Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Shoe Story

Maybe I should start with a disclaimer (otherwise whoever reads this might not understand why I’m so invested in shoe issues): At 5’10”, it’s nearly impossible to find shoes my size in Kyrgyzstan – and that’s no exaggeration. I’ve got to ensure at least a two year life span on whatever I brought with me. Anyways…

…Oh, maybe back in October, the Velcro strap on my black dress shoe lost its battle against the dusty debris of the village roads. It was a petty annoyance, but I quickly grow tired of bending down every few yards to put it back in place. The next time I was in the neighboring city, I came along a shoe repair shop and decided to poke my head in. The guy offered to fix it for 50 com (under 2 dollars), so I took a seat on the bench opposite him and handed it over. Had I thought it through ahead of time, I might have worn a separate pair so I could run my errands while he was working; but as it happened, I was bound to sit and wait. Nonetheless, through our small talk, we ended up finding a common connection through a newly married male teacher at my school. In the end, he waived the fee because he now considered it nothing more than a favor for a friend – what a guy. I remember thinking to myself that day about how humorous I found the entire situation. There’s no way, only a few months back, I would have imagined that managing to get Velcro replaced would make me feel so accomplished.

Well, wouldn’t you know, two weeks pass and then the other shoe lands me in the same predicament. Cherishing my little expeditions, I was actually kind of happy to be paying another visit to my shoe guy. This time, though, I just dropped it off and arranged to pick it up later on. At first, he told me he wouldn’t accept any payment…but a guy has got to make a living and after some insistence, he charged me 30 com. When I went back, his shop was closed for lunch, so I figured I would just wait until I came back the following week.

That week, my host mother mentioned that someone had asked her about my shoe. Figuring that I just wasn’t comprehending everything, because I found it hard to believe that anyone would be talking about my shoe, I let the comment slide. However, when I made my way back to the shoe shop, I was met with such a distressed expression. Apparently, he had sent my shoe with a taxi driver from my village, hoping to save me a trip. Again, I was astounded by his generosity/consideration and humored by the situation. He came out, looking for the taxi driver, but I assured him that this wasn’t the end of the world. Things here generally have their own way of working out and there’s no use in getting stressed-out.

Back in my village, I inquired about the comment my host mother had made a few days earlier and discovered that my shoe was now under the watch of one of my students (the taxi driver’s daughter). I had to cringe at the thought of that poor girl carrying around my not-so-dainty shoe in her backpack. Needless to say, she never found me at school, and the prolonged reunion continued. Eventually, the departure date for my trip to Ukraine arrived and all I could do was write down “find black shoe” on a post-it note, so that I could pursue the hunt when I returned. However, when I returned, I found it sitting inside my room and my host sister’s explanation was, “Cinderella.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

School is Back in Session

I just finished my first week back at school, which went a lot smoother than I have come to expect. I'm now actually teaching my English classes in the English classroom (the project of a former volunteer) and it's wonderful. Creating the right learning environment is so important; and since I've got English posters decorating the walls, I've instantaneously gained stronger legitimacy among my students. After a long winter absence, I've done a lot of reassessing, as far as my role as an English teacher here goes. Now that I feel I have a better hold on the daily nuances, I'm ready to give the students a quality experience with English. I just have to keep reminding myself that this is their third language - that, in and of itself, is impressive. Looking back, I studied Spanish for maybe four years and don't remember a lick. The American educational system could really benefit from some stronger mandatory foreign language instruction.

I'm a bit disappointed in myself for letting my blog entries slip. One of the main goals of Peace Corps is to share one's experiences with friends and family back home - to promote cross-cultural understanding. I suppose that after nine months, I've just become comfortable enough in this new environment to allow my old habits to sneak back into play, procrastination being the most prominent. However, know that I think of home often and I appreciate that anyone takes the time to check in on my happenings. Don't lose faith...I'll get on top of things.

For now, here are a few of the charming moments that outweigh any homesickness and frustrations that I may experience:

  • I got into a play-wrestling match with my younger host brother and made him say, "You are the winner," in English. When he escaped to a safe enough distance, he turned around and told me, "I am a wiener!" - Never realized how easy it would be to mix those two words up...but I had to warn him how important it was to articulate;)
  • My latest language fumble involves another dose of juvenile humor. I had discovered a favorite host breakfast cereal "Mankaya Kasha," so whenever I went to the bazar I would ask the saleslady, "Do you have Manka," and "Can you give me some Manka, please?" Then I would tell my host family that Manka was my favorite breakfast food. One day my host brother decided to break me the news: I wasn't making the correct nasaly sound when I said "Manka," so what I was really saying was "snot." If you make the substitution, you'll undersand why I don't even say this word any more...I just point. It gets the job done.
  • I went to Lake Issyk-Kyl with a couple neighbors and they took me to a secret shore. It was about an our walk through farming fields and a mini forest. When we got to the lake, all stress just evaporated. The lake is unlike anything I've ever seen before - snow capped mountains that appear grey, blue or purple (depending upon the weather), glacier clear salt water lapping against the shore (with no water toys tearing it up), and one side that stretches so far across the Oblast that you cannot see it's shore. As we walked along, they started picking pieces of old clay pots from the sand. They told me these artifacts come from the village that was swallowed up by lake Issyk-Kul, long, long ago. Then, they started picking bones out of the sand. I saw my neighbor hold one up to his rib cage, imagining where it must have once been. It was nuts! I had a hard time believing that these where human bones, half buried in the sand, not in some sort of historical museum. They were just amused by my disbelief. We have plans to go back and play armature archeologists sometime soon, and this time I'll bring my camera!