Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Russia.... Day One

So I made it to Russia to start a much needed vacation and I can already tell this vacation is going to be so vastly different from what I've ever experienced so far. I had no problems with the flight or airline food, it was good actually. But my issues started as soon as I got off the plane. The directions to my hostel stated to take this certain bus to the metro station and then from there walk down to the hostel. Sounds easy enough... not so much. First i couldn't figure out how to pay on the bus and I stood there for about 5 minutes until a nice Russian lady showed me how to do it. Then I kept freaking out thinking that I had missed the stop because there were no signs and I couldn't hear what was being said. I finally braved my very bad Russian and asked a lady where this stop was. Thankful it's the last stop on the bus route so I wouldn't have missed it. She then lead me to the station but I was once again forced in my horrible Russian to ask for one ticket, which actually I said right. Ironically the Moscow subway system is very, very easy to figure out and I was so nice to be able to sit on a subway and be outside, where it had started to sleet and snow. So I'm pretty proud of myself at this point, I've arrived at the right station and now just have to find the hostel. This was not easy. First they didn't say which way to go out of the station so I had to figure it out then I couldn't find the road to turn onto, and still don't fully understand how you will with the directions they've written. So again, in very, very, very bad Russian I asked people where this road was and finally, 1 1/2 later arrived. So after arriving into Moscow at 8:30 I finally get to the hostel at 12:30! And here I thought I'd left the Kyrgyz/Soviet time thing behind.

However I realized that I've already begun to experience serious culture shock. i about flipped out when I saw an IKEA on the side of the road and almost ran out the 7 floor mall that was filled with 5 floors of clothes, it had way too many people for me. But I think the biggest shock has been language so far. The people at the hostel speak English well and my Russian is not great, which I know, but I'm able to do basic stuff mostly. However, today that was quickly exhausted and ironically, instead of replying in English, which you would think would be natural, no I'm replying in Kyrgyz! Why! So not only are people looking at me because my Russian is broken and bad but I'm throwing out these non-English words to then suddenly replying once again in English... it's like I'm possessed or have ADD. Poor people. It's interesting and strange.

Tonight, I've turned in early because I've been up for a long time and so am staying in.The next two nights I'll be out and I begin bright and early tomorrow morning. Wish me luck! Russia is what I expected and not. It's definitely first world which has shocked me and pleased me at various times. Oh all of you worried about me being cold, don't be. I'm actually hot because I'm so used to trying to stay warm in Kyrgyzstan. I get funny looks about why I'm not wearing socks! More to come from the Russian federation.

Monday, December 28, 2009


The life of a PCV is very surreal at times. There are times when you're riding in a taxi with no shock absorbers, no windows and tape on the door and realizing you're having a good, solid conversation with a local. You then look out that same non-window to realize you're in a different country with different homes, people and food and you suddenly realize that, yeah, life is surreal and strange, and fascinating all at the same time. Sometimes it's the out of body experience that we notice. It's like we're looking at ourselves doing something so completely different that we can't help but wonder if it's truly us.

I've had several of this recently. I was on my way in a marshuka (a mini bus, which have by the way caused me to acquire motion sickness, something I never had before) and we were driving incredibly fast around the mountains. I was watching the entire time and not once did I get scared or worried that we could die. Only last year this sort of thing would have made me jumpy. But no, there I was looking at the speeding ravines, cliff drops and vaguely following a conversation some locals were having in Kyrgyz behind me. I then suddenly realized," Wow, this is surreal." Sadly I don't even do justice to what I'm trying to say because it's like living two lives yet one at the same time and not totally understanding or recognzing what one life is doing.

I've had many moments like this during my time and know several more will come, like going out at 9pm to cut down a "christmas tree" with a fellow volunteer, or starting to speak Kurgusha (a mix of Kyrgyz and Russians, which locals do all the time) or even calling it "the Kyrgyz and "the Russian" which is also done by locals. Finally, realizing that today I only wore two shirts and a sweater, plus my fleece was good... that meant it was a warm day! Those all add up to surreal moments for me.

I hope this has made some sense, if not sorry; I tried. Look out for surrealism in your life and grasp it when you can...

A New Tradition

Over the last two years a new tradition has developed for me regarding Christmas day. Here in Kyrgyzstan Christmas is not celebrated in the same way it is in the states or in Europe. Families do not get together to hand out gifts or celebrate. There is Santa and a tree but it's all for New Years, which is the big party. So last year my Christmas as chaotic, weird and different. Kids were in school, new years school parties were going on and i couldn't find a time to give them presents. No special meal and I actually had to work on it.

