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Kyrrent Events in Kyrgyzstan 

By Dave Barry
Houston Chronicle, 03-18-01

(Rick Archer's Note: "Kyrgyzstan" is a small Asian country about the size of Texas located next to the NW corner of China. It was previously a part of Russia.)

Now it's time for "Foreign News Notes from Abroad". Our top story today is the recent presidential election held sometime last year in Kyrgyzstan. 

By way of background: Kyrgyzstan is an actual nation located in the Eastern Hemisphere. Or possibly the Western Hemisphere. It's definitely in a hemisphere. Historically, Kyrgyzstan is part of a group of nations - which also includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan - that were founded by a guy named "Stan". 

Unfortunately, most Americans know little about Kyrgyzstan. Most Americans can't even spell "Kyrgyzstan", although it's easy if you remember this simple rhyme: 

First there's a K.
Then Y comes to play, 
Which is followed by R, 
Then guess the rest of the way. 

But getting back to the Kyrgyzstan presidential election: An alert reader named Saruhan Hatipolglu sent us a news report stating that the winner was the incumbent president, Askar Akaev, although the results were challenged by the loser, Al Goristan. 

No, seriously, the loser was actually Omurbek Tekebaev, who (according to the report) asked for but was denied recounts in Djalalabad, Issyk-Kul, Talas, Chu and Osh.

Why are we interested in this? Certainly it is not because we are juvenile wisenheimers who think these names sound funny. No, it is because, as Americans, we need to learn about the many fascinating nations on our planet in case they might be good places for us to buy T-shirts. That is why we spent several minutes extensively researching Kyrgyzstan on the Internet, where we found these fascinating facts:

The capital of Kyrgyzstan is Bishkek, which used to be named Frunze. (Before that it was Pishpek.) According to one Internet travel guide, Bishkek is - prepare to be strongly attracted, as a tourist - "the only town in the world named after a wooden plunger". 
Kyrgyzstan has a bunch of history that occurred sometime in the past. Among the famous Kyrgyz historic figures was a person who went by the moniker of Moghul King Baber the Lion, said to be the greatest downhill skier of all time.
Kyrgyzstan currently has an economy. Among the businesses thriving there are the Jurulush Bank, which can proudly boast of being "one of those several Kyrgyz banks which came into 1999 without a loss". (Don't you find it disconcerting that two years later this bank has not commented on its 2000 performance?)

At this point you are probably on the phone with your travel agent planning your dream Kyrgyzstan vacation ("it's spelled K, Y, R, umm, just guess the rest"). If it helps, the Internet says the best way to get to Kyrwhatever is to fly to Kazakhstan, then take a bus.

As the French would say, "Bon Voyage" (which translates into: "Carry antibiotics!"). 

The following story explains the origin of the SSQQ Geography Quiz.

The World has Changed Without My Permission!  

by Rick Archer
July, 1999

One of the joys of having an eight year old daughter is getting to go back to school again. My daughter Samantha has taken a recent interest in learning the countries of the world. When I was a kid, I enjoyed Geography. I think we had it at my school through the Sixth Grade. I would gather that was about 40 years ago. After talking to Sam on our daily trips to summer camp, to my surprise, the World Map appears to have changed a lot more than I had suspected! 

Sam will be sitting in the back seat of the car looking at a World Atlas and ask me, "Dad, have you ever heard of Kazakhstan?".  At this request for information, I roll my eyes. I don't have a clue where Kazakhstan is. Who cares...I go ahead and lie anyway. "Oh, sure, Honey, isn't that in Asia?"  This almost always works. You see, my daughter doesn't have many childhood myths left. She knows about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa, etc, but at our house we still pretend that Father knows everything. This myth too is sure to crumble, but I take amusement in prolonging it as long as possible. So when it comes to geography I have a system. If the country I have never heard of ends in "stan", it must be in Asia. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan (same idea), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Slowslowquickistan.

If the name of the new country is unintelligible, it is in Africa. Djibouti. Eritrea. Tarzania. Zimbabwe. Swaziland. Mobutuland. Botswana. Burundi. Here is one of my favorite new countries : Burkina Faso. Ever hear of that one?  Nope, didn't think so. Yup, it's in Africa. Do you remember its capital? Ouagadougou. Just rolls off your tongue, doesn't it?

In my conversations with Sam, I have learned there are 5 Guineas in Africa... Gulf of Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, and Guinea Pig. Next to these countries are Gabon, Gambia, and Ghana. GGGGeee Whiz!  I know why Africa is called the Dark Continent. It has more countries no one has ever heard of than anywhere else. It turns out these countries are all dirt poor. They are so poor most people wouldn't trade them for 5 Guineas. That of course is where the phrase comes from.

