Thursday, December 30, 2004


I’ve just spent my second night with my new Uzbek family and things are getting easier. They bought a small portable heater during my absence, but even better, they lit the stove last night. It was wonderful to finally feel warm and I enjoyed learning how to remove the metal rings and to put in chunks of shiny black coal with the metal tongs. It’s my first experience with a coal stove and I think it works pretty well. The coal is less heavy and less work than chopping wood.

Nigora, the woman of the household, told me she prefers coal to other options. “I have neighbors who keep everything neat and tidy by using a gas stove,” she said. “But then the city cuts off the gas and they start to freeze, for one day, two days, a week. They run around shivering and saying how cold it is while we stay warm. I don’t like to deal with such psychological stress.”

I’ve made more progress unpacking and it’s starting to feel a little more like home. I’ve also started to get into routines that make things easier here – always go to the bathroom before leaving work (taking advantage of the indoor toilet), hang my bath towel and what I plan to wear the next day over the heater before going to bed, hang onto any paper trash that could be burned, take a hunk of bread with me when heading to the toilet or shower to build better relations with the dog that barks at me on the way.

There are still some aspects that I’ll have to get used to. I have almost no privacy, as Nigora comes in every hour or two, either to check on the stove, or to bring me tea or something to eat. I have no access to running water without going outside to the toilet. I noticed the absence of that yesterday while finding something sticky as I unpacked my suitcase. I had nothing to wipe it off with. And of course, leaving the warmth of my room to head across the courtyard to the bathroom is never very appealing. To get to the shower this morning, I felt as though I was bundling up for a trip to the Artic. Stepping outside into the morning blackess with plastic sandals over my socks, I walked through a layer of snow that had fallen during the night. Luckily, once I made it to the shower, I found scalding hot water and was very appreciative of that. Returning to my room in a winter jacket, with a towel wrapped around my head, I passed Nigora, who was sweeping the snow off the sidewalk.

There are also the unique sounds of residential life. A car started up across the street and the two caged turkeys gobbled in unison. I’m not sure whether either of them will live past New Year’s. Through my bedroom window, I hear the steady chirp of birds and the banging of pots, as Nigora cooks on her outside stove.

Now that it’s warmer, I think I’ll like living here. It’s excellent in terms of safety, it’s nice to have dinner prepared and I like having someone outside work to talk with. But best of all, I hope I’ll be able to learn more about local life and culture. If I were back in my apartment, I don’t know what I’d do for New Years, possibly the most important holiday of the year here. But now that I’m living with a family, I automatically have people to spend the holiday with and I’m sure it will be much more interesting.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Christmas in London

I’m on my way back to Kyrgyzstan after an enjoyable 3.5-day Christmas holiday in London. It was a rather luxurious departure from Osh. My boyfriend found an internet special for a four-star hotel in the heart of London. We were greeted with glasses of champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries and pampered with access to a health club and Jacuzzi, a regular supply of Christmas mince pies (bite-sized pies filled with a mixture of dried fruits), and giant $30 English breakfasts delivered to the room.

I hadn’t been especially excited about London as a destination, a bit leery of the weather and the food, but it turned out to be a nice place to spend the holiday. There was no snow on the ground and in comparison with the recently frigid air in Kyrgyzstan, London almost felt balmy.

There was plenty to do. We started out our visit with a West End production of The Producers. It was shown in the Drury Lane theatre, the oldest theatre in London and the place that the West End theatre district built itself around. One of the lead actors, Nathan Lane, didn’t show up for that performance. Either he was sick or he decided to take Christmas Eve off. Even with the understudy in the lead role, it was still enjoyable, a huge difference from the one musical I’ve seen in Kyrgyzstan – where drama students in costumes made from scraps performed the first Kyrgyz musical in an unheated hall.

The city effectively closed down on Christmas day. But crowds of tourists still wandered around, looking for holiday entertainment. The few cafes and restaurants that were open, mostly run by foreigners, did a brisk business. We decided to turn down the $100-$150 Christmas lunch options on offer at several hotels and on Thames River boats. Instead, we joined a giant horde of tourists on a two-hour walking tour. It was supposed to cover Dickens in London, but instead seemed to be a patchwork of information from other walking tours on offer – telling us about different haunted sights, giving us some insight into history and architecture, as well as a few anecdotes about Dickens. It did add a little life to the scenery though to see the place where Eliza Doolittle met Henry Higgins, to hear how a woman’s head was knocked off near Trafalgar Square when her carriage emerged from a hotel with a low overhanging, to see where Benjamin Franklin lived, to hear of Dicken’s boyhood experiences working at a blacking factory.

