Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Larry Tweed’s Kyrgyzstan Update: Burlesque Broads & Peacock Politics


I've actually been busy these last few days. Tracked down a Russian Language tutor (ironically she's a professor of english at the University) to work with twice a week (Peace Corps re-imburses us for up to 100 som/per lesson and up to 16 lessons/month). 100 soms = $2.50.

With over half my office involved in election's monitoring related activites, coworkers have been swarming in and out of the office leaving me to work on reviewing reports and search for new sources of funding ("Sustainability" here means--where are we going to find the next grant?). I've also been teaching english lessons twice/week to my co-workers--an activity that's helped remind me (like I really needed a reminder) how difficult language learning really is.

In other news, I think there is a Peacock revolution taking place in Kyrgyzstan. Every woman over the age of 40 owns a long sweater (they come in beige, maroon and gray) with a giant peacock knit into the back. I'm not joking about the every woman over 40 part either. These things are everywhere. We've started competitions to see who could count the most on a one block stroll (I've made it to 17, but I've heard of others reaching 27, 32 and one legendary tally of 37). Perhaps this is a new political party--if so, their candidate will surely win.

Oddity of the day:
Today I saw children holding onto the tailgate of car as it dragged them down a snow covered street.

Hidden Treasure:
I found old black & white photographs of Russian looking people hidden in a cupboard in my apartment along with x-rays (of what i'm assuming is the previous tenant's vertebra).

These photographs are amazing and if I can scan them somewhere I would love to add them to my blog. Most of them appear to be family photos, but there is one hilarious one of two corpulent Russian ladies, hurriedly modeling their brassieres in a burlesque repose and smiling wildly as a locomotive chugs closer from behind. I laughed out loud.

Days are flying by…only 34 until Solena visits.

Take care,

Larry Tweed

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Morning Taxi Ride

I am in a taxi, bouncing over dirt roads, on my second journey to Jalalabad. Winter’s morning sun burns slow through a veil of vapor hovering just above the fields. Corn stock shadows hang in the air, cast in cold fog, black bones in a spider’s web. I am alone in this moment, suspended, rapt by the creature of memory.


I turn from the sun and shadows to face my friend, a young man named Erkin (whose name, he tells me, means “Freedom”), “Yes Erkin…what is it?”

“Brother,” he paused, rolling the word around in his mouth, “you looked so serious, what do you think about just now?”

“I…I was thinking about the light…the sunlight on those fields,” I turned, gazing back out the window, to the landscape passing by like frames of a motion picture, “If you could be anywhere right now Erkin, where would you be?”

“I would be in America…California maybe. It is warm there, yes?”

“Yes,” I smiled, “It’s warm there.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Institute for War and Peace Reporting: "Kyrgyz Anger Over �Defective� Passports
Golden eagle on cover of new document resembles a chicken, claim furious deputies."

Internet has been up and down lately--I should have a new post up in few days. But, don't count your, chickens, until they're hatched.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Ivanovka, Kyrgyzstan: Looking out my front door (September) Posted by Hello

Kyrgyzstan Elections: Feeding the Body Politic

2005 promises to be a big year in Kyrgyzstan politics. For the first time since 1990, when Askar Akaev was ushered into the presidency as a “compromise candidate”, the Kyrgyz people might have the opportunity to elect a new leader. While many Kyrgyz believe that Akaev will run again—despite the constitutional ban on another term—President Akaev has repeatedly promised the people (beginning in 2002) and the international community (Richard Armitage in July, 2004 and Colin Powell in September, 2004) that he will step down.

Though Akaev’s intentions may be to turn over the reigns, the question that lays in wait is who will pick them up. In talking with everyday folks in both the north and south, a lot of people seem to think this horse, known as Kyrgyzstan, is not worth riding. Others still herald Kyrgyzstan as the nicest democratic pony in Central Asian politics, but their praise has been slowing as Akaev pulls back on the very freedoms that he rode into power on.

(An excellent report concerning this period of political transition can be found at ICG’s website.)

One recent example of Akaev’s duplicity is his denouncement of the recent peaceful political protests in Bishkek. These protests, spawned by the parliament’s refusal to certify Roza Otunbaeva as an opposition candidate, may mark the beginning of Kyrgyzstan’s own “velvet revolution”. Akaev, who proudly stumps for press freedoms said the protests were “…unruly, irresponsible and overall libel…I understand when the opposition and their criticisms are constructive, but there are lies in the newspapers. I try to be patient because progress in my country is important for me."

Otunbaeva, recently served as both a former Kyrgyz ambassador in the United Kingdom and as a foreign minister. Now a member of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party, an opposition party that is competing for the same parliamentary seat as Bermet Akaev (the president’s daughter), Ms. Otunbaeva hoped to be certified as an official candidate in the Jogorku Kenesh elections on February 27th. Initially the Election Committee granted Otunbaeva permission to run, however, that permission was later revoked due to “restrictions on former ambassadors.” See Eurasianet article

In fact, the Election Committee didn't cite to “restrictions on former ambassadors” but, rather, to a five year residency rule. The rule is located in Article 69 of the Code “On Elections in the Kyrgyz Republic”.

