Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Written June 21, 2010
Pictures finally! From the top down: the view from my backyard; making borsok, a type of fried bread; putting up the yurt at my new host family's home; my host family during PST, minus my sister; my language group and our first Kyrgyz teacher, Izat-eje.
I’m back in my village after a weekend in Naryn City - great fun. I had gotten so used to the seven stands all selling the same products that make up the bazaar in my village that it was a little overwhelming to have so many options available to me all of a sudden. Fortunately my limited budget kept me from over-purchasing (although I did spring for two slices of pizza. Melted cheese, always worth the extra som).
I’m realizing how quickly I’m beginning to redefine my definition of so many things based on my current surroundings. Example: my definition of “close.” When I first arrived here my family and counterpart told me my school was far from my house. It’s about a ten minute walk; fifteen if I take my good ol’ time like most people around here do. A walk to the bazaar and stores, or “center” as everyone refers to the hub of my village as, is about a ten minute walk. My favorite cafe is about a twenty minute walk from where I live, and already it seems absurd that I would walk a whole twenty minutes just for a bowl of lagman and some samsa. Example: my definition of “clean.” Oh, you just cleaned that plate with lukewarm water using a washcloth that can probably get up and walk away by itself? Sure, I’ll eat off that. Example: my definition of “big city.” Currently, this means anything larger than 30,000 people. Given that I am used to navigating all of about four roads in my village, I was constantly getting turned around in Naryn.
As we were driving the two hours back to our village (apparently our driver thought nausea was a small price to pay for arriving in the most efficient time possible), I realized how much I was looking forward to going home to my own bed and to people who know me by name. Cities are fun to visit, but I’ll always be a small town girl, even in Kyrgyzstan.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Warning note to anyone who is planning on sending packages: many of the trainees have gotten packages from home and almost all of them have been cut open and have had things stolen. If you send a package, wrap it well (maybe in more than one box or duct taped like crazy) and include a list of what is in the box so I can make sure everything is there. Any letters or cards you send should be fine.
PST is almost over! We have two weeks left before transitioning from trainees to full-fledged Peace Corps volunteers. I think I’m ready but my emotions are falling on a wide spectrum at the moment, so I’ll try to break it down.
Reasons I have for being nervous:
1. Language. This is my main concern at the moment. Grasping at a familiar verb or noun in a conversation and trying to contextualize it because I can’t fully understand what all is being said isn’t an ideal form of communication. Of course being fluent in Kyrgyz isn’t going to prevent me from finding myself in complicated situations; I’ll still have to deal with drunk taxi drivers, drunk family members, and drunks in general, but being able to at least understand what’s being said will go a long way in making me feel at ease. I know my verbal skills will get better but for whatever reason I feel like I’m plateauing in my Kyrgyz speaking ability, and the intermediate low level isn’t exactly where I was hoping to hold steady. I suppose I’ll have to cram as much studying in as possible in the next week and a half. Insert flashback to college here.
2. I haven’t yet been to Bishkek. I was hoping to get there before we moved to our permanent sites for several reasons: to get more comfortable using public transportation; to visit the Peace Corps office; to check out books from the Peace Corps library; to find peanut butter; to buy a new iPod. My iPod finally kicked the bucket and I’m finding it slightly inconvenient. At the moment I only use it when I go running in the mornings, but on long bus/marshutka/taxi rides when I’m not feeling like having a three-hour conversation about my life story, an iPod is going to be extremely handy. Also, I’m really missing listening to Sean Hayes and José González in the mornings (consider this the passing along of a music recommendation - thanks, Maddie). There’s a chance we’ll be able to get to Bishkek yet before we leave, so here’s hoping.
Reasons I have for being excited:
1. I can cook for myself! At the moment my excitement about cooking and baking for myself is outweighing my other concerns. Those who know me well know I have a particular fondness (some may say weakness) for good food. I like it. I like it a lot. We got our Peace Corps cookbook last week and I spent a good half hour salivating over recipes. On a related note, if you have recipes you particularly enjoy please send them to me! Summer’s on its way and I would like to fully utilize the all the fresh fruits and vegetables that will be available. I can’t wait to make fresh berry pie. And jam. And zucchini bread. And apple crisp. And maybe even vegetable lasagna. Please send me your recipes.
