Karakalpak Village Life

Ocean and Savannah

I love traveling and seeing new places and after over 25 years of living abroad, it is rare that I go to a place I’ve never heard of. Over our Spring Break last week, we traveled to the far western part of Uzbekistan, to an autonomous region called the Republic of Karakalpakstan. It took our traveling party a couple of days to learn to say it. Kara-kalpak – stan means “black” “hats” “people” “land of”. The name derives from the Central Asian hat made of the Qaraqul breed of sheep. An “autonomous region” is analogous to a state or province so it is not a separate country. However, the Karakalpaks have their own flag, their own language and they do have the right to vote for secession. The Karakalpaks are a traditional Turkic nomadic ethnic group of fishermen, herders and farmers. The language is more similar to Kazakh and Uzbek and they look more Mongol/Kazakh than the Uzbeks. In the few words I learned, Karakalpak differs from Uzbek/Kazakh like Catalan is to Spanish, slight differences of spelling and pronunciation and spelling, but similar structure. Karakalpakstan was part of the Khanate of Khiva and became an autonomous republic under the Russians and Soviets. It is historically known as Khwarezm and was controlled by the Persians before Alexander the Great conquered it. For milennia, the Karakalpaks survived off irrigation and fishing from the Amu Dayra.

Stirring Sumalak, the Navruz Holiday Dish

The capital of Karakalpakstan is the city of Nukus. It felt rough-edged in the middle of a vast desert. The Uzbek government has put money into the infrastructure and in the city center, there are new apartment buildings with retail shops on the ground floor, new roads, a big mosque and nice promenade along one of the many canals leading off the Oxus River (Amu Dayra).

Fresh Bread

Our tour guide, Aydos, took us to the village of Shimbay for a day of experiencing Karakalpak culture. The tour company as with many businesses in Uzbekistan is new and is developing tourism in the region. The Shimbay villagers were excited for the novelty of foreigners and provided us a fascinating day. They were as curious about us as we were of them. No jaded locals, tired of the throngs of tourists in Karakalpakstan! I put together a video of our experiences. It really hit home for me the socio-economic levels in the region. All of the homes were clean and well-maintained, but every house had an outhouse (long-drop) and there were lots of livestock in the back yards of the homes. It reminded me of the stories my mother told me of her childhood in Michigan. Her grandparents came to America from Finland at the turn of the century and when she was born in 1940, the family still had a cow and outhouse.

Yurt Workshop

The highlights included listening to Karakalpak folksongs played on a traditional, two-stringed guitar, the colorful women’s dresses and building a yurt. We got to see how yurts are assembled from Black Poplar branches, one of the few trees that grows in this dry region in riverine habitats. I also loved the bread ovens and like many Central Asia peoples, they’ve had a long time cooking with wheat and know bread! The menu included a hearty turkey stew, hot bread, fresh off the sides of the adobe oven and mixed salads.

Rolling Dumplings

The people of Shimbay were obviously proud of their Karakalpak heritage and we were honored to spend the day with them. The village had a real community feel, something that is lost in more affluent, modern societies. Humans yearn for connection and that is something we can learn from.

Kralovec Boys Excel at the TIS Model United Nations

Sophia and Oliver Ready to Go!

I loved the past couple of days helping the boys learn how to tie their ties and dress in business attire. They participated in the Tashkent International School Model United Nations. The school usually travels to The Hague or other destination or hosts other schools, however, due to the pandemic, it was only our high school that participated. Oliver represented Argentina and Owen represented the former USSR in the historical UN sessions. It is a mock UN with delegates making proposals and working in committees.

The event is 100% student-led with experienced students acting as chairs. There is usually a global emergency on day two. Besides the general assembly, there are sessions on different areas like the environment, human rights, etc.

The students learn diplomacy and how the United Nations functions. They also hone their presentation skills through debate, persuasion, compromise, dialogue, etc. Basically, they are learning diplomacy and politics. It is such a valuable experience. Owen and Oliver are really enthusiastic about it!

