Monday, December 30, 2013

Home Sweet Home

People say that it takes a village to raise a child. I would argue for an expat, making a house (or an apartment) a home also takes a village. A little over two weeks ago, my flatmate and I moved into our new apartment. We were looking for more independence than living with a host family had afforded us.

My new apartment is in a district outside of the city center. It’s a spacious (2-bedroom, balcony, kitchen, and full bath+ washer) first-floor apartment close to the bus stop. As soon as we paid the retailer (9,000 rubles—highway robbery) and the owner left, the benefits ended.

In the midst of grading final exams we moved-in. We found ourselves with a mold-ridden bathroom, a seat-less toilet, a leaky faucet, see-through curtains, and furniture infested with fleas and bed bugs. Our freedom had turned into an arduous challenge.

Over break I have made it my mission to make the apartment livable. Many people have helped us clean the apartment. Others have donated accessories and information about where to find cleaning supplies. Honestly, I have never been more excited in my life to receive a new pillow and blankets for Christmas/New Year’s presents.

So now, after the extermination of the bugs, I can finally make a cocoon in my bed and relax for the rest of winter break. 

Pictures of us hanging up curtains that are not see-through.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sled Babies

As many people know, I love baby and toddler accessories from Northern Europe. This year, I have not been disappointed. During my time in Estonia, Finland, and Bishkek (Fine, it’s not Northern Europe, but it still gets snow and ice.), I have never seen anything as functional and adorable as these winter sleds/strollers for children. In general, I have observed that parks are usually full of families taking a stroll with the newborn during spring, summer, and fall, but these sleds provide a wonderful option for winter. Of course, there are many styles depending on the child’s height and weight, but the main components include runners with wheels attached to the back (for non-snowy areas), a seating place, and a handle. Here are some of my latest creeper shots from my romps around Dobroe: 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Beginnings of Winter in Vladimir, Russia

     After completing my internship in Bishkek, I moved to Vladimir, a small historical city in Russia, to work for a company called The American Home. As you can see, the building actually looks like an American home. 
     Our fall semester is quickly coming to an end. In general, this means piles of journals and quizzes to grade, but it also means snow has come for good. As one who has lived in the South for half of her life, the first day of snow was exciting and terrifying. Usually, two fallen snowflakes in North Carolina bring about school delays, bank closures, and a massive rush to buy all of the bread and milk in the grocery stores. Luckily, I am not the only teacher from the South. We all comiserated the day we looked out the window, saw three inches of snow, and gasped as the trolley buses were still working. 
      Now that we have become accustomed to the snow, I've begun to notice that there are vast differences in snowfalls. In North Carolina, we just have the big, slow, falling flakes that encourage you to grab an oversized sweater and some hot chocolate. But in Russia,during the “warm” winter nights, you can sometimes see glittery snow. It’s the kind of snow you would see in old 1940s or 1950s Hollywood films (but probably in those cases it was actual glitter). It’s the kind that is perfect for a jaunt around your Soviet apartment block.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summertime in the States

I am back in the States for the summer break. Before I leave for my next contract in Russia, I am slowly getting closer to a successful recipe for lepyoshka (лепёшка) without a tandori. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sewing and Felt Handicrafts Course

While shopping at the bazaars, one can't help but notice all of the felt products Kyrgyzstan has to offer. People in the streets wear felt hats and coats. Inside homes, people wear felt slippers on felt rugs. I've even seen people wear felt jewelry and children carry felt dolls. Felt products are not touristy souvenirs, but have been a part of everyday Kyrgyz life for centuries. 

Last month, a good friend of mine (one of the international students) took an embroidery and felt-making class at one of the local art schools. Often at hookah bars or while watching Game of Thrones, she would pull out her latest homework assignment and begin sewing. The pieces she was creating were beautiful and intricate. 

So in my admiration and lack of internet at home, I decided to take the course this month. All I can say is that I am addicted. I cannot find enough designs to sew or enough people to make things for. Two other teachers from my school and myself are taking the course twice a week. We began with talismans, then earrings, flowers, camels, and now yurts! If I had more time, the teacher, a small gentile Kyrgyz woman, said that we could have learned how to make slippers or shyrdaks (felt rugs), but alas June is coming quickly.  

