Talking to myself about foreign policy, US politics, technology, &c.

Archive for the ‘Kyrgyzstan’ Category

Best news I’ve heard out of KG

Monday, April 12th, 2010

He’s the anti-Rahm, but I can’t say how delighted this excerpt from a Times story made me.

Edil Baisalov, Ms. Otunbayeva’s chief of staff, dismissed any threat of a civil war in Kyrgyzstan. … Mr. Baisalov [is] a civil society activist who returned from exile in Sweden to join the new government.

Edil has spent years fighting for legitimate representative government in Kyrgyzstan as head of the NGO “For Democracy and Civil Society.” For his troubles he has been threatened and attacked.

To have him in such a high-ranking position in the interm government gives me great hope that this unfortunate little country will genuinely democratize.

My Daily Constitutional

Monday, October 29th, 2007

While we’re on the topic of Constitutions, Kyrgyzstan just got itself a new constitution.

It’s a bit depressing; the little “Switzerland of Central Asia” is setting itself up to be another of the banal autocracies across the region. It’s a significant step backwards from the document that was forced through a year ago under dramatic popular pressure. The referendum passed with almost Hussainian levels of support with 80% of the people voting and almost all of them backing the president’s plan.


Several thouand words on the way….

Monday, July 17th, 2006

The Camera is back. (crossposted from

Exciting times here in Kyrgyzstan: the camera my parents so generously sent to us showed up today!

The Camera
Actually, “showed up” gives entirely the wrong impression. It is important to note for the rest of this narrative that we are dealing with the main post office for the sovereign nation of Kyrgyz Republic, the central switching point through which all its correspondence with the wider world must pass.

I’d been increasingly mopey for the last few days, as I thought the camera was never going to come (or more likely was a nice Bastille Day bonus for some underpaid postal employee) and Allie and I are planning to head out on a whirlwind of travel over our last weeks here in Central Asia. So I asked our noble office manager at Internews, Batma, to call the central post office one more time to tell us if they had any record of a package from Winter, WI (population: 300) arriving. This time, rather than a flat denial, they said they could not give that information over the phone. Fine. So with a friend from work as a translator, we trekked over to the central post office.

What ensued proved that you can take the Kyrgyzstan out of the Soviet Union, but you can’t take the Soviet Union out of Kyrgyzstan. The people were so abysmally unhelpful that our friend Aisuluu was steaming from her ears. They reported that there was no such package. Then they looked again. Then they took a break to fill out some important paperwork and chat, telling us that they were “very busy, and couldn’t be bothered right now.” Then after carefully sounding out my name and verifying that my drivers license looked legit they looked yet again. Then Aisuluu pointed out that in Latin script my name looked different. Eventually a bag with my name clearly printed on it emerged.

Then the ordeal of actually getting it began. I had to fill out a form, mostly stuff I made up. No, we couldn’t borrow their pen; they were doing Very Important Things. The form was incorrect. We re-filled it out with more gibberish. All this while the bag with my box was sitting tantalizingly almost within reach. Eventually, they released the bag, and blandly asked us if we had any complaints. At this point there was several minutes of untranslated dialogue from Aisuluu enumerating a few of our issues with their efficiency, calling into question their intelligence, and wondering a bit at their parentage. My friend asked if I had any complaints to follow up with. After I was assured by all it was perfectly normal that the package was not actually delivered to me, I had nothing to add.

The helpful civil servants behind the counter pointed out that we would have to fill out more forms if we wanted to register a complaint, and that it would probably take an hour. We signed the “no complaints” line, took the camera, and fled.

The upshot: thanks, mom and dad! I’m so delighted with the new camera- it’s wonderful, and even better than my last one. The first pics can be seen off to the left.

Let this cup pass from me…

Monday, July 10th, 2006

At long last, the World Cup madness is over. Thank goodness. Now maybe I can watch CNN without the constant impositions of bepainted drunken fans rioting in favor of their local team. As a proud American, I refuse to find soccer interesting. I was vindicated by last night’s matchup; another game of the Best in the World that goes down to a last minute shootout. It’s like a chess consistently ending in a draw and being determined by thumbwrestling tiebreakers. Classy move by the French captain, though.

