Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Wonders of the Armed Forces Network

So the ATKs have an AFN box and it is wonderful. AFN, for those of you who don't know, is the "Armed Forces Network." As the name implies, it is the network of the (American) armed forces, so that our boys (and girls) can see American programming while stationed abroad. Back when I lived and worked in Korea (back in aught 3), there was one AFN network and it was broadcast locally, so you could watch in on regular TV. It was there that I first became familiar with original recipe CSI as well as all the, um, high quality AFN commercials. For those who are not aware, AFN channels (which, we now have 12, though one is a guide and two are the same sports channel, as opposed to the one we had in Korea) do not show regular commercials. Instead, the armed forces make their own commercials, and these commercials... well, sometimes they make me concerned for the state of our armed forces.

Let me start by saying the commercials fall into several categories:

1. Quizzes. These quizzes are usually on world geography, U.S. geography, or military history. Those of you who know me, know I enjoy a good game of trivia. The format is usually three clues along with a corresponding picture, and then the answer, along with the capital city. I think I'm pretty good with the world geography, though sometimes the clues are a little vague ("They enjoy dancing in this country!" I mean, people enjoy dancing in most countries of the world. A better clue would be "They don't enjoy dancing!" in which case my guesses are either Saudi Arabia or that town from Footloose.) I could be better at U.S. geography, because I technically get many of the places wrong, but usually the cities are obscure and I often get the states right (sample answers include Davenport, Iowa, and Springfield, Massachusetts.)  The military history ones are hard. But I have learned that Lewis "Chesty" Puller is the most decorated marine in U.S. history and also the cousin of General Patton.

2. Field Trips and other fun events in which we cannot partake. Trip to Paris! Trip to... other European city! Little league is starting up in, I don't know, some place in Germany. Trip to see the NFL in London! We don't get to go on any of these trips. Obviously.

3. Well wishes. A panoply of sports stars, movie stars, ambassadors, and high ranking military personnel are often thanking "you" for your service. (The ambassadors and military people I feel usually just come on to wish "you" one of a variety of happy holidays.) I don't think they are talking to us when they say "Thank you for your service." 

4. Public Service Announcements. Oh. Em. Gee. So many PSAs. I guess really that is the main genre of commercial on AFN. Sometimes it makes me concerned about our troops. The first PSA I ever saw on AFN (back in '02) was advising soldiers not to fight with vending machines because they can fall on you and kill you. My roommate at the time, who was from New Zealand, wondered if the U.S. military had a significant problem of soldiers getting crushed by vending machines.

Currently, I would say most of the PSAs are for pretty banal things. Lift with your legs, not your back; wear your seat belt; recycle; don't be a shitty roommate; and things of that ilk. Of course, the commercials themselves can be pretty amusing/annoying even if their ultimate message is pretty boring. Examples:
  • In the commercial about lifting with your back, Mr. ATK always yells at the t.v. that the person doing the lifting in the commercial is a colonel and thus would never have to lift such a box. (Personally, I think he is just showing off his knowledge of military outfits and all the doohickeys that show what rank someone is. I do not have this knowledge.) 
  • In the seat belt commercial, one of the young women says, "I'll sit in the back so I don't have to wear a seat belt. I don't want to ruin my shirt." What? Is this a thing people say/think?
  • In the shitty roommate commercial, one lady is taking a bath and her roommate knocks on the door and asks if some friends can come over. Bath lady says sure. Roommate returns to say a few more people came over, hope that's okay. Bath lady says is fine "I guess." Then the roommate knocks on the door again and is like, "Yo, are you almost done. I need to use the bathroom." Bath lady gets exasperated. The message comes on to tell us to be good roommates. I am always left scratching my head wondering who the shitty roommate was: the lady hogging the bathroom, or the one who invited people over and basically ended up having a party. They both kinda suck in my eyes.
Then you've got your serious PSAs. The ones like, "Don't beat your wife;" "Sexual assault/harassment is bad," "Get help if you have depression (or an alcohol problem, or a gambling problem)," and "Don't contribute to the trafficking of people." I can't really make any jokes about that stuff.

I have also learned what "spice" is (long before Chandler Jones went crazy in New England and got traded to the Cardinals.) And also that you shouldn't drink energy drinks before working out.

But, over all, I really enjoy having AFN. I like the sports (first time I've ever watched a boxing match) and you usually get like 6 NFL games a week, not including the night games. I like the movies (on occasion). The timing for the t.v. shows is generally odd, because AFN is designed for Europe and East Asia and we are in between. So, you know, Jimmy Fallon is on at 6 pm instead of late at night, but so is, like, General Hospital or Dr. Phil.

I will say, not everyone likes it. One of the guys here (a former Marine*) asked what we did to watch sports and we were like, "Oh we just use AFN. Don't you have an AFN box?" He was like, "I refuse to support AFN. They talk to people like they're idiots." I guess he didn't appreciate being told to wear his seat belt.