Here are some of the things I've made thus far: 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cafe Review: Chaixana Cafe Jalal-Abad

Chaixana/Cafe Jalal-Abad
Cnr of Kiev and Togolok Moldo, Bishkek

As the weather has gotten warmer, Bishkek is abound with outdoor cafes. Cafe Jalal-Abad was recommended to us through a local teacher at the school. Now, a group of us go there biweekly to enjoy the atmosphere and food.

Jalal-Abad has both indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating resembles traditional chaixanas, where customers are expected to take off their shoes before sitting on the raised couches. On the weekends or pretty days, the outdoor seating can fill up pretty quickly. The indoor seating resembles a Western cafe with tables and chairs.

The menu ranges from southern Kyrgyz food to Uyghur dishes. I recommend the shashlik (meat on a stick), the plov (best plov in Bishkek), or the manti (Central Asian dumplings). There are vegetarian options like the pumpkin or potato manti. If you sit outside, you can watch your samsa (meat pie) or shashlik being cooked. I also recommend ordering a dip under the salad section (the name escapes me) made of tvorog (farmer's cheese) and smetana (sour cream). It's excellent to add to your plov if you find it spicy or dipping lepyoshka (Central Asian bread) in it.

Occasionally, we've had price disputes over the bill; however all such problems have been resolved. 

 The architecture is Southern Kyrgyz                                             Cooking samsa in a tandori

Side of rice with different salads                                  Traditional summer salad with shashlik

Plov with green tea and tvorog/smetana dip

A Uyghir dish                                                                                         Vegetarian Manti

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Government Teaching Programs

Teaching Assistant Program in France (aka TAPIF)- Work with young or high school age students in France and its overseas departments (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion). The school year starts in October and ends in April. Must be intermediate French. Applications due: Early January
North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain- Work in a K-12 setting in a public school in Spain. Posts are located across the country. School year begins in October and ends May 31st. Must have intermediate Spanish. Applications due: Early April
Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG)- Work with students K-6 along side a co-teacher in rural Georgia. The school year begins in August until June. Applications due: Hiring will begin in June 2013.
English Opens Doors Program, Chile- Co-teach in public and semi-private schools for 6 months. Teacher are placed throughout Chile. Must have a degree from a university. Additional benefits include TEFL training, and an online Spanish course. Applications due: Year Round
Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program- Applicants can apply for three different positions: Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), Coordinator for International Relations (CIR), or Sports Exchange Advisor (SEA). Participants are placed all over the country. Must be a citizen of a participating countryApplications due: Late November
English Program in Korea (EPIK)- Teachers will work in primary and secondary schools throughout Korea. Furnished apartments are provided. Contracts are for one year. Applications due: April for September placement and October for March placement

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kyrgyz Lagman Recipe

For the last cooking class, our teacher was going to help us make lagman (лагман) from scratch, noodles and all. Honestly, I had been waiting for this and fearing it all at the same time. Making homemade noodles is no joke, and as I quickly learned, perhaps more practice is necessary for me. I learned some more humility during this class. 
What is lagman? Lagman is this amazingly hearty stew with meat, vegetables, noodles (лапша) and a flavorful, spicy broth. Lagman is traditionally a Uyghur or Dungan dish. These Muslim minorities migrated from northern China to Kyrgyzstan and other parts of Central Asia. Now, lagman can been seen in Central Asia, China, and even Russia. 

So if you have a couple of hours and some friends to help, I totally recommend making some lagman.

