Friday, June 22, 2018

Did You Ever Imagine

The next-door-bestie for nigh 30 years flies around the earth to end up at my door again.

All those years of traipsing up and down gravel roads together just to get a workout in.
All the shared recipes, birthday parties, pregnancies, eating plans, family nights, curriculum, cupboard painting, farmers' wives woes and joys...

We never imagined this.

That we'd hike the oldest and largest walnut forest in the world.
And admire an Uzbek flower garden in a Central Asian mountain village.

We never considered that some of our kiddos might meet up to play Frisbee on the hill near Jalalabad.
  And ride down a mountain because we were all tired after a waterfall hike.
 Who knew we'd still be geeky homeschoolers together and press Kyrgyz wildflowers in Theo's homemade press?
On the side of the road. 
(We embrace geekiness and Charlotte Mason and nature studies so hard, man.)
  Strangest of all, who could have predicted that my friends from two worlds would someday meet and become friends themselves?

This is the best of all imaginings.  
Can you guess the beverage?   Zadie drank a whole mugful.
And realities.

Friday, June 8, 2018


 When you live among neighbors whose core beliefs differ substantially from your own, you tend to look at things differently than you did when you, say, lived in rural Iowa with staunch Reformers scattered along your gravel road.

I would never have admitted a superiority complex back then, but I'm afraid I would now.
It was subtle, oh, so subtle.  Sneaky even.

And entirely Pharisaical.

It's amazing that such and such people group could be deceived to believe those outlandish things.
It's ludicrous that people of that other belief system think they could get to heaven by performing those actions.

I didn't actually voice these condescensions, but they lived, nonetheless, somewhere in my shallow subconsciousness.
If you're alarmed at my thoughts, maybe you should be.
Perhaps we all need a little alarm to wake us out of the hypocritical haze we've been dozing in.

I haven't changed what I believe.
I've changed my putrid attitude of superiority about what I believe.

Let me tell you why.  Actually, just come with me for a couple hours.  We've been invited to an Iftar at the neighbor's house.  I know you're tired.  I am too.  We got home from our "Art in the Park" event an hour ago, and we're weary of being around people.

But it's an opportunity to be neighborly, and we don't like to pass those up.

An Iftar is a breaking-the-fast meal during Ramadan.  All the neighbor women are going.
Calla's coming too.  She puts on a long skirt, and we drag our tired selves across the street around dusk.

We take off our shoes on the stairs as our hostess ushers us in to her Zal.  Everyone else is already there and a young woman is reading the Koran in Arabic.  The women gesture at us to sit in the honored places.  It's useless to protest.  The reading never stops.  We sit for a while listening.  I glance around at exhausted, warm faces shrouded in head scarves, knowing most haven't eaten or drunk a thing since 3:00 this morning.
Food on the table is arranged attractively--salads, breads, crepes, fruit, samsas, cookies, and drinks.  The spread is enormous and untouched.

When the reading is finished, we swipe our faces with our hands to receive it.  Someone checks her phone for the time.  They decide the woman next to me should pray.
We cup our hands in front of our waists and listen with our eyes open.  The women murmur in agreement as my neighbor prays in Uzbek.  She earnestly petitions that Allah will accept their fasts.  She pleads for their children and grandchildren.  For their neighbors.  For forgiveness of sins.

I glance around the room.  These women are sincere.  They are thirsty.  They are desperate.
I marvel at the individual lives represented by each face. Older ladies, young mothers, teenage girls.


Something squeezes inside my chest.
The "Us" and "Them" line blurs behind my eyes.
How did I ever see myself as more?
Somehow enlightened largely because of where I was born?

Time keeper checks her phone again.  Someone else prays.  We swipe our faces and my tushuk partner reaches for water.  She has a headache, but she is animated, speaking quickly and making everyone laugh.
Then they eat dates and maybe a crepe before swiping their faces and rising one by one.  They take their prayer rugs and spread out in the courtyard.

Calla wants to make an escape--she's had a long day--but they're blocking the exit.
Ten minutes later we are all together again--feasting, laughing, storytelling.

We stay until 10.  When asked, we explain a little about our faith, but everyone really just wants to enjoy the evening in peace without a deep discussion tonight.

