Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Shashlik Picnic

Our Kyrgyz and Turkish friends invited us on a shashlik grill-out last month, just in time to enjoy the last bit of fall before colder weather crept in. We drove out of the city, not far from the mountains, and set up camp. The three guys set to work on the shashlik, while the kids played soccer and ventured down by the river to toss rocks.

At long last, it was time to dig in! Alihan tested it out for us first. The verdict: very tasty. We had chicken, lamb, and liver shashlik, with salads and fruit to complement the meal. We all ate to our hearts' content and still had leftovers.

A perfect fall day!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A day out with Misha

On a nice fall Wednesday, Misha was home sick from school, so we decided to go out and enjoy the city. Wait, that doesn't sound right. Hmm. Just don't tell his teacher. We walked downtown, eager to catch the Changing of the Guards - and we were just in time!

Every hour on the hour, the solemn guards of the Kyrgyz flag rotate. Misha watched with fascination as the stoic men with their impressive swords, oversized hats, and perfectly synchronized steps marched out to relieve the two guards already on duty.

Then we walked a bit farther until we came to Panfilov Park, an outdoor amusement park. Of course, we took Misha up on the ferris wheel.

We admired the city from up high, and I took this nice shot of the White House surrounded by autumn colors.

And we couldn't miss the Komnata Smekha - the Room of Laughter - with its dozens of funny mirrors guaranteed to make you giggle.

And when we saw pony rides in Derjinkska Park for 50 som, we indulged.

And we spoiled him a little more with some hot chocolate at Fatboy's cafe. Perfect to warm up!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Halloween

Since Halloween as we know it -- with the pumpkins, costumes and trick-or-treating -- is really only celebrated in America, our recent Halloweens have been a bit toned down. Last year, we were in Saudi Arabia, where celebrations apart from Muslim holy days are not acknowledged, so all I did was draw monkey features on Misha's face for fun. 

In Kyrgyzstan, children certainly don't take to the streets to collect candy; however, there is a popular curiosity with this unique American tradition. My students loved looking at pictures from our past Halloweens, eager to see if it was really true that we go door to door asking for candy. My students also love scary movies and all things vampire and werewolf, especially since that new Twilight movie just hit theaters here. We had a fun day of pictionary using Halloween words, and several students even brought candy to share.

Misha's class at school had a full-blown Halloween party. The boys got to dress up as black devil cats, the girls became witches, and even the teaching staff donned costumes (something that would never happen in Saudi!). They even performed a dance to the Adams Family song and collected candy from the parents who came to watch their children.

To complete the fun, Misha and Sebby and I went out to buy a big pumpkin of our own to carve. The pumpkins here have a bit of a different shape, but never mind - we wanted our pumpkin to have a distinguished forehead.

Misha showed Sebby how to scoop out the seeds.

Misha designed the face on paper, but I carried out the hack job. Our friend Alihan came to see the final result - candle and all.

Misha liked it so much, he wanted to keep it in his room.

The boys often dress up in their superhero outfits, and though this wasn't actually for Halloween, it fits the spirit of the day. :)

Kyrgyzstan's fourth president: Atambayev

The election is over - and Almazbek Atambayev is due to be sworn in as Kyrgyzstan's next president before the new year.

I thought there was considerable interest leading up to the election, with huge billboards up and down the main streets, and pamphlets, cards, and newsletters passed out to voters in the micro-regions. However, even though it had the outward appearance of a competitive campaign, some of our friends say that real democracy is still out of reach.

Overall, the election seemed to go smoothly. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) noted many "irregularities," such as names left off voter lists, multiple voting, and direct encouragement for state employees and students to vote for Atambayev - but nothing so flagrant as to warrant a recount. Atambayev received 63 percent of the vote, while his top two competitors, Kamchybek Tashiev and Adahan Madumarov, both from the south, took about 15 percent each. 

A billboard for Tashiev

Another for Madumarov

Most of our friends and acquaintances here expected Atambayev to win. He has ties to Moscow, favor with current interim president Roza Otunbayeva, and a name well-known in politics as acting prime minister. And judging by the number of billboards sporting his smiling face, he has money too. His campaign slogans centered around unity - вместе мы кыргызстан ("Together we are Kyrgyzstan"), thus gaining support from the Uzbek population in the south where there has been much ethnic tension.

Kalimatov was another of the 20-some candidates that made the ballot.

Suvanaliev's poster overlooks Sovietskaya.

Tashiev and Madumarov contested the election results, but nothing has come of it, and the south saw only a few protests. I, like most people, am hoping that Atambayev will have a positive impact on the country. 

Interestingly, Josh and I have been in Kyrgyzstan under each of its presidents. The first, Akaev, ruled with increasing corruption from the country's independence until 2005 when he was ousted by protestors in the first revolution. Bakiev became the second president, but the people's hopes for a new start turned sour as he proved as corrupt as the first. Riots and protests errupted in April last year with much more violent results, particularly in the south of the country where 400 people died in ethnic clashes. Bakiev fled, at which point Roza Otunbayeva became interim president. Now, having returned to Kyrgyzstan in time for the campaigns and election, we're about to see Kyrgyzstan's fourth president take the stage.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Going to Gawaii

We feel extremely lucky to have met a wonderful family that lives just one building over from us. They have been so generous and helpful, from helping find a school for the boys to inviting us over to their house to taking us out to do fun things on the weekends. When I was sick, Anara even brought over a pot of hot, fresh soup! Everyone needs a neighbor like that.

They have a son who is almost three, so Misha and Sebby have someone else to run, play, and fight with. Alihan is learning English words from Misha (like "peanut butter and bread") and of course my little boys are picking up Russian (and Kyrgyz!) from him. (Misha can expertly say "Eta moyo!" to be sure Alihan knows "that's mine!" Ah yes, the essential phrases of children.) 

One weekend in October, Turat and Anara invited us to Hawii (or "Gawaii" as its pronounced in Russian), a spacious park and restaurant area about an hour drive from Bishkek, on the road to Lake Issikul going East. During a pit-stop, we had to take advantage of this great photo opp in front of the golden trees.

When we arrived, we admired the wide open, green spaces, animal statues, bridges, and swings before heading to the lake. A large dock extending over the lake lets customers eat right on the water while watching the swans and fish.

Our table bordered the water, so the kids could all throw bread crumbs to the alarmingly huge and greedy fish below. The swans and ducks also came over for a taste. Meanwhile, we enjoyed delicious duck shashlik, manti, and gan fan, with hot tea to drink.

Alihan decides he needs a nibble of bread too.

Watching the swans. The little island gazebos were also available for customers for an extra fee. A motor boat transported the hungry families - and their food! 


Also on the grounds were these caged falcons

and even squirrels. We love the long-eared squirrles in Kyrgyzstan! I have taken many photos of them running around the parks.

The fountain was a big hit with the kids.

Sebby yodels away, content to sit and watch the fountain for an eternity.

Anara and Turat with little Alihan.

Marching on walls and jumping off - another captivating activity.

By the time we got home again that night, it was time to put the kids to bed. A perfect day!