Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

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Playgrounds Abound

The "playground"

The “playground”

When we lived in Bishkek, we had our choice of multiple playgrounds within a couple of blocks of our apartment, not to mention the two inside our complex. Playgrounds are everywhere in Bishkek. It is one of the really nice aspects of the city center. Kids can find a place to play without going far from home.

Well in Karakol, we don’t quite have that benefit. Our building does have a playground that is almost always in use. The building next to us also has a playground. One main park in town, about a half hour walk from home, has a playground. But as far as I know, those are the only ones still standing, apart from what a daycare has on private property. The large park near us, Victory Park, has the remains of an old playground but alas, nothing but remnants.

However, do not think that kids are lacking for playgrounds. We saw one just the other day as we pulled our car out of our garage. The playground is the entire row of garages. We walked out to see two boys running around by the garages and soon saw them on top of the garages. Back and forth, they ran from one end of the row to the other, jumping from roof to roof. When I opened the doors of our garage, they quickly laid down on the roof of it to peer inside at our car. They were a pair of curious boys. When I had pulled out of the garage and went to close and lock the doors, they ever so kindly helped by starting to pull the doors closed from on top. Then they naturally posed for this picture.

the boys posing for their picture on the "playground"

posing on the “playground”

So though they may not have an abundance of swings, slides, and seesaws, they still have playgrounds, just of their own imagination.

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You Might Live in a Village When… (Part 4)

cows in townThere is a sure fire way to know you live in a village and here it is. It’s when you dodge not only cars and pedestrians, but also livestock while driving. It is a common sight to look out my apartment window and find sheep and cows grazing on the roadside. Walk through a neighborhood and you are sure to see all manner of farm animals napping or eating in front of their owner’s home. Sometimes, you have to wonder where they came from as they are tied up on a tree or sign post and no home is readily nearby.

Then of course there are the livestock used for transportation. This could be someone on horseback (incidentally I just saw a woman on horseback, a first in KG) or with a beast of burden pulling a card. Our local coffee shop was even selling two donkeys back in the summer thanks to a French tourist who purchased them for hiking only to learn that it was faster to travel without them. I’ve never seen an ox pulling a cart but I see horses, mules, and donkeys doing so all the time.

Best of all was the day I saw a small boy walking the family cow on a leash. We were out looking for office space when the cow came around the corner heading to a vacant lot to munch on some grass. I know the boy was holding the leash but I assure you, the cow was walking the boy. I only wish I had a picture of that one!

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You Might Live in a Village When… (Part 3)

Back in May, I was out with a friend looking for some good places for a picnic for our language students. We went out to a beautiful, narrow valley near Ak Suu and then he mentioned an overlook on a ridge near Karakol’s brick factory. This is only about a 10 minute drive from the office and still within Karakol itself so I thought, why not take a look. After all, Ak Suu is a lot farther away.

So as we drove past the power plant and turned onto a small semi-paved road climbing the ridgeline, we seemed to be going nowhere. But before long, we reached the brick factory and had a great view of Karakol and the valley it sits within. But just up ahead was a somewhat steep hill with a dirt path going up. I thought to myself, “I bet that has amazing views. It is on the front of the ridge but higher than anything else without turning and going farther away from town towards the mountains. I wander if we could park at the base and walk up? I wander if I could drive up?”

I turned to my friend and told him my thoughts and off we went. I locked the center differential and drove on up the path and found myself with this amazing view of all of Karakol and even the shore of Lake Issyk Kul. (It felt much steeper driving back down!)

I took Magevney up a few days ago and realized, I’ve found the perfect spot to be alone to read or just get away for a couple of hours, all with a view of the village I call home. Only in a village could I get a view like this, feel totally alone, and be just five minutes from town and ten from home.

Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

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You Might Live in a Village When… (Part 2)

the mountains east of Karakol KyrgyzstanThe other day, I went to Tsum with my oldest daughter to pick up a couple of items and make a stop by our local butcher. She also got an ice cream cone that promptly covered her face and garnered many smiles and a few comments from those walking by. As we were standing there in front of the building, in the very center of town, I looked up at the gorgeous view of the mountains east of the city.

As I looked on, I thought to myself, where else could I live and be in the very middle of the city and have such an unobstructed view like the one before me. That is one of the great aspects of life in our little corner of Kyrgyzstan. Wherever you are, you have amazing views. I can look out my bedroom window at purple mountains forming the Kazakh border. I can look out our balcony at the towering peaks forming the border with China. To the south are more peaks of mountainous Kyrgyzstan.

I once read that Kyrgyzstan is the most beautiful country on the plant and that it is the Switzerland of Asia. I have to agree. Of all the places I have been, none has the natural beauty of Kyrgyzstan and within Kyrgyzstan, few places can touch our little northeastern corner with its towering peaks and alpine lake. Throw in the near constant sunshine and clean air and you have a little piece of heaven on earth. No city can offer this. I’m loving the village life.