This year was different, the second year of a PCV always is. I understood the traditions and cutstoms of the people and understood their language and suddenly I saw a new tradition developing. Last year and this year on the 25th the school help their class wide New Years class party. Each class from 1st- 11th form is responsible with participating and doing a concert. Last year i went but didn't really understand what was happening, especially with the older classes in the evening. This year it was so much better. I understood the skits (mostly), the dances, songs and prizes. I even was part of the jury panel for the older kids (I got to say which class did best in the different categories). After it was all over I went back home any my host mom had made my favorite Kyrgyz dish, lagmann for me. It was then that I gave them their gifts, and they said they were great rememberance ones. So for me, my christmases have definitely been memorable and so I'm a little sad that I won't have this new tradition next year. Oh well... maybe we can recreate another one.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


“Your Kyrgyz is very good.” “You understand very well but they won’t understand you.” “You don’t speak with an accent.”

These are all expressions that I’ve received recently regarding my language and they’ve come from different sets of people. So sometimes I wonder why it is that people I don’t interact with on a daily basis understand me really well and those that I do interact with daily don’t. Language is such a vital part to any volunteer’s life and yet it can also be a source of worry and strife. It can be extremely frustrating when you can’t really explain yourself, or there is a lack of words to truly describe what you want to say- such is the case with Kyrgyz. Yet, locals don’t really understand it and so they often get more frustrated when you can’t clearly communicate; it, at times, is a very vicious circle.

Yet, for me, it seems that my Kyrgyz is really good, from what I’ve been told, but yet don’t understand why certain people have such a hard time with me. Maybe it’s the accent, maybe my sentence structure, who knows, but it’s interesting. I can communicate effectively most of the time and even discuss health terms usually. So I feel good about my language and where it’s at. This is why I’ve started the hard task of learning Russian, which is so incredibly hard. But, I’ve set a goal that I want to reach when I COS so hopefully I’ll make it. After my time here I’ve learned really how important language can be and how much it can help with life. We are made to communicate and we all have different forms. So understanding that form only enhances life. Language is life.

Kyrgyz Ait

I recently did another round of Kyrgyz Ait, where I go to various houses around the village and have at least one cup of tea and some food. This is done twice a year after the end of Ramadan (for one month Muslims fast from sun up to sun down). I had only participated one other time in Ait, and that was with my family. So this time I decided to do it on my own so that I could leave when I wanted and decided the number of homes I’d visit. So I decided I’d do my work circuit… visit the 8 VHC homes and call it quits…

12 houses later I’m finally finished with a fully belly, drunken lots of china and eaten lots of bread. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated because I knew the homes and people that I visited and as I went along I ended doing it with work people so I didn’t have to deal with formalities as much and they were just as anxious to be done as I was.

So all in all, Ait is not the greatest because it quadruples my tea intake for the day but it was nice this year to better understand what was occurring and to feel like I actually had a place. I didn’t plan on the 12 houses but it was still nice to visit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Frustrations and Impressions

As a PCV I am often faced with many challenges. Sometimes these are issues because of culture, food, language; other times they are personal issues that are heightened because of the situation. Recently I had an experience that was both so completely frustrating in one aspect but yet made me impressed in another aspect.

Recently my organization finally conducted their environmental clean up project. Now what must be realized is they had been trying to do this project since April but were not able to because of funds. Finally, after many other problems and frustrations they received the money in July and I thought they would do the project that same month. No, after changing the date 3 times they decided to conduct it while I was on vacation down south. Needless to say I was really mad at them about this because I had written their grant, gotten their donors, went with them to buy everything and I wasn’t even going to be allowed to participate! I explained this to them and they then decided to change it to the Sunday I got back from vacation, although, they kept trying to hurry me back from vacation (which I hadn’t had since I’d been in country, and as anyone serving as a PCV knows are vitally needed). So I arrive back at site and realize that once again the date had been moved to the following Saturday. I was skeptical but after seeing their preparation work realized they might actually conduct the project.

