Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our home in pictures...

So, you've probably read about how beautiful our place is on the inside.  It really is.  Facebook got the photos first, but we'll put some up here too.  Starting inside, we have our living room, bedroom, kitchen, and both bathroom spaces.  As you can see, it's a pretty sweet pad.
And now, for a something a bit different...  The mountains came out in force the last couple of days.  At sunset, they get some nice light on them, and I got my long lens out.  The trained eye can see that they got a dusting of snow earlier in the day... it looked like there had been some serious thunderstorms that way, and the light dusting was gone the next day.  This is what we have to admire when its clear:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Our view...

Although you don't see these mountains everyday (thank you dirty air!), this is the view looking south from our apartment.  Our windows open East and West, but if you look out at an angle or hang your head out, this is what you see.  The Tien-Shan mountains - translated: the Celestial Mountains.

Oddly, when we look to see the mountains, we naturally look too low.  These guys are over 16,000' tall, and Bishkek is only about 2,500' above sea level.  Though more distant, these mountains loom tall like the sierra crest as seen from 395 near Lone Pine or Big Pine.


Sunday August 22nd.

Hot water: So, we've learned a thing or two about the hot water situation. Apparently our “hot water booster” is not so much a booster at all. The buildings have central hot water. Some have indicated that the city provides this hot water to everyone (it does provide steam heat to everyone in the winter, so this is a possibility) but I'll have to confirm that. Anyway, the hot water is available for 11 months out of the year, and many people have these small water heaters to use when the city/central water is not provided hot. In our case, the central hot water is very much there for us, but we're not used to it taking so long to arrive at the tap. Perhaps we're the first one's using it in the morning and it has to come down the block and up 6 floors, hence the long wait.

Katie and I went to church this morning. It was great. It's a small-ish church filled with people from all over the world. A nice lady from Japan saw us looking for the church and quickly said, “Are you going to the church?” We responded “yes” and she quickly engaged us in conversation and told us she'd show us the way. We met a very energetic lady from Australia (Melbourne) who's a teacher here at a different school (Hope Academy). Very cool people, and it'll be fun to get to know more of them.

Katie's Note:  Church this morning was an emotional experience for me.  There is something so amazing, so sweet about worshipping the same God with people from all over the world.  They have felt His goodness, just like I have, despite our different cultures and journeys.

After church we met up with Cate, a new teacher at our school, for lunch and to see some sights. She had quite the trip to get here. She came from northern MN, and ended up spending the night in Chicago due to weather, and another night in Istanbul, Turkey, due to pretty standard airline travel issues. She's here alone for the time being, but her husband will be flying over in a month or two. Later in the afternoon, we briefly met Chris and Claire Wauters, another new teaching couple at our school. They were thoroughly jet-lagged and we felt kinda bad disrupting them. We'll get to have proper first-meetings in due course, I'm sure.

Anyway, Katie and I finished our strawberries this afternoon, then had some of the leftover pasta and chicken and veggies. Very delicious. I think we'll head out in a bit for some ice cream and to pick up some apricots.

We are walking so much! It's going to take some getting used to, but that'll be great. The weather is supposed to change tomorrow. It was near 100 today, and it is only supposed to be 75 tomorrow, with some showers. I'm hoping it'll knock down some of the terrible air pollution. I have been developing a bit of a sore throat in the evenings, I believe, due to the bad air. I also hope to get my first good look at those amazingly beautiful mountains. Again, in due course, I'm sure.

Friday evening and Saturday

Friday evening, August 20th

Katie and I had Jerry over for dinner. We had pasta with veggies and chicken. The olive oil and balsamic vinegar did the perfect trick on the eggplant and tomatoes. Super delicious. Jerry has spent about 35 years in various overseas administrative positions, mostly through the state department. As a result, he's a veritable treasure trove of great stories. It was very nice to have hosted something at our new place. Katie mentioned that it kinda solidifies it as our home now that we've had a visitor!

Saturday, August 21st

For the first time, Peter and I slept through the night last night! Yeah! Our bedtimes are still uncharacteristically early – by 8:35 last night we could hardly keep our eyes open and by 9:00 we were both out. I am finding that waking up naturally at 6 in the morning is not so bad after all. I wonder how long that will last. The city is sleepy and quiet in the mornings. Nothing is very busy until after 8:30am.

We watched some Russian cartoons, it was Saturday morning afterall. Peter had another battle with his nemesis, the unreliable hot water issue. He lost. We simply can't figure it out and think that when we plug in and open the valves on our hot water “booster”, that if someone else in the building runs their hot water, that somehow the water in our little tank goes to them. I'm all about sharing...but...