We had our holiday meal at our hotel. For some reason, lunch seems to be the main meal on Christmas, so dinner was half the price. I had parsnip soup, turkey with carrots, spinach and cranberry sauce, and winter fruits with ginger ice cream. We were each given a “cracker” at the meal, a tradition we’d learned about during the tour. A “cracker” looks like an oblong holiday gift. They are available for purchase, ranging from the very cheap to the extremely expensive. If you receive a cracker, you pull the ends and it bangs open with a pop, similar to the sound that Pillsbury croissants or cinnamon rolls in the blue cardboard rolls make, and a present falls out of the center piece. Inside, we found paper crowns (so that’s why many of our fellow diners were wearing colored crowns), remniscent of the kind Burger King provides to children, and a measuring tape. We guessed these crackers must have been amongst the cheaper versions.

On Sunday, Boxing Day (so named because it used to be the day when people would give service workers, like milkmen, boxes with tips or gifts for the holidays) we attended the Chelsea versus Aston Villa premiership soccer game. This was an event my boyfriend had been looking forward to for ages and it was what drew us to London for this visit. I hadn’t been to a soccer game in a very long time and I knew virtually nothing about English soccer. Nevertheless, I donned the blue and white striped Chelsea scarf my boyfriend bought me and I joined the ranks of fans streaming into the stadium. The game was virtually sold out, with close to 40,000 people packing the stands. I learned how the opposing team fans are relegated to a tiny little corner of the stadium and that they stand up for almost the entire game, that games are played outside in an unroofed stadium, even in the middle of winter, that fans sing songs that don’t seem to have a lot of relation to the players or the game (one song went; “One man went to mow a meadow,”), that numerous guards in fluorescent orange and yellow vests line the stands on the lookout for hooligans, that beer is sold on the premises, but not allowed into the stands, that the thin billboards that line the rim of the field change simultaneously, making an entire colorful ring of ads for a single company and that overall, the fans, while largely male, were quite enthusiastic, but well-behaved. Chelsea won, 1-0.

On Monday, the first day a number of stores were open, we decided to go shopping. We both hoped to purchase winter coats, but neither of us was successful. Walking down Oxford Street in the center of London was like wading through a virtual sea of shoppers. The dense pack of humans extended as far as we could see, slowing our pace to a crawl, making us pay more attention to not getting separated than to what was in the shop windows. Inside the stores was even crazier. At Marks and Spencer, shoppers attacked the sale racks like ants around a breadcrumb. The staff couldn’t keep up with the shoppers and the merchandise had become disorderly. The only fitting room I could find was out of service until the new year, and those who found items to buy then waited in a tremendous line just to pay.

At Selfridges, a very expensive department store, the staff managed to keep their merchandise neat and shiny and the crowds were more orderly. But that may have been helped by the fact that not many people could actually afford to buy anything there. The only long coat I found was on sale for $500. The coat my boyfriend was interested in was also on sale, for a mere $700. The line for Subway sandwiches went out the door and the line for the Gucci department at a department store wrapped around the building.

We took refuge from the crowds in an Indian restaurant, where a piece of naan bread went for $5, as did a side of plain rice.

We spent our final afternoon playing merry-go-round in the subway, as the Piccadilly line was halted due to the smell of smoke, available again, halted, slowed, finally puttering along at a slow pace to the airport.

During my time in London, I missed the more reasonable prices of Kyrgyzstan, as well as the spicy excitement of the unknown and unexpected that fills the air there. But I also enjoyed a short reprieve into a world that was fairly orderly, where people use soft white toilet paper instead of hard brown cardboard, where a herd of 100 tourists can be processed with an ease that comes from practice, where the bright reds of the telephone booths and double-decker buses, the black taxis, and the ivories, greys and browns of the elegant buildings provided a sense of stability and where the quality of life is high enough that people can afford to pay $4 for a hot chocolate at the corner café.

I have to admit that I didn’t actually meet anyone, I didn’t have the chance to engage a Brit in casual conversation to ask about the details of daily life. In fact, one of our most memorable encounters was during our walking tour, when a grey-bearded, thick waisted man in his 50s, dressed in trousers and a suit jacket, barreled down the narrow alley toward us, crying out in a deep, angry voice, “Get out of my way, fucking tourists! You cunts – go back to where you came from!” The tourists and the tour guide moved slowly, uniformly, in shock, then returned their attention to the tour as though nothing had happened.

