Friday, March 12, 2010

I know I haven’t written in a while, but winter here gets a little dull once you’ve been here a year and a half, so it’s hard to find things to say that I find important enough to share with the world. Also, I couldn’t get the website for this thing to work on any computers here, so even if I had big news, there’d be no way to share it. So there’s that.
The afore-mentioned winter has finally drawn to a close. It wasn’t a bad one, but I was definitely tired of the snow and coats and all. Now it’s been pretty rainy, but it’s getting warm and things are turning green. Two other volunteers and I have started walking up a hill in the city two mornings a week (they do more, but I have class the rest of the days…). It’s a very pleasant walk (Martha estimates that it’s about 6 miles round-trip) and gives us a time to socialize and exercise. Along the way, we’ve also spotted two different colors of flowers blooming.
In the volunteer social life, we’ve also restarted our city-wide (yeah, it’s 6 of us) weekly dinner date. Every Thursday we go to another volunteer’s house (it rotates clockwise around the city) for dinner. The host makes the main dish, one person brings a salad/side and another brings dessert. We’ve had some impressive meals, especially considering the resources we have at hand. Some of the highlights include: salmon cakes, cheese grits, fried tomatoes, and walnut/pecan pie (obviously my night); pumpkin ravioli and vegetable stir fry; hummus and Moroccan beef stew; and this week it’s Thai chicken at my place. It’s a great way to relax, eat an impressive meal, and to break the week up. It also gives me an excuse to clean my apartment every five weeks.
Things are going well at school. We’ve hit the time of year where there are so many holidays that I consider school pretty much out already. Monday was a holiday, a two-week long spring break is in a week and a half, then all of May is one giant holiday, and the 25th is the last day of school, so my work is pretty much done here. When we actually do have school, however, I am really enjoying my girls’ club. We’ve been spending the past few weeks playing games (they really love Uno, but who doesn’t?). It’s been great for me, because it gives us a chance to sit around and talk without it being awkward. The girls who show up are pretty much either from my 10th grade classes or my counterpart’s 8th grade homeroom class. Because of the club, the girls have become friends. I feel like it’s kind of a “big sister” program. The older girls are some of my best, most motivated students, so I hope they can serve as role models and mentors for the younger girls even after I’m gone. I’ve even seen them talking outside of the club, so I’m proud of what I’ve done.
Outside of school, I have some nice things to look forward to – even nicer weather, spring break, a big Birthday party for me and Martha, a month full of holidays, and then of course the big family trip to Turkey. I feel like through exciting new projects and great friends, I’ve managed to keep myself excited about my last six months here.

These are some of the 8th grade girls who come to my club. They're dressed up for their New Years party.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year, everybody!
I'm back from my journey to Almaty! The trip was really fun. Here's a list of things I did. Keep in mind that I'm excited about all of these:

Crossed the street without fearing for my life (they actually have and follow driving rules!)
Ate amazing pizza, KFC, and cheeseburgers (make that 5 shared pizzas, one KFC meal and two cheeseburgers)
Walked at night without turning on a flashlight (working streetlights!)
Didn't hear the phrase "hello baby" or get any harrassment of any sort. It's like people didn't even notice us.
Drank coffee
Used free wifi on my own computer while drinking coffee
Saw Americans I don't know
I'm sure there's more, but all of that is enough for now. Needless to say, I had a fantastic week in Almaty (aka civilization). Now I'm in the middle of another week-long vacation before I start my last semester of school here in Kyrgyzstan. We're also in the middle of the normal frealishly-warm week in January. I'm not wearing a coat! It's pretty nice.
I hope everyone is having a great winter!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A few days ago, I had one of those experiences that now feels so normal but in hindsight is ridiculous. During the 10 minute break between classes, one of my counterpart’s friends came in to tell Aliya (my counterpart) something. Aliya then turned to me and said “Nurjana (the other English teacher I work with) is having cookies in hter room. Let’s go.” Never one to turn down cookies, of course I hopped up and walked upstairs with her. Nurjana’s office was full of women sitting around a table with a very Kyrgyz spread: bread, borsok (fried bread), cookies, candy, juice, vodka, cognac, wine, hunks of sheep meat, and a bone that a woman was stripping clean of any sign of digestible material. The party, I was awkwardly told by Aliya, was because Nurjana’s relative’s son had just been circumcised (the Kyrgyz don’t circumcise boys until they’re up to 7 years old. They claim it’s a Muslim thing, but I’m not so sure.). I sat down and started picking at the cookies. A woman next to me kept trying to pour me vodka (who cares that it was 11 AM and the middle of a school day?), but I held strong with the juice. The woman cleaning the bone then finally looked up and noticed me. She commented on my eyes (so big!) and my eyelashes (so long!). Then she asked me, and I quote (well, translate, then quote), “Are you a keleen (daughter-in-law/slave for the boy’s parents)?” When I said no, she smiled and said “you’re tall and pretty. You should be a keleen. I have a son.” I tried to pass it off as a joke. Someone finally asked if I have a boyfriend. When I said yes, the woman got very excited. The floodgate of questions then opened. Most importantly, they had to make sure he was taller and older than me. To be otherwise would be unacceptable. They then got it in their heads that we should get married in Kyrgyzstan so that they can have a party for us. And now they’re obsessed with that idea. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall appears to have very quickly come and gone. My walk to the marshrutka (bus/minivan) this morning revealed frost on the ground and ice on the puddles. It was bound to happen sooner or later... Think good thoughts for another warm winter like last year, because my apartment doesn't have any heat and concrete is far from an appropriate building material for this climate...
As of this week, Kyrgyzstan appears to be especially terrified of swine flu. I had one 8th grade student wear a surgical face mask to class. I think people have the sniffles because of the cold weather, they think swine flu. I hope I'm right.
I recently celebrated Halloween in two very different ways. First, I threw parties in my classes. We played games (bobbing for apples, pin the tail on the black cat, making mummies out of classmates and toilet paper), watched The Simpsons, and ate candy, of course. My students all officially love Halloween.

6th grade boys and their mummy.

6th grade girls and their mummy.

6th graders and Aliya make a mummy.


Pin the tail on the cat

10b makes a mummy.

10b hanging out during the party

Then, for real Halloween, I went to Osh for the official party (aka the social event of the year for Southern Kyrgyzstan). I went as Wonder Woman (in a fully handmade costume, of course -- my red knee-high boots were made from child's tights cut at the knees and worn over black shoes, with duct tape to keep from sliding everywhere. Creative thought really does matter). My friends included several cross-dressing men, Aloo Tien (Kyrgyz 50 Cent), a pirate, a gangster, a cop, and Aiperi ("Moon Fairy", a popular girls' name, who was actually a boy with a paper dress taped around himself), and others. The party was at a restaurant that is also a "German style" brewery. We danced, socialized, and enjoyed a free red beer and pumpkin pizza.
After Halloween was fall break, which was a much-needed rest from school and all. Now we're in the home stretch until Christmas and winter break, where everyone's main concern is simply staying warm...

Fritz, me, and Ginger.
Svet jok and svet bar (there is not electricity and there is not electricity. And Wonder Woman, of course.

