Friday, December 7, 2012

Bukhara, a Fairy Tale City

The narrow alleys of Bukhara seemed to be a twisting and turning maze, growing more and more difficult to navigate as the sun set and the shadows grew longer. We came around a corner and almost ran into a man coming from another direction. He sidled up next to us and said in Russian, “Good evening.” It must have been quite apparent to the man that we were foreigners, but in an attempt to look like we weren’t lost we made another turn without hesitation. The stranger turned as well. “Pleasant weather we’re having, isn’t it?” He smiled slyly and gave one good look over the young man and young woman walking next to him, bundled tightly from head to toe. Though my Russian is poor, I understood his joke and answered back, “It is excellent weather! Though just a bit cold.” The three of us laughed together for a moment and shivered deeper in our coats and scarves. The truth is it had been more than just a bit cold before the sun went down, but the fresh air was enticing and my friend had asked me to join him on a walk. Now, in the shadows of the moonlight it was downright freezing, but not really knowing where we were, we just kept walking.
    The man broke the silence and asked, “How do you like our city?” I told him that I loved it. The city was beautiful and the history fascinating. I was disappointed that my group couldn’t spend more time. The man nodded and said, “Yes, Bukhara is a gorod skazka. Enjoy your stay.” He winked at me and dipped away around a corner, lowering his head to the sudden light from the street lamps. My friend stopped and put his hand on my arm. We smiled at each other for a moment before I whispered, “Yes, Bukhara is a fairy tale city...” We had come out of the alley just next to our guest house. The friendly stranger had already disappeared down the street into one of the trading domes. As I looked after him the lights shining from within sparkled and danced with the light of the lonely moon, a welcome image of warmth to two foreigners adrift in the cold night of the desert. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012


The man at the shawarma stand is not Kyrgyz. Nor is he Russian. I ask for a gamburger and today he doesn't say anything to me. I used to order shawarma until I discovered that gamburgers are the same thing but with some sort of extra unexplainable deliciousness. You can't order a hamburger in Bishkek. The first reason being that they don't exist except in a very small handful of ex-pat restaurants. The second reason being that the Russian and Kyrgyz languages spoken here don't really have an 'h' sound as in English. The options are the 'guh' sound or a sound represented by the letter 'x' which sounds more like the 'h' but with a clearing of the throat, and even sometimes makes a 'kuh' sound. So I walk to the corner stand and order a gamburger, "bez ketchup". The not-Kyrgyz, not-Russian man stands up and begins his performance. He is deliberate about his motions making my wait for fast food maybe two or three minutes instead of the one I know it could be. He slices the bun and smears it with smetana, a delicious thick sour cream, which at this particular shawarma stand might be cut with mayo. He lays a half slice of tomato on the bun and a slice of pickle to the right of it. Yesterday the tomato was on the right and the pickle on the left. He sharpens his knife then slowly and carefully carves thin greasy slices of meat off the rotating spit, scoops them out of the pan with the tongs and lays them atop the veggies. Next is the french fries, then the slaw. Yesterday he remembered just in time, as he was reaching for the red squeeze bottle, that I had requested no ketchup. Today he doesn't even glance at it and goes straight for another smear of smetana instead. Perhaps the second scoop of that white sauce accounts for the extra tastiness. And I suspect that it is also the source of my addiction. With all components in place he folds over the top of the bun and gives the whole thing a little squeeze between his palms, not to smash it, but just to get it all set in place. Again with slow intention in his movements, he holds the gamburger in one hand and folds a bag over it with the other then hands it to me delicately with both hands and a deep nod. I smile and hand him my money, 60 som, about a dollar twenty, and with another deep nod and a somewhat theatrical swoop of his hand, as if taking a bow, he plucks the bills from my grasp and returns my change. I smile at the man, whom I now judge to be Turkish, and offer a Russian "thank you", but what I really mean to say is "see you tomorrow". The Turk smiles and continues to say nothing, but I know that what he really means to say is, "it will be my pleasure".  

 A little late night snack from the shawarma stand.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

That Time of Year...