Lastly, I was hoping to find some current AFN commercials to share with you all, but youtube doesn't seem to have any. So I'll just share this. The productions values are a bit better now, but it's basically the same stuff. You know, "Don't drive with your windshield covered in snow." Important advice like that.

* Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Once a marine always a marine. No one's a former marine.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Reflections of my Life time (1980)

               So much ground has been covered and so much progress has been made – so much good and so much not so good. It seems we learn only by trial and error. We live one day at a time and change is so gradual that we hardly notice and tend to take things for granted. Where I stand now, I can look back at the generation gone before me and also at the new.

                When one is a child you depend on your parents for everything as one grows older you learn to depend on yourself more and more – and if one is lucky, as I was, to find a dependable life’s companion to depend on and work together with. In those days marriage vows were taken seriously. Very few divorces. Today it seems to be the trend and it is not good.

                I’m sure my parents nor my husband’s parents ever even thought of divorce. Life was too serious and too real. Very little time or money for unnecessary trips and frivolities. Now, so many people have everything, it seems, but they still are not happy or satisfied. Life seems too hectic – no peaceful times to one’s self—just to think and “smell the roses” – as they say.

                People are not satisfied with simple inexpensive pleasures and pastimes. But, I think the times will come yet again – when people will have to accept the simple basics of life and learn to live happily. I’m talking of the general middle class of America.

                I see so much waste all over, beginning with the government. These are just my own random thoughts, but I feel sincerely that distribution in the world is very wrong. Too many “Haves” and too many “Have Nots.” Human callousness – world wide. Millions starving and dying. And the churches say there is a loving and just God! I do not understand that – much as I would like to. No one yet has been able to make me understand that. Again, it just boils down to the basic Sin – Greed.

                Too many wars – and too little Reason. When will the peoples and governments of the world learn to share and live at peace with one another? “Blessed are the Peace Makers” the Bible says. Where are the Peace Makers today? Instead, there is a feverish race for weapons of destruction and annihilation. We have been given a brain to think with – why isn’t it used?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

бешик той! (aka Cradle Party!)

New baby!
Well, the TK Family is finishing up in Kyrgyzstan. Time has flown by and I have been terrible about keeping this blog even nominally updated. I apologize for that. I could blame it on BabyTK, but... well, yeah, let's just go ahead and blame it on him.

This past weekend we headed out to the village for the бешик той (pronounced "beshik toy") of Mr. ATK's host brother's newborn son. It is customary in Kyrgyzstan to have a party forty days after the baby is born (during the first forty days no visitors apart from family are allowed to see the baby and mother.) I wanted to focus most of this post on the party, but also on the different cultural customs relating to childbirth and early child rearing.

So I've lived in a few countries and I've found that the different cultural customs surrounding childbirth and the early postpartum days are very interesting. In Bolivia I had not had any children so I couldn't really compare personal experiences, but I could generally compare what my Bolivian friends told me with what I was aware of in America. (And sometimes I would check-in with my mom or some other American who had birthed a baby to be like, "Do we think x, y, or z after a baby is born?" and they would generally be like, "I've never heard of that before.") Anyways, some general and/or traditional notions in Bolivia include the following:
  • The mother can't touch water for a set amount of time after the baby is born (I'm not sure if there is a specific number, though. I feel it is something like three weeks.)
  • For the first month the baby can't be exposed to a non-relative woman who is menstruating, because something about the scent makes the baby sick. 
  • You can't stand behind the baby and look down on it (Like standing behind the baby so it has to sort of roll its eyes up to look at you.) This will hurt the baby's eyes.
  • Many people wrap their babies up in what is essentially an Ace badge. I always thought the babies looked like little Glowworms. It's basically like swaddling. They say it helps the baby's back/spine strength develop. 
  • It's fairly common to carry the baby in an aguayo (basically a blanket) on your back.

I'm sure there are more, but this is what I can remember and if I've misrepresented anything please let me know, Bolivian peeps.

So, why am I talking about Bolivia when this party is in Kyrgyzstan? Just because I think it's interesting to compare different beliefs and customs. I wouldn't necessarily expect them to be similar, but I think it is interesting if/when there are overlaps.
Anyways, the Kyrgyz have a similar aversion to water in the first month or so after birth. No touching water for the new mother. This happily means no dish washing and no laundry, but it also means no bathing...which, yeah, no. I wonder what it is with water, because, as previously mentioned, Bolivians have a similar rule.  Nazgul (my Kyrgyz sister-in-law and new mother to Bekali) said it is because women are very weak after giving birth. After having gone through the miracle of child birth myself now, I can't imagine not being allowed to bathe afterwards for a month. I mean, as soon as I could feel my legs again, I wanted to hop in the shower. Of course, both Nazgul and my Bolivian friends were like "I just wanted to take a shower!"

