Saturday, September 25, 2010


So, this morning Peter went out for a run while I laid low since I've been feeling a little off today.  He returned, out of breath, exclaiming "They have potato samcis today!"  You see, every time we go to the fruit market we stop at a little vendor nearby and inquire "Camci z kartoskoye yest?"  "Are there potato samcis?"  It was at this stand, a few days into our adventure here, that we first tasted potato samcis.  Absolutely delicious.  But, we've not been able to get them there since. And potato samcis from other places simply aren't as good.

Anyway... so I sent him off with money to go and buy 3 potato samcis. He returned with the delicious goods, and even better, with a bouquet of flowers for me!  They are now the background of our blog.  Such beautiful flowers - at such a high cost (50 som - a little over a dollar).    What girl doesn't love to get flowers!  Now they sit cheerily adorning our coffee table.  All is well with the world.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ala Archa National Park

Well, we did make it to the mountains. We were fortunate enough to catch a ride with Sasha, the school librarian (also a trained physician), and her family on Sunday the 12th of September. Chris, another teacher, also came with us.

The road winds southward out of Bishkek and gains elevation for about 25km before it terminates in Ala Archa national park. The road ends at about 6800' (~2100m). We were greeted with sleet when we parked the car. At that point, you have no choice it seems but to hike further up in elevation, so we did. It snowed on us all afternoon, but never very hard. Although the clouds obscured the view of the towering canyon walls, we got a pretty good idea of just how pretty this place is. There are several options for hiking, so we'll be sure to come back as often as possible before the place is snowed in for the winter.

Katie's Note: Holy Shmoly, it was cold!  Poor little Anita, Sasha's daughter, cried nearly all the way up because her toes were so cold.  I understood her completely.  Yet, the thrill of being in the mountains offset the numbness in my feet!  She was much more content, as were all of us, on the way down when the sky lightened up and our toes and fingers warmed up.  It was super fun to get to know Sasha and Glenn.  We hope to do a lot of hiking and the like with them.

Take a look at the photos. It was a good day. It's always nice to be in the mountains.

 Yes, it was wet.  There's a saying, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment."  The weather was great.

The Ala Archa River
(Thank you blogger for making great pictures all blurry!)

From L-R, Chris, Katie, Sasha (with Anita), and Glenn (Sasha's husband).

The Ala Archa River.  One of two similarly confidence-inspiring bridges.

Again.  It really is purty.

Finally, a yurt.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

School Life

September 11th, 2010
Well, school has been in session now for 6 whole days and you might well ask, how is it going? In response we would say, “Great!” Upon probing deeper you would find that “Great!” means we are enjoying the school and our students and are also a bit overwhelmed! We've come to the noble conclusion, however, that we are here to teach, we don't have other obligations here and so it is okay if we arrive at school at 7:15 in the morning and leave at 5pm or later. And it is okay if we need to spend a few hours at the school on the weekend. It feels good to be able to pour ourselves into something and have the time and space to give it. Life seems simpler here, somehow.

My mom asked an interesting question this morning. She said, “Do you feel safe when you're at school on the weekends?” I had never stopped to consider it. You see, the school has an iron fence around it and a guard at it 24 hours a day. There is no need for us to have keys to anything. I suppose I feel safer there than I would at a school in the states on a weekend.

My students, I can't speak for Peter, are cute and very fun. It's a class of 12, 4 boys and 8 girls. One little girl only speaks German. She will be pulled out for Intensive English during reading and language arts. I am discovering that I thoroughly enjoy little kids. They are funny, and so full of energy! I've told Peter that in the morning, I love their enthusiasm, their eagerness to share about their lives and connect whatever we are learning about to a story in their own life. But by the afternoons, I am a wee bit weary and not so excited about their excitement! It is a very good thing then, that it is in the afternoons that the students go to a rotating schedule of “specials” - language, art, P.E. music, library. Their times out of the classroom (every day they have 1 special, some days they have 2) gives me a moment to regroup and get ready to teach technology, science or cultural studies to them.

