April the Giraffe

IMG_1298Remember in the spring when everyone was glued to their computer screens watching a live feed of April the Giraffe and waiting for her to give birth? Now I know what that feels like. Having significantly increased in size and with less than two weeks until my due date, baby watch is in full effect. I feel expectant eyes watching  me closely, especially when people hear that I am at 38 weeks.

I hope to not go too much over my due date, otherwise I may also sense the scorn and disbelief that people expressed to poor April. “Are you really pregnant?”

I can promise you, I am really and truly pregnant, and the kicks and jabs I feel from inside are evidence of that.

Lesson Learned: Don’t stare at pregnant ladies. We don’t like it. 

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Pregnancy and Central Asia

IMG_1276There are many cultures around the world that do not treat women very well, but in Central Asia, pregnant women are treated like queens. We are given prime seating, cuts in line, special drinks at coffee shops (decaf), and generally given priority. On one hand, I feel guilty for accepting special privileges, especially when it is a 80 year old man offering you his seat on the bus, but on the other hand, by accepting their kind offers, I am allowing them to serve, give and show kindness- something that many of us look for opportunities to do. So I often take seats offered to me on the bus and the opportunity to go around metal detectors or the short cut in line not to elevate myself but to show gratitude to the giver.

I am grateful that Central Asia peoples value mothers and families. It gives me hope that in the days to come when I am worn out from carrying my baby on the outside, I will still be offered a seat on the bus and a short cut in line.

Lesson Learned: Before I was often stared at because I was a white woman surrounded by brown, but now it is because I look like I stuffed a melon under my shirt.

And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street

MulberryI frequent a cafe on a quiet, busy street. That seems to be an oxymoron, but if you were here, you would understand. Cars and people are constantly coming and going, and yet the street is small and stays peaceful. This particular street has it’s own ecosystem of sorts- a bazar, shopping center, restaurants and lots of apartments. It’s the kind of street where you can expect to see the same people doing the same thing everyday. The same people pass by the cafe window, and the same patrons come everyday at the same time.

Most days, interesting things do not happen here but every once in a while, something unexpected or at least interesting may pass by. Today a little girl dressed in WWII garb (with the addition of bows in her pigtails) walked holding the arm of her mother. She couldn’t hold her hand because her mother was carrying a tiny cage, just big enough for the guinea pig that it carried. I have seen all kinds of pets here, but that was the first guinea pig.

I am still waiting for something extraordinary to pass by my cafe window, but until then, I will enjoy the quiet busyness that I can observe.

Lesson Learned: Find a familiar place, sit a while and see what there is to see.

Hosting Local Friends

Now that we have been here over a year, we have been able to build some good relationships with local people. Because of this, they are inviting us to their houses, and we are inviting them to our apartment. Unlike hosting our friends in America, hosting in Central Asia is at least a three, usually a 4 course event.

When guests arrive, you need to have the table set and filled with snacks, salads, fruits, candies, etc. They usually have at least two different kinds of homemade and often mayo based salads. After the salad course, usually something small like meat pastries or soup is served. The third course in this part of the world is most often pilov. We have heard locals say they eat pilov sometimes 3 or 4 times a week. The final course includes fruit and/or other deserts. This means locals are usually making a minimum of 4 dishes from scratch. On top of that, everything must be prepared the day of and buying salads from the grocery is considered cheating.

The good in all of this, guests here are honored and valued. You give a guest your very best and it encourages me to be love people well. It also means when I am a guest, I am treated as such, and we are given the best seats in the house.

Lesson Learned: Take some of this back to America. It is a good thing to make people feel special. 

Central Asian Music

I recently had the opportunity to go to a concert with a local friend, and let me tell you, it was completely different than I had anticipated. I have heard the more “traditional” Central Asian music, but this was decidedly not traditional. This artist was like the Beyonce of CA. While more modest and less overt in her dance moves, she did descend from the ceiling, changed outfits 7 times and had as many set changes. She bounced from a Roman theme, to NY hiphop, to Indian. Of course, like most concerts here, she lip-synced all of her songs, but she danced along with her sometimes 50 background dancers. Needless to say, even though my language skills are not quite up to par, I was entertained for the entire 2 hour concert.

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You may also be interested to know that artists here do 1 series of concerts a year. Meaning, they will do 5 concerts in one week, and that is it. The rest of the year, they record more music, make music videos and perform at weddings (a big dollar business here).

Lesson Learned: Expect the unexpected, and maybe consider a career in music

My American is showing

girl-single-1Living in Central Asia in a drastically different culture means at times my host culture rubs against my home culture. When this happens, I hear Destiny’s Child in my head crying out to let “all the women who are independent throw your hands up…” Sometimes being in a man centered culture can be a major drag, but then I remember that of all the places in the world, we chose to be here. We chose to be in this culture, among these people, and there is beauty in their culture.

Recently I spent the weekend with a local friend and many of her female relatives. These women have been raised in a male dominant culture and yet the beauty and grace with which they serve their families and one another is a humbling thing to behold. Sure, there are times when power and dominance is manipulated not only by males but also by the women with seniority. However, where there is love, the intimacy and relationship women have with one another is a precious thing.

Lesson Learned: Maybe when my American is showing, I need to stop singing “Independent Women” and start putting others above myself. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Phil 2:3)

Signs of Summer

Yes, it is still the beginning of May, but since Spring started at the end of February, it is starting to feel like summer already. We have had a few 90 degree days, but I know it is only bound to get hotter. Before it gets too hot, we are enjoying lots of strawberries, sitting outside  under umbrellas and drinking fancy lemonades.

Since strawberries are seasonal, we are buying, eating and preserving as many as we can. In addition to eating them with pancakes and yogurt, I have made strawberry muffins, cake, smoothies, and (Benjamin’s favorite) cookies. The cookies were a surprising hit with our language teacher who tries to eat healthy. With no refined sugars and plenty of oats, we have been eating these cookies for breakfast. Here is the recipe if you are interested: Strawberry Oatmeal Cookies.

In other news, I have been on a Mexican kick this week making beef barbacoa and chicken enchiladas with Spanish rice. I thought getting my Mexican fix would be a laborious process since some of the essential ingredients are not accessible. Fortunately, a local woman has learned to make flour tortillas and sells them at a great price. Also, I brought a lot of spices with me which allows me to make enchilada sauce from scratch. Both turned out great, so if you want those recipes, here they are: Beef Barbacoa and Chicken Enchiladas.

Lesson Learned: Maybe I shouldn’t make really spicy food when it gets hot out.

Ups and Downs

We woke up Monday morning to find out that the hot water had been shut off to our building and so this meant I skipped a shower on Monday. When Tuesday morning rolled around and we still had no hot water, I felt skipping another shower would be counterproductive for building relationships, and so I bravely faced the inevitable. I quickly realized it was worse than I had anticipated because not having hot water doesn’t mean you get lukewarm but rather ice cold water. I cannot remember taking a colder shower, and I shivered for quite awhile after. While we were hoping this would only last for a few days, it finally ended a week later.

 

On the other hand, the spring brings fresh fruits, flowers and bicycles for rent. After work and class were over for the day on Tuesday, Benjamin and I tried to end on a good note by enjoying the beautiful weather and getting in some good exercise.

Lesson Learned: A cold shower doesn’t have to determine the outcome of the day.

Pilaf

I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this dish yet. It is a staple in Central Asia, and it goes by more names then any other dish that I have heard of. Pilaf, plov, pilau, osh, plof… the list goes on, but they all have a few basic ingredients in common. While different countries and different regions vary the recipe a little, they all have rice, meat, onions and carrots, oh and oil… a lot of oil. Unless there is a pool of oil at the bottom of your plate, it’s not good pilaf.

In a country where we don’t trust the street food, pilaf has become our fast food. Most local places only serve it from 11:30-3:00, and it is always ready in a giant cast iron drum. So we can walk into a restaurant, order and have food on the table in less than 5 minutes. We always order the same thing: one black tea with lemon, one bread and two portions of pilaf. It is fast. It is cheap, and it is filling. What more could you want? (Oh.. and we eat it at least once a week and haven’t gotten sick from it yet!)

Lesson learned: When in Rome…

Paying Bills

In America, they make it easy to pay bills. You can pay online. You can pay by phone. You can mail in a check or money order, or you can pay by a credit card.

Life in Central Asia is very different. We live in an area where cash is king, especially the US dollar, and we pay for everything in cash. Our cash transactions must, as can be expected, be done in person. Our cell phone bill for example, we pay for by going to a small hut like structure with a tiny window. All day, every day, a guy sits in that hut with a computer, takes your money and credits it to your phone number.

All other bills are similar in concept. Take home internet for example. My husband must go to the internet “store” and pay for the bill on the first of the month. He has tried to pay in advance before, but always without fail, on the first of the month our internet gets shut off. This month, he went into the store exactly on the first to pay our bill. He was told that we didn’t use any internet, and therefore we didn’t have to pay anything. “Come back the first of April,” they said. My husband insisted that we had used internet, but they responded with the same. So, he went home, used the internet and three hours later got a phone call that they had made a mistake. Long story short, we were without internet for several days. Hey… it happens and there is apparently nothing that we can do about it, except to roll with the punches.

Lesson Learned: Don’t get too attached to internet. One day you have it, and the next…