The experience of watching the game was a whole lot more interesting than the game itself. Kyrgyzstan is about as far from fielding a world-class soccer team as they are from the great blue whales, but that didn’t stop them from really getting into it. The game was at midnight our time, and we gathered with a few hundred folks in a local square where they broadcast the game on a huge screen. The fans were rowdy and a bit tipsy in general; I’d imagine there was a lot of folks who weren’t too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning.

There seemed to be a pretty even split between supporters of France and Italy with a slight lean to the later, but that might have been influenced by the really drunk and increasingly horse guy behind me who every 20-30 seconds would scream “Italia! Italia!”

The center of town looked like an eclipse had hit at noon; the popular gamburger stand was as busy as it ever has been, and the street cigarette vendors were doing a brisk trade. No shoro unfortunately. After the game the celebrating went long into the night, judging by the sounds from the street below our window.


Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Cross-posted from Allie and my travel web site,
We checked two critically important boxes off this weekend in our first trip outside of Bishkek. We spent a night in an honest-to-goodness yurt, and partook in the national drink of Kyrgyzstan: Kymmys, AKA fermented mares’ milk.

Allie and I had been getting increasingly desperate to get out of Bishkek, and finally managed it. We took a shared taxi on the three-hour trip to the relatively small town of Kochkor, nestled on the south side of the mountains behind Bishkek.

Shared taxis are one of the clever innovations they’ve come up with in this country poor in both finances and capital. Cars wait in certain well-known spots at the bus station, calling out their destination. Once they’re full, they take off and drive straight there, making such trips possible in a land where almost no one can possibly afford a car. Besides, some of the antediluvian Ladas that they drive around here look like they should have been taken off the road during the Truman administration, and I wouldn’t trust them for a ride across a parking lot, much less this rugged country. Further bearing in mind that in this very rugged country that the roads are in worse shape than the cars, and a decent car and driver seem like a really good idea. The roads are actually bad enough that people frequently drive on the shoulder; it’s in better repair than the asphalt.

We were later than we hoped getting out of town, and coupled with our finances it made our trip options a bit limited. We really lucked out, though, and had a delightful time. A grueling (for chubby me carrying our even tubbier bag) 3 hours through the foothills brought us to the jailoo (pronounced like everyone’s favorite J-Lo) or summer pasture for a Kyrgyz family. As they have since nomads first arrived in Kyrgyzstan, during the swelteringly dry summer flocks and folks take refuge in the still-lush upland pastures. They were in fact shockingly green; it was amazing to see the landscape change as we plodded higher.

Apart from a one-room brick house that was a modern innovation, life continued here as it must have forever. They had a small (!) flock of 500 or so sheep; we were told there were perhaps 5000 in the valley in all. Amazing things, sheep- turn grass and water into meat, clothes, and enough military power to terrorize the world until the 19th century. This not particularly conquest-oriented family also had a herd of cattle and a dozen or so horses, along with two mischievous donkeys whose tasks we never did figure out. Talented at braying at uncouth times in the morning, though. Food was simple, but tasty; flat bread, homemade butter, cream, and cheese from the cows, and for dinner mutton noodle soup. All washed down with oodles of the infamous kymmys.

Foreigners are told in no uncertain terms to take only a small amount of kymmys the first time you drink it; we simply don’t have the enzymes to break it down. This sensible precaution was annihilated by my lack of self-restraint and the pressures of Kyrgyz hospitality, and four bowls filled to the brim later it was time for bed. Happily, I didn’t become violently ill; actually, I developed quite a taste for the stuff. It’s like a yogurt-flavored milk with a smokey tang; really quite delicious. It’s only mildly alcoholic, so you really have to work at it to even get a mild buzz.

Perhaps at some later point I’ll describe what a yurt really is, but suffice it to say that we slept very well despite a loud thunderstorm and the louder donkeys. We would have been pretty cold without our blankets, though, another sign of how high up we made it.

The next morning after wandering a bit on our own, drinking in the magnificent scenery (and one more bowl of kymmys) we headed back down, relieved to see that our ancient car and its even more ancient driver had both survived one more night. He brought us back to Kochkor and from thence we made it to Bishkek in time to indulge in a tasty Indian dinner.

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