Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Peace Corps In Politics (Teresa Heinz Kerry's Speech before the DNC in Boston)

From Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech at the Democratic National Convention:  Boston (7/27/04)

In the past year, I have been privileged to meet with Americans all across this land. They voiced many different concerns, but one they all share was about America's role in the world, what we want this great country of ours to stand for.
To me, one of the best faces America has ever projected is the face of a Peace Corps volunteer.


That face symbolizes this country: young, curious, brimming with idealism and hope, and a real, honest compassion.

KERRY: Those young people convey an idea of America that is all about heart, creativity, generosity and confidence, a practical, can- do sense, and a big, big smile.
For many generations of people around this globe, that is what America has represented: a symbol of hope, a beacon brightly lit by the optimism of its people, people coming from all over the world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

This Land Is Your Land: Bush vs Kerry (Right or Left You've gotta love it!)


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Thailand Memory (1994)

 I am sitting lotus-style on the bamboo floor of an acclaimed Buddhist monk’s bungalow in the middle of Thailand.  It’s 6:00AM and the air is already dank and oppressive.  My eyes are closed.  I’m supposed to be “meditating”.
Outside the sun is rising and warm beams of light push through the bamboo wall.  The light segments me, vertically, cutting me like a laser.  My knees hurt.  A mosquito hovers around my left ear—the shrill hum of its beating wings remind me of a dentist’s drill and I suppress my desire to smack it dead. 
“Focus on your breathing.” The monk kindly reminds his students.
In the distance I hear a baby crying, an old man sweeping dust off his stoop, and water-buffalo lumbering down the road. 
Sweat beads on my brow and upper lip, I fight the urge to wipe it away. 
“Focus on your breathing,” says the calm man in the saffron robe.
My feet have fallen asleep and I shift my ass, ever so slightly, allowing blood to flow back into my toes.  Ouch.  Millions of needles prick my feet, awakening the sleeping flesh.  I shift again and feel self-conscious (ironic—in Buddhism there is no self) knowing everyone can hear my awkward movements.
He must be looking at me.  I peak through my eye-lashes like a kid stealing a glance during a supper prayer.
The monk winks at me and smiles, “Fo…cus… on your… brea…thing.”
Blood rushes into my cheeks and I’m embarrassed for being caught open-eyed, but I can’t help but smile back at the monk.
It’s time to focus on my breathing—I close my eyes and take a deep breath…
…my lungs deflate…
Somewhere outside rice stalks bend in the wind.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

My First Memory...

Since this Blog is decidedly about me, my experiences, my life, challenges, triumphs and the ever changing “I”, occasionally I will be adding moments that helped forge my identity. Memories—if not always accurate—are what they are. Here is my first.

Blood trickling from my nose, I stared wide-eyed into the eyes of the two older girls sitting on either side of me. We were in the back-seat of a sea-foam green Dodge Plymouth that bounced and weaved its way over the rolling hills and winding valleys of Western Pennsylvania. The hospital wasn’t far, but my mother was in no shape to drive, so her friend, Charlotte, picked us up at the Richland Mall with her two girls in tow.

“Joy, everything will be fine—look at him, he’s not even crying.”

The “him” was me—and the fact that I was not crying was not reassuring to my mother, who had just witnessed her two-year-old son topple out of a shopping cart and land head first on the linoleum-floor of a department store.

My nose had started bleeding immediately. This letting of blood, along with the fact that my baby face remained remarkably placid throughout the ordeal—only added to my mother’s fear that I had sustained some terrible head injury.

I don’t know how much of this is my memory and how much of it has become my memory through countless retellings, but I do remember the sense of helplessness and dread my mother experienced in those moments after my fall.

“Oh my god! My baby!”

A few plump, swollen-ankled women looked on as she lifted me from the floor to her chest and dabbed my bloody nose with her blouse. She carried me into the mall’s commons, and, like a gypsy women, she approached each stranger with begging eyes.

“please help me, my baby…my baby.” The Sunday shoppers backed away and stared as my mother pleaded for someone to help her.

Finally, a middle-aged, doughy looking policeman approached my mother, “Ma’am, please calm down. What seems to be the—”

“My boy…my baby, he fell and hit his head, he’s bleeding, he’s not crying!”

“Ma-am, why don’t we sit down right over here.” he gestured toward a bench.

“No, you don’t understand! He’s got to go to the hospital.”

“O.K. ma’am…”

In retrospect, I don’t remember why or how I ended up in the back-seat of the sea-foam green Plymouth. I know my mother was in no shape to drive, but why didn’t the policeman call an ambulance? Why didn’t he drive us himself?

What I do remember is looking at the pretty smiling faces of the two girls sitting next to me. I remember them repeating things their mother had said, “Don’t worry honey, it’s gonna be O.K., Everything’s gonna be fine.” And that’s it.

I don’t remember the x-rays and nurses and doctors. I don’t remember them telling my parents that I wasn’t injured in the fall, but that they x-rays revealed a tumor, “Probably a congenital defect,” they speculated.

I don’t remember hearing that I would have to be operated on; that the tumor in my head would have to be removed. And I certainly don’t remember the fear my parents endured through all of this. Can you imagine finding out your two-year-old son needed to have surgery to remove a tumor from his head?

As first memories go, this one makes sense to me. Even if it isn’t all my own, this is the moment my memory rewinds back to and stops. Everything else plays forward from there…

Finding Information on Kyrgyzstan

The Following links were culled from a variety of resources on the internet. I posted them here temporarily as a self-reminder. I would like to create another Blog to function as a clearing house for information on Kyrgyzstan, since my own investigations have revealed a need for such a site.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

USAID Country Health Statistical Report--March, 2004--Kyrgyzstan

Detailed Country Profile: Kyrgyzstan

Detailed Country Profile: Kyrgyzstan

International Monetary Fund--Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz Republic and the IMF -- Page 1 of 5

Energy & Resources--Kyrgyzstan

Report from FreedomHouse Organization

Amnesty International - Kyrgystan

Amnesty International - Kyrgystan

Sunday, July 04, 2004

More Reasons Why I am joining the Peace Corps

Reasons for Joining the Peace Corps: Part II

This is the second part of a series of entries articulating (as best I can) the reasons why I joined the Peace Corps. (click on the link above to see the first entry: Questions and Answers Re: My Departure)

Another reason I chose to join the PC was to fulfill my desire to live and work in a country that is totally foreign to me. After traveling through S.E. Asia and living in Thailand for four months in 1994 and in Indonesia for 6 months in 1996, I knew that a portion of my adult life would be spent overseas.

Traveling, for me, was the shaking of the proverbial champagne bottle before the ceremonial uncorking. Never before had so many questions, self-reflections, and personal discoveries effervesced into self-awareness. Before I took off for Asia, my life had distilled, settled and sat on a shelf (my parents, who exposed me to endless cultural events from museums and folk festivals to political rallies and military ceremonies, would undoubtedly argue with my assessment of having lead a settled life). When I applied to Saint Olaf College’s Term in Asia program in 1994, it was like watching from the shelf, knowing you’re about to be the next bottle to make it out of the store.

After monkeys and Buddhists, pagodas and yaks, elephants and spicy-toosh, motorcycles and Great Walls, Terra-Cotta warriors, bamboo and sticky-rice, chuk-chuks and tuk-tuks, and Forbidden Cities and crocodiles, my life was shakin-up and uncorked.

As with any uncorked bottle of champagne that’s been shakin-up, you better dump it all over the person standing next to you or drink it down fast. I chose to drink it down fast. I wish I could share how intoxicating some of those first moments were: Standing atop the roof of the Yale guesthouse at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on my 20th Birthday, drinking Carlsberg beer and discussing inter-religious dialogue with my religion professor; teaching English to young Thai girls who were at risk of being sold into prostitution; painfully trying to meditate at a Buddhist monastery; watching a 90 year-old Thai woman roll perfect banana leaf cigars; dodging fireworks while watching the evanescing glow from thousands of lanterns as they floated slowly down the Mekong river; being attacked by a thirsty orangutan who stole my bottled water. Those moments, once trapped in a bottle, were worthy of uncorking the finest bottle of champagne.

