Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The View from Bishkek

Above: primetime on local channel 12 and other scenes from Peace Corps training on the outskirts of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where I've arrived to begin 26 months of service as an English instructor.

But for the howls of wild dogs traversing a nearby sculpture garden said to depict the Epic of Manas, the constant sunshine and biting cold here on the training compound remind me of Colorado’s Front Range. Breakfasts feature onion crepes and a thick, sour milk that I find delicious, while the mutton soup at dinner leaves a mean aftertaste.

After crash courses on Kyrgyz and safety protocols and a barrage of vaccinations, 70 trainees of K-18 (the latest wave of Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Kyrgyzstan since 1993) are to meet their host families this week in a ceremony marked by fresh flowers and speeches from local officials.

Key to language learning for the trainee is memorization of the Cyrillic alphabet, which makes the reading of grammar textbooks and the adoption of vocabulary doubly difficult. Still, the uniformity of the Kyrgyz language, which lacks articles and the myriad tenses of English, makes the going easier.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The View from Istanbul

Above: Turkish coffee and Istanbul's Hagia Sophia mosque (officially a museum and formerly an Orthodox basilica) as well as other snapshots along the road to Kyrgyzstan.

Friday, March 26, 2010

RBM's Teaching Portfolio

Colorado State University's Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) has awarded RBM a Graduate Teaching Certificate. His online portfolio, developed as part of the program, presents composition scholarship, curricula, evaluations, and personal reflections.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The View from PDX

Above: RBM checks exactly 100 pounds of luggage through points east ahead of Peace Corps service in Kyrgyzstan. Next stop: Phoenix. Then Philadelphia. Then Istanbul. And finally, Bishkek.

Meanwhile, on the fifth anniversary of the Tulip Revolution, the AP is running a retrospective. An excerpt:
In recent years, government opponents have faced physical intimidation, threats and legal prosecution. Last summer, Bakiyev was elected to a second term as president in an election described as fraudulent by international election observers.

Independent reporters and political analysts critical of the government have been subjected to vicious beatings. And in recent weeks, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz radio service has been taken off the air, while prominent Central Asia-focused Web sites have been made inaccessible.

Kyrgyz authorities deny they are trying to silence dissent, but experts are skeptical.

"The Tulip Revolution marked a negative turning point in the democratic development of Central Asia," said Alexander Cooley, a political scientist at Columbia University.

Some hoped Kyrgyzstan's revolt would help bring democracy and the rule of law to other former Soviet countries, but the opposite may have been the case.

"In countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, alarmed governments equated democratization with regime change and clamped down on the activities of domestic civil society, externally sponsored non-governmental organizations and their media," Cooley said.

Initially, the Tulip Revolution stoked expectations that the country might move Westward. Those hopes evaporated last year, when Bakiyev ordered the United States to vacate the Manas air base on the same day that Russia pledged billions of dollars in aid and loans.

Moscow appeared victorious in its apparent effort to squeeze the United States out of a region it views as its own fiefdom. But within months, the Kyrgyz again turned the tables, agreeing to allow the Americans to stay in exchange for higher rent for Manas.

All the diplomatic double-game seems to have achieved is to anger Kyrgyzstan's most steadfast allies.

Monday, March 15, 2010

CP: Kyrgyz activists rally in protest at block on US-funded television and radio broadcasts

By Leila Saralayeva (CP)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Several dozen activists and opposition politicians rallied in the capital of Kyrgyzstan on Monday in protest against what they say are government efforts to block the broadcast of U.S.-funded radio and television programs.

Critics of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev say the government is trying to silence Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz service, known locally as Radio Azattyk, as part of the authorities' attempt to stifle independent reporting.

Since coming to power in 2005, Bakiyev has tightened his grip over the impoverished former Soviet nation, prompting fears of deepening authoritarianism.

Radio Azattyk has been unavailable across most of Kyrgyzstan since Wednesday after several of the station's local partners revoked their rebroadcasting deals.

"Our partners, which relay our radio transmissions, say they have come under pressure and been threatened with having their license revoked, so they unilaterally broke their contracts with us," said Radio Azattyk reporter Bektash Shamshiyev.

Most Kyrgyz people rely on state-controlled broadcasters as their main source of news, but those stations have failed to cover a series of protests against rising costs for heating and electricity.

"Radio Azattyk is the only radio station that informs the public about what is really happening in the country," said Ak-Shumkar opposition party leader Temir Sariyev.

RFE/RL says its Kyrgyz television affiliate station has also been threatened with having its license revoked if it continued to air popular political analysis programs.

Presidential office spokesman Almas Turdumamatov denied the government was behind Radio Azattyk's problems.

"As I understand, Azattyk's problem is with private companies that have refused to relay their broadcasts," Turdumamatov said.

Several media outlets that cover Kyrgyzstan have seemingly fallen victim to a co-ordinated media blackout in recent days, including a handful of prominent Central Asia-focused news sites, which have been inaccessible to Kyrgyz Internet users since Wednesday.

Dinara Oshurakhunova, head of the For Democracy and Civil Society coalition, said numerous news outlets were blocked after they reported on an arrest warrant recently issued by an Italian judge for a U.S. businessman that has been advising the Kyrgyz government.

All Central Asian countries - which also include Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - are ranked by international rights groups as the some of the world's worst offenders for absence of free expression.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America are also banned from broadcasting from within Uzbekistan.

Copyright © 2010 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day Two at Pacific Beach

By R.B. Moreno

Above: a Dungeness crab shell, a cloud of sandpipers, and a glass float found on Pacific Beach, Wash.

In a "tradition dating back to the early days of the automobile," according to the Long Beach Visitors Bureau, and for reasons that baffle this writer, Washington State law allows motor vehicles to transit Pacific and other public beaches during fall, winter, and spring months.

Under the law, until April 15, the shoreline is officially a state highway with a 25 mph speed limit. "Watch the tides!" and avoid "sugar sand," advises the Bureau. Still, motorists frequently test nature's patience. Below, a Kia Optimus braves the surf.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The View from Portland

By R.B. Moreno

Above: a morning brewing demonstration at Oregon's F.H. Steinbart Co. What's in the pot: wort for a spicy Saison that will be ready for bottling in about three to four weeks. For about $150 in equipment and $40 worth of grain, malt, hops, and yeast, enthusiasts yield about five gallons of the Belgian ale. Variations involve everything from coriander to orange peel, but the stuff on tap Saturday rivaled New Belgium's signature Fat Tire, a point of pride in Fort Collins.