Cool Stuff by Cool People

Just in case you need a few more gift ideas for awesome people in your life, allow me to make a few suggestions from some of the coolest people I know.

Restrepo Leather makes bags, belts, wallets and other leather accessories. The company was started by Robin and Jerry Tolochko, two good friends I knew in DC who moved to Bogota, Colombia. Curious to hear more about their story? You’re in luck, because they also have their own House Hunters International episode! Their leather goods are strictly handmade by talented artisans in Bogota, and they’re so awesome that one of their bags was featured in GQ magazine’s Best Stuff of 2013.

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I wrote about Kancha before, and thanks to their successful crowdfunding campaign, their online shop is now open! Felt and leather sleeves for smartphones, tablets and laptops in a variety of colors and designs, produced fairly and ethically in Kyrgyzstan and Germany. I still use my smartphone sleeve every day.

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Brooke lived in Bishkek before I moved there, which sparked a Twitter friendship and a few meet-ups whenever she swung through Central Asia. She writes a couple of travel-themed blogs and now she has started her own line of travel-friendly perfume sticks called AROAMAS. The genius part about these is that they fit perfectly in your suitcase without the risk of shattered glass and spilled liquid every where, not to mention it won’t count as part of any liquid restrictions in your carry-on. Way to go, Brooke!

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And if you’re looking for something truly unique, my brother-in-law, Steve Fast, makes the most stunning custom furniture and accessories from different types of wood. Check out Fast Industries’ website or Etsy page to see some of his work!

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So let’s see, if you’re interested in buying something local, I have a pretty solid chunk of the world covered for you. Nobody paid me to write this, I just wanted to spread the word about some of the cool things my friends are making that you can buy for the cool people in your life this holiday season!

exploring Brussels

I have a feeling that one of the main driving factors to get me to explore Ghent and other nearby cities is going to be people visiting me. I’m certain that my friends and family wouldn’t enjoy sitting around the house, running after Darwin (and instagramming him) all day, so therefore I have to play tourist. But that can be fun!

My cousin and her boyfriend had the honor of being the first people to visit us in Ghent! First, they stopped in Brussels for a few days, and we caught up with them to explore the Christmas Market together.

Luckily the mid-morning train to Brussels was nearly empty for us in the first car, giving Darwin plenty of room to run around.

An awesome steampunk-like carousel at the Christmas Market.

There was a skating rink full of hipster kids, including a whole group of actual talented skaters (like, jumping over each other, doing flips and twirls) who were sponsored by Nutella (or all coordinated to wear the same Nutella sweatshirt).

We would walk around, then sit in a cafe, then walk some more, and sit in another cafe. It’s a good way to pass the time. In another square there was another cool-looking carousel.

Luckily the train home was just as empty. What else is there to do in Brussels? Leave me some tips if you have any!

(P.S. If you’re reading this post through a reader program like Feedly or Bloglovin, click through and check out the new site design!)

finding the perfect park

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This is new territory for us. Now that Darwin is walking, he’s no longer content to be carted around all day, either in the Ergo carrier or his stroller. Sometimes I just gotta let the guy run around. This isn’t something we had to deal with in Bishkek, since he hardly crawled while we lived there. Now in Ghent, I’m constantly on the lookout for the perfect park.

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The perfect park:
– is easily accessible by stroller or bike
– appears to be open to the public
– has a hard-top play area (no sand)
– doesn’t appear to be primarily used as a dog toilet
– has play equipment fit for younger kids
– is located where it has a slim chance of drying out a bit during the five minutes of sunshine per day (otherwise it’s a muddy mess 24/7)

So far the perfect park has eluded us. When Darwin is bundled up, his toddles become even more wobbly, so walking on wet sand is a bit of a disaster. I mean, it’s a bit funny to watch him try to walk on wet sand, he does a sort of slow-motion fall that’s cute and a bit pitiful at the same time. Then I have to deal with the fact that he’s not only wet, but covered in sand. I’m not a fan.

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Playgrounds with that soft, rubbery, recycled-tire feel are much easier for him to walk on, but so far they’ve been installed with jungle gyms that look like training apparatuses for the Hunger Games. Twisted metal bars, strung with ropes, everything is textured and meant to be climbed on, anything that moves is meant to propel you in a dizzying circle. Farrell and I could hardly master them; Darwin simply runs around.

