Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's, uh... Cool!

So, the sanatorium didn't float our boat so much, but it sure was in a great location.  In fact, we didn't even have boat, so we'll never actually know.

We made arrangements with a local taxi driver to pick us up after breakfast at the hotel entrance.  It seems odd to pay someone to cart us to a hiking destination and pay for them to wait all day (or even a few hours) for us.  We have to remind ourselves that this is great money for him, and he seemed genuinely pleased at the thought of sleeping some of his day away.  For the record, the day cost us about $24.00, including about 45-55 minutes of travel each way.

I had talked with Victor (the amazingly knowledgeable, helpful and enthusiastic local hire who works exclusively with the secondary students and teachers) about places to hike near Cholpon-Ata/Bosteri.  He gave me the name of a beautiful valley just east of Bosteri.  Apparently, you can hike from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan in a couple of days when the snow is off of the pass.  We might have to look into this for next year.  Anyway, it's a place called Grigorievka valley (Coordinates of where we turned around: 42.834153,77.429323).

Now, I don't know a lot about parts of Colorado, but I couldn't help but think that this could be somewhere near Glenwood Springs.  It also had touches of Hwy 395 near Gardnerville, or even further south nearer the Mt. Dana area.  Though the trees rooted closer to the lake were still in full fall foliage fanfare, the deciduous among the trees in the valley had all but lost their summer coat.  It did not, however, detract from the beauty.

We hiked up this rather worn dirt road along a beautiful creek/river.  There were even times that we thought of our frequent trips to the Sierra Buttes and the beautiful creeks in that area.  On occasion, we found evidence of yurts.  We assume that these yurt sites are kept for summer-time tourist hosting in a campground-like setting.  You can see me standing in the middle of the yurt.

After hiking for about two hours, we found ourselves looking west-by-northwest, towards Kazakhstan and some towering peaks.  It should be noted that the weather was beautiful all day long.  A few clouds, an occasional breeze, and numerous transitions from rolled up sleeves with stowed jackets to being bundled up with gloves and hats. We sat on a small patch of dry ground and had a lunch of Clif Bars (Carrot Cake, and Cool Mint Chocolate, treats we brought with us from the states) and some tea cookies.

We needed to head back to our waiting and dozing taxi driver, so we headed back down the valley.  I'll leave you with a few parting shots...

Shortly before we reached the taxi, these guys answered the question I had been mulling over in my head for the whole day.  Things looked promising on this creek.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Welcome to The Kyrgyz Seaside Sanatorium

The Arrival

We began our day by congregating on a corner, awaiting the arrival of 3 other co-workers.  The  five of us piled into a right-hand drive Honda van and began the journey.  Out of the city, through various towns and villages for 2 hours we drove.  We stopped at a "rest stop" - not quite the same as the ones along I-5- for an early lunch.  Fantastic, delicious lagman was on the menu.  Back on the road again, we journeyed two and a half more hours until we reached The Kyrgyz Seaside Sanatorium.  

Through a gate, up the stone stairs, past the tallest rose bushes we've ever seen, through the glass doors.  BAM.  The smell of solvents and/or musty carpet was the first to greet us. It is clear that this place is operating at a fraction of its former glory.  Continuing through the indoor gardens to the reception desk...

After dancing on our heads to communicate, the receptionist and I finally had success.  Truth be told, I enjoyed being the only one in the group who could at least dance and gesture and speak well enough in Russian to be understood and serve as a interpreter for everyone else.   We found out that the group would eat lunch today and we were all assigned rooms 611,610,609 (our room), 608.

My thoughts:
"What?  No. We have great co-workers and they are quickly becoming our friends....but please...I'd rather not have a room in the midst of them.  Something already tells me that this place is not bursting at the seams, please, lady, put us in a different room.  But how does one ask that in Russian?  Oh well, we must make the best of the situation."

Off we go to our respective rooms.  Peter and I enter only to see two single beds.  Groan.  Down we go, (after I frantically looked through my russian notes for the word "bed" with no luck) back to the receptionist.  With some more dancing, gesturing and befuddled Russian words,  she gives a room with 1 "bolshoeye"(big) bed, and it is a few doors down the hall from the others.  Well, success there.  Back up to our new room, we enter, unload and ponder.  Hotel rooms are lonely places and ones from the Soviet era are worse.  Our souls begin to tremble.