Owen entering school on April 1, 2021

Kralovec Karakalpakstan Adventure – Day 1

Oliver rests on Ocean’s shoulder – Uzbek Airways

I took my first flight in over one year! The last time I was in an airplane was early February 2020. Today, March 20, 2021 my family flew domestically from Tashkent to Nukus. We were so excited to go to the airport, go through security, board the plane, etc. I usually fly 5-8 times per year and the pandemic put a stop to that. It was strange to be on a plane again after so long. The flight was full with over 300 passengers so people are not afraid to fly in Uzbekistan. We are on our Spring Break and I really felt the need to get away from the city and school. It is a much needed respite. 

It was a warm, rare rainy day in Tashkent Saturday. Spring is when we receive the most rain and as we start spring tomorrow, it is appropriate that it rained most of the day. In the morning I answered emails and completed a few items for school. I went for a short bike ride around the neighborhood and then packed and cleaned the house. We prepped Owen for a week alone. Our driver Ahat, delivered us to the national airport and we enjoyed the 1 hour, 25 minute flight across the country. 

Nadia is excited to board a plane – first time 18 months!

We landed in the Nukus, the capital of the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. This economically poor region the size of Oklahoma is located in the far west deserts of Uzbekistan. The Karakalpaks are a mixed ethnic Turkic group formerly living a nomadic lifestyle in these harsh lands. “Kara” means black and “kalpak” hat in their language. My initial impression is they look more Mongol or Kazakh than Uzbeks. 

We are staying at the Jipek Joli which means “Silk Road” in the Karakalpakstan language. The letter j is pronounced like the Russian ж. Nukus has a population of around 350,000 people and reminded me of the outskirts of Guangzhou, China. The Soviets made this town with wide streets. Near our hotel, there are many new apartment blocks with businesses on the ground floor. We walked to Korzinka, one of the big national Uzbek chain grocery stores and bought some snacks. We had a delicious dinner at the hotel and went to sleep early. 

Tashkent Journal: March 14, 2021

Family brunch at Arrows and Sparrows Cafe in Tashkent City. (friend of the family to my right)

Cold weather has returned to Tashkent after a couple weeks of spring, almost summer-like weather. It snowed a bit on Saturday night and it continues with below freezing temperatures and a bit of sleet today. We are looking forward to Spring Break, one more week of school to go. There are still a low number of cases in Uzbekistan and Tashkent. The government announced they are stopping administration of rapid antigen testing at airports. People arriving still need to have had a negative PCR test before boarding the flight.

I was taxi driver again this weekend, shuttling teenagers to various places. Oliver is spending a lot of time with his girlfriend. Owen plays tennis on Saturday with his friends and is always going out on the town with his friends. Ocean’s good friend Asla slept over on Saturday. Nadia had a great time with her friends Friday night at the City 21 Restaurant at the Hilton. I played 2 and 1/2 hours of tennis this morning with the regular crew and got a lot of work done in the afternoon. I took Obi out for a walk along Nukus street and enjoyed the cold, fresh air.

We had many laughs about our protective whistles. I took the girls to Щеф Бургер

Before the cold weather hit I went for a bike ride along the canal on Saturday morning. Below is another example of the glorious Soviet architecture one sees around Tashkent. The Palace of Arts Turkistan hosts concerts, festivals and events.

Tashkent Journal: March 7, 2021

A really nice Sunday in Tashkent today. I started with an intense two sets of doubles tennis with friends at the Olympic Tennis Club. I was the chauffeur today for the family. Nadia got a serious haircut, which I love! We drove Owen and his friends to Paul for lunch and Nadia and I stayed and had a late lunch ourselves. We had lots of fun harassing Owen, but they were OK with us picking up their tab.