That’s the uniqueness of London - the city is set up so that one can live, eat, be entertained, travel and learn while remaining distinct from the masses, an anonymous little atom of humanity, able to move through the streets without bumping into others, averse to causing chaos amidst the order.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A holiday gathering with friends

I’ve just arrived at the Istanbul airport and I’m blown away by the cleanness, brightness, warmth and modernity. I’m seated next to a pair of escalators, ascending and descending, lined with smooth, white, fluorescent beams along their contours, reflections repeated endlessly in the glass barriers. The grey steps are empty and move with an eery slowness, that makes me wonder what the purpose of their movement is. But when a stray passenger steps on at this early hour, the steps suddenly speed up, propelling her to her destination.

I’m also amazed by the shops. Everything is vibrantly open at 6:30 in the morning and the products are so beautiful – the packages of expensive chocolate or Turkish delight, the gleaming bottles of liquor, the shiny leather coats and purses, the seductively advertised perfumes and banking services, the frothed milk on the coffee people sip in the bustling café. I’m seduced by the consumerism, wanting to buy things just for the sake of buying them, just because they are beautiful. But since I don’t actually need anything I’ve seen, so far I’ve resisted.

I spent yesterday in Bishkek, at the apartment I lived in when I first came to Kyrgyzstan. When I arrived on Wednesday evening, my former landlady and current friend Zhenya organized a welcoming party, inviting Svetlana and Elena to join us.

We sat around the kitchen table, joined by Elena’s new Spanish boyfriend, a middle-aged military doctor named Juan, eating chicken, mashed potatoes, salads covered in mayonnaise, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, sausage slices and olives, bread, and slices of cake.

All three women are in their 30s, all are pure or mostly Russian, all are smart and attractive, and none of them have been able to find a local man for a long-term relationship. Zhenya is still technically married, but has been separated from her husband for years due to his gambling addiction. Her eight-year-old son Algubek watched TV in the other room.

Svetlana has been dating an overweight, retired American for several months. She told me at this dinner that she was engaged. I asked her to see her ring and she hid her hands under the table, saying that he would bring it when he returns from the Mexican retirement community where he is relaxing. I asked how it happened, expecting to hear about a formal proposal.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and kept telling him that I didn’t know – maybe yes and maybe no. But I finally decided that it’s something I want to do.”

Robert has been depressed lately in Kyrgyzstan, not speaking Russian and not having an occupation to busy himself with. He dreams of retiring in Mexico and has found the particular place he wants to live, speaking of it often. My guess is that he finally said that he would leave, with or without her. For her, it was a choice between an aging man who cares about her, but is addicted to junk food, and is far less active, both physically and intellectually than she is, or to hope she could find someone else who could fund her hobbies, give her a comfortable standard of living, and an opportunity to travel. He’s looking for company, she’s looking for escape.

Svetlana seemed subdued. She usually chatters non-stop in English, but that evening she was quiet, asking me to translate what Juan said from Spanish into Russian, her blond hair often sinking into her wool, round-necked beige sweater.

Elena also has a middle-aged boyfriend, but I think their relationship is more promising. Elena has three university diplomas, works in a bank, and has never had a serious relationship. She’s a mild-mannered but bright and very kind person. At her age, she’s already considered pretty much past hope for marriage. Her mother lives in Kazakhstan and she tries to stay away from home, making her home in Kyrgyzstan, because her mother bothers her incessantly about why she isn’t married.

Some time ago she registered with a local marriage agency and never received any responses. Within the past few months, she suddenly got a call from the agency, saying that there was a Spanish doctor who was in Bishkek and was interested in meeting her. She was very surprised that he hadn’t written or anything beforehand. They arranged a meeting and things have gone well from that point.

According to Zhenya, “He didn’t have stereotypes that Russian women were easy, but was very gentlemanly and took things very slowly. He considers her very young and says that in Spain a woman her age would consider him an old man.”

He is 14 years older than her and that made her uncomfortable at first. But on the positive side, she feels that he considers her young and beautiful, while most local men already consider her old and past her prime.

“The people at the agency told Juan that Elena was old and asked why he didn’t want to meet some women in their early 20s. He said that he didn’t want a child.” I found that a promising sign.

He’s leaving soon for Spain, but seems committed to Elena. “I can chose which country I want to go to and I’ll be coming back here for one simple reason,” he told me in Spanish, pointing to Elena. He has just hired a teacher for her to learn Spanish.

