Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Christmas

My first Christmas in Kyrgyzstan consisted of going to my brother and sister’s new year’s party in the morning at the school then at night I went back to see the older students do their performances. In the afternoon I did some work and helped clean the roof of the house with my siblings. Later I explained what a candy cane was and why we use it on Christmas. The night before I opened gifts from America and gave gifts to my host family. As Erin said,” It’s been an interesting Christmas.” No formal recognition, nothing to really mark that it’s a holiday for us. We worked and treated it like any other day, because that’s really what it was. All in all it made for an interesting day and one that made me think of really what is Christmas. How was your Christmas? Anything exciting for you? Sorry this is short. I hope to send a longer blog and one with pictures in January. Until later… Jakshi Jangly Jill!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where Is Santa Claus


I looked at the calendar yesterday and was shocked to see that it’s less than two weeks before Christmas. I’ve been so busy working on our Christmas party and on other work projects that I didn’t even realize it. However, I think it’s more than just work that caused me not to realize it is the holiday season… it’s the lack of holiday reminders.

In the states during this time of the year there’s Christmas everywhere. In music, television, stores, everywhere. That isn’t the case here. There’s no constant commercialism. We don’t have stores here so there’s no Christmas reminders. No singing Santa Clauses, no malls with children lined up for hours waiting to get a picture with Santa. No constant run of Christmas music or Christmas trees, ornaments or children screaming for presents. It’s a different time of year.

It’s weird in the sense it’s like Christmas doesn’t exist here. I will celebrate it with my host family here and with the other volunteer, but like many other countries the new year celebration is their big holiday. They take a two weeks off and celebrate it. They go all out with patties and guesting and food. It’ll be the first time for me to have a big new year celebration. It’ll be interesting to experience it.

Many Answers


So many of you have emailed me with questions about my life here so I decided instead of answering them all individually I would answer them in a Blog because I think others might find it interesting. So I hope you all enjoy them.

1. Where does the garbage here go?
Well we don’t have dumps in most places, although in the larger cities they do have trash cans. In terms of an actual dump though like the ones that exist in the states we don’t have them here. Most of the time people burn their trash (which includes plastic, glass and everything else- which is also very harmful for the environment) or other times they just throw it away wherever they are and it’ll decompose or just lie there. There really isn’t trash collection here. It is a project we are working on here in my village though, so maybe one place will have it.

2. Are American holidays celebrated here?
No for the most part. 99% of Kyrgyz people will not celebrate the American holidays. Those that do are either Russians (and they may celebrate Christmas) or are host families of Volunteers. My family celebrates some of the American holidays (like Thanksgiving, Christmas) but for the most part they are not celebrated. One of our peace corps goals is to educate them about American culture and holidays are a great way to do that. So we always try to tell them about a holiday even if its not celebrated.

3. Do they believe in Santa Claus?
Yes. Interestingly Santa Claus is very big here and partly because scientists determined last year that for Santa Claus to supposedly be able to reach every house on Christmas Eve he would leave from Kyrgyzstan because it’s the middle of the world and would allow him access to every place. So next year has actually been declared to be the year of Santa Claus. They do not however have him out at stores and kids do not go and sit on his lap. They know he brings presents and wears a big red coat.

4. Do I cook?
Not really. I have begun to do more food preparation lately, usually around lunch, because my mom is not home then and I’m tired of just eating bread and chia. So I’ll usually make Raman then and have lately been making oatmeal in the mornings but dinners I don’t really make. Although they enjoy eating American food and so I will usually make that food with them whenever I’m inclined to make it. For the most part, though, no I do not cook.

5. How much time do I spend with my family?
That varies on the day and when I get home from work but mostly I spend about two hours every evening with them. On the weekends usually more and I’m always seeing them around and they’ll come into my room and hang out and talk, watch a movie, or whatever. I try, though, to spend at least two hours every day with them.

6. How do I wash clothes in winter?
Well winter hasn’t yet actually hit so I’m still washing them outside but twice because of rain I’ve washed them inside. I live in the big house and there is another room in that house that is a former kitchen and so I was the cloths in there. I put down a plastic tablecloth and put the buckets on there and wash my clothes. It’s actually not too bad.. What stinks is then hanging them up outside to dry because that is where it’s cold.

7. Can I shower every day?
No. Here in the village we don’t have showers. We have a banya that is fired up once a week or once every two weeks. A banya is a small house type place that has three rooms. You walk into the first room and it’s the colder room. In there you take off your clothes and walk into the steam room. In there you clean yourself by filling up with hot and cold water. There’s another room where you can sit in and relax if you want but I never do. Most Kyrgyz people are n the banya for hours but I’m usually only in there for about 30 minutes because it gets so hot. It’s heated by coal and is really warm and feels great.

That’s all for now. If you have any other questions feel free to ask.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Two Month Look Back


I’ve been at permanent site for a little over two months now. There are many things that I’ve experienced so far and at times it’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here two months. For instance two weeks ago we celebrated Halloween here and had a great time. We had costumes, games, food, music, a movie and even costume judging. It was a great time and well done by the other volunteer, Erin, and her English club. Then the following day, Saturday, we were invited to a neighboring village to partake in a Japanese holiday festival. Again we saw dancing, music was played and games were played, but they were all different and all were infused with a Japanese feel because that village has a Japanese volunteer. Again it was a lot of fun. This weekend we’re celebrating Thanksgiving with our families and Erin’s uncle. Other times I don’t do much on the weekends. It’ll usually consist of cleaning the house and doing laundry, usually watching a movie with the kids and reading.

I’ve noticed a gradual change in the weather, it’s getting colder faster, and how quickly I’ve gotten used to wearing multiple layers at a time. I haven’t yet pulled out my purple marshmallow winter coat and hope I don’t have to. Because of the cold I’m amazed at how quickly hygiene practices changes and how quickly I get used to those practices. Now it’s normal for me to wash my hair only twice a week (three times if I have a special occasion) and to only wash myself fully once a week. Socks aren’t changed daily because it’s too cold to and also because there aren’t enough warm socks for everyday of the week. Hand washing is a novelty and hand sanitizer is my best friend. Outdoor toilets are many times preferred over indoor ones but I have certain outdoor toilets that I’ll only use and will try to wait until I get to those. I’ve quickly gotten used to not having good hair days and dirty glasses and cold water to wash my face and hands in. It’s really amazing how quickly you can get used to things.

Noodles, rice, potatoes and bread are staples of my diet now and there are times when the bread gets to be too much but yet I stuff another piece in my mouth and hope it doesn’t make me fat from all the carbs I eat here. J Chia is quickly another part of my diet that I’ve learned to work around and deal with. It’s their water here and although I drink lots of water I definitely enjoy the chia while it’s cold. However, their dark tea is tasteless and requires too much sugar to make it tasty. So I’ve learned to have flavored tea green tea, or hot water whenever regular tea is served. I’ve also quickly learned what dishes are really good and which women are really good cooks. I enjoy making American dishes with my family, like making brownies from scratch (twice) and from a mix and realizing I like the scratch better. We’ve also made Kool-Aid (that was a big hit), pizza and spaghetti. Tacos have also been made from scratch. I realize I don’t mind not cooking everyday but do enjoy now whenever I do, which before I never enjoyed it. Juice is precious, and expensive, commodity but one that I’m wiling to pay for and I’ve quickly realized how much I miss pork (ham in particular) but have quickly gotten used to other types of meat (in particular sheep).

Three younger siblings have quickly become a part of my everyday routine but yet they still always challenge me and make me laugh, mad and smile at various different times. There are time when the youngest just gets on my nerves with her moods, whining and constant lack of manners or care for other. Yet, she’ll say something, do something to make me laugh and I’ll give her a hug or play an extra half hour. At other times other kids, particularly the younger ones, will get one my nerves with their constant yells of “Hello”. But they always make me smile and are so cute and so eager to just be around the American that I can’t help but let it go. Family customs have gotten used to but at times I am still amazed by them and that is great.

Work has daily challenges as well as ups and downs. The village is the same. Everyday is the same and everyday is different in so many ways. I’ve been here in site for two months and in Kyrgyzstan for about six. Sometimes the lack of power, inconsistent internet, hassle of a bazaar, no work for weeks and language can make me mad at times but for every time I’m down something within this life will get me up and that’s a great feeling; to be in a place where everyday is an adventure and never the same. Imagine what’ll happen in a year. I’m looking forward to it… are you?

Saturday, November 8, 2008



It’s been a yucky day today. Rainy and cold.. Blah! Hopefully tomorrow will be better. So the other day I had a surrealism moment. I was talking with my host father about the upcoming election in America and I had an illumination about halfway through the conversation. I was speaking in Kyrgyz (having a full, yet simple, understandable conversation) and my brain suddenly says to me, “You’re speaking in another language and it’s making sense after only studying that language for four months!“ It was an interesting moment and has lead to me realize several other things that I hadn’t really considered up until that part. So consider the following an expression of some of these illuminations.

