Chasing the Tourists

12 06 2011

15 October 2007

The big news today would have been that in a few short hours my official “I Haven’t Bathed Countdown” will come to an end (Salamat is preparing the banya now) if something else hadn’t happened at my school.  Today we had a group of tourists from Australia come and visit our school.

Temirlan and I were in the computer room checking out the new computers when one of the students came in to tell Temirlan that there were tourists outside.  He left, and I didn’t think anything of it.  Then, about ten minutes later, he showed back up in the computer room and introduced the first white non-Russians I’ve seen in person since Colleen came to deliver my Cipro a week ago.  It was mostly a group of older people who definitely looked the tourist part.  One older guy was even walking around with an Australian flag pin on his shirt – apparently he didn’t want to stand out as a tourist.  They were really nice, and asked the typical tourist questions.  When I asked them where they were from, they said Australia, and then they said “it’s very far away from here.”  I replied back, “America is even farther away from here,” and then told them that I was an American.  They had a Kyrgyz-language tour guide with them, but Temirlan was able to do the translating between my vice-director, some other teachers, and the Australians.  They told me they were traveling through central Asia with a tour company called Wallawoo Tours (I hope I have the name right) out of Sydney, and on the 20th of this month they were heading to Uzbekistan (good luck with that – Peace Corps has all but told us PCV’s to avoid Uzbekistan at all costs).  There was one younger woman with them who asked me how I liked Kyrgyzstan, and of course I told her what any PCV would – it’s a beautiful country, there are so many wonderful people, and it’s a great place.  She told me that Kyrgyzstan wasn’t necessarily her favorite place in the world, but she said she respected me for coming out here to live and work for two years.  Really, I was just happy to talk to some native English speakers for a change.


Inside Saaliev School's museum

We took them into the school’s museum (every school has one – they vary in interest, but ours has a lot of cool stuff) and showed them around.  I tried to talk to them about what was in the museum, since they seemed to keep looking to me, but I totally screwed up my facts.  Their tour guide took over, and I felt like a complete jackass (OK, maybe my history major didn’t work out so well with some regions of the world).  There was one incorrect impression they had that Temirlan and I were able to correct.  They kept saying that Russian and Kyrgyz were similar, but we told them the two languages are really nothing alike – the only thing they share is their alphabet.  But, they maintained their smiles and seemed to enjoy themselves.  They did mention that they ran into another PCV in Kochkor near Naryn, and they mentioned that he said he had been here only three months – he’s definitely a K-15 PCV, but I don’t know who and they didn’t remember.

I guess the biggest thing about the Australian tourists coming to my school was that it made me realize that I’m becoming a local, that I’m slowly becoming Kyrgyz.  Just like all my other students, I was gawking at the tourists who showed up, and I was excited to be talking to them.  And just like the locals, I would be staying here while the tourists move on and eventually make their way back to their home country.  I’ve watched all these videos before of tourists and celebrities going through small villages in some far-away Third-World country, and watching all the children get excited and follow the foreign “guests” as they butcher the language.  Only this time I was on the other end – I was one of the locals watching the tourists parade through their village like explorers or something.  They even took the typical tourist photo of the locals at the school (this photo included me in it).  I felt a little protective of my students as they followed the Australians back to the marshrutka they were traveling in – I didn’t want the Australians doing anything to offend my students.  I overheard some of the Australians telling each other (as my students are trying to talk to them in Kyrgyz – they should know better by now) “I think they’re trying to tell us something.”  Temirlan was excited about the fact that they thought he was an American at first (and had to tell them he was Kyrgyz), but I am an American.  They even mentioned that they wouldn’t have guessed I was an American until I opened my mouth – telling them my mother’s side of the family is Italian cleared things up for them (is my beard that out of control now?).  It was just a really surreal experience for me.

