Sunday, February 27, 2011


Well, we didn't make it to church today and here is our story.

We left the apartment at 10am, scurried down to the bus stop across the street to wait for bus number 8.  We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited.  It is always interesting to observe the fluidity of a bus stop,  people and buses and marshukas coming and going, a constant flow of many streams.  But this morning it was cold.  And the wait was long.  And it was cold.  When we'd been there about 25 minutes and our toes were growing numb, we decided to walk up to the corner where the sun was.  We would still be able to see oncoming buses and it would get the blood moving. 

Well, we walked up to the corner and pretty much straight up to a policeman who had been standing there for a little while.  This man hadn't bothered us when we were at the bus stop about 20 feet away, but when we walked up to him, we were fair game. 

First he asked Peter for his passport.  (We carry a copy of our passport and work visa around with us.  We've been advised that its safer to leave the originals at home).  Peter gave him his copy.  He looks at it and asks him, "rabotaesh?  Gde zshvesh?"  (Do you work?  Where do you live?).  Peter looks at me for translation and all I do is shake my head and say, "Play dumb".  So we just stared blankly at the officer.  Then he asked for my passport.  I gave him my copy.  He looked at it and looked at it.  He said, "Tourist?"  "No, we work."  I replied.  "Where work?"  I pointed in the general direction. 

Next to us, another policeman stopped two Russian looking young adults and asked for their documents.  The guys said they are at home.  Next thing we know, Peter and I are following our officer as he walks down a quieter street.  Behind us the other officer is leading the other two.  Hmm... what will happen next? Now we will miss the bus for sure.  And in fact, I turn and see number 8 go by....alas, alas, alas!

I see one of the Russian guys head off by himself, ahead of us and then across the street.  He returns a little while later and gives his policeman a pack of cigarettes.  All three men shake hands, and the the two Russians are free to leave.

We, on the other hand, are standing near our policeman's car.  He's pulled out some paperwork from the car.  He still has the copies of our passports.  He is asking to see the original passports.  We decide it is time to call up our dear, beloved, life-saver Anna from the school who does everything for us. 
Peter: "Anna, can you speak to these policemen who have the copies of our passports?"
Anna:  "Yeah, sure!"
-------------Conversation with Anna and the policeman-----------

As the policemen discuss the phone call, we catch that Anna must have told them that our original passports are at the Kazakhstan embassy awaiting visas to Kazakhstan.  Not true- but quite probable.  The men stand there.  We stand there.  My toes are even colder.  One guy says, "chai budesh?"  Will you give us tea?  "Coffee budesh?"  How about coffee?  We play oh so dumb.  "Coke budesh?"  We stare at him blankly.  Finally, he pulls out our passport copies from his pocket.  Peter motions towards them and says, "Eta harasho?"  "This good?"  I chuckle inside.  The guy gives them back and we say goodbye.

Alas, our fingers, our toes, our innards were too cold to warrant waiting another 25 minutes for another bus (needless to say church would've been almost over) and a very disappointed Katie walked home, her chance to worship in another language, and her one language-learning opportunity a week gone because of some policemen who wanted tea.  Such is life.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Visit

(Note:  We meant to post this on Saturday).

Yesterday, Elnura, my right hand in the classroom, said, "Ms. Katie, are you and Mr. Peter busy tomorrow night?  We would like to invite you to our house."  A very fun, surprise invitation!

So today, Peter and I did our usually Saturday gig - got up, went for a run, and went to school.  Only today we went to school at 1pm instead of 11am so that we could go straight to Elnura's house at 4pm.  (Someday we hope not to need to go in on Saturdays...maybe next year...).  Before catching a taxi at the corner, we made the necessary Narodini stop (Narodinis are a store chain) to pick up a cake.  If we had been thoroughly culturally sensitive we would've brought vodka or champagne too.  We grabbed a taxi.  Taking a taxi still makes me nervous as it requires more language skills than a bus or marshruka, but I am getting better at it.

Anyway, we arrived at Elnura's house and found a table FULL of a variety of salads, fruit, dried fruit and bread.  Elnua and her husband and their two boys live in the house of Nurbek (Elnura's husband)'s mom.  In the Kyrgz culture the youngest son and his wife live with the son's parents.  They take care of them in their old age.  The daughter-in-law carries the majority of this responsibility by cooking for her in-laws, cleaning the house, etc...  Apparently there are traditional ways to serve your in-laws food and greet them.  You must always show the utmost respect towards them.  I believe there are variations when it comes to how in-laws treat the daughter-in-law, but Elnura has never been given a present by her mother-in-law (imagine all the stuff Peter and I wouldn't have!)  In this culture, people are always, always taken care of as they grow old.  I've been told it is good to have children young so that you might be able to live a carefree life sooner.  It is a different mentality than what we are used to!

