Thursday, May 28, 2009

Here are some pics from Culture Day! A nice photo with some random host family members (not mine) and volunteers in local dress. Also, the boz ui assembly process.

Above is the poster over the entrance to my new school, and a photo from Uzgen city with my new host sister!

My Two Month Anniversary!

Tomorrow marks the one month anniversary of my leaving home! It seems like it has gone by quickly, but on the other hand, staging in Philly seems like it was years ago, and I remember Istanbul like it was a dream. If I wasn't in my own pictures, I couldn't be convinced that it had actually happened.

Saturday was kind of a play day for us. All the K-17's (my “generation” of trainees) met at our “Hub Site,” which is an orphanage house in another village. We go there every Wednesday for training sessions, but Saturday was our chance to do a little community service for the orphanage, and also to play with the kids a bit. All morning we did odd jobs outside: painting, weeding, planting flowers, and laying a cement path to the outhouse. The kids helped out with the painting. In the afternoon, the kids performed a little dance that they had prepared for the occasion, and then we played games with them outside. Someone brought face paints, and painted the kids faces, but what seemed to be more fun was for them to paint our faces. I got quite a crazy paint job on myself, which I wasn't so happy about, especially because it actually got to be really hot and sunny and my face was all sweaty.

Yesterday was a pretty rough day for me. It was raining and cold in the morning, and I had wanted to do laundry, but of course as soon as I told my host sister that I was just going to hold off until next weekend, the sun came out. Boo.

I pretty much kept to myself for most of the day because I didn't know what to do with myself. I thought that maybe we would go to Kant for a shower, but I guess that is an every other Sunday thing. Double boo. I studied some vocabulary, but I always feel like I am studying the wrong thing. I have a lot of difficulty retaining vocab compared to the other people in my language group, and I am always just behind enough to be really frustrated. However, my stack of successfully learned flash cards is getting really tall, so that is encouraging. When the sun came out, I went for a walk with another trainee but that didn't fill up much time because her host mom had heated up some water for her so she could wash her hair.

When I got home again, there were a bunch of people guesting in the dining room. I was afraid I was going to have to join them, but my sisters weren't in there (the older one was serving tea, but was in and out) and I had seen my brother out in the yard, so I figured I was exempt. Again, I had nothing to do, so I watched a movie and then studied some more. My room is right across from the dining room, and I could hear when they started a round of singing. I love their attitude about singing here. There is very little embarrassment; if someone asks someone to sing, they do it, no problem. I sing to myself all the time, but when my family asks me to sing for them, I get more stage fright than I should. I am dreading the day when I get asked to sing in front a bigger group, and I know that day will come sooner than later. My host mom actually has a really beautiful voice that I never would have expected from her.

We had a late supper of the only entree that I have had at my house so far that I really don't care for. It isn't horrible, I just think it is horribly bland. The good news is that we have this salsa stuff again, which I haven't seen since my first day. Some Tostidos would be great with it, but my apa's bread is so awesome I can't really complain. Before bed I washed my hair, which was wonderful.

Wow, that was really mundane. Sorry.


Happy Kyrgyz Labor Day! Really, it was just a normal day for us with class all day. Tomorrow is a day off for us, so we are going to Bishkek to eat some American food! Hopefully I will achieve a successful Internet visit and you will read this very soon. (**Note from May 25: Haha, I did get to the Internet that day, but apparently this didn't get posted. Sorry for the repetition.**)

Wednesday was a very important day for us because our permanent site placement was announced! There was a little ceremony for these announcements, and they had a huge map of the country drawn on the pavement, and once we all stood in our respective oblasts once it was announced.

So, the big announcement: my permanent site will be in (drum-roll, please).... OSH OBLAST! If you are too lazy to look at a map, it is in the southern part of the country, over by Uzbekistan. Osh oblast was the last oblast that I expected to go to, and although I didn't really have a preference as to regions, Osh probably would have been at the bottom of my preference list just because it is farthest away from here.

HOWEVER, I am really excited about my site. It is, in my opinion, a prime location. By traveling 20 minutes to the nearest rayon center, I can get to either Osh city or Jalal-abad city in about an hour. I think these are the two largest cities in the country, after Bishkek. It sounds like my village is pretty good-sized, with a bazaar and four schools. There have been volunteers in the village before, but not at the school I will be working at, so that will be a nice balance. The part I am most happy about is that there will be another K-17 in my village! It makes me feel so much better to know that someone I already know and like will be right there.

The program manager even told me a little about my host family. My new apa and ata are doctors, and they have a teenage daughter. Sounds perfect!

When I told my present host family about my placement, all they really said was that it is very, very hot there, but the fruits and vegetables are good. I don't really know what “hot” means to my host family, because we frequently have disagreements over whether it is cold outside or not. They were pretty excited about the fact that I will get to take a plane there (I guess they didn't remember that I took a plane to get here in the first place). Even though Kyrgyzstan is not that big of a country the mountains slow down travel quite a bit, so it sounds like the PC pays for plane trips for Osh people. Even though I have heard that the plane ride is kind of scary, it sure seems to beat the 10+ hour taxi rides that people talk about sometimes.

I won't say any more about the site until I get there, and that will be very soon because I have a week-long visit already on May 18!

I think we are about at the half-way point of training right now. It will be so strange to pick up and move and start all over again so soon! A few people in my village now have said that people in Osh speak so differently that I will have a hard time understanding them, but I hardly understand Kyrgyz in general, so I am not that worried about a new accent. Anyway, my language teacher is from the south (she actually grew up nearby where my post is, and says she will come see me in July when she visits her family there! Hooray, because I love her to death) so I just need to start paying attention to all the southern-isms that she mentions once in a while.

(A little later)
Since it has been raining a lot lately, I have forgotten the pleasures of just standing outside the gate of my house and talking everyone who comes by. I swear that people around here have an Ajo radar and they can sense my movements, because a ridiculous amount of people stopped to talk to me in the last hour. Most of these people were kids, who I love talking to. They just keep repeating their scripted questions about America because every time they talk to me, my Kyrgyz gets a little better, and a little more understanding happens. It is a good learning routine for all of us, I think. I managed to find out that the girl who lives across the street turned 13 on the same day as my “real life” sister did. Crazy.

I had a good conversation with some of the little girls that were hanging around, but they kind of killed it when they asked if I knew any n*****s in America. We had been given some literature about how to educate people here about the “N” word, but on the spot and with my limited grammar, I am not sure if I got the message across. The usage of the word here is kind of strange. These girls didn't mean anything derogatory by it, they just think that is what you call black people. I guess the word comes from Russian, or the Russian version is similar or something, and they never got the memo here that it is no longer appropriate. It doesn't help that 50 Cent is super popular, and all the kids around here listen to uncensored rap songs on the radio all the time and repeat the lyrics without knowing what they mean. I said that it was a bad word, and was met immediately with a chorus of “emnege?” (why). How does a person explain this to a bunch of kids, even without a language gap?

