Friday, June 16, 2017

Socks of Khiva

uzbekistan art craft textiles tours, khivan textile specialities, uzbekistan small group tours
Khivan face socks - locals call them "Madonna socks". Image: Inessa Yuvakaeva
There are many beautiful applied art objects to purchase in Uzbekistan: suzane, ceramics, ikat fabrics, carpets and more.

But sometimes it is the simple souvenir that is the most pleasing.

Only in Khiva, in western Uzbekistan, can you buy these wonderful, knitted *face* socks. A cosy, perfect present for a shoes-free household or yoga friends.

(Very occasionally you may also find *face* mittens).

Everywhere in Khiva you see women knitting - either socks with traditional Khorezm patterns or these face socks. (Khorezm is the vast, historical region in which Khiva is located).

Uzbek Journeys traveller, Robin Gurr, gave a pair to her friend, embroiderer and knitter Jillian Dellit. Jillian absolutely loved them and, after many wears, was alarmed when holes started to appear on both heels.

Drawing on the skills of her mother and grandmother, Jillian mended them. And if the same should happen to your lovely face socks, you can follow Jillian's illustrated repair techniques on her blog Always Stitching.

Related posts:  A Glimpse of Khivan Woodcarving 1937
Chekichs: Uzbek Bread Stamps
The Beauty of Khivan Carpets
Khiva: Bread Making Master Class
Uzbekistan: A Passion for Printing

uzbekistan art craft textiles tours, khivan textile specialities, uzbekistan small group tours
Stallholder busy knitting socks in Khiva. Image: Inessa Yuvakaeva

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Other Side of the Mountain: Afghanistan's Ski Challenge

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge
Afghanistan's jagged, sky-scraping mountain ranges have over centuries been its best defence against foreign invasions, but there are other ways they can be put to use for the country.

Since 2011, the annual Afghan Ski Challenge has run from February through March in the Koh-i-Baba mountains, not far from where the Taliban infamously bombed giant Buddha rock carvings in the country's central Bamyan province.

Here there are races for both professionals and amateurs, in which mostly Afghan skiers compete against each other and a handful of international rivals.

The event is organized by the Bamyan Ski Club, a Zurich-based not-for-profit organization founded six years ago with the aim of promoting skiing and tourism in Bamyan.

Real backcountry

Covered by snow for six months of the year, the Baba range would seem a far-flung option for foreign adventurers seeking their next backcountry skiing fix. Moreover, Afghanistan is regularly portrayed as devastated and overrun by militants in international media.

But Bamyan province, while poor and ignored by the central government, is safe from the dangers of the Taliban and ISIS, and open to both local and international tourism.

Since 2011 an average of more than 30 skiers from countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Slovenia, and the United States have visited Bamyan annually, a trickle organisers of the Afghan Ski Challenge hope will grow over time.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Many come simply for the adventure. Backcountry skiing — as opposed to alpine skiing — grew up as a North American cottage industry but has turned into a movement expanding into some of the least-traveled-to countries on the planet. It thrives on virgin snow and a general absence of the infrastructure found in ski resorts, such as chair and button lifts.

In February 2012, the first ski school was launched in Bamyan by Rah-e Abrishom Travel and Tours, providing ski trainings for as many as 60 young Bamyanis in its first one-month course, led by two foreign trainers.

There are presently five local ski clubs in Bamyan with over 200 members in total. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan Ski Federation which was founded in 2015, gained membership of the International Ski Federation in 2016.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Most local ski enthusiasts do not have the necessary equipment (skis, snowshoes, boots and helmets) which combined can run to over $1,000. The equipment used by the skiers for the Afghan Ski Challenge is provided by Switzerland, the Aga Khan Foundation, the Bamyan Ski Club and the Bamyan Tourism Association.

Some,however, rely on innovation and whatever they have at their disposal. As one foreigner put it in an interview with the Guardian, "They decided to copy us – making their own skis from planks of wood and tying them to their shoes with fabric and rope. Skiing with them is all part of the fun of being here".

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Women ski, too

Girls have been a part of the Afghan Ski Challenge from its beginning, growing in number every year. Now, the Bamyan Ski Club has over 30 female members, some of whom have been winners in Challenge events.

Home mostly to ethnic Hazaras, Bamyan boasts one of the highest rates of female education in Afghanistan. It was also the first province to be governed by a woman after the fall of the Taliban.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Women's reintegration into public life in post-Taliban Afghanistan has been an uphill struggle for the most part. In Bamyan, while challenges persist, the social environment is more forgiving.