Ancient Scythian/Saka bal-bal (stone figure) found in Darkhan and housed in the Saaliev School museum

Other than that odd interruption, it was another confusing day at Saaliev School.  I came into class with a phone call from Temirlan telling me that he was going to be late to class, and as I was about to go get my students, Elvira Eje (one of the other English teachers) showed up with my class and told me we were going to team-teach now.  OK, I said, having no lesson plan or clue as to what she was going to be teaching.  Luckily, another student showed up from another class and told us that there was no teacher to teach their class (would any American student really say that?), so I went to teach them.  That class went pretty well, as I was pretty comfortable with the material.  The second class we had was team-teaching with three teachers (Temirlan, Elvira, and I), but this time I was able to break out a photo of my parents and ask them who I look like.  I tried to get them to say that I looked more like my father so I could surprise them and tell them that he’s actually my stepfather and we’re not blood-related, but there wasn’t enough time and they’re typical “I don’t give a f$#%” teenagers (teenagers are teenagers, no matter what part of the world they’re from).

I’m still having problems with the way my school is organized.  There just doesn’t seem to be any organization at all.  I walk in every day to school, and every day I think I know what to look forward to, but I don’t.  Every day is a new experience for me, every day is another schedule change or change of plans – it can get pretty exhausting after a while.  Temirlan says that once I can walk into class and just ask the kids what they did for homework, not because I want to see the homework but because I don’t know what I gave them for homework the last time, that’s when I’ll become adjusted to life at Saaliev School.


Lazy Sundays in the Village…

12 06 2011

14 October 2007

I don’t know if it’s pure laziness, but I didn’t feel like going to Karakol today.  I didn’t feel like doing much of anything today, except for playing games.

All I want to do on Sundays is to treat it like a relaxing day, a day to kick your feet back, enjoy maybe some sports or something, and just hang out with family and friends.  That’s not the way the Kyrgyz view Sundays – it’s another working day, except for the fact that schools and some businesses are closed.  So every time I want to sleep in on Sunday mornings, I feel enormous guilt.  The guilt is even worse when I’m sitting in my room playing Zuma on my computer while my host brothers are outside the house shoveling sand and some dark material that looks similar to coal.  The fact is, I don’t feel like helping them – I am too lazy to pick up a shovel and go help them.  It might be different if they asked me to help (they have before, and I have cooperated willingly), but Kyrgyz people tend not to ask for help – the assumption is that if you see someone working, you will naturally go help them.  I don’t work that way – I really need to be told to help out if they really need my help.  Otherwise, I’m going to continue looking out my window watching other people work.

Snow has been known to fall in Darkhan in October...

Usually the only person that asks me on any regular basis to help is my host brother Salamat.  He seems like a nice kid, but sometimes I’m not completely sure.  Everyone in the family talks about how his English is better than my host brother Altynbek’s, but I think it’s just because Salamat has more confidence to go out there and speak the language.  Sometimes I feel like he’s making fun of me and my lack of understanding of his Kyrgyz, and sometimes his English.  When it comes to posing questions in English, word order is important, and Salamat doesn’t pose his questions in a way that I can ascertain every time as being questions.  The word order comes out like sentences rather than questions – the problem is that in Kyrgyz word order is unimportant, and as long as the verb is at the end of the sentence, everything is fine.  I guess I have to realize that they’re not treating me like their brother – they’re treating me like their teacher (luckily Almas and Aizat here don’t treat me the same way).

Salamat keeps saying he will learn English, come to America, and marry an American girl – if he comes up with the money to fly, he’s perfectly welcome to stay with me.

Other than not leaving the house, I got to watch more Russian programming.  I really used to think before I left the US that Americans were the most patriotic (if not nationalistic) people in the world.  Not so – Putin’s Russia has America beat on this one.  There are dance-and-music stage shows on Russian TV, almost MTV-like, and you can look in the audience and see a ton of teenagers waving Russian flags (if you look closely, sometimes you can spot the old Soviet flag).  Except for right after 9/11, or for the Super Bowl or something like that, you’d never see teenagers on the MTV Video Music Awards waving American flags all over the place.  In America patriotism and flag-waving usually starts from the bottom up, with small towns and businesses participating in celebrating the nation.  In Russia, it doesn’t seem as organic – it is, without a doubt, patriotism and flag-waving from the top down.  Putin made Russians feel proud to be Russian again, but he mostly did it through official government channels.  Even the pro-Putin youth groups that roam the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow harassing anti-government protesters are well funded by the Russian government.  Let’s put it this way: Russia had about a ten-year experiment with true democracy.  It didn’t work, and Russians chose bread and circuses (which explains the garbage on Russian TV) over freedom of choice.  So far dismissing democracy seems to have worked out OK for Russia, though – who are we to tell them differently?

