March 14, 2002 - The Daily Times: Uzbekistan RPCV Salissa Wahlers shares experience with county schools

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uzbekistan: Peace Corps Uzbekistan : The Peace Corps in Uzbekistan: March 14, 2002 - The Daily Times: Uzbekistan RPCV Salissa Wahlers shares experience with county schools

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Uzbekistan RPCV Salissa Wahlers shares experience with county schools

Uzbekistan RPCV Salissa Wahlers shares experience with county schools

Peace Corps volunteer shares experience with county schools

2002-03-14 by Joel Davis of The Daily Times Staff

It's the toughest job that Salissa Wahlers ever loved.

While the tragedy of Sept. 11 caused the premature end of her Peace Corps assignment in Uzbekistan, Wahlers said she enjoyed her stay in the Asian country that shares a border with Afghanistan.

``It was mind-blowing,'' she said. ``It was great. It was very rewarding. I've never done anything in my life that was so fulfilling and satisfying.''

Wahlers spent Friday and Monday speaking to county high school students about her experience.

The first news that Wahlers had of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States came from a telephone call ordering her to the airport for evacuation.

``We didn't have any idea,'' she said. ``People here were more terrified than we were.''

Despite the attack, Wahlers said she had didn't fear living in Uzbekistan.

``It was really, really hard to get on that plane,'' she said.

Leaving wasn't easy. Peace Corps volunteers invest much of themselves into their assignments, Wahlers said.

``It was horrible after living there for over a year and establishing friendships,'' she said. ``They don't know what I've sacrificed and put into living there for a year,'' she said.

Wahlers sometimes had no electricity or water in her apartment in Uzbekistan.

``It's just hard for Peace Corps volunteers,'' she said. ``They just see there is so much opportunity that comes with you, and they all want a piece of it.''

While there, Wahlers taught English and co-directed a girls self-esteem class.

The Uzbekistani girls were less informed than their American counterparts.

``A lot of them didn't know how a baby was made,'' she said.

Uzbekistan is a former Soviet republic. Its currency, the som, doesn't stack up well against the dollar, Wahlers told students at Heritage High School.

A bowl of soup costs about 300 soms. A one-som note is almost valueless and is sometimes put to other uses than legal tender.

``If you're out and go to the bathroom and you don't have any toilet paper, you do now,'' Wahlers said.

Uzbekistan is not a very affluent country.

``In their terms, if they had $100, they could live like a king for a week,'' Wahlers said.

At William Blount High School, Wahlers taught Pat Lofan's nutrition class how to cook somas, which is a Uzbekistani fast food.

``The students have just really enjoyed it,'' Lafon said.

Wahlers told the student that it is a tradition among the Uzbeki people to eat with their hands.

``Once you get into it, it's actually kind of fun because you get to eat rice with your hands,'' she said.

Wahlers' father, a psychologist who works for Blount County Schools, is a Maryville resident.

The Uzbekistanis made an effort to make Wahlers feel comfortable, she said.

``Most people I ate with used spoons out of respect for me because I was from a different culture,'' she said. ``Every time I went out, they said we have spoons!''

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Story Source: The Daily Times

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



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