September 13, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Welcome to the journal of my adventures as a Peace

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uzbekistan: Peace Corps Uzbekistan : The Peace Corps in Uzbekistan: September 13, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Welcome to the journal of my adventures as a Peace

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, September 13, 2003 - 2:00 pm: Edit Post

Welcome to the journal of my adventures as a Peace
Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan.

Welcome to the journal of my adventures as a Peace
Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan.

Welcome to the journal of my adventures as a Peace
Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan.
In addition to checking out my latest news here, you
can also visit my website to
find out how to keep in touch, learn about the Peace
Corps & Uzbekistan and what goodies I need.


Start of travels: Aug 13, 2002
The fun ends: Oct 26, 2004

Welcome to the official start of the travelogue!

I feel official today because I received my staging packet from the Peace Corps. This is the last official item I'll receive from them except for my airline ticket. The big surprise is that the staging date is 2 days earlier than I thought. That means I have less than a month to go!!!

On August 13th, I'll fly from home to Washington DC. There, I'll sign in and start the 2-day staging program which will include meeting the other 30+ members of my group. We'll complete forms, play hokey little get-to-know-you-games and prepare for departure. We will fly (together as a group) from DC on August 15th. The plan is DC to Frankfurt, Germany then Frankfurt to Istanbul, Turkey and finally Istanbul to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Hmmm...the layover in Frankfurt is 5 hours. Any of the BMW crowd know how far Frankfurt is from Munich? Maybe I'll see if Andrea Dangl wants to meet me for a bier! If memory serves, the cities are not close. Anyway, I'll leave the States on a Thursday afternoon and arrive in Tashkent on Saturday at 1:30 AM.

Enough procrastinating and back to packing! 27 days and counting...eeek!

We went to the ďmountainsĒ again. This was just a day trip that Nodira planned for her homeroom class. Nodira told me the place was called 40 Pots. She had no idea why this name nor could she show me one ďpotĒ once we were there. Maybe we lost something in the translation.

This was a little different from last weekís trip. We werenít at a camp. It was kind of like a big state park with canyons and gorges. As far as I could see, there was no official park-type presence there. It was a bunch of groups that would find a place to hang out for the day. Most, including our group, piled up rocks to build a stove and then put their big pot on top.

We were about 30 people Ė me and Nodira, 24 14-year-old students, fellow Navoi PCVs Dara and Colin and a few other locals adults. This class is not one of the best. Their English stinks for the most part and they are horribly behaved. But Nodira likes them so I just think of them for social/cultural interaction and donít get worked up about teaching them.

All in all, it was a very nice day. I was incredibly tired and took it easy most of the morning and early afternoon. The kids seemed bummed that I wasnít hiking and playing with them. I felt a little bad but then reminded myself that I had planned to take it easy this weekend and had asked Nodira to let me off the hook with the trip. She said she would rather I go and be boring than not go. So be it.

Luckily, my camera was working better this weekend so I took lots of pictures and will tell more about the day with the photos attached. But, there were a few incidents that could not be captured on Ö film? (Pixel? Disc? Smart Card? What do you call the digital camera media?)

One of the things that does not change on other side of the world is gravity. Iím still a horrible klutz. Iíve fallen so many times here that I have scabs on bruises on scars. The medical office hasnít said anything yet but Iím sure Iíve gone through the most boxes of band-aids, antibiotic and first aid tape of all the PCVs. So, sure enough, I wasnít surprised when I fell in a big pile of mud. A couple of the boy students were showing me the swimming hole and the mud on the bank decided to slip around under me. I didnít fall in the water but slid all over into the mud. Well, at least there was water right there. I shooed the kids away, got Colin to be my lookout, peeled off my top and jumped in the water in my shorts and bra to clean off. The water was nice and cool and swimming for the first time in months was really nice.

I also took a fall later when I was walking on the hilltop with some of the girls. They were gathering flowers to bring home to their moms when some rocks got loose beneath me and down I went. I had a gash in my leg and blood running down my ankle. It was a pretty big gash but didnít seem deep and wasnít bleeding a lot so I wasnít too worried. I donít know if people here over-react to things like this in general. Maybe it just seems that way because they are so over-protective of me as their foreign guest. But they always make a big deal when something like this happens and I really didnít want to cause a scene. I was able to trail behind the girls enough down the hillside and then sneak off to the water to get cleaned up. But I was found out when I was putting on bandages. For the walk out of the canyon, I was treated like I was a 90 year old woman being tended by helpful boy scouts.

