Sunday, November 29, 2009


November 24, 2009

On Tuesdays I don't have class until 11:00, but I usually go in at 8:30 anyway because more often than not there has been a change in the schedule anyway, and if not, I use the time to talk to other teachers, make visual aids, and whatever else. Today, I woke up at my usual time, but when I went to dip my hand into the water can to wash my face, my knuckles hit a half inch of ice floating on top. I decided that was as good an excuse as any to crawl back into my sleeping bag for another few hours, which is where I am now. There's no point in hanging around an unheated school for any longer than is necessary, right?

November 25, 2009

Its snowing again today. The school was colder than ever, and there wasn't any sun to run out and stand in during the breaks. I walked around all day with my new wool coat (thank God I went out and bought one!) buttoned up to my eyes and the hood up. All the teachers laughed at me, asking mockingly, “are you cold, Audra? I thought it was cold in your state.” I think I may have struck some nerves when I told them a little testily that my state gives the schools enough money so that the schools are warm and people can take off their hats and coats inside. I don't want to insult their country, but seriously...

So, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which doesn't make any difference to me, really, except for that I am doing the same Thanksgiving-themed lesson in all the grades today and tomorrow. I think my counterpart and I are regretting this, because even though it was easy to plan one lesson rather than four, it is difficult to do the same thing over and over again (six down today, three tomorrow!). I explained the holiday and our traditions to the kids and then they wrote five things that they are thankful for. I thought they would need some help with this assignment since, chances are, they've never answered this question specifically like American students do every year, but they did a great job of it. I ended up being a little embarrassed by my list, which included wool socks and peanut butter from America and was probably the silliest of all the lists. I was surprised that most of my kids in all the classes included God on their lists, since, in my village at least, religiousness is not terribly visible. Most of the kids also wrote “I am thankful for Miss Audra comes to Kyrgyzstan,” which made me feel good, even though I know they are just a bunch of little suck-ups.

After school the snow was really coming down. I had a little bit of shopping to do, so I figured if I was going to wave down a car anyway, I might as well go all the way to the Uzgen bazaar. Bad idea. I am now wet and miserable. I wondered how the bazaar operates in bad weather, and the answer is exactly like it always does. The difference is that you have to watch out above you from the occasional flood of rain water getting knocked off the tarp awning of a stall and below you for the occasional puddle that is a lot deeper than it looks. In my quest to navigate the driest path between the sections I needed to visit, I came across a part of the bazaar that I had never seen before, and I was surprised at how similar it looked to Best Buy. Sometime when it is dryer I will have to investigate. I can't let today ruin my love of the Uzgen bazaar, which I appreciate so much more after doing some shopping last weekend in the Osh bazaar, which is way too stinking big for me to handle.

November 29, 2009

Yesterday we Oshian volunteers and some friends enjoyed our own little Thanksgiving feast. It was fantastic and included almost all of the essentials, with the exception that the turkey was substituted for three rotisserie chickens. The triumph of the evening, in my opinion, was a fantastic green bean casserole made almost completely from scratch. Amazing. I hope everyone’s American Thanksgiving was wonderful too.

Friday, November 20, 2009


October 28, 2009

This winter is gonna suck.

It was chilly, rainy, and miserable today. Really, it was pretty average October weather for Iowa, but in Iowa I wouldn't have to walk everywhere and the heat would be on inside and I wouldn't be carrying buckets of icy canal water around. Oh yeah, and at the moment, cvet jok. That means the electricity is out, but the Kyrgyz way of saying it is so much more appropriate to the situation, somehow. It's too dark to read or do lesson planning, but not dark enough to break out a candle or flashlight yet, so I will bask in the glow of the computer screen and try to draw some of the warmth into my fingers from its gently humming mechanisms under the keyboard.

Okay, so its not all bad. Actually, it has been quite pleasant and sunny lately, and I have been enjoying the harvest season atmosphere without actually having to take part in any of the harvest activities, which is nice. The fruit and vegetable section of the bazaar has undertaken yet another transformation, acquiring the most beautiful and brightly colored collection of fruits yet. There are tall heaps of deep scarlet pomegranates and an oranger-than-an-orange fruit that I have been told is a persimmon. To me, these fruits seem so new and exotic, but they are cheap and common here. I told my host family that I had never seen a pomegranate until a few years ago and that they are expensive in America, and they thought I was making mistakes in my Kyrgyz. I have been eating at least one pomegranate a day. Yum. Watermelons and white melon are still being sold here and there, but they aren't that good anymore and are slowly becoming replaced with pumpkins and squashes.

I'm a little bit behind on my lesson planning and such, after spending the first part of the week at the camp in Osh. For being what seemed to me to be a last minute operation (it was run by a local organization, so of course), it was an excellent camp. There were 35 high school-aged participants from the south of Kyrgyzstan that were chosen from a pool of 200 applicants. The participants were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds (the theme of the camp was diversity) and overall, they were a very bright group. There were a few concepts that we tried to introduce that they had some trouble understanding, but they definitely came away from the camp with some useful skills and a better understanding of how to interact with people belonging to different nationalities. The kids gave me a very Uzbek name, Odina opa, and in addition to facilitating a few sessions, I was somehow put in charge of “Arts and Crafts” in the evenings, which consisted of two nights of making friendship bracelets, which (surprisingly) they loved, and (even more surprisingly) broke down some of the very rigid gender barriers that are in place here. Even the locals in charge of the camp assumed that none of the boys would want to make bracelets, but because I am so awesome, I got at least eight to make and even wear their own bracelets. Me and one other PCV spent a few nights at the camp and entertained the kids with seemingly endless running around games and some very multicultural/multilingual sing-alongs with the other PCV's guitar. Best of all, a lot of the kids spoke really excellent English, which was a nice break for me. Although there were still quite a few who insisted on yelling at me in Russian the whole time. By the end of the camp, they had written and printed a great little newsletter in Russian, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and English about what they did at the camp, and even though I could only understand bits and pieces, I can tell they did an excellent job on it. I made my host sister translate all of the Russian sentences that contained Odina opa because I don't like being talked about when I can't understand!

November 3, 2009

Halloween in Kyrgyzstan was interesting, to say the least. I had a little party planned for my 9-11th graders, and I hauled a pretty good-sized pumpkin all the way from the center of the village back to school so that we could make a jack o' lantern, but no one showed up! It was very sad. Especially because the other volunteer in my village put on a considerably more planned out party and had a huge turnout and it was a huge success. But then, she has students that she can actually have conversations with in English. Not so with me. Still, I was invited and it was way fun, even though the disco party at the end got cut short when the electricity went out.

As for us Americans, we were able to enjoy our holiday by celebrating at a great party put on by a cafe in Osh. We all dressed up and had a lot of fun, though our taxi drivers were probably confused and terrified.

Now, I am enjoying a week off from school (our end of the first quarter break). I stayed in Osh yesterday and I thought that the rest of the week might be a good chance to get ahead on lesson planning and whatever else. So far, no luck. My host family had guests over today, and after sleeping in much longer than the rest of my family (but not that long, because the neighbors are having their wedding party part II with loud music that started at 8 a.m. My host mom told me I should sleep in a different room on the other side of the house for the next few days, because they will be playing loud music all night for a few days. This is worse than living next door to a frat house) I helped prepare only a little bit, and then escaped because I had to go to the bank in Uzgen. I am lazy, so I didn't want to go back home and do more guesting work, so another volunteer and I wasted time by checking out the park on top of the hill in Uzgen. For you Dubuquers out there reading this, imagine a park that is a combination of Eagle Point and Storybook Hill, and then let it fall into disrepair for about 30 years. Then you will have the park in Uzgen. It is on top of a hill and offers a view of the river that is similar to Eagle Point, only with more Central Asian terrain. It also has the remains of some strange playground structures and rickety bridges and what me and the other volunteer think might be an abandoned bumper-car rink. There is also a really dangerous looking ferris wheel that apparently still operates on holidays. In other words, it is an awesome park and I am in love with it. You can guarantee that I will be using that as a time-wasting location in the future when I need to escape the family.

I timed things out well, because when I got home I just had to pass out some rib bones for the guests to gnaw on which signals the end of the meal, and then they left. Apa was mad that I took so long, but then I paid her rent, which shut her up. I thought I might be left alone to chill in my room and listen to the loud music from the wedding next door, but no, I had to actually go to the wedding. Not only did I have to go to the wedding, I had to give a toast into the microphone. And that's not all. The musical entertainment that was going on at the time that I arrived is something that I would find funny if it wasn't so pathetic. It consisted of a guy sitting at a cheap keyboard and playing accompaniment for various guests that consisted of pushing a button to play one of those pre-recorded back-up beats and then playing a few chords here and there. Very classy, to say the least. Anyway, of course, I was forced to sing the one Kyrgyz song I know the words to, and then they held me hostage until I agreed to sing a song in English. I asked the keyboard guy if he knew any English songs, and he said no, but that I should just start singing and he can follow me. I highly doubted that, but I agreed. I sang “L-O-V-E” because someone suggested that I sing a song about love in honor of the wedding and it seemed appropriate. It was the strangest rendition of that song that the world has ever heard. I can't even begin to describe how ridiculous it was. It was all I could to to keep myself from laughing as I kept singing (the keyboardist kept signaling me to sing again and again) and it was more difficult as the neighbor ladies were stuffing money into the waistband of my pants and throwing scarves on my head. Fortunately for me, the whole incident was caught on video by one of my wonderful 11th grade students. Thanks so much for that. That little performance is exactly how I want the people of Kyrgyzstan to remember me.

November 9, 2009

So, I am back in Bishkek for a Peace Corps conference. Back in the same hotel we came to for orientation. It is as creepy as ever, and even more like the hotel in The Shining because now it is snowing! It has been snowing all day and there is a nice white blanket all over the broken down Soviet sculpture garden and the weird Eye of Sauron tower out back that I am admiring from the balcony. Down in the south last week I was walking around in short sleeves, so I wasn't quite as prepared for this kind of weather as I would have liked to be, but I'll be okay.

It is so great to see the whole group of volunteers again, most of whom I haven't seen at all for five months, and hear about the work they are doing and all that. It is like a class reunion. I also realize how lucky I am to be in the site I am in. The south really is the best place to be—no contest. And not only that, but I am able to make it to the coolest city in Kyrgyzstan every weekend, which is a lot more than a lot of other volunteers can say. I will never complain again! (haha, yeah, right).

Anyway, the conference is good, but there's not much to report.

November 16, 2009

Well, I am back at my site. Sadly, winter has come down here as well, and it is darn cold, but at least it is sunny and not quite as cold as it was in Bishkek last week. As a consequence of being stuck in a hotel for a week with a bunch of other Americans with weakened immune systems, I caught the flu. I took the day off today, but I hope I should be back to normal by tomorrow. I am just really glad that I was able to fly back home and I didn't have a long taxi ride. That would have been miserable. The 1 ½ hour marshrutka ride back from Osh was miserable enough.

Besides being sick, I am so glad to be back down in the south! It is just so much more interesting and pleasant here. It was great to be in Bishkek and eat my first real cheeseburger in six months, but it felt just as nice to come back to Osh city and wake up to the call to prayer and the milk ladies' sing-song calls. I wasn't even that upset that the marshrutka back to Uzgen took almost an hour to fill up because I love to hear the drivers calling our their destinations. There is such a rhythm and melody to it that is fascinating to me. Also, it was one of the nicest marshrutkas I have seen that is not owned by the Peace Corps, and I had a seat to myself because no one wanted to sit next to the sick American, so I was pretty comfortable.

November 18, 2009

It is amazing how a little sunshine and recently restored health can change a person's perspective on things. The flu was terrible, but I am feeling completely back to normal already. I have accepted that I am just going to have to put up with being constantly cold for the next few months, and really, it is just a matter of wearing enough layers all the time and drinking a lot of hot tea.

At school, the dress code has been completely abandoned. It is actually colder inside the school than it is outside, and in between classes everyone runs outside to stand in the sun. It is actually kind of pathetic, but no one has the money, time, or interest to properly heat the school, from the sound of things. I seem to distinctly remember that Laura Ingalls had a stove for her school house. How come we've got nothing? My counterpart came to school today looking fabulous with this long purple coat with a fluffy fur collar and cuffs that she might have borrowed from a 1st class passenger on the Titanic and a wool hat in the traditional Kyrgyz style that looks like something the girl in the movie “A Knight's Tale” wore. This was paired with skinny jeans and shiny black stiletto heeled boots. I thought I had on a pretty nice coat and boots, but I looked positively frumpy beside her. I don't think I can properly express the fabulousness of her outfit. You would never find anything like it in America.

Anyway, I am on a successful lesson high right now. Today I was not at all prepared for my lessons because they had a substitute last week and I didn't know what they did. Turns out they all copied down completely incomprehensible texts about the history of the Silk Road and the biography of some Kyrgyz poet, but none of the students could tell me in English or Kyrgyz what the texts were about. So me and my counterpart had to make up a bunch of lessons on the spot. My counterpart disappeared after the morning break like she does sometimes, so I taught the 10th grade classes by myself. A while ago we had done a lesson about professions, so I decided it would be a good idea to talk about which professions use a foreign language. I thought it might be kind of motivating to make a big list, since it would be very easy for a Kyrgyz village kid to think that they would never need to speak English.

As usual, 10b were a bunch of duds and didn't do much but sit and stare at me, but 10a (my very favorite class) did a great job with this and we had an awesome discussion. It was pretty much all in Kyrgyz, but I didn't even mind very much because they had such smart things to say. They went way beyond the list of careers that I had in mind to have some heated debates over whether knowing English could make you a better farmer, taxi driver, doctor, or lawyer in Kyrgyzstan. I was SO proud of them! They really are a bright group of kids. I am glad that I will get to teach them next year, too.

A few hours later:

If sunlight and good health can cause optimism, then cold and darkness can destroy it, and more quickly. When I wrote the above entry, the electricity was out, but there was plenty of sunlight coming in through the window and my room was still warm since my space heater had been on. I also had a giant thermos full of hot water for tea and a belly full of cheap village cafe food. A few hours later it started to get dark and really, really cold, and I came to the conclusion that I will, in fact, die this winter.

Now the power is back on, my thermos is re-filled, and my cold feet in their three layers of socks plus these funny wool slipper things I bought at the bazaar are wedged underneath my space heater waiting for it to get hot. My back and shoulders are all sore and tense from being hunched over in the cold, but as I start to thaw out, I am feeling much better. I suppose this is what I can expect from the rest of the winter, lots of ups and downs.

Hooray! My host mom lit the coal-burning stove in the next room. I love being warm.