Monday, May 28, 2012

Popcorn, Strawberries and Kim Chee

The fruit sellers are back. It's early days, but crates of strawberries and cherries and apricots hearken of the things to come. I bought half a kilo of tiny, sweet strawberries for about 80 cents this afternoon.

Another recent discovery - a shop that sells popping corn! I've never eaten so much popcorn - my American flatmate makes it in vast quantities, and a couple of times it constituted my dinner. Healthy and more-ish.

Over time, having eaten more Korean food than just about anything, we've developed a taste for kim chee, and our fridge is full of jars of it. It's surprisingly easy to make, and you can vary the fish sauce/pear/hot powder ratio to suit less fiery tastes.

Can't remember the last time I had meat-and-three-veg.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A 14 Year Old Says Farewell

One of my Year Eight students is going back to America for good, after a lifetime in Central Asia, first in Uzbekistan and then here in Kyrgyzstan. He wrote this today:

My dear Kyrgyzstan, you found a very special place in my heart a place I call home. You have shown me the majestic natural features, from your snow topped mountains to beautiful lake Issy-kul. Your people have shown me warm hospitality and great food. You have given me friends I will never forget and who have changed my life. But I am afraid it is time to part ways you gave me place to call home and I will never forget that. You are so beautiful.

Goodbye my love
Goodbye my home
Goodbye my Kyrgyzstan!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cultural Jerk that I am

What I think of in myself as a mild-mannered sense of propriety - a polite deference to universally held manners - a gracious civility - is actually a deeply ingrained belief in my culture's superiority, and therefore in my own superiority.

I have very western views on personal space, public decorum, privacy, and on the occasions when I unbend and interact in local ways, I think of it condescendingly, as lowering myself to a local level; a generous act.

Actually, I'm the very worst kind of snob. I make assumptions all the time about what local people are thinking and feeling, based on very little except my own sense of cultural rightness. Tonight, for instance, I went to a function attended by Westerners, Koreans, Kyrgyz, and Russian people. At one point, we were served barbequed pork, and someone at my table wondered whether we shouldn't let the Kyrgyz people know that it was pork, since they are, nominally at least, Muslim. Before I thought, I said - oh, it probably doesn't matter, they'd prefer not to know: thinking, you see, that because they don't go to mosques or pray or dress conservatively - things I think that Muslims ought to do - they wouldn't really mind eating pork. And you know, many of them wouldn't: but my assumption was that none of them would mind. What a terrible thing to think, and a worse thing to say! I can only be grateful that no one took me to task for it. The moment it slipped out, I wanted to crawl under the table.

God grant that I should start loving my neighbours as I ought!

Thursday, May 24, 2012


My brain has become a Bishkek drain, clogged and silted with seasonal debris.

I supervised an IGCSE Geography exam this afternoon, and took Wendell Berry's Selected Poems with me to pass the time. The poems shamed me. They were beautiful - stripped to the bone. Simple poems about trees and birdsongs and earth and marriage and light. I should be writing. Why don't I write?

Last week, I went to a farewell for a family who have worked in Kyrgyzstan for years. The testimonies flowed, particularly about the mother. The testimonies made me ask the same question of myself as the poetry. They illuminated the figure of a strong, servant-hearted, loving, welcoming, patient woman. A woman without judgement, who loves indiscriminately, who feeds the hungry and welcomes strangers. A Southern, sun-kissed, Proverbs 31 kind of gal. I don't know her well - but I want to be like her.

So I hitch up again and keep my eyes on the goal. I learn by going where I have to go.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book-spine Poetry Meme

The rules are:
  • Create a book spine poem (examples here).
  • Take a picture.
  • Post it on your blog.
  • Link back to this post.
  • Tag another blogger, or two, or ten. (I obediently tag Lucidus, Matt, and Georgiya)
Thanks Ali! 'Twas fun. I discovered that you can do a remarkable amount with a very limited book collection, as demonstrated below:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Plane Madness

My summer is insane. Look here:

Month of June: teacher work week, company conference, horse trek, pack.
July 1 - Arrive in New York from Bishkek.
July 4 - train to Boston to visit friends.
July 8 - fly to Ithaca, NY, for wedding.
July 11 - fly to Texas to visit friends.
July 16 - fly to Australia, at last!
August 27 - fly to Thailand to visit sister and friends.
September 5 - arrive back in Bishkek for a new academic year.


Just saying.

Cultural Exchange #2

An addendum.

While waiting for a marshrutka today, a very drunk guy sat down next to me. Not unusual, so I just cranked up my music; a moment later, I noticed other people edging away from me. I took my earphones out and heard a splashing sound - it was the drunk guy, who'd pulled down his pants and was now peeing next to my feet in an artistic and carefree manner. In one smooth, dignified move, I was out of there, barely dry-footed.

...I decided to walk the rest of the way, taking a shortcut between apartment blocks. Halfway there, I was greeted by another unforgettable sight. An extremely large and elderly lady, squatting in the podyest (the doorway to the apartment) with her dress hitched up, having a very visible crap.

Several minutes later, I came across two men sitting at a fire in the courtyard, spit-roasting the head of some indiscriminate animal - possibly a sheep.

These things aren't unusual, I suppose. But all within the space of ten minutes? I thought it was worth recording.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cultural Exchange

I've been neglecting this blog lately, I know, and I'm sorry. But a rather funny-slash-frightening (depending on your degree of fortitude) thing happened tonight!

My flatmate (who shall be referred to as A) and I live on the first floor of an apartment block, like the majority of people in Bishkek (who live in apartments, not necessarily on the first floor). The windows have bars, and our door has several locks, but the first floor is notoriously susceptible to thieves and botherers. We've had a pretty good run, living here since January, but were slightly freaked out about thirty minutes ago. I had just gone to bed, and was listening to a little David Mitchell, when an almighty knock rattled my windows. I lay there paralysed for a few seconds, then jumped up and ran into the lounge room, where A and I reassured ourselves that it was just local kids being mischievous: I went to the kitchen for a drink - the only room in the house with transparent curtains - when the same thing happened. I ran out like a frightened rabbit, leaving the tap running, and dived into an armchair. A and I stared at each other in hysterical horror, until she was brave enough to crawl back into the kitchen, unseen, to turn off the light and the tap. After further conference, and being more annoyed than freaked out, she went outside to confront the culprits, who turned out to be some local guys with good English. Apparently, word has got around that two foreign girls live here, and as everyone knows, foreign girls are always up for a good time (!): so, these two Kyrgyz lads had decided to try their luck. The spokesman offered to take us out for "coca-cola" to make a "cultural exchange" and pleaded that it was a "cultural thing" to knock on the windows of girls, since knocking on the door would attract the attention of Soviet-schooled neighbours. I stood behind the door and had a mild hysterical fit while the conversation took place.

Anyway, after expressing displeasure in a polite sort of way, A got rid of them. For some reason (perhaps the accumulation of similarly unsettling incidents lately), I have been immensely disturbed by this violation of our privacy, and am now firmly ensconced on the couch, where I shall sleep in the knowledge that A is feisty, and a baseballer, and also has a knife.