Image: Afghan Ski Challenge

Sports and politics

In Afghanistan sport is political. Since the majority of Afghan cricket players are ethnic Pashtuns, for instance, some other ethnic groups resent the game. However, the government has invested significant funds and political capital into cricket.

Recently, President Ashraf Ghani received cricketers at his residence upon their arrival from India, and the government’s Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah joined spectators in India cheering the team on at the T20 World Cup.

Both President Ghani and CEO Abdullah also serenaded the cricket team on their Twitter accounts.

Taekwondo is more often associated with Hazaras. Two-time Olympic medal winner Rohullah Nikpah is an ethnic Hazara, who resigned in protest against alleged corruption in the Afghan National Olympic Committee. Corruption in the National Olympic Committee and the Afghan Sports Federation have received regular attention in local media.

Skiing meanwhile, has not spread far outside of Bamyan, and has been largely ignored by the government, despite the Afghan ski federation's ambitions to enter two trained Afghan skiers into the Winter Olympics in 2018.

Agha Mohammad Kargar, who heads the federation, complained in a telephone interview with Global Voices that “the government has been totally neglectful of this sport.”

"The budget of the federation is zero, and we rely on donations to cover our expenses",  he told Global Voices.

This interesting article was first published on 15 April 2017 on Global Voices Online. It was written by Bismellah Alizada and  Rustam Ali Seerat.

Read more about Afghanistan's Ski Challenge.

Related posts:
Cricket in Afghanistan and Tajikistan
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding 
White Silk Road - Snowboarding Afghanistan

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Kyrgyzstan's Capital Through the Cracked Windshields of Its Beloved Trolleybuses

Most Kyrgyz trolleybuses are not Salvador Dali-themed. This one was sprayed by the DOXA
art group in Bishkek. Image taken from Creative commons.
Since their arrival in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek during the twilight years of Stalinism, trolleybuses have been an important and attractive part of the local cityscape.

While over the years they have ceded prominence to the more manoeuvrable but widely despised marshrutka (minibus) they have retained their position as the public transport of the heart, offering residents a slower, cheaper and more pacifying ride between key points in the city of one million people.

Oh, and they reduce carbon emissions, too.

Over the last two or so years, American researcher Ryan Johnson has been providing Twitter with snapshots of life from behind the wheel of Bishkek's trolleybuses. The hashtag highlights the differing interior design preferences of a diverse spread of trolleybus drivers, while simultaneously offering a peek at Bishkek traffic through the vehicles’ cracked windshields.

The trolleybus below, adorned with a drape featuring typical Kyrgyz nomadic patterns, is captured by Johnson looking out at public enemy No.1, the marshrutka.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the few corners of the ex-communist world where minibuses are not ‘seating only’, and the resulting crush of standing bodies in the ubiquitous Mercedes Sprinter marshrutki is a source of great collective resentment. Standing is allowed on trolleybuses, but there is much more space to play with.

The rich blue floral pattern on the hanging framing this next trolleybus is more redolent of Kyrgyzstan's neighbour Uzbekistan, recalling the fabled Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. Sunglasses are kept in reserve for brighter weather.

This trolleybus is big on roses and butterflies. Unfortunately driving while talking on a mobile phone is not yet taboo in Bishkek, a city where fatal road accidents are commonplace.

Some trolleybus drivers trust lucky charms and Islamic scripture to help them navigate their way through the city's perilous thoroughfares, but others believe in the Russian saying “деньги к деньгам”, or ‘money brings money’.

Our next trolleybus proudly displays banknotes from Kyrgyzstan, as well as one from Uzbekistan and another from Turkmenistan. This version of the Turkmen manat banknote (bottom row, furthest right), which has now gone out of circulation, bears the image of the gas-rich country's former president, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Roads in Bishkek are generally in poor condition, much to the chagrin of all drivers. Because of the poor roads, cracked windshields are almost universal.

At 8 som (12 US cents), the trolleybus is more affordable than the 10 som marshrutka, and ten times as cheap as a taxi across town.

Moreover, they are much better ventilated, a fact generally appreciated when the weather warms up.
Sometimes, the driver makes his rounds with a friend or his wife.

This, along with a random vase of fake flowers, adds to the feeling that you are a fly on the wall in someone's living room rather than a customer riding public transport.

This delightful article was first published on 29 March 2017 on Global Voices Online. It was written by the Akhal-Tech Collective, a group of bloggers and journalists writing about the Central Asian region.

Related posts: Kyrgyzstan: The Hermes Scarf and the Appaloosa Horse
All-Woman Brewery Brings Craft Beer to Kyrgyzstan
Bishkek's Mosaics: Fragmented Dream Project
6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan