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.