I don’t have the balls yet to ask when we’ll be having a banya next (Day 20 in the “I Haven’t Bathed Countdown”), but my beard is completely out of control and needs to be trimmed ASAP.

Game Day!! Time to Collect Sheep Turds…

30 05 2011

Kelly (my ex-fiancee), during the course of her studies, was given a research task about games.  Her then-fiance was lucky enough at that time to be living on the other side of the world, so she contacted me and asked me to do some research for her.  And, as I explain below, I was able to accomplish that task.

I did not explain toguz korgol at that time, probably out of simple laziness, but I’ll try to explain it a bit here.  It’s a bit like the gem stone board game many people play, where the object is to get rid of all of your stones.  The board (a carved-out wooden board) is the same, but the pieces are not.  Instead of gems, they use apricot seeds.

The name toguz korgol literally means “nine sheep pellets” in Kyrgyz – this game was originally played with hardened sheep pellets (do I have to explain what I mean by “pellets?”), which can be found in any field in Kyrgyzstan.

13 October 2007

Toguz Korgol game at my school

It’s Game Day in Darhan today!  I feel like I’ve been caught in an endless sea of games, whether it’s playing games, researching games, or writing about games.  Kelly started the Game Day this morning when she called me.  She told me she was going to be doing a small presentation in one of her classes next week on children’s toys and games in Kyrgyzstan, and that her professor was particularly interested in this (considering that her student Kelly’s fiancée is presently living and working in Kyrgyzstan).  Of course this meant that Kelly needed my help.  Kelly was correct in noting that, when she told me this, it began to stress me out – it felt like I was about to do another CCA (Community Contact Assignment) for PST, which involved similar research and work in a small amount of time.  But at the same time, what else was I going to do on a fine Saturday?  And to be honest, reading stuff off the Internet about Kyrgyz toys and games is not nearly the same thing as having someone on the ground in Kyrgyzstan living and breathing this stuff.  Anything that will make Kelly shine in class (and above the rest of the trust-fund hipsters she goes to school with), I will gladly participate in.

Not long after Kelly called, Temirlan called me and told me I needed to come to school to help with the computers the faculty was receiving.  The computers weren’t there yet, but we needed to go to Kyzyl-Suu to retrieve some educational software from a teacher’s computer in Kyzyl-Suu.  We went to Kyzyl-Suu, but apparently the teacher wasn’t there and we couldn’t access the computer – the teacher had just had a baby, and was out at the hospital.  So all we could do was to head back to Darhan without the software (they needed me there because of my flash drive – they were going to load the software onto my flash drive and install it from my flash drive onto the new computers).  Once we got back to our school, we were told we had another half hour before the computers got there.  So, I asked Temirlan about Kyrgyz children’s games.  He mentioned toguz korgol (I’m not going to explain how to play the game here – I just finished a three-page paper on children’s games in Kyrgyzstan), and said that there was a board at school for us to play.  He couldn’t remember exactly how to play, so he grabbed another student and brought him into the English classroom to show us how to play.  I picked it up fast – I beat Temirlan and the student who showed us how to play.

After I beat the student in the game, Temirlan (who had left about fifteen minutes before to help another teacher with something) called me and told me the computers were here.  I went upstairs and saw two Russian guys and one Russian girl working on installing the computers.  The computers aren’t bad at all (there are three new computers, or at least they have new components), and the printer/scanner is really nice.  The vice-director got his own computer too (I hope he knows how to use it).  The Russian girl spoke English (my Kyrgyz wouldn’t have worked on her anyway), and we talked a little bit about where I was from.  She mentioned that she had helped another American on the other side of Lake Issyk-Kul install new computers.  She said one thing that stood out in my mind, and that I hadn’t heard in Kyrgyzstan until today: “There are so many people here that want to go to America, and yet you want to come here.”  She was particularly surprised when I told her I would be here the next two years in Darhan.