Ariel, me, and Tristan
Police, Wonder Woman, and Aloo Tien

Ryan, Lance, and Sarah
Vampire victim, cosmonaut, and 80's girl

Ryan, Martha, Ariel, and Sarah

The dance floor at the party

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In the past few weeks I somehow went from teaching two days a week to being surprisingly busy (for a Peace Corps Volunteer, that is). In addition to the four classes (6a, 6b, 10a, and 10b) I teach with Aliya, my counterpart, I have begun to teach two classes (8g and 11g) with a different teacher at my school and hold girls’ club at my school, and a teacher conversation club and English conversation club at the Uzbek private school in town.
Aliya continues to be an amazing resource for me. I am especially enjoying my 10th form this year. 10th grade, according to the textbooks is “America” year. Before school started, I made it clear that I refuse to use the textbooks at all this year, because they are poorly written and include a lot of incorrect information. Instead, I have been writing a lot of my own texts to use in class and designing presentations and activities that I think properly reflect America. My students really seem to be enjoying it, because using my pictures and my own experience is bound to be more interesting than a textbook written by Russians.
My 6th graders are still super cute. It’s hard to not love classes that will giggle that much when we play Hokey Pokey and Simon Says.
The other teacher I am working with is, to put it nicely, extremely frustrating. She’s an extremely nice person, but she isn’t the most dedicated teacher. After several weeks of her skipping classes, showing up an hour late, and leaving the classroom constantly, I finally decided to confront her. I yelled at her when she arrived an hour late to class and threatened to stop working with her. It seems to have worked. After that class, we sat down together and planned a lesson for our next class, and she was even on time to our class the next day! If I learn anything in this country, it’s how to be assertive. It really works. Who knew?
My girls club started this week. I’m really excited about it. I’m planning to just sit around and hang out with the older girls at my school. Today I showed them pictures of my friends, family, Charleston, and India. Then we spent a while just chatting about my future plans (they’re shocked that I don’t want to have a baby until I’m over 30 or that I only want 2), my family, and celebrities. Next time, I promised we could watch a movie. The girls are all really sweet, so I’m excited to spend more time with them. They’re also really patient with each other. We talked in English the whole time, and a few girls didn’t understand, so their friends would translate for them into Kyrgyz. I was very impressed with their ability and willingness to do that.
I’m also really happy to be working at the Uzbek school again. I did clubs there with Fritz and Martha last year, but I’m on my own this year, which I’m ok with. The teachers are really nice and really eager to improve their teaching and their English, so they’re really encouraging to work with. The kids are also amazing. The group this year is much smaller (there were 10 last week), more selective (the teachers chose their best students) and younger (the older boys were inappropriate at times to Martha and me last year, so the teachers wouldn’t let them in this year). It’s nice to be able to work with only the best students because we can get much more advanced without leaving anyone out.
Other than work, life here is going very well. There have been a few new low points recently, however. Firstly, a few weeks ago the gas for my stove and oven was cut off. I found out later that all of Jalalabad and Osh was cut off because Kyrgyzstan owes Uzbekistan $19 million in unpaid bills. Since there’s probably very little chance of Kyrgyzstan ever paying that back, I’ve resigned myself to working on my sketchy homemade ceramic hotplate. Since there’s no way to adjust the heat, to make rice, I have to stand in front of it and plug it in until it starts to boil, then unplug it until it stops, then plug it in again, and so on until it’s finally cooked. Let’s just say it’s a bit frustrating…
Also, yesterday I was walking home from school in the morning (yeah, I’m done by 9:00 two days a week), and I was walking past the bazaar towards the main street (named Lenin Street, of course) when I smelled something that smelled very … poopy. As I neared the corner of Lenin street, I saw that the sidewalk was literally littered with human feces. Turns out the sewage system backed up. Onto the main street in town. Gross.
Volunteer life continues to be amazing. Last month, Fritz threw a kick-ass 60th birthday party for Ginger. It was possibly the best birthday party I’ve ever been to. There was free food, free beer, and plenty of dancing for 20 volunteers and 15 Kyrgyz guests. Plus it all went off without a single problem, which is impressive for a volunteer party of that size. Otherwise, I’ve had smaller get-togethers. Last week, I attended a dinner party at Martha’s (she made sweet and sour chicken! Amazing!) and hosted a scrabble/dinner party (pesto pasta!) at my place. It felt very … grownup.
Next week, I’m going to Issyk-kul (the lake) for a “life skills, HIV/AIDS” training held by Peace Corps. Martha was planning to attend with a woman she works with outside of her NGO. She accidentally left information about it at her office, and her NGO got mad that she didn’t invite them, so they called Peace Corps to complain. To make a long story short, Peace Corps suggested that Martha find someone else to go with someone from her NGO, and I jumped at the opportunity. I’m excited both about the training and about the opportunity to get out of the daily routine and see other volunteers for a few days.
My health has been surprisingly good (knock on wood…), my cat is still amazing, and the exciting thing coming up is the annual Osh Halloween party.
I hope everyone’s having a great fall so far!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I’ve reached the part of my service where things are becoming “the last…”. While my return to America is far from a light at the end of a tunnel (and I don’t want it to be quite yet), but my time here is feeling more finite now. This week marked my last Kyrgyz Independence Day (August 31) and my last first day of school (September 1).
It’s strange to watch such a young country celebrate its independence. There were signs all around town saying “Kyrgyzstan 18 years”. I’m older than the country I live in! Coming from America, that just feels strange for me… It’s also odd to watch the celebrations coming from the only country that voted to stay in the Soviet Union 18 (19?) years ago. Does that mean that Kyrgyzstan is now the Soviet Union? Sounds impressive. The celebrations are very Kyrgyz… The main street was blocked off near the park in town, and different organizations set up yurts around the park and the square near it. There were families eating and wandering around the whole area, enjoying the festivities and the last day of summer for the children.
The next day was the annual “first bell” ceremony. Students, teachers, and administrators gathered, as we did in the spring for the “last bell”, in a big circle. The 2nd -10th grades were already lined up around the edges of the circle. Then the 11th grade processed in, celebrating the beginning of their last year. They were followed by the 1st grade, celebrating their first first day of school. There were speeches and processing; the 11th grade classes gave the 1st graders presents (notebooks mostly), then an 11th grade boy carried a 1st grade girl on his shoulder while she rang a bell. They were followed by the Kyrgyz flag, and then the 11th form walked the 1st grade to their classrooms. This was followed by a brief period of chaos, and then homeroom meetings. After the ceremony, I was swarmed by some of my favorite girls from last year (now in 10th grade), which reminded me of how much I like them and got me very excited for the new year. They were very excited to hear that I had pushed for the club I promised them last year. One day a week, I will have “girls’ club” for the older girls just to hang out, answer their questions, talk, watch movies. It will be pretty much whatever they want, with no lesson planning or official work from any of us. They’re also very excited to work for the ACCELS (a US program that sends high schoolers to America for a year of high school) test that is in a few weeks. It’s a really selective program, but I hope some of my students at least make it past the first few rounds of elimination.
The next few weeks will be confusing and frustrating, since the schedule isn’t even written yet and no one knows what’s going on. By October, we should be settled better into a routine that we may even stick to for a month or so. Like much of working in Kyrgyzstan, this month will benefit from the mantra we’ve developed: “embrace the chaos”.
Otherwise, things have been going as usual. I finished three seasons of Alf, made myself a dress (completely sewn by hand!), read three books, and did god knows what else to make it through the doldrums of summer with my sanity intact. I’m definitely excited to have school starting and order in my life again.