Besides the hot water issue, the successes of the morning have included: Successfully communicating with the lady who was selling corn, eggplant, tomatoes, fresh milk, green peppers and water in the communal area of our apartment complex. We understood the numbers and how much everything cost. we got: 4 tomatoes, 3 ears of corn, 1 eggplant and 1 pepper for 21 som ($0.47). Crazy cheap.

Having run back up and then down the 7 flights of stairs to put the food away, we went out for a stroll. It turned out to be a very productive one. We bought: A new blue table cloth with flowers on it, a lamp for one of our bedside tables, two potted plants to put outside our window, and one samsi (Ϲамсы) (a delicious pastry, this one filled with potatoes, onion, and some great spices). We will go get another one or two of those for lunch. Oh and let us not forget to mention the Kiwi ice cream we got for 30 cents. The language is flowing a little better in my head today, or perhaps people are being kinder to us. The food lady only said the words we needed to know – the numbers. The potted plant seller quickly wrote down the price for us and the lamp guy held up his fingers to show it cost 500 som ($11).

Peter's Note: There really should be more purple cars in the states. Do you remember how Mercedes commonly painted cars in a two-tone using similar colors in the mid-'90s? You know, the top half of the car would be teal, and the lower half of the car would be dark teal, or the car would be white with a gray color below the waist? Well, imagine that with an eggplant-ish metallic up top and a slightly lighter metallic purple down below. I'm not a big Mercedes guy, but give me a purple E-class wagon, and I'd be fine with that. Also, there's an eggplant-colored e34 touring that parks out in front of the apartment. Very cool. I did see my first Saab in the evening on Thursday. It was a '91-'92 9000 Turbo, Edwardian Gray. So far, I've seen three e30 tourings. (I realize that if you don't know what I just wrote, then you wouldn't probably care to know anyway! I'm sure I'll be posting or emailing pictures of some of these fun finds for those who do care.)

Also, touch-operated lamps should not have gone out of style in the '90s either. We bought a lamp for our bedroom this morning. Of course, as we've found to be the case with many items, the shop owner quickly plugged the lamp in to show us that it works (thank you – spah-si-bah – “Ϲпасиба”) and we then learned that it's a three-brightness-setting touch-operated lamp. RAD! Tap it anywhere on the body of the lamp three times to make it all-the-way-bright!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Beginnings of Life in Bishkek - Day 3

20 August, 2010

I didn't sleep too well last night. I had no problem getting to sleep, but Katie and I both woke up at about 3:00, and she was able to get some sleep after that. I know I got about an hour of sleep after 4:30, but woke up at 5:30 and didn't go back to sleep. I once again checked to make sure the entire apartment was still there. It was. I tried to go to sleep, but it wasn't going to happen. Oh well.

Katie and I went for our first run in Bishkek this morning. We've decided that running in the afternoon would be silly since the air is so dirty that time of day, so we suited up and left the apartment at about 8:15. We ran west for about two blocks, then ran north through a park that takes us all the way to the big open squares and larger city parks right in the heart of downtown. Much to our satisfaction, we saw one local guy running, and once we were in the big monument parks, we saw an older lady enthusiastically slow-jogging around Carl Marx's statue. That made us feel okay with our behavior. The traffic wasn't too bad at that time of the morning, so the few street crossings we had were pretty easy. I think we ran about 3.5 miles (really, that's 5.7km around here!)

Katie's Note: Success! Since the moment we signed up to go abroad I've been wondering...will I be able to run there? In a big city? So, I'm elated to know that it is possible and we won't be standing on street corners waiting for traffic lights all the time.

On another note, we've unplugged our water heater and the water continues to be hot. Go figure. Guess we'll save money on utilities this way!

Beta Stores – the big western-style store here in Bishkek. Over the last couple of days, we've been making a list of things we'd like to pick up for the apartment: fan, pitcher, cutting board, skillet, a few plastic storage containers (perhaps we'll be invited to a Tupperware party soon, but one never knows with those, so we pre-empted it), etc. Also, we knew we wanted a few more food items to have on hand. Jerry Craig offered to take us to the store, which was great. We were able to get all of the items we set out to find, and we got some good food stuffs as well. Balsamic vinegar, olive oil (EV), vegetable oil, fresh bread (very good French bread-style loaf), Nestle Quick, an eggplant for 0.83 c ($0.02), mozzarella cheese, some marinade/spice mixes, and some more juice. Jerry dropped us off at our place and we had fresh bread, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and balsamic vinegar for lunch.