So, once the Russians left, we got to really see what was on these computers.  There was educational software on the computers, to be sure (all of it in Russian and fairly unintelligible to me), but there was a lot of other stuff, too.  Music, movies (yes, movies), and photos.  And not just pretty pictures of landscapes or cars, either – pictures of girls, celebrities, some girls half-naked, and some girls just plain naked (nothing hardcore, but fur could be seen).  I tried to tell Temirlan that this stuff was on the computers and that some teachers could be offended, but it took Temirlan finding it for him to understand what I was telling him.  He just went “oh”, smiled, and moved on.  The way Temirlan explained it, none of the teachers really knows how to work with a computer – the likelihood of them finding it and being offended is low (this includes the IT teacher at my school).

Temirlan didn’t care about that, anyway – what he was excited about were the games installed on the computers.  There were a fairly good bit of games, too – Zuma, Mario Forever, and Counter-Strike.  Temirlan was particularly interested in Counter-Strike, and immediately started a game that I joined with him (this was my first time playing Counter-Strike).  It was a lot of fun running around and shooting at each other (reminded me of my friends’ Goldeneye tournaments years ago).  But, I wanted to see what else was on the computers.  I found a lot of good music, including Panjabi MC.  At this point I’m just glad that there are good computers other than my laptop available to me, and particularly available to my fellow teachers – maybe we can start getting some of this hand-written crap currently at school into some type-written format.  The first thing is getting the teachers to learn how to use the computers (and yes, this includes the IT teacher here).

So, I got home and spent the rest of the night hanging out with Aizat and the rest of my host family.  And, I did what I needed to do – I asked them about Kyrgyz children’s games.  I spent the next hour writing down the Cyrillic spelling for the games, jotting notes down about the games, and then running upstairs to churn out a small paper for Kelly to use as a reference in her presentation (and I did it in both Word and PDF format!).  I might send it off tomorrow, but the determining factor is whether my host family decides to have a banya tomorrow (today will mark Day 19 in the “I Haven’t Bathed Countdown”).  If they have banya, I’ll probably wait until Monday to send it – if they don’t, I’m heading to the public banya in Karakol tomorrow (and Internet in Karakol).  I am beginning to smell myself outside of my clothes, and that’s a really bad sign (there’s already a stain in my pillow from my nasty hair).

Orozo Ait – And Day 17 in the “I Haven’t Bathed” Countdown

30 05 2011

12 October 2007

Aitengar Maarek Bolsum!  That’s what I’ve been saying all day today, and I’m not completely sure what it means (it is Kyrgyz, not Arabic).  Today is Orozo Ait, the end of Ramadan.  The tradition is that everyone visits their neighbors’ homes, and drinks tea and eats borsok.  I just got done going to everyone’s homes, and I feel like a tick ready to pop.  My host parents and I walked to all of our neighbors’ homes and drank tea, and in the process we gathered people along the way to visit other homes.  It’s almost like an adult version of Halloween, except the meaning is more peaceful and religious.  As usual, everyone was trying to convince me to have a Kyrgyz wife.  I respectfully told them that Kelly would kill me if I did, and that got them laughing (I said “Kelly”, then I pretended to choke myself).  We met one older man at one of the homes, and we walked around with him for a while – he was absolutely the worst-smelling Kyrgyz person I’ve met in this country (B.O. like you wouldn’t believe – thankfully my host father didn’t sit me next to him).

And I’ve been saying “aitengar maarek bolsum” to every host at each house, which in turn they say “rahmat” (thank you) to me.

This is what would happen at each home.  We all pile in, we sit down around the dastorkon (place for food – sometimes it’s a low table, sometimes it’s directly on the floor), and tea is passed around.  Once all the tea’s been handed out, usually the oldest male recites passages from the Koran while everyone sits silently.  Once that’s done, everyone prays silently for thirty seconds, after which time they ceremonially wash their faces twice.  Only after that does eating and drinking begin.  Since everyone is visiting so many homes, people only drink one cup of tea (rather than two) and eat something very small.  The tea would sit fine with me, if people in Issyk-Kul oblast didn’t insist on adding milk/cream to everyone’s tea (I’m slightly lactose-intolerant).  They do boil the milk here to pasteurize it a bit, but they don’t skim out the fat, and if the tea is hot enough, the fat almost cooks to form a slight film on top of the tea.  So gross, I have a hard time swallowing it (but it’s better than sheep meat right now to me).  I like cream in my coffee, but definitely not in my tea.  I’m actually curious as to whether the stomach problems I had earlier this week had to do with some bad milk that I may have had in my tea (everyone in my host family except for my host mother knows I don’t want milk in my tea).

