Monday, June 8, 2009

Global goodwill

The IPM Central Asia Project is in the last year of its funding from US AID. There are few other American universities working in Central Asia and we have compiled many indicators that our work has been productive here. The last day of our visit to Kyrgyzstan was spent developing a renewal request to continue our work. Most of our Central Asian partners came to our renewal planning session and, afterwards, surprised us with an informal trip to the nearby snow-capped Tien Shan Mountains. At a national park, they hosted a picnic-style break of Kyrgyz cheese, sausage, bread, chocolate and kumis, fermented mare’s milk. In Googling “kumis,” (to learn the correct spelling), I found this interesting factoid from Wikipedia:

quote-- In 2005, George W. Bush visited Mongolia, becoming the first U.S. president to do so, "and probably the first to drink fermented mare's milk in a felt tent guarded by the latter-day Golden Horde and a herd of camels and yaks", according to the Washington Post. The same article casts doubt on whether Bush actually drank: "No word on whether Bush actually swallowed or not, but some of his aides evidently did, judging by the looks on their faces afterward." --end quote.

I would like to report that our team was bold and I believe all tasted the kumis. It is very sour like plain yogurt and has a smoky flavor like a sausage – very odd, but perhaps no odder than American eggnog. I was assured by Kyrgyz friends that it was great for my health.

In the evening, one of our Bishkek colleagues, Gulnaz, graciously invited us into her home for dinner and we were given more gifts by Central Asian members of our team. As you’ve read in this blog, the people have been amazingly generous with us. They are extremely resourceful and quick to envision how to adopt an American agricultural practice to suit Central Asian conditions. We are in awe of them.

One last thought to share about the kindness of people around the world. In Aleppo, Syria, as we walked down a street, an older man called out to us and asked where we were from. After learning we were Americans, he replied he likes Americans and believes Americans like Syrians. He suggested the conflict is among politicians and has nothing to do with the American and Syrian people. “We should be like brothers and sisters.” We shook his hand and left enjoying the goodwill he offered us.

Picnic preparations underway.

The national park included a traditional "yurt," the felt tent home of these nomadic people. Dr. Walt Pett (sitting in the yurt) agreed to try the kumis and reports he does not intend to drink more in the future.

Gulnaz and several of the women who are partners in the IPM Project prepared us dinner in her apartment.