While I was gone they had printed up the t-shirts, prepared the signs for the trucks, printed off really nice invitations and delivered them to key people and had done all the contacting and talking with them. So I was impressed by that. During this last week they had talked with all the participating students, invited governmental leaders, Peace Corps and various others from the area. They had done it all (I didn’t have to remind them of anything, which was really nice). So the day arrives and of course we have bad weather, but it didn’t deter them. They put on a really great presentation at the community center about why it’s important to protect the environment and invited all the students from the school to attend. They had 1 other neighboring VHC bring students and then we went out and cleaned not just my village but several others as well that they had contacted. Television reporters appeared and interviews were conducted. Then they served food for everyone... and they outdid themselves with the food.

So although I had so many frustrations with them leading up to the project they did an amazing job and they were so happy to be able to do it. Working at a VHC can be very frustrating at times but at other times very rewarding. This project was a combination of both and showed me more about myself and the Kyrgyz culture. I’m glad I was able to help them out and was so impressed by how well they all pulled it off. They are great people and this project let them show that. So despite some of the problems the outcome was good and that is really all the matters. It was definitely a learning process for both sides and has made us all better and this was just one project… their latest project, geared towards anemia, they actually built a new office for it….

Commong Things

After 1 year here’s what I’ve become used to and what I may have problems with back in the USA:

  • no microwave: gotten used to semi warm food or cold leftovers
  • wearing the same work outfit for an entire week: partly it’s because I’ve gotten lazy, another because it’s just easier and also because I don’t have enough clothes for a different day of the week
  • washing my hair once or twice a week
  • going weeks without a “bath”
  • flies: really they’re everywhere
  • starting everything at least 30 minutes after its “scheduled” time
  • every child saying “hello” to me
  • my cat constantly sitting on my lap trying to grab for bread
  • power shortages
  • very bad roads
  • marshukas: be thankful for the transportation options in the states; they really are good
  • distilled water: I think I’ve forgotten what a tap, and tap water, is
  • electric shocks: if you’ve seen the “power outlets” here you’d understand
  • homemade jam: it’s really really good
  • bread and tea for two meals a day
  • backyard gardens: it’s really great to be able to go pick one’s own apples, apricots, pears or raspberries
  • students standing up when a teacher enters (although it’s always a little weird when this happens)
  • hearing, and sometimes speaking, 3 languages: Kyrgyz, English, Russian
  • 2 prong plugs, really what’s the need for the 3rd?
  • deodorant, toothpaste, lotion, toothbrushes costing over $3 (for a volunteer this is expensive)
  • a seasonal diet: really be thankful that in the states this is not a problem
  • excellent medical care: it’s actually the best I’ve ever received, and it’s free: how many of you can say that?
  • Non-smiling Kyrgyz pictures: they don’t smile in pictures
  • Gold teeth: it takes getting used to but definitely grows on you
  • Tea all the time, no matter season, time or occasion
  • 3 land topography: beach, desert and mountains, it’s actually really unique and cool
  • Russian TV and music
  • Not flushing toilet paper down a toilet, throwing it into a basket to be burned
  • No trash cans

    There is a lot more that I currently cannot think of… hope you’ve enjoyed the above!

Monday, July 20, 2009

One and Another

Being a PCV means you constantly deal with another culture, langauge and beliefs on a daily basis. It can mean living in conditions you've never experienced before and coping with situations you've never anticipated. You truly learn about yourself and others. However, one of the most surprising things that many volunteers are often faced with this another sub-culture that exists in any PC country: the Volunteer culture. This culture is entirely consists of the volunteers and is often seen whenever large groups of volunteers interact together. For those of us not living in areas that have large amounts of volunteers these interactions can be hard and diffucult at times. Especially, as more time passes and you become more familiar with your site, work and the general absence of volunteers. Sure I have an amazing site mate an a few other volunteers are close by but I'm constantly surrounded by locals. Therefore, the volunteer sub-culture can at times be overwhelming.

Just imagine seeing maybe, one to three volunteers a week or every two weeks and then suddenly having ten Americans in your village for ten days staying with you. It's overwhelming. Are antics, speech, mannerisms and behaviors are so different from that of locals and at times it can be hard for volunteers to interact with each other. Also, in a small country such as this it can be difficult to distance onself entirely from the volunteer sub-culture. It's not bad having other volunteers around; we all have days when we just need to be to effortlessly speak our native tongue or have our culture understood. What is interesting is how the volunteer sub-culture is so vastly different from the daily culture we are exposed to and how that can at times itself be difficult to understand and deal with. Americans are different for the Kyrgyz people and each volunteer is different from others. We learn to live with a culture that is not our own and yet sometimes have trouble living within our own. Being a volunteer can be a very tricky. Anyone want to try?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Glimpse of the Future

This week my 11 year old host sister completely surprised me; she gave me a glimpse into this country’s future and it was a good one to see. For a while she had been asking me if she could help work with the invalid population that we have in the village. I told her yes and we would talk to my boss about it. I had put off that meeting for a while because I kept forgetting and other things kept creeping up. However, once I returned from the capital she asked me again and I saw the longing in her eyes. I committed myself to set her up with a meeting with my boss to talk about how she could help. This week we had that meeting and she amazed me. My boss can be a hard person to talk to at times, she can be direct, abrasive and sometimes, especially for children, scary. But, Nurlia was wonderful. She explained how she had this idea to help with this population and why it was important for her to do this. She stated she knew it’s important to volunteer and that’s what she’s wanting to do (this all from an 11 year old and in a country where volunteerism hardly exists)! So together they made an action plan. My boss told her to acquire 5 more students and they would provide the means. Then together we would all work with these children 2 times a week .

My host sister was excited and together over the course of two days we talked with students around her age and compiled a list of names. We then established a meeting time to prepare a work plan with the VHC people. Unfortunately the students were not able to attend the meeting, which is a common problem here, but my host sister took it well and still agreed to create a work plan with my director. Together they talked, agreed and created a plan that those 6 students will use for the future. I was impressed and helped her as much as she wanted, but it was all her.

In a country where the family is the primary focus, volunteering to help others is not given much thought. Outside commitments are often not kept but my host sister has shown me how that can change. She took it upon herself to call and check on the other students. She came up with the list of students and she explained to all of them, and their parents, what this project is about. It is her vision and idea. For an 11 year old it’s impressive, and for me, a really great sign of what is in store for her future, and perhaps for her country’s. Just realize that while she’s doing this she also must deal with her chores and duties from home, as all of these kids must do. During summer especially they have much additional work laid on them and Nurila, as well as the other 5 students, are willing to deal with that. I think it’s a mark of their maturity and willingness to do something for others. I really hope for Nurila’s sake it all works out. There will be problems and struggles, we’ve already had some, but I think she’ll persevere. It’s a good indication of what’s to come.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Community Integration

So what exactly is community integration? What does that mean? How do people know when you’re there and gone? Do people miss you and wonder what you’re doing and where you’re at?
In the States community integration is a funny term because we have so much technology available to us that we can stay easily connected. Plus we are an individualistic society to becoming fully integrated into our surroundings is not part of our culture. Also, we have so many large cities and towns that it is impossible to be fully integrated into them. Sure, small groups of people know us and know when we leave and invite us over, but as a whole it doesn’t really happen.

As a PCV one of our tasks is to be integrated into the community. This helps keep us safe and also helps us do our work better. Sometimes this integration can be stressful, everyone knows the two Americans and if anything happens everyone knows. Yet it can also be hard at times because we are constantly hindered by culture. Even know, after almost a year, we are still the honored guests and we are still hindered by language and various other cultural aspects. We often are not allowed to help prepare the food for major events and are still at times treated like guests rather than natives. Also, even though this village is small it is still really hard to become integrated because there are so many areas we can never fully integrate into. We can’t really interact too much with men because of culture and women our age are usually married and don’t want to associate with us. The culture of family here prevents us so much from full integration and also our general distaste for parties also makes it hard.

However, overall though I think the biggest areas of integration have come with our families. We both feel like we’re part of them and are integrated into them. They are our biggest supporters and people that we work with and see the most. They are the ones, I think, will benefit the most and will be the most cherished. Through them we integrate and that’s fine. So we may not be the most “native” in country but I think we’re just fine. Besides integration is no easy task… try it for yourself and see.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Readjustment Quirks

I’ve already begun to notice many things that I will have to get used to when I go back to the States. Some of them are significant and some are humorous but all are true.

peanut butter- I’ve gotten used to all natural here, and it’s wonderful, and so I think I’ll have to go with that back in America

toilet paper- the stuff here is a lot of crepe paper, not very soft- so I’m not sure what I’ll do with soft, white stuff

equality- women here are definitely not treated equally, although they are the ones that run the household and usually have jobs

trash cans- not really existent here so it’s going to be a sight to see, and to use them

flushable, indoor toilets- although I’ve realized that at the time the outhouse is better, but squatting does take it’s tole after a while, but I’m not sure I’ll remember to flush the toilet paper in the toilet instead of in a wastebasket

no power problems- in the states I won’t have to worry about power outages, non grounded lines, lack of good quality sockets nor random sparks- that will very nice