There are days when I absolutely love everything about this country and it’s people, but there are other days when I can’t stand any of it. Everything that you do and happens to you is known throughout the entire village and people you don’t even know ask you about it. Somedays I’m totally fine with it and other days I just get so frustrated with it. Thankfully my family is pretty good about it all. Sometimes I just want to tell the countless number of kids who scream the only English word they know, “Hello!” to just shut up. There have been time when I want to just yell at my little sister to sit still and to behave (and there are many times I want to give her a spanking in hopes it would stop her temper tantrums). At times I just want to throw the countless cups of tea that I’m forced to drink back at the owner and sometimes I just wish I could have something to drink besides tea and water. I get sick of eating bread for both breakfast and lunch and wonder if these people do not see the need to have other types of food. There are time when no electricity bothers me and having to flag down a ride to the nearest city gets frustrating and many other things. At times even the aspect of a hot banya frustrates me because I know that I’m never ever really fully and completely clean. I sometimes get frustrated with their view of time and how it doesn’t really exist. Yet for each of these there are positives as well. The people are so generous and kind. They are loving and really care. The country is beautiful and the people too. This is a time for me to learn about patience and lack of control and to embrace the here and now. It’s a time to slow down and respect what nature gives and a time to truly understand hard work and hardship. Above all it’s a time for self change. It’s a time to embrace having two younger sisters, one of which will soon be entering puberty and will have someone besides her mom to talk to. It’s a chance for me to really feel enveloped and loved by an entire community, not just a few individual people and it’s a time to really test myself and see what I’m made of.

Therefore, as I’ve come to realize throughout the years there are aspects of every country and culture that I like and others I do not like. It’s a fact of life and this one is no different. Sure the language can be frustrating at times and I always feel tired because my brain is constantly in motion, and yes the amount of tea and bread is annoying, but one learns to cope, to deal, and to “embrace the chaos” as a former volunteer said. For that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Enjoy the pictures. Here's what they are:
1. a view of the village- one of the small lake areas
2. Erin and Me with our Kant host moms and new counterparts after swearing in ceremony
3. My house in the village
4.-5. various views of the village
6. Me and the oldest two kids
7. Me with the my village parents
8. Me and my counterpart in Kant
9. My host dad and his huge fish that he caught in the lake
10. My host dad and the older kids
11. My Kant mom and little brother
12. Me and Ascat in the Kant park during my last night there
13. Nurila and Cezem on the horse that visited us in the village
14. the beautiful fall trees near the school
15. A picture of the village wide party that happened at the end of September

The Trials of a Dog Bite

It finally happened. On a cool beautiful fall morning I was walking to my Kyrgyz teacher's house to finally have a lesson. I had searched high and low for a teacher and patiently tried to deal with the frustrationg thing called Kyrgyz time. Finally a date and time were made. So that Monday morning i set out for the lesson. I arrive and the gates open- which means cone on in. So I do. I walk into the house, look around, walk around the yard no one is there. I sit outside on the bench for about 10 minutes to wait. I thought maybe she was at a neighbors or somewhere else and came in the back. I walk once more into the house area, look around and see no one and turn to leave. I get around the corner when suddenly I feel something at the back of my leg. I turn around to see their dog which up to that point had been completely docile bearing fangs and right up on me. It took a few seconds for me to realize I'd just been bitten by their dog. He was vicious and I scrambled out of there as fas as possible. I sat on the bench and sexamined the wound and immediately knew I had a problem. He had broken the skin which meant a trip to PCMO for post rabies prophelaxis shots. That's what I dreaded. I didn't want to go and I didn't know how to get there.

Medical said they wanted me there right away. In a coutnry where time is slower and transportation an issue that is a lot harder than it would seem. Nevertheless I packed a bag while trying to remember what I needed and still forgetting tons and set out to tell my family. Alas, they're no where to be found and so I leave a message for them. My first lef of the trip invovles flaging down a ride to the city. That's quickly accomplished although another guy from the village comes with me and he knows I'm one the Kyrgyz volunteers. He begins to talk to me and I understand about 1/3 of what he says. Yet, the entire time I'm thinking, "Just stop talking to me." 30 minutes later we part ways and now I'm faced wit hthe task fo transport to the capital. After some negotiation and translation of Russian into Kyrgyz I head out... four hours after the initial bite. Ha!

Now suddenly I'm faced with the task of getting to the office. WIth the help of the wonderful K-15s and the bus driver I get off on the right street. I got turned around only once and 30 minutes later I find myself at the PC office having just walked through a beautiful park filled street and talking with another stressed filled volunteer. At 4:45pm I finally arrive at medical where the wound is cleaned, sterilized and treated and I'm given the first of 2 PEP shots. I then have to find the hotel and a food place on my own while it's getting dark and I'm totally sticking out like a foreigner. I find some food and wait for my marshuka. It arrive and I cram onto it and get funny looks because I'm speaking Kyrgyz and everyone thought I would speak Russian. A dozen or so more people then cram onto the bus and we continue to head out. All the while I'm trying to hold onto my bag and avoid being pickpocketed. 20-30 minutes later I get to the hotel, check in and drop onto the bed. Safe and sound.

A nice hot shower later (the one really good perk) and I'm finally able to sit down, relax and look back. What a day! So all in all a dog bit provides a few perks, an interesting story and some major additional stress.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New Link

There is a newly posted 'Friendly Places' link in the left column. It is titled 'erinluabroad' and is the blog of fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Erin. Just "click" and enjoy!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Eje" and Discrimination

10/ 16/ 08

So here in Kyrgyzstan they have a society based on age. The older you are the more respect you receive. They even have titles for it: “Eje” and “Byekay”. For instance, I call my counterparts Aral Eje and Gulmyra Eje because they are older than me. However, Erin I call Erin, not Erin Eje, because she is around the same age as me. So anyone around your age, or younger, you do not have to give the titles. Those older you do. Sounds easy enough right? Wrong. The weird part is with families and school children, at least it throws me every time. My siblings call me Dawn Eje because I’m older than them and it’s a sign of respect. That’s not too weird for me because it reminds me of “Auntie Dawn” with my nieces and nephew at home. However, the weird part is when I’m at the school and I have 17 year olds calling me Eje or Dawn Eje. It just throws me every time because it makes me think of the older women. I know it’s a sign of respect but it just throws me for a loop every time. I always do a double take whenever a young person calls me that and it’s not family. Oh well, it’s something I’ll quickly get used to and probably end up liking.

So on an entirely different note I want to talk about some discrimination Erin and I received here in country. Oftentimes in other countries Americans will encounter the rich American perspective. (Those of you who have traveled to third world countries, or anywhere in general will know what I’m talking about). Here in country they get tourists from Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Germany. These tourists usually have lots of money and so we constantly hit this attitude. We kindly explain we’re volunteers and are not getting paid and are not the rich Americans. Most people get it, well we had a driver the other day that didn’t get it. We were coming back from the city after meeting with PC doctors for flu shots. The normal price for a ride back is 30 soms. We had been trying to get a ride for about 20 minutes and so when we got a driver finally to stop he said 40 soms. Since we’d been there for a while we agreed to this price. We tried to haggle it further down but he wouldn’t go. We get in the car and proceed back to the village. A few minutes later we stop and pick up another person. We find out she’s also from our village and is in fact the lady that we see whenever we go running (we run right by her house). She gives the driver 20 soms and he accepts that. We then are upset and say that we’re all from the same village and going to the same place and since she’s paying 20 we should only have to pay 20 each. The other passenger (the Kyrgyz village lady) tries to help us and get the price down but it’s to no avail. We explain we’re volunteers and not rich Americans but he won’t go for it and charges us 40 and her 20 just because we’re not native Kyrgyz. Ugh! Even speaking the local language and having her on our side was no use. Talk about frustrating! I told my family later and they were outraged and said that was just wrong, especially since there was another person from the village in the car. Erin and I later thought the driver might not have lowered the price because he didn’t want to have to admit that two non-natives were actually right about the price and did actually know what we were talking about. It’s hard to deal with sometimes but it makes you think about those who are discriminated against in America and why it happens. It’s the first time I’ve ever been discriminated against because of my skin color. It’ll happen again, I know that, but it doesn’t make it any easier. At least now I know how it feels and can better serve those that are too affected by it. So, guys, keep your eyes and ears open and be willing to accept all.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Change in Yourself

October 10, 2008

So having been in country for around four months now there’s several changes I’ve already begun to notice within me. Firstly, hygiene and the necessity of it quickly changes and is such a subtly done change that you at first don’t even notice and then one day you wake up to realize that you haven’t had a bath in two weeks and that four days without washing your hair really is not a big deal. Also, wearing multiple layers is not a big deal by any means and that sleeping under three blankets actually feels really nice. I’ll never starve and yet sometimes I crave the weirdest things and have realized some of the stuff I eat here I’d never really eat in the States. I never ate as much ice cream in the states as I did here over the summer. I’ve gotten used to onions in my food and realized that I really miss a nice cold glass of milk. Juice is sorely missed and is expensive to buy here but yet one learns how to cope and deal with the not haves. That leads to another point. It’s absolutely how amazing the technological conveniences that are available in the states are forgotten or disregarded. Sure sometimes I think having a microwave or washing machine would be great but it’s just a brief fleeting moment. Most of the time the thoughts never even enter my mind and I just deal with not having a stove, washing machine, English tv or a microwave. Even not having running water in the house no longer causes any big shock. People don’t have it, and they deal with it in other ways. So I, too, do. The interesting thing though is just how quickly these changes occur and how oftentimes we don’t even realize it’s happening. People just showing up whenever they want to is a natural part of life here and guesting (visiting other people’s houses for food and fun) can last until all hours of the night.