So Mom may be the only one to understand just how glorious this is, but I can now take a (brief) hot shower and refrigerate my food at the same time! Double outlets are pretty impressive.

Happy Independence Day, Kyrgyzstan!

Yeah, that's a McDonald's umbrella. It appears to be Chinese or something. The people under it will take your picture, but have no McDonald's to offer.

The best way to show your Kyrgyz pride? Tie an American flag bandana around your kid's head.

Yurts set up along the street to celebrate...

Boys playing a favorite game involving the throwing of sheep's knees. Fights usually break out pretty fast. The police were there to watch.

Another celebratory yurt

The fountain in the middle of the city. If you look closely, you'll see naked or nude colored underwear-clad boys swimming and sunning themselves.
The top of the flag pole at my school's first bell ceremony is the soviet hammer, sickle, and star. It's obviously more than 18 years old. I don't think anyone else notices how funny these things are.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So, summer has finally hit, leaving me with an empty calendar and hot weather. I've been keeping myself somewhat busy reading, watching tv shows, and wandering the city. I spent one week up in the mountains at a summer camp for 9th and 10th grade girls, which was really fun. I taught a session on self-esteem and self-reflection, and two hours of dance class every day, which was great. The girls were really into the dance especially. These camps make me realize how fun my classes used to be... I'll try to get some pictures from people and put them up eventually.
The real big news I have is that I've officially decided not to go home this winter, as I was previously planning to do (sorry, Finnans). Instead, I'm going to Almaty, Kazakhstan to take the GRE (woo hoo?) and celebrate New Years in what is supposedly a real "city" city in Central Asia. I'm a little skeptical, but I'm excited to see Almaty. So, if you want to see me, your two options are A: come to Kyrgyzstan, or B: wait until next August.