The school day begins at 8:15am and ends at 3pm. This week after-school clubs are starting. Every teacher is supposed to come up with and implement one idea for a club. In reality, some teachers end up being helpers – there wouldn't be enough students for all the clubs otherwise. On Mondays, I will lead an “outdoor games” club for 5-6-7 year olds. We shall be running around like wild banshees.

Well, I must sign off for now. We are off to the mountains tomorrow (hopefully!) and need to prepare. We'll be wearing our warm gear and probably our rain jackets as precipitation is finally on the forecast.


September 11,2010

As in every country and every big city, there is need here. I walk by the older women at their sidewalk stands selling cigarettes or beautiful bouquets or tomotoes or magazines or books that have been unloaded from the back of the trunk for the day and I wonder, “How much money can they make?” I see the “pensioners” sitting on the steps to shops or out on the sidewalk itself, all hoping to make a few som that day. In a land without social security, this is what they must do. I don't know where they live, probably with their children.  Public employees (doctors, teachers, street sweepers) do not make a wage they can live on.  Their average pay is less than 60 dollars a month.  We have been told that those who are doctors and teachers must simply love what they do and have a spouse who can find higher paying employment. 

Peter and I went for a walk at dusk last night. We meandered through the park, full of families with children, dads with young babies, teenagers cuddling on the benches. And then we walked back on the main street, Sovietskaya and a young girl came up to us and said, “Pomaget mene” (help me). She could not have been older than 13, had a very ruddy face, unnaturally flushed she was. It was maybe the second or third time someone has actually asked for help. We brushed her off. But then we stopped and stood watching her. She was standing in front of a “supermarket” (not a Raley's or any such thing at all). Next to the supermarket was a fast food stand (not a McDonalds or anything of the like). She would go up to one person and then the next. No one saw her. Oh, one kind gentleman sprinkled her hand with a few som. But the rest, the fashionable young ladies walking in their high heels out of the store didn't see her, the well dressed men rushing in for something didn't see her, the people waiting at the fast food stand didn't see her. Alas! Is it not true anywhere, but particularly in big cities, that we do not choose to see those in need? Because if we saw them, we would have to stop and do something for them. But to be blind to them, even to scorn them, alleviates us from such inconveniences.

And so, having seen this girl, having noticed her flushed features and the way she put her hand to her forehead and her desperation, I mustered all the Russian I know and said, “Mozhna koopit eda?” (can I buy food?) to her. She assented gratefully and we went to the fast food stand. When I asked her how many samsi she wanted, she said, “moya brat tozhe” - my brother too. I wondered where her brother might be. And I wondered what she would do tomorrow and the next day and the next...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Independence Day!

Well, this blog post is for my niece, Piper. What do you do on 4th of July when you go to Massachusetts?

So, many people have long-standing traditions for the 4th of July. The independence day celebrations are as varied as they are colorful. Was it 234 years of independence being celebrated this summer? To top it all off, the USA is a fairly young country.

What if you celebrated only 19 years of independence just last week? In 1991, Kyrgyzstan became independent of the falling United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). They celebrate it on August 31st, to commemorate the day that the country officially voted to be independent of the USSR, and celebrate they do!

Katie and I took a walk through downtown Bishkek in the evening of the 31st. We had been warned not to be out later in the evening, but I suspect it would have been no different than Santa Cruz or any hoppin' place in the states on 4th of July. I think the only thing missing was Jack Martens' marching band(!) and, the Mountain Goat Run!

The main street through the center of the city is closed for this (and other events), and there were people everywhere.

Lots of families, lots of cotton candy, lots of ice cream (but no Mike Holmgren), lots of kids games (in the park), and a lot of people offering to take your picture next to an August 31st banner.

There were even doves you could put on your shoulder for the photos, or carriage rides!

There were large groups of people playing a game that looked a bit like circular shuffle board, but this version used the elbow bone of a goat! If I knew the name of the bone, I would also know the name of the game, but I don't.

In front of the main square was a person waving the Kyrgyz flag.

The fountains were all up and running.

The flowers were all beautifully blooming.

It was a grand time. We're glad we got to walk around. This is a beautiful city. (You should all come visit!)