Down we go to lunch where we are seated all at the same table as our co-workers.  And a very Soviet, very institutional, lunch stared us in the face.  Gulp.  Mashed potatoes swimming in butter, a carrot/cabbage salad, who knows what kind of meat.  More food than we needed and none that we would choose.  The panic began to rise.

Other friends from school had come to this place a couple of days previous.  At the end of lunch Chris came over to tell us the scoop.  The hackles rose on the back of my neck, the fight or flight reflex kicked in and all I could think was "Flee!  Flee from the doctor who would poke and prod you.  Flee from the mineral baths that await you! Flee from the shower and fire hose experience!  Flee from the naked massages!  Flee from the mysterious "rock room" and aromatherapy!  Flee from mud and electricity!  Flee from walking around with prescriptions in your hands for all these things! Flee from, oh gosh, flee from paying extra for colon cleansing!  FLEE!!!  Get out!  Leave now!"

Peter, I do believe, was feeling the same panic as I.  And so we fled.  Directly.  As soon as it was appropriate to leave the lunch table, we took our coats and sprinted (basically) outside.  We were more homesick in that moment than we have been all fall.  We felt stranded, in a place that we didn't pick out because we couldn't, eating food we weren't thrilled about, far away from a town, using a language we couldn't communicate in, with the option of paying extra for things that made us want to run away.  We would not be partaking in any of the aforementioned treatments.

A long walk through run-down sport courts and a track that has been reduced to a single-track through the weeds took us to the lake, and what a lake it is.  About 350 miles of shoreline, sitting at almost exactly a mile above sea level, and surrounded by hulking mountains.  This was all the therapy we needed.  A nice relaxing walk along the beautiful beach restored our spirits greatly.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.  Maybe we would be able to get out of there with our lives and our sanity intact.  (This raises the question as to why it's called a sanitorium...  do they suck one's sanity, or refresh it?  I guess it depends on one's perspective.)
(A new friend always brings great joy... this guy did not disappoint)

Back in the hotel, we immediately went to the receptionist and arranged for a taxi to come and get us the next morning and take us to Gregorskoyie valley where we would be able to hike the day away.  It wasn't all bad.  We watched the sunset from our room.

More to come...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Chirp in the Night

Time:  10pm
Day: Wednesday, October 20th
Place: 7th floor apartment, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Peter and I were reading in bed, about to turn off the light when our doorbell chirped.  Who could it be and what now?  More pipe issues...?  We looked out of the peephole and couldn't really see anyone at first.  We opened the door, and there was a woman standing outside our blue gate in short sleeves, no shoes, with straggly hair and a deep look of need.  She asked us for bread or something to eat.  Being short of bread (a sure sign in this culture that one is poor - only the poor don't have bread in the house at all times), we gave her some tea crackers.  She was very grateful.  Saddened, we shut the door and left her to her fate on blustery night with skies that were pouring down rain.

We crawled back in bed and wondered what else we could have done.  We prayed for her.  And then the doorbell chirped again.  We didn't answer it.  What could we do?  Open the door, let her in?  Give her a warm place to stay for the night?  Feed her?  Yes, we could have done all of that.  But yet we couldn't.  Maybe we should have.  As Christ-followers, it is very likely that we should have.  Instead, Peter held me as I cried for all the need in the world and we listened to the doorbell chirp and chirp and chirp.  Where would she go on a night like tonight?  Why, oh why, couldn't it be as simple as helping this one lady?  If we opened the door to her... would she steal from us?  Can you invite danger into your home for Christ's sake?  Or is one's home meant to be a safe haven, a place set apart?  What would happen if we opened the door....she would be sure to tell all her friends tomorrow.  And then what?  Besides, we can't give her all that she needs, the issues in her life run so deep.  Why can't life be simple?  And then there's the whole idea that maybe, probably, this woman's bad decisions have led her to be where she is.  But, when a fellow human being is in such desperate need, such a dire situation, does it really matter how he or she arrived there?  I yearned for a nice, safe homeless shelter somewhere near by that we could take her to.  Nameless, almost faceless, I wonder how she is treated on the streets, by the others whose doorbells she has rung.

The doorbell stopped chirping.  We went to sleep.  Restlessly. 