2. I think I like teaching! I’m sure I’m going to be frustrated with the school system, the lack of motivation, and the cheating, but I’m realizing that I really enjoy finding ways to be creative and to make learning English more appealing to my students. Today one of my students in the 6th form class that I’ve been teaching for the past three weeks brought me flowers. It was pretty adorable, albeit a little awkward since at first I thought she wanted me to pay for them. That wasn’t the case, though, and now I have a beautiful purple bouquet proudly displayed on my desk. Next week is our last week of active practicum and I’m going to miss the 6th formers I’ve been teaching. I hope I have at least one class at my permanent site who will give me an equally enthusiastic response.
3. I’ll have my own space. To be clear, I really do love my PST host family. They’re pretty hands-off, low key, and easy going. The perfect match for me. I’m only now starting to feel completely comfortable hanging out at home, though. In part, this is due to the fact that my language has progressed beyond pointing at random objects and asking “bul emne?” I actually had a nice conversation with my apa tonight, although it was no doubt littered with grammatical errors. However, given the set-up of my host family here I still feel a little weird about taking time to sit in my room by myself to study, read, or occasionally watch a “Chuck” episode. I’m looking forward to not feeling guilty about taking time for myself.
So permanent site placement announcements next week. Here’s hoping for Issyk-Kul or (and I may be crazy) even Naryn. I’ll try to get an update in before I move.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Written May 5, 2010
A brief update on recent happenings.
We’re organizing a 10K run! We’ve discovered a runner’s gold mine in our village: a straight, fairly smooth, relatively secluded, safe road. After realizing how many people in our trainee group run a few from our village decided to organize a race as a way to celebrate at the end of our pre-service training (PST) next month. There will also be a 5K fun run/walk, and of course everyone is welcome to join the cheering section if physical activity at 8:00 in the morning isn’t exactly your idea of a good time. We’ve already circulated a sign-up sheet and quite a few people have expressed interest - I’m pretty excited! I’ve been trying to run on a regular basis, partly to sustain routine and partly to curb the amount of weight I’m gaining by eating inordinate amounts of bread and jam. In fact, members of my language group call me malina, which means “raspberry” in Kyrgyz, since I’m particularly partial to the raspberry variety.
On the teaching front: I’ve led three English classes now, all to different age groups. I’m slowly learning effective ways to teach vocabulary and grammar, but the fact that we switch classes regularly (and only teach once a week) makes it a little difficult to build on previous lessons. Basically, we write isolated lesson plans; I suppose I’ll have to learn how to link my lessons when I get to my permanent site and start working with my counterpart.
Tomorrow we’re having our first language “test.” We’re halfway through PST now, so this is more of a check-up to make sure our Kyrgyz is progressing at a satisfactory rate (read: so we’re not at a complete loss when we’re moved to our permanent sites where we’ll most likely be the only native English speakers in our villages). I’m impressed with how much we’ve learned in the past month. Granted, I’m not the best Kyrgyz speaker in my group, but I can get along in a bazaar, communicate necessary/important information to my host family, and even understand a joke or two which is a massive improvement from a month ago.
Tomorrow I’m hoping to make cookies with my apa. I’m pretty sure she’s convinced that I can’t cook at all since I don’t know how to make any Kyrgyz foods, so I’d like to prove to her that I’m not completely incompetent in the kitchen. I helped make dinner this past Sunday (with the entire family - apparently I required significant supervision), and when we finished my ata proudly informed me that someone will marry me now that I know how to cook. Perfect.Hopefully my future posts won’t be so infrequent. There’s always news to share, it’s just a matter of getting it posted.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
I know this blog post is coming close on the heels of my previous one, but I had an incident tonight that is definitely worth sharing. It was my first experience with besh bermak, a traditional Kyrgyz dish you eat with your hands that literally translates “five fingers.” I’d heard about this dish from other trainees whose host families subjected them to it earlier than mine. I knew something was up when I came home (from my first actual teaching experience!) and my apa and her sister were bent over the kitchen table, elbow-deep in sheep intestines. I’ve had enough experience with butchering that the whole blood and guts thing doesn’t bother me, but the fact that there was a pile of intestines where I eat my breakfast every morning made me a little queasy. How many times have they prepared besh bermak in the place where I eat my breakfast?