Yet there are still many things I struggle with, and probably always will. The primary one, besides language and general culture, is their attitude towards work. It is so completely different from anything I’ve seen before. They all claim work is important and want to have jobs yet they never seem to be taken seriously. Their jobs are the first thing to be thrown aside and there’s always days off for something. In the states we’d never get a day off because we were tired or family was in town or because we were celebrating the 100th birthday of a famous doctor. This happens here and oftentimes they happen for no obvious reason,they may just be feeling sick that day and so won’t work. This attitude is often hard to deal with because it’s so contradictory to what we have in the states. But again I find myself starting to take it all in stride and to realize some things are the way they are.

I’ve realized that even thought it’s extremely cold at 2 in the morning the sky is absolutely beautiful and is one reason why that trip to the outhouse is bearable. I’ve realized that I really do live in the best part of Kyrgyzstan with the second largest alpine lake in world to my south and the absolutely gorgeous rolling mountains to my north and prairie/desert land in between. I’ve realized donkeys really are an interesting animal and Russian tv is just as bad as some American tv. I’ve realized I really do have two great counterparts and an awesome family. Sure there are some parts that can be frustrating and other parts that are great. I’m sure we can all say that to some extent. Look around you and see what you can learn. Until next time:

Friday, September 26, 2008

Party Time

Recently I went to a party here in the village. This party was for the 100th birthday of a famous doctor here in the country. For over five days preparations were done to make the village and surrounding area ready for the celebration. Cleaning, painting, flower planting were all done in anticipation. It was quite a site to see it all occurring, especially as I’d only been here for about three days. Work was cancelled and students didn’t have school. I don’t remember a time in America where anything like that has occurred. Talk about a different culture.

Over forty yurts were put up by people from each of the forty tribes. These tribes are the backbone of the country and people pride themselves on what tribe they originate from. Most of the people came from close by towns and villages but a few were from the far side of the lake, which meant a 4-6 hour drive. The day before the party the other volunteer and I went down to the site to see the yurts going up. It was quite a site and it was so cool to see them building them from scratch. (I’ll make a slide show eventually for all to see). I think the thing that struck me the most was that the basic foundation looked like the smallest wind would knock it down but the final product was so sturdy and strong. It was truly amazing. Also, what amazed me was the differences in each one. No two were alike and each individual yurt represented what the tribe meant. They were absolutely beautiful and I wish I had one to take home.

So when I get to the party I’m immediately set down at the place of honor next to the white beard (oldest male gentleman of the tribe) and the chong ejes (grandmothers and women with greatest respect). I didn’t understand most of them and was just overwhelmed by all that was happening. They knew I was the American staying in the family but it was still an awkward and funny situation at times. They were all honored that I was there but at the same time they didn’t really talk with me or seem to care that I was there. When they started to leave I took my cue and left as well and proceeded to view the rest of the yurts and the beautiful lake.

On the lake were many boats each having a party and celebration. One of the boats left off fireworks (in broad daylight so of course they couldn’t be seen). They were nice boats, beautiful and well kept. The lake itself is absolutely gorgeous and clean. It was cool and sandy and a nice place to be for the day. I walked around and took many pictures of people and the outside of the yurts, whenever possible. Later that afternoon I met up with other volunteers who had come to the festivities and we went to listen to some music and then to see the horse games. We saw wrestling, horse racing, horse wrestling, the Kyrgyz national game involving a sheep’s head and many others. It was cool to see them all, we’ve heard loads about them. Everyone was curious as to why we were there and those from our village took great pride in the fact that we were from their village and could speak Kyrgyz (poor Erin and Mike, they have learned Russian and were hassled as to why they don’t know Kyrgyz). Later that evening my family invited us to our family’s yurt for food and we went inside and sat with the elders of the tribe. We toasted, ate and had a good time. They were honored that we were there with them and toasted us. We did our best to toast them back and definitely enjoyed the food. The yurt was beautiful and amazing. The food was outstanding and after all day I was finally able to see inside the yurt. Yay!

Although I found myself throughout the day frustrated at times because I didn’t understand people and no matter how many times I said that they didn’t seem to understand. Also I found myself having a harder time understanding the kids than other people and I also found myself frustrated at people wanting their picture taken. I have no idea who most of these people are but they would grab me and have me take their picture, and not just them but with family, then friends, then couples, then kids.. Never ending. Overall though the music, food, yurts, and people were great. I had a good time and enjoyed myself. I learned a lot about culture and how I fit into that and fully realized how protective a village can be for the volunteer. Erin and I were definitely referred to as the Kyrgyz volunteers in the village and anyone from our village was happy to proclaim that fact.

All in all it was a long day but one that was worth it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Notices and Observations

September 14, 2008

After being in country for about two months I’ve made the following observations about myself.

1. Hygiene is one of the first aspects of yourself to change- it’s amazing how quickly one gets used to not bathing for three days (that includes the hair) and how quickly one learns to bathe with 14 oz of water.

2. Having someone else cook for you is not necessarily a bad thing, although one does quickly get tired of pasta and rice combinations

3. Tomatoes and cucumbers are the best thing at the table

4. Milk is sorely missed, as is really good cheese- milk is expensive here or very unsafe to drink for Americans and powered milk only goes so far

5. Breakfast has never been more appreciate; nor has a cup of chia latte ever tasted so good

6 snickers bars really do satisfy hunger, and taste amazingly well (I don’t really like them in the states, but they’re great here)

7. Juice is sorely missed (it’s expensive) and so I’ve quickly become a sprit drinker.. Ugh!!

8. My sweet tooth is not going to diminish while I’m here… they have more sweets than I can imagine

9. We eat ice-cream and watermelon a lot… and it gets old quickly

10. It’s amazing how quickly one learns to live without the internet, TV in English and news.

11. Eating outside is great, except the bees get really annoying

12. Studying language for four hours a day really isn’t a bad thing

13. Patience is quickly learned by being in a collectivist society but personal space is greatly horded

14. Outside showers really are not the bad… sometimes they’re even nicer

15. Outhouses are often better liked than indoor toilets… the indoor ones don’t usually work

16. Bazaars are crazy, stressful and fun places… especially ones in abandoned train cars

17. Dogs are not your friend… it’s ok to throw rocks at them… and oftentimes necessary to prevent biting

18. Kids go to school for free… which means… sometimes they just don’t go

19. Drying clothes is sorely missed…

20. Water is overrated

I could go on but I’ll leave it at that for now… once I get to permanent site I’ll provide more. Until then… enjoy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Culture Day Pictures

Kant Group (language & culture group)

Adilet (my LCF) playing the Cumus (Kyrgyz guitar)

Host Mom (Faya) and me

Shawn (fellow volunteer) and me in front of the Yurt

Adilet and I by the Yurt

Me in my Kyrgyz dress inside the Yurt

Monday, August 11, 2008

Between Cultures

August 7, 2008

So I noticed the other day that I’m starting to be between cultures. I know this is even more evident once I am placed at my permanent site- which I’ve heard from sources is a sweet and awesome job- I’m excited to see (count down two weeks !). Anyways, I was walking back from technical training the other day with some of the other volunteers and I began to realize that I’m not longer fully American, nor am I completely Kyrgyz (which I’ll never ever fully be).