Calla and I meet in her room before bed.  We both get teary because of the enormity of our opportunities here and because of our previous perspectives.

Maybe I'm feeling the weightiness of sharing with you.  Bridging a river that at times swells with misunderstandings.

"Did you hear what "Dee" [our hostess neighbor] said when we left?" Calla asked.
I hadn't.
"She said, 'Thank you for honoring me by your presence tonight.'"

The honor was ours, fellow seeker.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

We Took a Hike

The Kyrgyz Jilo begs to be hiked.  "Jilo," for the sheepishly uninformed, is the highland.  The mountains.  The areas where all the herds are heading.
Because it's green up there and horses, cows and sheeps like green.
 The women of southern Kyrgyzstan like green too.  20 of us squeezed into a little car and an even squishier mini bus.  Our fearless leader is above at the front.  She's Swiss.  I am certain that Swiss people are born with a hiking gene.  Totally serious.

Curt tied our luggage in.  Four extra people sat in the aisle with knees in their backs and bags in their faces.
Curt later told me that he was worried about that bus making it.
Curt never worries about vehicles making it.
We had a three-hour drive to the Jilo that took six hours.
 The mini bus did fine on the way
until we got to some inclines.
Then it started to roll backwards.
 So we walked.
We were heading for that faaarrrr mountain.  The bus didn't make it.  Fearless leader lady flagged down another.  
 I'm pretty sure hearing about other people's hiking trips ranks right up there with eating canned peas, so feel free to scroll down at lightening speed.
  But if you linger, you might be able to imagine inhaling crisp, clean air while you wash your supper dishes in the icy stream. (After all, it was snow just yesterday.) You could marvel at the hospitality of the shepherding Kyrgyz as they offer their heavy cream, yogurt and fresh milk for you to sample.
  Best of all, you would get a glimpse of women who made me all sorts of weepy.
 Not sad, weepy.
Honored to be walking among them, weepy.
And not honored because they trudged up a steep mountain for FOREVER, or because they sloshed through one of those crazy-cold rivers up to their hiking-pant thighs.  THREE TIMES.
 No.  I was honored to be in their presence.  They have sacrificed to be here.  They are glad they do what they do.  They are wise. They are smart.  They are humble and engaging.  Their stories floored me.
 Some of them I already knew.
All of them won my admiration.

The Kyrgyz Jilo goes on and on.  We saw quite a bit in one weekend.

A short amount of time, but enough to get a taste of camaraderie that only comes through shared experiences--the thrills and the trials. 

There are relatively few foreign women who understand the specific challenges and joys of living in southern Kstan. 

Our common focus superseded nationality and age and brought us all the closer..

That, and the bus ride home.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Jbad Beautification Project

There's a new mayor in Jbad and he's pushing a city-wide beautification project.
This girl helped him out last Friday.  Or maybe he helped her with the festive flower arches.  They worked great to string up her display lines.  Either way, the city park was adorned once more with the artwork of talented local youth.
 Calla's vision for art in Kstan actually goes farther than skin-deep.  She's training students and teachers to see themselves as God-reflectors.  She's challenging post-Soviet mindsets to color outside the lines and sometimes clean off the canvas. 
Her students hear of their value to God and to their nation.
 On Friday, we helped her share the love.

 I manned the kids' table.  I felt wildly popular.
 This little gal sat at my table for three solid hours.  I found out later that she practically lives at the park, hanging out there with her little brother while their mama works, 
She asked me if we were coming back the next day.  I guess paint and string and butterflies add infinite interest to daily life in the park.
 These school girls were a little shy about starting.  They wanted to know how much it cost.  When they found out everything was free, they got into it.  At last count, they had created five masterpieces each.

Henna was a hit with the older crowd.  The park is a thoroughfare for high school and university students.  Go greased lightening.
   Will you look at these photos of the crowd around the henna girls. 
I'm not as popular as I thought.
I asked Theo if he begged Dee (below) for a picture with her.
 He turned all shades of pink and straightened me out, "Mom, she asked me three times before I said yes."
You gotta admire a persistent gal.
 As things were winding down, my little friend for the day came up to me, hesitating as if she were getting her nerve up.
I smiled at her.
"Spaceeba. (Thank you), " she whispered and dropped a tiny kiss on my cheek.  She darted away.
"Oh--," I whisped. (Which is between a gasp and whisper and should be a real word.)

I had just experienced the most beautiful thing in Jalalabad.

Mr. Mayor, take note.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cultural Exchange

 Ramadan started today.
This means a lot of things, but for our family last night, it meant the osh exchange.
The kids on the street were buzzing about it a couple days prior.

"Don't forget the osh exchange!"
Zadie brought the news. 
Ah, yes, every year the day before Ramadan, neighbors make the national rice dish and exchange bowlfuls with each other.
The why escapes me.  I'm not sure they know either.  But you'd have thought it was Christmas, so great was the expectation amongst the youngest three Americans in Jbad.
Every time the doorbell rang, Theo and Zadie competed for the rush to the gate.
Nial was excited because he really likes rice.  He did not rush to the gate.
Most neighbors adorn their osh with some sort of fresh veggies.  But our favorite garnishes are the steamed grape leaf mini-pockets of meat and rice that our sheep-tending neighbor concocts.  There are two in the bowl above.  We carefully divided and devoured them.  I'm going to ask her to teach me how to make them.  After Ramadan.
I don't attempt to make the Uzbek and Kyrgyz signature dish.  I am not stupid.  If I did try to duplicate traditional osh, I'm certain it would be the topic of gossip on the street for months to come.  I do make some kind of rice dish though.  Last year it was cheesy broccoli chicken pilaf.  We introduced it as "American Osh."
She ran all the deliveries too.  In the rain. 
I've never seen anyone so thrilled to run in and out, kicking off her shoes every time.
This year we made stir-fried zucchini and other veggies plus chicken over rice.  It probably rocked some boats, but variety is the spice of life, right?  Or is that just an American value?  I don't know anymore.

Tip o' the Day:  Get your "osh" out there early.  That way you don't have to remember which bowl needs to be returned where.  The neighbors just transfer your osh, and return your bowl with their osh in it.
 Especially if you're a rice fan.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

It Feels Like Summer

 Last fall the fam hand-spaded half the backyard and sprinkled grass seed among the plenteous weed seeds.  Now we're reaping the results.  It's so luxurious to have a lawn.  We're out there every day.
The cherries are just turning red;  the kids have a symbiotic thing going on--Isabel reads while they pick.  She and the Z girl have been enjoying the Little House series.
Today they started Farmer Boy.  While I was taking these photos, I got hungry just listening to the description of mealtime in the Wilder household.  Food Network's got nothing on Almanzo's mama. 
I think they're also hoping for a cherry dessert tonight. 
Bunny and Gracie also like the grass.  Bunny bugs the cat almost continually.  The torment has recently abated somewhat as Gracie is in the family way and refuses to run.

 Calla still runs every week. (How'd ya like that segue?) She also sews her own clothes. I guess she's getting on the blush bandwagon for summer.
 We are still hammering out school. 
 Curt is hammering numbers.  Wait--he calls it "crunching numbers."  I'd never heard that 'til I married him.  My family wasn't much for accounting.  He's trying to make our NGO's accounts balance to the som.  Which is like a penny, only more.  Number crunchers are finicky that way.
 I wanted to include a pic of each of us, and so I set up the camera timer to take a staged photo of Nial and I with his schoolwork.  I have good hair today, and he really was writing an essay for geography.
Alas, he smiled cheesily and I had three chins.  I had no idea.  I am dismayed.
So we will concentrate on pleasanter things.
 I wanted a succulent garden. Theo made me this awesome box, and I learned how to propagate wee, puffy plants via the world wide web.  The problem is that in southern K'stan, I can get my turquoise thumbs on exactly three varieties of succulents.  Four, if I stretch the definition.
 Therefore, my box looks nothing like the ones online.  I don't care.
Tell me these aren't the cutest things ever.
Succulents grow up too.  How about these blushing blooms?  Heart eyes.
These pre-summer days are treating us well.  Triple chins notwithstanding.

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