It’s great to think that if things go well, Elena’s life will change from fearing to lose her $50/month job to vacationing in Majorca.

Zhenya is the only one not dating a foreigner, but her mother lives in America. They are all searching for and reaching out for lifelines to the West, means of escape, ways to realize their potential.

Yesterday I took a risk and decided to get my first haircut in Kyrgyzstan. I was hoping to hold out until I returned home, but it was really looking bad. So I called the Hyatt Hotel and asked who they recommended. They send me to a man named Shamil, a thickset man in his late 30s with curly black hair that reached his shoulders. He was quiet and very calm.

“Are you alive?” one of his colleagues asked him, as he prepared to wash my hair.

“I just want to sleep,” he answered. I hoped he didn’t fall asleep while chopping.

He took over an hour to cut and style my hair. During the last 20 minutes or so he woke up and began talking. He told me how he recently spent three months as a barber on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. He was paid $200 a month, but said that including tips, he made $1,000 a month. That’s amazing money in Kyrgyzstan and I asked why he returned.

“The desert light was too bright and it hurt my eyes. I couldn’t see properly. Also, it seems Americans like main dishes, and lots of them, while I’m more used to first courses, soups and salads. It didn’t do good things for my stomach.”

“They didn’t have any soup?” I asked.

“No. Only a Mexican soup that was really thick. But I like thin soups.”

He told me about all the wonderful facilities there – the 24 hour cafeteria, the free internet and phone calls, all of the amenities, the kind soldiers who left generous tips. “It is really clear that the President loves his soldiers,” he said. “They had everything – everything except alcohol. They only had non-alcoholic beer.” I found that hard to believe and he said that alcohol did get in through people who traveled to the capital. “There is also lots of marijuana, it’s really cheap and easily available,” he said.

“On the base?” I asked.

“Yes. Almost everyone smokes. They can’t do without it. People don’t smile there. They walk around like this,” he imitated a stunned, zombie-like person. “During the three months I was there, five soldiers were killed.”

“Out of how many?”


Last night, Zhenya and her son came and spent the night at the apartment. I was leaving in the middle of the night and needed to pass off the key. Shortly after she arrived, she received a phone call.

“I already paid her $50!” I heard her say. When she hung up the phone she looked upset. “Oh, this is bad news,” she said. “I feel sick.”

She is in her last year of studying at the economics faculty. In order to graduate, each student has to write a dissertation. “You turn in the dissertation and they say no, they won’t accept it, there is this and this problem. So you do it again, and they no, there is this and this problem. Then they say if you pay them they will accept it.”

“So last year,” she continued, “my friend paid $100 to have her dissertation accepted. Since I’m finishing one year later, we decided to share the dissertation. I paid her $50 and she gave me the dissertation, which I submitted this year. There are lots of teachers and we figured that since we are in different years, no one would notice that we submitted the same paper. But by chance,” she frowned, “my dissertation ended up being read by the same woman who read my friend’s and she remembered that they were the same. So now I have to pay again!”

“How much?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” She paced around the room.

“I know this must seem strange to you. At Harvard I’m sure it’s much different. But here students usually just pay for our degrees. Half the students in my class never even show up – I don’t even know who studies with me. They just pay enough and eventually get their diplomas – they are like ghosts.”

She wasn’t worried about being disciplined or about being prevented from graduated for cheating. She was just upset that she’d probably have to do a bit more work and to spend more money.

Time to board my flight to London, where I’ll spend Christmas with my boyfriend. Happy holidays to all!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Best Place to Buy a Cow

I got up just before seven this morning and took a taxi to the livestock bazaar, picking up a Kyrgyz coworker, Kanylbek, along the way. My Russian driver had light blue eyes, gold front teeth, bristly red skin and a brown fur hat. He was rather gruff, constantly bantering with other drivers on his CB and showing clear annoyance when my companion was four minutes late. “What are you doing, coming so late?” he asked, when Kanylbek got in. The expert looked at his watch and remained silent.

Children were using ruddered sleds and pairs of short poles to slide down the streets, enjoying the emptiness in the morning pink sky. The roads were covered with a thin, slick layer of snow and ice packed into the dirt.

We arrived at the livestock market and pushed our way through a doorway in the fenced, open-air compound. I was amazed at what I saw. Below us, the entire square was packed with people and animals. All around them, like a second fence enclosing them in, were the white mountains, the peaks glowing pink in the morning light.

