Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Odyssey Guide to the Kyrgyz Republic

If you are thinking of visiting Kyrgyzstan I can recommend the Odyssey guide to the Kyrgyz Republic.

The third edition has recently been put together by dedicated authors Rowan Stewart and Susie Weldon and was launched last week at Daunt Books in London.

I am especially excited about this guide because some of my photographs have been used in it. After years of taking hundreds of photos and wondering whether I could ever do anything with them apart from stick them in my own albums, it's great to see some published.

If you are interested in finding out more, Rowan, Susie and I are speaking about Kyrgyzstan at Stanfords travel bookshop in London on Wednesday 22nd October 2008.,129,EV.html

Friday, 19 September 2008

Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov

For anyone who is interested in experiencing a flavour of Kyrgyz life I can recommend Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov. It is a short but poignant love story, wonderfully evocative of Kyrgyz rural life. His descriptions transported me back to the huge expanses of valley, sky and mountain in Central Asia, the true remoteness and stillness of countryside untouched by our fast, modern world.

Chingiz Aitmatov is Kyrgyzstan's best known modern writer, described as a "great writer, thinker and humanitarian". Many of his books are renowned for his descriptions of life in the Soviet Union.

Jamilia is widely available in the UK and on Amazon

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Starting School

My eldest son has just started school. It is a new era, life changing for all of us. He has been fantastic, so brave. After a few nerves on his first visit he now walks ahead of me up to school, swinging his book bag singing “big school big school” to himself. He’s proud to look smart in his uniform, proud to tell me about the new rules and routines – “ you have to say ‘please may I go to the toilet’” – and he’s already into the new language, telling me about “Year 1’s” and “Year 2’s” as if it’s something he’s been aware of all his life.

It seems to be harder for the rest of us to adapt. Younger brother took some persuading to go to nursery on his own and looked lost at first without big brother to trail after. He has a matching polo shirt, his “uniform” which he insists on putting on and changing out of when his brother does. “We’ve never been split up before,” T said rather touchingly, feeling lonely while he hung about with me waiting to go to afternoon school.

I feel I’ve spent the whole week in the car - he’s only doing half days. There are also rules and regulations which I have to get right. I live in fear of being late to pick him up. I feel claustrophobic about being locked into the school timetable for the next twenty years. Most of all it’s difficult letting go of my little boy.

It’s very strange watching him walk away from me into class. He looks very new and small, as if he’s shrunk slightly inside his uniform because I bought sizes to last. It’s such a relief when two hours later he runs out smiling, the hovering mothers closing in to receive their children. “So, what did you do today?” I ask brightly. I want to know everything without seeming to give him a grilling. I know I’ve overdone it when he replies “oh no, not that question again,” on day two. But he actually tells me quite a lot, proud to recount the day’s routine and perform a rendition of a song they’ve learnt.

Some things he says make me feel sick. “Someone tripped me up in the playground” he reported casually and I went into turmoil, imagining older children thinking it funny to pick on the new, little reception boys running innocently around. He seemed so vulnerable, let out alone into the big, bad world of the playground. Eventually, through careful probing questions – I wanted to find out what went on without him realising I was concerned – I learnt he’d tripped over someone’s game, purely accidental. I’m now trying to think positively about the event, to be pleased that he feels able to enter that huge, new environment, cope with a fall, pick himself up and carry on and be very matter of fact about it. In paranoid moments I’m hoping his bravery is not a front hiding fear inside. In rational moments I’m proud that he’s growing up and coping well with independence and new, intimidating situations.

Starting school is as much about me letting go as T entering formal education. As I was tucking him in tonight he said “I love school” and that’s what matters.

Friday, 12 September 2008

What are you scared of?

In many things my boys are the same - especially because No. 2 copies and mimics No. 1. In their fears they are very different, as I discovered today. No 2. son was sitting on the carpet doing puzzles when a huge spider lumbered towards him. He whimpered and shied away. I whacked it with a magazine. Sorry. No. 1 son would have picked it up and carried it out of the door. But No. 1 son is scared of the dark, he insists on a light being left on and in his nighttime vision, bags of toys metamorphose into scary monsters. I'm scared of the cliche - how would I cope if I lost one of them?