It was during this part of the day, the walk out, that things got a little out of hand. We were walking single file on the rocks that surround the 10 foot wide stream. Suddenly some of the girls were screaming. I looked to the commotion across the water. A few of the girls were walking on that side and had met up with a group of 3 or 4 very drunk men. Our side of the river was steep rocks and we were walking on a ledge about 15 feet above the water. The rocks were steep on the other side too, but there was a lower, wide ledge right next to the water. Most of the girls just left the men. But I saw some pushing and then one of the guys try to pull the shirt off one of our students.

Two of the adults with us were Rita, Daraís counterpart, and her 19 year old brother Artur. Rita was close to me and screamed for Artur. He ran up from behind while we were across the water helplessly screaming at these drunks to let go of the girl. They were totally unresponsive. Artur jumped in and was able to get between the girl and the men. The girl quickly scaled the rocks to get away and joined the other girls that, by this time, were screaming and crying over what had happened already and over what was turning into an inevitable fight for Artur. Shavkat and a few of the boy students also ran over to help Artur.

In retrospect, one of the things that struck me was the panic that the girls had. The ones that were part of the confrontation with the men were obviously upset. But some of the others that had come up from behind were really paniced about Artur getting into a fistfight. It seemed to me that they were over-reacting since it was daylight and there were hundreds of people around. Thatís when I realized that maybe a fistfight isnít just a minor incident here. The alcohol here makes people incredibly violent some times. Also, people are very passive and would be hard pressed to get involved in an altercation between strangers. And the lack of dependable transportation and sparse medical conditions probably make seemingly minor injuries have a dire affect in some cases.

Anyway, back to the story. Rita had scrambled upstream and across some rocks to come to her brotherís aid. Rita is about 5í2Ē and very petite. But, she explained later, she is Daghostani and would do anything to save her beloved brother. The guys were starting to push and were very close to throwing punches. By the time Nodira ran up from the back to help them all, punches were flying. I tried to get the other students to move along so that maybe we could find help or at least get them out of harms way.

Then the fight rolled or fell into the water. Artur went in with one of the drunks. Another drunk jumped in to help pound on Artur. The drunk that fell in had tried to grab hold of something and found Ritaís ankle. Once he realized what he had, he was refusing to let go and pulling her into the water too. So, the 3 guys are in the water fighting. One of them has Ritaís ankle and is dragging her off the rock into the water while she is screaming on the top of her lungs. The girls are all screaming and crying. The boys on our side of the river are fervent to get across to help somehow. Somehow, Nodira, Shavkat and the other boys managed to get Ritaís leg free and they all scrambled up the rocks away from drunks.

We ushered all the kids away and Artur followed coming out of the water. I donít know why the drunks didnít follow at this point but didnít care. Letís just get out of here. We were moving quickly along the path Ė helping each other up and down rocks, passing bags and just trying to get going. A few bags got crushed on the rocks, glass broke, tensions were still high. Some of the kids were rallying around me. Explaining that these are bad men. How bad it gets when the men drink. That all people in Uzbekistan are not like this. A few of the more studious ones (always thirsty for more English) were asking for translations of words like Ďfightí and Ďdrunkí. Overall, they seemed embarrassed and ashamed of the spectacle that was put before us. I explained to them that things like this happen in America too. That people always do stupid things and that alcohol often makes people more stupid. And that I have lived here for 8 months now (!), so of course I know how good most Uzbek people are.

Hot, tired and stressed, we got to the dirt road where the busses were to pick us up. At this point, the girl that was almost assaulted and another girl got into a fistfight. Accusations of inviting the trouble and blame were flying. We diffused that pretty quickly. But trouble was still coming.

The kids started running, shouting and crying again. One of the drunks was coming toward us. He obviously was not finished with Artur. Luckily Artur was in the front of the group and we moved him and the kids along quickly while Nodira, Shavkat and a few of the boys ran interference slowing the guy down. We moved like that for about a half mile Ė trying to move quickly and looking back over our shoulder to see Nodira and the others arguing with the drunk and then walking away. Then the drunk following again. Soon we came upon one of our busses. By that time, the drunk was caught up to us with Artur and his friends had followed.