Chevrolet Sport over the curb

Not many people had cars in Uzbekistan for the first 20 or so years of their independence. With the opening of the economy, more people are able to afford cars. However, they have not learned to drive! The first car of choice for new drivers is either a Chevrolet Sport or Matiz. These are the craziest drivers, racing at all costs between stoplights. They switch lanes all the time without using their directional lights and you see a lot of accidents like the scene above. I was walking my dog Saturday night and came upon this three-car accident. I hope they will eventually learn that the roads are not a formula 1 racetrack and it is better to obey the traffic laws and get to their destination safely. My strategy to avoid accidents is staying in my lane, driving slowly and having a big car (Chevrolet Captiva). I wish I had a button on the dashboard with a laser that when aimed at a reckless driver, would stop the car, raise it in the air 20 feet and stay like that for two hours. It would teach these irresponsible drivers. Do I sound like an old man? 🙂

“Roma” cart on my street

I am noticing more what I thought were Roma people. There was a big population in Belgrade but I have not seen the large settlements like there. In doing a bit of research, I found they are Lyuli or Luli people. Today there was a family begging in front of the supermarket. They are an ethnic group distantly related to the Roma of Eastern Europe. They settled mainly in Tadjikistan, arriving in the 1200s from the area of Multan, in the Indus Valley. They call themselves the Mughat, meaning “fireworshippers” or Ghurbat “exiled”. They do not have any of the Romany tradition and the only reason they are known as gypsies or cigani (in Russian) is because of their nomadic lifestyle. There is an estimated 12,000 Lyuli in Uzbekistan. They practice a form of Islam, but face discrimination in Central Asia. I will definitely try to find out more about their population here and their culture. You can read more about the Lyuli people of Uzbekistan here.

Tashkent Journal: March 5, 2021

I have not been posting much lately because of being busy at school. We start a three-day weekend because of Women’s Day holiday (March 8) on Monday. Last night Nadia and I took Obi for a walk downtown. She posed in front of the Hotel Uzbekistan. The hotel’s facade is an LED billboard and it reads “reklama” in Russian which means advertisement. Our dog Obi received a long overdue haircut and he looks so different with less fur and being able to see his eyes.

We hopefully had our last snowfall of the year on February 24-25. Overnight about 3-5 inches fell. I love taking Obi for walks in the quiet snow. Our neighborhood is gentrifying quickly, but most of it still looks like a Central Asian village. The photo above is typical of what it looks like on a winter evening close to my house.

Spring in Tashkent is often rainy which gives us very clear skies. Last Sunday driving to play tennis, the Tien Shan mountains were visible throughout the city. They are about a 60-minute drive away.

To finish this post, I always appreciate the beauty of mosques. Below is a closeup of one of the minarets from the Minor Mosque. The mosque was completed in 2014 by the city government and is next to the Ankhor Canal, one of my favorite running/biking/walking routes. Last Sunday I walked around the mosque while waiting for a shop to open.

Family Journal: February 19 – Tennis and Spring!

I’ve been playing a lot of tennis lately, mostly at the Republican School of Olympic Reserve. The club was founded in 1961 as a sports boarding school and today provides high level training for local tennis players. It is the site of the Tashkent Open, a WTA professional event. My sons train at the club and I play social tennis 1-2 times per week. I would like to thank the Club Director Samuk Abidov for all of his support and kindness. We took the picture together above the other night. Nadia and I played this weekend with our friends Hitoshi and Ai at the indoor court at the Plov Center Tennis Club. Lots of fun and laughs!

Plov Center Tennis Club

We’ve had an unusual run of extremely warm weather this month. A couple of days ago it reached 26 C (79F) and it felt like summer. The apricots and cherry blossoms are out all over the city. Forsythia, the yellow trumpet of European spring is also in full bloom on campus (see below). It is supposed to snow later this week again. 😦

Finally, I am happy to have my right-hand man back Ahad! He is our family support person and due to COVID, we’ve had limited contact with him. With the low number of cases in the city, we are now asking him to do more and it is good to have him back in our lives.

Bill and Ahad

Family Journal: January 31, 2021

60% of the Kralovec Family

We had a relaxing weekend in Tashkent. We celebrated Nadia’s birthday on Saturday at Arrows & Sparrows Cafe. She was sick on her actual birthday (last Tuesday). The cafe recently opened in the Tashkent City development. The food and ambiance was really nice and I recommend anyone wanting a good meal. We all had a laugh at my expense. There is a fee to enter the park unless you are going to the Hilton Hotel. I told the entrance guard I was going to the Hyatt, the other luxury hotel in Tashkent. The guy looked at me funny, until my family corrected me.