English- it’ll be weird to speak it again all the time and I have a feeling it’ll be bad when I first get back into it

time- for good or bad time is very different here. Some days it’s incredibly frustrating but other days nice to have a more relaxed feel and pace, so going back into the hustle and bustle of America will be weird

reliable transportation- not really existent here so having reliable transportation will be wonderful

cooking- once again I’ll have to cook again for myself, which I’ve realized I’m not that great of a cook. I’ve grown accustomed to having meals prepared for me so I’m not sure what I’ll do when I have to cook on my own

no kids- I won’t have my host siblings around anymore. That will be interesting…

food variety- there is definitely a lack of variety in diet and it’ll be nice to have that once again

raisins and apricots- I eat these all the time everyday and so I think I won’t want them

showers- it’ll be nice, but weird at first, to be able to shower everyday

no power struggles- power between people, groups and organizations does exist but it’ll be nice not be inadvertently pulled into it with no chance for defense

no sheep meat- Yay!

hot water, shoot water indoors- I look forward to not having to go get water from buckets all the time

stores- yeah be thankful you can run to a store at any time of the day and get anything you need, that doesn’t exist here

lined paper- it’s a big deal and it missed

dollars- I’ve think I’ve forgotten how those work, it’ll be nice to use them again

long, fluffy beds- I’m short and there are times when I hit the end of the bed, plus they’re not really that comfortable

beautiful scenery- this place is beautiful and really no matter what season or time it’s gorgeous

people- the people here have their faults and sometimes it can be hard to interact with them but they are unique and will be missed, they are also very beautiful

cell phone units- I’ve actually gotten used to the whole buy units as you go and really like it, I really don’t want to go back to a plan

church- there are English churches in the capital but none near where I live. It would be nice to be able to go at times

mirrors- long mirrors really don’t exist- it’ll be nice to see all of me again

paved roads, roads in general- the roads here are bad, some, like in my village are not paved, they will once again be appreciated

driver’s licenses- people here need driving school, enough said

mountains and hiking- this is a great country to explore, climb mountains and hike- that will be missed

animal noises- sheep baying outside my window, dogs barking and attacking, donkeys baying- all will be missed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


On March 21 we celebrated a holiday called Nooruz. It is the Muslim New Year and is considered a big celebration. I was a little apprehensive about this because all the parties I’d been too so far I hadn’t enjoyed. This was because of several reasons. Firstly, they are always at a house of people I don’t know where I sit around for four to five hours with no one to talk to and nothing to do. Then I feel even more stupid because I’m the guest of honor and yet just usually sit there like a bump on a log.

So leading up to this one I didn’t know what to expect except that it was going to be at my family’s house and they had to prepare lots of food. The day before they were up to all hours of the night making the food and I again felt really useless because there wasn’t much for me to do. I couldn’t help with the cooking or preparations. So I pretty much hid in my room. That morning I did help set up the tables and set out the candy, cookies and salads. But there were still lots I couldn’t. So partly to stop feeling useless and to get out before everyone came I went to the local club where they were having a concert. This concert was one of the strangest and yet best concerts that I’ve been to yet. It was very short and done completely by the children of the school and hardly any parents were there It was very Kyrgyz in the lack of people paying attention or being respectful while they were on stage yet is was still good and I did enjoy it.

As I was walking home I was nervous about the upcoming party. I didn’t want to have to sit there for hours and eat the food while the rest of my family did the preparations and everything else. Thankfully it didn’t turn out that way. There weren’t that many people there and so that helped and it was right next to my room which allowed me quick escapes whenever I needed it. Plus I have a computer that plays movies so the kids wanted to watch this Russian cartoon on my computer which was fine. That kept me gong in and out the entire time. Plus since I was in familiar settings I was able to help out more than usual and to show pictures of my family, friends and America, which they love here. The food was good and once it was done I realized I had actually had a good time. Surprise surprise.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Everyone has good days and bad days. When you live overseas this is especially true. You have days when you love everything about the country, people and culture. There are other days when all you want is for them to tell you in English what they are trying to say. There are times when you just want to say something back and just get away for a while. There are times when the brain hurts, times when the body hurts and times when everything hurts. Everyday gives more expectations and disappointments. Some days your work will treat you well and other times horribly. You will be blamed for things because language is an issue or may not be able to defend another volunteer because of cultural restraints. Miscommunication and lack of understanding are constant themes in everyday life and chaos is ever present. Some days the constant baying of the animals at all hours of the day drives you mad, yet can cause great surprises.