We didn’t end up eating until about 10:30pm, after multiple extended family members had arrived. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to walk into a room for dinner and realize that your options are intestines stuffed with chopped intestines or the entirety of a sheep’s head. More likely you’ll be eating some of both. I can now proudly say that I’ve eaten sheep’s eye. At least, I think it was eye. My apa had to peel it for me, so I assumed that’s what it was. This was not on my list of things to do before I die, but I think I’ll go ahead and add it just to check it off. Fortunately, beyond the unidentifiable sheep innards there were also homemade noodles and baked potatoes involved, as well as a sort of cabbage and carrot salad so I could at least maintain the appearance of eating without constantly forcing down eyeball. On the upside, though, my apa introduced me as her кыз, or daughter. I also realized that I’m picking up on more conversation topics than I used to, and I could tell when the other family members were asking about me.
Naturally, there were a couple awkward moments: the family teased me about sitting “like a boy” - cross-legged rather than tucking both my legs to one side. Also, I was seated next to my ata’s (host dad’s) aunt, who kept trying to speak to me in Russian. This led to other family members calling out to me over her questions in an effort to translate what she was saying. I’m still not sure I understood or answered any of her questions correctly. I’m chalking this up as a good night overall, strange new food aside. My apa called me her daughter; I officially have family here.
I’m back in my town after an unexpected hiatus due to the political situation here, which I’m sure most of you have heard about by this time. In fact, you all probably know more about what’s going on than I do, given that my main media source right now is Russian television and I don’t speak Russian. If you aren’t aware, a quick Google search of Kyrgyzstan can catch you up to speed since I’m not going to address the issue here. Ask me about the experience in person sometime, though. I guarantee the stories will not disappoint.
It’s good to be back! My apa (host mother) was almost in tears she was so happy to see me when I came home, and other volunteers said their family members had similar reactions. We’ve only been here for a few weeks and already our hosts are treating us like family. It’s a good feeling. Plus, I had really been missing my apa’s fresh baked nan (bread) as well as my chai eech time. Chai eech, or “to drink tea,” is an integral part of Kyrgyz culture, it’s served with every meal and often between meals, as well. I have about 12 chai eeches a day (and yes, I like use the whole phrase as a single noun or verb as I see fit) and this is on the low side. A few volunteers in my language group are having a competition to see who can drink the most tea over the course of our training period. They average about 25 chai eeches a day. I thought about joining the fun, but I’m trying to watch my caffeine intake.
I’ve been set back on my Kyrgyz a bit, unfortunately. A few days away from language lessons has wreaked havoc on my limited vocab, so I’m trying to do some catch-up now. On the bright side, I’ve been making earnest attempts at having real conversations with my host sister when she sits with me after dinner to chai eech. Yesterday we talked about sports (she likes volleyball) and today we talked about traveling (she’s been to Kazakhstan). She usually corrects my verb conjugations but understands what I’m asking, so I’m counting this as a huge step forward in my communicative abilities.
All in all, these past few days have been great. We trainees are spread out in different towns and divided into language groups (4-5 people to a group), but once a week we have a “Hub Day” where we all get together for culture, health, safety and security, and training sessions. This week we received our long-awaited cell phones. It took me a considerable amount of effort to set mine up, especially since the instructions were in Russian, but I think I’m finally connected to the outside world. And I have texting! Also, I’ve recently decided to run at the stadium on the days when I know I’ll be able to take a shower. This isn’t going to be as often as I would like (regarding both exercising and showering), but I’m excited about the prospect of the occasional jog. One slight flaw in my plan, however, is improperly gauging when I’ll be able to bathe. Example: today I went running believing a shower to be in order in the afternoon. When I came home my apa was doing laundry. Granted, I was extremely grateful to wash my clothes, but now I feel guilty about asking to use even more water to take a shower. Maybe I’ll muster the courage in a couple hours. At this point, though, my family might be relieved I’m asking. Also, a tangental note about the laundry: I hung it up outside around noon and it has proceeded to rain for the rest of the day. I’m not entirely sure what to do about this. I suggested to my sister that I hang my things in my room, but she didn’t seem to think this was a good idea. I’ll just wait, I suppose.
It’s officially кечңԁе - in the evening - now and I need to get some studying in so I can start my week off right. Thanks to all who’ve emailed/skyped/gchatted/facebooked me so far. I love hearing from you! Oh, and a few people have asked where they can send letters and packages. The address in my very first post is where you can send things if you feel so inclined. A cautionary note, though: don’t send money or anything overly valuable since things tend to get rifled through over here. It also takes about 2-3 weeks for things to arrive. Here’s a thank you in advance to anyone who’s sent something already! I have a few items that will be mailed as soon as I can find a post office that holds regular office hours and offers international shipping.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Note: I wrote this entry almost a week ago but haven't had internet until now. This will probably be a regular occurrence unless I end up getting internet on a regular basis. Also, if you're keeping up with the situation over here, don't worry. All the volunteers are together and safe.
Salaam! I’m here! Following what was quite possibly the worst night of sleep I have ever gotten (hours of semi-consciousness and near-hysteria included), I said a more than slightly misty-eyed goodbye to my family Thursday morning and flew to Philadelphia to meet the rest of the Peace Corps volunteers who will also be serving in Kyrgyzstan. Our group is much larger than I had expected: 70! TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) is by far the largest group, followed by community development and health volunteers. The Philly staging day and the following travel time mostly consisted of constant introductions: what’s your name? where are you from? what group are you in? have you done much language study already? Fact: I’m not great with names.
I’m surprised at how smoothly the transition has gone. At every new turn, I expected to be suddenly hit with the realization of what I was doing: during the bus ride to JFK, boarding the plane to Istanbul, boarding the plane to Bishkek, during the bus ride to the hotel in Bishkek (during which I was deliriously tired and dehydrated), at any point during our three days of staging, at the matching ceremony, during the first night with my host family. Nothing. The closest I come to feeling like I’m doing something crazy for two years is when I have to use the bathroom and remember that this means trekking to the outhouse and holding my breath while squatting over a hole in the ground. I’m not sure I’ll ever get completely used to that.
I feel as though my language is moving along at a snail’s pace, though. Granted, I’ve only been here a week and have only had four days worth of language lessons, so I know this is just frustration at not being able to communicate coming through. Still, it’s hard to have miming punctuated with the occasional Kyrgyz word as your main form of communication. I’m really enjoying my host family, though, and I’m looking forward to being able to talk to them in full sentences. Today I got out my computer and showed my host brothers (who are 5 and 10) pictures from home. Then we watched Ice Age, which they really seemed to enjoy.
I’ve had a few highlights since I’ve been here. The first was the matching ceremony, since it wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. The volunteers and host families all crowded into a large auditorium where we listened to several welcoming speeches. We volunteers had spent the morning buying giant gaudy bouquets of flowers (complete with lots of gold ribbon and, in some cases, glitter) to hand to our host parents when we met them. When it was time to match us with our families a sort of inspirational, upbeat Kyrgyz music began to play and we were called up on stage in our formal business attire - trying not to hit each other with our massive bouquets - based on which village we were staying in to meet our hosts. The reception following the ceremony consisted of our host mothers doing a little friendly elbowing in order to procure obscene amounts of food for us. My own mother successfully snagged a heaping plateful of breads, cookies, chocolate, nuts, small candies, and an entire two-liter bottle of Fanta. We eat well here.
My other highlight has been playing games with the local Kyrgyz children in the stadium behind the school in the afternoons. For our first week with our host families we had language classes in the mornings followed by free afternoons. My language group, as well as the other groups in our town, would go to the stadium after lunch to play soccer, volleyball, and red rover with the kids. I scored a goal in a Kyrgyz soccer game and am starting to learn the names of some of the kids. They seem to especially like red rover, and have started to learn our names, too. This week, though, we start having other classes in the afternoons and won’t be able to hang out at the stadium as much anymore. The TEFL volunteers will be sitting in on a few classes this week, though, to see how a traditional Kyrgyz classroom operates. I already know I’ll be sitting in on Russian Literature (yea!), English, and Biology.
I think this is all for now. Today is Sunday and my one day off, and I need to make sure I get some language study in tonight. Also, I smell food cooking so I’m pretty sure my host mom is going to try to feed me again. I’m really going to need to find some way to exercise on a regular basis.