Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Roughing it"

For one month every year, from mid-May to mid-June, all the hot water in Bishkek is shut off. Moscow and other big cities in Russia also experience the tradition of four weeks sans hot water. This annual event is a result Soviet central planning, in which the hot water stems from only one location, and the system needs cleaning and repairs badly enough that the shut-off is expected and accepted.

We are now about halfway through our cold-water month. It's easy to complain about what a pain it is to heat water every time I have to do the dishes or wash my hair, or how time-consuming it is to boil pots of water on the stove to pour into the bathtub one by one for the kids' weekly bath (yes, once a week is enough this month). But honestly, this month makes me appreciate access to hot water for the other 11 months of the year. Especially considering that most villages in Kyrgyzstan never have hot water, I feel incredibly spoiled to be able to (usually) simply turn on the faucet and choose my desired temperature at will.

Not so very long ago, everyone lived without instant access to hot water. Laura Ingalls Wilder's books chronicle the days of taking baths in a barrel by the fireplace, one family member after the other, until the last person got the dirtiest and coldest water. (That was me on Saturday!) Though I still grumble about the dishes, I am secretly a little bit glad to have this connection with the past - in fact, with large numbers of people on the planet today. To be forced to do without this one luxury is good for us. For one thing, it makes us conscientious about using only as much as we really need. Our lives are so packed with things we take for granted, machines with the express purpose of making tasks easier and quicker. I can just picture an older generation smiling knowingly and shaking their heads, amused that we think simply giving up hot water is such a sacrifice.

All the same, I'm glad it's not permanent.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Day at the Dacha

Vladik and Misha walk through the village after buying matches down the road.

In Russia and post-Soviet countries, it is very common for families to have a dacha, a simple summer home in a little village. These homes are not elaborate, often without hot water or plumbing or  electricity, which is why so many families can afford them. Dachas offer a chance for families to escape the hot, dirty cities and relax in a little place all their own where they can tend a veggie garden and grow enough fresh fruits to can for the whole winter. 

Following this tradition, many Kyrgyz and Russian families in Bishkek also have dachas where they spend weekends or good chunks of their summer. Earlier this month, our friend Pasha invited us out to their dacha in a little village called Pakrovka about 30 minutes out of the city. Enhancing the Russian element of the experience, we all piled into Pasha's 1974 Zhiguli - a standard "no-frills" car released in the Soviet Union from 1970 to 1988.

I jumped into the back seat with the four boys - Misha, Sebby, Vladik and Yarik.

Pasha and Josh relaxed up front. After a stop at the bazaar to buy several kilos of meat (Pasha was feeling hungry!), we drove to Pakrovka and got to see Pasha's place. Since they had electricity, they had a fridge and other conveniences, but when I asked where the bathroom was, Pasha just smiled and motioned all around him as he whispered, "Vezdye...!" (Everywhere!) Lots of broken equipment was laying around, but luckily the kids were much too busy playing in the yard to bother with touching anything off-limits. They ran around looking at bugs, flowers, and the nest of baby birds. They played in the little irrigation ditch, squirted each other with water guns, and grilled hot dogs. As always when the boys are around Russian-speaking friends, they impress me with how well they communicate. Sebby especially surprises me, because he is so little and yet he just jumps into speaking Russian very conversationally, without thinking anything of it.

Squirt gun war

Sebby and Yarik play by the ditch

Various vegetables grew in their garden, and what was not intentionally planted thrived with just as much gusto - from dandelions to wild marijuana (which, we are told, is no good for smoking, but can be enjoyable added to tea).

On the menu was the ever-popular staple: shashlik. We chopped up our pork, marinated it in sour cream and onions, let it work its magic, and then skewered it for the fire. While we waited for the shashlik, the boys grilled a few hot dogs to curb their hunger.

Hot dog ready to eat - and not even too burnt!

The shashlik eventually cooked to perfection, and we ate it with raw onion and vinegar, as always. Delicious!

Pasha brandishes his hot-off-the-grill skewers.

Playing in the Zhiguli

After eating as much as we could handle, we drank tea as the kids played, and in the late afternoon, we cleaned up and got ready to go back to the city. By that point, the kids' clothes and shoes were soaked and smeared with mud and ashes. The fitting end to the day was a nice, long bath. And laundry. :)

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Day at Flamingo

Last weekend, I took the boys to Flamingo World, a small amusement park for kids on the edge of Bishkek. The attractions are old, and the statues are cracked and peeling, but the staff has been busy repainting and getting ready for the summer season. And for Misha and Sebby, Flamingo World is just right.

