Thursday, July 31, 2008

Picture time...

My spirit booster.
One of my favorite marshrutkas. I’m still in disbelief over the life span of some of these marshrutkas – constantly surviving a checkerboard of pot holes, while getting rock-and-rolled by oncoming herds of sheep and cows.
Rating outhouses is becoming impulsive…and I keep envisioning this take on that “Doors of Ireland” poster, except it’s “Outhouses of Kyrgyzstan.”

I helped my host aunt make Blinchke (a crepe-like food). For my first time, it turned out alright…but I’m thinking I should attempt an American dish next (say, pizza), so they won’t be able to make such a blatant comparison. Meanwhile, I’ll keep working on the Blinchke. I saw Nutella in the grocery store, so it’s pretty much fate:) By the way, this is my younger host brother...pretty charming;)
My village against the mountains. Even though you are in 108 degree heat, you can still see snow.
All I had to do was step outside the front door and I instantly smiled.

A wedding party...pretty much everybody's mother plus Ann and I.
Besh Barmak (FYI)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Wedding Party Frenzy

I think I’ve been to three separate wedding celebrations in the past week and a half. I say “think” because I’m not always completely sure of what’s happening. When a feast is laid out – the situation becomes is pretty obvious. But, when my family got me dressed up at two in the afternoon, in the anticipation of a celebration, and by nine that night nothing had seemed to develop, I become accepting of this new dosage of confusion in my life.

If you’ve done any sort of Wikipedia research on Kyrgyzstan, the term “Bride Kidnapping” probably caught your attention. Rest assured, I’m an unlikely candidate (even though records mention a people with light skin, red hair, and blue or green eyes- ironic, isn’t it?). Anyways, this tradition remains a reality for women around my age, especially in the more rural areas. My first related experience took place about a week back. I went with my host grandmother to a neighbor’s house, where we paid our respects to the new in-laws (the groom’s parents). We brought a scarf for the bride. Through my fuzzy interpretation, this case of bride knapping was more of a charade, for the sake of custom. By this, I’m assuming the new bride was expecting to be kidnapped, so it wasn’t a traumatic, forced union. Either way, it’s a difficult circumstance to digest. Think about it: in Kyrgyzstan, you are basically married once you are brought to the groom’s house and claimed with a white head-scarf. Then, for the next few days, the new bride is required to stay behind a white curtain in a private room, where other women come and pay to see her.

There are other ways to go about marriage, such as having the groom purchase his wife (paying a bride price upfront) rather than stealing her. I also know a neighbor who went this route because their desire to wed was mutual.

Today (7/27) I went to another wedding feast. I’m still not sure of all the intricate details (ie prayer, preparation, official dress code), but there are two distinct social spheres – the men and the women. Since two other volunteers were there, I suppose we formed a third posse;) Everyone is given a place around a table (the longer the better) and bombarded with food. There is always candy, cookies, fruit, bread, and tea. My fault is filling up on these tasty treats before the main course is served…or maybe I do it on purpose. One more note on the bread before I reveal the mean course. Various types of bread are always deliberately scattered around the table. Rarely does it keep its place on a plate, at any meal. Sometimes I wonder…will I develop this habit of scattering rolls between dishes when I have people over to eat back home? It really is that easy to amuse myself;) Getting back on track, the traditional dish is Besh Barmak (sheep noodles). Allow me to arouse your senses. The Besh Barmak I’ve been privy to is made with Ramen noodles that are mixed with generous hunks of sheep fat, meat, and bone. These noodles take on a very potent sheep taste, something I’m pretty sure you can’t buy at your local Cub Foods (sorry Peach, I know how much you love your Ramen variety). I’ll just say my palate is still adjusting; but I always try everything that I’m served.

The last point of interest I’ll cover now is my fascination with the “grab-bag.” At my first wedding feast, I witnessed more than 30 women receive plastic bags and simultaneously claim (in a semi-competitive fashion) portions of the leftover food. Today, when I was given a bag of my own, I got really excited about it. I was sitting at a spillover table apart from my grandmother, who was inside the house with all the other elders. I was determined to live up to the standard she had set at the prior party and my competition was pretty limited. I snatched a couple meaty bones, threw in some cookies and bread, and sprinkled in some candy – the perfect combination. Don’t worry Chong Apa (grandmother), I can pull my weight;)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Captions: A fellow PCVT on our street, my host mother's dog "Marta", My host sister milking the cow and the rolling hills of Kazakstan (as viewed from our Kyrgyz village)

This evening completes my first official week of living at my pre-service training site. So far, my stomach has been cooperating with the new diet: lots of potatoes, noodles, rice, bread, tea, some meat and fresh vegetable salads. I’m quickly becoming the next Pillsbury Doughboy. Seriously, though, as long as I can keep my health in-check, I’m content!