Article 69. Fixing Elections of Deputies to the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic

Provides that:

1. Any citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic, who on the election day has reached 25 years, having the right to participate in elections and who has been permanent resident in the Republic for not less than 5 years before his/her nomination as a candidate for deputy may be elected a deputy of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Currently, Otunbaeva appears to be promoting the argument that since she was serving as diplomat, and acting with the full authority of the laws and procedures of the Kyrgyz Republic, she in fact continued to hold residence in Bishkek (the capital and origin of her country’s laws) while serving as ambassador and foreign minister.

One of the amazing things thus far, is the fact that Otunabaeva and the demonstrators have maintained press coverage and received a presidential rebuke. Nothing legitimizes and propels a movement like Authority and the Media. Though many see the average Kyrgyz voter as lacking the appetite of those in the Ukraine and Georgia, the prospect of political starvation--viz. being dished out another low calorie Akaev--has started a few people drooling over the idea of new entrée… With an entire buffet of opposition candidates competing for the political platter, I just wonder how hungry the average citizen really is.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Cold War Remnants (this is one of the first things you see when you enter the school in Ivanovka, Kyrygyzstan.) Note: the mushroom cloud in the lower left corner. Posted by Hello

Photo of my meter reader in Ivanovka (see blog post titled:Thursday, December 09, 2004

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been! Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan.
 Posted by Hello

The Ubiquitous "McMosque" (this one's located in Ivanovka). Posted by Hello

Kyrgyz Cowboys (road from Bishkek to Osh): November, 2004 Posted by Hello

Photo taken from balcony at Hotel Issyk Kul in Bishkek: Fall 2004 Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Me and the U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (Dr. Stephen Young) at his house in Bishkek. Posted by Hello

Swearing in Ceremony in Bishkek: Me with host mom and Host sister. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Stairing Down and Stepping Up: The Story of Self-Expression in Soviet Architecture.

After you live any place new for awhile, things you once found extraordinary become everyday and commonplace. While there is sadness in this loss of easy fascination, there is also opportunity to explore subtler layers of the new world. Sometimes this exploration requires effort (mindful reflection during the process of comparing realities) Other times, you simply fall right on to them.

For instance, I have discovered how easy it is for foreigners to trip on the stairs. At first, I thought it was because we were fascinated with everything else and didn’t pay attention while navigating the stairwells. Or, because we were always carrying bags, boxes and suitcases and couldn’t see properly. Or, Maybe it was because the stairs were always poorly lit. Lot’s of theories bounced around in my head—and I shared them with other volunteers, whose scrapes and bruises spoke of their own desire to answer this riddle. And then I heard the stories about the former Soviet Union…

I can only tell you what I have heard…and so, in some ways, this is only a rumor—but it is a rumor that has spawned my theory. As you may or may not know, the former Soviet Union was renown for its uniformity. Not only do statues and buildings ring with the dull monotonous tone of blocky, geometric similitude—but entire cities were erected using exactly the same plans. Everything from the library to the bread store to the names of the streets, all carbon copies of other cities in other regions in other oblasts. Call it uniformity, assimilation, structural equality—but it’s less than artistic and the antithesis of originality and self-expression.

Apparently an entire genre of literature and film has risen from the blueprints of this Soviet architecture. The stories I have heard go something like this: a man passes out on a train which is bound for the city of a loved one (let’s say it’s his girlfriend). He is planning on proposing to this woman upon his arrival. Unknowingly, he misses his stop, and alights in another city. The city, a replica of his girlfriend’s, has the same buildings, street names etc. In essence, he gets off the train in another universe—one only slightly different from his own. He walks to the building where his girlfriend lives and another woman opens the doors or it could be a boyfriend or husband who greets him. You can imagine what happens…humor, chaos, confusion, insight, new discoveries. The point is, despite a world intentionally structured to create bland familiarity and blasé sameness—expressions of individuality and uniqueness surface.

Now imagine the poor architects and craftsman who spent their entire lives building the same thing over and over again. How Sisyphean! How frustrating must that have been to be forever destined to build the same city, library, courthouse, over and over and over again. An artist’s nightmare…to have the creativity wrenched out of you--your very being and desire to Create, squeezed from your pores and dripped into the same dry cement that seals your fate every time you erect another coffin shaped apartment building.

And then you have an idea.

The big bellies in Moscow seem only to be concerned with appearances. A sort of If it looks the same then it is the same—where’s the vodka? mentality. And so you decide to test them.

You start by making the stairs smaller—so that the courthouse in Leningrad has fifty fives steps while the seemingly identical one in Stalingrad has sixty. Nobody notices your subtle disturbance and you feel exhilarated.

You share this with the other architects and artisans and builders and before you know it every staircase in every building becomes an explosive medium for self-expression. Stairs are no longer uniform, in fact every single one is different. A different size, a different length a different height—sometimes each step is even forged from a different batch of cement; each difference restoring the soul of the artist; filling his empty lungs with oxygen; his heart with warm blood. Originality, individualism, self-expression.

Those who were born of this culture of architectural rebellion have no problem navigating what foreigners find foolish, Masonic treachery. Those native to this land learn early that every stair is sacred, a masterpiece that deserves, in fact, demands, attention. They navigate with an innate knowledge that a nation can not rely on uniformity to secure its path in history—that self-expression requires responsibility.

As for me, I’m still licking my wounds and watching my bruises change colors. But as I do, I hope to keep noticing those subtle things like stairs.