But I digress.  Back to the salads.  Well, we don't actually know what was in them but here is a guess.  Salad #1 had some sort of meat (similar to ham, but not ham), peas, hard-boiled egg, cheese and other filler stuff all mixed up with an egg-based-mayo-consistency-without-the-mayo-taste sauce.   Salad # 2 had the same sauce with olives, chopped up lettuce, chicken and ....?  Salad # 3 was a bowl full of long, stringy, seaweed (sea cabbage?).  And it tasted just like something you would pull out of the ocean.  It is quite healthy though.

After the salads came a whole chicken.  It was delicious.  Then we took a break from eating and saw their house.  I helped Elnura get the rice ready for plov.  (More food?? oh my gosh!).  It was pretty cute, Elnura and I were in the kitchen and we had left the boys to fend for themselves in the realm of communicating with each other.  Not too long after Nurbek comes wandering into the kitchen and Peter follows shortly after.  Nurbek doesn't speak English and Peter doesn't speak they had managed to talk about about how Nurbek has an old jeep (here "jeep" means off-road vehicle and has no reference to any brand of car) he takes hunting :)

Next, Elnura's cousin showed up and joined us.  Then it was time to eat again.  Food, food and more food!  Oh my goodness.  The cousin was able to say what she didn't want to eat, or that she had had enough and didn't need cake - maybe someday we will have that same relationship with Elnura!  Maybe someday :)

Quotes from this evening:
"Why don't you guys drink?  Life is boring." -- Elnura's cousin
"You guys are young.  You should dance and drink."  --Elnura
"I'm afraid we are boring people." --Me
Pointing to the jeep out the window "russian, russian, russian" hand motions like going up a mountain.  Hand motion like shooting "russian numbers" hand motion writing the numbers, hand motion to show him wrenching on it. (all told, he takes his 1954 jeep hunting and works on it himself)  -- Nurbek to Peter
 "We are modern.  There are lots of traditions, and we do them, but we don't know why." -- Elnura and Cousin (I had asked a question about a water-in-bowl wedding tradition).

It was a pleasure and an honor to have been invited to their home.  My head is tired from Russian and my belly full from delicious food!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Skiing

Well, while I get my rental skis, you take a look around and familiarize yourself with the place. It looks like there's a few chair lifts and some pretty modern ski-resort equipment...

If your ears get cold, they have a hat for that:

Hey there, I'm back, I got my skis. Not exactly Rossignol Phantom 96's, but at least they'll be fast. I'm pretty sure they've never been skied on before. Probably because there aren't a lot of people who have to ask twice for bigger skis. 160s? No thanks, longer please? 168s? Again, anything that's taller than my shoulders? Ah yes, those'll be fine. (Katie was able to borrow skis from Sasha and I was able to wear Glen's boots; they both decided on riding their snowboards.)

The snow is hard and fast, so the skis are well suited for the conditions. Speaking of, the conditions are fantastic. It's sunny and cold. Not too cold, but just about right for skiing. The shade gives you chills, the sun can be felt on your black pants. Very nice. Speaking of very nice, the people we spent the weekend were just that. The school doctor/librarian and her husband and little daughter, as well as a fellow teacher of children were all in attendance. The person from Vermont commented on how nice the snow was just before I almost mentioned that it was a touch on the icy side. I guess this underscores the east-coast/west-coast skiing perspective. In all honesty, the run was groomed to a very high standard. Smooth and even.

At lunch time we stopped for a (paper) cup of tea and to eat a quick bite. This felt a lot like the midway sun-deck at Homewood. This place is at the midway loading/unloading point on the resort's longest lift. Nice place if you ask me.

As the day went on, I decided it was time to do some exploring. From the very top of the lift-served terrain, you could traverse along the ridge and it looked like there were some good tracks out there. The snow that had not been groomed was about as sugary as I've ever seen, and there wasn't much of it. The windward side of the ridge tops were bare, and the leeward side had perhaps a few feet of snow on them. It was obvious it had not snowed in quite some time.

I traversed along the ridge and was about to ski down towards the groomed runs when someone waved me forward, towards the easternmost point along the ridge. There were four snowboarders headed this way, and one spoke enough English to let me know they were going to go just beyond where I was heading and they invited me along. I'm glad they did. It looked promising.