I get so confused by what is where. Besides all those Guineas in Africa, making things more difficult to keep track of is the country "Guyana" of Jim Jones fame and its counterpart "French Guyana". These two show up in South America. Then there is "New Guinea" which shows up in the Pacific. Except it isn't "New Guinea" anymore. Now it is "Papua New Guinea". I guess some company named Papua paid them big bucks to advertise. It is probably just a matter of time before we have "Microsoft United States" and "Budweiser Texas" on the World Map. At the Olympics they will wave the National Flag and the Corporate Flag together. Boy, I can't wait.

Plus some of these countries change their damn names!  One day I asked Sam why she didn't name Rhodesia.  "It's not on the map, Daddy." Last time I checked that was a major country in Africa. Its absence bothered me so I took a look. Sure enough, where Rhodesia used to be is now parts of Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, none of which I had ever heard of. 

When it comes to name changes, the worst is Zaire. First it was Congo, then it was Zaire, then I heard recently it was Congo again. Good grief. Talk about an identity crisis. After losing Rhodesia, I decided to take a closer look at Africa. These dictators are the worst Country Namers. Almost everyone country in Africa is named for some other country. Gambia. Zambia. Now that's clever. Namibia. Oh boy, that's Nambia with an extra "i". Now you're cooking!  Niger. Nigeria. They probably sat up all night thinking of that one. Mali. Malawi. Please. Libya. Liberia. Can't someone try a little? Personally, I think some Atlas company pays these stupid countries to change their names. I have heard the Encyclopedia companies are more corrupt than the Fashion industry. They hire ex-CIA operatives to de-stabilize emerging nations, then pay the new dictator some big bucks to change the name so we have to buy the latest Atlas to keep track of the New World Order. Now that makes a lot of sense to me.

If Sam mentions a country where lots of people have been killed recently, it is usually in the Balkan part of Europe. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia have been sliced and diced into a bunch of new countries like Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (now that's a catchy name!  Who thought that one up? Certainly no African dictator), FYRO Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, but no Serbia or Kosovo. I guess those two are located in what is still called Yugoslavia. Then again, maybe they are countries now and my stupid map hasn't kept up with them. I guess I better by a new Atlas soooooon!

So you ask what on earth is FYRO Macedonia?   Well, that got me too. After much research, I found out that FYRO stands for "Former Yugoslav Republic Of". I would not have guessed that off the top off my head. Thank God Sam didn't ask about it. And thank goodness our Founding Fathers didn't name us "FTCOE" USA. (Former 13 Colonies of England, get it?).

Another place ripe with new geography is back in the USSR. The USSR has more spin-offs than "Happy Days" or "All in the Family" ever had. I mean everywhere you look on the map there are USSR escapees. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova, Belarus, plus about six new Stan countries. This is so confusing I am almost tempted to ask Russia to take them back. 

Speaking of all these new ex-USSR countries, I am reminded of my big disappointment at the Atlanta Olympics. I have always enjoyed watching the gymnastics, but have tired over the years of the supreme butt-kickings our USA Men's Gymnastics team has gotten from the USSR team. Now I never thought of them as the USSR team. They were always "the evil Red Russians" to me. Life was easier in the old days. The Russians were the Bad Guys. You had to see for yourself the infamous Olympic Basketball Game in 1972 to realize the magnitude of the injustice. This is the game where the USA won twice only to have the politicians intimidate the refs into giving the USSR yet a third chance. On the third try the Russians won on a miracle play. It is probably History's most famous example of cheating in plain sight. After that, the USSR was easy to hate at the Olympics.

So when it came to the 1996 Olympics I rubbed my hands in glee when I found out the Russian gymnastics team (according to Sports Illustrated) had been "severely depleted" by the loss of several gymnasts to the satellite countries. I always figured our Men got beat because there were so many places for the Russians to draw their athletes from. With the USSR Breakup, now we had a chance at the Gold!  WooWee! Let's go kick some Russian butt. Remember 1972!

Boy, was I Wrong!  Not only did our men get beat by the depleted Russian team, we got beat by the Ukraine team, the Uzbekistan team, the Belarus team, the Kazakhstan team, and the SlowSlowQuickistan team. The USA got beat by every one of the stupid spin-off countries and all the Stan countries to boot!  Now instead of our usual Silver or Bronze Medal, we finished about 10th in gymnastics. Oh, great. "Bring back the USSR", I cried!

Well, after all the frustration I have had learning the New World Order, I have decided to share some of my pain with SSQQ Grapevine Readers. Wouldn't you like to take the SSQQ Geography Quiz?  Let's see how smart you all are!!  Email your answers to Rick Archer,

Click Here for the SSQQ Geography Quiz


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