Katie's Note: Okay, so it really is no fun shopping and not knowing what you are buying and not knowing how to find a good deal or not. And it's not fun trying to pay, seeing 862 som on the registar, handing the lady 200s up to 800 and then realizing that you missed seeing the 4 in front of the 862 and then feeling flustered because you can't find the bills in your wallet. Silly American! I was exhausted after this endeavor and a bit disheartened. So it goes... I need a Russian tutor!

The Beginnings of Life in Bishkek - Day 2

Thursday, 19 August

So, by 9:00 last night we were sufficiently exhausted and went to bed. Our bed is about the size of a queen, but it's perhaps two inches wider, and it might be a couple of inches shorter. We both were awake at about 12:30am, but after a drink of water and a quick walk around the apartment (gotta make sure it's still all there, right?), we were both able to sleep until sometime after 5:00am. Well, that felt good.

For breakfast, a bowl of cereal with corn flakes and a few of the sugary-centered cereal bites that were here already, as well as some of the 100% peach juice we purchased yesterday. Peach juice is fantastic, and juice boxes should come back in style in the states. It's like being a kid, without the clumsy straw antics that go with those little boxes.

We went for a nice long walk through downtown Bishkek after breakfast. There are some amazing parks and monuments here. It really does feel like a nation's capital, as it should. A few things to watch for though as your out on the street are the cars and the sidewalk itself. Traffic is reminiscent of Central America, where right of way goes to the car attached to the bumper that got there first. Crossing streets is a pay-full-attention endeavor. Street lights are (interestingly?) mounted on the left side of the road, even though traffic travels on the right. So far, it looks like burnt out traffic signals are common. The second thing to pay attention to... the sidewalk. There are dips, bumps, small sink-holes, you-name-its to watch out for. Almost lost Katie on a couple of occasions.

A teacher from the school who had contacted me prior to our departure from the states, offering to be of help when we arrived, by the name of Wes offered to meet us and show us the sights. It turned into a look through some of the stores, a great ongoing discussion on local culture (he's lived in Bishkek for a year but also lived in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan for two years ('99-'01) with the Peace Corps, and is fluent in Russian), and eventually a great dinner out at one of his favorite restaurants. We ate in a traditional Kyrgyz “booth” (you remove your shoes, sit on a raised bed-like structure, and the table is about 18” above that sitting surface) and shared a fantastic beef and noodle dish, the name of which escapes me right now, fresh tomato and cucumber, and beef and chicken shashlik (Щащяік), which are really quite like kabobs.

Katie's note: For the first time this evening, we had someone serving as a bridge into the culture. The bizarre reality before that was that we could observe all we wanted, but couldn't interact with the people here. It is very strange for me to be in a place where it is not my “job” to get to know the culture and seek out an understanding of the needs of the people. We are here to teach rich kids and we will be able to stay as sheltered from the culture as we choose to be. We don't have a Kyrgz national guiding us around the city, teaching us Russian or the cultural ways. Last night, through Wes, we had that for a moment. I learned how to say “Thanks a ton”, that it's a sin to throw out bread in this culture and at the end of a meal you say “amen” and make a gesture of prayer. Oh, and the great thing about hanging out with Wes... I could understand much more of his Russian!

The Beginnings of Life in Bishkek- Arrival Day

Well, 3 connecting flights, 2 snickers bars, 2 cliff bars, 6 stew dinners later, one unexpected cup of tomato juice (sounds like apple juice to the Russian ear apparently) and 28 hours later, our plane touched down on Kyrgz soil. Some returning Kyrgz clapped when the landing gear hit the ground, others clapped when the plane actually stopped. Hmm... Seriously, Aeroflot was a great airline. The Airbus A330 over Greenland was very well equipped and the crew was great. Likewise for the flight to Bishkek.

We entered the cleanest, brightest, bluest and most well-tiled airport we have ever seen, this impression surely aided by the amazingly ugly and stiflingly hot and smoky Moscow airport. We have heard about the smoke in Moscow, but the “Winston” smoking stations inside the airport left little room for smoke from wildfires. Apparently all you have to do is stand near the “Winston” sign to light up. Hmmm... maybe duty-free cigarettes burn faster or something? Okay, back to Bishkek. With little trouble we navigated the visa process. Then out we went to collect our bags. It was the only 5 minutes of the trip when the two of us had to haul all four duffles, the rolling carry-on and the red backpack alone. Not too shabby, eh? Then there, outside of the baggage area was Jerry, the school's director and his driver Zair. Jerry very quickly reminded us of Ken, Peter's dad – knowledgeable, experienced, holistic in his approach to employees and friendly. Into a white Land Rover Discovery we went, full to the top with baggage and equipped with both a diesel engine, a manual transmission and a snorkel. Perhaps we didn't need to bring quite so much!

Within a half hour we arrived at our apartment, a drab Soviet style building. After unloading and hauling the bags up a short flight of stairs, we come upon our first security system. A door with a code – three numbers that must be pushed all at once. Zair did that for us. We have no idea if we can do it ourselves. Then into a small entry way with an even smaller elevator. It looked a little questionable and we wondered about this place we would be living in. Two different trips by the elevator got us all up to the 7th floor where we encountered our second security measure – a blue gate with a lock behind which were two apartments. Finally, after some finagling with the door lock of our apartment we were inside.

I was overwhelmed by excitement and relief. Here was a place where we could live, in fact a place I've(Katie) always wanted to live since my first trip to Ukraine. The Soviets may have tried to stifle creativity for economy, but people continued to create beauty in their living spaces. Tall ceilings, open spaces, hardwood floors with beautiful area rugs, solid and engraved wood doors, granite window sills with windows offering a view of the city (and the mountains, if it were clear), big rooms, airy kitchen, and two bathroom spaces – one with a toilet and a sink and one with a bathtub/shower and a sink, oh and solid wood furniture to serve as closets, hutches and the like. It will fit us well.

Jerry left us to our own devices after making sure we had working cell phones with his and everybody else's number. Peter studied the map of Bishkek while I began creating chaos by unloading the luggage. Then the two of us dived into the madness and found a home for everything.

What, you may ask, has been the hardest part of our journey so far? Simple: Getting up from our two hour nap on Wednesday afternoon. It felt like, and was to our bodies, three in the morning.

Items of interest: The washing machine is tiny and probably a luxury around here.

We don't know how the hot water heater works, but after fiddling with the knobs on and off for a couple of hours, finally giving up and deciding to take a cold shower, the water turned from cold to hot!

Stocked in our fridge is a whole roasted chicken and, in the chicken bag, a tortilla that is the size of 2 ½ frisbees. I tore apart the chicken to make ourselves some lunch. A small bag of whole milk was also in the fridge.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pre-Kyrgyzstan Contemplations

In the beginning...

Your mind swirling around the contemplative, conspiratorial conversations you have just had as you walked the Gracie ditch with a woman who, while she was never your teacher, she helped imbue the English department at your high school with such a passion for literature that it propelled you into an English Education major.  She also served you as an ever-faithful, ever-lighthearted, ever wise BTSA mentor during your brief stay as a teacher at your alma mater.
You pull into the Washington Mutual (...Chase…) parking lot and deposit a check you have received for working with two home hospital students, one – a girl whose dad has worked closely with your mom for years, the other who had a good family friend for math in 8th grade and whose current English teacher was once, no twice, your high school English teacher.  You deposit the check and are walking back to the car when a man in a fellow Subaru drives by and waves at you.  You wave back even though you have no idea who he is.  But you probably should know…maybe he was your fifth grade teacher, maybe he knows your mom, or your in-laws- or your brothers – or you brother-in-laws or any of the families that come along with all those people. 

You drive to Grocery Outlet.  In the produce aisle you are stopped by a kid (…a young man…since when did people in their early 20s become kids?).  He says, “Did you used to teach at Bear River?”  You’ve never seen this kid in your life.  You say yes and thus begins a conversation about how seniority works within a school system and the dire straits of American education at the moment.  You go out on a limb and say, “I never had you…right?”  He says no, but maybe you know his younger brother.  You say yes, you do know him.  When really you don’t, but the last name is so familiar that first reaction is that he must have been your student.  But no, his mom was your 7th grade health and P.E. teacher who had to go out on maternity leave the year you were in her class – probably to have this kid’s younger brother, the one who you just claimed to know.

As you walk out of Grocery Outlet, you wave to someone driving by -Margaret, an older lady who sometimes subs at Nevada Union.  And then you get in your car and drive to your current abode, which is owned by your brother-in-law’s boss. 

Ahh… you have been rooted deep in the soil of this community for many moons now, but these are new tendrils – wispy and reaching they are curling out, stretching between you and every being in this place, binding and bringing new life.

                                                                      And you wonder about leaving...