This morning, she was still vivid in my mind.  When we opened the door to go to work, my nose alerted me of her continued presence before my eyes did.  She was curled up outside the blue gate, sleeping on an old doormat of our neighbor's.  How could we let a fellow human being sleep not twenty feet away from us on the cold, hard concrete while we slept, well fed, in our warm beds?  What were we to do?

Items learned throughout the day:  There are no homeless shelters in Bishkek.  Well, the locals here say yes, there are - but when asked about them further, it becomes apparent that those shelters are for children or for old people.

It is common for the homeless to wander up and down apartment buildings, ringing doorbells.  If they know you'll give them something, they come back.  (Who wouldn't?).  People ignore them.

Again, we ask ourselves, what were we to do?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Pipe Story

          Some people have pipe dreams, we seem to have pipe stories.  Three weeks ago, on a Wednesday evening, suddenly our kitchen sink and our bathroom sink refused to drain.  They share the same pipes.  They had been draining slowly for a little while and then they were clogged.  The next evening we tried "Mr. Muscle", poured it down, hoped for the best - but alas, no change.  Back we went to our school secretary/administrator's assistant - Anna.  Anna, help!  (It is bizarre to have someone at work also be the one who is in charge of your living situation.  We are ever grateful for Anna!).  Anna called the landlady and plumbers were to come at 4pm. Peter left school early to be there.  They came at 5pm and had to take apart our "toilet" bathroom to get to the piping.  Anyway, after clearing out some nasty looking and smelling plaster- like stuff that perhaps is in the water here, and leaving behind a gross floor and the odor of Russian men, they left and our sinks have worked beautifully since.

Fast forward 3 weeks and here I sit.  I am on "apartment duty" - waiting for the arrival of the plumbers.  It's 3:33, and they were to come at 2:30 - so I had to leave school super early.  Not that I mind...

Why do we need them again? You might ask.  Well, let me tell you a little tale.  The night before last, I had a stressful dream, woke up at 4 am and for the first time ever, felt like I was in a strange country and it was not exactly where I wanted to be.  I awoke in the morning, not thoroughly refreshed.  Then, at 6:35am our doorbell chirped (It really does chirp!)  What in the world?  There was a man standing outside our little blue gate, speaking fervently in Russian to us.  Here was my thought process, "Not now!  It's too early for Russian!  What does this man want?  I keep hearing the word bathroom and he is making the motions for a shower.  Does he want to take a shower here?  No way.  No, but he is nicely dressed, not drunk.  Maybe he wants to know if our water works.  Yes, yes it does.  What is his issue?  I don't want to let him into our apartment...but...what else is there to do?"  So we let him in, he went into our "shower" bathroom and looked avidly for water.  Not  a spot anywhere.  By now we understood that there is water leaking into his apartment below us.  Well, he left and we assumed that maybe the problem belonged to our neighbor.  We hoped this to be the case.

But alas, this was not so.  This morning at 6:40am, our doorbell chirped again.  This time there was a woman outside the blue gate.  Perhaps the man could sense my paranoia.  I would much rather talk to and let a woman into our apartment.  She was asking us for a telephone number.  She said that water continues to pour into their apartment.  Well, I don't know if she said pour or seep or trickle or what...  She spoke to us slowly and carefully :)  So, we gave her our home telephone number, though we wondered what go that would do.  Then she asked if she could call it, she did.  It rang and we all could hear it.  She said, "Niet, niet,...blahblah blah" - finally we gathered that she wanted our landlady's number.  I eeked out "We don't have" (forgot to say "it") and said that the school has it.  After realizing what I meant, she rang the doorbell of our neighbors... the woman who answered it was not very thrilled. The number was given and Peter and I went off to school.
And now, here I sit... waiting ....waiting...waiting and enjoying every minute of it.  I have preemptively opened the windows.

Oops... just got a call from Anna...  the plumbers are coming but have had car problems.  I am to wait a few more minutes.

UPDATE:  Logistical:  It's not our problem!   Here's what happened: The (they didn't have any tools) came at 5pm.  They were completely perplexed as our bathroom is stone dry.  They called our landlady, who arrived shortly. After much discussion and debating , they called the downstairs neighbor.  Once the husband got home, the two plumbers went downstairs while we ran water.  Nothing.  And so, everyone came back upstairs to debate some more.  The outcome?  Well, it's probably coming from somewhere else in the building.