(later still...)
OMG! A lot of stuff just happened in the last two minutes while I was sitting here. First, I saw a mouse run across the far wall of my bedroom and out a hole in the wall that I have been wondering about for a while. I didn't see where it came from, and I am praying that it wasn't in my duffel bag, but it probably was. Eeew. A few seconds after that happened, a little girl who I have never seen before barged into my room. Great, my family has guests. Now I have to figure out if I should tell my family about the mouse when there are guests in the house, and if so, how to go about doing that.

(still, later)
Ok, life is good. Apa put some poison in the hole and plugged up the hole. Now I suppose I will have a dead mouse in the wall, but at least I won't be worrying about it crawling into bed with me. It is funny how unconcerned I was to see the mouse run across my room. I would much rather see that than one of the huge spiders I saw at the school, or the scorpions that they told us to watch out for. I have never seen a scorpion in real life, but I am terrified of the day that I will, even though the PC doctor told us that they are “friendly.”

(later again – last one, I promise)
I just watched Shrek 2 on my computer with my host sister and the 5-year-old little girl who is staying here tonight. My sister came and went, but the 5-year-old sat through the whole thing with all her attention focused on the movie, and although she asked me about 5 times if I could put it in Russian, it didn't seem to bother her in the least that it was in English. I can't even sit and watch a half-hour long sitcom in Russian, and she watched the whole darn movie in English. I like this girl. She even picked up the extremely useful word “donkey,” and, as she is excellent at mimicking voices, she says it with a nice Shrek-like Scottish accent. Love it.

After I kicked them out so I could go to sleep, I saw the mouse again. We had a little stare off, and I debated over whether I should just grab him with my hand (since I have all my rabies shots), but I decided not to. He is actually really cute, so it doesn't bother me all that much that he is running around. It looks like he ate the poison, so I will have to clean out my closet to look for a dead mouse tomorrow.


Great birthday today! Actually, all things considered, I can't even really call it the weirdest birthday I've ever had. It started out kind of miserable with my typical laundry woes (I swear, every week some animal messes with my laundry. This time, the sheep all drank out of my rinsing water and got it all gross) but then I went to Kant to take a shower (it was my one birthday request – oh, how I have changed) and it was amazing. How ridiculous is it that I get excited to be able to take a shower as frequently as once a week? Then I went to the bazaar with Apa and got some veggies and chicken (Chicken! Veggies! Oh, how I have missed you!) for my birthday dinner party.

I had every intention of helping out with making food, since I had invited people to come over, but I was forced to take a nap until my guests came. I didn't argue too much. It was pretty nice. We had my favorite, lagman (a kind of noodle soup with homemade noodles, usually with a little sheep meat, but it was a special occasion, so it was with chicken! I was super happy about it, even though I was there when Apa bought the chicken – it was sold out of a greasy cardboard box, unrefrigerated and uncovered. I try not to think about it too much.) and my friends brought ice cream and Disney princess party hats. My family gave me a little souvenir-type yurt, and my language teachers gave me a Snickers and a really nice homemade card. After everyone left and we cleaned up, I had some alone time that I spent watching a movie and not studying, for once. It was a good day.

The whole bathing and doing laundry on Sunday thing really makes Mondays a lot better. For one, I feel so clean, and I also realize that I have a whole six days before I have to do laundry again. I must have really gone at the scrubbing yesterday because I got a stain out of the hem of my pants that survived through the last two washes, but I also scrubbed all the skin off my knuckles in the process. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't keep forgetting not to put Purell on my hands. The sting makes me want to die a little bit.

So, I am realizing why we have our training in one village and then move. It is so we can leave behind all memories of us in our pre-language training, pre-culture appropriateness training states. As much as I love my family and village, I am very ready to leave behind one problem that has popped up here. It comes in the form of an unwanted profession of love from a guy who either lives next door or just hangs out there a lot (it is so hard to tell with these people). It all started on one of my first days when this guy was introduced to me by the guy I call “Borat.” Go figure. I had been “talking” with some kids in the street (I couldn't really talk at the time, just smile and nod) when Borat came over and started up a conversation with me in the few English words he knows. I probably started smiling and nodding a lot more because of the English and probably because Borat makes me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable sometimes. At some point he called a youngish guy over and introduced him to me as (in English), “K__ is number one terrorist! Osama Bin Laden's brother!” Great. I am sure that I made the mistake of continuing to be American and doing my whole smile and nod thing, which in this country equals, “hey there, Sexy, how you doin'?” Number One Terrorist then made a hand signal that I (thankfully) was able to recognize from training as an invitation to have a drink, and was able to make a quick retreat.

Another time I was out and about with my host sister, we saw Number One Terrorist coming from a distance and my sister informed me that he is a “bad boy,” and saved me from talking to him. Later, my family was talking about him, also calling him “Number One Terrorist” (I don't know if they know what this means or not). The trainee across the street said she thinks her family said he is a drug user or drug dealer or something. That seems so out of place in this community, but maybe I am being naпve.

I haven't really talked to they guy since, but he always yells “Ajo! Hello!” every time he sees me walk past, even if it is from a long way away. I don't know how he always spots me so quickly. If he is right there, I usually just acknowledge him with a tiny wave and no smile. There have been many times when he is far away and I have tried to pretend that I can't hear him, but he will just keep saying “Ajo! Hello! Ajo! Ajo! Ajo!” until I turn around. One day at supper, my family unexpectedly told me that I shouldn't talk to him. I am under the impression that he had been asking about me. Lo and behold, the next day he came up to me as I was walking home and asked me for my phone number. Luckily, I can pull the whole “What? What? Sorry, I don't understand, goodbye” and escape to the safety of the castle wall that surrounds my house (sometimes, if it rains, there is even a moat!). The next day, the trainee across the street tipped me off that he had been asking her for my number, and he said that he loves me and thinks that I should grow my hair long (why so much concern with the hair, I wonder?). Later that day, when I was trying to shoo a fly out the window, that same trainee's bratty little sister spotted me from outside the open gate and screamed at me that K___ said he loves me.

This wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't paranoid about the whole bride kidnapping situation here. We had a cross-cultural session that discussed the topic (apparently there are two kinds of bride kidnapping: consensual and non-consensual, but it is difficult for a bystander to tell them apart because they both involve a lot of physical fighting between the bride and the female relatives of the groom. (what??!!!)). So far, I have also seen two Kyrgyz movies and a TV show, all of which featured at least one incident of non-consensual bride kidnapping, one involving complete strangers. In one movie that I was watching with my family, there was a pretty violent fight between the bride and a bunch of pretty fierce old women, and my family was cracking up watching it. The bride was crying, and it was not funny at all to me, so I asked something like, “Why you laugh? What is joke?” They said something about the tradition being old-fashioned, and doesn't happen anymore, but then added as an afterthought, “It only still happens a lot in the south.” Great, good thing I am going to the south, isn't it?

All of this put together makes me a bit paranoid, but I really can't be worried about it because, A: My laundry and carrot chopping skills would make me a horrible Kyrgyz wife, and B: As far as I can tell, the only thing keeping the kidnapped bride where she is, besides the feisty chong apas, is the sense of the shame that it would bring on her and both of the families involved, and since I don't have a sense of shame, too bad there. I also know that I can call on the PC safety and security director, who is just as feisty as any chong apa.


Today was a big day for Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan: Culture Day. Trainees and our families dressed in traditional costumes and presented skits and stuff to illustrate different customs in Kyrgyzstan. The day also included setting up a boz ui (yurt), which is quite a process, and a toi (feast) of plov (a rice and meat dish).

My village presented the Kyrgyz tradition that occurs when a baby begins to walk. A toi is held and it includes a really interesting game: the baby's legs are tied up with black and white yarn, and kids race to the baby and the first one to get there cuts the yarn with a knife and wins a prize. In our skit, I played the mother of the baby. I had about six words to say, and go figure, I screwed it up somehow. But, overall, it went well. I wonder, however, in the however many hundreds of years that people have been practicing this tradition, how many babies have lost toes to the kid with the knife.

Many trainees had really fancy costumes for the day (we joked that everyone looked like princesses or wizards), but I did not. Last night, I was given a headscarf and one of the traditional embroidered vests to wear, which I was thrilled about. I had planned on wearing a dress of my own under the vest, and the outfit looked very nice, but a few minutes before we left, my apa handed me a horrible chartreuse, floral-print, polyester mu-mu that I was supposed to change into when we got there. It kind of ruined my morning.

Other traditions included Kyrgyz, Russian, Turkish, and American weddings, some singing, some dancing, and some talk about food. Hopefully I can get some pictures up here sometime.

During the past week, I had a few down days, and this day did just the trick to get me excited again. After, a few of us went to a different village with some trainees that live there, and went to a German cafe/beer hall type place. This was really exciting for the people in my village, because the closest thing we have to a cafe or bar are the little stores that sell pre-packaged vodka shots in containers like pudding snack-packs. My over-enthusiastic reaction to being in such a Western-style place and sitting at a table with chairs and using a toilet inside that has a seat made me a little down about things in general. I anticipate that this will happen more than a few times throughout my service, so I guess I should just get used to it, and know that it will always pass.


Weird day today (haha, which day isn't weird?) but weird because I don't know how I feel about visiting my permanent site. I am excited, but I am also really nervous. I just don't know how I am going to handle all of the situations that I am going to come across with the extremely limited language that I have.

Tomorrow we will stay in the hotel in Bishkek, and we are all super excited about it because of the showers (two showers in two days, wow!). I was able to pack up half of my stuff to take to permanent site.

Permanent site visit!

The first thing I have to say about Osh oblast is that it is absolutely gorgeous! This was the Kyrgyzstan that I have been waiting to see: tall, rolling green hills spotted with sheep and the patient kalpak-wearing shepherd at his post on the very top. Snowcapped mountains. Mountain springs joining together in wide, shallow, rapidly running rivers in the valleys. Old men riding donkeys, their boots almost dragging on the ground, but still looking like the most distinguished old men I have ever seen with their traditional embroidered robe-like jackets and white kalpaks. (Sorry, a kalpak is a Kyrgyz hat, if I haven't mentioned it before.)

My living situation is way different than my training living situation. I am living in (get ready for it) a two story house all by myself! Ok, don't get too excited, I am sharing a toilet, banya, and kitchen with a family. But still. It is crazy. This is what I guess you would call a compound living situation. The big house (my house) has four large dining room/living room type rooms, one of which is my bedroom. One of the rooms is set up with western-style dining room furniture, another with a Kyrgyz-style table, and the fourth is storage. Upstairs is what I am assuming are supposed to be bedrooms, but I took a peek up there and it looks like it is all storage too. The stairs are all dusty at the top, so I am assuming that no one goes up there at all.

The main house is smaller, with just an entryway/kitchen area, a living room/dining room and two small bedrooms. There is another kitchen separate from the house. The family has chickens, and we have eaten a lot of eggs so far. They also have a dog, who is big and scary-looking, but is, my host mom assured me, “good and smart.” He is a very nice dog, and I have been feeding him so he likes me. He sleeps outside my door, which makes me feel safe, so he is doing his job. I have to keep an eye on the chickens, however, because they will come in the house if the door is a little bit open (people in Kyrgyzstan tend to leave the front door open a lot, with just a curtain covering the doorway) and chickens can be really quiet if they want to be, and sneak in on you.

Oh, one downside to my house is that my room has windows, but they are old and can't be opened, and have really thin glass that is covered in paper, so I can't see out. If I could, I would just be able to see over the compound wall and into the neighbor's living area, which appears to be just a roof with curtains for walls. I can hear them talking like they are in the room with me, which is weird. My family says don't be afraid, but I can see how it could get annoying at times. Last night, they were even playing some loud music, but both nights I have been here, they have quieted down and turned out their lights before 11, so that's not that bad.

The family seems good so far, but I am just not sure how this living situation is going to work out. I might end up just cooking all my meals for myself, after experiencing my mom's cooking so far. It isn't bad, but it also isn't the awesome down-home Kyrgyz cooking that I have been used to. We shall see how it goes. We went to the big bazaar in Osh city on the way home from the airport, which was really overwhelming, and my host mom bought a lot of food like hot dogs and ketchup that I am assuming she thinks I would like because I am American. Too bad the ketchup is gross and she serves the hot dogs cold out of the package alongside really runny eggs. Right now they are supposed to be feeding me, but it is weird because sometimes they have called me into the main house to eat, and sometimes they bring food to my house. They leave a tray with instant coffee and sugar and cookies in my room, and at night, they have brought a big thermos-like canister of hot water and left it in my room so I could have coffee in the morning. It is kind of strange, but I am sure that they don't really know what to do with me and it is strange for them, too. I do feel like I have a lot more independence here than in my training house. They show me where everything is and show me how to do stuff instead of just getting it or doing it for me.

Today, after doing stuff at my school (more on that later) I went to the nearest city, Uzgen, with my 15-year-old host sister, A___ (I will omit names in this blog to protect the peoples' privacy), the other new volunteer in my village, and her teenage host sister to open my bank account. After a few language hiccups, I think we managed to get the process taken care of in a pretty painless manner. After that, we visited the city. I love Uzgen! It is populated mostly by Uzbek people, and the whole city has a more exotic feel to it than the parts of Kyrgyzstan that I have seen so far, which seem more Russian influenced. Uzgen boasts a small historical museum complex with some examples of 11-12th century Uzbek architecture. There is a minaret and a mosque, both decorated all over with elaborate stone carvings. From the complex, which is on a hill, there is an awesome view of the landscape. Hopefully I will get some pictures up soon. We each paid 5 som to climb up inside the minaret, but only A___ and I ended up climbing all the way. It actually was quite scary, but I am glad that I sucked it up and went all the way. It was probably the steepest, narrowest, spiral staircase that I have ever seen, and in the middle section there are no windows, so it is pitch black. At least there is a really sturdy railing to hang on to. Afterward, we decided that we all deserved some ice cream (our sisters especially, because they had been doing their best to translate for us all afternoon and were awesome tour guides) and got some delicious soft-serve ice cream at a little roof-top cafe. We also visited the bazaar, which is pretty darn big and a little overwhelming, but it looks like I can get pretty much everything I need there. While the four of us looked around, the other volunteer's sister kept yelling answers to inquiries: “They are American,”; “they come from America,”; “they are volunteers from America.” I guess they don't get many foreigners here. In fact, I think that by moving here, the other new volunteer and I have probably doubled the number of white people here. I haven't even come across a single Russian yet. We get a lot of stares. One girl even came up to us as we were sitting in the village center and talking and shamelessly snapped a picture of us on her camera phone and walked away without a word. So strange.

My host dad was in Bishkek today and yesterday, and just got back now. He is going to America next week! He is the director of a hospital (an occupation important enough to earn him a place on the wall of fame in the school I am working at) and will attend a conference or seminar of some sort in Vermont for about a week. He will be staying in the home of an American couple that served in Kyrgyzstan with the Peace Corps in the mid 90's, so they speak some Kyrgyz. The poor guy's information sheet was in English, so he couldn't really read it. I did my best to translate, and I think I got him to understand everything but “alternative high school,” which is where it says his host works. He is concerned because his sheet says that conference activities are located 20-30 minutes away, and it also says there is no public transportation. I told him that his hosts would probably give him a ride or something, and I hope I am right. I would hate to see him try to hail a taxi Kyrgyz-style (in this country, every car going down the road in your direction is a taxi). I hope he likes America, and I also hope that it will create a kind of understanding between us.


Today I was hit full in the face with a tidal wave of culture.

First, I should explain that the school I will work at is awesome. I haven't met my official counterpart yet because she is at a seminar in Russia (which sounds promising) but another English teacher, G____, has been showing me around and she is wonderful. Obsessively hospitable maybe, but then a lot of people here are. They have definitely been showing off for me a bit, but still, the school seems fairly well equipped with a cinema room with a DVD player (looks like there will be some English language movie days in my classes!), music classroom, dance/gymnastics room with a crazy awesome sound system, really nice gym, etc. What they are sorely lacking, however, is English textbooks in the upper grades. Hopefully I will be able to help out with that. The director (principal) seems great, although I am a bit angry at him for calling together an assembly of the entire school and making me introduce myself to all 600+ students and 40 staff members in Kyrgyz. I was literally shaking as I spoke, but I think it turned out ok. The zavouch (vice principal) is my neighbor, and we will be able to walk to school together. She is very nice and friendly, and I will feel very comfortable going to her with any problems.

According G___, our school is one of the top schools in Kyrgyzstan (I bet everyone says that about their school). This week, the school hosted a special festival/seminar organized by an agricultural NGO. Students came from all over the country to our school because our school won the competition last year. I was able to attend the festival at our village's “club” (actually an auditorium). It was really great! The competition had three parts: traditional Kyrgyz song and dance, another performance (some groups did short plays, others did hip hop dance, etc.), and a presentation on a certain health or environmental issue like AIDS, alcoholism, hand and food washing practices, and pollution. I was so struck with how well run (and hopefully effective) this event was, not to mention impressed with the quality of the students' performances. Later, I found out that Peace Corps volunteers had worked with this NGO in the past. It was really encouraging that programs like this are sustainable without PC volunteers working at them forever!

Today, after a bit of miscommunication, I was invited to go on an “excursion” with the participants of the festival. And by invited, I mean that I was dragged onto a marshrutka packed with teenagers with very little explanation of what was going on other than the work “excursion.” About halfway there, I learned that we were going to a jailoo, which is what they call the place up in the mountains where they take cows and sheep for the summer. We drove for about hour, making one little stop for some sightseeing at some random house with a crazy collection of topiaries, and singing Kyrgyz songs the whole way.

Also, I should note that my camera battery was dead, and I missed a million awesome photo ops today, but a bunch of teenagers from all over Kyrgyzstan now have a ton of pictures with me like I am a celebrity or something.

We drove up into the mountains and stopped at a bridge over a really scary river. Actually, the bridge was almost scarier than the river, because it was basically just a few logs balanced over the banks. I was freaked out about walking over it, but the truck with supplies just drove over it like it was nothing. We walked a ways up the mountain to a somewhat run-down Soviet-era summer camp. The camp itself was nothing special, but the views and the landscape were insanely gorgeous. I couldn't get enough of it, and all the locals laughed at me when I gasped every time I looked out at a new angle.

The festival participants did some closing stuff while I talked to other teachers, and then everyone had free time to explore and play games. I was surprised at the level of interaction between the teachers and students when everyone played volleyball and such together, because there seems to be so much distance and respect in the classroom, but all the ejes jumped right in there to play, head scarves and all.

Later, they rigged up a big sound system (they are really big on playing D.J. here, I have noticed) and there was a big dance party. I escaped with some teachers to help prepare food (but really I didn't help at all, everyone just kept shoving food in my face). They had brought huge sacks full of vegetables and rice, and a whole sheep which they had half-butchered in advance. The process that they use for a toi (feast) absolutely amazes me. First, they served bowls of broth that the meat had been cooked in, with some salads and bread. Then, they bring out the platters of plov/paloo/ash (a rice and meat dish that has too many names) and everyone digs in with their hands. After everyone ate their plov, there was a little concert by the kids, and the cooks took all the leftover meat and sheep parts to make the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, besh barmak (literally “five fingers”), which is noodles with meat that is supposed to be eaten with your hands. At this point, I was already stuffed (I honestly don't know how Kyrgyz people can eat so much!) and after the besh barmak, I was about ready to burst. It was at this point when all the teachers announced that we would go drink vodka. I said that I didn't want to, thinking that maybe it was one of those empty suggestions used simply to be hospitable, but G___, who I had for some reason assumed was fairly religious and wouldn't do such a thing, whipped a bottle of vodka and a jar of jam out of her purse and said with a sad face “But, I brought it especially for you!”

Vodka toasting might sound like a fun day at work, but I was pretty miserable. They take their toasts very seriously, and insisted that I make a speech in Kyrgyz like everyone else. Also, the vodka is horrible and really strong. Some people have said that women can get away with just touching the glass to their lips, but that didn't fly. The weird thing was that they were all watching me to see what I would do, and I was watching everyone else, so it was really awkward. I tried to say that I don't like vodka and bow out, but then the director came and wanted to get in on the toasting. It was really strange. I typically wouldn't think that taking a shot with my boss in view of our students was appropriate behavior for my third day of work, but didn't see a way out of it. As soon as I took the shot, I had about four ejes in my face with spoonfuls of jam, salad, and besh barmak as chasers and then shoved a dipper of murky river water in my face so that I had to drink it. If I don't get sick from that water or whatever else I ate today it will be a miracle.

As we went to join the students again, they were having another dance party, and again, all the teachers jumped right in. As if to top of the weird vodka-drinking with the boss experience, I ended up in the middle of a dance circle with the director and a girl with the word “desire” printed across her shirt in sequins, dancing to “My Humps.” Can someone please explain to me why this area is considered to be super conservative?

This brings another incident to mind: one of the performances in the festival was a girl that danced to a Pussycat Dolls medley. At first, I was shocked by her dance moves and the fact that it looked as if she were wearing nothing under her little blazer. I was wrong, as she did a little strip tease to reveal a tiny little tied up shirt that would never be allowed at a school event in America by any standards. I felt like such a prude when I looked around in horror to see all the ejes smiling and clapping to the beat. I DON'T GET IT.

Anyway, it was awesome to get to go to the festival and on the excursion, and I am very excited about this summer and next school year.


Back home again in my training village now. I really did miss my family a lot, and I will be so sad to move out for good.

The plane ride home was awful and terrifying. For next time I will have to remember to not pig out on breakfast burritos (Yes, I said breakfast burritos. There is an American cafe in Osh city!) before the flight.

Even though my homecoming was greeted with cold, rainy weather and I was reminded of how stinky my training village is, it felt wonderful to come back to a place where everyone knows me and I know them as well, and I am not just the new American pseudo celebrity, a cardboard cutout to take pictures with: I am a person, and my name is Ajo.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Permanent Site Placement!

O my gosh, I almost forgot to announce my permanent site! I will be heading to, (drum-roll, please...) OSH OBLAST!

It is way down south and was one of the last places I was expecting to go, but I am super pumped. I am half way between Osh City and Jalal-Abad city, which is perfect. I will also be at a pretty big school, and will be the pioneer PCV there. It should be great. I am very excited. I get to visit for a week on May 18, so more on this later. In the meantime, more pictures of my present village's view of the mountains, the day at the orphanage, and site placement announcement day (the pictures below are from Istanbul, if you didn't know).

And a month later....

OK, so these posts might get confusing because I have been writing them in advance and saving them up until I get a chance to post them. Sorry. Pay attention to the dates please, because they are all out of order.

Leaving today seemed strange, less heartbreaking, perhaps, than I had anticipated. Maybe it hadn't quite hit me that I was going away from my home for an extended period of time, or maybe my excitement outweighs my anxiety.

I wished that it would have been light out as I flew out of Dubuque. I don't know what I had expected to see out the window – a familiar landmark, my house perhaps, or my family in their black SUV heading back up Military Rd. Instead, I peered out the window as the little plane accelerated and left the ground, seeing not much more than my face reflected in the dark glass. When finally breaking though the bumpy clouds, the cloudscape below seemed a pretty but inadequate imitation of the rolling hills I was leaving behind, already becoming like a dream or a distant memory.

Okay, enough sentimentality for now. Staging was a little dull, but no doubt necessary. Of course, klutz that I am, I managed to trip with all my luggage right outside the airport. No big deal at the time, but now it is starting to bruise and get a bit sore. Go figure. Good thing I brought my ankle wrap!

I am sitting in the JFK airport now, waiting for our 4:30 flight (it is 11:41, yuck). My luggage is REALLY heavy. We had quite a trek up a big long ramp, and now I am pretty pooped. My foot is really sore, but I can walk on it with no problem. I am sure I should be able to go out in Istanbul, which I was worried about. Life is good.

P.S. I love how different regions in the US have such funny differences. The Philadelphia version of a Casey's is called a Wawa. Really??? Wawa???

3/29/09 (wait, I don't actually know what the date is, sorry)
Surprisingly, for having not slept for an approximately 48 hour period, I am not really feeling the effects. We visited Istanbul during our layover here (I am in the airport now). One guy in our group made some sort of arrangement with a stewardess during the flight for a tour bus. I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, the way he told us about it, it seemed kind of shady, but he seemed confident, so we went with it. The stewardess was very helpful and skipped through the line to get the whole groups' boarding passes for us in record time so we could have more time in the city.

It was just a twenty minute bus ride to the drop-off point, and the road followed a scenic coastline walkway with lots of little parks where dozens of families sat on picnic blankets or milled around the elaborate new-looking jungle gyms, enjoying the perfect weather. The bus took us to a point right between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, which face each other on opposite sides of a large garden square area. We had time to tour both, get lunch, wander the touristy bazaar, and sit for a while on a bench in the fragrant garden where lots of tulips and daffodils were just starting to bloom, and listen to the call to prayer booming on the loudspeakers. It would have been entirely relaxing, had I not been worried that we had been swindled and the bus driver was not coming back for us, taking off with our prepaid fee and a bus full of our carry-on luggage. But, he showed up right on time.

What I saw of Istanbul was not what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with how clean and visitor-friendly it was. I knew that those famous buildings I visited would be beautiful (and even these far surpassed my expectations) but the area as a whole was so beautiful and well kept. Definitely the cleanest big-city famous landmark area I have ever seen. Plus, the best part is that everything is super cheap. I changed $50 dollars to lira, and without being certain of the exchange rate or of the fee at the exchange counter, I can say that I have 4 lira and change left in my wallet. That included paying and tipping the bus driver, tipping the stewardess, buying lunch, a museum ticket, a cashmere scarf, and some fresh fruit juice.