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You Might Live in a Village When… (Part 1)

our front dorToday I begin a new series about living life in rural Kyrgyzstan. I hope you enjoy my anecdotes about village life and that it helps you get a better picture of this beautiful country and its beautiful people.

I was reminded the other day about how small a community village life really is when we had a knock on our door. We have only been back home a few weeks and have not begun teaching our English conversation classes. We are waiting on the university to resume classes so that our students know their university schedules. The university does not resume until September so we have a little time to get the new office set up and do some other projects that have been put off.

We made the decision in the spring to limit our conversation students to those who were previously involved in our English program simply because our teaching staff is greatly reduced. We thought that we would give those students who had put in the work a chance to improve their skills and to continue to develop our relationships with them. If space is available we will open up to new students of course.

Well a few days ago, Magevney and I thought we heard a knock on the door. Odd we thought, as we don’t usually get unannounced guests other than people delivering bills. So when I opened the door, I find two young girls, maybe 15 years old each, standing on our landing between our apartment and our office. They wanted to know when we started new English classes. What makes this odd is that we have not had a single class in the new office nor have we advertised a new location. We hadn’t even started putting things together in the new office. Word spreads rapidly in a village. Somehow these girls heard about it and took the initiative to come looking. I admire their dedication but alas, they are a little too young for our program. Sorry girls, maybe in a few years.

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Line Dancing in Kyrgyzstan

line dancing in Karakol

Recently, I had the opportunity to act as something of a guide for a group of university students from Texas. They came for a couple of weeks to help at our language center and to travel around a country they likely would have never seen otherwise.

As part of their preparations for coming, this group of seven Texan travelers learned a couple of dances to show to the students at our center. The idea was to expose each group of students, both Kyrgyz and American, to one another’s culture and allow them to interact and discuss life. It was a great time.

Being from Tennessee, I am familiar with country music, but I’m not an avid fan. This group of Texans included some serious country fans. They left their mark on our students in Karakol and on people all over Kyrgyzstan, from Talas to Kyzil Kia, as they line danced to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and to “Cotton-eye Joe.”

For our Kyrgyz friends, this was the first time they had ever heard of line dancing or either of these two songs, but they joined right on in with the Texans. Our big end of the year party at out student center was a great success, largely due to our new friends from San Antonio and their willingness to invest in coming to Kyrgyzstan. Now, the next time I travel to southern Kyrgyzstan, maybe I’ll find all new line dances being done to local music, mixed with a little American country music.

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Russian Encounters

So, for that last two months, Magevney and I have been in Istanbul, Turkey, where our second child was born one month ago. We are excited to be returning to Karakol in the next few days and finally get to introduce our youngest daughter to our adopted home. Now, while we have been in Turkey, we have attempted to keep plugging away at learning Russian. That may sound strange to try to study Russian in Turkey, but there are a lot of Russian speakers here.

There are a lot of Central Asians living in Istanbul. It is hard to put a firm number on it but it is easily upward of 100,000 or more, just in Istanbul. Add to that the large number of Russians who vacation in Turkey and you have a reasonably large number of Russian speakers, even native speakers. So we have tried to make use of that fact and worked with a Central Asian university student while here.

But that hasn’t been all. I’ve actually had several Russian encounters by chance on the streets. Many times, I’ve heard Russian spoken on the street by tourists. But on several occasions I was able to have conversations. The first was as my oldest daughter and I were out one morning and an older man stopped to talk. When I said I don’t speak Turkish, he immediately asked if I spoke German. I don’t but I thought, “I’ll try some Russian and see what happens.” Well, next thing I knew, I was having a conversation with this random man in Russian outside a shopping mall in Istanbul!

Fast forward a couple of weeks and Magevney and I are going to a friend’s apartment for dinner. When we arrive, we are introduced to a friend of theirs who is Central Asian and speaks very good Russian. We spent the evening talking in Russian with her, English with our friends, and they conversed together in a two other languages! (That actually has happened twice to me here, multi-lingual conversations, the other time in an Uzbek café.)

Then the third time also came as I was walking home one afternoon with my oldest daughter.  This time, I thought I would show her a small fish stand off the main road. As we neared, I was speaking in English to her and lifted her up the high curb to see the fish. It was rather cool that day in Istanbul, at least by local standards. It was probably mid 60’s so we were not wearing coats. We were in t-shirts and were probably the only ones on the street without a coat. The fish seller looked up at us and instantly greeted me, in Russian! Why?? Was it our lack of coats? Our pasty white skin? I don’t know why I didn’t ask him why Russian, but nevertheless, I got a little more impromptu Russian practice.

So I guess Russian isn’t a bad option for travel, though I do recommend Turkish when in Turkey.