Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Brief Update--Busy Days Ahead

Happy Halloween from Kyrgyzstan! This is going to be a short post, as I only have a few minutes left. I just wanted to thank everyone who's dropped me a line. It's great to hear from friendly folks both old and new.

Here's a little info for any folks who have sons and daughters over here. On November 9th we will find out where our permanent site placements are. Nov. 10th we will travel back to the Isykk Kul Hotel and meet our "counterparts"--the Kyrgyzstan folks who submitted proposal for volunteers to come work with them (a very competitive process--so i'm told). Nov. 11th we will travel to our permanent sites and see our housing options (many sites will have 2-3 options, some will only have 1--nearly all of us will be placed with familys). We will stay at our future permanent sites until the 14th of November and then return home.

The K-12s are tight group and as I have said in the past, we do a good job of looking after one another. Spirits are high and we are anxious to find out where we are going.

Through a bit of serendipity (and reconnaissance work) I discovered that I am likely going to be in Osh (which claims to be older than Rome). If the info that I have is correct, I will be working with the "Human Rights and Democracy Center" which is located on the main street in this city of about 300,000. Those PSTs who visited the city last week tell me that Osh is fantastic place, complete with the oldest Bazaar in Central Asia. A lot of money is being poured into the south from the international community to aid with the development of "civil society" down there.

I'll try and write more soon. Take care and keep writing!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Horror...The Horror...

As you may recall, this period of the Peace Corps experience is called “Pre-Service Training” [PST]. Even though we’re but a small tooth in the government mouth, unfortunately, we do not escape the acrimonious [or, as I like to call it “acronymonious”] breath of government brevity via abbreviation. Here’s a brief list:
AA – Assignment Area
CBC – Competency Based Curriculum
CBT – Community Based Training
COS – Close of Service
DOS - Description of Service
EAP – Emergency Action Plan
ET – Early Termination
HCN – Host Country National
HOR – Home of Record
IC – In Country
IST – In-Service Training
LCF – Language and Cultural Facilitator
PM – Program Manager
PC – Peace Corps
PCMO – Peace Corps Medical Officer
PCV – Peace Corps Volunteer
PST – Pre-Service Training
SEOD – Sustainable Economic and Organizational Development
SLF – Site Locator form
VAD – Volunteer Assignment Description

Since PC teaches us to apply our knowledge, I thought this might be a good opportunity to “teach a man to fish…” So, let’s see what you’ve learned:

After arriving IC, I met our APCD, PM, CD, and LCF and began my PST so that I can be a PCV conducting SEOD. Nearly everyday we have a CCA to help us along with our CBT and occasionally we receive a DOS and ponder what our AA and VAD may be.

Please note: The above list is a truncated version of the actual list PC supplied.

So, what has happened in the last few weeks? Well, we are settling in to our new surroundings. I no longer think twice when I step in Korova (cow) dung or we are forced to jump start our Mashrutka (minibus) by getting out and pushing it backwards, towards oncoming traffic, and popping the clutch.

The evenings and mornings are much colder, but this reduces the humidity and particulate matter in the air, allowing for a great view of the mountains. I’ve seen 4 shooting stars since I’ve arrived in country, but haven’t spent enough time to spot a satellite yet.

We retrieve water from the local well every other day. The well is about a 10 minute walk and we have an old large metal container (think milk container circa 1950) that we place on a dolly and pull to the well. The water runs freely, without pumping and we fill a smaller container (about 9 liters) 5 times and empty into the larger one and return home.

When the electricity is running, we cook our meals over a 9 inch high square electric stove that contains one long heating element coiled around ceramic that looks like a inverted U around the center column of a W. Every lunch and dinner contains potatoes and my family is particularly keen on chicken.

If we eat around 7PM (this is quite early for my family) then we inevitably prepare the living room for a meal around the television. Why? Because at 7PM, the Brazilian soap “Clone” begins. As far as I can tell (and you can likely google this and find out more info—if you do, please email me the details), Clone is about an old scientist who had two nephews who were twins. The nephews lived in Morocco, but one of them died and the crazy uncle cloned the dead twin and is now raising this clone in Brazil. The clone has somehow retained part of the genetic memory of the dead twin and apparently likes women twice his age (which may be why my host mom shows such affection for this dashing and debonnaire Brazilian cabana boy). Of course, Clone is dubbed into Russian—but unfortunately, lip reading Portuguese or Spanish doesn’t aid my enunciation and pronunciation skills. I fear that I am now speaking Russian with a Portuguese accent.

Apocalypse Now: “The Horror” Of Learning Russian
My Momma (Viola) has the habit of saying “Ujus!” quite frequently. For instance, when I pour my third cup of instant coffee, Momma will say, “Ujus! Larry” or if I run back into the house for third time (having forgotten my book bag and pen the first two times) and grab my winter hat, she exclaims in Russian “Ujus Larry! Drop the zero from 30 and you are a 3 year old. We have a crazy Family.” After dropping “Ujus!” a few times in Russian class (and watching my Language teacher bust out laughing)—I finally rallied the nerve to ask what this enigmatic “Ujus!” meant. Usien, my teacher, laughed and then paused in all seriousness, “Larry, it means…how do I say this…it means “The Horror”. All this time, I thought I was saying something cute and fuzzy and actually I was quoting Brando in Apocalypse Now…Ujus….Ujus…

Tomorrow I am leaving for a four day trip to Naryn—notorious for being the most remote and coldest city in Kyrygyzstan. I am going with one other trainee and we will be staying with two current volunteers who are both working with NGOs. The trip is supposed to give us a taste for what we’ll be doing after we are “sworn in” in December. Naryn is nestled between two mountain ranges. The city is only 2 kilometers wide, but it is 15 kilometers long. Along with Osh (in the south) and Bishkek (North) Naryn is the only other city with a trolley-bus system. Trolley buses are electrical buses with contact bars on top which touch the routes equipped with live wires above the streets. By all accounts, Naryn is beautiful, with dreamy snow-white mountains that touch the heavens and a large river that flows through the valley, dividing the already narrow city in two.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Sheep Eyes, Fermented Horses Milk and Ancient Muslim Minarets

Saturday October 2nd, was our first “culture day” and PC assembled all 66 of us at Burana Tower (about ½ hour drive southeast of Ivanovka). An eleventh century minaret, the 60 foot high Burana Tower is flanked on three sides by partially excavated mausoleums. About 5 miles to the south, snow covered mountain peaks poke the sky defining the valley’s southern boundary. With nothing but farmland for as far as the eye can see, it’s hard to imagine that nearly 1,000 years ago Burana Tower was a major stop on the old Silk Road and a city center of some 200,000 people.

As you know, our group of 66 has been divvied up and parsed out to about 7 or 8 eight villages around the city of Tokmok. My village, Ivanovka, contains the most volunteers (Raymond, David, Roselle Victoria, Kat, Tammi, Willie and his wife Alexis). I’m the oldest of the group and catch a lot of flak for being 30, looking 20 and acting 10. It’s a wonderful group of people and we take excellent care of one another as our bodies and bowels adjust to what our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) refers to as “new intestinal flora”. Here’s a direct quote from our PCMO, “Dat iz right folkz, you have new flowerz blooming in zyour bottomz.”---ah, smells like roses.

Speaking of roses, Friday, October 1st was teacher’s day. On teachers day, students bring their favorite teacher flowers (usually roses as they are the most prolific flower in Ivanovka). I am proud to share that my Momma received 150 roses, more than any other teacher in the school. Her students also borrowed a 35mm camera and walked around the school grounds taking photos of each other, developed the film, assembled an album, and presented it to my mother. She was very touched and I told her I was very proud.

Ok, let’s return to culture day. After touring the ancient grounds of Burana, we assembled about 40 feet south of the base of the tower to witness the slaughter of a sheep. After the throat slitting and blood letting, the entire head is removed and then boiled. A Kyrgyz babushka (grandmother) befriended me and I assisted her with cooking Plov—a Kyrgyz traditional dish consisting of a mixture of fried onions, carrots, rice, salt and oil. We cooked over a semi-open fire (what resembled half of a 50 gallon drum, the bottom part of which a hole was cut to add logs while on top a giant wok shaped pan was placed). This wind-weathered, leather faced babushka chuckled continuously as I attempted to stir the mountain of onions and carrots that popped and fizzled in the boiling oil. One volunteer told me he was sure it would be the best Plov he’d ever had. Thank you.

The weather was beautiful and as we awaited our meal, blankets were thrown down over the dirt and straw and baskets of fresh apples, pears, walnuts and pomegranates were placed in the center of each. We snacked on fresh bread and fruit and tasted Kumyss (fermented mare’s milk).

I Spy a Sheep Eye
After awhile a procession of men carried the sheep head to the central blanket whereupon it was laid, facing the crowd of curious and squeamish volunteers. We watched in awe as the eyeballs were extracted (not effortlessly) from the sockets of this now alien looking boiled skull of flesh. Our cultural leader (a Kyrgyz national named Akylbek [pronounced Ah kool bek] who incidentally studied at the University of Minnesota) was handed one of the eyes and began explaining that it was a great honor to be offered the sheep’s eyes and it meant your host wanted to see you again. Now, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to encourage Akylbek to eat the eye—since he had just been handed one, “Akylbek, we would all like to see you again, so please…the eye is yours.” No sooner had my witty lips closed around “yours” than the words of another instructor began goading from the rear of the crowd, “Larry! Larry! If you want to see Akylbek again, you must eat eye too!.”

Jerry Springer would have been proud of the crowd that day—cheers and jeers from the frenzied masses grew deafening as Akylbek sliced the eyeball in two and handed me half. Kyrgyz children jostled one another to catch a glimpse of the great American Appreciator of Sheep-Eyes. As you know, I’ve never been called sheepish (sorry about that, I couldn’t help myself) and faced the crowd like Schwarzenegger’s Conan, proudly displaying the half-eye in hand. Akylbek and I looked at one another, and with a subtle nod, we slung’em back like pros. After a few chews, I determined that Sheep eyes taste like grizzled fat and swallowed. Not too bad, though next time you’ll find me at the back of the crowd, mute and mindful that silence means never having to say Eye’m sorry.

Culture day concluded with horse races, amazing musicians, puppeteers and violent Kyrgyz versions of dodgeball, duck duck goose, tug-of-war and Red Rover—all of which I participated in with true competitive glory…and humiliating defeat(s). When all was said and done, I think 66 volunteers had a great day.

After obtaining permission from the director of our PST (pre-service training), on Sunday (Oct. 3), I lead a group of volunteers from Ivanovka to Bishkek. It actually turned out to be a great day trip: we didn’t get lost, we paid local prices for transportation, shopped, wondered through the massive Dordoy Bazaar, drank a few beers and finally, at the request of the group, and found a decent restaurant for food.

That's all for now. I'll try and write again soon!

Friday, October 01, 2004

Beware of exploding light bulbs!

I was in my room the other night studying my Russian like a good PCT (Peace Corps Tainee) and POP!—just like a champagne cork, my light bulb ejected from its socket and fell through the sour sock smell of my room’s atmosphere (right passed my head) and landed on the rug below. The glass portion of this miniature Sputnik remained entirely intact, save where it separated from the socket.

“Wow!…Momma, Yulia [my sister] hmmm…Nyet Sviet, nyet sviet [no light, no light]”

“Pocheemoo? [why?]” asked momma.

Unfortunately, after seven years of “higher education” I still don’t know what makes the glass part of a light bulb explode from its screwed-in socket and nearly burn the foreigner it had been so benignly illuminating seconds before…and if I did, I there’s no way I could explain it in Russian.

After a short discussion, 97% of which motivates me to keep studying Russian, my mother disappeared from the house. Within seconds she was back, dragging a skinny, sleepy-eyed Russian man by the arm. My Russian isn’t too good yet, but I did manage, “Momma, from where man?” and “this man who?”

My sister explained that he was our neighbor and an electrician and sure enough, without hesitation he climbed atop a chair, pulled a pair of needle-nose from his pocket and started to raise his arm toward the socket. He paused and turned to Yulia, mumbling something in Russian. Yulia turned to me, “he says this very dangerous and don’t try without much practice”.

I explained to my sister that I would be happy not to play with live wires and that she should not worry.

As our wiry electrically enlightened Russian neighbor unscrewed Sputnik’s booster rocket from its socket, he explained that the wiring was very old, probably from Stalin’s time (now, this I took to be an exaggeration since the house was built during the Brezhnev era), but he got his point across and we all had a good laugh.

Addenda: About a week ago my fellow volunteers pointed out that when I tried to speak in Russian, I spoke with an Italian accent. Moreover, now when I speak English to a Kyrgyz or Russian person, I use a Russian accent. Perhaps soon I will eliminate the Faux-Italian sounding Russian speaking and replace my Russian sounding English speaking with Russian sounding Russian speaking. Did you get all that?

Speaking of Language, I attend a Russian language class with three others and we share the best language instructor that PC has to offer. Our professor, Usien, attended Moscow University and speaks 7 languages. More importantly, he is incredibly kind, patient and creative in his teaching. 5 days a week I walk one mile down the main road in Ivanovka to Usien’s host-home. We study Russian from 8:30-12:30 with a 15 minute coffee break around 10:45AM.
Over the past 7 days I have walked over 24 miles. I now weigh 94 pounds. Just kidding, if anything I’ve been packing on the pounds. I eat pasta, bread and potatoes everyday (Atkins would have had a heart attack if he—wait a minute, he did have heart attack—scratch that).

(As I was writing this, I was just introduced to my first Tajik refugee. I wish I could write more about this, but truly it was just an introduction and then he left. As you may recall, the NGO I am working with here in Ivanovka works with Tajiks who fled Tajikistan during the civil war from 1992-95. I know very little about this civil war and have limited access to information and the internet—So if any of you who read this blog could google it, it would be much appreciated. My sister and I are writing a grant proposal to obtain funding for seminars that provide Tajik refugees with basic knowledge about how to obtain Kyrgyz citizenship.

Jake, thanks for the post! Hope the Vikes are doing well. As for things I could use...actually not too much yet...but there are a couple.Coffee (ground for a french press---all I’ve had is instant and although the chai is good, coffee would rock!)2-3 cheap Potatoe peelers and a few blank CDs. Thanks!!!! Mom, I hope your trip to Alaska went well. I would love an update about it! Keith said you saw some whales and dolphins. Sounds great. Hope you are doing well. I'll write more later. Take care, Love Larry. Tomorrow (Saturday) is culture day and a field trip to Burana Tower. Gotta RUn. Take care.