What do I mean by this? Well, I’ve noticed how I’ve become more and more used to Kyrgyz everyday life. I’m becoming more used to the dinner rituals and gender roles. I’ve been to bazaar (haven’t yet bought anything) but understand and see what is both good and bad about them. On that same note, I’ve realized how much I’m beginning not to like the regular grocery stores or other forms of commercialization. Yet there are a few times when it would be nice to run to a store, particularly a book store, and get anything. I think, though, the biggest area I’m speaking of is how less American behavior I’m beginning to show. I have noticed more just how we as Americans really do stand out in crowds and draw attention to ourselves. We are loud, cheerful, travel in groups, and sometimes are not considerate of the host country’s culture. We naturally draw attention to ourselves, which I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’ve also noticed how much of a complaining and action now people we are. There is much complaining about various things going on within the volunteer community and I don’t really understand it. Sure, some if it can be an inconvenience but it’s not hard by any means and shouldn’t be treated as this difficult thing to do. It’s this area that has made me see really how we are a people that likes answers now and will try to do what we can to get them.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing… many of it is what makes us Americans and the smiles that we usually give when meeting people are often what is most remembered. It is interesting though, trying to dispel the myths they have of Americans here (mostly come about by TV and magazines) while at the same time not trying to be a typical American either. It’s a rather slippery slope to be on, but one I hope to be able to walk well these next few years.

So think about your culture… what do you portray and what do others see about you? What would you like to show about yourself and your culture?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Hardest Working Women in the World

July 18th:

So here in Kyrgyzstan my host family has five children total, but only one of them currently lives at home. It’s the youngest daughter and she is twelve years old. However, she is unlike any 12 year that I’ve met. For instance she is 100% capable of running the entire household. She can clean it from top to bottom, fix all meals, wash, iron, sew, etc… all at 12! Now granted she’s had three older sisters around while she was growing up but it’s also a representation of the gender roles found here. This country is considered a patriarchal society which means the male is considered the head of the house. That’s definitely seen here… with the man doing the outside work and the woman doing all the household chores… yet, when one really looks at the family dynamics it’s the woman that runs the house. Therefore, if the mother is not happy then no one is. It’s a very interesting and illuminating site to see. In America we consider it rude if the man doesn’t help and we no longer expect women to do all the house work… here it’s not considered rude and almost considered taboo if the man does try to help. Now that’s not to say the women are only stuck in the house… on the contrary many of them have jobs too, and many of them have really good jobs… doctors, teachers, etc. Yet, they are still expected to come home and care for the kids, prepare meals, do laundry, etc and more, importantly, to pass that knowledge onto their daughters.

The girls here marry young… sometimes as early as 17. I can understand why. There are few resources for them and their entire lives, from a very early age, is one where they are taught how to care for a household.. So why not marry young? It’s a challenging question and one we as volunteers often face about why as 20 something’s, and sometimes older, we are not married and taking care of a household. I’ve never really been exposed to this type of culture before but do know that only until recently (the 20th century) America had similar views. Maybe one day too a similar revolution may happen here. The women seem happy, I am no judge, and my host sister amazes me by how much she is capable of doing, while at the same time I wonder if she misses out on other parts of life.
While she was learning how to sew, cook and clean, I had the chance to try sports, learn new things, and explore new places. So I wonder if she’ll have the same chance and what she’ll think of her life when she gets older. There’s so much more to life and I hope I’m able to show a small part of that.

No matter what happens, she will forever remain amazing to me and all the women here are truly the hardest working women I’ve ever seen. Props to them!

Until next time…

Jakshi Kal!

Things I've done during my first week in Kyrgyzstan:

July 13, 2008

Taken a shower at a Soviet Union hotel and really found out it’s a hose attached to the bathtub faucets that you spray around yourself

Taken two summer showers (water from a large barrel descends over you while you shower in the woods)

Used outhouses: not fun, aim improves; squatting makes your legs go to sleep

Ridden a martshuka and taxi and survived both

Ripped by big red bag… tear tear, sad times

Termed my floor at the hotel the shining because of fallen plaster… large holes and mysterious dark open doors that lead to nowhere

Seen inside a yurt… it’s beautiful

Drunk gallons of tea already

That’s just a few things… I’ll detail more.

Items to send quickly:
- just don’t everyone send me them… please talk to one another… I don’t need tons of them

Pack of cds to burn pictures
Café latte mix
LOST Season 3 (please pack carefully so it doesn’t get lost… its not for me but for the other volunteers)
Taeboo workout DVD (there’s a great beginner’s one on Amazon)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Soviet Hotel…it’s still standing

We arrived at the Soviet Hotel in Bishkek this morning and I can definitely say it’s seen better days. For two nights we will be staying here while we slowly get over jet lag, begin basic health, safety and language training. Also, we’ll meet the in country staff, work with current volunteers and finally (July 9th) we will meet our host family in a fun event called “Matching.” I already know my site for training because it was put onto sheets without staff realizing it. Oops.. It happens… anyway… it should be a good site. Onto the hotel…

So the hotel has beautiful grounds, a fully restored Kyrgyz turk (nomadic tent) and nice large grounds. The scenery here is beautiful… mountains, lakes, trees, etc. It’s all absolutely gorgeous. I saw the sunrise this morning… for the first time in years… granted it comes up much earlier here.

So the hotel…
It has eight floors with various different sizes of rooms. My floor… number 4... Is not in the best shape. It has no carpet in certain areas, plaster out of walls, walls falling down, wires showing and darkened hallways. The rooms are not too bad for what you’re paying. Two small Asian beds, complete with pillow. It has a patio door, no screen, and no air… so we’re all a little warm currently. It has a small tv (it doesn’t work) and a dresser and wardrobe closet. The bathroom has no shower, except for the Asian variety- sitting down in a tub while using a hose. It has a toilet and a budae- but it doesn’t work either. The water leaks continually from the faucet to help keep the pipes from freezing. The room makes me smile and is definitely part of the whole PC experience.

The facilitators here have been great. They have all worked so incredibly hard and continually do so much behind the screens. I met my language teacher today… and was somewhat sad that I am not learning Russian… but there is still hope. In a few days, I will be beginning that intensive portion while learning the other concepts as well. The conference room in the hotel is nice… especially for this area and the food has been great. There is no internet, obviously, but that’s ok. All in all this hotel would have been amazing in its hay day but has slowly fallen to ruin and despair and is a sign of what could have been.

So until the next time… enjoy time in America!

(July 7th)

The Never Ending Plane Ride....

So early this morning we arrived at Manasas International Airport here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Yay! It only took us two days and over 30 hours to arrive and it was not without headaches. First on the way to the airport we, as group leaders, were in charge of making sure everyone got onto the bus, all luggage was loaded and everyone was accounted for. My group did this with amazing ability but sadly most of the groups had problems, causing us, as leaders, to have to drag people out of bed, find missing leaders and track down lost luggage left in the hotel. However, off we went… an hour later than planned. Then when we had problems checking our bags all the way to Bishkek. They were only wanting to check them through to Istanbul, where we were to change carriers. After much persistence, this could be corrected. Sadly, though, this happened too late for some people and they had to recheck bags once in Istanbul.

Istanbul was our layover and I decided not to go out to the city since I’ve visited once before and saw everything. Therefore, I hung around during our layover (7 hours), studied some language, talked and ate. Then we headed onto the plane to Biskek and away we went. The ride was fine until about 10 minutes out of the airport. We then hit major turbulence. This turbulence reminded me of LOST and at one point I wasn’t sure if I had landed or was going to crash. Thankfully, it’s due to the mountains in the country and so because of the way the air flows off the mountains and not because we were actually going to crash… although I did have my whole island scenario and routine ready. So another five and half hours later we arrived from Istanbul into Bishkek where Peace Corps staff was able to graciously receive us into their knowledgeable arms.

(July 7th)

Friday, July 4, 2008

In transit...

Staging is over... bags are packed... I've suddenly become a group leader (didn't see that one coming) and now I'm heading out, after hopefully one final good night sleep and a hot American shower.... to Kyrgyzstan!!!

So for now... Paka and Kosh Kaling.

I'll talk to you all soon.

Philadelphia Staging Update

Day Two of staging here in Philadelphia is half over. Yay! It's been mostly logistically and basic cross cultural training... nothing too terribly new for me. I think the main reason for staging is to meet the other volunteers and to begin familiarizing ourselves with the Peace Corps. The hotel is nice and probably will be the last hot showers and comfortable bed I see in a long time. I have a very nice roommate named Jessica. She is part of the community development group and is excited about the work. She's also only a year younger than me... so that's nice. There are three married couples in the group and one of the couples is older... probably 50ish. They are awesome and have great insight into most everything. Most of the group is in the 20s or early 30s and have many different backgrounds and experiences. Manly have recently finished undergrad and I think I'm one of the few with a master's in public health.. I haven't yet met another health worker with a master's, so we'll see how that goes. So, therefore, staging has been good so far. We have been given money for meals, although, many restaurants are not currently opened today because of the holiday. Tonight are firworks and so we're all trying to find a place close to the hotel to view them. We don't want to go down to the riverfront because we have to get up early tomorrow. (We check out at 7am- talk about early!).

My trip to staging was very eventful. My trip from St. Louis to Pittsburgh was fine, although we got in a few minutes late and I only had 15 minutes to get off the plane and onto the next one before it's supposed departure. However, I ended up having to wait an hour and half in Pittsburgh because the plane was delayed. I was supposed to arrive at noon for registration and sadly didn't even land until 1:30. Registration was open until 3 and by the time I got my luggage, waited for a shuttle van (which I had to wait 40 mns for) and got changed I was the last one to register... walked in around 2:45pm. So sadly I didn't really have time to relax or get something to eat and was exhausted. But I made it and it all worked out... that's all just part of the Peace Corps experience.

Tomorrow we head off to Kyrgyzstan. We leave the hotel at 7am and depart JFK around 4pm. Then we fly to Istanbul, Turkey, where we have a 10 hour layover. After that it's onto Kyrgyzstan.. yay! We will be in the hotel at the captial, Bishkek, for three days while we undergo some more orientation then finally after those 3 days we'll meet our families and begin PST (Pre-Service Training). So it should be an exciting next few days. I also found out I'm not the only one with a big bag and lots of luggage... there's some people, girls especially, that have lots more.. and many seemed impressed that I was able to really only have one bag... the smaller one can fit inside the bigger one if needed. Also there's a rumor floating around that the airline allows 75 pounds for baggage.. so we'll see how it goes.

It may be a while before I can speak to you all again... I've been told internet access is very limited around training. So until then begin the letters and I'll speak to you all soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Off to Kyrgyzstan

Tomorrow I head off to Philadelphia for a few days of Peace Corps training before I go in country. Once in Kyrgyzstan I will have about 12 weeks worth of language, culture, safety and technical training. This training occurs six days a week for about 8 hours a day... talk about exhausting. Plus we're living with a host family, so we're dealing with culture shock, living in a new society and being immediately thrust into a family dynamic. I've been told PST (Pre-Service Training) is the toughest part of the program... I'll let you know.

But before I get there let me share about my last few weeks here in America. They were done visiting family and friends. I saw my father and sister before I left the East Coast. They are all doing well and the visit was nice. I saw the nieces and nephew as well.. which was good since I won't be seeing them for another two years. They're growing and learning and being awesome kids. Soon all three will be bigger than me... ha!

After the east coast visits with family and friends I headed back to the St. Louis area. Back there resides my mother, step-father and one of my best friends. I stayed the weekend with Debbi, the friend, and we went to an animal preservation, to the drive-in and had a general good time. She will definitely be missed. I spend time with Susan, an amazing family friend. We ran errands, got some yarn for a beautiful new scarf and got some new books for my trip. Yay! I always have a nice time with her and once again did.

The week was also spent, off and on, with my mom and her husband. We all had a nice enjoyable time going out to dinner, staying at home, packing, cleaning up the place, organizing, etc. The times were sweet, nice and enjoyable. I know we all had a good time and will treasure the moments.

So all in all... craziness in coming but a nice happy few weeks just occured... all of which will be loved and remembered.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ode to DC

Today was my last day of work at the EPA here in Washington DC. I will soon be leaving to visit family in Virgina and back in St. Louis before I head out permantely with the Peace Corps. So I thought I'd offer some reflections regarding my one year public health fellowship.

I enjoy this area immensely. The people, the location, the culture is awesome and perfect for me. It provides me with easy access to other major cities: New York, Philadelphia, Boston for example. Yet, I'm also close to the beauty of the south: North Carolina, Raliegh/Durham, West Virginia, and am even close to beaches: Ocean City. DC is a place thriving with various cultures and people from all over the world. I've seen thousands of tourists during all kinds of weather viewing the great sites within this city. I've been able to experience the world class museums that are part of the amazing Smithsonian Institutue and have seen almost every kind of exhibit imaginable. I've hiked throughout this city, explored various aspects and neighborhoods and yet have still missed so much. I've learned a subway system so completely I don't even have to look at a map to tell you the line it's on or which direction to go. My work area is known to me like the back of my hand and walk along the streets automatically. The architecture, sites, sounds are all awesome and will be thoroughly missed.

My apartment itself was great, although a little further out then orignially planned, especially from the metro station. It was a studio, although technically considered an extended studio. It was amazingly lit with a balcony window and even had a small bedroom alcove so that the bed area was not immediately noticed when entering the apartment. It had a full kitchen and bath, complete with a dishwasher- which I've never had before. Central air and heat, pool and fitness room access, security guards, front and back key entry and floor to ceiling closets. It was a truly an amazing place. I really liked it, and it was right next door to a park and so I'd often hike through the trails. The deer, foxes, squirrels, and other neighborhood park animals will be missed. Speaking of animals I saw the world famous panda bears at the National Zoo- very cute and sweet.

My job, though, will not be missed, nor the endless amounts of bureracracy that is rampant in Washington. My job definitely did not turn out as expected and did not need someone with a Master's in Environmental Public Health. It had frustrations, times of enjoyment and lots of reading... but overall not anything that I want to do forever. It gave me a chance to see federal work and how committees, reports, and guidelines are formed. I have come to realize why it does actually take so long for change to occur and how tedious it can all be. My mentor was great and he taught me alot and allowed me to see certain sides of government. I learned more about ethics, and especially about human research ethics and know that this will be important in the future. I've expanded my knowledge regarding environmental awareness and project reviews, but althogether know it's not my future.

All in all, the place has been great for me, the job, not so much. Now it's time to visit family and friends before beginning the next stage of my life.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Separation starting

So this weekend has been an interesting one in terms of Peace Corps preparation. I have been studying the language, although have been getting extremely frustrated with Rosetta stone and the speaking section. My newest preparations were entirely unexpected and not planned and thusly, I think, are all the more valuable.

The first incidence involves modern human comforts: electricity. Over the last week the East coast was first hit by a wave of poweful storms then a round of extremely high heat- high 90s. Being naturally from the Midwest, St. Louis in particular, we are used to heat and humidity. However, the heat here came out of nowhere fast and secondly there is currently no real way to cool myself in my apartment. Why is this you may ask? Well because my air is not currently working because it runs on electricity. The previous storms that rolled through knocked out power to multiple places and have thusly affected me as well. The weird part of all this is that I have actual power- lights, but no cool air. or hot water at times. Others in my apartment complex don't even have lights... and sometimes I'll have half my outlets that work and the other half doesn't... so who knows. So basically since Friday afternoon I have been without cool air and intermitent hot water. Ironically I find it humorous because I'll be facing a very similar situation in Kyrgyzstan, although I believe they don't have air at all. So it's been a nice way to see how well I'll survive and for the most part I've been okay. The problem is that I am currently packing to move which makes everything seem hotter. Again, kinda funny. I may even do the whole Peace Corps experience and boil water for a nice warm bath.. then again probably not.

The second situation involved the Baltimore Aquarium that I went to on Saturday. Two wonderful girls from church took me there as a sort of farewell trip. We had a great time and I loved seeing all the different types of organisms found within the ocean- it's such an amazing place and so untaped and hardly studied... a science geek like me loved it. Anyways, we go to the gift shop and here's this souvenior shop filled from top to bottom with stuff. Most of it is just stupid nonsense stuff that is found in any specialized souvenior shop and I suddenly just became so disgusted and overwhelmed by this blatant display of consumerism and materialism that is so rampant in our society. I walked through rows of objects wondering why anyone would want to buy them, the incredible waste of production used to create these items and I left the store fairly soon. I watched people buying multiple gifts and found myself thinking, "Are the people your giving this to really going to care?" Probably not... they'll probably just throw it away at some time in the near future. Also does buying a souvenior make the trip any more memorable... on the contrary, depending on the gift.. no. Maybe it's just my brain beginning the necessary steps of culture separation or maybe it's a look into the future- a vision of what it's going to be like those first few months when I return. All I know was that it was definitely a unexpected place for a lesson.

Therefore, although this weekend has been harder than some weekends... it has all been great preparation for what's to come. The great thing is it hasn't really bothered me that much... definitely not as much as some tenants. The view of consumerism is something, I know, will grow and change and I may always view it differently. Human comforts are just that... comforts... and some of them can be lived without. Until next time...

Thursday, June 5, 2008


So lately I've found myself beginning to mix several languages. I took German for four years in high school and was an exchange student. Some of it I remember and most of it, sadly, not; however, at times, while studying another language words, phrases, structures, grammer rules will all pop up. Sometimes my very limited Spanish will creep in. So, what have I been studying hat has caused language chaos: Russian and Kyrgyz, yep two at once.

Since I'm going to Kyrgyzstan with the Peace Corps I figured it would be helpful to start learning some of the language, especially since both languages use the Cyrillic alphabet, which is very different from ours... the Latin alphabet. (Praise- I have successfully mastered the alphabet and know what the sounds are, pronunciation, symbols, and cursive derivatives- which my Russian tutor threw on me the very first meeting... ugh!). Since Kyrgyzstan is a former USSR republic Russian is the underlying language, although Kyrgyz is the official language. This is causing some confusion because, although Kyrgyz adds three other letters, I don't understand the difference. I assumed Kyrgyz was just like another dialect of Russian but it's not quite that. They have their own words for hi... Salam whereas in Russian its Privet (all words are written in English pronuciation.. not actual Cyrillic). They say good morning, and how are you differently so sometimes I wonder what the difference is and will I notice.

I've also noticed something else happening, which I understand is quite common... I've been inadverently mixing the two languages. I've been told most Kyrgyz people can speak and understand both languages but the Russians may not be able to understand the Kyrgyz... again not sure why. For instance, at my Russian lesson the other day my tutor wanted me to say some introductions and I said it in Kyrgyz instead of Russian... having not yet learned the Russian phonetically yet. She smiled and said no but was wondering what it was as it sounded similar but wasn't obviously Russian. It made me wonder if I had this experience in Kyrgyzstan if I would have been understood.

I also find language learning and teaching very different from what I had with German, and even somewhat from Spanish. With German we first learned letters, numbers, colors, days of the week, basic introduction... always with grammer mixed in and vocabulary. I haven't really had that too much. Sure I've had the alphabet and introductions but neither my tutor, Rosetta Stone or Peace Corps lessons have gone through the alphabet, letters or numbers. Even grammer isn't really explained. For instance, with Rosetta stone there's a grammer section and you say the word.. see it in a sentence then put the sentence together... that's fine... but what's the rule? Do nouns go first, verbs, etc? Seeing how the sentences get put together is one thing but if I don't understand how they're built, along with endings for nouns and verbs, singular and plural, then how can I speak the sentence correctly? Rosetta Stone is good in that it shows picture with words, has you speak, read and write, full immersion in other words... but I feel like they just jump you write into speaking, without going over basics. That's the same thing with the Peace Corps lessons. They don't cover the letters, numbers, grammer rules, etc. They just immediately jump in with phrases. How am I expected to speak correctly if I'm not taught how?

I know this is all preparatory work, that I get 10 weeks of in country training, where hopefully, this stuff is covered, but if not then I'm going to be so confused. I need to know how stuff is built, how it works, in order to properly understand. Maybe I'm just used to learning language the way I did with German or maybe I just don't understand how languages are supposed to be taught but teaching without grammer, without basic pronunciation skills, doesn't seem right to me. Oh well, I'll keep visiting my Russian tutor, doing Russian Rosetta stone, PC Kyrgyz and Russian and making my flashcards... while all the while wondering how to say a sentence...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Japanese Temples

If you've seen my pictures you will have noticed I saw many temples in Japan. Well that's one of the many things Japan has, along with mountains, rivers, small rooms, fast trains and many people. However, not all temples are Buddhist; some are Shinto. For you see, there are two types of religion noticed throughout the rolling landscape of Japan. The very colorful temples are for Shintoism, which is actually the first and original religion of Japan. These temples are usually smaller than the Buddhist temples but are definitely more colorful. They are usually designed with the colors green, orange and sometimes purple. They are wonderful to see because they pose such a sharp contrast to the Buddhist temples. The Buddhist temples, on the other hand, are more minimalistic- corresponding to their minimalist beliefs. They are simply designed wooden structures with very little color. However, the wood has all been exquistely carved with various form of kanji, katakana or other characters. Each temple has a beautiful worship room and this is the room where the statue of Buddha resides, and the only room that may show some color along with exquiste decoration. It's never done over the top but appears just right.

So what kind of temples did I see? Well I saw the second largest wooden structure in Nara City, the second largest Buddha, the only female Buddha and the skinnest Buddha. I also saw the oldest temple in Asuka and many five tiered pagodas (another common symbol around the temples). I saw the smallest scaled five tier pagoda (it was so cute) and also the craziest looking pagoda ever. I saw derelict looking temples and newly renovated ones... and even a golden temple.. yep golden... that one was a shocker. But by far, my favorite is the pagoda that has been affectionaly labeled as the fiesta pagoda (seen to the left).

I like this one for several reasons. Firstly, I saw it all by myself on my very last day in Japan. I went there during my layover in Tokyo and successfully managed the trains and purchasing my tickets to get there. Well I walked through this quaint little Japanese town on my way to the temple. I see other shops and food places and other tourists out enjoying the place. It warmed my heart. Secondly I really like this one because it's such a contrast to anything else seen. It just graps you and doesn't let go. I had seen other temples on my way up to this one (I had several levels to scale to reach thevery top temple- another common theme in Japan) and boom... here's this three story pagoda. I stopped dead in my tracks and just couldn't believe that I was seeing something this colorful and beautiful. Finally I like this pagoda because it is only three stories. Most pagodas are five and this one is definitely not. I don't know if it's because it was so exquite that they couldn't afford to do another
two tiers, but I'm sure it's symbolic of something... if only I had been able to understand the Japanese. Also, another great aspect to this pagoda was how it made all the other temples and shrines more colorful. Even the simply designed Buddhist temples had a little more color to them. It definitely was a place I very much enjoyed and quickly became a favorite.

So yes, you will see many temples throughout Japan, they're as common as the churches here in the Bible belt but each one has something special... find it and cherish it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Peace Corps Update

Many of you know that I'm going into the Peace Corps. Woohoo! I live soon be leaving for the country of Kyrgyzstan (or The Kyrgyz Republic). It's a small mountainous country with lots of lakes, rivers and mountains in the north. The south seems to have fewer moutains, warmer and dustier. Both Kyrgyz (the official language) and Russian are spoken, though most people seem to speak Kyrgyz, however, both are understood.

I will be leaving July 3, 2008 for two days of orientation in Philadelphia. Then I fly out and start pre-service training on July 8,2008. Come September, if all goes well, I should be in my official site for the next two years. I don't yet know where that will be (I find out towards the end of PST). I'll be staying with a host family for the first six months and then will have the opportunity to decide if I want to stay with them or live on my own. Volunteers have done both, though the majority seems to stay with the family.

I'm officially labeled a health promotion specialist because I have extensive health experience. It seems like I'll be working with other organizations and groups throughtout my local area to help determine health needs, work on ways to promote changes and ascertain the best way to achieve change. I'm going into a relatively undefined field, which will pose both challenges and rewards. It also looks like I may be teaching some health workers as well along with teaching English (every Volunteer does this... no matter what the official title is).

Some of you I'm sure may want to help me prepare for the trip. If so, great. I've posted a list of items that I would like to get, some obviously are needed more than others and by no means do I need to get all of this. However, I do ask that if you are planning on getting anything to please let me know so I can provide you with the proper place to send it and also so I can take the item off the list. If you don't want to buy anything specifically but still want to help then money works great too and that can be sent directly to me. If you don't want to get anything at all then that's totally fine to... I'm not expecting anything from anyone. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

Well that's the update... enjoy learning about Kyrgyzstan!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Japan Day One

Thus begins the first section of the recording of my latest adventure: my vacation in Japan... woohoo! This post will cover my initial departure to that amazing country as well as cover my first "official"day- i.e. Day One... so enjoy.

Thursday morning (very early morning, mind you) my good friend Sarah dropped me off at Dulles International Airport where I then began my journey to Japan. Five hours later I departed in San Francisco to catch my international flight to Osaka. Well, anyone who's travelled internationally knows that usually the food is of ok quality, sleep is often hard to acquire and they are usually late. I didn't have any of this (except that the movie selection was a little lackluster- I saw the Golden Compass way too many times). My flight attendents were awesome, the food was good, and the people around me great. However, the most astonishing thing is that my flight was actually 45 minutes early, yep- early. Then it only took me about 10 minutes to get through quarantine, immigration and customs, weird huh?

Unfortunately because we were so early my pickup person was not there to acquire me. She arrived about 15 minutes after I would have gotten in. This person, named Harumi, is awesome. She is a friend of Nate's who is kinda like a mother/older sister to him. Due to a school conflict Nate was not able to pick me up so she kindly offered her services. However, Harumi felt so bad about being late, eventhough it wasn't her fault because the flight was early. I tried to convince her that is was fine (she speaks English fairly well) but there's only so much consolation that can be done. However, my waiting time was not in vain as I met another American waiting for her daughter to pick her up. This lady's daughter is in the same program as Nate and so she, too, had to wait for her daughter to get off work. So I had someone to talk too, yay!

