Friday, September 28, 2007

#109: Arak or Ayran?

At around 5 am on our way to Osh we stopped at a rest area with food for morning fasting breakfast. My father is fasting, so I decided to keep him a company because my brothers were sleeping in the car and I was a bit hungry after driving for 4 hours. We sat on a söörü (or tapchan, wooden platform to dine on) and ordered shorpo (soup), ayran (yogurt), and tea. Another car pulled over for early breakfast and 5 people made themselves comfortable on mats on the next söörü. As they were ordering their food, I could not help overhearing them discuss what to order vodka or ayran. Eventually, a plump woman in her 50s decided for everyone, because the rest were younger than her, to order arak (vodka in Kyrgyz), instead of ayran. Damn, vodka at 5 am! I though to myself at that moment: "Vodka is killing Russians, it will kill Kyrgyz as well!"

On our trip to Osh and back, I drove most of the way there and all the way back. Since only my father had driver's license (I had mine stolen when I was robbed 3 years ago, which I will talk about in later posts), we decided to let him drive parts with traffic police posts (unlike in the West, Kyrgyz traffic police does not roam around, but just wait at posts). So, my father drove past Töö-Ashuu, then I drove from Suusamyr to Kochkorata. I was tense when my father drove, because he is not a great driver (neither am I). I drove about 300 km, at dawn my brother took over to drive all the way to Iyrisuu.

These are some pictures from the trip. Look at the sign. Boston (stress on the second syllable) is a very small village between Özgön and Jalalabad. Lenin's statue is still standing across from Osh Governnor's Office. Osh: Kyrgyz Drama Theatre, Sulayman Tak (Solomon's Throne), Osh Nuru Hotel (former Intourist) on Kurmanjan Datka Street.

#108: Last Journey

This Monday we received bad news from Iyrisuu, Uzgen. My grandmother (from my mother's side) passed away at the age of 79, which I guess is a pretty good age for Kyrgyz people these days. My two brothers and my father packed up belongings in small bags, borrowed my uncle's old Nissan, and left Bishkek at 9pm. We were planning to visit her this weekend, but we were a few days late, unable to see living her for the last time.

My grandmother lived a pretty tough life. Born in 1932, she was married to a man and had at least two children from him. I don't know what happened, but after WWII she married my grandfather (he passed away in 1998 at the age of 83), and they had 5 children together. Her oldest daughter passed away while giving birth, and my grandmother raised her granddaughter as her own daughter. She raised 2 sons and 5 daughters. I am the second oldest out of 23 grandchildren.

Since she died during the holy month of Ramadan, people believe it is an honorable death. She was fasting, despite her illness at this age and her daughters' dissuasions. She passed away during her morning namaz (prayer), after having her breakfast early at 5 am. I guess she wanted it to happen during Ramadan.

This is a picture from the funeral. Male relatives stand weeping outside the bozüy (yurt), while women sit singing koshok (funeral songs sung by women) around my grandmother inside it. Relatives, friends, and villagers come the whole week to pay tribute to my grandmother. We left Iyrisuu after the burial and seeing off on her last journey, and promising mourning aunts and uncles to come back to visit them again. They were always afraid that we would lose contact with them after our mother passed away in 1994 and my father would marry another woman. They also wanted me and my cousin who is 4 years older than me to marry as soon as possible for our grandmother to witness happy moments.

Monday, September 24, 2007

#107: Lee Kwan Yew

Does anyone have any of the memoirs of Lee Kwan Yew that I can borrow? Or, does anyone know where I can download them? Or, does anyone know someone in Bishkek who has them?

I found Russians version of one of his books (From Third World to First: The Singapore Story), but I want to read them in English.

Friday, September 21, 2007

#106: Constitution

Honestly, Kyrgyz politics are is becoming unpredictable. The President surprised everyone with putting his version of the constitution up for a popular vote, appointed one of the leading opposition figures, Omurbek Suvanaliev, to head his security bureau, and letting the parliament be elected through party lists (his version of the Elections Code will determine how). Nonetheless, he is so predictable. He is not proposing any fundamental changes to the system. Although some might challenge it - some already have challenged it - but the constitution keeps the system the way it is: nobody is responsible for anything. With the way system works, where the President's Chief of Staff is more powerful than the Prime Minister, but less accountable in one of the least transparent state offices, Kyrgyzstan's future will be murky. About a year ago I expressed similar dissatisfaction. I am afraid we will have to return to this issue again and again.

To be continued... meanwhile I will go back to eating my Iranian dates. Mmmm!