For every slump there is a rise. Every new challenge gives new lessons and greater outcomes. Life is not easy; the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer is even harder, yet full of amazing challenges. No two days are the same and each day provides both slumps and triumphs. What must be learned is how to deal with those challenges and not let them fester and torment. That does happen and it’s sad to see. Yet by recognizing what is really there, what is within your control and out of your control will help conquer any slump. Sure physical difficulties are different from mental which are different from emotional but each one can be conquered. Slumps are not easy to overcome and no matter where you reside can shape the course of your life. For us, as volunteers, they can be really devastating and so we learn how to cope and deal. It’s not easy and some days are just bad, no matter what you do. Other days are great and are therefore even more enjoyed. So therefore, consider the day. How will you handle problems, slumps? Just remember there is something good in each day and every slump, every challenge can be overcome… it’s the Peace Corps way!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It's All About Sheep

Today after work and English lessons with my family I was given the chance to help bring in the sheep from the pasture. Having never lived on a farm I was excited about this opportunity because I could once and for all satisfy my unending curiosity regarding where the sheep actually come from every night. I hear them outside my bedroom during the night but then around 10 in the morning they go away with their other sheep friends to graze “far away”. Since I got to site I’ve been wondering where this “far away” place is; now I had the chance. I thought I’d only have to wait maybe ten minutes and then we’d bring them up our street and into the yard and be done. How totally and completely wrong I was, and how very typical of a Peace Corps experience it truly became- expect the unexpected and be willing to go with the flow.

So thinking I’d only be outside for about 15 minutes at the most I grab my lighter coat and no scarf; I was smart enough to grab my hat otherwise I’d be in a really bad pickle. About one hour later the sheep finally come in from the grazing field. I was shivering and cold and yet when the first batch walked past me with the setting sun and the mountains and lake in the background I couldn’t help but think it really was a beautiful site. Plus for some unexplainable reason I had a funny thought as the sheep walked past me. Here were lines and rows of sheep walking one behind the other patiently waiting to get to their destination and my brain thought of this,” it’s like Kyrgyz traffic, instead of cars like in America it’s herds of sheep.” (You all probably don’t think it’s funny but it makes me smile). What really made me smile was just how smoothly and efficient this process worked. The sheep came, stopped, and waited. Walked when told to and went to the right homes. People came out when they heard the sheep coming, opened their gates and in went the sheep. It was like magic. But the really funny thing was the looks on people’s faces that I got as I was walking with lots of sheep. My family was with me as we were making sure all of our 41 sheep safely returned to the fold. We had sticks and were looking around for our “green circled angle” sheep (the sheep have a green circle painted on their heads- each family does it to distinguish theirs). As I am walking past students that I have, neighbors and coworkers kids I kept seeing one expression, “what is the American doing with the sheep and she looks really funny holding a stick and trying to round up the sheep.” I myself couldn’t help but laugh at what must be a very humorous site.

Finally the sheep arrive at our yard and suddenly it’s realized we have one sheep missing. Uh oh, that’s a bad sign because here sheep are very valuable and can bring much money and goods to a family. So now we have the task of trying to find our lost sheep. (Sounds slightly like a biblical story, right?) We go to our neighbor’s house and nope it’s not there. We continue up and down the various streets for well over an hour. (By now the sun has set, I’m shivering and very cold and still no sheep). The entire family is out looking for this one lost sheep and even though I know it’s valuable I can’t help but think, “just give it up, it’s not use”. We finally do and proceed to the house.

My host dad then informs me that he is sending my host brother back over to the first neighbor’s house to see if they have it. I don’t understand why but my host brother comes back and says that yes they do have it and will bring it over. My host family then proceeds to tell me this neighbor is known to be “crazy” at times and has in the past stolen clothes off my family’s clothes line (why, don’t ask). Apparently because the sheep was a little one (it’s like a Billy goat) he didn’t see it and so didn’t know he had it. If that’s the real story I don’t know but it happens both here and in the States as well.

All I can say is it’s all about sheep. They help with livelihoods and are very precious to the people. They provide for adventures and gave me one that I was not expecting. Hopefully next time it won’t be such an ordeal (I think I’m supposed to go and get them tomorrow, yikes!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Sometimes is hard to believe that I am in the Peace Corps. I’m sure many of you, like me, automatically think of Africa, Southeast Asia or South America when you think of Peace Corps. Honestly I did too and was almost positive I was going to Africa, particularly because I have a master’s in public health. I was given the choice, however- which again is rare, of either Africa or Central Asia. I choose Central Asia and then through another set of unusual circumstances my departure time was moved up early so that I could come to Kyrgyzstan. So what do I think of that decision? It’s been a great one.

However there have been times when I do think, “Am I really in Peace Corps?” Part of this is because PC publication is very heavy on promoting Africa and various other places; Central Asia is not heavily promoted. Plus on the whole Central Asia volunteers, at least in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, do have it a lot easier than other volunteers in some places. For instance some of the volunteers here do have indoor plumbing, indoor hot water and indoor toilets. They have apartments, not a nice as some in the states and not as bad as some either. We all have actual homes made of stone, mortar and keep out the elements. We have electricity- maybe not all the time, but we have it most of the day. If we don’t have water in our house we have easy access to it. Some of our families have televisions, DVD players, radios, computers, microwaves, stoves, ovens, etc. We never go hungry nor do we have to worry about food; there’s always plenty of it, if not in the greatest variety. Finally, on the whole we are not that far from other volunteers, no more than two hours at max from another. Therefore, with all of this it can, at times, feel very hard to believe one is in the Peace Corps.

I’ve got two amazing rooms, my own kitchen and an awesome family and village. I don’t cook, unless I want to, which isn’t often, and I’m feed regularly, pretty healthily and abundantly. My work is great, frustrating at times but still awesome. I live near the lake and am within walking distance of it. An hour car drive away and I’m in the mountains. It’s a beautiful area but also not without trials. I don’t have running water in my house and we do have water shortages at times. Power does get turned off during the day and at night and I do have to use an outdoor toilet, although it’s one of the better ones in the village. I don’t have a stove, microwave, or anything like that but that doesn’t mean the food is not cooked well. White bread, black tea and sheep fat are staples to diets here but one learns to deal. Chairs with backs are hard to come by, they are very expensive and so are actual table and desks like in the states. During the warm weather I do have to worry about spiders in my room but they are easily taken care of. Also, sometimes we’ll see a mouse running around and I am constantly aware of the huge amounts of animal droppings that are everywhere. Yet, despite these few hardships I have it very easy. I can use my laptop whenever I want without fear of it getting ruined. I can watch movies or read books on my bed or couch or armchair. I can plug in my cell phone, laptop and heater most of the time and I never have to worry about the outdoor elements coming into my house.

So you can see how at times it could be hard to believe you’re in PC, and I don’t even live in a city. But, it’s more than just outside exterior too that can make you wonder at times. Every volunteer goes through the thinking of why are they here? In particular this usually arises during a time when they are not working or having a rough patch. I think, when those times arise, it’s almost easier to get an answer is places like Africa. You can visibly see the challenges that you overcome and even the differences that are being made. Here, because we do have so much, but yet don’t, those lines are blurred. It can be difficult at times to know if you are making a difference, especially when culture is considered. Also, when there is nothing for you to do can make you wonder. Currently because of weather many of the English teachers are not in school. So they have ample free time. Some of them have taken vacation and yet many, I’m sure, have wondered why they traveled all this way to do nothing. No matter what the reasoning for joining PC was, every volunteer, I think, has a small amount of idealism in them. When things change or don’t happen that idealism, those reasons, can be shaken. Yet, this doesn’t just occur here in Kyrgyzstan but occurs everywhere that a volunteer- or for anyone living outside of their home country.

It is often stated that being a Peace Corps volunteer is the “toughest job you’ll ever love”. It is very tough. Not only is very country different and has unique challenges to overcome but you have to deal with so much other stuff everyday, day in and day out. Comparisons to other places never help and can make volunteers wonder and contemplate. Language, culture, food, jobs, other volunteers and families all take their tolls and again are challenges. Yet each provides a time to learn and gain new perspectives. My site mate recently told me she’s learned so much about people skills in her short time here, and that is just one of many lessons. So while being a PC volunteer in Kyrgyzstan may not be as difficult physically as in other places, the mental challenges are all the same. So friends, don’t just automatically think of Africa when considering the PC. Remember volunteers are everywhere and we each have unique experiences and challenges. So until next time…

