Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beautiful News

While I’m not qualified to pass judgment on any of the oblasts (the equivalent of a county, I suppose), I’m certain that my permanent site placement is premium. I’ll be moving to Tory-Aygyr Village, in the Issyk-Kul Oblast, where the infamous beaches of Lake Issuyk-Kul can be reached within a twenty minute walk. The view sounds gasp-worthy: tucked between the mountains, autumn colored by apple and apricot trees, plenty of horses, all overlooking the lake that never freezes. It’s beginning to sound like a vacation get-away…and Tory-Aygyr actually sits on the outskirts of the nation’s most popular summer tourist destinations. However, I’m aligned with the locals in the sense that I’m living on a local budget and competing with touristy prices, I’m working in their school, and I don’t escape when winter comes. From what I hear (i.e. “It’s not that the winters here are any colder than in the states; it’s just that you are never actually warm for like three weeks straight.”) there will be plenty of hardships, so I’m going to celebrate every chance I get. Right now, all I know is that I haven’t been allowed to swim all summer long and nothing sounds more appealing than a lake-side residence.

Another advantage of my placement is that I am replacing a former male TEFL Volunteer who was very ambitious. He left me with a wonderfully unexpected amount of teaching info, community background, other reading material, and project development guidelines/suggestions. Honestly, it’s a bit intimidating to come into a community that’s built such high expectations. However, I’ve got the benefit of building upon existing projects/development within the school and can grant myself the necessary grace period while I discover my own niche within the social network. My new host father works as a physical education teacher at the school I’ll be working at and my host mother is the school’s Russian teacher, so at least I’ll have these connections.

This weekend we prepare for a 4-day visit to our permanent sites, so the excitement of the big move is near. Fall season is refreshing, with crisp weather keeping minds alert; and the urge to start hording books, snacks, and other coping mechanisms will be my saving grace this winter. Speaking of squirrel-like behavior, today I went to the Dordoy Bazaar in Bishkek today with another female volunteer and our host Ejes. I’m still not sure how anyone is able to navigate this bazaar, but we were able to make a few successful winter gear purchases. When I think back on it, I want to laugh thinking, “How far does my loyalty to fashion run. At what point am I willing to compromise my style and purchase a sweater vest?” Also, despite my valiant attempts at finding size 10 ½ boots, I had to accept the fact that Kyrgyzstan may not be able to accommodate all of my needs.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I think I’m finally able to describe Pre-service training. It’s like I’m doing a study abroad right now: majoring in Kyrgyz language, with a minor in drama/acting (I’ve never done so much role-playing in my life!). In all honesty, I’m restless with training and ready to start my service as an English teacher. I’m ready to feel like I’m serving a purpose/have responsibilities, even if it takes me an entire year to work out some of the kinks. When I break it down though, this week looks promising. My training group is going to some hot springs on Sunday for a relaxing day-trip. Although we are not allowed to swim during training (aka all summer) I’ve heard that the hiking is worth it. Also, one of the more monumental moment of my Peace Corps experience will take place this Wednesday. Our permanent site placements will finally be announced…which means we find out who our Volunteer neighbors will be, whether our winters will be intense in the north or manageable in the south, how rural our schools are, and the reality of beginning service will sink in because this place will be “home” for the next two years.

Today we met with all the other volunteers and their host families for a Culture Day. Each community prepared a skit to perform and then we ate picnic style. The menu consisted of plov (a traditional rice dish), borsok (a traditional bread/ pretty much “doughnut squares”), and melon. Going back to the skits, it was entertaining because Kyrgyzstan has an unexpected blend of culture. Russian, Kyrgyz, and Turkish customs were represented through everything from wedding rituals to musical/dancing talents. Everyone shed their inhibitions and decked out in traditional clothing: head scarves, vests, kalpaks, skirts, frilly dresses, you name it. We also helped built a yurt. I thought we were going to play some games after lunch, but it turned into a huge dance party instead. (scroll down to see new photo...not sure why the application worked this way)

In honor of Becky’s birthday, I made “Blinchky” (those delicious crepe things) a second time – under the guidance of my host aunt, of course. If I were to create a recipe right now, it would look something like this:


Step 1: Beat 2 eggs. Add a heaping spoon of sugar and beat some more.
Step 2: Add a smaller spoon of baking soda, which you activate (word choice?) with a few drops of vinegar.
Step 3: Beating this mixture is fun because it gets real frothy/reminded me of a science experiment.
Step 4: Add about a Jiffy PB sized jar of milk (it’s gotta be whole milk) and I didn’t really catch how much flour, which is probably vital. Next time.
Step 5: Break up all the lumps and add a splash of (unidentifiable) oil.

Cooking: Well, there are no oven dials, so cooking temperature is a bit of a mystery. Anyways, pour just enough batter into the frying pan because the blinchky should be thin. Flip and reassess the amount of batter you used (for me, this is almost every time). As for the frying pan, I’m convinced that a new pan wouldn’t work as well as the one my host aunt uses. Basically, I can never recreate these once I leave this kitchen. I should also confess that I bought Nutella to put in them, because chocolate makes anything taste 10X better.