           Experiential update:  I listened to and understood snippets of Russian all afternoon!  I also made pathetic attempts to make myself understood and had a little bit of success!  For example, I asked Plumber number 1 how many children he has.  After that he promptly asked me how many I have.  I said none. And then he asked why?  He jokingly asked if my husband and I sleep in separate rooms. Oh my goodness.  But then he indicated that we probably work too much and don't have time for a baby.  

While we were waiting for the husband downstairs to get home, I offered them chai or voda (tea or water) and the men had chai and tea cookies.  And we all shared in conversations!  After the pipe issue was resolved, the men stayed to finish their tea and we continued our "conversations" (consisting of Russian/English words and many, many hand motions).  It ended with us obtaining an invitation to Plumber number 1's house to meet his wife (who would probably tell me to have children too!).   A very fun afternoon.  If I could only be surrounded by only Russian speakers more often...  I hope we need more pipe work done soon!  (Well, not really).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Canyon Lands - Kyrgyz Style

We were fortunate enough to get out of the city last weekend and do some hiking.  It was a much appreciated chance to enjoy some new scenery and stretch our legs.  (We walk plenty in the city, but its different to go for a hike than it is to go for groceries or, say, a potato samci.)

This particular outing was organized by Sasha, the school librarian/physician, who you've all met before.  She was the one carrying her little Anita around in a snow storm back in September.  About a dozen of us school staff (local and foreigners alike, some with their kids and spouses) met at 8:00 to depart.  We started hiking after a drive that reminded me more of 395 than anything else I can come up with.  Different, and much more populated than 395, but similar nonetheless.

Arriving at the trailhead (a small dirt road off of the side of A365), we started hiking at 11:00.  We wandered up a small drainage which turned into a short slot-canyon.  This is flash-flood country, and the sediment wash patterns were there to prove it.

After a while hiking up the wash/slot, the canyon opened up to some very cool formations.  We all traipsed around and took in the sights.  Eventually, we ended up near the top, over-looking the canyon we'd come up.  A quick look at Google Earth (coords. 42.599377,75.797124) will let you know that there are many canyons just like the one we were in if you keep hiking west.  We only saw one and part of another.  All told, it was a splendid day.

After we returned to the van/bus (vus?, ban?), it was determined that we should all go to see the Burana Tower.  We're glad we did.  It was pretty cool.  Built about 1200 years ago in the city of Balasagun, it is now a historical site.  The legend is that a king was warned that his daughter would die at 18 years old.  He stuck her in the tower to protect her, but she died at 18 when some of her food was contaminated.  The pictures are level, but the tower is not (any more at least).  Apparently it used to be taller.  It's pretty sweet, and I'll be honest, I was pleased with the light that was striking the tower when we were there.  It was after hours, so we couldn't go to the top.  Someday, maybe someday.

Hope all is well, and see you later.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Starbucks in Kyrgyzstan?

Well...  no.

Katie and I had been out and about and saw what we thought was a small Strabucks stand.  Now, Starbucks is fine with me, but I don't make any point to seek them out.  This, however, might have changed that on the rare occasion that I would want to go get some coffee.  Most of the coffee here is of the Nescafe instant crystal variety.

This morning I set out to investigate closer.  Approaching the stand and inspecting it led me to the conclusion that this wasn't a real Starbucks.  I ordered a mocha.  The nice "barista" asked if I wanted a starbucks mocha.  I replied in the affirmative.  What I got was a very watery mixture of steamed milk, espresso (very watery espresso) and some chocolate-like flavor.  My guess is that it was Nutella, based solely on the faint hazelnut flavor.  Was it terrible?  No.  But it sure wasn't a good cup-o-drink.  I'll keep looking if I want to find a place to buy good espresso drinks.

My guess is that some enterprising person thought they would take advantage of the Starbucks name by placing it on an espresso stand.  I'm thinking that the word starbucks here is something like "kleenex" in the states.  When the young barista asked me if I wanted a starbucks mocha, she was asking if I wanted it made with espresso.  So, starbucks = espresso.  Duly noted.

On another note, last weekend the political parties here had a lottery to determine the order in which they are listed on the ballot next Sunday (10th October).  I'm not sure, but I think that the Ata Myekyen party got #11.  Anyone confirm this for me?  Oh, I found this small campaign banner to clear up the issue...

Note: I am not the only one in the picture... there are two people on the bench.