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.