I definitely want to go again someday and spend more time here. But seriously, how often does a person get a chance to take a day trip to Istanbul?

Arrived in Bishkek around 2 a.m., groggy and confused. I slept like a rock on the plane. I feel so bad because there was a lady sitting near me who, I believe, was from Turkey, but runs the library in the American University in Bishkek. She kept trying to pull me into the conversation, but I couldn't keep awake for my life. I feel bad because she was excited to hear I was from Iowa because she has a relative living in Des Moines. Actually, that is quite an amazing coincidence now that I come to think about it, but at the time, I don't think it quite registered. She obviously wanted to have a big conversation about Des Moines, but I just couldn't do it.

It was dark, obviously, so we didn't get much of a view of Bishkek as we drove through. The current volunteers who are helping with our training rode on the bus with us and pointed out invisible landmarks. The trip was still an interesting one, as we were all very groggy and the current volunteers were extremely excited to see us. One boarded the bus and said, “You DO smell like America!” Once at the hotel, I was one of the first to check into a room, and I fell asleep before my roommate had even dragged her bags into the door.

We were able to sleep for a few hours and then had orientation sessions all day. We are pretty much stuck in the hotel for a while until we get with our host families. Being awake now, I can take in the quirky hotel we are staying in. It is old and worn, but clean and quite comfortable. The architecture and décor are 1970's Soviet-style with lots of dark wood paneling on the inside and gray concrete on the outside. It also reminds me a bit of the hotel in The Shining on a smaller scale. In place of the creepy hedge maze, however, it has this strange, Soviet playground/modern art thing in the back. It is hard to explain, but it is basically a weird huge jumble of concrete stairs, bridges, and towers, with a few clumps of metal in a geometric shape that vaguely resembles symbols like eagles. It seems like kind of an all purpose hangout place for groups of kids, romantic couples on an evening stroll, and a woman apparently taking out her two dogs and two cows (?? this is in the capital city, remember) for some grazing in the lawn. A uniformed guard stands by the gate, but I don't know what he is guarding. The place is pretty much falling apart. A current volunteer said that the structures are supposed to represent the journey of the Kyrgyz epic hero, Manas, but I don't get it.

The strangest part of this place is on the other side of the fence. On one side is what looks like the remains of a half-built and long ago abandoned amusement park. Multicolored structures and statues of circus animals crumble in various stages of decay, surrounded by a gate topped with small statues of children or elves, themselves crumbling and often missing limbs and heads, looking something like the puppet scene in the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie or like what the It's A Small World ride would look like after someone threw a few grenades in it.

Looking past all of this, a gorgeous view of distant snowcapped mountains looms, and I can't wait to get closer to them.


Okay, this is a long segment. I have been neglecting to type stuff up because I wanted to keep my computer a secret from my family for as long as possible. Too late, my host sister discovered it, but I think it is okay. She was pretty disappointed with my music collection, they are still into most of the music that was popular in the US in the mid-90's, especially Backstreet Boys and N'Sync. Apparently Enrique Engasias (spelling?) made a big comeback that I was completely unaware of. Somehow he has become a big inside joke in my host family since I came. If someone says his name, everyone cracks up. No explanation.

OK, I am going to break this up into topics. First topic:

Love my host family, love my village. Thank God! We got matched with our families on April 1st during a funny little ceremony where the trainees and families walked toward each other across a stage while cheesy music played. It was kind of ridiculous, but also nice. The funniest part was the little reception after the ceremony. This consisted of a chaotic ten minutes where the apas (mothers) and babushkas (grandmothers) shoved food and drinks at the trainees. After the ten minutes was up, there was a scramble to shove the remaining food into purses and pockets. I guess that is just what you do here. Waste not, want not!

My house is extremely nice, at least much nicer than I expected. My bedroom is definitely bigger than my room at home, bigger even than my last dorm room. The house just about like a small house in the states, minus the bathroom (we have an outhouse) and the kitchen (which is a separate building). We eat on a low table and sit on cushions on the floor (the only regular table and chair is in my room). Every house I have seen so far is extremely clean. There might be a lot of dirt and animal poo outside, but inside the house, everything is spotless.

My first trip to the outhouse was an experience, as there was a flock of sheep in the way. My family has several sheep, two cows and one calf, a bunch of chickens, and three dogs. During the day, all the livestock go elsewhere to graze, but around 6 they all come home and hang out in the yard. The yard isn't very big, so it makes life interesting.

We have a pump in our yard and the all-purpose sink is located between the main house and the kitchen, under a kind of roof (hooray for that, some of the trainees have talked about brushing their teeth in the rain). You have to fill up the top bucket with water, and then empty out the bucket that the drain goes to when it is full. And by “you,” I mean the daughter-in-law, who does almost all the work around here.

The family stay is going pretty well. PC is definitely making us take baby steps through this, which is all we can expect because we are pretty darn helpless. In my other trips overseas I never experienced such a severe language gap as I am experiencing now. Not to mention the gap in experience with living in a home without running water. The other night, I asked for some warm water to wash my hair (my host sisters can apparently get through the entire week only washing their hair once, but there is no way I would have been able to make it). It was a much bigger ordeal than I had anticipated, but they wouldn't even let me go get the tub or the bucket. My host mom (hereafter to be referred to as Apa—Kyrgyz for mother) even called my youngest sister, who was at a friend's house, and even with my limited Kyrgyz I could make out that she said “come home so you can help Ajo wash her hair!” (by the way, my name has gradually devolved from Audra to Odra to Aja to Ajo. Which is now what everyone in the village knows me as. Whatever.)

It was nice to have someone to help with the hair washing process, but I really would have rather done it myself. I would have also enjoyed doing a full bucket bath, but apparently that is not appropriate. Instead, my sister took me by the hand out to the outhouse put a watering can of warm water in my hand and closed me in there. It was late at night, by the way, so it was very dark. I don't really know how this was supposed to be a cleanly process, so I pretended to do something and got the heck out of there. Comparatively, we have a pretty nice outhouse, but still, gross.


Speaking of cleanliness, I have to go all the way to Kant, about a 20 minute drive, to take a shower at the public shower house. Quite a few trainees have banyas at their houses that they can use once a week. A banya is like a sauna that you can take a bucket bath in. It sounds awesome, and I am a little bummed that I am missing out. Another option is an outdoor sun shower, but ours is in bad repair, and it has been cold and rainy anyway. They said they would fix it as soon as it warms up. Anyway, on Sunday my host brother drove my host sisters and me to Kant and waited in the car while we all showered. It is just like a dorm-style shower, and you pay at the door to use it. Mmmm... hot running water.


I think that I might have the best outhouse in my village. It is sturdy, not very stinky, and on sunny mornings, I can see the snowy mountains in the distance on my way out there. The view is almost overwhelming when it is early and I am in a hurry to pee. I didn't even see the mountains until about my fifth day here, either because it was cloudy, or maybe because I was only concerned with making my way through the animals. At my house there are three dogs that all chase after me when I go to the outhouse. Dogs here are guard dogs. They are not affectionate and they don't expect affection. It is sad, but that is how it is. Now they are used to me, but they still scare me a bit at night. The biggest one looks distinctly like a coyote, and he freaks me out once in a while if it is dark.


Babies here are probably the cutest babies I have ever seen. They are really fat have really chubby cheeks, but don't tell their mother that, because it is bad luck, or something. They bundle up the babies like crazy, even when it is warm and even when they are inside. The baby cousin that comes over quite a bit is always wearing a winter coat and winter hat and has rags stuffed inside his clothes for good measure, making him even more rotund and looking like a character from South Park. They think that cold is the cause of all illness, and all of us get yelled at by our apas if we leave the house without a jacket. They also tell girks not to sit on the cold ground because it causes infertility. I think I will take my chances.

They may be concerned about the baby's temperature, but they also put hot tea and lots of sugar in his bottle and he sucks it down like he is addicted. That is another thing: I don't know how my family can stand so much sugar in their tea. I almost gagged when I let them put sugar in for me. I have been drinking straight tea ever since, and I know they think I am crazy, but I can't wait until I know enough Kyrgyz to point out that there might just be a reason that everyone in Kyrgyzstan over the age of 30 has several gold teeth. Not that the gold teeth aren't super cool, because they are.


Sundays are exhausting! Right now, it is my only real “day off,” so I had to take care of a lot of home stuff today.

First things first: I slept in, as did my Apa and one of my host sisters, and Apa made her Sunday morning special—these awesome fried donut things served with butter AND fresh cream. The breakfast of champions. But seriously, they are delicious. As a bonus, she also brought out a cold sheep leg bone with meat on it and plunked it right down on the tablecloth in front of me. “Ajo, et je!” (translation: “Audra, eat meat!” You gotta love these people. They get right down to business.) On TV was a nature show, very appropriately featuring a hungry lion tearing at a dead antelope. I politely picked at the tough, grayish meat, but I am afraid that after chowing down on bread fried in fat with fat spread on it dipped in fat, cold sheep meat is not my first choice of a Sunday brunch entree.

Side note about Sunday: In yesterday's language class we learned that in Kyrgyz, people usually refer to the days of the week as first day, second day, etc., rather than the equivalent of Monday, Tuesday, etc. The exception is Sunday, which is called Bazaar Day (Bazar Kuhn). As would be expected, a lot of people do tend to visit the bazaar on Bazaar Day.

Sunday is also banya day. Today I went into Kant again with my sister to use the public showers. I was really hoping to go there today because last Sunday all I got was a bucket bath, which doesn't really work for me. If I understood my family correctly, it is not appropriate to shed any amount of clothing when doing the bucket bath thing, even though I was in my bedroom. You can wash your hair, face, hands, and feet, and then can go out to the outhouse for the rest. I don't find this to be an effective way to be clean at all. To top it off, I had planned to at least wash my hair later in the week, but there was an early blackout on Wednesday and again on Thursday. After that I gave up and decided I could just wait until Sunday. I made it with a little trick I learned from another trainee: baby powder. Sprinkle it on your head and comb it in and it sucks up all the grease, and makes you smell powder fresh! Life saver. Plus, now I know that I can, in fact, make it one week without washing my hair, and two weeks without having a full shower. I will be so happy when it gets hot and they let me use the sun shower.

Sadly, the shower was almost pointless, as we then had to walk for about 20 minutes through dusty Kant and then get on a hot and crowded marshutka to get home. Then I did laundry, which is a much messier job than you would think. Before I could even start scrubbing I had to gather up some twigs and wood and start the fire to heat the water, then haul several buckets of water across the muddy, sheep-y yard. It is a very Little House on the Prairie process.

Apa and my host brother were shearing some sheep while I was washing my clothes, and I would have loved to help out with that instead because I am really starting to love the sheep. My family thinks I am a nut for fawning over the little lambs, but they are so cute! I think we are even though, because my sister was fawning over a squirrel we saw in Kant and freaked out even more when I told her that we have many, many squirrels in Iowa (direct translation of what I said, in case anyone is wondering how I got the message across: “Squirrels, I like me too. My America home in Iowa we have many squirrels, many, many. Run, run they go every day. Very good.”) Though, to be fair, these Asian squirrels are a little more exotic-looking than Iowa squirrels. I am starting to be on good terms with our dogs, but it makes me sad because the dogs don't understand the petting thing, having never experienced it, and they run away every time I reach out instinctively to scratch their ears. Poor puppies.

Mmmm, I am smelling some bulichka baking. They are like a combination of a soft pretzel or a bagel and a dinner roll. There is so much good bread in this house all the time. I will probably get called for “chai eech” (drink tea) time pretty soon. That is both the curse and blessing of living here, I feel like I am chai eech-ing all the time here.

Side note: I was going to ask where our chickens went, as I haven't seen them around lately, but then I realized that we have been eating quite a bit of chicken lately. Mystery solved.

Side note part 2: The acting on Russian TV is horrible. The only thing worse than Russian TV is Kyrgyz TV. More on this at a later date.


Today I had my permanent site placement interview with one off the program managers. I didn't really know what to ask for, so I suppose that means that I can't be disappointed. If I can get put in a village that I like as much as Kengesh, I will be very happy.

Today the weather was beautiful, and since we had a short day of class, a bunch of us went to the stadium in the afternoon. By “stadium,” I refer to what they call the football field next to the school. And by “football field,” I mean soccer field, sorry. This language thing makes me confused. The Kengesh stadium is extra awesome because we have a basketball court. And by “basketball court,” I mean a corner of the field that has two basketball hoops. No pavement, no nets, but hey, we'll take it.

As you all know, I am not a particularly athletic person, so I was content to sit on the side and watch while the others played soccer or basketball with the locals, but it was not to be. A large part of the field was taken up by the elementary school kids having gym class or recess or something. Unfortunately for me, the class happened to include the little girl who lives across the street from me and her friend, who happen to think I am about the coolest person in the world (or at least in Kengesh). Before I even knew what was happening, I was being physically dragged across the field by a bunch of seven-year-old girls (don't laugh, the kids are really tough here. There really is no resisting them). The teacher, whom I had never met before, seemed thrilled by this. They were playing a kind of game of tag, and when the teacher asked who should be “it” (I am assuming that is what she asked), of course there was a unanimous cry of “Ajo Eje!” so I had to run anyway. As if this wasn't bad enough, one of my little friends that was holding my hand in the circle kept smelling my arm and saying “mmmm, jokshe” (good). I had just put lotion on, and she was pretty impressed with it. She is a little bit creepy, but still adorable.

My tone might be negative here, but I really do love these kids, even when they are snotty nosed and taking a dump right out in the open on the front lawn of the school (no kidding, I have actually seen this occur more than once). They are so darn cute, and how can I not love kids that love me so much?

Anyway, no one can say that I am not integrating into the community. I just talked about this in my interview today. By befriending all these kids (which is extremely easy to do as kids aren't told to not talk to strangers here, not to mention the fact that I don't have to feel embarrassed about my poor Kyrgyz skills when I am around them) I usually end up meeting their parents sooner or later, and in this case, I met the teacher. The amount of relationships that I have started in this village already, even despite my horrible Kyrgyz, makes me embarrassed for having lived like I did in the US, not even knowing the names of many people that I saw in class every day, or that even lived next door to me in my dorm.

Hopefully I can keep up this integration thing in my permanent site. If I can do as good a job as I have been doing, I will be golden. If there was any issue of me coming out of my shell, it will definitely be solved by the time my service is over.


Rainy and wet again today. I thought I might take this opportunity to talk about the school that we are having our technical training at. Last week we had our first active practicum session where we actually practiced team teaching in the classroom. I was in a fifth form class teaching the words for family members. It went well, considering the language gap. The would have been a gap in any case, because several of the students spoke only Russian and not much Kyrgyz, so it was extra tricky. Having younger kids was fun for me, though. They were very sweet.

This Thursday I will do two classes, 10th and 11th form. One topic is the education system in America, and the other is American sports and games. The teacher wants me and my partner to give a lecture about baseball. Baseball, like English grammar, is a deceiving topic to teach about. It seems like it would be simple until you try to explain it to someone and realize how complicated it is. The teacher requested that we limit the vocabulary to 5 or 6 words. Yeah, right, we will see how that goes.

Maybe it was just because it was cold and rainy today, but I think that the school is darn depressing. The toilets alone make me want to cry. They consist of a stone building with a stone floor and two holes side by side with no separation. There isn't even a door, really, just a kind of half wall thing that you can see over when you stand up. There is piss and worse all over the floor, and it is quite a trick to maneuver so that the hem of your pants doesn't hit the puddles on the floor. The playground itself is also pretty sad. None of the structures are really functional as playground equipment: the monkey bars are too high to reach and there is no ladder, and other than that all there is is some gymnastic-type bars. Also there is what we call the “gallows,” which is a really tall tripod-type thing with a long chain hanging from it with a loop at the end. Way creepy.


Hooray, short day today! I have been getting really frustrated with language lately. It seems like so often what I want to say is on the tip of my tongue, and by the time I get it out, the moment has passed. Today we had a “field trip” to the stores in town. We broke up into small groups and went to different stores with lists of questions. I realized that I really need to work on my numbers and food names. Add it to the list along with prepositions, basic verbs and whatever else. I have a huge stack of flash cards on my desk that I need to learn sometime when I get a chance. My problem is that I am always so busy trying to communicate with my family that I don't have time to learn the language. My host sister, bless her heart, always wants to help me out, but giving me the answer on the back of the card before I can think of it doesn't really help. I have to admit though, that I would be in a rough spot without her. She seems to be the only one who understands the concept of slowing down or simplifying a sentence so that I can understand. Not to mention that we have come up with our own elaborate language called “Ch-ch-chah.” We try Anglischah, Kyrgyzchah, and Eruschah (Russian), and when that fails, we revert to Ch-ch-chah. The basic gist of this language involves saying “Ch-ch” in different tones of voice accompanied by a corresponding pantomime performance. As far as I can remember, we have expanded this language to encompass such complex phrases such as “wash hair,” “take a shower,” “go for a walk,” “cook food,” “do laundry,” “bring the sheep/cows in” and “do homework.” This sounds great, but it is gradually diminishing the amount of Kyrgyz that I am forced to speak on a daily basis.

Yesterday was the day of the big baseball lesson in Stansia Ivonovka. It went about as well as can be expected. At least the students picked up somewhere around half of the vocabulary. We actually played a mock game outside with a piece of pipe that my teaching partner found at his house for a bat and some crumpled notebook paper for a ball. The kids understood the pitching and batting thing, but running the bases and tagging players out was a little too complicated for them to catch onto. At least they had a blast for about 10 minutes until it got boring again. The next lesson was on schools in America. We taught some vocab and then had them ask us questions about American schools in small groups. I feel so bad for these kids because they are not at all used to the concept of working in small groups, or even of thinking for themselves. All they know is repetition and memorization.

Even more pathetic than my attempt at starting a baseball game was the brief look that I took at the passage that the students were reading for homework. Some of the passages were something like what follows: “Afro-American children are often unhappy at school because most of the other students are white. They are happier at schools where most of their classmates are Afro-American.” It continues: “In America, children who come from poor families or whose parents are unemployed do not attend school very often.” The copyright date for this book was 2001. I could go on for a while about the curriculum I have seen in my short amounts of time at the school, but I will leave it at that for now.

The best part of the day was hearing about the 5th grade class that I taught last week. They remembered the vocabulary and grammar that we taught them, and were asking the trainees in your class “do you have a sister?” etc. It gave me warm fuzzies inside. Love those kids.

The weather is gorgeous today, and was gorgeous yesterday, too. I heard from a current volunteer that once the rainy season is over, it will be like this almost every day. Nice. Still, my Apa and sisters are crazy about making sure I am wearing a jacket outside. It was probably 80 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, and when I went out to meet my friends at the stadium, my Apa made me go back inside and get my jacket. I came back with it off, and she just shook her head at me. I had a runny nose later that day, and she blamed it on my not wearing a jacket. Arrgh. In all seriousness though, I was worried about getting sick, because a lot of trainees have been passing around a nasty head cold, and quite a few have been having stomach issues. Today I have no symptoms, so lets hope that it passed me by. I can't believe how lucky I have been with health.

I think I hear another musical number coming up on the Bollywood movie that my sisters are watching. I was getting a little bored with the Russian dubbing in between the songs, but I love the song and dance scenes in these movies!