There were a few tracks down the east facing side of this hill, but not many. It was relatively low-angle, and the only characteristic of the snow I had observed was that it was far from cohesive. Slabs wouldn't develop, and cracks wouldn't propagate. There was no evidence of slides anywhere on the surrounding mountains, and this particular aspect was safer than some of the aspects directly under the lifts which had been fine. (Can you tell that I'm not willing to take any chances in a Russian-speaking, under-developed corner of the world? Or can you tell that I wrote that whole last paragraph almost exclusively for my back country buddies like Matt and Andrew? Long story short, avalanches crossed my mind, but only insomuch as I could cross them off my list of worries.) Of course, you all want to know how it was...

It was pretty-okay.  In fact, it was so pretty-okay, I drug Sasha and Glen up there the next day.  Glen took a video of me, and I've captured a screen shot of it.  Not a bad way wrap up the skiing part of the weekend.

I felt good all over inside:

And one last parting shot: 

 * * * * *

(While Peter is "dragging" Sasha and Glen on those runs that make him ecstatic and me panicky... allow me to tell you what I've been up to.)
I offered for altruistic and selfish reasons (she goes about my pace:), to hang out with 6 year old Anita on Sunday morning.  We donned our skis, headed out with the crew, split off to take a trail to the other lift and suddenly I was skiing alone with a little one.  We skied down a swack and up to the gates and suddenly I realized I hadn't thought through this part of it.  Anita is a fine little she is little!  How was I supposed to get this little being safely on and off of the chair lift?  Oh, I remember - her mom would take her poles.  Okay, I took her poles.  We skied through the gates and then what?  Now I had four poles and a little girl who had no way of moving herself up to to the "wait here for the next lift"zone.  Oh shoot. I couldn't push her - but I tried!  Finally a man came out to help us.  Somehow, we managed to get on the lift.  And I sweated the whole way up the mountain - for how in the world would we manage to get off it?  She told me, "There will be a man to help.  Say, "Pomigite pazalsta, rebionka".  I rehearsed this line over and over.  We arrived at the top of the lift - no man.  Well, here we go, with my arm around her waist and 4 poles under the other arm, we disembarked with no casualties - no falls.  Whew.  We had done it and we both rejoiced!  And then down the mountain we went - stopping now and then so Anita could draw with her poles in the snow and tell me which mountains we had gone down and which one was next, I think one was called "Volcano Mountain".  Besides the small, ever nagging fear that some skier flying down the mountain would plummet into this little thing, I had a grand ol' time with my friend Anita.  We successfully loaded and unloaded three times with no man to help us.  No injuries.  No tears.  We even navigated a narrower run to take us back over to the hotel.  

Now that I have skied while taking care of a child, perhaps I can say that I am a fine skier.  Not great.  Not terrible.  Simply fine.  And I am fine with that.

Ski Weekend - Arrival

We left the school at about 3:30 and stopped downtown at a НАРОДНЫЙ (Narodni – a chain of small supermarkets) for snacks. It was going to be a long ride. We left the city by 4:15.

As we traveled east out of Bishkek, I am reminded just how poor this country is. Small ramshackle houses populate all the small villages. Many villages have several wells or water spigots for the community. You see people, young and old, walking to or from these water wells with large buckets or metal jugs to get the evening's water. You see horses and other livestock drinking from a bucket which is catching the water stream. Life is hard here for so many people.

At the same time, you see groups of young men playing with a soccer ball, or kids playing some game with rocks and sticks. I'm sure they are having as much fun as the people in other places who are playing X-box, or watching a movie, or blogging.

Anyway, by the time we reach the west end of Issyk-Kul, it is dark, so the lake is more of a large darkness off to the right. A few more hours and we're at the Caprice, checked in, by about 10:00pm. We made good time. The car stalled in Karakol (the city), perhaps due to cold weather and gelling diesel... perhaps for another reason. Anyway, we're glad to be here, and the place is very nice. You can see the chair lifts from the hotel windows. The hotel rents skis and boots right from the “Ski Room,” which is next to the “Cinema,” the “Spa,” and the “Billiards/Bowling” rooms. Feel free to take a look around...

The bedroom window... (it works)

The room itself... (it works)

The "Ski Room"...  Very modern skis here.
One day rental - Skis: 450c, Boots 450c.  ($10 each)
I think I rented the longest skis they had in stock - 176cm
The green/orange/white/black Elan Race GSRs at center.

The Signage... Always fun.

Thanks for looking around.  We'll go skiing soon.