I noticed that during the week, when I’m out running errands with Darwin, I hardly see any other kids. I only see teeny, tiny, wrinkly newborns. I finally realized that all of the older babies and toddlers are in daycare. The only babies out are the fresh ones whose moms are still on maternity leave (it exists here! Europe, omg!). Darwin is the odd kid out, who has nothing to do all day but deal with me hovering over him at the playground to make sure that he doesn’t trip and fall into a pile of dog poop (again). Getting Darwin into daycare, which I imagine as some magical wonderland of indoor space to run around and socialize with other toddlers, requires an exhaustive amount of bureaucratic hurdles, from what I can tell.

Registering as a resident of Ghent, and therefore gaining the ability to send Darwin to daycare, might be more difficult than anything I had to do as a resident of Bishkek (probably because Bishkek didn’t have any great social benefits that I was after, and I could shake off my lack of necessary paperwork by explaining that I was a dumb foreigner). Until then, we’ll continue our search for the perfect park.

fears to overcome

Well, there are many. I’m kind of a nervous person.

But anyway.

Living in Ghent presented me with two very specific fears to overcome. One of them I think I’m doing a pretty good job with already. One of them… eh, I need some time.

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First: steep stairs

Every single house we looked at back in August had steep stairs connecting the floors. Sometimes the stairs had no risers, sometimes they had no railing, sometimes they had neither.

“Oh, that’s a strange way to arrange open-shelving on the wall like that. How am I supposed to reach those top ones? And why is there a hole in the ceiling leading to the next floor?”

I have an extreme fear of heights. I say this, and people usually respond something like, “Me too, I get a bit nervous when I’m standing on a cliff/rock-climbing/looking out the window of a skyscraper/etc.” No, mine is different. Farrell will gladly tell whoever is listening about the time I got stuck in an old minaret in Cairo back in 2008 because I was too afraid to continue up or down.

Fast-forward five years from that and there has been little improvement in my stair/heights phobia. It became clear after a few days of house-hunting in Ghent that steep, scary stairs were inevitable in whichever house we ended up renting. I didn’t see this house before we moved in, but Farrell warned me, “It has the worst stairs of any house we looked at.”

Ugh.

The first few days were rough. The first set of stairs curves slightly and is narrow and steep. The second set much more closely resembles a ladder; the steps are narrow and there are no risers. There’s a railing, but it ends halfway up to the third floor. I can’t place my whole foot along any of the steps, I have to walk up and down them in an uncomfortable side-step. Our bedroom is on the third floor, and at first, Darwin’s crib was set up there with us. I couldn’t imagine navigating those stairs in the dark to deal with him in the middle of the night. But that created another problem, I couldn’t carry Darwin up and down any of the stairs because I was too busy clutching the walls with both hands. I had enough trouble just dealing with transporting myself, what was I supposed to do with a 25-pound baby?

(I know, Darwin is huge for his age. 10 months!)

In the morning, when Farrell got up for work, he’d take Darwin downstairs and I would follow. That’s where we would stay until he got home from work at night. I set up a makeshift sleeping area for Darwin in the living room. It worked for the first few days, but imagining those two floors laying stagnant during daytime hours started to bug me, especially with all of the unpacking and organizing we had to do.

Farrell moved Darwin’s crib to the second floor, where his bedroom would be. We left lights on at night so I could watch every careful step. I used the Ergo carrier during the day to leave my hands free to clutch the railing as I put Darwin for a nap on the second floor. I strapped on our extra-large duffle bags like a backpack to move our things upstairs. I felt like a sherpa ascending Mount Everest, conquering such a monumental vertical challenge.

And then? It became easier. I didn’t have to grip the railing so fiercely. I didn’t have to watch my foot landing just so on each step. I didn’t need both hands to stabilize my balance. I didn’t need the Ergo to carry Darwin. I even pulled off some pretty huge victories (if I do say so myself), like carrying all of the pieces to a Malm dresser up to the third floor, and carrying a surprisingly heavy desk down from the third to the second floor.

I have to admit, I still haven’t taken Darwin up to the third flood on my own, but I consider the fear of these stairs specifically to be overcome.

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Now, onto the next looming fear: bike-riding

This one is also irrational if you consider my history. My dad loves to cycle. Loves it. A few summers ago, he cycled from Virginia to California on his own in 42 days. Let that sink in, a man in his 50s rode across the entire United States on his bike. Needless to say, we went on many bike rides when I was younger. Six, 12, or 20-mile bike rides were normal for a leisurely Saturday with my dad. I almost completed a 100-mile charity bike race, but I hit a bad patch of road somewhere in New Jersey and dislocated my shoulder. I haven’t ridden much since I went to college and subsequently starting moving all over the world.