One thing I have a problem with in Kyrgyzstan (and frankly in the USA also) is grubby kids.  I don’t have much exposure to kids in the USA simply because I’m not around them that much, but I’ve been around a ton of kids here.  There are so many ways for kids to get dirty here, and kids generally don’t like to clean themselves anyway.  So, I’d be walking along, and a five-year-old boy runs up to me, wet from the muddy creek he was just splashing in, with dirt all over his face, snot coming out of his nose (snot is almost part of the kids’ uniform here), and he offers me his dirt-covered hand to shake.  No, I don’t want to shake your hand, kid – do me a favor and hose yourself down first.  Same thing goes with inside the home (but luckily there are parents to say something about it).  A friend of Aktilek’s is over, and his hands are all greasy from the borsok he was shoving into his mouth, and he’s trying to climb over my legs, leaving greasy prints all over my clothes.  During PST in Epkin there was a house along the way to my house and John’s house where some of the filthiest kids I’ve ever seen lived.  Many times we would walk by and see them looking disgusting, and they would want to shake our hands.  John and I, after shaking their hands, would tell each other that we were going to burn our hands to sterilize them before we did anything else that day.  

Let me set the record straight, though, that even though I’ve seen snot coming out of Aktilek’s nose, he doesn’t gross me out – he’s a much cleaner kid than his friends (and frankly, he’s a lot smarter, too).

As I mention how much I dislike dirty little kids, I remember that this is Day 17 in the “I Haven’t Bathed Countdown”.

Missing Pre-Service Training (Well, my Host Family, At Least)

18 05 2010

For the first 2 1/2 months I was in Kyrgyzstan, I didn’t spend it in Darkhan.  I spent it in a small village called Epkin, which is about 20km from Kant in Chuy oblast.  Each new Peace Corps trainee (Peace Corps won’t call you a volunteer until you finish Pre-Service Training, or PST) was assigned to live with a host family as soon as they arrived in the country.  For the trainees, such as myself, this was a stressful time.  We didn’t speak the language, we were living with families who oftentimes didn’t speak any English, and we were expected to learn the language and how to be Peace Corps volunteers in this environment.  But, this form of training was necessary to weed out those who actually had what it took to be Peace Corps volunteers (we lost about ten people out of 61 who came to Kyrgyzstan during the first 2 1/2 months of PST).

Perhaps there is a bit of the Helsinki syndrome for trainees with their PST host families.  PST often feels like a prison for many of us – our movements are heavily restricted (we had to secure permission from Peace Corps to go anywhere outside of our PST villages), we don’t speak the language, and we are living in a completely foreign environment.  We depend heavily on our PST host families to guide us on the correct path – they cook for us, they give us a place to sleep, and they help us with learning a new culture (they are compensated quite well from Peace Corps for this, I might add).  So, we develop strong bonds with our “captors” – our host families.

By the time we become full Peace Corps volunteers and are sent to our permanent sites, we already are familiar with the culture, the language, and what needs to be done – our permanent-site host families (we were required to live with host families for the first three months at site) only serve to give us a roof over our heads.  Some Peace Corps volunteers have commented that they developed much stronger bonds with their PST host families than their permanent-site host families – I can understand this phenomenon.

This day was also the first time I really began to take notice of Kyrgyz politics…

11 October 2007

Tomorrow is Eid Al-Fitr (I think that’s the Arabic name for it), or Orozo Ait in Kyrgyz, or the official end of Ramadan (thank God! – I was starting to feel guilty every time I chewed gum, drank, or ate in public).  It’s also an official Kyrgyz national holiday, so all schools are closed.  Tomorrow (if my host family wants me to), we will visit all of our neighbors’ homes and drink tea and eat borsok (Kyrgyz fried dough).  According to Muslims, all peoples’ homes are open for guests at the end of Ramadan, and anyone may come and be treated as a guest.  My host mother was busy preparing borsok this morning in the kazan in the garage (kazan is a big wok-shaped metal cooking pot that is heated by fire, usually fueled by wood or dried cow dung).  And my host relatives were busy cleaning the house, I assume in anticipation of guests tomorrow.

