Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan Update!

First off, Happy belated Thanksgiving from Kyrgyzstan! Everyone here had a wonderful time celebrating traditions old and new on Thanksgiving day. Many ambitious individuals hunted down turkeys and pumpkins at the bazaar in Bishkek. As for me, I was out-voted (I was hoping for the traditional meal) and ended up indulging in burgers, fries and barbecue chicken pizza... Oh, and beer. I'm a little jealous of the traditionalists with their turkey, mash-potatoes, gravy and corn. Next year!

We've been very busy finishing up our Pre Service Training and preparing to move to our permanent sites. Here's a little time line for you:

December 1st: Move all of our belongings into Hotel Isykk Kul in Bishkek:

December 2nd: We wrap up our last training session in the hotel and put on a Talent Show.

December 3rd: Swearing in Ceremony at the Philharmonia in Bishkek(With Askar Akaev, the president of Kyrgyzstan in attendance). After the ceremony, the Ambassador to Kyrygzstan, Steven Young (I believe that's his name) has invited us to a reception at his private residence.

December 4th: We depart for our permanent sites for the next 2 years. As you know, I will be working at the Human Rights and Democracy Center in Osh. I'm excited to move and get settled in, though a bit sad that next week will likely be the last time we all see one another in one spot again.

Sorry for the long delay between updates. This certainly has not been by choice. Internet in Kyrgyzstan is very unreliable and often times I will have written a long message only to have the power go out before I send it. For those parents and friends who aren't receiving regular emails from your loved ones over here--please know that I am one of the few volunteers who actually lives in a village with internet access.

I will not be able to post any messages until after the first week of December. Please check back in around December 5th or 6th for the latest update.

Once I get settled in Osh, the blog entries should be more regular again. Hope all is well back home,

Take care,


Saturday, November 13, 2004

Osh My Gosh--I Love It!

Just a quick note from Osh. Left Bishkek and Issyk Kul hotel on Thursday. The night before we left, President Askar Akaev celebrated his birthday in our hotel. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to seem him, but we did see plenty of armed guards. The twelve hour taxi ride certainly was interesting—an eagle, mythical in size, nearly flew off with our taxi in it's talons.

When I come to Osh in December, I will be living with an ethnic Kyrgyz Family, in a village just outside of the city. My host brother studies International Diplomacy at Osh State University and two of my three sisters are doctors. The oldest son is police detective. My father is the director of the movie theatres (apparently there are two) and my mother works for the department of education. We have a few sheep, a dog with 5 puppies, and a sick boy (just a cold) who is staying with us--I still don't know who he belongs too.

The Human Rights and Democracy Center is an amazing organization—they work hard and play hard, as was evidenced by our busy day on Friday followed by mountains of food, billiards and beer. We are located in the center of the city on a beautiful street (see address below). Feel free to check our website at I'll be working alongside a very ambitious group of young attorneys, and I believe we'll learn a lot from one another.

All mail should now be sent to:

Larry Tweed
Public Foundation Human Rights and Democracy Center
714000 Kurmanjan – Datka str. 209,
Osh city, Kyrgyz Republic

Tel/fax. (+996 3222) 24438

(Written November 7 in Ivanovka)
One of the most important indicators of one’s adaptation to a new culture is the failure to see the contrasts and juxtapositions inherent in everyday life. Before I begin to forget the things that I find foreign and extraordinary, I decided to document some of them. Here are a few things I’ve noticed in the two months that I’ve lived in Kyrgyzstan:

Mercedes and Audis parked next to donkey carts.

Skinned horse legs, hooves and all, for sale at the local bazaar.

Manholes (remnants of soviet infrastructure) in the middle of the streets, without any covers over them.

Viewing an early 80s television while it advertises LG® Flat-screen Russian TVs.

New Mosques (being built with United Arab Emirates cash) prominently positioned on busy corners in nearly every village and city—I’ve coined the term McMosque, not to be culturally insensitive, but, rather, to connote their uniform appearance, abundance and purpose in Kyrgyz pop-culture.

Eggs, grain and vegetables being sold next to black-market audio-tapes, CDs and Adidas.

Cleaning detergents with not-so-clean names as BARF and MUFF

Push-pop children’s candy called Nipple-Sticks, which, oddly enough, have one end shaped like a nipple.

Internet cafes, where children can be found, all times of the day, playing such educational games as Grand Theft Auto III and Counter-Strike.

Scantily dressed Russian women discussing child rearing with conservatively dressed Uzbek women.

A discothèque with outdoor speakers—noisily drowning out the evening “call-to-prayer” which soulfully resonates from the McMosque across the street.

An Opera house and a 5-star Hyatt hotel in a “third world country”.

Homemade Vodka being sold more cheaply than water.

Coal trucks loaded with scrap metal (remember the missing manhole covers?) bound for china, where the refuse it will be melted down, re-manufactured and exported back to Kyrgyzstan to be re-sold at the bazaar.

Muslim men consuming copious amounts of Vodka in order to make it through Ramadan

A children’s mental institution with wall paper depicting werewolves and deranged bears standing over severed heads (no joke—this was one of the most disturbing decorating jobs I’ve ever seen).

The belief that television hypnotists can get into your mind and actually kill you while you watch them…yet people still watch.

The local Red Cross, which for obvious religious reasons is emblematically represented by a Red Crescent.

Statues of Lenin in cities where all of the Russians have left.

That’s all for now. Take care,

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Living and the Dead

This will be a short post.

Today, my mother and sister asked me to leave my language class early in order to participate in a grieving ceremony for my host grandmother who died 7 years ago today. I exited class at 11:30 AM and walked (rather, I limped after playing football on Saturday) the mile back to my house. We awaited the arrival of my twin uncles and thier wives and proceeded north about 3 city blocks, toward Kazahkastan (it is only a 25 minute walk to the border from my house). As we walked my sister told me stories of her grandmother; she talked about her last day in the hospital and told me how she and my Momma had tried to make it to the hospital when they heard that grandma was dying. They arrived too late to say goodbye. My sister was 16 years old and her grief was so overwhelming that the doctors couldn't restrain her. She told me how she lost all control when they told her that grandma was dead--she kicked and bit them and screamed into the the halls, hearing only her echoes wailing back.

When we arrived at the cemetary, my uncle brushed off the grave, carefully removing leaves and twigs. The graves of my host grandparents lay next to each other and a short fence surrounds their resting place. My grandmother's grave is marked by a marble headstone and my grandfather's by a wooden cross. My grandfather died on June 18, 2004--and I believe we are saving money for a marble headstone. There is a small table and bench within the fence and while my uncle tidied the space my mother and aunt set the table. Momma placed a danish on each grave and then the men were called to drink. We three men, raised our glasses of wine in toast and then sipped a little. We then poured wine on each grave and finished our glasses. Then the women drank and then the men again. We each ate some bread and hard candy before returning to the house where we feasted on pigs in the blanket, coca-cola and wine. Momma set a place for my grandmother and lit a candle in her stead. I was told that I will be eating these left-overs for dinner--which I find somewhat interesting.

On the way to the internet cafe, a child waved from his rooftop. He wore Rollerblades as he tried to ascend his slanted roof. When I asked him what he was doing, all he said was, "Extreme Sport".

I laughed and walked away--not wanting to witness the Extreme outcome.

That is all today.

Good bye.


Monday, November 01, 2004

Condom Skits and Rabies Shots

October 27, 2004, was my directorial debut. After viewing a pus-filled
PowerPoint on Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia et al, our Peace Corps Medical Officer, Yelena, challenged us [8 separate groups] to come up with a skit on the proper technique for “applying a condom”. Mind you, condoms and phalli were provided to those groups who needed such banal props to carry forth this beautifully creative challenge; Group #4 [my group] was the only one needing no such props.

With only the shirts off our backs, we put together a masterful interpretive dance, that’s had Broadway phoning us for days. Keep in mind, the entire month of October the men have been growing mustaches for “StacheTober” and I am currently the proud wearer of a 1970’s porn star “Leisure Suit Larry” stache.

Let me further set the stage: After assembling in our groups [Group #4 consisted of 5 men and 3 women], we had five minutes to think up a skit. After two and half minutes of the usual, “Does your host family use Christmas cards as toilet paper too? Did you hear so and so fell in a manhole? What’s with that crazy drunk tractor driver? Did you get that package with the oregano yet?”—I realized we needed something uplifting in order to get our condom skit on. But what…?

And then the epiphany hit me!

Only an interpretive dance can subtly convey the discretion and control necessary to properly apply a condom to a phallus.

The idea arrived in toto, complete with roles, music and our own props. Better yet, since it was an interpretive dance, no speaking roles were necessary…except the announcer of course.

Here’s how it broke down--please note, imagination is key in comprehending the complexity of this arousing piece.

The Players: 5 men and 3 women

The Penis: [three men] two men sitting on the floor, knees to chest, heads down and arms locked around their legs in front of them (think family jewels); directly between them a man squats on his haunches, arms hanging limply at his sides as he awaits his cue to arise to the occasion.

The Music: one man standing in the background humming classical music [think DeBeers Diamonds theme mixed with 2001 Space Odyssey]

The Condom: starring my rolled-up sweater and another volunteer’s winter hat [think reservoir]

The Condom Applicators: Two women willing to unroll a sweater over a man and place a hat atop his head.

Interpretive Dancers: One woman [excellent dancer] and yours truly [think of an elephant trying to perform ballet on ice-skates]

Announcer: Also played by me and I’m proud to say the only speaking role, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please be seated…Thank you all for coming…no pun intended…we have for you this evening, a beautiful interpretive dance…let us begin.”

[Music starts soft and grows harder…ummm…louder]

[Man on his haunches slowly begins to stand]


[interpretive dancers twist, writhe and run across the stage]

[Man on haunches now fully erect begins arching backward (note: this arching was brilliantly ad-libbed by Erich—AKA The Penis)]

[Music reaches climax]

Two women approach either side of the arching Erich, one with sweater and the other with hat; sweater is placed over his head and pulled down around his waist and winter cap is set gently a top his head.

……….The crowd (consisting of the program manager, the medical staff and 58 other volunteers) erupts!………

Later that day, as the Medical Officer was about to administer my third and final rabies shot [standard procedure for every volunteer here] she asked me, “Larry, vas dee dahnse zjur idea?”

I paused and looked at Yelena who smiled behind her needle, squeezing out a little of the anti-rabies serum, to punctuate her question, “…so vas eet?”

“No, no, no…it was the group’s idea.” I replied glibly, captivated by the awful length of the syringe.

Yelena’s eyes fixed on the needle’s tip. She flicked the cylinder’s plastic bladder twice and lowered it toward my arm, “I thought dees skit vas sverry funny…I tink eet vas zjur doing.”

I smiled and faced forward as the cold steel needle penetrated all five layers of my skin, pushed through my muscle and delivered the burning anti-rabies serum into my bloodstream.