Wednesday, July 25, 2012

City Mouse, Country Mouse

Rahat shoos the mother sheep with her baby into the backyard.

There is a marked difference between Bishkek and the rest of Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is its own little world of modern technology, apartment life, traffic and public transportation, shopping, restaurants, and night clubs. There are many languages in this city, but if you had to choose one language which would be most widely understood by everyone, it would be Russian.

I have not seen much outside of Bishkek, but from what I have seen and from what I've heard, the rest of Kyrgyzstan is a far cry from the likes of Bishkek. I suppose it would be a little like comparing New York City to Philip, South Dakota, where I did my internship. Outside of Bishkek, the country is more authentically Kyrgyz, less Soviet, and more connected to living with nature and living off the land. 

I was delighted when Rahat, my friend and Kyrgyz teacher, invited us out to her village Komsomulskaya, about 40 minutes from Bishkek. I admire Rahat because she moves fluidly between both worlds. She works in an office and speaks Russian, she drives her own car, and she has traveled abroad. But she also speaks her own Kyrgyz language fluently (unlike many Kyrgyz who live in Bishkek), always helps her mother, and is fully capable of loading one of her sheep into her trunk to take the bazaar to sell.

Misha, Sebby and I spent a fun evening at her beautiful, peaceful home. The kids ran around, fascinated with everything they saw. They loved the little puppy Ak Tosh (which means White Chest in Kyrgyz) - that is, until the puppy started chasing them excitedly and nipping their clothes!

They also were excited to see some real hay stacks.

When Rahat brought out the mama sheep with her lamb, Misha and Sebby followed them, eager to touch their fur. The sheep were wary of the boys, however, and easily eluded them. 

Later, all the sheep went out of the village to graze, with Rahat's cousin on horseback.

As Kyrgyz tradition requires, we were presented with a table simply bursting with appetizers - from borsok (the national fried bread in the middle of the table) to watermelon, jams, fruits, cookies, and candy.

After sampling so much of everything that I wasn't sure I could eat any more, Rahat started preparing the main meal. The boys and I loved her outdoor cooking set-up, a large kazan over a fire fed with cow chips. (In the winter, they use the electric stove indoors.) First, she lit the fire and heated the oil.

I love the glowing fire in this photo.

Then, she fried mutton with onion, and later added peppers, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, salt and spices. 

Finally, she layered cabbage leaves over the top, poured in some water, and covered the dish while it cooked. 

The final result was delicious - as Misha said, "like your stew, Mom, only better!" It's called Dimdama, which means "covered."

While dinner was being prepared, Misha and Sebby explored the yard, searching for the neighbor's rooster which could be heard ku-kuri-ku-ing over and over, admiring another neighbor's cows, and drinking from Rahat's water spigot.

Sebby "helped" wash some dishes.

The neighbors had an extensive garden, complete with corn. I rarely see corn sold in Bishkek.

The boys were no less fascinated with the outhouse, which was so cool they both had to go in it at the same time!

We also walked down by the little lake in front of her house, where some little boys were catching minnows by placing bottles with the necks cut off into the water, then yanking them out quickly by a string. Inside would be several minnows.

On our drive back into the city, we stopped at this park at the entrance to Bishkek.

Of course, we had to pose inside of the giant letters spelling out Bishkek.

Misha and Sebby in the "kek" of Bishkek.

Seeing Rahat's village has made me eager to see more of Kyrgyzstan, as we will get to do in August during our month vacation from studying and working.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Picnics in the Parks

The boys and I love picnics, whether it's a very minor affair with crackers and juice boxes or something a bit grander with actual peanut-butter sandwiches. Here is a slough of photos from our recent excursions.

First, the most elaborate: In June, our friend Siynat drove us all out of the city to a popular picnicking park called Seyil. Other elaborate picnickers set up camp for a day (or more) to cook plov and shashlik over fires. We brought a roasted chicken, tuna salad, bread, fruit, and chocolate - a nice feast! 

Teenagers rode around on horses and donkeys offering short rides to children. Sebby jumped at the chance and sat proudly on his donkey, trotting away with the unknown boys without so much as a backwards glance.

The river was a great source of entertainment - from jumping across the stepping stones to tossing leaves and pebbles into the current. Misha got into the photo mood, so I snapped away!

Happiness is: finding a caterpillar.

Some attempts at badminton...

Our other recent picnics have been simpler outings at local parks in Bishkek. The following photos are from Drujba Park (Friendship). We have been making use of our nice plastic blanket! We snacked on peanut butter and crackers, then walked through the leafy, shady park.

The boys were entranced with the great many soldati bugs (sort of boxelder-ish insects) that were crawling around the paths, many of which, to their complete fascination, were mating.

On our walk home, I bought some Shoro for Misha. Shoro is a hugely popular drink here made from wheat, which is refreshing without being at all sweet. Surprisingly, Misha likes it! Sebby's not so sure. :)

Last weekend, I decided it was high time we saw Bishkek's Botanical Gardens, so we took a taxi to the edge of town to make a visit.  It pales in comparison to the amazing McCrory Gardens of Brookings, as the Botanical Gardens here looks just about the same as any other park: overgrown and unlabeled. However, it was certainly beautiful in its own way and we enjoyed a picnic in the shade.

The "welcome sign" was actually a list of prohibited offenses, such as walking on the grass, picking flowers, or leaving garbage. 

Most of the gardens looked like this

or this.

We spread out our blanket, hoping we weren't technically "on the grass," and snacked as we looked for birds to sketch.

We spotted this beautiful magpie with its commanding presence.

We ambled through the gardens, then found another spot to relax. I read while Misha and Sebby gathered a huge pile of pine needles to make their very own "hay stack."

 More pictures of summer fun:

Playing on the playground in their matching bright blue and gold SDSU overalls from Grandpa and Grandma!

We took a trip to Park Lubvi (Love Park), and both boys were so excited to wear their backpacks full of juice boxes and crayons.

A cafe sits at the edge of the park's small lake.

Fun at home:

Painting our baked dough creations with intense concentration.

Our homemade stratego game (with help from our printer).

The story of our Zinnia: