Writers’ Expeditions Magazine

Kyrgyzstan sunrise over yurts (photo by Kirsten Koza)

the blot kyrgyzstan story screen capture(My Kyrgyzstan story and photos were first published in TheBlot Magazine, Wall St., New York, in 2014. The magazine’s owner–a Wall St. billionaire–is currently in serious hot water with the FBI. That’s another story. I had an out-of-this-world trip in Central Asia thanks to Travel Experts.)

Hop on the Magic Carpet: Visiting Kyrgyzstan is like taking a magic carpet ride back in time to when Marco Polo’s caravans traveled the Silk Road and met Kublai Khan. The Kyrgyz Republic (a former Soviet Republic) exists mostly within the Celestial Mountains (the Tien Shan mountain system). It borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This is not Kar-bomba-stan, so don’t let the “stan” scare you from having a cultural adventure of a lifetime in nomads’ land.

The interior of a yurt at a camp on Lake Song Kol; www.travel-experts.kg can arrange your stay here.  (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
The interior of a yurt at a camp on Lake Song Kol; www.travel-experts.kg can arrange your stay here. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Vodka Guzzling Muslims?: Most of the Kyrgyz people are Muslim, but their beliefs are mixed with shamanism and also atheism which was enforced by the Soviets. The women aren’t veiled and are educated, vodka is enjoyed by many (mostly men, though) and going to a mosque is occasional for most.

My translator Janarkul, right, was asked to compete in the Capture or "Kiss the Girl" Competition at the Nomads’ Horse Games. (photo by Kirsten Koza)
My translator Janarkul, right, was asked to compete in the Capture or “Kiss the Girl” Competition at the Nomads’ Horse Games by Janarbek, left. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Bride Kidnapping Saves on Wedding Bills: At the National Horse Games held in Kyzyl-Oi, Janarbek (a young man from the Sayak tribe) approached my translator Janarkul and asked her if she’d compete in the Capture the Girl competition (also known as “kiss the girl”) because they were short a competitor. The game smacks me in the face with the real-life tradition of bride kidnapping which, although made illegal in 1991, still happens in Kyrgyzstan, but not to westerners. Sergey Gluhoverov and Cholpon Soodaeva, at Travel Experts, told me that Kyrgyz nomad men want demure women who are skilled at making fermented horse milk and felt. Janarkul tentatively asked me if I minded if she competed in the games — of course I didn’t mind.

Near Kyzyl-Oi, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Near Kyzyl-Oi, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Tribe Pride: Janarkul is from the clan Taz and the tribe Sarbagysh. She can draw her family tree (nomadic clans) back to around 1276 by memory, and then she can connect her tribe to the original Kyrgyz tribes. She told me that most Kyrgyz can do this. Like Janarbek, she is from a small village of just four clans. She’s comfortable in the saddle, but riding in the games is a bit like being asked to compete in the Olympics when you haven’t been training. Jana has spent the last five years away at school where she is a fully granted student at the Turkish university in Bishkek.

Sweets at a Turkish bakery in Bishkek. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Sweets at a Turkish bakery in Bishkek. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Punch the Boy: Janarkul didn’t speak Turkish before attending the university. She speaks Kyrgyz, Russian and English and had to learn Turkish in her first year. The determined 20 year old told me before the competition that she was not going to be captured and was going to try to leave Janarbek kissing the air, however, she intended to catch him in the second part of the event — “punch the boy.” Her efforts left her bruised and sore, with a prize of cash and chocolate bars — and also with an invitation to compete again next year.

Horses waiting to be milked near Lake Song Kol at an elevation exceeding 9,895 feet above sea level (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Horses waiting to be milked near Lake Song Kol at an elevation exceeding 9,895 feet above sea level (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Fermented Horse Milk: The still-popular traditional drink of the Kyrgyz people is kumis, fermented mare’s milk. It’s drunk in such vast quantities that it could be considered a staple. Although kumis is often compared to kefir, unlike kefir, kumis has a mild alcoholic content which is due to the higher level of sugar in a horse’s milk. The milk is always fermented since, when fresh, it is reputed to be a laxative. People unused to even the fermented version might find adverse effects and many vomit after trying kumis, so you might want to rein back the temptation to chug it. The first and last time I sampled kumis, it had been fermented in a smoked goat’s stomach. The alcohol content of kumis is not high enough for me to make the after-effects worth acquiring a taste for the pony cocktail.

Horse fat and horse meat sausage at Osh market in Bishkek. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Horse fat and horse meat sausage at Osh market in Bishkek. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Galloping Gourmet: Nomads prize their horses above anything else, thus, it might seem unusual that the Kyrgyz also consume the flesh of horses. When my translator first showed me the pictured sausages and said they were horse, I thought I was looking at stallion manhood, but they’re horse-fat and horse-meat sausages. Horses are only killed for feasts for important events such as funerals. At a whopping 800 Som for 2.2 pounds (around $15 U.S.), horse sausages are a special occasion sausage.

Kyrgyzstan people boast that there's no fast food in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
The people of Kyrgyzstan boast that there’s no fast food in Kyrgyzstan. I was welcomed to Kyrgyzstan with a feast of grilled meat served in a yurt-shaped loaf of bread with a side of market fresh grilled veggies. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

No Fast Food Here — We’re Kyrgyz: There aren’t any western fast food chains in Kyrgyzstan yet, but modernization might be just around the corner as in 2015 Russia wants Kyrgyzstan to join its Customs Union (Putin’s version of the EU — though some joke that it is an attempt by Putin to put the Soviet Union back together again).

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A 6th generation eagle hunter in Bokonbaeva, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Eat, Prey, Kill: Artsan Sagymbaev (of the tribe Bugu and the clan Jalgap) keeps his family’s tradition alive. He is a 6th generation eagle hunter in Bokonbaeva (a village of eagle hunters) on the shores of the salt lake Issyk-Kul. An “eagle hunter” means hunting with an eagle, not hunting for eagles. Artsan proudly showed me his eagle Saryeiji’s kill from the previous winter; his 8-year-old female bird had caught an 88-pound bobcat.

The national sport of Kyrgyzstan is Kok-boru. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
The national sport of Kyrgyzstan is Kok-boru. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Got Your Goat: Kok-boru (which means “grey wolf”) is a rough horse game which originated as a nomad hunting exercise. To the untrained eye, it looks like a scrum of rugby players wrestling on horseback between two goals, but the players all have positions and jobs, such as guarding the pin (the goal). Good players have national celebrity status and remarkable horse skills. The players need to be able to pick the “ball” (a dead goat) off the ground while in their saddles, ride with the cumbersome and heavy game-piece and wrestle it from other players. A goal is scored when the goat is stuffed into the pin, a small hole inside a larger ring in the opposing team’s end zone.

A Kok-boru player makes a breakaway with the dead goat, showing proper form by securing the 90-pound goat under his stirrup. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
A Kok-boru player makes a breakaway with the dead goat, showing proper form by securing the 90-pound goat under his stirrup. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Tender Vittle: As I waited for the game of Kok-boru to begin, an announcement was made that it would be just five minutes longer as the goat was being “prepared.” I knew what this meant. Billy was being slaughtered, decapitated and having length chopped off his legs. The animal was brought to the playing field still bleeding and, although newly dead, it looked like it was still twitching with life. Animal-rights activists have complained about this; however, Kyrgyz people wouldn’t waste a goat. After the game, the now-tenderized goat is eaten. The goats are donated to a family in a nearby community who are known for their outstanding service, or to a family that has an upcoming wedding to celebrate. After the game I attended, the goat was awarded to the captain of the team. The players were on a rotating roster to donate a goat for each game.

 Nearing Chok-Tal Mountain and 13,000 feet above sea level in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Nearing Chok-Tal Mountain and 13,000 feet above sea level in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

No Matter What the Locals Say, Vodka Does Not Cure Altitude Sickness: The average elevation in Kyrgyzstan is approximately 9.022 feet above sea level, and its tallest peak is 24,406 feet. The Kyrgyz nomads move their livestock up and down in elevation with the seasons. The landscapes vary from jagged peaks to colorful red, white and blue-striped badlands, mineral-rich mountains (whose minerals cause rivers and lakes to take on exotic hues), alpine meadows, impressive glaciers and pine forests. There are less than 6 million people in Kyrgyzstan, and more than 70 percent of the population is Kyrgyz, around 14 percent are Uzbek and 10 percent are Russian.

