usual “ganfan”, a rice dish with vegetables and a tiny portion of shredded meat. LaVena ordered plov, another rice dish with meat and some vegetables. We got settled and brought our meals and tea to the corner where we usually ate. We chatted about class as we ate. I always eat fast and LaVena eats slowly. As I scarfed down my rice dish, I crunched down hard into a bite of my food. I heard the crackle of teeth and something hard in my bite of ganfan. LaVena saw the look on my face and asked if I was okay. I spit out my food into a napkin and I saw a tiny rock among the rice. I felt my front tooth to make sure it was fine. As I examined the tooth, a tiny sliver of my tooth was stuck to finger. “I chipped my tooth” I said to my wife in an extremely surprised high pitched voice. I was done eating and we left. I walked and complained to LaVena. She told me, “You should start eating slower.” I took her advice and to this day I am always conscious of how I eat and especially what I eat. But she still eats slower than me.


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Stories of the Road, Part 5

Last week, a part of my story had to do with how unreliable my car was (Stories of the Road, Part 4). Here’s another. My wife and I had been having car problems off and on a few years ago. The car would simply stall out and take several minutes, or hours, to start up again. This particular stall happened at the worst possible time, lunch time. We were heading to pick up some summer baseball volunteer coaches in Bishkek. We were turning left on a very busy intersection of the city when the car’s engine stopped in the center of the intersection. I looked at my wife and she gave me the same look I gave her. Our faces yelled “GREAT! NOT AGAIN.” In less than 15 seconds, I hopped out of the car and my wife jumped in the drivers’ seat while I prepped myself to push the car out of the intersection. Cars honked all around as I put all my strength into pushing the car off to the side of the road. Luckily, there was an empty spot to park right off the intersection. I called some of the baseball coaches to tell them that we stalled out. They offered to help push the car to a shop. I said yes and they were on their way.

When they arrived we planned out where to push the car. I got into the driver’s seat and we were on our way. There were 5 guys helping me out. Three guys pushing from behind, and two other men pushing from each window. They pushed one block with hardly any effort. I turned to the right so we could coast our way down 4 blocks to a shop. We made our way one block and passed through an intersection with a green light, thank goodness. I imagined how we looked, five guys pushing a car in the busy city streets of Bishkek. People starred, others laughed, and we were having a blast pretending to drive like the Flintstones. After two blocks, the car gained a good amount of momentum and I was coasting faster than the guys could run. Soon, I saw all the guys running after me in my rear view mirror as I soared down the street. The car slowed to a stop. It took the guys a couple minutes to catch up to me, laughing hysterically as they approached my VW Golf.  After a few moments of joking and catching our breath, we pushed the car to the shop one block further. What a day.


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Stories of the Road, Part 4

A few years ago, my friends and I went on a road trip from Bishkek around Lake Issyk-Kul. It was a trip that we decided was going to be our “spring retreat.” It was me, my wife, and a couple other American girls. We started our trip from Bishkek in the old VW Golf car we used back then. The start of the trip was great. We had great sunny weather and the air was cool. We stopped for lunch in the mountain pass halfway to Karakol. Nothing really special, just fun conversation and local food.

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The moment before my foot was crushed

Right after lunch we got some snacks and got into the car to leave. It was my friend’s turn to drive. I was still getting stuff settled when she put the car into first gear and drove over my foot! Luckily for me, we were parked in a sandy lot and my foot was pushed into the dirt. No harm done, but I did tease her the rest of the trip about it. We drove on the south side of Lake Issyk-Kul to Karakol the rest of the afternoon, with one stop to take pictures. We spent a couple days in Karakol with a family we knew. The first day we were in Karakol, we went to the mountains with this family. Going up to have a picnic in the mountains, the car stalled out. The car had been giving us problems before the trip, so we weren’t surprised. Nonetheless, we had a great picnic and the car eventually started.

After a couple days in Karakol, we were off to the resort that was on the north side of the lake. We made it with no problems. We had our retreat and planned our year of work. We had many chances to go to the lake in the cold early spring weather. Walking in the lake barefoot was miserable. IMG_1433

The lake was ice cold, but we had a great experience. After our retreat, we packed ourselves to go back to Bishkek. Driving back, we stalled out in a town, Balakchee. With full bladders, I tried my best to get our car going again. Desperate, one of us (I will not name who) had to pee off the side of the car with only the car doors to shield some privacy. The car started 30 minutes later. We continued our drive, a little nervous of stalling again. We made it to a town, Tokmok, before Bishkek when we had another stall out. This time the car would not start again. I called a local friend I knew who worked close to Tokmok to help us out. We got our car into a shop to get services and two and a half hours later we finally made our way back to Bishkek. It was the longest trip I have ever had around Issyk-Kul Lake, but it was one of the best car trips of my life.


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Stories of the Road, Part 3

A few years ago my wife, our co-worker Todd, and I went for a cruise after dark. We closed up our student center in Bishkek for the night at 9:30 p.m. We were hungry so we went down the street to get a burger. We drove in a dark, navy blue van. After we ordered our food, one of our local friends called us. Her name is Asel, and she wanted to know if the student center was still open. We told her that we had closed up and were eating a late dinner. She needed a ride to a certain part of town so that she could then catch a bus home. We just offered her a ride home. We grabbed our hamburgers and made our way to her University to pick her up.

I thought it was odd that she needed to get to a certain intersection for a bus home. Bishkek is pretty simple to get around and there were plenty of buses still around after 9 p.m. “Where are you going?” we asked. “I am going to my home, in Jal” She replied. AHA! She was heading home to the village 25 minutes outside of Bishkek. We left the city joking and laughing with dinner to go.

IMG_20130329_134800We talked about everything we had been doing at our student center and at the University. I remember very little conversation that night, but I do remember a ton of bumps and holes in the road. Once we were within 10 minutes of her home, the road got severely worse. Being accustomed to roads on the Navajo reservation, the bumpy drive felt a little like home to me and my wife. We arrived at her home and we were greeted by her parents. They thanked us greatly for driving their daughter home. They invited us into their home for tea. Once inside, we also met Asel’s sister. For the rest of our time there, we talked to Asel and her sister about our student center while we had tea and cookies. After what seemed like about an hour, we finished and said our goodbyes. My wife, Todd, and I talked about our day and how great it was to drive out to this village, Jal. We got back into Bishkek around midnight and Todd dropped us off at our apartment. Since then we nicknamed the van “Midnight.” This night is one of many stories the three of us had after 12 a.m.