Harumi then drove me to Nate's place. She wasn't alone though.... I got to meet three other amazing Japanese ladies. They didn't nearly speak as much English as Harumi but they were still sweet, joyous, respectful and enjoyable no the less. We all had a good time, and I didn't have jet lag so was actually functioning, which was another good sign. I was driven through many towns and gradually began making our way into the countryside, and boy was it beautiful. I immediately knew I was going to enjoy this place. A little while later I was dropped off at Nate's apartment and gave a hug to my friend whom I hadn't seen in three years! It was a nice moment that culminated with an nice relaxing evening before heading out for the next day. So a great trip out, followed by great company and ending with a successfully relaxing night. On to the party!

Day One: was called my "jet laggy day", although I really didn't experience much jet lag- thank goodness. This was one of our lighter days (for they were all pretty jammed packed). It started off with a tour of Nate's town (Schimochi-cho). Sounds simple right, wrong. There were a few things that I vaguely knew regarding Japan that came into full effect here. First Japan is a very mountainous country, and although I'm in good shape, I wasn't fully prepared to begin walking continous up the mountains. Talk about being out of breath quickly and feeling stupid too. Nate's just walking along breathing totally fine and here I am huffing and puffing, looking back it's kinda funny actually. The second thing I forgot was that Japanese people walk and drive on the left. So I immediately go to walk on the right and Nate very kindly states that if I don't want to die I had better walk on the left. Ha, nice.

We walk thorughout the town and he shows me his apartment building, grocery store, local waterfall, river, temple and school where he works. We take a tour of the school and are greeted by the chorus club practicing. The teacher invites us in and they begin to sing for us! I have no idea what they're singing but they sound absolutely amazing. We then proceed up to the city cemetary which was absolutely beautiful, old, and ancient. It was a photographic gem, and I enjoyed snapping many pictures. We then headed off to the train station to meet his friends that were going with us to the Buddhist mask parade that we were attending. So that day I got my first taste of the Japanese rail system. Talk about on time trains and comfort. They were so much better than any of the trains I've ever ridden in the states. They were nice.

Near the town Kashihada we met up with another JET named Doc. He is teaching English at the high school in the area and was nice to talk with. He took us to this noodle place where I used chopsticks for the first time. Boy was it difficult and a mess but I managed to eat all my oudon... it just took a while... but was really good. Then we headed off to the parade and met up with one more friend. Her name is Eriko and is Japanese. She is a teacher as well, although not an English teacher. Eriko is a sweetheart and very patient with all of us regarding language problems (she speaks very little English but was amazingly patient with Nate and his Japanese).

The Buddhist mask parade was awesome. It consisted of 25 different masks being worn by people dressed up in these intriciate and gorgeously designed outfits. I don't really know anything about Buddhism so didn't fully understand what was happening but I still enjoyed it none the less. The adults and children involved were elaborately dressed and very reverent about what they were doing and one felt awed by their devotion. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Afterwards we all went and got icecream; I tried the famous green tea flavor and was pleasantly surprised by it. Then the four of us sat around on a park bench and talked for awhile and gradually began to head home. It was the nice end to a rather enjoyable first day. Stay tuned... additional days to come.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Vacation Time

Hey all I'm heading off to Japan for a week to visit one of my best friends that I haven't seen in almost three years. Yay!! So I'll be thinking of you all while I'm seeing a tea ceremony, eating Japanese and taking a bike tour. Don't worry you'll be in my thoughts during train rides, airports and restaurants. Stay tuned for pictures and just be glad you don't have to deal with a 13 hour time difference. Ha!

Talk to you all soon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It's springtime here and that means several things: tourists and cherry blossoms. Washington DC is home to cherry blossoms and is one of the most amazing and beautiful things about this area. I, naively, only thought these beautiful trees existed around the tidal basin, home to the Jefferson Memorial. However, that is not true for I even have cherry blossoms at my apartment complex, woohoo! I've since noticed them scattered all over the city and in Maryland, even a few places in northern Virginia. They really are a remarkable tree. Also, DC has a large cherry blossom festival that runs for three weeks. There's kite flying on the national mall, photography tours, bands, exhibits and even a parade. Yep, parades! Also, for the first time ever, there's going to be a big Japanese festival this weekend. Ironically, though, whenever I've wanted to come down for an activity on a weekend the weather has been awful, as it has been for most of the festival. So sadly, this year has not been one of the more pleasant festival times... alas, though, today is a beautiful day and so after work I'll be trudging down with my tennis shoes and camera to snap some beautiful cherry blossom pictures.

Spring also means a kick start to the tourist season and end of the year field trips. Over the growing weeks I've seen more and more school groups- you can always recognize them by their name tags, matching shirts, and haggard looking chaperones. Lines have been forming to view the Constituion and my work building has been overflowed by the number of people hitting the food court. It's just the start... wait until summer, it gets even worse. Tourist mobiles have been polished and taken out again. People with cameras, maps, and quizzical looks are seen on every conrner and I've found myself thinking, I was there last year. Now I don't even need to look at a street sign to know where I'm at or how to get there. Horizontal lettered streets crossing with vertical numbered streets that are intersected with state named diagonal streets no longer confuse me. I laugh at them. Even treacherous circles... i.e. Dupont Circle, are no matter. Ha!

This is a time to breath fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, when it's available, and rewaken yourself as the world is reawakening.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Human Dignity, Part 1

Recently I attended the President's Council of Bioethics and on the second day the council members were discussing a very interesting and thought provoking topic: human dignity, and in particular the ethics surrounding this issue. Religious beliefs were touched upon (whether they were Catholic or Protestant), normative and descriptive ethical theories were used to support claims and the naturalistic view of human domination were all expressed. Honestly, half the time I wasn't sure what they were speaking about but was none the less drawn into my own thoughts for this topic.

However, unlike previous posts I will not currently delve into those thoughts. Instead I welcome your feedback, your thoughts. Here are a few questions to ponder:

- What is human dignity, can it even be defined?
- Who has the authority to claim what is dignifed and what is not?
- Does dignity apply only to the physical aspect or can dignity be applied to other aspects of that person (i.e their air, manner of walking, etc)?
- Does dignity exist outside of humans?
- Are beauty and dignity the same concept and/or intertwined?

Please feel free to address more than these questions or none at all... I'm just curious to hear your views.

Until next time...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is now the time for another revolution?

"Ideas only grow when the environment is ready" is a quote I heard the other day from someone who had made significant impacts in public health. This got me thinking about what that meant and how that applied to my life. I recently come to realize that my generation, those of my age or similar, are the ones who have to change the current course of the world. We are those people who will be stepping into the shoes of the older folks as they leave for retirement. It is in our hands to fix the problems of this world, such as healthcare, the environment and social security, and it falls on our shoulders to pave a path for the younger ones. Basically, we have been asked to save the world.

Yet, no matter how hard we would like to, no matter how many ideas, thoughts or beliefs we have nothing will happen until the atmosphere we are currently living in changes. Until the world, governments and people become ready for new things then nothing can change. It doesn't matter how many protest marches offer or how many petitions get signed. What matters is having the environment to produce that change. Without that nothing will really happen.

That's one of the reasons why I think the 60's became such a time for worldwide revolution... not just in the United States but everywhere. People were willing to open up their minds, to listen to other ideas, beliefs and thoughts and allowed the status quo to be changed. This movement forever changed our world as we know it. It led to later revolutions in other countries, broadening of our ideologies and helped pave the way into the new millenia. Lots of change occured, both good and bad, but a willingness for change was established... and that, my friends, is the key. For no matter how much you want to affect change, no matter how hard you work to influence other's lives... it ultimately boils down to the environment you are faced with.

So, folks, look around. What do you see? Do you see a society ready to begin a new revolution? Do you see young ideological adults ready to be the tip of the sword and lead the world into a new time of change? Or is it still a world stuck in the past, one too tunnel visioned to accept change?

No matter where you are, I challenge you to look at your ideas and see how they can grow. For only then can a revolution happen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New York Part III

Broadway!! That's right folks we're went to Broadway and saw the Lion King. I mentioned in my first post that we had gotten really great seats and I can't impress how awesome they truly were for our budget. Sure we were on the top level but not in the very back. We were exactly in the middle with no heads bothering us. It was amazing and the show rocked. So where to begin...

