In a 2013 speech, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about USAID’s support for “democratic institutions in Kyrzakhstan” – a malapropism that conflated Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Although the State Department quickly clarified that he meant to say the latter, his mistake did not go unnoticed in the international community – or by comedians and TV talk show hosts, such as Stephen Colbert.
In his book Postcards from Stanland: Journeys in Central Asia (Ohio University Press, 2016), journalist David Mould sees Kerry’s gaffe as “symptomatic of a more general geographical malaise, caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the proliferation of countries whose names end in -stan.” If the Secretary of State gets tripped up by Central Asian geography, what does that mean for the average American? Mould, who has traveled and worked in the region for many years, made it his “personal mission” to “add the ‘stans’ in all their complexity to the mental map of readers.”
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Stefanie Weisman is a writer living in New York City.