#105: Kyrgyz Language

The New York Times wrote that "Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and likely to disappear in this century. In fact, one falls out of use about every two week." According to them, some languages "...are lost gradually in bilingual cultures, as indigenous tongues are overwhelmed by the dominant language at school, in the marketplace and on television." I think it is already happening to Kyrgyz language in a society still dominated by Russian language, although it is not in one of the hotspots, where languages are being lost at the fastest rate. As I said earlier, Kyrgyz should switch to Latin script in order to prevent it from disappearing. Of course, it only one of the many things to be done - better education, translate books, make Kyrgyz language sexy (cool, appealing) to the youth (rap, rock in Kyrgyz!), etc.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

#104: Да пошли вы все!..

Today in the morning EuroNews had a story about Beppe Grillo, a comedian-turned-politician from Italy, who used his blog to mobilize his supporters and ultimately challenge the Italian politics. What drew my attention the most was the V-Day March, a virtual march of protest. According to the rebel, who seemed to have declared war against all the Italian politicians, there are 116,000 people who signed up to the march. Amazing!

V-Day stands for Vaffa-Day, where vaffa, according to a friend who speaks Italian, is a shortened version of "fuck off" in Italian. Amazingly, EuroNews in Russian shocked me by translating it as "День Ж" and as they explained Ж stands ЖОПА, "ass" Russian. Censorship in Russian TV would not allow such a word to be heard in Russia.

Kyrgyzstan needs something similar to what this guy is doing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

#103: Bakiev's Speech

This is the gist of Bakiev's speech today:
1. He announced a referendum on the Constitution as well as on the Electoral Code. His decree on the referendum for October 21, 2007 is here.
2. He superficially outlined the constitution which he proposes, although he clearly said that separation of power between branches is not the aim, but rather "responsibility" of the government.
3. He said he would create his own political party.
Full text of his speech is here.

One more thing, the President always reads from paper and never looks up (and sweats a lot) when he gives a speech, even if he is opening a small school in a remote village. He is known for digressing and doing things that were not in the scenario, as it happened with his dance two weeks ago.

So, referendum in October. Parliamentary elections probably in spring 2008, or as early as this December. All the serious political parties are gearing up the vote, while opposition ones are expecting the government to pull off dirty tricks to tilt the result its way.

Update: Just bought a box of mouth-watering Iranian dates, which become very popular during Ramadan. Since I am not fasting this year, I will have to organize an iftaar, dinner for breaking the fast, and I was thinking of taking my parents and some relatives to my favorite Chinese restaurant. My aunt already disliked the idea, but I assured that it will be all halal. Still waiting for my younger brother to return from his travels to have a welcome back dinner for him as well.

#102: GRE

For people who are also preparing for GRE, here are some useful links:
- GRE Vocabulary Flashcards
- Most Frequently Used Words in GRE (downloadable in Excell)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

#101: Kegeti

Inspired by my fellow bloggers, I decided to post some pictures from Kegeti (60km east of Bishkek), where we went hiking in summer. Now looking forward to the time when whose hills and slopes will be covered by snow for snowboarding. Otherwise, my snowboard has been so lonely without the snow powder.

As we were climbing up, we came across a shepherd's tent. His wife and 4 little kids were around. The shepherd was herding his sheep up the hill.
We reached the top of the hill. You can see his herd and the shepherd somewhere there in the bottom left corner of the picture.

Monday, September 17, 2007

#100: Mikhail Zadornov

Yesterday I watched Russian stand-up comedian Mikhail Zadornov, who is known for his anti-Americanism (his famous line is "Американцы - тупые!" - Americans are dumb!) and self-flagellation of Russia and Russians. However, that is not the point in his show which is aired by RenTV. For the first time he criticized, or more accurately, ridiculed the Russian government, including President Putin.

Zadornov compared United Russia, pro-Putin party, to the bear in Russian fable Teremok. It is an Aesopian tale about a house shared peacefully by all animal, until a bear, United Russia's symbol, decides that it wants to live in the house and destroys it by his clumsiness and sheer size. He told all this in whisper, while regularly crying out "United Russia is a great party!" I could not believe my eyes. He also turned to the issue of Putin's heir in 2008. He concluded all by saying that if Putin decides to step down in 2008, he will head a new holding RossGosEnergoTVRadioSvyazNeftGazProm, a company which would control gas, oil, electricity, TV and radio, and communications, basically everything in Russia.

I found the video on YouTube. Enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2007

#99: Parasitic Dependence, Blind Servility, Genuflection, Primitive Boot-licking, and Double Standards

First, President Bakiev is expected to address the country in his speech in the Parliament on September 19, 2007. Let's see if he has radically new thing to say.

