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Jenna Covucci in Kyrgyzstan
Jenna Covucci in Kyrgyzstan
I made it to Bishkek safe and sound. The ride took over 10 hours and rained the whole time. I was squished and didn't get enjoy any of the nice scenery. But let me tell you when I arrived in the Hyatt I was in a state of shock. It is so nice! I didn't know what to do with myself. But I had a 11pm late night meal of french fries and a club sandwich, chased down by a white russian and margarita, all while I sat I a bar nicer than any I generally frequent in the US. There was a whole crowd of some Ameican men sitting in the back of the bar that were all making jokes about 'another Friday night in Bishkek.' I just felt so "fresh out of the village" sitting there taking in all the expensive alcohol bottles and bartenders that spoke perfect English. I had a bath last night and a shower this morning which I realize is 2 in less than 24 hours so I've probably already surpased my bathing quotient for May.
Walking around today, I'm just now realizing how exactly posh and international Bishkek is. You can get most all you want here (if you got the money) and my Kyrgyz is useless here. I'm at the Peace Corps office right now emailing in the resource center and will spend the rest of the day stocking up on Bishkek
commodities and trying to find a taxi to take me to the airport at 3:30 am. There probably will be another White Russian or two involved.
On Friday a bunch of young teachers are coming over to my house for a mini get-together. They kind of invited themsleves over which means I have to go buy
lots of food and make a table and stuff. Of course I have to serve ash but they said they'd help me cook so I just have to go to the bazaar and buy a bunch of
kilos of rice, carrots, and meat and such. It will be my first experience picking meat out of the stalls hanging in huge chunks out in the sun with flys
roaming around. Haven't yet decided if I'll go sheep or cow. Shopping is actually hard here because the Massy bazaar is a long walk from my house and I can't carry that many kilos back so maybe I'll make a trip both tomorrow and Friday. I'm a little nervous about having people over but hopefully, I can just play the dumb foreigner and all my mistakes will be forgiven.
Last night I went to the otrush (it's like this dinner group where people take turns hosting at their house once a month) I've been taking part in with Aptoo and
a few older teachers at my school. It was pretty fun--there was massive amounts of food but it was actually really good. I was worried because this was
my first time at the otrush with my new 'no vodka in Massy' pledge (actually I already broke this pledge with a half-shot at lunchtime this week, but it's a
long story) but I surprisingly managed to get away without drinking a drop. I used the excuse that I had started my malaria medicine and I got plenty of
ragging about it but held my ground. However, when the topic of life in America came up, I had to get scorned with, 'of course it's easy, see they even have a pill for malaria!' But still, I didn't have to drink anything which here in Kyrgyzstan is a huge accomplishment.
"Things in Massy are going really well. The weather is turning spring-like (I could have safely said that last week but it did snow all of Tuesday!), more people are out on the street, and everyone is getting the fields ready for planting. I feel like I've settled in a lot more and everything seems more comfortable as I get used to teaching at school, my living situation, the language and culture in general, and get to know more and more people in town."
"Routines here are definitely starting to feel more normal yet there's still so much to learn. Some cultural differences are obviously apparent, yet almost everyday I'm struck by new realizations. Things on the surface don't bother me as much--I don't think it weird to call up my school director (principal) to ask if he's firing up the banya and invite myself over for weekly bath. Yet learning to live and be seen as a comparative millionaire in such an impoverished country is an ongoing challenge.
03/04/04 "Aah, life as a teacher in Kyrgyzstan. If I thought motivation was lacking among teachers in the States, it doesn't quite compare to here, but then again, I don't know how much I'd be drive to work if my salary was $20-$25 a month. In Kyrgyzstan it's not weird to be smelling vodka fumes off your kids teacher as she tell syou hje needs to get his act together."
2/14/2004 I washed some clothes yesterday and I have to say that I'm definitely improving on techniques. I'm still terrible by Kyrgyz standards but I can at least wring out pants and shirts. I always needed help before. There are certain sweaters and jackets though that I don't ever envision washing in this 2 years time.
2/7/2004 I had a busy and productive week here and some good times with my students and chatting with fellow teachers. I guested at one 11th grade girl in my English club's house Saturday night and had lots of plov, the requisite 50 ml of vodka, and good food.