Orto-Tokoy near Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan. Tourism is fledgling in Kyrgyzstan, and the time to go is soon before other tourists spoil your view. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Orto-Tokoy near Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan. Tourism is fledgling in Kyrgyzstan, and the time to go is soon before other tourists spoil your view. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Felt yurt, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Felt yurt, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Nomad Tax Evasion: Yurts are collapsible, portable homes made of sheep’s felt layered over a wooden frame. While people often assume a nomadic life means the freedom of moving wherever one chooses, that’s not actually the case. The nomads are territorial, and the same families erect their yurts on the same land that their forbearers did for many generations. They don’t own the land, the government does now. While at Lake Song-Kol where my translator Janarkul’s grandfather had his yurt, Jana informed me that the government taxes the nomads by placing a tax per head on their livestock. I asked her if the nomads ever hid animals so as to avoid paying tax, and she said, “No.” I was suspicious of her response, so I encouraged her by saying, “That’s what I’d do if I were a nomad. I’d go higher into the mountains with some of my herd and would hide them.” Jana laughed, saying, “Yes, that’s what they do. We know what day the government is going to be sending the tax-people to count the animals, so the shepherds hide some of the animals higher in the mountains.”

Nomad grandfather and grandson spend their summers with their herds. (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Nomad grandfather and grandson spend their summers with their herds. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Holy Rumpelstiltskin: There is a still practiced tradition today among the Kyrgyz people in which the eldest son’s first-born son is taken by the grandparents to be raised like their own. My translator’s parents “took” her brother’s first-born from her sister-in-law.

Kyrgyz women. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Kyrgyz women. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover: A Kyrgyz woman might be dressed traditionally or be known for her kumis or carpet making or she might have received an award for giving birth to seven children or spend a lot of time hand-rolling yogurt cheese balls, but at the same time, she might have a degree in economics and a job with the government.

The kalpak is the traditional felt hat worn by males. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
The kalpak is the traditional felt hat worn by males. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Kyzyl-Oi village at dawn. The Soviets forced the nomads into settlements. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Kyzyl-Oi village at dawn. The Soviets forced the nomads into settlements. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Nomads’ Land No More: The Soviets forced the Kyrgyz nomads into settlements. The nomads didn’t go willingly, and it was a violent time in history. By law, all Kyrgyz children had to go to school, which is still true today. The forced settlement forever changed the way of life of the nomads. Now, many live in villages in valleys and basins during the winter months and then in the summer return to their nomadic pastures with their livestock.

How I crossed Kyrgyzstan on my first trip. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
How I crossed Kyrgyzstan on my first trip. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
How I crossed Kyrgyzstan on my second trip, in 2014. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
How I crossed Kyrgyzstan on my second trip, in 2014. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

TRAVEL TIPS:

Getting There: I used FlightFox to book my plane tickets to Kyrgyzstan. A team of real people actually search for the best deals, taking into consideration your personal wishes, whether that be cheapest price, short layovers or most direct route. The cheapest flight was on Aeroflot, which flies direct from North America to Moscow, then to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. They no longer serve vodka in economy on these flights, but you do get one glass of wine. There are also flights to Bishkek on Turkish Airlines.

 Traveling in Kyrgyzstan: Travel Experts in Kyrgyzstan is a company that understands what being a consummate host is all about. They can arrange cultural tours, horse tours, mountain biking, dirt biking, four-wheel drive, skiing, trekking and much more. You can rent cars or 4×4’s from luxury models to economy. Their drivers are excellent should you prefer not to self-drive. Travel Experts can book you into the best hotels in Bishkek, most remote yurts or village guesthouses. They’re award-winning and have well-trained guides.

 Accommodation: CBT (Community Based Tourism Association) guesthouses are rated in edelweisses instead of stars with the highest being four flowers. The highest-rated guesthouse in Kyrgyzstan is three edelweisses. This means it has indoor toilet facilities, is clean and is environmentally responsible. The CBT checks the guesthouses every spring and gives them their ratings.

 

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Human error, such as this menu translation in Jordan, offers hilarity, but a free online translation program could cause an international incident. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Masturbation Chicken Breasts, Blowjob Brooms and Other Online Translations Gone Wrong

(This article by Kirsten Koza was published originally in TheBlot magazine in New York, in July of 2014, before the billionaire magazine owner was arrested by the FBI—that’s another story.)

Blowjob Broom The Blot

SNOWDEN IS A “BLOWJOB BROOM” ACCORDING TO BING TRANSLATOR

A Bushman from Tanzania (a tour guide) recently commented on my profile photo on Facebook: “As well as your hair is there no need of having garden in your compound.” I’m pretty sure he isn’t crazy, nor has he been hit on the head by a Coca-Cola bottle falling from a plane. He’d used an online translation program.

I have colleagues in travel who use free online translation software frequently without realizing what they sound like on the receiving end of the trans-mutation. It’s no wonder that language teachers can tell instantly when a student is cheating.

IMAGINE IF GOVERNMENT AGENCIES RELIED UPON BING TRANSLATOR (FACEBOOK’S TRANSLATOR OF PREFERENCE) FOR TRANSLATIONS:

English: I am not a whistle blower.
To Bulgarian: Аз не съм свирка метла.
Back into English: I’m not a blowjob broom.

English: I am not a whistle blower
Korean: 나는휘슬송풍기
Back into English: I am whistle blower

Dima Mironenko, the Korea Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, said that the Korean term for “whistle blower” that was used in the case of Snowden was “internal accuser.” But often transliteration is used when there isn’t a translation — the word or just the alphabet letter is transcribed. American-Korean author Paula Young Lee further explained to me that “the idea of trying to call out a superior doesn’t exist in Asian culture in general.”

This doesn’t explain how or why the negative (“not”) was removed by the online program when going from English to Korean.  Also, various programs give different results whether you use punctuation or not, and when using an alternate acceptable spelling for “whistleblower,” often no translation was given at all. The free translators are inconsistent. You can revisit the same site with the same text and receive different bad results.

A human interpreter, or translator, can analyze context, recognize colloquial expressions, idioms, cultural idiosyncrasies and metaphors that computer programs can’t.

English (using Bing): No, you may not perform a cavity search.
To Catalan: No es pogués realitzar la cerca de la cavitat.
Back into English: You could make the search of the cave.

MIS-ORDERING FOOD FOR DIPLOMATS USING BING TRANSLATOR

Human error, such as this menu translation in Jordan, offers hilarity, but a free online translation program could cause an international incident. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Human error, such as this menu translation in Jordan, offers hilarity, but a free online translation program could cause an international incident. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

 English: The ambassador would like the herb crusted chicken breast. 
Hebrew: השגרירהיהכמוהרבמאוננותחזהעוף.
Back into English: The Ambassador was as Rabbi masturbation chicken breast.

English: The lady would like to have Turkish delight.
Turkish: Bayan Türk lokumu istiyorum.
Dutch: Ik wil Miss Turks fruit.
Welsh: Rwyf am Miss hyfrydwch Twrcaidd.
Back into English: I want Miss Turkish delight.

IF U.N. BUDGET CUTS RESULTED IN INTERPRETERS BEING REPLACED BY FREE ONLINE TRANSLATION

English (using Ackuna, the fun “bad translator” which used Bing): You must not cross our borders, nor seize our women.
To Bulgarian: Вие не трябва кръст нашите граници, нито да се възползват от нашите жени.
Back into English: You should not cross our borders, nor to make use of our women.
To Chinese Simplified: 你不应该跨越我们的边界,也不能使的我们的妇女使用。
Back into English: You should not cross our borders, nor can our women.

Google Translate mangled the above as well.

English: The president has been having sexual relations with known women of ill repute while abroad.
A dozen translations later, Hebrew: מוניטיןטובבביתובחו, יחסימיןלאהאישהעםהנשיא.
Back into English: A good reputation at home and abroad, unprotected sex with a woman President.

BabelFish, another free online translator, also perverted the above.

The online programs remind me of “Darmok,” the episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in which the crew has to deal with aliens who communicate only using metaphors, which makes the universal translator useless.

English: Sometimes humans are better than machines.
To Klingon (using Bing): rut Human Dunmo’ HablI’ puS.

 

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Jordan Petra, tourist collapses, photo by Kirsten Koza

Don't Kick The Bucket - TheBlot screen captureTrip of a lifetime or the last trip of your lifetime?

You’ve got to wonder, when at a seventh wonder, and you see tourists being carried away on stretchers—what were they thinking? Recently I watched a woman being carried unconscious, back down the 825 stairs she’d struggled up to get to the monastery at Petra—there are about 850 stairs to the top. A mule carried me up, and my mule almost collapsed from a heart attack … Read the rest of Kirsten Koza’s story in TheBlot magazine (Wall St. New York)

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Syrian permission compressed

Zaatari Syrian Refugee CampThe first part of my three part series on Syrian refugees was just published in TheBlot magazine (Wall St, NYC). I flushed the entire story I planned on writing down my mental latrine within minutes of arriving inside the gate of Al Za’atari. What I imagined it would be like and what it was actually like is the same as comparing Disney to Quentin Tarantino.

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A Tale of Two

A Tale of Two Tour WreckersShe walked around in a high-cut bikini with her pubic bush escaping the perimeters like Stephen King’s topiary in “The Shining.” (Full story to be posted here soon)

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