I might just celebrate tomorrow as Columbus Day, Italian-American Pride Day, or Canadian Thanksgiving day.  The reason for that is that I’ve been immersing myself today in non-Kyrgyz things, like reading tons of old Newsweeks left at school by Taylor and watching my “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” DVD (HMPL was filmed in Landover, Maryland).  I’m feeling a little homesick for some good-old American comforts, like constant access to news in English and even the Baltimore accent (Hey hon, let’s goe downy oeshun.).  Sometimes I feel like I’m a time traveler – I’ve traveled back in time with some stuff from the future, and I’m remembering life twenty years from now.

But as soon as I start feeling like I traveled back in time, my host brother Altynbek walks by blasting Lil’ Jon from his cell phone.

I went to school today and taught three classes.  By myself.  Temirlan showed up for class, but then immediately found out that he had to go to the other side of the school as an observer for a national referendum taking place regarding changes to Kyrgyzstan’s constitution.  I don’t know what the changes are, and because of Peace Corps regulations regarding political activities of volunteers, I shouldn’t know, and I didn’t ask Temirlan any more questions about it.  But, the other side of my school is set up just like an election is about to take place – it looks familiar.  I was told once that five-year-old Kyrgyz children can discuss Kyrgyz politics – by contrast, no-one in neighboring Uzbekistan discusses politics.  It was observing government crackdowns on political activity in Uzbekistan and blogging about it that helped get the Peace Corps kicked out of Uzbekistan.

The classes weren’t bad, and I got a group of apathetic ninth-grade girls excited about my class by the end.  Kelly called me during one of my classes, which was great to hear her voice, but was in the middle of my class – she was checking to see how I was doing (I probably scared her by emailing her that I’m on Cipro – I’m taking the last Cipro tonight).  I told her to call later, but I haven’t heard back from her yet – that’s probably because she’s asleep right now.  After the classes were over, I stayed and read Newsweeks that were sitting there.  One article that I read was about modern Russia and how Putin completely dominates the social and political landscape.  It reminded me of what I saw on Russian TV the other day – like American TV sometimes does very late at night by playing the national anthem, Russian TV played the Russian national anthem behind the backdrop of a flowing Russian flag.  What I’d forgotten up until then was that a couple of years back Russia brought back the old Soviet national anthem.  So there’s a flowing Russian flag (as Aizat was playing with her baby in front of the TV) with the Soviet national anthem – I could barely contain my laughter.  A lot of PCV’s here are interested in visiting Russia either during their vacation time or after their service ends – I am not one of those PCV’s.

At lunch I got a surprise phone call from Zamira, my host sister at my training site in Epkin, near Kant.  She’s about to finish university, and she’s going to be a teacher in Bishkek.  I think she’s going to be an English teacher, but don’t quote me on that.  I didn’t realize how good her English was – she didn’t really speak English to me that much in Epkin.  I also realized how much I miss my Epkin host family – they were such a sweet family, and I felt close to them.  Plus, my host mother there never glared at me like I was an asshole (but sometimes my host father in Epkin did).  I never had sisters growing up, so living with a family of sisters made me feel like a real older brother – I felt extremely protective of them and didn’t want them to get hurt.  Also, I wasn’t just Agai to them (Kyrgyz term for a teacher – I’m Mr. Jackson in the English classroom, Kanat Agai around the rest of the school) – my host brothers don’t call me Kanat or Cuyler most of the time, they call me “Agai”, even around the house.  Aside from the vodka I had to drink thanks to my host father, I really enjoyed my training host family.  I still feel like visiting Epkin right now would feel like going home, in a way.  After my conversation with Zamira, I texted Rebecca (who was also a trainee in Epkin) about Epkin’s postal code – I want to print off the last photos I took of them during my swearing-in ceremony and mail them to them.

My PST host family and I - Zamira is on the far left

Anyway, back to the conversation – she asked me when I was coming to Bishkek, and I told her probably in January (that’s when In-Service Training occurs, and it’s in Bishkek for a week).  She said she was hoping that I’d come in November or December – that’s when she’ll begin teaching at School #11 in Bishkek.  I told her I’ve been teaching for a few weeks, and that being a teacher is hard work, but that it’s rewarding.  Soon thereafter she had to get off the phone and told me she’d see me in December or January.

Maybe if I have time off from classes in Darhan either before or after In-Service Training (IST for short), I’d like to stay in Epkin for a few days.

“I Haven’t Bathed” Countdown – Day 17

17 05 2010

10 October 2007

I just had a spider (actually, looks like a couple right now) do something for me that I would have done myself – kill a fly.  Aizat put my clean clothes in my room, and there was a fly still alive on my clothes.  The fly warmed up and started buzzing around my room, and then I heard a faint buzzing sound coming from the top corner of my room (where my desk is).  The fly got caught in a spider web above my desk – the spider showed up in no time to finish it off.  Normally seeing something like that would freak me out (a spider in action), but as many flies as I’ve had to deal with in this country, I would say the spider was doing me a favor.

I’m still on the Cipro, and it sounds like there’s a battle going on in my stomach nonstop.  My meals have still been pretty basic today, but my host family had kesme (noodles with vegetables), which I happily ate.  Then, someone decided to spoil the entire meal by slapping a bunch of sheep meat on top of it – I was done eating.  My host father asked me if I would eat some meat, but I told him not today.  They all laughed – they said I essentially ate three sheep this weekend.

I went to Karakol today with Temirlan.  He was going to Karakol anyway today, and I’ve been keeping him updated on the banya issue at my house (this is Day 17 in the “I Haven’t Bathed Countdown”) – he decided to show me where the public banya is in Karakol.  He told me that Kyrgyz people don’t put as high a priority on a full bath as Americans – the Kyrgyz were traditionally nomadic, and during winter the water source was frozen, so they could go for months without washing.  They wash their faces and arms, and sometimes their heads, often, but not their full bodies.  He said Taylor had the same issue living with Temirlan’s family – they might go for a couple of weeks without making banya.  So they showed Taylor where the public banya was in Karakol, and he would use it when he felt he needed it.  He said I could use it if I wanted, but I decided to try to do the bucket-of-warm-water-in-the-banya thing (which I have still not been successful with – today the power was out from around 10am until 6:30pm, and they were using the banya to wash other clothes).

I’ve decided there are a couple of pieces of clothing I would like to get at a bazaar.  First, I need a pair of squishy pants – athletic-type pants.  There’s no need to iron them, they can look dressy (my host father sports them, and makes them look like office clothes), and they can be used out in the fields.  All you have to do to clean them is to brush the dirt off (unlike jeans).  Also, I would like a local-type sweater.  There are sweaters here (some zip-up, some not) that look like they’re strong work clothes (and good for school as well), so that’s next on my list.  My final big thing is probably a good pair of rubber boots, if I can get my feet to fit into them.  During the fall and spring this town is nothing but a big mud slick, and wearing knee-high boots could help save some of my pants from getting constantly dirty.

My host family seems to mention the color of my eyes more often than I could just dismiss it as dinner conversation – for example, they mentioned my dark eyes (black eyes, according to them) at the party on Sunday.  I asked Temirlan if there was any particular cultural significance to the color of my eyes.  He mentioned the argument I heard before I came to Kyrgyzstan about my looks.  Essentially, the stereotype among most Kyrgyz people is that Americans are blond-haired and blue-eyed.  I would say that fits the stereotype of Russians, perhaps (Russians are a lighter lot of people than other people in Europe).  But, he says that my looks don’t fit the stereotype of Americans.  I remembered that they do bring up the fact that my great-grandparents were born in Italy (which I told them a while ago), so when they discuss my looks, they mention that I have Italian ancestry.  Now I think I understand.  But it’s funny that I would hear the same thing from Kyrgyz people that I heard from people at my old job in the US who stated that I looked more “ethnic” than most people in the area.

Now I’m just looking gross – I haven’t shaved in almost three weeks.

Missing Home – An Ordeal for Any Peace Corps Volunteer

17 05 2010

Last week supporters of former President Bakiev tried to take over government buildings in Kyrgyzstan, but were driven off by supporters of the current provisional government.  I don’t want to spend a lot of time commenting on this, other than to say that I’m glad they were driven off.  I have said enough about Bakiev being scum.  On the other hand, what concerns me is that the police sat on the sidelines watching open violence take place between the various political factions and did absolutely nothing.

I fear that Kyrgyzstan could become another failed state – I hope I’m wrong.

I need to begin posting my journal entries again – I have departed from this for too long.  So, without further ado…

9 October 2007

Just before I was about to write this entry, my mother called me from the United States.  It costs my parents a fortune to call, because they’re dialing over a regular phone and not by Skype.  But my mother said she badly needed to hear my voice (she’s been crying the past couple of days because she misses me so much), so she snuck out of the house this morning (morning for her, evening for me) to call me.  It was good to talk to Mom, not only because I missed hearing my mother’s voice, but because she was able to update me on the Ravens’ season (they’re 2-2 now) – right now I’m in a complete news and sports blackout, so any news is good news to me.  She told me my Uncle Angelo tried to call me a couple of times, but hasn’t been able to get through.  I would really like to hear from him, too, so I asked Mom to make sure he knows exactly how to call me.  I still remember what he said about putting Ravens games on DVD and shipping them to me, but I don’t know if he’s still serious about it.  Mom told me the Ravens lost to the Cleveland Browns – I’m not sure if I’d want that game shipped to me, though.  She said Nick got really depressed going downstairs at Uncle Angelo’s house and seeing my Ray Lewis jersey hanging up where I would be sitting to watch games.  Yep, I miss home, but I know I have to stick this out – in two years I’ll be back in the USA watching another Ravens season at Uncle Angelo and Aunt Cheryl’s house (with maybe a Whopper in my hands, too).

This morning I was able to get up and go to school today, despite getting up at 1:30am in the morning to run to the outhouse.  I had a little tea and a piece of bread for breakfast, and I ran out the door.  I was a little late to school, but so was Temirlan (who was a good twenty to thirty minutes late).  I taught the beginning of a class and stumbled over myself – I’m still not completely comfortable with teaching alone, especially when instructions need to be given in Kyrgyz.  But Temirlan showed up and saved the rest of the class and was able to give homework.  Right after the class was over I told Temirlan I still felt really bad, so I called the PCMO.  According to the PCMO, I have bacterial diarrhea, so the PCMO said I should start taking Cipro (serious antibiotic).  I don’t have it in my medical kit, so the warden (Peace Corps assigns one PCV in a particular region to be the warden for all the other PCV’s there – the warden gets a PC cell phone and an extra medical kit with serious drugs they don’t want anyone else to have) had to come to Darhan from Karakol and give it to me.  I wasn’t able to take the Cipro until I got home (I had a hard time making it through the rest of my classes), but once I got it in me I started feeling a little bit better.  Unfortunately, every time I take a sip of water I can hear it once it reaches my stomach – my stomach gurgles and moves, and then the water is digested.

Temirlan had a grammar question that stumped me and made us look stupid in front of the class.  With possessive case, if you are asking a question about a particular item and who it belongs to, you would say “whose book is this?”  That’s in reference to a person – when the question references a thing, what do you say?  I had no clue – I have never used one word like “whose” to reference a thing, so I was dumbfounded answering Temirlan about it (unfortunately for us, it was during the middle of class).  We said “what” could be used, but I’m sure that’s wrong.

This is Day 16 in the “I Haven’t Bathed Countdown”, but I might do the “bucket of warm water in the banya” thing today, after all the clothes are washed (clothes are normally washed in the banya).  My host sister Aizat offered to wash my clothes for me, and I readily accepted – the thing I like least in Kyrgyzstan is washing my clothes.  They have a machine, so it’s not so bad.  Keep in mind, though, that washing machines in Kyrgyzstan are different than washing machines in America.  In America, washing machines soak, wash, and then spin the detergent water out of them.  In Kyrgyzstan, washing machines only turn the soapy water and clothes – rinsing out the detergent-filled water is done by hand in a big bucket.  My host family was amazed at how many socks I have – I told them I have bad feet, so that’s why I need to change my socks every day (in America no-one would think twice when you say you change your socks every day – that’s just part of good hygiene).  I tried to offer money to Aizat for washing my clothes (in accordance with the homestay agreement my host parents and I signed), but she wouldn’t accept it – she said I’m a part of this family, and they’ll wash my clothes along with their own clothes.  I’m willing to put money on it, though, that her tone will change when my host mother gets home – she’s been following the homestay agreement by-the-book, and any deviance from that has duly been noted by her.  I should pay them for the electricity I’ve been using (I’m thinking around 300 soms a month), so maybe I can factor washing clothes into that.