That needs to change; now I’m in bike-friendly Ghent. I already have a bike, I bought it second-hand back in August.

But, now it sits outside my house, chained up and hardly used. Farrell reminds me of this a lot.

So why aren’t I taking advantage of Ghent’s bike lanes and bike racks and bike stoplights and bike everything to explore my new city? Cobblestones, tram tracks, rain (I saw a woman eat pavement after her wheel got caught in the tracks during a rainstorm), not knowing the hand signals or traffic rules regarding bikers (who gets the right of way? a tram, a bus, a car, a biker, a pedestrian?), the fact that I first have to go to a bike shop and get some kinks worked out and a kid seat installed, which involves either having Farrell go with me on Saturday, or strapping Darwin to my chest and walking my bike there any other day (but not Sunday, and not during lunch, and hopefully not at the same time that they’re only open for half the day) and interacting with someone who I first have to apologize to for not yet speaking any Dutch. Haven’t I mentioned before that I’m embarrassed at my foreignness? Therefore, not a whole lot of biking yet.

It’s getting better, slowly. We rode to a shop near our house that sells farm-fresh dairy products so I could buy raw milk to turn into yogurt. I survived the bike ride just fine. Baby steps.

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What sort of challenges have you had to face in a new location (whether you were visiting or there for good)?

tiny sidewalks

This is what I saw while out walking one day, standing in a perfectly normal spot in the center of the sidewalk:

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I could almost pet this cat.

I’m a bit shocked by the closeness of European cities. All of the houses are smushed up against one another; sidewalks are barely a few bricks wide. It means that when I’m outside, I’m always inches away from someone’s living room, kitchen, whatever. I see their cats, their faded, plastic flowers, their questionable design decisions and what TV show they’re watching. Is it weird to stare? Sometimes I can’t help it, especially at night when the lights from inside the house project the inhabitants’ actions like a movie screen. Oh, I see you’re preparing dinner now. I see you’re enjoying some football (ahem, that’s soccer to you Americans). I see you store your bikes inside. I see you have tacky wallpaper.

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(I can’t fit on that side of the street with Darwin’s stroller.)

Bishkek felt a bit more anonymous and guarded, with its looming, concrete Stalinkas. Dozens of inhabitants wrapped up in the same outer walls, usually situated far back from the sidewalk. I could stare at the windows, but the only thing to differentiate them from each other would be barely noticeable wisps of curtains or the different colored light bulbs each owner used to illuminate their apartment at night. Some cool blues, some warm yellows. The distance gave me some anonymity too, I could gaze at a specific window without anybody being able to pinpoint exactly what I was looking at.

Not here. It makes me feel like a voyeur to even turn my head for a quick glimpse. Suddenly I feel embarrassed, like I need to hurry past an exposed window, eyes looking down, apologizing for practically intruding in a stranger’s living room. I’d be inside their house with no effort if not for this thin pane of glass.

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I guess it’s something I’ll have to get used to here, but for now I’ll just use Darwin as an excuse to shamelessly gawk and point at all the cats in my neighbors’ windows.

Ivory Pomegranate on Instagram

After leaving Kyrgyzstan, I upgraded my candy-bar Nokia cell phone (that I had been using since 2007) to a smartphone. It not only has a color screen (!!!) but it also takes photos! Whoa, technology, cool!

Anyway, I’m on Instagram now. It’s mostly photos of Darwin and random shots of Ghent, because I’ve been receiving a fair amount of peer pressure from non-Ghent friends who want to see evidence that I actually live here. It’s nice to snap little photos here and there without carrying around my heavy DSLR, especially when it’s raining so often. Check it out and follow me if you’re into that sort of thing.

Also, I was totally flattered to be mentioned on Ana’s blog yesterday. Check it out for links to other Belgium expat blogs.

Kyrgyz Music Friday: How to keep up with your favorite artists

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For this absolutely positively final* edition of Kyrgyz Music Friday, I’m posting all resources I can possibly think of so that you can keep track of your favorite artists from Kyrgyzstan.

Step 1: use Chrome and take advantage of its auto-translate function (it won’t work for Kyrgyz-language websites, but it’s good enough to make sense of Russian-language sites.)

Is there a particular artist you want to keep up with? I’ve found that most artists in Kyrgyzstan are woeful at keeping up with social media (or, at least, the ones I use. I’ve never ventured into Russian-language social media like vkontakte or odnoklassniki), but sometimes they’ll posts bursts of updates regarding new videos or songs on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.

Here are all of the artists featured on Kyrgyz Music Friday who have some sort of online presence that’s worth keeping track of. After that, a few music and pop-culture websites that will post news and new videos and songs from artists in Kyrgyzstan or other countries in Central Asia.

Kanykei: Her songs Kara Chan and Sadagam, plus a concert review have been featured on Kyrgyz Music Friday. She has a website, a facebook page, a twitter account and a Youtube account.

Tata Ulan: His song Assalam Aleykum was featured on Kyrgyz Music Friday, and he also has a Twitter account and Facebook page. He doesn’t have his own Youtube channel, but you can easily find a lot of his videos from other users.

Omar: I’ve featured three of his songs on Kyrgyz Music Friday: “Kyrgyzstanim“, “Birge Bolom“, and “Bishkek City” with Nurbek. He also has a Twitter account and an official website.

Non-Stop: I’ve had to stop myself from posting too many of their songs; it seems like they released a lot of videos at once during one stretch. I’ve featured Kyrgyzstanim, “Kyzdar ay, Baldar ay” on Kyrgyz Music Friday. I haven’t been able to track down a website, Twitter account or Facebook page for them (I guess that’s the trouble with having a common name for your group).

Gulzada: She was the first Kyrgyz Music Friday video that I posted, with her song “Jaz“. I also wrote about two live performances of hers that I saw, her album debut and the Voices of Nature concert. She has a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

Eholami: One of my favorite bands to see live; I can’t even count how many shows of theirs that I’ve seen. I’ve featured their songs “Akuli” and “Chaynik“, plus they performed at the Bishkek Block Party. They have a facebook page and a Soundcloud account where you can hear a lot of their songs. (Edit, they also have an official website. Thanks for the tip, Irina!)

The Woodstock Tale: Another fun live band, they played at the Bishkek Block Party, plus they have a Facebook, Soundcloud and Youtube account.

Dad Manki: I can’t help but love these guys, they’re true rock and rollers (plus, the lead singer adopted Mamajan!). I posted their video for the song “Destroyer” on Kyrgyz Music Friday, plus they have a Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Oakland: A rap duo that performed on the song “Malishka Bee” with Nurbek and CeeTee, and also had their song “Odnajdi v Bishe” featured on Kyrgyz Music Friday. They have a Twitter account, but links to other songs and videos of theirs can be found on the Headliners’ Soundcloud and Youtube pages, linked below.

Nurbek Savitahunov: I would say Nurbek is definitely the crowd favorite of Kyrgyz Music Friday. He’s had three songs featured on the blog, “Malishka Bee“, “Vnutrevenno“, and “Bishkek City“. He has a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Youtube channel.

Mirbek Atabekov: That unattainable dreamboat! Although I never saw him in concert, I’ve featured two of his songs on Kyrgyz Music Friday; “Sagyngan Kezde” and “Aldadyn“. He has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and an official website (but it has autoplay music so I won’t post the link in protest).

The Rolls: Some of the coolest rockers I met in Bishkek, and definitely a huge part of Plov For Two’s introduction into the music scene (they also played at Plov For Two’s first show). They play amazing, spot-on covers of all sorts of songs. Even though they’re most well-known as a Beatles cover band, they have expanded to many other genres that they rock equally well. They played at the Bishkek Block Party, which is unfortunately the only time I’ve featured them on the blog. But they are busy-bees on social media, so check out their Facebook and Twitter pages. Also, Daniyar is the guitarist for the Rolls and tweets here and runs the Stayin’ Alive blog, focusing on live music performances in Bishkek, which also has its own Twitter account. And now they’re hosting a weekly party called Saturday Satisfaction, featuring performances from different bands, movies, and other fun things, which is so popular that it has it’s own hashtag, #SatisfactionKG.

Son Pascal: You know, everybody’s favorite Italian guy singing in Kazakh, right? I featured his song “You should speak Kazakhsha“. You can also find him on Twitter.

Dayir Ismadiyanov: I’ve featured three of his songs on Kyrgyz Music Friday, “Estey Jur“, “Sagynba”, and “Janym”. He has a Twitter account, an official Facebook (one that you “like”) page and a personal Facebook page (one that you “friend”) that he seems to update more regularly (it’s all public though, you don’t actually have to send him a friend request).

Headliners: This is a record label/musical collective run by CeeTee (who rapped on “Malishka Bee”), which represents artists like Oakland and XTZ DJ. I haven’t featured XTZ DJ on the blog, but his album features a lot of our favorite artists (Mirbek Atabekov, Nurbek, Omar, etc). Headliners has a Facebook page, Soundcloud and Youtube account, and CeeTee has a Twitter account.

Some sites that I used to visit to find new information on new music and videos are Namba, Tumar.fm (which also has a Facebook and Twitter) and Limon.kg (and their Twitter).

Another good resource for keeping up with Kyrgyzstan’s current pop culture (not just music, but TV and movies too) is Eldar Supataev’s Youtube channel. Random story, I went to an event at Loft, which is a warehouse that was converted into cool studio spaces and frequently hosts parties. It’s way way on the outside of town, relative to wherever I was living at the time. A friend and I were walking along the street outside of Loft trying to find a taxi home, when Eldar pulls up and asks if we would like a ride. Of course we would! He didn’t know us, but I quickly figured out that I followed him on Twitter already (because I’m weird?). He played a bad guy in Bishkek, I Love You, but he is actually a nice person in real life. Another fun fact, he was driving Nurbek’s car (!!!). As a result of being connected with so many of Bishkek’s entertainers, he seems to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on and keeps an up-to-date Youtube channel with interesting videos.

I hope this has been helpful for people who enjoy music from Kyrgyzstan! If you have any other links to add, or artists/songs/videos you think I (or anybody else reading this) might enjoy, feel free to leave a comment.

*Hmm, I say that, but I already have a few more KMF posts up my sleeve. Stay tuned.

in Bruges/Brugge

Farrell works in Bruges (which is spelled Brugge in Dutch).

So why do you live in Ghent? Because his company is building a new office in Ghent that was supposed to be finished in January but is now delayed until June. Bummer for him, because it’s a long commute, but at least I have a reason to go on mini-trips to another city.

To help with his commute, Farrell bought a second-hand bike to leave at the train station in Brugge. We made it a family trip and all of us took the train there so we could walk around and see the city center.

First, wow. So many more tourists than Ghent. I think. I guess I haven’t spent so much time in the city center in Ghent on the weekends. But it seemed really packed with foreigners wielding giant cameras (uh, yeah, they’re terrible, clogging the sidewalks and getting in this foreigner’s way of taking photos with her giant camera).

Second, this is Belgium after all and the weather was chilly and dark. There’s a saying that people from cold climates are fond of; there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. I’m still working on properly bundling up, but I failed on this day, so I didn’t take many photos.

Whatever. You can get the idea, it’s downright charming out there in Brugge.

(p.s. – I’ve seen the movie before. Not a huge fan, it was incredibly dark and I had been expecting a comedy. Some of Farrell’s coworkers have made comments to him about how he shares a name with one of the movie’s leading men.)

things I will (and won’t) miss about Kyrgyzstan

When I first studied abroad, in Amman, Jordan, I remember our program director showing us a picture of a wavy line, similar to the one below, that cycled through high points and low points. She explained that the curve represented our forthcoming emotional rollercoaster, how we would go through stages of loving and hating Amman, of joyous cultural appreciation and vitriolic rejection. It was all normal.

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As an expat, I’ve seen myself and others go through these stages, and I’ve come up with a theory. I’m convinced that your lasting impression of a place is mostly dependent on when you leave. So, if you depart while you’re riding on a wave of happiness, then you’ll forever miss that place and the perfect image you have of it in your mind. If you leave during a sour spot, then you’ll burn every shred of evidence that you were ever there in the first place.

In my opinion, it’s best to leave right as you’re coming down from a high; you had a good run, but the future looks bleak. Or, at the very least, you recognize that while things won’t be so bad if you stay longer, the future high points won’t reach their previous glory.

I’ve seen both extremes and I knew I wanted to get out of Bishkek before I ended up hating every little thing. I came close, unfortunately. When I left, I’m not even sure if I shed any tears because I was so exhausted of dealing with so many obstacles and I could see that easier times in “easier” countries were so close! I just had to escape this post-Soviet nightmare!

Uhh, anyway. That’s a bit dramatic. With some time, I think I will have more clarity on my feelings for Kyrgyzstan. I don’t think I want to go back… ever. I’ve had my fill of Kyrgyzstan. But, I will admit that there are things I will miss about living there.

And there are things I most certainly will not miss at all.

Let’s get the negative out of the way first. Things I will not miss about Kyrgyzstan:

Expensive clothes. There was always a mark-up on decent, nice clothes; therefore, I never bought any clothing while I lived in Bishkek. I always took a half-empty suitcase to the US and filled up there.

Russian language. Sorry, it’s hard. I became comfortable with it, but nowhere near fluent. The amount of English spoken in Ghent so far has been amazing (although I’m going to start Dutch classes soon).

Being such an obvious foreigner. I stuck out in Bishkek. Even something with my mannerisms or my dress or something would peg me as a foreigner before I opened my mouth and let out some hilariously butchered Russian. I blend in much more easily in Ghent.

Related to that, not once did I ever take a trip to, for example, Issyk Kul, stop at a restaurant along the way and not get harassed by a (usually drunk) Kyrgyz guy who wants to know what we’re doing, where we’re from, if Kyrgyzstan is better than where we’re from, and if Kyrgyzstan is so great then why don’t we speak Kyrgyz? That I will not miss. Or harassment from the police.

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Distance. Kyrgyzstan was far from everything. We had very few visitors come out to see us in Bishkek because it was daunting and expensive to get out there from the US. Additionally, sites in Kyrgyzstan are far from each other and the roads aren’t that great for getting there, like crossing a river to get to Song Kul, or the above-mentioned harassment on the way to Issyk Kul. Europe, in comparison, is so easy (and desirable!) to visit, I’m already overbooked for visitors around the holiday season. I may even have to set up some sort of visitors’ calendar, and a system for organizing said visitors. Wow, this is new for me.

Smoking indoors. Ugh, will not miss that from Kyrgyzstan.

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Winter. I haven’t experienced a Ghent winter yet, but winter in Bishkek was miserable. Let’s be honest. Super, frigidly cold; ice-packed sidewalks that didn’t melt for months; UGH UGH UGH. I never wanted to leave my house, and it just lingered for the longest time. The city still felt so dreary and off-putting even in March (when it was a soppy, muddy mess). I hear the weather is chilly and damp here, so maybe I’ll sing a different tune come March 2014.

Power cuts. Sometimes we had to send our employees home for the day because it was just impossible to get anything done. Power cuts, internet cuts, problems with the phone line or mobile network, water cuts (or worse, just the hot or cold water gets turned off), etc. They were always unpredictable, and I was always unsure if a utilities bill wasn’t processed and maybe it’s just our apartment? Or was somebody digging around in the courtyard and hit an important line? Or is this a scheduled outage? Or is the infrastructure just a mess? (Or, all of the above.) The exception was our giant house, which rarely lost electricity, hot water or heating… because the owner of the house had rigged up all of the utilities illegally (with illegal second electricity sources, etc), we eventually found out.

Cheap Chinese goods. We never had a functional can opener, lightbulbs were prone to exploding (literally bursting into a million tiny shards) when you turn the light switch on (usually about 1-6 months after you bought it), and stuff just broke all of the time. Yes, it was cheap, but yes, I prefer spending the extra money here to buy something that won’t break in a few weeks. In Bishkek, it seemed like that was your only option. And no, the more expensive Turkish goods were still shitty.

Bread. I like lepyoshka just fine, and if it’s fresh then it’s a thing of beauty, but the vast majority of the time they were sad, hard, chewy discs. The bread just never seemed that great. Here in Ghent, I’m happily overwhelmed by how much fresh bread is available, even whole wheat! I never found a good source for grainy, seedy whole grain bread in Bishkek, nor did I ever find whole wheat flour when I was on my bread-baking streak.

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Marshrutkas. Other than my beloved Galactic Marshrutka (which I never actually rode on), I despised these shared vehicles. Cheap, yes, but crowded and jostling and putting this shy gal at risk of having to communicate with a stranger in a language I consistently mangled, and at even bigger risk of getting lost. Did you know Orto-Sai is not just the name of a bazaar, but also the name of a village outside of Bishkek? You don’t want to make that mistake.

But there are the things I will miss:

Issyk Kul. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and a great place for a weekend getaway.

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Tarhun. I was turned on to this bubbly treat late in my stay. It’s super sweet soda that is unique to the post-USSR sphere, usually dyed an unsettlingly artificial green color, with a unique anise/tarragon flavor. Certain brands tasted like cream soda.