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More Lessons Learned

More Lessons Learned:

- sheep can walk on two legs
- size really doesn't matter
- a martshuka always has room for more people
- guesting can literally take all day
- clothes are not considered dirty until you've worn them for three consecutive weeks straight
- washing hair once a week really is no big deal
- besh barmak really gets your hands dirty
- most dogs here are really mean
- lined paper is a non-existent
- mechanical pencils do not exist
- pens never work
- people still think you speak Russian even though you've had a 30 minute conversation in Kyrgyz
- there are no street signs
- water is a valued, and scarce, commodity
- everyone is a farmer
- no heat, no school for three months
- regional dialects stink
- time here is so completely different than the states, yet no one seems bothered by it
- oranges in winter are heaven
- soup in winter gets very old very quickly
- borsak is not all it's cracked up to be
- people can change here, the smallest word, or deed can make a difference
- there's way too much candy
- most people look way older than they actually are
- Kyrgyz story books do not exist
- language is a never ending battle
- dogs can give hugs
- rooster meat is yummy
- children are children no matter where
- they love to dance
- privacy is precious
- I do live in a fishbowl
- not having a boyfriend is a hard concept to understand
- I have many potential matchmakers
- they think I'm a doctor even though I constantly say I'm not
- a hot banya is amazing a warm one, not so much
- tea gets really old really fast
- juice is awesome and worth the price
- they eat a lot of bread, I mean tons
- cats eat bread, not other food
- my room is awesome
- classes here are interesting
- health is a foreign concept
- lots of problems abound
- it's a very generous community

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Advanced Low

This last week I have been in the capital because of training. It was a nice time for many reasons. One of the primary ones being that for an entire week I was able to have hot running water and electricity all the time. Woohoo! Plus I got good food and got lots more movies from other volunteers. The training itself was well and both my counterpart and I learned a lot. When I go back to site this week we'll talk about everything that we learned and hopefully begin to put it into practice. I got some great ideas for secondary projects and hope to begin incorportating those as well. I finished several grants and now am awaiting the response from Peace Corps and others. It was a good week except I came to one conclusion, traveling around the city really stinks. It's not easy and you have to know where you're going in order to get there. I'm slowing learning it but it's really hard because there are no street signs and none of the public transportation methods tell you where you are. You just have to get on and off at the right place. But, such is life.

However, what really made my day was my when I took my Kygryz language test this last week. At IST the test is optional and at PDM (in March) we are all required to take the test again. Well I wanted to take it this time partly because I'm a nerd but also because I know my language has gotten better and I wanted to see how much I had progressed. People in the village had said it was better and in December much of the language started to begin to really click with me (it helped that my site mate was gone for about two weeks and all I could speak during that time was Kyrgyz). So I took the test and seemed to do well during it. My testor was able to understand me and everything flowed really well. So he has me finish and then tells me that I'm much better than I was at the end of PST and that I sound much more natural and everything flows better. He says I sound like a local, yay! I'm thinking nice, Intermediate High, awesome. He then tells me I jumped two levels and went from intermediate mid to advanced low! I was floored. I knew I had improved but didn't think I had improved that much. Also because there's still loads I have trouble saying but he told me I jumped into the advanced category and he also told me that it's rare for people to jump from the intermediate level to the advanced level in a span of three months. So woohoo!! I was happy and excited and shocked.

So the moral.. come visit because I can probably translate better than I originally thought. :)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kyrgyzstan Randomness

Kyrgyzstan Randomness:

- snow doesn’t keep animals from eating the grass, they somehow seem to find it

- I am now considered a Kyrgyz girl because of my new Kyrgyz winter hat and coat

- sometimes, at night, with the moon shining on our barren trees it reminds me of some weird, twisted scary place that would be put in a movie

- a bucket full of snow makes very little water

- dogs will fight for no apparent reasons

- my room is very toasty

- hygiene is the first thing to go in winter

- holidays are a good time for food

- my language has gotten loads better, although I still can’t say a lot

- I can now be funny in Kyrgyz!

- sometimes culture and culture practices are not understood

- I don’t remember children’s names

- I have the hardest time understanding schoolchildren, especially the ones who get louder and talk faster when you ask them to talk slower

- people here love to dance and have their picture taken

- the internet is precious

- traveling is a hassle

- no matter their way of life people have amazing ideas and are very insinuative