When world-travelers sit-down and share their experiences with one another, I’ve found there's a thread of commonality between them. Part of that common thread is a feeling of self-reflective “aliveness” that manifests during extreme experiences. When overseas, simple, everyday acts present challenges which our analytical western minds try vigorously to comprehend: Squatting over a toilet turns into a discussion of why many cultures don’t eat or shake with their left hands; witnessing bamboo scaffolding surround a skyscraper turns into a metaphor for East meets West; watching a man sweep dust off the sidewalk but avoid removing plastic wrappers and water bottles turns into a debate over the Eastern perspective of what garbage is. In strange lands, every profane experience ripens into potential for the profound.

For me, reflecting on these simple everyday events elicited a more intimate inquiry into my own sense of life, self and being. Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? Am I a “good” person? What is the value of being “good?” How can I become better a human being? What would “I” like to become? These existential questions are painfully banal, but the fact that they are commonplace does not diminish the value inherent in how one arrives at them. For me, these questions were conjured simply by participating, observing, and reflecting on everyday life in a foreign land.

For example, imagine you’re invited to a funeral by the Batak people of Sumatra, Indonesia—you arrive wearing your mourning face (even though you have no idea who that dead person is laying on the ground in front of you), but you quickly realize very few people look sad. In fact, a lot of the women are dancing and singing while their men stand off to the side smoking cloves and sipping Tuak (a sour palm wine). Next thing you know everyone’s stuffing their face with the water-buffalo, which, just moments ago, was alive and nibbling on that Batik shirt you’re wearing “to blend in”. Aren’t funerals supposed to be sad? As soon as you ask that question, you look over and see three women wailing uncontrollably over the dead man’s body. What’s going on here? You start asking more questions, “Who was this man? Why are there so many people here laughing? Who were those sobbing women? Why is this water-buffalo meat so stringy? What does it mean to die in Batak land? Do they believe in an afterlife? Did somebody just say “cannibalism”?

And then your mind starts trying to make sense of it all. Usually, it begins by finding something familiar in the foreign. “O.K, those women were crying, so obviously some folks here are sad.” You note too, that people have gathered together and dressed up for the occasion—that’s similar…Phew!—you wipe your forehead with the back of your hand and scan the scene for more similarities. After awhile, you’ve grabbed enough pieces to start assembling a new world that’s a little easier to understand.

Fast-forward three months…the pieces of this damn puzzle won’t fit together!...Every time you think you’ve got it figured out, a new piece arrives: Witch doctor’s; snake whiskey; crocodile meat; corruption; houses built to resemble boats; drinking pig’s blood; political rallies; sinking ferries; rubber-plantations protected by scowling men with AK-47s, etcetera. With every new piece, you are forced take apart a world you thought you had just figured out.

Some of the greatest moments of my life have been lived during this process of deconstructing and reconstructing worlds. The energy it requires is immense, however, the reward—paid in the currency of self-knowledge—is even bigger. And that’s the irony too—you spend all this time and energy trying to figure out another culture, and you wind up learning so much more about yourself in the process. This is another reason why I chose to join the Peace Corps. (more to follow)

Friday, July 02, 2004

Sailing Away

Good Times With Great Folks

In addition to learning everything I possibly can about Kyrgyzstan, this summer is also about adding memories of good times spent with great people. Last night we took my mom’s (A.K.A. Joy’s) sailboat out for a wind-filled expedition around Lake Harriet. We dined, imbibed and laughed ourselves silly on the deck of the catamaran.

Reggie & Kirsten--sharing a moment. Posted by Hello

Jake & Pam--The friendliest pirates I know. Posted by Hello

Me, developing a new skill. Posted by Hello

Bellies Full of Fruit & Wine Posted by Hello