Second, more and more people are painting a gloomy picture of the way Kyrgyzstan is heading. In an interview to weekly Obschestvenniy Reiting, opposition MP Kubatbek Baibolov characterized our society, especially the ruling elite, as being dominated by "parasitic dependence, blind servility, genuflection, primitive boot-licking, and double standards." He says that if we don't root these vices out, Kyrgyzstan will not go anywhere.*

This reminded me of the time couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine and I were having plov in Jalalabad Cafe and a man in his early 50's asked if he could join us on the tapchan, a wooden platform to dine on, because only two of us were occupying it, which could accommodate at least three more people. We agreed. He joined us and silently devoured his lagman as we ate and chatted about Kyrgyz politics. He then joined our discussions and defended the current way of doing politics. He said the president is a khan and as such he should act accordingly and people should obey him accordingly. It turned out that he worked on legal issues for President's Administration, as he confessed. Unfortunately, people like that man dominate the government.

Third, the situation in Iraq is worrying a lot of people, except extremists. The Economist's cartoon below depicts it well.
I guess you see people of such description not only in Kyrgyzstan, but everywhere around the world. For those who speak Russian, I decided to give what Baibolov said: "...пока в обществе господствует идеология иждивенчества, слепого чинопочитания и коленопреклонения, примитивного лизоблюдства и двойной морали, каких-либо серьезных сдвигов ожидать трудно, да и бессмысленно."

On that note, I read that the Constitutional Court declared that the November and December (current) constitutions are illegitimate because of the way they were passed. Ironically, judges of the CC were elected by the Parliament according to the December constitution, which makes them and their decision illegitimate as well. Anyways, this is a vicious circle of legal chaos that started in 2005, or as some say in 2000.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

#98: 9/11 and Ramadan

Today is the 6th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. With Afghanistan ignored and left to the mercy of warlords and Iraq on the brink of a fiasco, the world is no safer place than six year ago. Russia's 1Kanal showed a documentary (not sure if it was Spielberg's movie) commemorating the tragedy.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, Orozo in Kyrgyz. Today families will gather for arapa dinner to mark the beginning of the fast. I fasted the whole month last year, but I am thinking about it this year. Last week I signed up to a gym, but with fasting I don't think I will be able to do any of the weight-lifting exercises. Kyrgyz in general are very relaxed about religion. Fasting the first and the last three days of the month counts as well. Ramadan Mubarak! Orozonor kabyl bolsun!

Russian TV Channel, Rossiya, reported about the neo-Nazi gang arrested in Israel, but hid the fact that the arrestees were of Russian descent. Russia's FOX News. Fair and Balanced! @#$%&!

Monday, September 10, 2007

#97: Мусор

In my previous post, I wrote how frustrated I was with public (and private) bathrooms in Kyrgyzstan. There is another problem, which is getting out of control: trash, garbage, rubbish. Bishkek's streets are so filthy that if you stand for 10 minutes on any intersection, you will observe rats jumping between holes and ditches trying to cross sidewalks. Ditches along roads are filled with cigarette packs, plastic bottles and cans, and plastic bags.

However, Bishkek is not the only place where it is a problem. Just drive to neighboring villages around Bishkek, or for that matter anywhere in Kyrgyzstan, you will see white and orange plastic bags and plastic bottles scattered around along roads and all over fields. Kyrgyzstan has to have a national campaign on. We have to learn to throw trash in bins. Even bigger problem are the waste dumps. The government should do something about taking the trash out as frequently as possible and do something with dumps (burying it in safe places?).

Every time I drive from Osh to Nookat (and further to Batken), I pass by a huge dump, where all the garbage from Osh is dumped. Poor people have build small shacks on it. They work and live there with their kids, who dig the dump looking for scrap metal, food, clothes, and anything that can be sold.

It is the same along the road to Issykul and on the beaches. We have to change our habits.

Friday, September 07, 2007

#96: Kymyz And More

This post was inspired by a brilliant and witty piece about kymyz in the Modern Drunkard Magazine. Last week on the way to Osh, as always, we stopped in Suusamyr Valley to drink kymyz and buy couple of liters home. We stopped at a yurt with the best kymyz I've ever had.

This is what Jake Fleming wrote about kymyz: "Without question the world’s finest alcoholic dairy product, kymyz is a toothsome brew of fermented mare’s milk, and the intrepid inebriate who finds himself in these far reaches would be a fool not to embark on a kymyz-tasting tour."

As you drive due south through the tunnel in Töö-Ashuu Pass, the high altitude Suusamyr Valley opens up with flocks of sheep and goats, and horses grazing in hundreds here and here. (yaks are up higher in the mountains). As the fresh mountain air clears your head, you get the desire to absorb a part of it and take it with you. Kymyz is a sedative for me. I usually drink 2 bowls (1 liter) of kymyz to help me take the 10-hour drives easier and snooze off listening to music or chatter of co-travelers.