Their favorite ride was the boat pond. We had to do this one twice. Misha rode in his own boat, while I rode with Sebby in his. (I tried to put them together in one boat, but then a fight ensued over who got to steer.)

The little roller coaster was great for Misha, but proved a bit too much for Sebby, who wanted to get off.

Smiling at the start of the roller coaster ride ...

Admiring the dinosaurs. Sebby petted the baby hatchlings as if they were real.

This kind of ride was right up Sebby's alley.

The weather was hot and bright - so we took advantage of the only water fountain I have ever seen in Kyrgyzstan.

The "Underground Horror" was something Misha did not want to miss, since he had heard his friends at school talk about the spooky witches and monsters that lurk in the shadows at Flamingo. We ventured tentatively down the winding dark stairwell to be led through various rooms of wiggling witches, steaming potion cauldrons, snakes, bats, and monsters. For Misha it was scary but fun; for Sebby it was bury-your-face-in-mommy's-shirt!

Time for ice cream!

Another Sebby-friendly ride.

Misha did the pirate ship, while Sebby and I watched.

The little train, which was called the "Colorado Express," was a hit too.

The inevitable tantrum as tiredness sets in ...

Misha and the Troll

Misha beneath a beautiful willow.

It was a nice couple of hours. Sebby is already talking about when we can go back!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Snips and Snails and Puppy-dog Tails

This is another post about having fun with my two little boys, who are growing up quite quickly. As Sebby himself says, “I am big now. I am like THIS (reaching up high). I am not like this, I am not baby. I'm bigger bigger bigger!”

We spend lots of time outside. Like my sister and me when we were little, Misha loves all kinds of critters in nature, from ants and ladybugs to beetles and worms. Last week in the park, we found a Boxelder bug that was content to crawl all over Misha's hand. “Mom, he likes me!” Misha told me happily. “He doesn't want to get off me. When I put him close to the ground he looks sad.” When I asked how the bug looked sad, Misha explained that his antennas drooped.

One day after a rain, we took a stroll in the sprinkles and came upon a snail. Misha was delighted. He scooped it up and carried it around, adding more and more snails to the club as he discovered them until he had about a dozen. Naturally, he wanted to bring them home. I let him choose four to keep in a jar for a few days, and then we let them go free again.

Meanwhile, our pupa, which hung patiently for about two weeks, hatched! Unfortunately, the boys were at school so they only got to see the photo of the brown moth. We've been out searching for more caterpillars, but maybe we're not looking on the right leaves.

Searching for caterpillars

Also, the seeds we planted several weeks back have been growing, much to the boys' satisfaction. After Sebby experimented with what happens when you pull a plant up by its roots, we still have five nice-looking plants on our window-sill. Some are zinnias and some are peppers.

The carrots we planted outside are sprouting too! It's a little hard to tell, though, because of all the weeds. :)

Misha loves to climb, and luckily for him, trees in Bishkek grow wild and unpruned, with wonderful branches for ascending into the leafy tops. Sebby climbs on the low forks in the trees, or on the playground equipment.

Another outdoor favorite: fun with squirt-guns! They love running around and spraying each other.

And of course, fun with wheels. Off they go, on scooter and bike.

Kid Talk

Before we move onto the next batch of pictures, I wanted to brag about Sebby's conversational skills in his mother tongue, English. A month away from his third birthday, he is getting very good at communicating. These are a few things I've written down in the past couple of months:

About his sandals: "I need to put these on. I broked these. I broked these out, mom."

Asking not to be pushed too high on the swing to make his stomach feel like it's dropping out: "Not my tummy!" 

"The fish runned away! Like this! Woosh, woosh!"

"I am not crashing, mom. I am walking the road, like this."

"I am not finished yet!"

"I go to school and I got a cracker. Member dat?" It's so cute how he sticks "Member dat?" on the end of sentences.

Watching me cut veggies: "Don't cut your finger, OK, mom?"

"My dinosaur is eating my cracker!"

About his Dr. Seuss match-up cards: "These are gramma give it to me! It's beautiful. I don't want it be brokened."

About playing Crazy Eights: "I wanna win, okay mom? Not you." I was impressed with how well he did matching the suits!

The next batch of pictures: Indoor Fun

I sent Sebby into his room to get dressed. Five minutes later, we heard him calling for help. When I walked into his room, I found him on the second-highest shelf in his closet!

Peanut Butter Cookie Time

Lego towers

Matching shirts and origami cranes. I love Sebby's idolizing gaze.

Three water-color painters

Boxers and sandals

Fix-it man

Helping with the dishes

Our home-made Sorry game turned out great!

Two super-heroes in my house!

Our days usually end something like this.

A sight to make all parents smile