1/20/2004 "One thing that frustrates me here is the almost complete lack of individuality and different ways of thinking. It is hard for them to comprehend the amount of choice we have in America and how diversity in the choices we make is prided, not frowned upon. So I often make it my mission to throw out ideas that are seen as weird here just to show this."
1/17/2004 My first week back teaching was very busy and tiring but I felt like I did a good job. There's so much preparation that goes into each lesson and you definitely have to be oh-so patient because learning a foreign language is such a slow and tedious process. Sometimes I get frustrate because controlling a group of 6th graders for 90 minutes in an American school would be hard and it becomes 10 times harder here with the language barrier. But I'm doing my best, and making myself take pride in the small achievements that happen in class each day.
"All the students (as well as everybody in town) are fascinated by the American teacher working in the school and as a result my door often gets opened during lessons by students just wanting to ogle at me or shout "Ha-Lo" and run away."
Today I had a interesting day (as almost every day in Kyrgyzstan has the potential to be) where I went to a seminar for English teachers in the rayon with my counterpart. It was at a school a few Ks away and about 10 teachers came to watch a model lesson and supposedly trade ideas. Of course, at first I had to go through all the awkward questions and everyone being obsessed and intrigued with the American. The lesson was such a weird thing to watch--these 7th grade Kyrgyz students answering questions in these rapid-fire robotic English responses so quick even I can't understand and undoubtedly memorized months before in preparation.
After such a morning seminar in the US, what would follow next..maybe some freshening up in the bathroom and then box lunches all around? Well, in Kyrgyzstan we all head out in the snow to wait in line for the
outhouse--seniority rules and older teachers go first but as the foreigner I suppose I could have skipped ahead. Then we go in for a little "chai break" which is of course massive amounts of food prepared by the teachers in the school while students dance and since for us in some kind of dinner theater type event. But every time there was a break in the acts (ie. most of the students were outside) the director would refill the shot glasses and we'd make toasts to the model lesson, the coming new year, the upcoming American Christmas, and anything else you can use to make an excuse for a vodka toast. How weird it is, though I suppose a hell of a lot more interesting than a normal day of teaching. At the next seminar I'll probably give a presentation myself too.
12/23/0223 There aren't any real reminders of Christmas here though the upcoming New Years holiday which is quite a big deal here has a bunch of Christmas-type novelties associated with it. There's a surprising Santa-like character and even a "Janga jil" (New Year's) tree with ornaments that I suppose were some Russian way to get around the communist imposed atheism.
12/16/03 "My school is heated so I have some comfort from the cold during the day. Today I walked home during the day to use my home outhouse instead of the outhouse at school."
"We had our official language exams last week and I was one of a handful of volunteers that reached the Intermediate High level (whatever that means). I definitely feel like I've learned a ton of language these past few months and at least competent enough in Kyrgyz to get around okay in my new village. I won't start teaching actual classes at the school until the next semester starts in January, but I'll lead English clubs in the meantime. My first secondary project will be building a door for my outhouse (haha)."
11/13/03 "At 9am we head outside for chicken killing time and I get to observe the event and pluck the feathers and help with the butchering." Naturally a half-hour later I wash my clothes in the same rubber tub that housed the dead chicken."
11/1/03 "No one in my family is celebrating Ramadan and only a couple of
trainee's family are. Heck, more students in my high school followed it than in my current village!"
11/1/03 "I must seem totally inept having to relearn how to do basic things like wash my clothes, heat up water, or bathe because it's all different over here."
10/28/03 "You can't do that (running) here as there's too many donkey carts and herds of sheep in the way on the street."
10/25/03 "This week and next we've been practice teaching in the school and I've taught two lessons to the 7th grade. "
10/17/03 "I ate my first horse last night - just a bit- it wasn't too bad."
10/14/03 "Let's just say I brought the Tufts NQR to Lake Issyk-Kul and instigated
some naked swimming in the 18C October lake."
10/9/03 "They call me 'chong' - the Kyrgyz word that covers big and tall."
10/4/2003 "Naturally it's impolite to not finish a shot, but do you know
how they like to chase them here--with an enormous
spoonful of this popular cabbage and mayonnaise salad (katorshka salat)."
9/24/2003 "Nothing like a rabies shot at 8:30 in the morning."
"Aside from goat killings, everything here is going well."
"My host family is terrific. They are treating me very well."
9/21/2003 "Greetings from Kyrgyzstan!"
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.