She was also telling me that for the first month after birth, the mother has a very restricted diet and can really only drink/eat broth. No fruit, no raw/fresh vegetables. The broth is supposed to be good for your milk and vegetables and fruit (our nanny specifically mentioned grapes. Like, "Can you eat grapes in America after having a baby?") can cause stomach issues for the baby. I do vaguely recall being warned by the nurses not too eat too much of any one thing (like cauliflower or milk) but that generally it was okay to drink/eat whatever. (Obviously alcohol was an issue and I think things with caffeine were to be limited, but not outright prohibited. I remember someone telling me I shouldn't have chocolate and I was like, "Yeah, I don't think I'll be following that rule.")

And while I'm sure there are other things--my nanny said for the first month mothers basically stay in bed with the baby and aren't allowed to go anywhere or do anything...which yay! No housework! but also Boo! I'm trapped in a bed like James Caan in Misery"--the last thing I want to mention is the superstition against basically complimenting the baby. I'm not quite sure how to describe it because it still wasn't clear to me, even after having it explained by both my sister-in-law and my nanny. At first I thought they were talking about, like, protection from the evil eye or something, but that's not really it. Basically I was chatting with Nazgul and cooing over the baby and she left and got a bit of ash and put it on the baby's forehead (like Ash Wednesday!) and when I asked what she was doing she said that with all the guests maybe some of them say nice things and it protects the baby from getting sick. I was basically like, "Huh?" But, you know, who am I to judge?
Later, I was asking our nanny about this too and she was like, "Yep. It protects the baby when people say things like, 'Oh he's so big,' or 'He's so beautiful,' and then the baby gets sick." This confused me a bit and Kunduz (our nanny) explained it thusly, "Once when my husband was young, another woman said to my mother-in-law, 'Oh your son is so tall! My son is not so tall.' And my mother-in-law says my husband never grew any taller and she blames that lady." I was like, "So you're not supposed to say nice things about the baby?" Her: "No." Me: "Like, it's bad to say nice things? Like, it's bad to say, 'The baby is so cute!'" Her: "Yes." Me: "Oh...." Upon reflection, no one else said anything to or about the baby but me, so basically she was protecting the baby from me, but of course is too polite to be like, "Oh my god, stop! Stop saying my baby is beautiful!" I later relayed this to Mr. ATK and he was like, "Yeah, I know." I was like, "What the hell, man?!" I mean, he really dropped the ball on that one. He usually delights in telling me when I am being uyat (shameful). Whether I am disrespecting bread by throwing it in the garbage or sitting in such a way that the bottoms of my feet are facing someone, he is usually johnny on the spot letting me know. Anyways, I really hope little Bekali doesn't get sick or anything, because I'm pretty sure I know where the fingers will be pointing.

Me and the new little guy. Probably shortly after one of the many times I complimented him.
On to the toy.  Well, there was a lot of food. I'll say one thing for the Kyrgyz. They sure can put on a spread.

Round 2: The family gets to eat. The meat is tash kordo, made from BabyTK's lamb.

We arrived the day before the party to visit, and there was much work being done to prep. Sheep were slaughtered (more on that in another post), boorsok was fried, and about 10 gallons of Olivier salad was prepared (that's basically a Russian potato and olive salad for those who are unaware.)

Frying up some fresh boorsok. The oil is hot and the kitchen gets smoky.

 So the party itself, was kind of like New Year's. There was like three rounds of food. Really three rounds of guests. First the neighbors came and had beshbarmak. Then family and friends had tash kordo. And then, at like 10:30 at night, there were samsas and soup with friends.

Preparing the beshbarmak. 

BabyTK enjoys the food.

But during all this eating, in celebration of the new baby, the baby and mother were conspicuously absent. We're sitting around the table enjoying the first course and I'm thinking, "Where are they?" Once BabyTK had finished eating and was beginning his usually throwing food phase, we took our leave and went outside. Mother and baby were busy in the kitchen (one was cooking and the other was sleeping. I'll let you guess which was which.) I popped in to chat for a bit. Not gonna lie- It seemed odd that the party was ostensibly for the baby and the baby was not in attendance. Late someone assured me people saw the baby. Mr. ATK thinks maybe it's like how in America you have a big party/baby shower for the first baby but then you don't have one for the second kid. I don't know. Also, I think around round 3 of the party, Nazgul and the baby came in the room and folks passed around the baby and coo'ed and whatnot (but no compliments, remember!) Nazgul still had to work pouring tea and serving, but she got to sit down some.

Interrupted cooking to snap a mother-son photo

All in all, it was a delightful time. Also for good measure, here is a picture of the baby next to a giant bowl of Olivier salad.