I’m pretty sure Google Earth doesn’t cover my village, so allow me to paint a picture. The general layout is 4 parallel roads, lined with family farms. My family owns cows, chickens and sheep….some of the neighbors also have horses. The farm smells are pretty familiar, but the outhouse is in a league of its own. I was invited to try milking a cow a few days ago, but I still need to work up the courage to help around the kitchen. There’s a very good chance I could become domesticated here. Another example would be the laundry experience.

I shower in a banya (just go along with my phonetic spelling). Fortunately, I’m able to shower every day…and now for the explanation. A banya is a little enclosed building were Kyrgyz people bathe. Basically, I undress in the first room and enter the second room, where I mix a tub of water, taking cold water from a ground faucet and warm water from a water basin that is heated with fuel. I’ve got no complaints – but I’m leery of any communal banyas that the future may hold.

As far as the weather goes, it gets pretty hot during the day. I thought rain was rare, but we were assaulted by some misty rain on our walk to the internet café today. I’ve got a week of Kyrgyz under my belt, but I still sound like a two-year-old. This week should bring some more interesting news!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Touching Base

So, I have 4 days of Kyrgyz language lessons under my belt...and a daily routine is beginning to take form. I get up around 7:30 and have breakfast (bread, cookies, and coffee) then walk three blocks down the road to our teacher's house for 3 hours of language lessons. I didn't have time to download an entry to my USB, so I'm kind of crunched for internet time right now...
How about I just share some bullet points:
  • I did my laundry by hand yesterday and my knuckles are still raw. It was a good feeling, though, to realize how self-sufficient I can be.
  • My host family has been geusting quite a few visitos who are interested in talking with an American. I help them practice their English and they clarify whatever phrase my host mother and I have been struggeling with over the past 24 hours.
  • The community I'm staying in feels very safe. Everyone knows everyone else, so people are held accountable for their actions. I feel very furtunate to have landed such a warm host family/community.
  • I discovered the post office today, so please send letters when you get a chance!
p.s. Can someone please give Holly Cooper a hug for me?!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Safe arrival

The flight panned out as anyone who really knows me might expect: I got a good 14 hours sleep on the plane. We had a 7-hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey, so I bought a $20 Visa and ventured out with two others in our group. We navigated the metro and found our way to the Blue Mosque – a serious bonus! Then we ordered lunch at a nearby café and bought some trinkets outside of the storefronts. With about 10 minutes to spare, we were invited into a man’s shop, where he was very proud to display his Turkish rugs. He shared a cup of apple tea with us and even though we had to explain that such rugs were outside our budget/reality for the next few years, he was simply happy to visit with us.

For our introduction to PST (Pre-Service Training), we are staying at a hotel outside Bishkek. I’d have to say, this huge concrete building is Soviet architecture at its finest. Here, we are about to complete our third day of orientation, in preparation for the transition to move in with our host families of three months. We have had some brief language lessons – I’m learning Kyrgyz- and our professional missions are beginning to take shape. As for our host families, our group of 63 new volunteers is divided amongst 8 villages near Kant. I am grouped with three other TEFL volunteers, who all happen to be about the same age as myself. There will be plenty to follow once we hammer through the fist week of PST, but for now, my thoughts are set on tonight’s matching event. These families have been preparing for our arrival for months, without so much as a photo.

There is plenty to process…but my pen can’t seem to keep pace with my thoughts right now. Send your questions my way because, even though we are separated by an 11 hour time difference (Minnesota-Kyrgyzstan), there are internet cafes within reach. Bye for now!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Staging in Philly

So, I had good intentions to touch base with everyone before I left Minnesota, but it seems that I had a bit more packing/repacking to take care of before I left early Thursday. Sorry friends - I have a bad habit of leaving in a whirl-wind fashion, which you probably already knew;) Anyways, I'm here in Philly right now for the segment of orientation known as "Staging." We are getting a general overview of all the elements of Peace Corps service and the anticipation of leaving for Kyrgyzstan is definitely building. I don't have much time to write now, but I can honestly say that I feel like I am in the right place!