Like many Kyrgyz, I acquired the taste for kymyz while spending summers as a kid at my grandparents house in Iyrisuu, Özgön. My grandmother and aunts would milk couple of mares, smoke the goatskin duffel sack with mint, St. John's wort and other herbs, and ferment the milk in the sack to give a smoked and herbal taste to kymyz. After taking care of horses, cows, sheep, and turkeys, at noon we would run home to drink kymyz. Most of the time we would add talkan, cooked corn-flour, to it. It would become sort of a power drink, after which we would run back to to do more chores.

Unfortunately, my grandmother does not prepare kymyz any more as she is 78 now, and none of her daughters or daughter-in-law inherited the skill. Mostly because keeping horses became an expensive thing. The horse culture is slowly fazing out from Kyrgyz people's lives. Here is a picture of me showing off some horsemanship. Not that I am a great good rider, but at least trying to keep the nomad spirit alive in me. :)

Fleming finishes off his article with this: "So fill your flask, pack your bags, and book your ticket for Kyrgyzstan to sample this powerful testimony to humanity’s urge to intoxication." On that note, today we are getting together at Steinbrau to "mourn M's last days as bachelor."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

#95: Inflation

Despite the optimism, Bakiev's impromptu dance last week did not help the country to feel more secure. Inflation is running high, hitting the worse off the hardest. A loaf of bread, for instance, went up from 5 to 7 soms (a 40% increase!). September is expected to be the worst month in terms of inflation. A ride in a marshrutka, an imitation of public transportation caused by government negligence, will probably rise too from 5 to 7 soms. So much to Bakiev's increases of salary and pensions!

However, it is not something that is happening today or this month. The salary that I earned a few years ago does not worth as much today. Two years ago rent fee for a single-room (studio) apartment was $50, today it is $150. Construction material (brick, cement, slate, etc.) costs twice as much. A kilo of beef went up from 130-150 to 180-200 soms. (38soms=1USD).

It is a nightmare for people who are paying loans (home, business, whatever have you). I have a big loan on my apartment. It makes harder for me to plan my expenses in the long term. Daily expenses are eating up a bigger slice of my salary, leaving less and less to pay the bank. Property costs twice as much now. All in all, Bishkek is becoming a very expensive city to live in.

More ammunition to the opposition, as well as another excuse to beat prime minister Atamabaev and his team, if he has one, by Bakiev's people. More protests?

#94: Headache

Headache. I've been having this recurring headache, an unusual headache with increasing pain in the back of my head. I took half of the day off yesterday and went home to get some sleep. The source of the headache might be stress and as I tried to explain BP yesterday the feeling of uncertainty of the path we have chosen, sort of feeling being lost in time and space (routine?)

Finished Murakami's Kafka On The Shore. The hero of the book, a 15-year-old boy with identity problems of a typical adolescent, runs away from home, which becomes the rite of passage into adulthood. Simultaneously, a "not-so-bright" 50-something obliviously follows Kafka on his mission to "make the things as they should be." They never meet, though they fulfill their missions.

"Time weighs down on you like an old, ambiguous dream. You keep on moving, trying to slip through it. But even if you go to the ends of the earth, you won't be able to escape it. Still, you have to go there - to the edge of the world. There's something you can't do unless you get there"

Update on weddings: here is a picture of K carrying M at the wedding in Osh.
M&E's actual wedding is this Saturday. Should have pictures from there.

Monday, September 03, 2007

#93: More Weddings

The past 3-day weekend (August 31 is the Independence Day) was packed with important events. I was in Osh at K&M's wedding, while also joining MT for kyz uzatuu, a feast given by the bride's family to relatives, friends, and neighbors.

Early morning on Friday we hit the road to Osh (my hometown). I, as the best man, joined MT and his family on a 10-hour road trip from Bishkek to Osh to get his fiancée ET from her parents' home. Because MT is from the north and ET is from the south, his parents were worried about differences - it becomes even more sensitive because they are subtle - in traditions and rituals of approaching bride's parents and relatives and take her from the house she was brought up in to a house where she will spend the rest of her life. Despite all the worrying, none of that mattered because both families took everything much easier than expected.

As for the K&M's wedding, it was the biggest wedding that I've ever seen, not that I've seen many. It was pretty impressive. A lot of food and drinks. But I could enjoy none of that because of my diarrhea. All I needed was water to keep me going, but even that was a problem. The day we arrived in Osh, a major accident occurred leaving half of the town, including the part where we lived and had the wedding, without water for 3 days.

This reminds of one important thing that Kyrgyz people need to think about - toilets. Kyrgyzstan will never improve, if we don't learn to build nice toilets with water and to keep them clean and odorless. And it is not only public restrooms in cafes or parks, but also private ones. I have seen enormous houses that some families have build, but their their toilets are outside. Put extra money, please!

As for the Independence Day celebrations, whole Kyrgyzstan watched Bakiev's dancing on the central square in Bishkek. Lots of pictures here.

Update: This is K&M's wedding motorcade.