We made Artur get in the bus and lock the doors hoping that the guys would just leave. They didnít seem to want to start anything with the kids or any of the rest of us at this point. They just had a score to settle with Artur. The busdriver was a good sized, level headed man and helped Nodira continue to run interference. But, our second bus was not there yet. We got most of the girls into the bus and Dara and I climbed in the front seat. We thought about leaving to at least get some of us out of there. But, I didnít like the idea of leaving Nodira with these drunks and just a bunch of 14 year old boys to help her. And we couldnít leave the boys without an adult and obviously wanted to get Artur out of there. When the other bus arrived, the driver with a few of his friends (they were probably late because they were drinking as well) jumped out and finally got the drunks to back off. We hurried into the bus and drove home without further incident.

And, yes, as soon as we got the kids to the end destination near our school in Navoi, all of us adults went for a beer or two. Allís well that ends well. But, Nodira finally agreed with me Ė no more trips for a week or two!

My main job is to be an English Teacher at School 17 in Navoi. I teach 20 classes a week Ė students ranging from 11 to 16 years old of varying degrees of English speaking ability. Some classes are great. Some are not. I probably spend about 2 or 3 hours a day on lesson planning. From this core ďjobĒ, I can go in a million different directions.

The teachers at school just lecture to their classes Ė badly. The teachersí English is often filled with errors and the books are so boring that itís a relief when they are falling apart. Then I have an excuse not to use them. Peace Corps trained me with new teaching methodology including teaching without textbooks. Right now, Iím just informally modeling this teaching to whoever wants to sit in on my classes. Iíve brought up the possibility of teacher gatherings where we can brainstorm about lessons or I could help the teachers with their English. If this were successful, then I would invite or go to other teachers in the community Ė at other schools. So far, the teachers at my school havenít jumped on the idea so I havenít pushed it. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that after sitting in on a few classes, a teacher told me that I had mixed up the Russian word PEEsat with peeSAT. Since I thought I was telling my students to write but I was really telling them to piss, I may have lost some credibility with the other teachers.

I spend one afternoon a week at the Navoi English Conversation Club (NECC Ė more acronyms!). The English Club has members ranging from age 15 to 25. The English Club is there for them to practice speaking English. Their English is usually pretty advanced and many of the members aspire to travel or use their English to get higher paying jobs than what is normally available. My role there is really as a resource. It helps the members to have a native English speaker to listen to. They listen to my inflections and what words I use and it helps them to fine-tune their English.

Now that Iíve been at site 3 months and in-country 6 months (!), my real work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is starting to take shape in Community Development efforts. Another PCV has asked me to help him with a fairly large project in his village. We are going to bulldoze and re-build his schoolÖwith the community doing all the work and as little government intervention as possible. This is really unusual and difficult in a former Soviet country where the people still have no concept of making their own decisions and initiating things for themselves. Iíll get into the nuances of this in another post. Iím here in Tashkent this week meeting with different organizations to see if this project is even feasible. It is. Now we need to go back to the community and mobilize their intentions into reality. Itís going to be weird to go back to Navoi because this week I lived a little of my former life, dressing up and making presentations to NGO (more acronyms! Non-Government Organizations Ė basically, an international non-profit organization) Country Directors persuading them to give me moneyÖlots of money. And I did it well. How do you go from that to teaching 11 year olds about comparative adjectives?

Other little things fall into place. Like, my school Director just seems to care about what I can get for her. Books, posters, crap like that. She is all about just having something to show. ďSee how successful I am? I have an American at my school. And a room full of books in English.Ē She does not seem to care in the least about the American or the books except that she has them. She gives me very little support and has actually been more of an obstacle to me than anything else. So, I focus my efforts toward the students, other teachers, the Zavuches (which are like Vice Principals) and try not to let her political wrangling get to me. But, I have spent the last week away from school working on a project that will not impact my school in Navoi at all. So, I spent some time gathering some books that I can bring to school. That should make her happy.

There was a guy at the Peace Corps office yesterday who is working on a project to get computers and internet connections at schools in Uzbekistan. We got an e-mail about a month ago about this but I didnít respond because I donít think it is what my school needs. But now that I am going forward with plans to spend lots of time away from my school, getting the computer hook-up will be another thing that makes my Director happy. So, Iíll meet with him and weíll see what happens. Things like this just seem to fall into place sometimes. Iíll make a connection with a resource that wants to provide something to the community. In this case, it serves a political purpose for me at the school too. And, having the internet at school for me to use myself will not be horrible. These are the little side things that pretty much fill out my job so far.


As is the case with any situation, the PCVs tend to bitch and moan when we get togetherÖcomplaining about the phone lines, lack of hot water, high costs at internet cafes, etc. Sometimes, we catch ourselves and try to remember that we are in the Peace Corps. If any of the old timers that were in the PC in the 60s or 70s could hear us, they would have a fit and call us all spoiled little brats.

So, I often feel stupid complaining about things like my crappy leaking kitchen sink, cold rooms at school or lack of books, minor bribes needed to get anything done and so forth. Most frustrating are the things that are usually Peace Corps administrative issues. We donít receive the Newsweeks that weíre supposed to get weekly. The land phone system is so useless and old that it would make more sense to give each PCV a mobile phone. Especially since they expect us to let them know if we just venture out of our usual stomping grounds. Not to mention the thousand of trees that we lug around in books that could easily be put on CD if every PCV was issued a laptop. Mail that is promised to us from Tashkent doesnít get delivered. The administration admits that we are not getting paid enough but the bureaucracy in DC to get the needed raises is mind-boggling. The fact is, weíre willing to accept that we are living in a place where comfort is not always easy to attain, but itís incredibly frustrating when the only reason we are going without something is because of administrative incompetence.

Iím certainly living much more comfortably than I ever thought I would be when I signed up. Iím in a city. I have hot water, electricity and a flushing toilet most of the time. It is possible to keep in reasonable contact with people at home. Transportation is easy to use. The food is good and easy to buy. This really isnít what I expected and I often wonder if Iím getting the real ďPeace Corps experienceĒ.

I spoke to a Volunteer today that has been here for about a year. She had just come back from a visit home to America. When I saw her in November, she had said she was considering extending her service here instead of going home as scheduled in March. So I was surprised today when I asked her about this and she answered without hesitation that she is definitely going home. She said that being in America even for a short visit, made her realize how much we struggle on a daily basis here. Things are just so convenient and easy in the U.S. She said we donít realize how much the little frustrations of daily life here wear on us. So, is that the hard reality of the ďPeace Corps experienceĒ?

Iím thinking more about it this evening. I have my own room in a nice little hotel in Tashkent. Itís a clean, small room that would be considered acceptable but incredibly modest in America. Having little creature comforts reminds what I am going without on a daily basis. Here, I have satellite TV with CNN in English, thick blankets, a shower head, a box of tissues and halfway decent toilet paper and I am thinking Iíve scored a night at a luxury hotel. I am ecstatic to have the TV to listen to Ė I donít care what is on. It is so nice to hear English and not have to have my mind working to translate or worry about what Iím not understanding. It's also nice to watch American movies even if they are dubbed into Russian. I guess itís the familiarity. Tonight, Jaws and The Godfather are both on. I watched Jaws just to hear "we're gonna need a bigger boat" in Russian.

So, even though Iím not experiencing the hut in Africa and fishing for my food, heating water that I hauled from a river over a fire or struggling to hike over mountains to get to school Ė itís not like Iím living what anyone at home would consider a normal life. I seem to be wondering if Iím suffering enough. Isnít that crazy? Other PCVs here in the small villages are definitely living a different life than I am. But then again, so are the PCVs in Tashkent that have restaurants, e-mails and culture at their fingertips.

I think the bottom line is that this is still the Peace Corps. There are plenty of things I am doing without Ė but things have changed. The Peace Corps of 2003 is not the Peace Corps of 1963Öthank god. As the world has changed, so has what we can expect even living in an undeveloped country. Maybe itís a testament to the PCVs that have come before. I hope I donít sound like Iím trying to rationalize what Iím doing. These are just the ramblings of my head that Iím sharing.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Ñ Íîâûì Ãîäîì! (When you sing ďHappy New YearĒ in Russian, it sounds like the song The Hoos in Hooville sing in The Grinch that Stole Christmas.)

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Uzbekistan; PCVs in the Field - Uzbekistan



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