Ocean got her hair cut and she looks so different. She is officially a teenager and is changing every day. I really enjoyed taking her to the clinic on Friday for a check up. I just love spending time with her. Between recruiting teachers and answering emails, Owen and I shot baskets at our school’s gym. We are bummed out that his senior season got wiped out by the pandemic. We are still trying to work on his game. Oliver is working out with a personal trainer which has been helpful for his health and mood. He is looking more like a man every day!

DNA Updates from 23 & Me and Ancestry.com

Years ago I submitted my DNA sample to 23 & Me, the genetic testing company. I was really curious because I was adopted and did not know much about my ancestry. The methods 23 & Me uses to determine DNA origin are improving all the time. They are getting more people to contribute and using better algorithms to improve accuracy. The latest results show that I have 71.5% Eastern European with Podkarpackie Voivodeship being the highest likely match. This is southeastern Poland, east of Krakow. Other strong matches in the region border on voivodeship, with Lviv, Ukraine to the east and Prešov, Slovakia. So most of my ancestors come from that region in Slovakia/Poland/Ukraine. Americans are a bit obsessed with ancestry, probably because we do not have the sense of tribalism that smaller countries with populations living in the region for hundreds or thousands of years. The latest update took out much of the “broadly” or “undefined” European categories that were in earlier versions.

A surprising feature of the update was the 24.7% Spanish/Portuguese label. They didn’t find enough exact matches between my DNA and reference individuals in their database to determine an exact region. I’ll be looking forward to seeing when they get more matches. I also registered 2.4% Greek/Balkan, which is a drop of 6% from previous readings.

Ancestry.com highlighted Eastern Slovakia

I also submitted my DNA to Ancestry.com and they to measured my ancestry as 71% Eastern Europe & Russia. They zeroed in on Eastern Slovakia. Ancestry.com’s database also identified 13.7% “Germanic Europe” primarily located in Germany and Switzerland. The Balkans and Spain both register 7% each.

My takeaway from the two companies is my ancestry is definitely strongest in the small region of eastern Poland and Slovakia and western Ukraine. 23&Me gives me a stronger link to Poland, Ancestry.com to Slovakia.

Carrefour Opens in Tashkent

Nadia poses in front of the entrance

We wanted to check out the new Carrefour supermarket on our weekly grocery shopping trip yesterday. It is another sign of the economic growth of Uzbekistan and Tashkent that an international chain opened such a large store. Majid Al Futtaim, the Emirati billionaire is behind the project. He opened Carrefour franchises all over the Middle East (over 30 countries). This store is on the ground floor of the former Media Mart complex (an electronics and home appliance store). Media Mart moved to the second floor. I heard there will be other Carrefour outlets opening in the city. Carrefour is originally from France and brought the concept of the “hyper market” / department store under one roof to France in the 1960s. I think it is a slightly more upscale and smaller version of Walmart.

Learning How to Slice Cheese

Nadia loves supermarkets and when we visit countries, one of our mandatory stops is to see what is available in the grocery stores. She found some speciality items that can’t be found in the local supermarkets. We both felt that the local supermarkets, Makro and Korzinka, compare favorably to Carrefour. We will continue to do most of our shopping at the local supermarkets and Mirobad bazaar. Carrefour offers free WiFi and several deli-like venues, such as a cheese-slicing (it is French, of course), crepes, bread and somsas, even a sushi stand. It has a long way to go to reach the level of a Trader Joes, Wegmans or Whole Foods in the USA. However, they do bring some new ideas in retail to the city and an international perspective, which is beneficial to Uzbek culture.

Uzbek, Russian and English languages on the recyclable bags

The young Uzbek employees seemed proud to be working for an international company. We were able to use our international credit card easily and they even gifted us two recyclable Carrefour shopping bags.