Coming over the mountain from Talas, the rocks in the lower part of the canyon cascaded in great slides down the slopes. They were purple. A deep, dry, reddish purple. But when they were in the water of the tiny mountain stream tumbling from the heights crystal clear and cold as ice, they were the color of fresh raw liver. I picked one up from the slope, not the stream, and pocketed it, even though it is typically against my system of morality to take rocks or any sorts of nature away from their natural place. It will be a beautiful souvenir for the fish tank back home.
We were so fortunate to drive over the Tien Shan mountains at this time of year. All the herders were moving their animals down the hills for the winter, back to the villages and the low lands. They march their herds right down the highways and all the cars slow down and honk until the sheep and the cows and the horses pass. The drivers of vehicles smile and scorn as if the herds are seriously impeding the progress of traffic. The men and boys on horseback smile and scorn as if the traffic is seriously impeding the progress of herding. Clearly the roads were built for everyone here. Every once in a while a large old Soviet truck will roll slowly by, stuffed to the brim with packed up yurts and belongings and even a few extra pieces of livestock.  In the villages, the people didn't seem to mind at all the dust stirred up by the animals, though we the tourists had to cover our faces to keep from choking. 
We spent the evening and morning with an amazing elderly couple in their beautiful farm house. They held a feast for us and helped me picked three different kinds of apples from their orchard, as many as I wanted, all of them perfectly crisp and delicious. They were so honored to have us in their home, guests from half way around the world, but I could never have expressed how honored I was to be in the presence of such wisdom.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Part of my schedule here includes excursions out of Bishkek to various locations around Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries. This past weekend 10 of us from the London School drove about 4 hours to Lake Issyk-Kul to stay in a beautiful 'lake house', build a little yurt, and experience what it's really like to be Kyrgyz in a full-on, up-the-mountain, high-altitude day hike.

Lake Issyk-Kyl is the second largest salt lake in the world, after the Caspian Sea, so it never freezes. Those of you who know me well should know that I'm not a big lake-swimmer. I'm just not a big water person in general. Despite my fears I went ahead and stripped down to my skivvies and went for it with a beautiful sunset highlighting the horizon. Half way around the world, I might as well, right? As expected, the water was warm and it was salty. I even plugged my nose and went under! Once. Then made for shore in haste.

The beautiful shore of Issyk-Kul in the morning light.

Our weekend residence with the lake in the background, some mountains hiding behind the clouds.

We spent all of Saturday hiking up to some gorgeous alpine lake, though none of us actually made it to the lake. It was a rigorous hike pretty much straight up the mountain, but for our guide it was just another day in the life.  And while hiding under a rock from some chilly raindrops I happened to see another guy just livin' the life, herding his sheep across the hills. The landscape was rugged and beautiful, though I thought it could have been anywhere in Montana or Idaho or Wyoming. It felt like home and my companions suggested multiple times that they thought I was made for Kyrgyzstan. But do not be fooled by the pretty little hill in this photo...It was a big hill. And behind it, obscured by those clouds, some serious snow capped peaks. I took this photo after I gave up on reaching the lake, after we'd already hiked up probably more than 6,000 feet.

The view from the top. And the little tent that was the herder's abode. We passed it on the hike up and stopped to see if anyone was home. Unfortunately, just the dog and a couple calves.

That may be my only mountain scaling adventure within the next four months, but it was an amazing way to get a little bit up close and personal with Kyrgyzstan and I'm looking forward to spending next weekend again on the lake!
More on the yurt later...

Friday, September 7, 2012


    So here I am, half way around the world, in Kyrgyzstan. For those of you who don't already know, I'll be spending the next four months in Bishkek, the country's capital, working on my Russian and learning all the ins and outs of Central Asia. I arrived here two weeks ago and won't be seeing the western world until the end of December. For now I am living with a very sweet Kyrgyz woman and her 8 year old daughter, but at the end of September I will be moving into the dorms at my school. There are three other students in my class, all from the United States, and all with incredibly different backgrounds. One is a history major, one is a political science major, the other is an ex-military, agriculture (?) major interested international security, and then there's me... really into the culture and stuff. We all get along really well and, despite our different areas of expertise, we all seem to be working for a common goal, so our classroom discussions have been very lively and well rounded.
    The first part of most days we each have private language lessons. I have to say, four hours of one-on-one lessons is exhausting. By the end of my second class I am beat. Everyone else says the same. It is really a struggle to get through to lunch at 1. But it is only the second week of classes, so I'm sure we're all just still settling into the swing of this new schedule. By the end of the fourth month I think I'll be cruising through those hours with ease.
    In the afternoons we all get together for "The New Great Game" and "Understanding Central Asia". These classes are in English, discussing the history, culture, and political economics of Central Asia. On Wednesdays we have the incredible opportunity to hear lectures from guest speakers, have discussion panels with local students, and finish the day with a cooking or crafting class. Our first two guest speakers were absolutely amazing and I had the good sense to record their lectures.
    Living here has been very cheap and it seems that every day I have some new wild story from my trips on the public transportation, but more on that later. The city is safe enough, with relatively little violent crime. There is a large Russian population here so being a white person doesn't necessarily make me stand out as a foreigner, which is comforting to me.
     More later!

Monday, August 6, 2012


I made a delicious bread pudding yesterday with some dumpstered stale hot dog buns. Yes, they came from the trash. Welcome to my wonderful world! The world of broke-ass college students who aren't afraid to be bottom feeders!

I had some for breakfast yesterday and then one of the dogs ate the rest. I was so heart broken that I got up early this morning to trek to the grocery store for raisins so I could recreate the deliciousness.

Here it is. You don't have to use trash hot dog buns. Use some good bread. But really, Bread Pudding was MADE for using up stale bread.

Bread Pudding

1/2 cup coffee
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 eggs
some cinnamon
some cardamon
2 or so tablespoons flax seeds
1/2 to 1 cup cooked oatmeal  (or 1/2 cup instant oats + another 1/2 cup milk)
1/2 cup raisins
1 banana (fresh or frozen) chopped up small or mashed
4 to 6 hot dog buns (big buns, use 4. small buns, use 6) or bready equivalent
2 tablespoons butter (Or more! Butter makes it better!)

Set oven to 350.
Whisk together coffee, cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and spices. Whisk in banana if it is mashed. Tear up buns and toss into mixture. Add oatmeal, flax seeds, raisins, and banana. Stir all together and let it soak for a couple minutes while you prepare the pan. Melt the butter in a 9x9 baking dish and roll it around to cover the sides and stuff. Put the soggy bread stuffs into the buttered dish and bake for 50 minutes.


3 table spoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 table spoon corn starch
1 cup milk
2 or 3 tablespoons Rum

Melt butter in small saucepan. Combine sugar and cornstarch. Once butter is melted, stir in the sugar and cornstarch. Stir in the milk slowly, a couple table spoons at a time to avoid lumps. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it starts to thicken. Reduce heat a little bit and continue to cook until the sauce is pretty thick.  Remove from heat and stir in your rum.

OOOOH!  Serve the bread pudding warm or eat it cold, but either way, SMOTHER it with rum sauce and Enjoy!

Monday, February 20, 2012


The month in Ukraine went so fast.  By the time my departure date came around I was thinking, "Wait!  I still have so much to do, so much to learn!"  I cried when Vale tucked me away into the taxi and the drive to the airport seemed much less scary and foreign than when I had arrived.  I really met some amazing people on my journey and I hope that our paths will cross again in the future.

Now I'm home.  At first Prescott seemed so warm!  No hats, no boots, no ankle length fur jackets.  And the best thing ever is the sun!  There is never a constant gray cloud cover here.  Also, it was so good to see my brother Joe for the short time he was here.  He flew into Phoenix a 1/2 hour before I did.  What a great homecoming!  We spent a wonderful afternoon at Fossil Creek, definitely our favorite place to play.  The water was a bit colder than it typically is on those warm Arizona summer nights, but we all jumped in anyway.

I've only been home 2 weeks, but already Ukraine seems so far away and so long ago.  I guess that's how things go when there is some normal life to attend to.  Shaun and I have started classes again and the first week seemed to go pretty smooth.  I definitely need to take a look at my organization skills and really try to stay on top of my homework since this semester two of my classes are Upper Division and Writing Intensive! Go me, college junior!  The work will be difficult, but I'm always excited to learn and to be a part of such a fantastic learning community as is found at Prescott College.

Hopefully I'll find time to practice and learn more Russian, but if not, there's always time to travel again next summer... I can't wait to see where the adventure will happen next!

Monday, January 30, 2012


девушка-  You are tall.  You are beautiful.  ALL of you!  For the most part, you have long, straight, brunette or blonde, red doesn't seem to exist here.  You are thin, or at least in really great shape.  Very few of you are overweight.  You wear fur.  And amazing shoes.  Only the most stylish heels and knee high boots.  Even in this ridiculously icy city.  Unfortunately, you will not age well.  Perhaps it's because of the extreme winter temperatures... or the fatty, meaty food that you eat.

мальчик-  You are average height.  You are not beautiful.  You look like the stereotypical Russian bad guys in movies.  You wear black.  You are clean shaved.  So many of you have scars.  You don't seem to be in great shape like the women.  But even if you are lacking in good looks, you make up for it with your classic chivalry. You hold doors, you help women with their jackets.  You buy flowers, give up your seat on the metro, and always carry your lady-friend's bag.  At first I took many second looks at dangerous-looking men with designer purses... but a beautiful woman is always somewhere close. 

As cold as the people seem on the outside... never smiling and always in a hurry... they are so nice as soon as you start getting to know them.  If you take a moment to say hello and ask how they are doing, most of them will immediately be friendly.  Except the waitresses at our favorite restaurant, of course.  They're still pretty cold, even though we eat there every day. One thing that is surprising to me about this large city, is that I've found everyone to look the same.  I went shopping with my host's niece, and I lost track of her in a very small store.  How do you lose a tall, beautiful woman in a small store?  You fill it with tall beautiful women.  It doesn't help that they all dress the same.  But they all dress well.  All of the people here are very well dressed, men and women.  It's amazing.  I thought I brought my nicer clothing with me, but I look homeless.  It's true.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Metro

My primary means of getting around Kiev is the Metro.  I prefer walking, but with the snow, slush, and the recently extreme temperatures, the cleaner, faster, warmer option is the metro.  The metro stations here are a vast, spacious, expansive, beautiful network of underground structures with escalators like none I've ever seen!  I feel like the majority of my time in the metro system is spent on an escalator.  The stations are so clean, and so efficient.  I am constantly shocked at how many people I see every day in the stations and on the trains.  But, it is an amazingly cheap and fast way to travel around the town.

  The following are some observations I've made while using Kiev's amazing transportation.  Please keep in mind that public transport of any sort is really a novelty for me.

It is important to remember not to talk to anyone on the metro, unless you're going to scold them for something, like losing balance when the train starts.  Don't smile.  If you smile, you're weird.  To get the most out of the metro, you should try to walk faster than everyone else and squeeze onto the train, push if you have to, even when there is clearly no more room.  If you are a man walking with a woman, you should hug her and kiss her every moment that you are stopped... If you are waiting for a train, on the train, on the escalator... It's not ok to smile at people you don't know, but public displays of affection are ok.  Don't ask me.

The escalators... Oh my, the escalators.  The first day, when my host took me along the metro route I needed to get to school, I got serious vertigo on the escalator.  I held onto the hand rail, but as usual, the hand rail moved faster than the steps.  I've never been in such a long angled tunnel before... The tunnel is designed specifically for the escalator.  After the first, there was a second, taking commuters the rest of the way to the surface.  Somehow, I found a location in town where you can switch from one station to another somewhere beneath the earth at the bottom of a hill and exit the station on the surface at the top of the hill. Unbelievably the two escalators there were double the length of the two in my station!  How is it possible?!
Also, unlike you're typical department store escalators, the metro stairs move fast.  Not too fast, but definitely fast enough that if you're not paying attention when you step on, you will find yourself wanting to fall backwards.  I've found that I must be ready to launch myself into a rather brisk stride when my step hits the top. If not, I will get pushed out of the way by those behind me who are ready to walk fast. The best advice I can give for metro escalator adventuring is Go with Confidence. Just look that escalator right in the eyes (eyes?) and tackle it with all you've got.  Also, don't wear heels.  I don't care if you are in Kiev... better to be unfashionable than break an ankle.