“The cows are on the right, the horses on the left,” Kanylbek explained. “The sheep are outside the market, in an adjoining area, so as not to mix them up.”

A local had warned me a few days before, “There is no order at all at the livestock market,” he told me. “It’s not like where you live where they have stalls and line up in order. Here it is just a mess. You’ll be shocked by what you see. And be very careful walking in between the horses. Two people have been killed already this year by walking in between horses and getting kicked.”

A giant mass of people and animals jumbled together. Ninety percent were men and most were Kyrgyz, dressed in dark hats and coats. Few wore kalpaks. “It’s cold already,” Kanylbek told me. The headscarves of the few woman provided small flashes of color among the browns and blacks and ivories of the people and animals.

We were looking for a particular person selling a cow, so we waded through the crowd, trying to find one person among the masses. There was no order. We walked in between muddy cow rears, pulled cow horns to allow us room to pass, and moved with caution when we heard the fountain-like tinkling of a cow urinating or saw steaming fresh cow dung hit the icy ground. It smelled of manure and leather and fresh mountain air. It was also cold, -15 one person guessed, and my feet could feel the ground underneath.

We made several trips from one side of the cow vendors to the other, without luck. We then went to look at the sheep, and finally stood near the stands selling double shots of vodka to men crouched in a circle. Kanylbek went to make one more round through the cow vendors while I went to look at the horses, careful to keep my distance from the regal animals. Several people stood on horseback, rising above the crowd. Occasionally the crowd would bustle, as if a drop of oil fell into water, when a horse would rear up and neigh or one cow would mount another.

I saw people tying up a small cow by its legs and loading it onto a horse-pulled cart filled with hay to take home. I saw a blacksmith hammering horseshoes onto a horse. And I saw people eagerly engaged in transactions, genially bartering, exchanging money, and seeming to enjoy themselves.

I took a picture of several old women selling a cow and they smiled and laughed, especially when they saw the picture.

“How much are you selling it for?” I asked, pointing to the cow.

"18,000 ($450), but we’ll let it go for 15,000 to a pretty girl.”

Finally we found the man we were looking for. He had arrived at the market at 4 a.m. and together with a relative bought three cows, one small one and two medium sized ones. He had just sold the last one when we arrived. Kanylbek told me that the wholesaler sellers arrive at the market at 2 a.m.

“People like this man come very early and buy at low prices,” he told me. “Then they can resell the same animal within hours. The prices rise from the early morning until 9 or 10 a.m., then start to decrease again as sellers worry that they won’t make a sale. By noon or 2 everyone has gone home.”

This man had sold all three cows by shortly after eight and said that he rarely fails to sell what he has bought in the morning. He and a relative together made a $75 profit within several hours – not a bad business, but unfortunately it only happens one time a week.

It was really cold and we were ready to go, so we left the festive atmosphere to find a taxi. We found a taxi and while we waiting to get into the car, another Lada pulled up close by us. A group of men opened the trunk and pulled out a brown sheep.

Our driver told me that he and his father had come to the market today to sell two sheep. They planned to sell one for 2,000 ($50) and the other for 3,000 ($75) som.

“Why are you selling them?” I asked.

“Because we need money at home. We went as guests to people’s homes. And when we do that, we tend to spend a lot of money, 1,000, 2000… I took a loan and now I need to return it.”

In addition to his work as a taxi driver, he keeps 50 sheep (“not bad” as he described it). I’m starting to gain a new respect for the investment value of livestock.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Arrival in Karakol

I arrived in Karakol on Thursday evening, after a one hour flight from Osh to Bishkek, then a six hour drive, though a mountain pass, along the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, and then up past apple orchards and along poplar lined roads, up into snowy mountains.

I’m staying in a guesthouse in a residential neighborhood. It was dark when I arrived at 5 p.m., so when I looked out my window on Friday morning, I was treated to a view of boxed village homes. In our yard, there is an annex with some guestrooms, chickens and geese pecking around a pile of hay, a dilapidated outhouse and a barn. The guesthouse owner, a former doctor, is well-off now, but it’s easy to imagine how they used to live.

Bare trees stood in between the homes - small fruit trees, white birch, and a tall tree that glowed a yellowish green. In a line extending across the horizon, rising above all the local scenery, was a ridge of snowy mountains, giant bulks of earth, like clumps of milk-filled breasts, rising up to meet the light morning sky, dusted with a white cloud cover.

I walked to work on my first day, hearing pigs grunt behind me as I left the guesthouse, enjoying the exercise of the 30-minute walk. I imagined walking to and from town every day, forgetting that at night it is cold and dark, like walking through a pitch-black icebox.
Walking straight down a residential street to the center of town, I paid attention to the local architecture and life. Bare poplar trees and little wooden box houses lined the dirt road. I found the roofs to be interesting, some with balconies, others with windows, and of various colors, shapes and sizes. The street was quiet, dotted with sheep and dogs, and I felt as though I could be walking through any small Russian town, except that many of the faces were Kyrgyz. I watched two young boys emerge from their home to throw paper airplanes at cars, saw others pulling wooden sleds across the snowy streets, and watched a broken water pipe splashing water against a tree, which froze in a uniquely shaped clump of ice.

Karakol, now the third largest city in Kyrgyzstan, with a population of about 75,000, was first founded as a Russian fort in 1869, and it still retained that atmosphere, with many more Russians than in a place like Osh, and horse-drawn carts frequently clip-clopping through the city streets, alongside Mosvichs, Nivas and Audis.

My guidebook tells a story of a large storm coming through the city, just as the cartographers were finishing up mapping the Karakol fort. The winds blew away all the contents of the yurts, including the maps. The next day the local Kyrgyz offered to help. Together with the Russians, they formed a line toward the river, searching the land in the direction the storm had gone, and finding all but a few pages. In the 1880s the population grew considerably with an influx of Dungan, Chinese Muslims, escaping persecution in China.

In 1886 Karakol was renamed Przhevalsk, in honor of a Russian explorer who died here while preparing for an expedition to Tibet (I’ll soon write more about him). Lenin returned the name Karakol in 1926, until Stalin gave it back to Przhevalsk in 1935 (did these guys really have nothing better to think about than the name of a city on the very fringes of empire?), the name it retained until 1991 when it again became Karakol (which means “black wrist”)

The center of town was pretty dull. I walked through the central square, where some photographers were set up with stuffed animals, and signs that said things like “Happy Students Day” or “Happy Birthday, Karakol, 2004.” There are several shops, a small market, and a few cafes in the center of town. There are also a lot of universities. As the capital of the Issyk-Kul region, Karakol hosts five universities and a large population of students.

Today I took a quick look at the attractive wooden Russian church, built in 1895. Fourteen old Russian woman and one Russian boy, probably accompanying his grandmother, stood at attention for the service in progress.

On my way home, I walked through a mini-market on the way home, impressed by the salad sellers lined up under a roofed marketplace with no walls. Most of them sold white noodles in a bowl that buyers could eat there, a Dungan dish that reminded me of Vietnamese pho.

On the way home, I watched a man fill a bucket from a streetside pump, watched others cart water home in tin canisters on wheels, watched children playing on old-fashioned sleds with rudders and watched young adults sliding along the icy streets.

I find this a completely different world from Osh and it’s pretty remarkable that they are part of the same small country. In my one month in Osh, two male local staff members stole female staff members. Bride stealing happens here, but as far as I know, it’s not so common that it affects our staff. It’s generally calmer here, there is a bit more of a Russian mentality, and there aren’t the concerns with fundamentalists, terrorists, and cross-border problems that are issues in Osh.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

what's been going on lately

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting much lately. It's been a busy time during the past couple of weeks, but I hope to get back to posting soon. For those wondering what's been going on lately, I'll fill you in on the highlights. I finished my training and started working in earnest. During the last half of November I took over for someone on vacation and managed a regional program with 90 staff. It was challenging and a lot of fun. I'll be getting my own region to manage in February and until then will be traveling quite a bit, learning some more and filling in for staff on vacation. Right now I'm on my way to Karakol. I don't know too much about it other than that it is supposed to be a very beautiful and popular destination for tourists in the summer. I'll fill you in about this town in the winter after I arrive tomorrow.

In other news, I had my first visitor. My boyfriend came to visit for a week and I had fun showing him Kyrgyzstan and seeing many things again through fresh eyes. We took a two-day trip to the southern mountains and also attended a wedding in Bishkek, the first Kyrgyz wedding either of us had experienced.

Also, I decided to move from my nicely furnished foreigner-style apartment. When I return from my travels, I'll be living with an Uzbek family. I think that will make for much more interesting evenings and weekends and I'm looking forward to learning from them - though I'm not so excited about having to go outside to use the toilet or shower in winter.

That's it for now, but I promise I'll be in touch soon.