Sunday, February 27, 2005

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I would like to start this edition of my weblog by wishing every man who is reading this a happy belated Men’s Day. Traditionally, the holiday is celebrated by playing headless goat or sheep polo. I cannot help but really question what I have become over here. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my purchase of a fur hat. Now I must confess that I have finally taken the life of an animal intentionally. I was at a fellow volunteer’s house when he was asked to kill a turkey, but he was unable to get up the nerve to do it, so I was called in from the bullpen (not literally). I learned two very important lessons from that poor turkey. First, I want death to be a quick one. The poor thing had to endure as I worked on its neck with a dull kitchen knife. What could have been accomplished quickly with an ax was drawn-out over time with a very dull knife. I will say that the turkey was sort of resigned to what was going to happen. The second thing I learned was that fowl are indeed capable of running around with their heads cut-off. The turkey in question did not actually take-off on the 40 yard dash, but that was not for lack of desire. Instead, it had a 170 pound Kyrgyz woman sitting on it, which I dare say would keep me from taking-off on the 40 yard dash as well. So now I have killed an animal, chopped one into pieces (read Thanksgiving’s piece), and worn the fur of a deceased creature on my head. Don’t worry folks I haven’t changed that much J. In other news, as some of you are aware, there have been a number or protests over this Sunday’s (February 27, 2005) election. I don’t want to sound alarmist, and I really think that things will in all likelihood be fine over here (of course I didn’t think that there would be protests). For those of you who do not of what I speak, in a number of the different oblasts (states) around the country, people have taken to the streets shutting down the highways. The indication at this point seems to be that a number of “opposition” candidates and candidates who may have supported the current government but were not the favorites of party leaders were not allowed onto the ballots. The people have taken issue with this, and have decided to make a statement about that. As for me personally, the highway on the southern side of the lake where I live was closed by protesters when I attempted my trip into Bishkek on Friday. As a result, I had to hire a taxi to go around to the northern shore and take that road into town. I personally saw a bus of riot police (or at least the gear) in the regional center near my town. Do I think that this is an unsafe region? No. Do I think things could flare-up? Certainly. The statement made to this point is that people here are not interested in tolerating a fraudulent election (not saying that this election has been fraudulent). Do I know if I will make it home on Monday? I have no clue. I am planning on it, but I really don’t know for certain. Honestly, I am more fascinated with being in the middle of something this interesting than I am concerned about the potential safety risks. I really do not expect that many problems personally. It is an incredibly interesting time to be living in this part of the world. If you would like to read more, please feel free to visit the following articles. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1425443,00.html http://www.turkishweekly.net/news.php?id=5367

Saturday, February 12, 2005

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Kyrgyz interest... I was cooking dinner the other day when one my host mother came walking in with the newest member of the family, a baby lamb. Watching her do this caused me to consider the banking situation in this country. Banks here are virtually not used other than a place to pay-outs of government pensions and salaries and to make the occasional loan for farms (that said the places are surprising busy). Having an savings account at the bank is unheard of. Nobody does it. Instead, they rely on the age old system of investing in property. More directly they buy livestock. A person's wealth is usually determined by the number of cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and most importantly horses that a person owns (thus some families crying poverty when they live in a multi-storied house, have a tv, and drive (albeit old) Mercedes when they only have 10 sheep). As I watched my host mother bring the lamb into the house to protect it from the cold, I realized that that is the truest sense of compounded interest. With the birth of the lamb, the family's wealth just increased. In a sense, their savings account just got a little larger. The lamb will hopefully one day grow into a full grown sheep, and after a couple of years, the family will see a one-hundred percent yield on their investment. Interesting that the birth of an animal such as that has such economic implications for people, and perhaps even more surprising is that somebody such as me who is scared of all things financial is even bothering to ramble on about it. Random thought on this whole thing: If sheep are essentially currency, then was the cloning of Dolly perhaps the most basic form of counterfeiting? While we are talking about sheep, I realized that one sign that I have been here too long is that I have started looking at herds of sheep and starting thinking about just how much besh-barmak that would make (besh-barmak is "Kyrgyz national food" and bane of the existence of most volunteers. It is essentially boiled sheep (the entire thing) with noodles, and includes the ritualistic passing-out of the various parts of the animal after cooking to different people (ie the ears to the children, so that they will listen). The first few times it is fun (or anytime after about 8 shots of vodka), but it grows old after a while.) I have also started being able to visualize what that same sheep will look like when it is being sold after slaughter at the bazar. Of course, being the animal lover that I am, I try to read the last rights to every sheep I see tied-up in the back of a horse-cart as it goes by, as that is an almost sure sign that the poor thing's hours are limited. One of the most interesting experiences that I have had since being here was listening the other week to my counter-part talk about her trip to America this past fall. It is amazing what ones learns about one's own culture when hearing somebody from a different culture telling others about their visit upon return home. She talked with amazement about crazy things like credit cards, and these tests that students take called SAT's (which prompted one teacher to ask me if I could follow what she was talking about . To which I responded that I took the damn test, of course I understood). One of the most surprising things to the teachers was when she started talking about these things called "sales" that happen at the stores. A couple of the teachers started joking with another teacher whose family runs a store in town that they should try that sometime. It was absolutely fascinating. The teachers were also sort of throwing me looks of, "so that's why this guy's a freak," or "damn, this is how he normally lives, interesting." Jumping on a horse's head... I have often said in this space that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make 'm drink. Well, I have gotten to the point where I feel as though I am jumping on the heads of some of the horses trying to get them to taste the water. I was teaching in class the other day when I told the students that I wanted them to do some writing about Kyrgyzstan on a sheet of paper, so that I could see how well they were coming along. One of the students asked me if they had to write in English, or if they could write in Kyrgyz. Seeing as I teach English and not Kyrgyz, I sort of figured that maybe writing in English might be more productive particularly without the English there, there would be no relation to our subject whatsoever. The student complained that he didn't know English, and so it wasn't fair for him to have to write in English. Now, this student is an eleventh grader, so I asked him, in Kyrgyz, how long he has been studying English. The answer finally came that he had been studying it since 1st grade. That means that he has had over 10 years of English. I was baffled. How do you not know enough English after 10 years of studying it to write me a couple of basic sentences about jobs in Kyrgyzstan, particularly when we have spent the last 3 weeks studying how to talk about jobs (I will grant him that he skipped most of those 3 weeks). For the love of all that is righteous in the world, do something crazy, and try. I don't ask much, but I can't pass you as an eleventh grader if you can't write me a basic sentence (I understand that not everybody is good at foreign languages, hell I was horrendous at Spanish, but after 2 years I could write sentences maybe even paragraphs about basic subjects.) Oh well, the happy ending of that story, is that he did decide to actually try and low and behold he wrote a few sentences on the topic (better than over half of his class that decided that the assignment was not worth their time and elected not to do it.)