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Erika Hunsicker in Kyrgyzstan
Erika Hunsicker in Kyrgyzstan
greetings from Kyrgyzstan!
5. August, 2004
Am having a lovely time in Bishkek- purchased some more books for school, and am researching if it would be possible to come home by boat. Container ships have room for 10-20 passengers and it's pretty cheap. cool, huh? I just spent three days in Naryn Oblast, and we went to Song Kul, one of the biggest high altitude lakes in the world. We (Karen, the woman I went to Uzbekistan with, and two other volunteers from Naryn) slept in a yurt. It was fun, except that it was COLD, as in it froze at night, and it rained about a third of the time. On our one longer hike, we got hailed on three times. That's OK, this is the stuff of which legends are made... It took 13 hours to get from Talas to Naryn, but the trip from Bishkek to Naryn was fun. I sat in the front seat of the "taxi", with a man and his wife and another female passenger and two young boys and lots of goods for the driver's store in Naryn. I sat next to an enormous block of smelly cheese, and they had strapped boxes of frozen chicken (food aid from the US that gets resold here) to the roof, so there were lots of jokes about how the chickens were cleaning the car (melting chicken juice coming in through the windows. yummy.) They were friendly- we stopped to drink fermented horse milk at a road side stop. I definitely made a yucky face, but that didn't stop them from wanting me to drink more. Apparently, it cleans your system of "radiation." Right. The yurt place at song kul had tourists, Germans, French, a Czech couple and a big bus full of Dutch people who kept putting up more and more and more tents. We were spread over a large space. I saw yaks and wild horses, and had a bath in the COLD lake. I had an excellent time with the other volunteers and other travelers. On the way back from Naryn I communicated with a Chinese man who had just crossed over the Torugard pass- it was somehow a very moving experience, but I'll write about it later.
26. July, 2004
Today is the "jildik" of Azimkanís mother. Itís the sixth anniversary of her death. I understand that if your relative lived well, you have to honor his/her memory by showing all your neighbors that you are doing well. They slaughtered a sheep, invited all the neighbors and relatives, and someone came to recite something from the Koran. Last night Keshimjan, Chinara, and I made some kattama, which is a special kind of bread made of very finely rolled layers of dough and oil. Itís yummy, in a greasy way. I gave myself a nice blistery grease burn on my palm.
In another stunning example of my capacity to integrate into Kyrgyz life, I spent most of the afternoon hiding in my locked room from the jildik. I have tried to do better at these things, but really, I go out to sit with all these strangers, or even people Iíve met numerous times, and no one talks to me except to urge me to eat more vile boiled grisly fatty sheep parts. (I know this is heresy against the doctrine of cross-cultural respect.) I didnít escape soon enough. One man knocked at my door and asked if he could come in to my room and talk to me. It turned out he is Azimkanís youngest brother Azamat from Bishkek, but when knocking at my door he didnít explain this to me, so I was less than gracious to him. He was one of those who continues to speak Russian to me after multiple attempts, in Kyrgyz, to say that I do know Kyrgyz. He came in and promptly become too nervous to talk, so got rude and critical instead. After I finally got rid of him, I went outside for a minute and let my host mother, Keshimjan, invite me into the zal (the room with the party food laid out- most of the guests were still in the other room.) to sample the watermelon- she really does try to do her best by me. I tried to escape to my room before the beshbarmak was served up, but I hadnít locked my door (I feel unfriendly locking my bedroom door behind me) and found an ancient female relative in the process of dismantling my bedclothes to use my blanket as prayer mat. Sheís come to the house before; sheís the only Kyrgyz person I have ever encountered who prays to Mecca five times a day. By this point they were about to serve the sheep, and I was busy hiding my flip-flops so that the guests would stop borrowing them to go to the outhouse with, and waiting for the woman to finish praying on my blanket so I could lock up my room again, friendly or notÖ random passersby carrying plates of sheep flesh commanded me to the zal to eat, while Keshimjan informed them all that she would serve me my own plate in my room, foreign antisocial freak that I am (my words not hers!). So I got my own platter of sheep boiled grisly fatty sheep parts, thanks mom, but my room was still occupied by the Devout Muslim, so I sat down with my sheep in the TV room, where I was unfortunately joined by Azamat. He made the predicable comments about my being left-handed (implied- freak!) and why wasnít I digging into my meat? I admitted total defeat, and escaped back into an earplug-sedated nap in my re-secured room. Ho hum. Yesss, cultural integration. Only 128 days left, but whoís countingÖ.
To redeem myself a little- it is nice to have Chinara home. We chat and I am more tuned into what is going on with the family. Another perk is that she makes good food and it is served at normal times of day. She has gone to Issyk-Kol. Itís the first time in her life! Her parents almost didnít let her go. Sheíll only be gone for 3 days, but at least sheíll see the thing.
Computer/English club is going along swimmingly. Today we had to switch to English club earlier than planned, not because the electricity went out (the usual reason), but because of a wiring problem. The computer is hooked up to a power strip, but the power strip is connected to a pair of improvised wires, which are wrapped around the prongs of the cord and attached the ca. 1985 USSR power source. This electrocution hazard became a little loose today, and you could see the electricity buzzing at the place where the wires were attached.
Two of my boys are going to a boys state camp in Jalal-Abad next week. The organizers came up with some extra places, so I got to invite one more boy, Yusup, whose application had originally been turned down. I got to tell him today that he can go. That was a lovely piece of news to get to pass along. Yusup (smiling like the sunshine): "Thank you, teacher, for the best news!"
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.