June 21, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: PCVs in the Field - Kyrgyzstan: Personal Web Site: Charles Harkness spends two years as a peace corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kyrgyzstan: Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan : The Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan: June 21, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: PCVs in the Field - Kyrgyzstan: Personal Web Site: Charles Harkness spends two years as a peace corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-22-73.balt.east.verizon.net - on Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - 4:30 pm: Edit Post

Charles Harkness spends two years as a peace corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan

Charles Harkness spends two years as a peace corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan

Charles Harkness spends two years as a peace corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan

An Overdue Update from the Other Side of the World:

This update to Charles’ continuing adventures in Kyrgyzstan is long overdue as for a time he was unsure if he was going to be staying in country. His first job with Kyrgyz National University did not work out and he spent a considerable amount of the past two months looking for a new position that would allow him to continue as a Peace Corp Volunteer. A new job has been obtained after many interviews with people who would love to have him on faculty but have no hours to give him because someone waited until the last minute to tell the boss that they were going to stay for the next year, so the blog is being updated.


Most of the first week of May was holidays so vacation was the order of the day; May 1 was Labor Day, May 5 was Constitution Day and May 9 was Victory Day. Labor Day, while an official holiday was nothing of any consequence, the only interesting thing was the televised parade of military hardware held in Moscow. Charles’ plan for all of this free time? A lot of wandering the city to familiarize himself with more of it and visiting the various museums. He was able to work in a visit or two to the mountains for some walking/hiking; at 9,000 feet Charles figured it was probably high enough (Bishkek sits at 2700 feet).

The director of Peace Corps, Gaddi Vasquez, was in country at the end of April; Charles meet him along with all sorts of other higher ups. There was also a crafts fair held by one of the PC helped organizations, CACSA. Charles was able to see crafts from all over Central Asia including around the Aral Sea.

Charles may have finally found a religious niche in Bishkek. While he is probably the only Friend within the city limits, he finds time to hold a “Meeting of One” in a secluded courtyard before going into a Presbyterian service. And it is a true Scot who sermonizes at the church; last name is McAlistair with an accent to match! The other Protestant Church in Bishkek is a Missouri Synod Lutheran affiliate.

Spring runs a few weeks ahead of suburban Minnesota. Many of the same plants are seen with iris, peonies and roses, lots of roses! It is quite a city of roses; it definitely rivals Portland, OR, or any of the other cities that claim to be a city of roses. Tree varieties are also the same with elm being the predominant deciduous tree but there are also oaks, birch, firs and pines. All of this vegetation is quite helpful, as the Clean Air Act has not reached the Other Side of the World. Not only are there plenty of coal fired plants and hardwood charcoal used in home cooking but just about every restaurant prepares shaslik, or kebabs, on an outdoor grill. The mountains can no longer be seen thanks to all of the smog being produced.

When asked about sending packaged mixes for things like cake or cookies, the answer was no way! The home ovens do not get hot enough no matter what the setting is to do a proper job of baking the center of any item while the bottom and top are burned. Other PCVs have reported the same thing in their own situations so Charles is resigned to getting baked goods from a vendor. There is no refined flour available on the local market so commercially made bread is okay but the cakes are very heavy. Local pastas take double or triple the time to cook as they would in the US and it is not all because of being further above sea level. However, the locals have figured out how to make amazing frostings and jellies to take away from the less than desirable baked goods.

In the middle of May, Charles made a quick move to his own place. His host family was leaving on an extended vacation so made the request for Charles to move a little earlier than PC had planned; everyone in Bishkek moves into their own place after completing the second family placement. He really enjoys being able to cook his own food and make noise if need be and, best of all, his new apartment has cable TV with American channels. The incongruity of watching CNN or Fox News while on the Other Side of the World is priceless. Overall, it is a step up from Motel 6. It is also next to the Kyrgyz version of Home Depot; a bazaar that carries nothing but home improvement items that is constantly busy this time of year.

May in Bishkek also means no hot water. There is no hot water in the entire city. It seems that the Soviets built the water system such that all of the hot water is produced centrally and May is the month to repair the system whether it needs it or not!

The Ferghana Valley is providing Charles with an ample supply of fresh produce starting with tomatoes and strawberries. It is wonderful to have fresh produce again after months of nothing but canned. Later in May, lettuce and cherries became available.

At the end of May, Charles’ group of hemophiliacs wrapped up for the summer. When they next meet, he will have information on how to obtain grants to purchase a computer or two for the group to use. Possible charities include some PC programs and Paul Newman’s charity.


As the weather has warmed, Charles has discovered that frozen custard is not geographically limited to Milwaukee or St. Louis but can also be found in that outpost on the Other Side of the World. The texture is not quite the same and the flavors can leave a little to be desired but it is frozen custard.

The first weekend in June Charles spent his time reviewing applications from Turkmenistan for scholarships to American University-Central Asia. The Turkmen educational system may just be the poorest in the Northern Hemisphere as 140 days a year for 9 years will get you a diploma but without two years of work experience you can’t get into Turkmen University. You can’t get the work experience without having gone to university. Definitely a catch-22. Turkmenistan has a Glorious Leader, possibly the most inept dictator in the world. Possibly 30 scholarships will be given to help these lucky/unlucky students. Charles had a guest for the weekend as another PCV from the Seattle area had come in to help evaluate the applications also.

Even on the Other Side of World, things, at least for PC related things, stopped to observe Ronald Reagan’s death. Of course, Charles got to get his fill of any and all coverage of both Reagan and the D-Day observances thanks to his continuing arrangement in the apartment.

And the new position will keep Charles in Bishkek as an Assistant to the Director of International Relations at Arabyaev University. Arabyaev U is a teacher training school. The job description includes developing ties to universities in the west for faculty/student exchanges, digging up grant monies, teaching faculty English composition as it would be needed for their own pursuits of grants and exchanges. The biggest project is trying to change the university from its current Soviet model to a more western model. A project on the side will include lunching with Rector of the school to help increase his personal knowledge of English and composition.

Charles may get to stay in his current housing as it is only a kilometer away from Arabyaev which is then only another couple of blocks to the Red Crescent where he meets with his hemophilia kids.

Summer has arrived in Bishkek and the next cool down will occur sometime in the fall

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

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



By Anonymous (woland.freenet.kg - on Wednesday, July 27, 2005 - 12:59 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corpse volunteers are great, but those who occupy positiony in the Kyrgyz office concerned more on their positions rather than the goal of the organization.

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