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Cheap food. A steamy bowl of lagman for 80 som, less than two dollars? A full meal for less than five dollars per person? And that’s not even the cheapest you can find. I have to completely re-orient my sense of how much things should cost.

Cheap taxis. When we first moved to Bishkek, we would argue with the cab drivers if we thought they were trying to swindle us for an extra 20 som, but we quickly gave that up. Oh, you’d like an extra 40 cents so I can have this entire car to myself, instead of fighting out for a crowded marshrutka (see above)? Yeah, no problem.

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Uniqueness. I’ve had many twentysomething/millenial identity crises concerning this. Living in Bishkek made me a special snowflake! Being an American girl in Kyrgyzstan, photographing and blogging about it, sort of became part of my identity. Is it lame to admit that? I have to find something new to replace that, and I have to let go of my ego and find my new niche here in Ghent.

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My old routine. I’d like to think that I will miss the routine Darwin and I had, the mornings we spent together in our apartment, how we had to stroll around certain streets to avoid the tunnels, the attention Darwin received from adoring babushkas and waitresses, the meals that become staples based on the most easily attainable ingredients. But it’s still early in Ghent, and I imagine that I’ll forget all about it once I set up a new routine here.

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Cameras. I’ve been to several flea markets in Ghent already. The few film cameras that I’ve seen have been uninspiring and/or expensive. Also, there were people in Bishkek who were excited about film cameras, who I could geek out with. I haven’t found evidence of that here yet, although it must exist. It must! At the very least there must be a decent film developer around here somewhere.

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Stalinkas. There is a certain charm to Soviet architecture; they definitely grew on me by the time I left. To the untrained eye they might all look like giant, grey, concrete blocks, but each one had their own unique flourishes and design elements. Plus, discovering which ones still had their Soviet-era murals on them was always a special treat.

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Ala-Too Square. I loved that place. It was an easy meeting point, always an option to go to with Darwin, and always great for people watching and taking photos. Plus, it exploded with people and snacks and photo displays during the holidays.

Trash collection. I remember someone asked me about this in the US once, how do they collect trash over there? There was a neighborhood dumpster that everybody just took their trash to, which was then collected either daily or every few days. The person who asked about this thought it was strange, but now that I’m in Ghent, where there are different, but very specific, bags for different types of trash and recyclables that can only be collected on certain days according to a strict schedule, I’m missing the ease of just depositing all of my garbage in one spot whenever it was convenient for me. (If you’re curious about waste management in Kyrgyzstan [oh golly, of course you are!] then check out this article that was co-written by a close friend who works in that field and is oddly passionate on the subject.)

Heating and utilities. So much cheaper. I don’t even want to think about our first bill compared to the pittance we had to pay each month in Bishkek. And there is something appealing to having the city turn on the heat, full-blast, for you once it gets cold. Our house in Ghent is recently renovated with all sorts of double-glazing and energy-efficient measures, but we’re still trying to be smart about how much we heat the house. Yes yes yes, I’m positive that Bishkek’s heating system is incredibly inefficient (think of all the empty apartments getting full heat throughout the winter), but I’m a wuss about being chilly and dammit, my feet are cold.

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Friends. Duh, this should be obvious. The friends I had in Bishkek made it worthwhile to stay there more than any cheap bowl of lagman could.

a quick kitchen tour

There are many things going on right now. Sleep training, which also means nap training, which kind of means no sleep or naps for anybody? Bank accounts, home insurance, Farrell’s two-hour commute (each way! dammit, Bruges), figuring out dinner every night (I’m starting to realize we went out for dinner a lot or I usually left dinner-making to Farrell. not anymore!), and all sorts of other things.

Then all the stuff we packed up in Bishkek showed up and the house exploded with balls of crumpled, old Russian newspaper that Masha’s landlord was hoarding in her closet.

But between the unpacking and madness, I decided to snap a few quick photos of our kitchen.

Lovely, isn’t it? Crisp, white walls; chalkboard contact paper on the fridge; stylish, dark gray tiles; functional cabinets from Ikea.

Wait, what’s missing?

Yup.

I know.

I asked Farrell about this a few times when we were in the US, and he said he couldn’t remember. He had only taken a quick tour of the house before stating his interest, and I hadn’t seen the place until we moved here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great house, definitely the best of all the places we looked at (I think seven places in total?).

But.

But…

No oven.

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