8 cups of flour
1 1/2 cups of water water
2-3 eggs

1 lb of beef or lamb (we used beef)
3 cups of broth
1 onion
1 green radish
3 carrots
2 red bell peppers (In Kyrgyzstan, they are pickled with salt, but fresh is fine as well.)
1/4 cup of tomato paste
Head of garlic, minced
Vegetable or Sunflower seed oil
Chopped parsley for garnish

For the noodles
1. In a bowl, mix the flour, water and eggs together. 
2. Knead the dough until it is pliable (this will help later on). Then let it sit for 30 minutes or so.
3. Divide the dough into thick strands (see picture below). It is a good idea to oil your hands while working with the dough. Then cover the pieces in oil and let them rest for 10-15 minutes. 
4.  Begin to roll the dough with your palms against the table and stretch the dough. As the noodles get longer hit them against the table, it will help even out the dough. Don't for get to keep the noodles oiled as well.  If a strand is not stretching well, let it rest for a while.  (Don't worry if your noodles don't look nice! I questioned all my cooking abilities while doing this. I've been told it just takes practice)
5. Fold the noodles as they become longer and thinner.
6. In a pot of boil water, cook the noodles  for 5 minutes. Then rinse them in cold water and cover with oil. 
7. When serving, place the pasta first in your serving bowls. 


For the stew
1. In the meantime, slice onion (in "half moons"), carrots (matchstick), radish (matchstick), and meat (cubed).
2. First, heat up oil in a large pot. Add the meat, garlic, and onions. Cook until meat is slightly browned.
3.  Then add broth, carrots, radish, peppers, and tomato paste.
4. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes until carrots and radishes are cooked through.

For plating
Place the noodles in the bowl first, followed by the stew and parsley. If you like your lagman spicy, you can make a paste out of chili powder, red pepper, garlic, and oil to add on top. Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cafe Review: Sierra Coffee KG

Sierra Coffee KG
Manas, by the Russian Embassy

Snuggled in between two rather imposing buildings, Sierra Coffee offers customers comforting cups of Western coffee concoctions and familiar food. 

If you are looking for lattes, frappes, or a simple cup of coffee, you will not be disappointed purchasing it here. In addition to freshly ground coffee, the menu includes breakfast burritos, pancakes and waffles (with real maple syrup!), and a slew of sandwiches. 

There are many cafes in Bishkek, but in my opinion Sierra has the most relaxed atmosphere. As you walk in, you will see groups of dark wooden tables and chairs and sofas in a warm interior. Near the front window, there is a bar seating-area, which is perfect for people watching. To the left, there is a smoking room for smokers. There's a communal library near the sofas and Krygyz handicrafts line the other walls.  

Before going, I had read other reviews that the staff were not customer friendly; however, after visiting Sierra several times, I can say the rumors are not true. All of the staff speak Russian, Krygyz, and even English. In the short time that I have been here, I have become a regular, and the waiters and waitresses know my name and normal order, just like at any other Western cafe.   

The feeling of community does not end with the staff, most of the customers know each other at Sierra because this cafe is basically Bishkek's expat hub. You'll never know who you'll meet when you sit down. I've met people ranging from backpackers, embassy and IGO workers, young local professionals, local university students, to ESL teachers. If you are looking for any information about Bishkek or the surrounding area, stop here first. 

The only negative aspects that I have experienced so far are not enough seating (especially in the mornings on the weekend), prices are rather expensive in comparison to other places and sometimes the cafe is understaffed, but overall, Sierra has been an amazing source of comfort as I transition to life in Bishkek. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kyrgyz Plov Recipe

This week I started taking cooking. Our first lesson was Kyrgyz Plov.

1lbs. 2 ounces beef (мясо)- cut into quarter size pieces
3 cups of rice (рис)- rinsed and sitting in water as you prepare the other ingredients (at least half an hour)
2-3 onions (лук)- cut in half and then cut into slivers (half-moons)
4 carrots (морковь)- julienned, about an inch long
1 1/5 cups of vegetable oil (масло)
1 head of garlic (чеснок)- peeled
1 bullion cube
1/2 cup of parsley (петрушка), chopped
Plov spice mix, red pepper, black pepper, and salt about 2-3 tablespoons of each