Because phone calls are a privilege and I just can’t personalize enough emails, I’ll take a moment to debrief on this public blog. So, I’m going on week #7 of being in-country and I have already dealt with a wide range of adjustments. I can improvise with my Kyrgyz, but I realize that there’s a difference between my forgiving environment now and trying to get 25 students to take you seriously when you fumble with your words. I should start developing a strategy. Something like memorizing a bunch of basic classroom commands, because right now I never conjugate word in the informal plural form (what a nightmare). Mom, you can be expecting some more teaching questions...the reality of this gig is beginning to preoccupy my thoughts. Then I always think about friends back home and wonder how their job/school searching is going. Then I get nostalgic for Gustavus and realize how jealous I am that Chris starts his Freshman year in a couple weeks. There are plenty of high points, but one of the biggest adjustments has been learning to enjoy them without the friends and family I relate with best. My attitude right now just has to be “roll with it” because training is tiring, but I have faith that one of these days I’ll find a routine that suits me in Kyrgyzstan. Then we can start coordinating everyone’s plane tickets to Kyrgyzstan;) I should probably just request that those able to afford a ticket donate a fraction of that money to my future school/community projects; however, I am not that pure of heart. My approach is this: I’m promoting travel to a little-known country and there is a lot to be said for the positive impact face-to-face interaction can have on international relations. If nothing else, consider your trips/continued letters and emails integral to the success of my Peace Corps service. Well, that’s enough rambling for now. Send any questions you have my way…when I sift through everything, there is a lot that I neglect to share.

Peace out.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

P.S. Did this still smell when it got to you?

Actually, Peach, it did. Your perfume soaked letter is actually serving as an air freshener in my room right now. Thanks! I’m thinking I might even rub it across my wrist tomorrow morning before going to class…

Thanks to everyone who has written me. I feel like a Freshman in college again – I just can’t shake the perma-smile. I appreciate the hand-written stuff because it’s so personalized with the handwriting, creative envelopes/postage, blurry water spots, whatever. It’s refreshing to hear news from home (that place I’ll return to in two years). FYI, I recently realized that it’s actually more expensive to send mail via the Post Office than it is to send e-mails. I guess I had just assumed that the “old fashioned” method would be less expensive. So, what does this mean for the future of my loyal pen-pals? Let’s just compromise on an e-mail/Air Mail combo. I’m willing to splurge for the sake of amusing myself with trips to the local Post Office. One other note on lines of communication: I purchased a cell phone and am exploring options that fit within my Peace Corps budget. Basically, I can accept incoming calls from the U.S. free of charge, and if you set up an account on Skype, the long-distance calling fee is substantially reduced. If you are desperate to hear my voice, then call my mom for my cell number. That being said, don’t feel that you have to invest money you don’t have in long-distance phone conversations….we can keep in touch all the same!

So, my first package from home was pilfered. Apparently, U.S postage makes you personal items a target. Unfortunately, there’s not really anything I can do about it, other than to have a sense of humor/readjust my expectations. As it turns out, only a few items were stolen: Candy, a Nalgene, and a pair of work-put pants. I’d consider myself fortunate, considering three pairs of shoes, two shirts, and other items didn’t strike this thief’s fancy. I just imagine some slob pigging out on my candy, and then squeezing into my pants (swinging my Nalgene in his/her free hand) to work off all those calories/clear their guilty conscience…exactly what I would have been doing;)

Thanks to mom’s birthday (Aug 5th) I wasn’t without sweets for long. My host family bought a cake so that we could celebrate here, which I found pretty touching. The other volunteers in my village joined us for a few rounds of toasts, which we read out of our notebooks. One translates as “May there always be Peace on Earth, and bread on your table.” Then there was my improve. toast in Russian, which was basically me yelling out “I love you” towards the sky...kind of melodramatic now that I think back on it.

I’ve had a couple requests for more info on my current living situation. I’m already going on my fifth week in Kyrgyzstan and it’s easy for me to bypass the details of my daily life without even realizing it. Let’s start with a legitimate dilemma – I don’t speak fluent Kyrgyz. I think I’ve learned quite a bit in a month, but I still have a ways to go; and from here on out, the drill doesn’t get any easier. Basic communication with my host family exists, but I feel like they have the toughest job. They provide for me there first three months and then, just when I’m able to speak Kyrgyz better than a 4 year old, I leave for my permanent site. Sometimes the biggest frustration is not being able to demonstrate a sense of humor or share an opinion that doesn’t rely on charades or painstaking dictionary scanning. My host family knows some English vocabulary, but no complete sentences, as far as I know. Of course, some days are better than others, as far as my ability to communicate goes. Sometimes it’s the useless phrases/situations that I can relay the easiest. For instance, the other day I was taking a sun shower and the water shut off. I had just lathered my hair into a huge white afro and suddenly found myself stranded in a potentially awkward situation. Fortunately, I scavenged some water off the banya supply and lived to share this story with my host family. I could manage phrases like “no water,” “much soap in my hair,” and “banya water.” We all laughed and then my elder host sister sent me back with a bucket of warm water, even though I was already done, because all that cold water could make me sick. Gotta love the self-prescribed health measures;)

My Chong Apa (grandmother) insisted that I send my mom a picture of the birthday cake, so here it is. Revealing the cake was a pretty proud moment! I also want to point out the mug in the left-hand corner – I start every day with a cup of coffee in the “Daily Delight” mug.

My host family, whom I’ll refer to by relationship titles (I don’t want to post their names). Starting on the left, there is my Bauke, Eje, my two little brothers, and Chong Apa. We get lots of visiting family, which I have trouble keeping up with at times…and that explains the young boy in the middle, who I have not officially met.