Another hurdle I've encountered is figuring out where the heck I am when I get off the metro.  Almost all of the stations are underground, so you must first find the stairs leading down to the station, usually located at street corners or in plazas.  Once underground, there are large networks of tunnels containing vendors, food courts, and even some rather large shopping malls.  A person must navigate through the flowers, pizza, souvenirs, and lingerie to find the doors of the metro station.  If you take a wrong turn, you'll end up at another set of stairs which will lead to the surface on the street corner opposite of where you entered (if you're lucky!)   It usually happens that I exit the metro and walk to the wrong end of the station, ending up a few blocks from my desired destination.  When I do make it to the correct end, I usually choose the wrong stairs and end up on the wrong side of the road.  I go through this process of playing prairie-dog almost every time I try to go somewhere... Popping my head up somewhere, looking around to get my bearings, then popping back down to the underground to try a different hole somewhere else.

On the plus side, I can now read the metro signs and I understand where the trains go.  That means that anytime I'm lost in town (which is often), all I have to do is find a metro station to get to some place familiar.

Next topic of discussion...  The people.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This Is School?

Yeah, I guess I need to update the blog more often.  My two beautiful ducks were killed by a raccoon, just a couple days after I made the last post.  But I bought them with the hopes that they would protect my chickens and they did.  The cinder block has since been replaced with a more secure locking, hinged door and we've had no more deaths.  I plan to get more ducks in the spring.

We're well into winter now and the holidays passed without incident.  The break between semesters seemed pretty short, but the time our friends and house-mates were away seemed to last forever.  I guess that's how those things go.  I can't believe I'm already in the second semester of my second year of college!  Turns out I'm a pretty good student when the situation is right.

At the moment, that situation is a small classroom in Kiev, Ukraine, with all my lessons held in Russian.  Looking back, I'm not really sure how I got here.  Of course I drove to the airport, got on a plane and flew, but how the heck did I end up in Ukraine, of all places?  I never in my life imagined wanting to travel here.  And here I am.  The truth of it is, I am going to school to learn.  There is no other reason.  I want to learn Russian?  I'd better do it right and go some place that speaks Russian.

Still... I'm baffled that I am actually here and am actually getting school credit for this.

So, what is Ukraine like?
In January, it is cold (9c/15f today).  It is icy.  It is grey.  The people are also cold.  If you want to fit in, don't smile in public. Don't smile at people you don't know.  And you should always try to get in front of them.  People seem to always be in a hurry here (maybe because it's so cold?), and will walk faster to pass you on the sidewalk, or try to squeeze in front of you to get what they want at the grocery store... Even if you're the only two people in the store!  It's a bit strange and it makes trying to speak the language in every day situations rather difficult.

On the flip side, my host is fabulous!  She is so sweet and I feel like I'm at my grandma's house.  Valentina is always concerned that my shoes won't be warm enough or that I haven't had enough to eat...  The food she cooks is wonderful, but it is hearty.  I have had to ask my instructor how to tell Vale that I would like to not eat so much.  I wrote it down, but I haven't tried to tell her yet.  She is so nice and so genuine that I don't want to be rude.  My current plan is to walk home from school everyday, instead of taking the metro, to burn off all the extra calories.
The apartment I live in is located in 'Old Kiev', now called Podil, on the banks of the Dnieper River.  It is a wonderful neighborhood, close to the metro station, and without too much traffic.  It is a great place to walk in the evenings and there's even an ice-skating rink set up in the square.

I have two more weeks of lessons before returning to the states, so hopefully my speaking skills will improve by then and I'll be able to hold an actual conversation with my original mentor at Prescott College.