1. Prepare ingredients as stated in the ingredients list.
2. Pour vegetable oil in a large pot ( cast iron pot does well for this) over medium-high heat. Let oil get hot (you should hear crackling) and then place the onions in the pot.
3. When onions turn golden, add carrots on top of them. The place the шапка, or lid, on the pot for five minutes.
4. Add meat, salt, red pepper, black pepper, and plov spice (this is a mixture of cumin, garlic powder, coriander, carraway seeds, chili, paprika you buy in the store or markets here). Stir until meat looks brown.
5. Add water, enough to barely cover you ingredients in the pot. Add bullion cube. Let the bullion cube dissolve and take time to taste your sauce. This is the time to add anymore salt.
6. When the water has come to a boil, add your rice (that has been soaking in a separate bowl of water). Cover, and lower the heat so that the water simmers.
7. Preparing the garlic: take off the outer layers of garlic, leaving a bit of the skin on (see picture in previous post). When the water is gone, dig a little hole and bury the head of garlic. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.
8. Serve with chopped parsley, green onions and dill as garnish.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Arrival to Bishkek

It's day five since my arrival to Bishkek. Amazingly (for those of you who know the full story, it is truly amazing) I made it from GSO to LGA, a bus ride from LGA to JFK, JFK to IST, and IST to FRU.

There is a long hallway is IST lined with benches and outlets where captives of the airport sleep hunched over their bags and covered in puffy winter coats. After many cups of coffee and tediously trying to get some wifi signal, I decided to join them. Although not comfortable, I totally felt safe and not worried about my bags.

Early Saturday morning, I arrived in Bishkek. It wasn't the kind of magical winter wonderland that I remember in Estonia, but driving from the airport to the city watching the sun rise over the mountains and plans of snow was breathtaking. And that was my introduction to Kyrgyzstan.

I live in a flat near the school with other international students and the school cat, who I have affectionately named Luba (A Russian name I love but could never give a child.). My apartment is heated, includes an oven, a stove, a full-sized refrigerator, and an amazing shower. 

On Saturday, I had lunch at a cafe with a friend who introduced me to Central Asian cuisine. I was stunned at how flavorful it was compared to Eastern European and Caucasian food.

After lunch, I got lost. Like super lost, as in I am going to keep walking and hope to find a fire pit on the road to curl up next to, if necessary, tonight. I was looking for a grocery store, and kept getting distracted by these heinous circus posters everywhere. They were garish with a bear popping out of a swirling multi-colored background. This is how I missed my home. There was/is a wall covered in those posters right outside of my apartment that I had missed earlier. Having to look at the posters as I was walking home was just so shocking, I guess, I forgot to look for the blue building (my apt is sky blue). As I was walking along, a woman came up to me and started speaking Russian. I said I didn't know and that I was also looking for a building. A school. We walked together. She asked several people on the street if they knew where the school was. She even called some friends, but she had no luck. It wasn't until we were very far off that we met an English speaking piano student who decided to show me the way to a school (she didn't know if it was mine, but it was a school nonetheless).

While the girl and I were walking, I had my first fall on the ice. By the way, the sidewalks here are covered in at least an inch of ice. We were outside of a supermarket when my feet flew up in the air, I grabbed for a babushka, the old lady screamed, and I landed on my back. At that moment, I was so glad I owned a puffy jacket. My new friend asked if I was all right and the man beside the babushka kept imitating her scream in a falsetto. I wanted to say "No, I am not okay. I want to have a pity party and cry right now because I can't find my home and I just fell on my arse." But I did neither (although it was incredibly tempting), I smiled and moved on. Eventually, we did find my apartment before dark.

Now, some say my accident could have been avoided if I hadn't been wearing heels, but I insist that it is possible to walk in heels on the ice because the locals do it. I just have to find my ice feet.

The next day, Sunday, had so much potential, yet failed in so many ways. I had intentions of finding a cafe that serves American style cappuccinos and lattes, but my shower with the amazing water pressure flooded our bathroom. Unsure of what to do, I took a nap. Then I woke up, and the water had disappeared.

Unfortunately, the next day my shower did the same thing. As I was toweling off, I heard a knock on my door (mumbled something in English assuming it was one of my flat mates) and a tiny man's head appeared. Vie mae!! Startled, he shut the door. Shouting "one minute, one minute" in Russian, I quickly got dressed and asked why he was here. Apparently, my bathroom had flooded the first floor. As I tried to explain the doors of the shower were closed, and the water was "swimming" (I couldn't think of the proper Russian word) to the back of the wall of the bathroom and vanishing (this required miming), he splashed over to the pipes and said a proper technician would have to come. Two days later, we still don't know if the technician came. C'est la vie!