It grabs you from the very beginning and never lets you go. You're hooked from the first African musical note. It's based on the movie, and they do a great job of keeping all the scences in there while still adding a few to enhance it. The costumes were great. Having people dress up as lions, and hyennas, and cats is often difficult to do and can look foolish. Not these folks. They pulled it off and made you wanting more. The two children deserve props too. They acted and sang wonderfully and really made you feel for the characters. The music too grabbed and never was cheezy or over the top. But what really made this show was the roots displayed. The movie is based in the African savannah and the musical keeps it. Jimbays and other african drums were a core piece of the orchestra. Tribal dancing was performed in beautiful increments and splendor and you really felt the African roots, the heartache, the life, the joys emitinating. I know my friends who have been to Africa would love it. It truly was remarkable.

After the LK (Lion King) we saw Times Square at night. We had seen it before during the day and I got a few, well timed shots of the advertisment for my favorite tv show in the world... LOST. However, I soon came to realize that the best way to view Times Square is at night. It's all lit up in a way I've never seen before. You're surrounded on all sides by neon blinking lights. These lights light up signs for all the broadway shows along with buildings, advertisments, and anything else you can imagine. I also finally understood that Times Square is divided into two sides, the streets split it. I never got that from tv. In order to fully grasp the design of the square you have to do a complete circle, which I did. There were lights everywhere and noises and people and really showed me that this city does not ever truly sleep. Street vendors wer out, tours were taking place and life was seen. It was a great time, until we saw the temperature and realized it was a freezing good time.

So we decided to head back to the hotel, a little earlier than planned up still definitely necessary due to the coldness. However, on the way back we saw Radio City Music Hall. This is home of the famous rockettes, and although we couldn't go inside I was still able to see the building where it all goes down. Lion King, Times Square and the Rockettes, what a nice way to end a Sunday.

Wait... there's more. Monday rolled around and we were leaving that night to head back to DC so we decided to visit one more place... Chinatown. For some reason I was under the delusional idea that somewhere in Chinatown there was this golden archway and a famous dragon hotel, or something. Sadly, we never found it, if it even exists. We did see some of Chinatown which is just an area filled with asian shops, restaurants and culture. It is definitely in more of the residential heart of NY and was nice to see that side to the big apple. Granted it still holds lots of tourists but the effect is still not quite the same. It's more welcoming, friendly and enchanting. Vendors there come at you from all sides asking you if you want handbags, or jewelry or shoes. (No, we didn't buy anything, but it made me smile all the same). So eventhough there's no golden archway that I found, nor fish market, which we asked direcitons for, it's still a great place to visit.

So after three days of trecking all over lower Manhattan we sat in a coffeeshop for a few hours trying to get warm and awaiting our bus ride home. It was a great trip and one I'll gladly do again.

New York Part II

So after a rather longer delay than I had initially planned here's the second part of my New York trip. Recap: part one talked about how inexpensively we got to New York. Now you'll get to hear all about it.

We arrived on Manhattan island at the Penn Station subway stop, so around 34th street, which is in heart of the hustle and bustle of New York. It is surrounded by shops, tourist places, restaurants, billboards, and neon blinking lights. So we hop off and begin our trek to the hotel. We decided to walk because it's a good way to view the city and view it we did. Not only did we realize our hotel was in a prime spot, near all the major sites of Manhattan while being in a residential sector, this entire area was primed. I walked past huge buildings all with different types of architecure. Some had lots of levels and some were mostly residental. Most of them contained some sort of shop on the bottom, or bank, or food place. You could see bits of the old city mixed in with the new. Commericalation mixed in with serenity. I soaked it all in.

After this initial stroll we headed down to see the Statue of Liberty, or as Sarah so fondly calls her, "the lady with the torch." We had decided earlier that we would not visit Ellis Islang because it costs to visit and we were trying to keep costs low. However, native New Yorkers, and those who have visited lots, know there's another good way to view the statue for free... via the Staten Island ferry. So we took the metro down to the ferry, hopped on and watched as it went past the lady with the torch. I got multiple pics of her and the city skyline itself, for you see a great view of NYC as you cross over to Staten Island. I saw many different boats out on the Hudson and we passed Ellis Island. It was nice to see the beacon of hope up close and to really realize that my ancestors passed through those same waters a long time ago.

We then headed off to the World Trade Center Memorial which is in that same general area. The subway station was in current repair so a shuttle took us to the site, totally free of charge, and showing us another view of NY that most tourists don't see. All of us know what happened on 9/11 and the city is still recovering from the devastation. Some of the buildings are still being reconstructed, work on the new tower memorial is comencing and the subway station there has been permantely closed. We walked past the bronzed memorial that is built into the firehouse that lost most of its crew and is located a few short feet from ground zero. Through a small hole in the fence tarp I was able to view ground zero, see the massive devastion that occurred and finally understand what I had seen on tv. It is still a very somber site and I believe always will.

We then walked the streets some more and ate and began to see the city at night. We walked up fifth avenue, the world renowned shopping district, past the largest Macy's in the world, you know... home of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Saw Times Square briefly all lit up (more to come on that) and up to the New York Public Library. As an avid reader I was very excited to see this place and even more so because it's the centerpiece in a great global warming movie called The Day After Tomorrow. We took some pics, saw it and realized that was getting colder by the minute, yet we had one more stop to make... Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center is home of NBC Today's show and also to the annual Christmas tree. It also houses an ice skating rink. S weo spent some time there. We saw the people ice skating , the flags waving and the NBC studio. We toured it to get warm, and enjoyed the scene. Finally we headed back to the hotel after being up since 5am. Boy were we ready for warmth and sleep.

Sunday morning came too soon but we were excited. We were seeing a broadway show, woohoo!! Typically it was also a very cold day with the highs in the 20's without windchill, which there were plenty of. Before the show we decided to head off and visit Grand Central Station, one of the oldest train stations in the country. It's still in use and in amazing shape and very beautiful. We saw the old time stone architecure built in here with the sweeping archways, granite walls, and sprawling concourses. There was a really good food court in the basement with an amazing assortment of foods. Also, on the main level there was a market where you could go and buy food. It had fish, fruit, veggies, breads, cheeses, danishes, etc. All fresh and all handmade. We picked up a few danishes for the bus ride home on Monday and were on our way to Broadway.

That's where I'll leave you folks for now... Broadway and the Lion King.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New York City Part I

So this past weekend I went to New York City for the first time ever in my life. Yay! Now for those of you who live on the east coast visiting NYC is not anything new. People in this area visit it all the time because it is so easy to get to. However, for a midwestern it's exciting. Therefore, this blog will be in multiple posts because not only was the trip great but to fully understand the experience you need to understand the events beforehand.

This was a four month trip in the making. My friend Sarah and I had first talked about going in October but decided that would not work. Then we looked at going over President's Day in November. After a day of research and calling hotels this fell through as well. Now, before I go on I want to talk about the hotel search. Finding inexpensive hotels in New York is difficult when you've never been there before. Especially because the nice inexpensive ones are usually far away, like in New Jersey or Conneticut, etc. So therefore, we asked around and were given five recommendations of nice inexpensive places on Manhattan. So we called them and sadly none were available for November. We then looke up the next three day weekend and found MLK day in January. (So yes, everyone, we knew it would be cold). Then the hotel process began again and lo and behold we found one available that we both liked. It is called the Pod Hotel and is located in a great neighbor in Upper Midtown near Rockefellar Center. It is for people who are planning on not spending lots of time in the hotel, which we didn't, and is very afforable (only costing us about $120 a piece for two nights- which is a great deal for NY). This hotel is not for everyone, older adults most likely. It caters to the hip, chic younger crowd and has rooms in all sizes. Since Sarah and I were going to be there mainly to sleep the bunk bed room would suffice.

After we got the hotel taken care of we then began to look for broadway tickets. We discussed whether we wanted to see Wicked, Lion King, Stomp, or Rent. I presonally wanted to see either Wicked or Lion King. Well, Wicked tickets were definitely out of the price range so we concentrated on acquiring LK tickets instead. Well thanks to some guy on ticketmaster we got great seats for a great price. The tickets were for the Sunday matinee show and placed us in the second level, seven rows back from the ledge right smack in the center. I had no heads in the way, the people didn't look tiny and I could hear remarkably well. They were great seats and an absolutely amazing show.

So now that we had the hotel booked and Broadway ticekts we needed transportation. Well DC has several buses that run from NYC to DC for very cheap. We knew we were going to take the bus and so we needed to find the best one based on our location here in DC and to the hotel in NY. That fell to Eastern Travel Bus and we purchased our round trip ticekts for a whopping $45. That's right... 45 bucks there and back.. that's $22.50 each way... talk about cheap. Needless to say it is possible to get to have fun in NYC on a limited budget, especially if you don't go to a show, but who can pass up Broadway.

Stay tuned... next you'll hear about the trip...