Saturday, August 1, 2009

-luckily for us,a mountain is a mammal.

“Life,for mostpeople,simply isn’t. Take the socalled standardofliving. What do mostpeople mean by “living”? They don’t mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science,in its finite but unbounded wisdom,has succeeded in selling…If science could fail, a mountain’s a mammal. The plusorminus movie to end moving,the strictly scientific parlourgame of real unreality,the tyranny conceived in misconception and dedicated to the proposition that every man is a woman and any woman a king, hasn’t a wheel to stand on. What their most synthetic not to mention transparent majesty, mrsandmr collective foetus,would improbably call a ghost is walking. He isn’t an undream of anaesthetized impersons,or a cosmic comfortstation,or a transcendentally sterilized lookiesoundiefeelietastiesmellie. He is a healthily complex,a naturally homogeneous,citizen of immortality. The now of his each pitying free imperfect gesture,his any birth or breathing,insults perfected inframortally millenniums of slavishness. He is a little more than everything,he is democracy;he is alive:he is ourselves…”

A couple weeks ago my good friend, a friend I’ve known my entire life since our dads were best friends since high school, came by my apartment and he told me all about his job as an airline pilot. He graduated with an aviation degree almost two years ago and is just starting out on the career that he dreamed of since we were young. In grade school we’d play baseball in eachother’s back yards, and since I lived close to the airport he would always pause the game at hand to look up at the jets flying overhead and could identify their make and model. This was when we were probably 11 or 12.

About a month ago I saw a best friend of mine move off to graduate school at Princeton Seminary. It’s something he’s pursued ardently for the last 5+ years. Years ago we used to sit at the late night coffee houses on Hennepin Ave and discuss whatever theology or philosophy we’d been reading and debate the finer points of reformed cosmology. Having just finished his bachelor’s at Augsburg in May, he’s now gearing up to begin his first grad school term in New Jersey. Before he left, our group of friends got to do a lot of sweet stuff: road tripped 5 hours north to see Queensryche play at a casino, had our minds blown by Springsteen at the Xcel center, went up north and drank whiskey over a campfire with rock n’ roll blasting on the car stereo until the early morning. Another night we all staid up having beers in the garage and watching a thunderstorm roll in until the birds started singing at first light.

Its things like this that make me glad that I’m here in Minnesota in 2009. You really cannot match getting to watch close friends and family members doing things they love to do, pursuing new opportunities, growing, learning and most of all, doing it because they are being true to themselves.

I came back from Kyrgyzstan last year during the holiday season. My time there didn’t turn out as I expected it to. It ended in what I have to keep reminding myself was not failure, but a realization of what I needed to do as a duty to myself. I will be more honest than I really could while I was in-country (Peace Corps did monitor our blogs) – I was miserable for a good two months before coming back. It wasn’t a fit for me. I left with the intention to teach, and of course I ended up in a school that allowed me to do anything but that. I hardly taught, but mostly learned passively. I went to get experience living in the former USSR, which I got in a way I didn’t expect, living on the most extreme fringe of the former Russian empire, living day to day without dependable electricity, water or even food, but amidst a people that had only had these modern conveniences for less than 60 years, and with an unmatched tolerance to corruption. I didn’t get to see what I thought I would see. But I saw what I needed.

I think about Kyrgyzstan’s terrain a lot. Riding through the mountains on a road 500 feet above a river that flowed across the country from Uzbekistan to China. I think about my host family in Ivanovka and the granddaughter born a month after I arrived. My host family in Toktogul and the son-in-law who died only a week after I had first met him. I remember standing in the window of a hotel room in Bishkek the night before I left, no heat, no electricity at 10:00 at night, watching it snow, my sleeping bag wrapped over my shoulders and eating a bowl of crunchy noodles which I managed to score some hot water for from a thermos in the hotel’s unattended lobby. I hadn’t showered or bathed for over a week, I weighed 15 pounds less than when I had arrived. I sometimes think maybe the mass lost in body was still there somehow in 6 months of memories and growing emotionally.

I arrived home, searched for jobs, started a job and moved into my own apartment in South Minneapolis all within three months time. I think back to then and how I felt and thought and what my goals were, and I realize that I’ve never been able to “adjust” back to how I thought I would be after re-adapting to life in Minnesota. In the end I’ve finally figured out that everything I did and experienced in the last year changed me, and there’s not much I can do to fight it. Those 6 months, and everything I saw, seem to flash through my mind daily. Over 8 months later and that still hasn’t gone away. It used to haunt me, reminders of how unhappy I was, how it didn’t work out. Now sometimes I hope it never disappears.

Most things that we see as within our control are 99% of the time not. We as Americans like to see the world, and our lives in that world, as nice and ordered, structured with our own goals, pursuits, interests and needs. The “sadder and wiser” man inside me is glad that I learned first-hand that this is not the way of the “great happening illimitably earth.” To paraphrase something my parents always say, and a scene in McCarthy’s “The Crossing,” maps are one thing and the journey another.

All that to say that I now know a joy I’ve not experienced before in my life, or at least not so vividly, something I’ve gotten to experience in the last eight months in Minneapolis. The joy of seeing those close to you happy and successful in their pursuits and interests, alive, thriving and green.

I don’t second guess my decision to join Peace Corps any more. The dissatisfaction I had does not guard me from encouraging any one who wants to do it to pursue it. I needed those moments, I needed to get let down, to see that what I wanted and what I needed were not synonymous. If I hadn’t done it, I would not be so content and at peace as I am this summer. May risk and sacrifice continue knocking on my door. I’m pretty sure that’s the only way we can keep on saying with confidence – ‘I am alive.’ And when we are unable to feel this, may be we can be more true than the philosopher: I dream, therefore I am.

On my way to Bishkek two days before leaving, we drove through a mountain pass over 3200 meters above sea level in late November, arctic landscape and white as far as you could see. There was a semi truck that was hauling oranges north probably from Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. It tipped into a ditch, we drove past and watched a multinational group of Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Russians try to pull it upright with a rope tied to the trailer of a Volkswagen all terrain vehicle. The oranges had burst through the rear trailer door and exploded all over the blindingly white ground. Tens of thousands of them burning and sprawling over the ice. I think of this often. Maybe you could dream of it, too.

“…Miracles are to come. With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are by somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn, a human being;somebody who said to those near him,when his fingers would not hold a brush ‘tie it into my hand’”

-ee cummings

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meetings with The Master

“new moon!as(by the miracle of your
sweet innocence refuted)clumsy some
dull cowardice called a world vanishes,

teach disappearing also me the keen
illimitable secret of begin”

-ee cummings

I’ve decided to start this blog entry the same way I begin my day each morning, with a checklist:
I’m in Kyrgyzstan.
I teach English at a school.
I’ve been here since July 8th.
My name is Jonathan Peasley.

Okay, now we can get this post officially started. I’m going to call this part the prologue. Or maybe the preamble. I’m not schooled on the difference between the two, but I think I’ll go with preamble. And if this is the preamble, does that mean that right now I’m preambulating? I think so. The above quote by ee cummings bears no direct relevance to anything in this post, but it does carry great relevance to being alive, and therefore is indirectly related to this post since I am, in fact, alive (the fact which underlies my daily checklist). This is the end of the preamble.

If the preamble hasn’t caught your attention, then maybe this part (the introduction) will. I am no longer preambulating, but introducing. This introduction is not fancy, just a list of items that may or may not receive further attention in the remainder of the post:
#1 I have been stung by bees while #1 taking a shower #2 in the outhouse #3 eating borsch.
#2 I discovered and purchased beer scented shampoo.
#3 My name, according to some individuals, is Jonah.
#4 The Kyrgyz language was not designed for punctuality.
#5 The Russian word for walnut’s etymology involves the travels of Alexander the Great.
#6 I sang a Bruce Springsteen song a capella in front of all the teachers at my school.
#7 My host-family, for a brief period, thought I ate chicken feed for breakfast.
#8 I smell really bad as I write this.
#9 I shaved off my beard, but kept a mustache for 36 very tumultuous hours.
#10 I bought my first argyle sweater and a long, black, Soviet-style winter coat.
#11 Keaneu Reeves was out-acted in the Matrix Trilogy by a Russian dub-track.
#12 I was given a spatula as a birthday present.
#13 I danced with a 55 year old Kyrgyz woman.
#14 There is a man in the basement of my school whose only job is beating people at chess.
#15 Hiding a tied up goat in the trunk of a parked car is a splendid way to scare the socks off of passersby.

This is the end of the introduction.

So three weeks ago was the National Teachers’ Holiday in Kyrgyzstan. I’m sure we have a similar holiday in America, but it probably goes just as unnoticed as National Mental Health Awareness Month (which is June, I think). Anyways, this holiday meant that all the teachers from my school rented out a café from 3-9 on a Friday. But the name “café” doesn’t really fit. It was a huge ballroom/hall with two rows of long tables divided by two rows of large archaic-style columns. It was a very Soviet style building with all of its dilapidated elegance. They had a stage set up for a DJ, so there was music blasting during most of it. And it was really, really way too loud since it was just a big hall without carpet. No one seemed to care how loud it was, but I couldn’t help but wince from some of the synthesizer’s frequencies. So there are about 40 faculty members at my school, and we sat at two different tables. We ate appetizers first, and then the toasts started. Almost every member of the faculty got up and said a toast or sang a song. Suffice it to say it was a lot of toasts, which meant a lot of booze getting pushed at me by my counterpart and my school’s director sitting on both sides of me. As I was enjoying observing the comradery of the teachers at my school, I all of the sudden hear someone with the microphone talking about an American volunteer, and sure enough one of the male History teachers was summoning me up to the microphone to introduce myself, or so I thought. So I introduced myself in Kyrgyz and a little in Russian. After wishing all the teachers a happy holiday and getting ready to take my seat again, the history teacher came up and asked me in Russian which song I was going to sing and if I needed music or accompaniment. There wasn’t much time for hesitation since I was standing in front of all of my co-workers, so I ended up singing, start-to-finish, “Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen, with only the accompaniment of the teachers clapping their hands to the beat.

After that I didn’t think it would get much wilder. But then the dancing circle started. Imagine about thirty 40-50 year olds hitting the floor to European club music. Then imagine me joining in (because there was no choice involved). Then, lastly, imagine me taking my mandatory turn of dancing in the middle of the circle with my counterpart, Satina, a very kind woman of the age of 55. End of holiday.

Now for a note on the Kyrgyz language. Sometimes time signifiers get a little tricky. The verb forms for the present simple tense is the same for the future simple, so therefore you need to mark the time if you want to talk about doing something in the future (tomorrow, next week, etc.) as opposed to something you do in general. This hasn’t caused too many problems, except for the fact that the Kyrgyz word for “now” (azyir) has a range of uses. For example: “azyir tsvet jok” means “right now there is no electricity.” However, when traveling for six hours on an overloaded mini-bus perhaps the driver will stop the bus for a bathroom break. When everyone is crowded back onto it, except for the driver (who is still standing and talking with other way-side drivers outside the bus windows), and someone asks him “when are we leaving?” his answer is “azyir” as he lights up a cigarette and continues his conversation. Perhaps if you’re waiting for the owner of a store to reopen after his lunch break, “azyir” also means “after I finish splitting this bottle of vodka with my friends.” After hearing this word used in even a couple other ways besides these, I’ve reached a definition of “azyir”: now, or any time in the future which seems reasonable given the situation, and considering the fact that you’re in Kyrgyzstan, not America. That is why when I am waiting for the shower’s water heater to warm up and I ask my host-father if it’s hot yet and his answer is “azyir,” I always check it myself before turning it on. This is to avoid the dangerous potential of stepping into an arctic blast.

The Search for Oatmeal: Part 1
The nice thing about being at my permanent site is that I get a full Peace Corps-issued stipend, whereas during PST the money for food and housing was given straight to my host family. Now I am able to buy my own food, so I usually eat breakfast and lunch on my own and eat dinner with my host family. When I first got to site I went for a grocery run at the bazaar, but beforehand I showed my host-mom my shopping list so that she could tell me average prices and I wouldn’t get ripped off. She, however, didn’t know the word I had copied from my English to Russian dictionary that supposedly meant oatmeal. So I broke out the Kyrgyz dictionary and found a different word for oatmeal, “talkan.” I told her that that’s what I wanted to find and she asked what for. I, of course, explained that that’s what I eat for breakfast every day. So she shrugged her shoulders and sent me on my happy little way. While at the bazaar I asked around and finally found where they sold “talkan,” which, strangely at the time, was in a completely separate corner of the bazaar from the rest of the food. Sure enough I found the so-desired item, and it turns out that it was coarsely ground corn, meant for feeding chickens and other livestock. And every time I tried using the Russian word, “ovcyanka,” I only received blank stares. No oatmeal this time.

The Search for Oatmeal: Part 2
Perhaps a week after getting to permanent site I was at a kiosk in the bazaar buying cheese, and when I turned to my right I saw on a shelf a large stack of half-kilo bags of oats. I’m not sure the woman selling the cheese understood why I asked “what’s this called” with so much furious enthusiasm. Her answer is still just as baffling as it was then: “Gyerkules.”

(Now for a brief note on the Russian alphabet. They don’t have a letter “h” like we do. They have more of a back-of-the-throat “h,” not our nice, breathy, soft “h” sound in English. Therefore for some reason, any word from English that the Russians borrow in which there is a letter “h,” the “h” gets turned into a “g.” This means that you can go to a restaurant and eat a gamburger. Maybe after that you’ll go to the theatre and see a production of Shakespeare’s “Gamlet,” and so on…)

What all this alphabet business means is…well, replace the ‘G’ in “Gyerkules” and you, of course get “Hyerkules,” or, as we spell it in English – Hercules. So once I get home from my bizarre bazaar run, I whip out my dictionary, open it to the Russian to English section, and under "геркулес" I find: “Hercules; rolled oats.” (Professor Crnkovic, if you’re reading this, I sure could use an explanation.) Perhaps rolling oats was a 13th labor of his, erased from human memory in the burning of the library at Alexandria. We just don’t know. Anywhoo, nowadays I go to the bazaar and ask for other Greek gods and heroes in the hope that Athena means bacon, Hera means pork sausage, Jason and the Argonauts means biscuits and gravy and Hades means a Cajun skillet. It hasn’t really worked out so far.

Now that I’ve mentioned several phenomenal breakfast dishes which I dearly miss, I can’t stop thinking about them, and therefore need to take this moment to lodge a brief complaint against the Kyrgyz culture, which is not actually a complaint at all, but rather a purely ethnocentric comment. If, during the Soviet period, Kyrgyz people, who are all Muslims, made smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol an acceptable part of their culture to the extremes that I’ve seen while being here, why could they not, therefore, make one more exception to their religious code just to give me what I want really bad right now: pork. A couple strips of bacon. A Wisconsin-made cheddarwurst. A chop, a loin, anything – It’s nowhere to be found around here, and this severely harshes my realm of breakfast and dinner possibilities. Now I must stop talking about food, or this post will become even more excessively long as it already is.

My favorite class to teach right now is my fifth grade Russian speaking class. They’re still young enough that they are very respectful (respect is a pretty big thing in Kyrgyz culture) and a lot more excited to learn English than some of my other classes. That, and because they are hilarious. On my first day of classes my counterpart, Satina, introduced me as John since, as she insists, Jonathan is just too unwieldy for Kyrgyz people. There’s no “th” in their language, and, with the next closest aspirated letter in their language being “f” or “ph,” I decided John was better than being called Jonaphan. However, because John is spelled with an “o,” even though we pronounce it like an “a,” John quickly begins to sound more like Joan. I’m used to this now, but…

(now for a note on the morphology of Russian declensions. The endings of nouns and adjectives in Russian change depending on how the words are grammatically situated in a given sentence. For example, “doma” means “at home,” whereas “domoi” means “homeward.” Now, for animate masculine nouns, which end in a consonant, they are given the suffix “-a” to denote that they are a direct object of a verb. Since John is masculine (indubitably so in Russian grammar, though sometimes doubtful when he’s caught enjoying the music of Dido) and, contrary to what you may think, also animate (though some days more than others), John becomes Johna when it’s the direct object of a verb)

Because my counterpart will often settle these riley 5th graders by telling them, in Russian, to listen to me, they are most accustomed to hearing my name in the sentence “ ’chas poslushaitye Johna” (“Listen to John now!”). But, these kids are young and some of the points of Russian grammar haven’t entirely sunk in, as it is their second language, and so the whole matter of “-a” being simply a case ending in that particular sentence is lost on them. That is why many of my 5th grade students call me Jonah. And I can’t correct them because, well, it’s just too cute.

Now before the conclusion to this post arrives, I’d like to get you blog-readers brainstorming with me. While being in this country I’ve seen a good share of unexplainable phenomena. And though I’ve been able to figure some of them out, there are a couple that I thought I’d share in case you might be able to come up with some answers.

Case #1: Why were there two wild dogs running down the road with their tails tied together? How many people would it take to accomplish this, and why was it worth their efforts?

Case #2: If you were to buy a sheep at the market to take home for food, and this live sheep was in the trunk of your car, would you A) go straight home with it, or B) leave your car parked on the side of a main street while you grabbed a bite to eat, meanwhile the goat is intermittently thrashing around, kicking, and scaring those walking by who assume that most parked cars do not have live animals in their trunks? If B is your answer, please explain why you are not in a hurry.

Case #3: There are many birds which are native to Kyrgyzstan and other countries near the Tian Shen mountain range, but nowhere to be found in other parts of the world. One bird which is not native to this region is the peacock. Why, then, is there a peacock always standing on the corner near Joe’s house?

Fourth and final case: Perhaps you are on your way home and you get a phone call from a friend. You can either A) keep walking and talking at the same time, B) stop on the side of the road, have a rest and continue your conversation while leaning against a 3 foot tall brick wall built around a sewer manhole, or C) take the time and effort to climb into the manhole so that just the top of your hat is still visible above the wall for passersby in the street. For some reason C) was the most reasonable choice for someone I saw (or at least whose hat I saw) earlier this week. Under what conditions would C) be your choice?

Thank you for your help.

Now, on to the conclusion of this post. The conclusion actually brings it all back to the title of this post, the meaning of which I’m sure you’ve felt was lacking up to this point. Well. A week or two ago, on a Thursday, I was heading home in the late morning from school when one of the teachers at my school asked if I played chess. I said yes, and he invited me to play the next day after lessons. So on this particular Friday I found him after I was done teaching and he told me to meet him in ten minutes in the school’s gymnasium. I thought this a strange place to play chess, but when I met him there he led me down the hallway to another room. Upon opening the door there was a wafting of stale smoke, and I entered into a room that would work well for an interrogation scene in a movie: a broken sink hanging in the corner, a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling, a small window with bars across it, a small bookshelf with a box of garbage sitting on it, and of course a small desk, at which was seated a man who I had definitely not met before. It was odd to meet him for the first time after having been working there for a full month (my school is not that big). But, the oddest part was that the teacher who had initially invited me to play chess simply dropped me off and left me to play chess with this Kyrgyz fellow who was in his early-60’s, wearing a leather shepherd-style cap and a black leather jacket, setting up the chessboard while a cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth which wobbled as we exchanged names and he asked me if I knew the rules. I said yes, and we began…

Eight moves later I was defeated. And, within 30 seconds of when I was checkmated, the other teacher returned to the room and asked me, “he’s really good, isn’t he?” I said yes, and after quickly putting the board away the master said his goodbyes and left. Where to? – that’s the question.

I didn’t feel like asking who this guy is. I rather he remain as enigmatic as my first meeting with him. I thought for a while that he just came to play chess every once in a while, maybe he’s a retired teacher from the school, but I tend to see him at unexplainable times. The other day I was playing basketball in our school’s gymnasium late after school, and this man came in, gave me a salutary nod, lit up a cigarette and watched me shoot hoops for 10 minutes before silently leaving again.

This man is quite beyond my comprehension, but in this case I’m quite alright with that (hence why I didn’t include it in the brainstorming section above). For some reason the strangeness of that game of chess seems to exemplify the feeling that I have realized I carry about me much of the time, which is that I usually only understand 15% of what goes on around me every day while living here. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the master is not just this one guy who beat me at chess and haphazardly appears at my school from time to time. The master is the pervasive reminder of how far away from Morgan Avenue I actually am. That’s why it’s good to prepare a checklist, a validation list (if you will), for oneself after meeting this master. Mine goes something like this:
I’m in Kyrgyzstan.
I teach English at a school.
I’ve been here since July 8th.
My name is Jonathan Peasley.

“new moon!as(by the miracle of your
sweet innocence refuted)clumsy some
dull cowardice called a world vanishes,

teach disappearing also me the keen
illimitable secret of begin”

-ee cummings

Friday, September 5, 2008

Anywhere is the Center of the World

Hello All,

It’s a daunting task to try and keep this blog as up to date as I’d like. I looked at my posts since arriving in Kyrgyzstan and realized how few, though lengthy, they’ve been. It’s hard to really feel like I’m keeping everyone back home up to speed on what’s been going on and what I’ve been up to, but I’m doing the best I can. The highlights (and one low point) of the last three weeks have been: suffering a week long bout of bacterial something-or-other in my intestines (from which I’ve fully recovered), finding out where my permanent site will be, visiting my permanent site and hiking through the hills to a neighboring lake with my site mate, Joe. Finding out where our permanent sites was a breath of fresh air. This pre-service training phase can be a real grind sometimes with only one day off per week, and meetings the rest of the six each week. But it has its perks as well since all 60 of us K-16ers get to hang out often without much transportation needed. Having just finished college, PST definitely took the proverbial wind out of summer’s sails – at times it feels like I’m still in school, only I’m in another country.

But my permanent site and site visit is mostly what I’d like to report on. I couldn’t be more excited and pleased about where I’ll be living and working for the next two years. I’m living in a larger town located in the bottom of a mountain-bowl. If you can’t see a mountain while you’re there, then you need to open your eyes. The scenery is quite breathtaking. A 20 minute walk from my permanent house is a hilltop that looks out over a valley covered with patchwork farmland, beyond which are mountains and a sizeable lake. The city is clean, there’s a large bazaar, a handful of cafes and IP Telephone offices (where there is supposedly free internet I can use just because I’m a foreigner. We’ll see how that works out.), and a beautiful well-shaded park next to the town square.

My buddy, Joe, from my language group in PST happens to be my site mate. The next closest Peace Corps volunteers are at least a 4 hour drive away, so we are definitely the two most isolated volunteers in the country (remember that this country’s only the size of Nebraska, though the mountainous terrain makes a short distance a long drive). The funny part is that this town, even though it is quite isolated, has a very urban, even European feel to it. During our visit was the Kyrgyz Independence Day, and there was a large parade in the town’s center. Everyone was very well dressed (women in dresses and men in suits and/or ties) and gathered in the square for the parade and the shashlik (shishkobob) stands set up all over the place (which smell and taste amazing). There’s a pretty good story from this day: as my host father and brother were walking me to the parade, I called Joe to see if he was going to be there so we could meet up. When he answered and I asked where he was he said, and I kid you not, “Yeah man, I’ll be right there. I’m carrying a banner in the parade.” Sure enough I look up and see him coming down the street carrying a banner for the school he’ll be teaching at. Supposedly the director of his school knocked on his bedroom door that morning, woke him up, walked him to the parade and handed him a banner. I’m still cracking up about that one.

But, of course, scenery and parades aren’t the only things that make me excited to live and work there. I’m teaching at a gymnasia (sometimes called lyceums), which are advanced schools in Kyrgyzstan. They are smaller than normal schools, and the students have to pass advanced learning tests to get in. This means that the students are generally very motivated and anxious to learn. I will be teaching two 7th grade English classes, and one 8th grade English class Monday-Thursday mornings. Two of these classes are Russian students. Not ethnically, though. All of this town’s population is Kyrgyz, through and through. But for some reason students in schools here are divided into Kyrgyz and Russian courses, meaning that all of their classes are either in Kyrgyz or in Russian, but not both. I’m not sure why. But anyways, the director at my school wanted me to work with the Russian speaking students primarily since at this point my Russian is far better than my Kyrgyz, though I feel like it’s getting better day by day. In the afternoons I will teach English clubs to the advanced and intermediate students who #1 are very anxious to learn English and #2 will be competing in the country-wide English Olympiad in November, which is a big high school competition in Kyrgyzstan. Supposedly the school I’m teaching at won first place in its oblast last year, so the bar is set pretty high already.

My host family at site consists of a grandma, a grandpa and three grandkids who are living long term with them while their parents are off working in Moscow. My host (grand)father is quite the Kyrgyz national. He doesn’t leave the house without his suit, tie and kalpak (traditional male Kyrgyz hat) on. I think he was someone of major importance in the town before he retired because when I’m walking around with him everyone shakes his hand and greets him. I have a young host sister, Kanishai, who’s 6 years old, another, Kanikei, who’s 14 and studies at the gymnasia where I teach, and a host brother, Azamat, who’s 15 and is really anxious to learn English (he also goes by his second name, Semetei, the name of the Kyrgyz epic hero’s son, like Telemachus). My host brother and sister know Russian, but my host (grand)parents don’t speak it, so I’m glad that the opportunity to get better at Kyrgyz is there. Kyrgyz people fall in love instantly with any foreigner who speaks their language. They expect all white people to speak Russian, so the Kyrgyz garners lots of smiles and an occasional shocked stare. There are only about 4 million Kyrgyz speakers in the world, so I guess they don’t exactly expect the rest of the world to know much about it.

On a more personal note, it’s been really satisfying to see what work I will get to do with my service here in Kyrgyzstan. The work during PST is well worth it, despite my complaining, since in just a couple weeks I will begin to teach – something I wouldn’t be able to do in the states unless I returned to grad school for a couple years. Teaching has been a goal of mine for a long time, and in less than a month I will get to begin the struggle of finding my place in front of a classroom and all of the frustration and satisfaction which will accompany the profession.

Leaving my training village host family is going to be hard. Three months has been plenty of time to get attached to them, especially with the toddlers who are always around to entertain with their continuous “hello”s sung at me. A month ago my host sister had her second baby, and it has been a real honor to be here for all of the excitement that’s accompanied the occasion. My host family asks me to visit them whenever possible after I move, and my host father tells me all the time that when (he never says “if”) my parents and friends visit me then we can stay with them at their dacha and stay with their family that lives on Lake Issyk-Kul. My host brother Maxat really doesn’t want me to leave, and he even called me during my site visit to ask when I was coming back, but I think he understands that I need to start working like he does.

It’s funny to think that coming into this country I knew I would miss my family and friends in Minnesota a lot (and I sure do). But I never really guessed that I would soon be capable of missing people I was about to meet in Kyrgyzstan. Now I know that that’s a reality of living in this country where people treat you like family even when you can’t speak their language. I don’t feel ready to leave my current host family, but there are also some great things on the horizon in Kyrgyzstan.

I thought about a lot of this while I was at my permanent site and took a walk to the hill where I could catch a panoramic of the valley and mountains beyond, and I thought about where I’ve been, and where else I might get to go, and it all felt a little bit like a dream. If you look at a map of Kyrgyzstan, you can place a finger anywhere on it and there’s somebody there who would take you in as their own son or daughter. There are landscapes here that I’d never dreamed of existing before I came. Soon I’ll be living in one such landscape in the mountains while standing in front of eager students.

I miss everyone and everything in Minnesota very much, but I'm so glad to say that I'm very excited to be doing this right now, and right here.

Be well,
With Love,

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Inside Scoop

Hello Everyone,

Right now as I write it is August 1st, the beginning of my second month as a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) in Kyrgyzstan. Right now I and the other 59 volunteers are going through Pre Service Training (PST, Peace Corps uses tons of acronyms – we even got a list of important ones we should know by heart) which lasts until September 20th. On August 20th we will be told our permanent site placements, which is very exciting since it is there that we will be spending our two years as official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs).

First I wanted to give a general idea of my schedule during PST. It changes week by week, but here are the basics of my weekdays:

6:30 AM: wake up, clean my water distiller and find water (if there is any) to prepare water for the next day. Study more Kyrgyz and eat breakfast (usually it’s either fried eggs with onions and sausage, Russian pancakes, or this delicious fried bread, which I and my language group members call funnel-cake-nan since it tastes just like what you find at county fairs, all served with my host family’s homemade apricot jam.).
7:45: I walk to my language instructors house and stare at the nearby mountains incredulous.
8:00-12:00: Kyrgyz language class. Some days we get a half an hour break, other days 10 minutes. It’s pretty intense.
12:00-1:30: I and my language group members eat at someone’s host family’s home. The Apas (host mothers) have a dueling lunch competition. If one Apa serves something one day that we really like, more than likely the next day’s Apa will try to outdo the day before’s. This definitely works to our advantage (who doesn’t like to be pampered from time to time?), and at one point we even had ice cream for dessert three days in a row.
1:30-3 or 4:00: Technical and Cross Culture Sessions. At these they teach us how to teach and how not to break social taboos and ruin your reputation in Kyrgyzstan.
4:00: I walk home, dragging my feet -- take a big lunch followed by 2 hour meetings on a 90 degree day and you’d be doing the same. When I get home I usually take a short nap, read, start working on Kyrgyz, talk with my host family, etc.
7, 8 or 9:00: Dinner time. I never know when it’s going to be, but usually by then I’m pretty hungry and it works out well since the food here is usually sumptuous.
10:30: Crash.

Like I said, this is a typical day. There are sometimes aberrations that can make my day more interesting. Take last Monday, for instance.

When I came out for breakfast (we eat outside under a canopy), my host family was hustling around, which is strange anytime of day (people aren’t in hurries here, usually). Turns out one of their dairy cows broke its leg, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with it. I headed off to class and on my way saw the cow looking quite unconcerned, sitting on the ground in her usual spot. Later that afternoon, before I walked in the door to my family’s compound after class, I heard a lot of people talking inside. Turns out I had to go around to the front door because the obstacle blocking my way to the house was the cow on it’s back with its chest cavity open and my host brother Maxsat up to his elbow in organs while my host mom and her brother are helping him scoop everything from poor Daisy into bowls and spare pails. This was at about 4:00. When I go in the front door I see my host brother’s wife chopping the liver and kidneys in the kitchen, and I assume we’ll have dinner on the way soon.

At 4:30 my host brother’s wife’s little brother, Kanibek, knocks on my door and tells me to come eat bread. I assumed it was the typical afternoon tea and bread snack, but when I came out there were 6 people, no one I knew except my Apa, sitting around the table chowing down on a plate containing about 7-8 pounds of fried cow liver and kidneys. Apparently my Apa was celebrating the cow’s death because though this put them out one dairy cow, they were really rolling in the cash by selling off parts of our freshly slaughtered friend. I sit down and introduce myself to all of the neighbors and family friends sitting next to me, and before I know it there’s a large glass of vodka being poured in front of me.

Now I must digress in order to describe the ethics of Kyrgyz hospitality. My working hypothesis is that Kyrgyz hospitality originates from Silk Road culture. The ancient trade route did, in fact, run straight through this country, bringing many weary merchants through its villages asking for bread and lodging. As then, when you sit down as a guest at a family’s house these days, it’s a big deal. They will push food at you until you are stuffed, and after that they will bring out the main course. This has happened often to many of us trainees. As you sit there, sipping your tea and spreading homemade jam on your nan (bread), your host family will insist that you are not doing tending to your food correctly. “Chai ich, nan je!” they will repeat over and over again. This is not our American method of asking “Would you like some more tea/bread?,” but rather the verbs in the imperative mood – literally they are commanding you to “drink your tea! Eat your bread!” Older PCVs here call this Kyrgyz behavior “aggressive hospitality.” It’s really overwhelming sometimes. It’s okay to refuse more food, but even saying this takes courage since you know your refusal will be met with very concerned looks from your host family, as if you were just on the brink of starvation and you haven’t yet eaten enough to get you through the next ten minutes. As one Peace Corps staff member put it, “they’ll look at you like you just shot their dog.” I think my family has adjusted well, and they understand that I don’t need to eat a huge meal every night. I’m comfortable saying no, but it’s hard sometimes to get the timing right in order to minimize their reactions. That said, tea and food are not the only substances governed by this aggressive hospitality. Vodka is too. When it is only men drinking, do not get involved. Their drinking sessions turn into something reminiscent of what you see in Clint Eastwood films and the whole “cowboy approach” to drinking. I think you know what I mean. Plus, their tolerance of alcohol exceeds anything I’ve seen. I saw one of my Ata’s (host father’s) friends drink an eight ounce glass of vodka like it was water, then another, all the while still speaking to me in perfectly coherent Russian. Fortunately my Ata does not drink a lot of vodka often, so I’ve avoided the pressure, though there are definitely encounters on the street that are difficult to escape (in the late morning and afternoon, not just at night). Friendly foreigners will be offered vodka frequently, and it’s usually in a spirit of hospitality, not just in the spirit of spirits (if you know what I mean). In summary, Kyrgyz rules of hospitality apply to vodka as well.

Back to the story. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon. I’m chewing on cow liver (even enjoying it). There’s a vodka glass (about 4 shots worth) sitting in front of me and my Apa begins to give a toast. I look at the half liter bottle and it says, in English, “Special Order Vodka.” After I drink it I’m wondering, “special order to where?” This stuff was not good. I chase it with some liver and feel a little bit better. But sure enough, ten minutes later it’s time for the next toast (it’s bad luck to drink without a toast). Thing is, once you open a bottle of vodka in Kyrgyzstan, the cap doesn’t go back on. Then I make one of the most embarrassing moves possible – I accidentally knock over my glass and spill my portion. I hung my head in shame and apologized. I really had not meant to do that, yet part of me was a little happy that I wouldn’t have to have more – I felt that I was doing just fine for 5:00 in the afternoon. But sure enough the others refill my glasses from theirs. Now there’s no way I can refuse it (my previous plan). These people are just too darn nice right at the point when I wished my Apa had sent me to my room without supper and without more vodka. We do our next toast, I load up on liver and kidney, say my “omin” (the customary “amen” you say at the end of a meal in this Islamic country where food seems as spiritual as it is dietary) and return to my room. I spend the next 4 hours reading Garcia Marquez and listening to Radiohead, hoping that #1 the liver and kidney was cooked well and won’t result in a midnight outhouse run (yes that’s a pun), and #2 that my stomach would stop churning from the vodka. I’ve had vodka in the states, but this was much rougher than anything I had had before.

Abnormal day #2 is not as abnormal as #1. Abnormal day #2 is more like abnormal meal #1 – cow stomach and intestines boiled and served with noodles, which is apparently a Kyrgyz delicacy. When I scoot up to the dinner table in Kyrgyzstan I have much reason to be excited. The main course is usually quite delicious, the vegetables are fresh from my family’s garden/small farm, and the omnipresent watermelon is unbelievable. This meal was a surprise. And it wasn’t even the fact that it was stomach and intestines that put me off, but the fact that there was no seasoning added, it was just straight up boiled, and so it tasted just like it smelled the day before when they slaughtered the cow and all of the innards were sitting in buckets and bowls in the kitchen. This meat wasn’t dressed up at all, and they looked exactly as you expect stomach and intestines to look (stomach lining, unless finely ground, still looks like stomach lining, and you can’t really confuse an intestine with anything else). After feeling bad that I couldn’t enjoy this Kyrgyz delicacy, I decided I needed to draw the line, say “I’m full” and “thank you.” I ate about a third of my heaping plate, and couldn’t go much further (the last couple bites required tea to wash them down with). Then I returned to my room, studied some Kyrgyz vocabulary, and had the fleeting idea that my stomach was feeling nervous and concerned for its own well being as it digested its bovine equivalent. I would like to know the rule in design that makes stomachs able to digest other stomachs.

Later that night when I went out to brush my teeth, my host brother Max was blasting the detached cow’s head, propped against a shed well, with a blow torch. When I finished brushing my teeth he was pouring hot water over it and scraping off the skin.

I didn’t even bother to ask.

Friday, July 18, 2008

July 10, 2008

Hello to all!

This will be my first blog post as a Peace Corps Trainee in Kyrgyzstan. I’ve only been gone for a week as I write this, but it feels like I have a year’s worth of stuff to share. I flew to Philadelphia and stayed there July 3rd-5th at a hotel where we had staging. Staging is a general introduction to the Peace Corps, not country specific. We had meetings all day, both Thursday and Friday, in which we got filled in on the Peace Corps mission, their philosophy of development, and also got some basic training on the difficulties of being a foreigner in these foreign communities. The meetings were long, yet informative. I think everyone was itching to know more about Kyrgyzstan, and so though all of staging was pretty important before becoming a volunteer, a lot of us volunteers were sitting around with a lot of questions brewing. But I guess it’s better that we waited since you can’t talk about Kyrgyzstan without experiencing it first, from what I understand.

After flying out of New York’s JFK airport, we arrived in Istanbul for an 8 hour layover. I wasn’t planning to go into the city from the airport, but two much more well-traveled volunteers, Erin and Chelsea, convinced me to do it. I’m glad I did. Istanbul is a pretty amazing and beautiful city, and really easy to get around. We visited the Blue Mosque and walked through it, and got to at least the outside of Hagia Sophia, but the line to get in was pretty long, and it was expensive to get in, so we ate at an outdoor café instead.

We arrived in Bishkek, the capital city in the north of Kyrgyzstan, at 2:30 AM, and then were taken to the Issyk-Kol Hotel, a massive dilapidated soviet-style hotel on the outskirts of the city. The rooms were in alright shape, though I think my roommate, John, and I were lucky since we were one of the few volunteer’s whose doorknobs did not fall off when we tried to unlock the door. Since we arrived at night, we didn’t see much of the city until morning. And what an experience that was! I woke up at 7 the first morning, looked out my window and saw a bunch of gigantic mountains. I’ll take that experience again if I can get it. In Kyrgyz culture, bird nests on the outside of your house mean that your home is protected, so even at the hotel there were thousands of swallows’ nests all over the balconies. We left the door to our room’s balcony open all the time and the birds never flew into the room (my initial fear) as if the birds had some tacit agreement with the hotel management and guests. From our balcony we could see not only mountains, but also a bizarre soviet art park. What’s a soviet art park? I really can’t tell you. Picture a bunch of cubist soviet sculptures, abstract sidewalk design and a whole lot of concrete. But it was definitely a park. People living nearby were walking through it all evening. You could also climb up a 10 story tower/monument and get a better look at the city and the nearby mountains. The food at the hotel restaurant was pretty exceptional. Every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner was three or four courses with, of course, copious amounts of tea. At the hotel we began our health and safety, language and culture training sessions. These sessions will fill my time for the nest 10-11 weeks, so the three days at the hotel were just a foretaste.

After our third day of sessions, we had our host family matching ceremony. This was the really exciting moment when we get to go onto a stage and meet our host mothers for the first time, and then go home with them and meet the rest of their families. This took place in the city Kant, about 20 miles east of Bishkek. Kant is where all of the volunteers meet once a week (there are 62 of us total) on Wednesdays for general meetings. The rest of the week we are all spread out in neighboring villages according to our language groups. I am learning Kyrgyz, and I am right now living in a small village (about 2,000 people) outside the capital city. I have 4 other volunteers in my language group, and there’s another group of 5 living elsewhere in the same village. Six days a week we have 4 hours of language lessons from the morning to the early afternoon at our teacher, Nuyrjan’s house. Every day for lunch we eat at a different volunteer’s family’s house. I’m lucky to have such an awesome language group – Kristen, James, Joe and Jenna. We get along really well, and we all have senses of humor, so our time together is really enjoyable. It’s a relief to get together every morning and share our goofy stories that come from living with host families without speaking their language.

I’m considering myself extra lucky that I know some Russian, because that has really taken away the shock of living with a host family whose language is totally foreign. Everyone knows Russian in Kyrgyzstan, and everyone expects foreigners to speak Russian. Even our language teacher, who has good English, will accidentally start speaking to us in Russian during class. So I’m able to communicate pretty well with my family so far. I’m not sure, however, if my language teacher would approve. She tells me I shouldn’t speak Russian with my host family, only Kyrgyz. But that’s much easier said than done when I just started learning Kyrgyz two days ago and my host family uses Russian when I can’t understand them speaking Kyrgyz. Even my other peers said that their host families will consistently ask them if they know any Russian whenever they’re trying to communicate. But I’m excited to learn Kyrgyz. It’s much, much more simple than Russian, though it has some vowels that we don’t have in English that are hard for me to get used to pronouncing (like the German umlaut, and another vowel that sounds like saying “ewe” without moving your lips). Kyrgyz grammar is really fascinating, difficult in its own way, but easy in the grand spectrum of languages. More on that in another later post.

A sense of humor definitely goes a long way during this transition. Every Peace Corps in the world gets a medical handbook called “Where There Is No Doctor,” which is a health guidebook that offers suggestions for people living far from doctors and hospitals. It’s also meant to be used by foreign health care workers in remote villages who are new to western health care. It has a section on what superstitions/natural cures “work”, and which ones don’t “work.” I laughed for about ten minutes straight when I read one page: “If you have a strange sickness, do not blame a witch, do not go to a magic center, but ask for medical advice.”

I think that’s all I can fit in on this post. I will have to write about my host family later, which is probably best since I don’t have everyone’s name down quite yet (families in Kyrgyzstan stick together. Not only do the mother and father stay here, but their three sons, their wives and kids too. It’s busy.)

Everything is well so far. I am healthy and engaged with what I am doing. I hope everyone reading this is doing well.

With Love,

July 12, 2008

Right now it’s Sunday morning, and Sundays are the weekend in Kyrgyzstan. Their work week is six days, and last night really felt like a weekend night. I went with my host family to their dacha (summer cottage) located in the mountains that lie about ten miles away. I didn’t know what was involved with going there, but I’m really glad I went. They never actually stay over night at the cottage, but it’s basically a way to get away for an afternoon and evening and have a barbeque. You didn’t know they have barbeques in Kyrgyzstan? Well they do, and they enjoy them just as much as we do in the states, except for one extra detail – the goat slaughter. I was just hanging around minding my own business, taking pictures of the mountains and watching my Apa (host mother) start a fire when my Ata (host father) and host brother walked in dragging a goat with its neck slit. I took it as an educational experience and my initiation into Kyrgyz culinary art. My host brother Max had that thing skinned in about 12 minutes, which seemed pretty quick. The only thing that was a little odd was when they cut into the chest cavity, the lungs decompressed (they must have still had air in them) and the goat made a strange wheezy exhalation sound for about a minute. But then my other host brother, Erlan, grilled shashlik (shishkabobs). It was all pretty delicious. We ate a bunch of watermelon, tomatoes and cucumbers with it. After dinner I rode with some of my family to a small lake that was further up in the mountains and we jumped in for a quick swim. The water was pretty cold, but it felt amazing. I couldn’t swim for too long because the altitude was really high and I could tell by my heart beat.

Now I’ll explain who I’m living with. My host Ata’s (father) name is Talai, and my host Apa’s (mother) name is Jumagul. They are in their 50’s or early 60’s (my guess: it’s rude in Kyrgyzstan to ask adults how old they are) and they have three sons. The youngest is Azat who is my age. He works for a bottled water company in the nearby city Tokmok, so I’ve only seen him once since I arrived. The second oldest is Max or Maxim. He is 25, and his wife, Nargiza and him have a one year old girl named Sadat, and Nargiza has another baby on the way soon. I always forget that she’s pregnant because she does just as much work as everyone in the family and rests the least often. Max knows some English, half of the words from studying it in school, half of the words from American rap music. It makes our conversations pretty entertaining (like instead of “Let’s go, Jonathan,” it’s “Come on everybody now, let’s go,” even if I’m the only one around). The oldest son is Erlan. He’s a police officer in Tokmok. He’s 28 years old, married, and has two daughters, Elina (2 or 3 yrs. old) and Medina (1 yr. old). Elina is pretty much the cutest kid ever. She walks around giggling all of the time and making faces at people. When I gave my host family some different chocolates as gifts, she claimed the bag of Reese’s Pieces as her own: I’m pretty sure she ate the entire bag herself. And then, with her face and hands covered in chocolate, she walked up to me and raised her two fists in the air and gave me a big smile and a loud scream as if she was celebrating her victory over foreign chocolate.

These are the main family members, but many times extended family members stop by for a meal or two and occasionally sleep here. Kaibek (9 yrs old), Max’s young brother in law, and Albina (10 yrs old), Erlan’s young sister in law are over often. I can tell that Apa and Ata are really happy, and if their children and grandchildren are always around, why wouldn’t they be. My Apa is really energetic and yet patient with me. She teaches me a lot of phrases in Kyrgyz, and she will tell me longer stories in Russian, yet she always stops after a sentence and asks if I understood. My Ata is a great guy. He likes to crack a lot of jokes. I go on beer walks with him (this is when we walk down the block, buy a bottle of beer at the Magazin (the omnipresent small stores in Kyrgyzstan), walk to the railroad station and then back again) most every evening after supper. One evening when we got back to the house their cows were still grazing in the backyard. I asked him if the cows spoke Russian, or if they spoke Kyrgyz. He responded that they not only speak both, but they know English as well, but they only talk in the mornings, never in the evening. Also, he insists on my need for a devushka in my life. Devushka is Russian for young lady. Every morning he asks me if I dreamt of a devushka. The funniest is when he says “Jasho Jakshi, tolka tebya devushki net,” which is a mix of Kyrgyz and Russian meaning “Life is great, except you have no young lady.” It gets me and his family cracking up quite a bit when he says it, which is often.

Today is Sunday, which means it’s banya/sauna day. This is the day when the sauna ritual is enacted by most families in Kyrgyzstan. I’ll wait to describe it since I will not have experienced it yet for another couple hours.

Until next time, be well.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Inaugrual Peace Corps Post

voices to voices, lip to lip
i swear (to noone everyone) constitutes
undying; or whatever this and that petal confutes…
to exist being a peculiar form of sleep

what’s beyond logic happens beneath will;
nor can these moments be translated: i say
that even after April
by God there is no excuse for May

--bring forth your flowers and machinery: sculpture and prose
flowers guess and miss
machinery is the more accurate, yes
it delivers the goods, Heaven knows

(yet are we mindful, though not as yet awake,
of ourselves which shout and cling, being
for a little while and which easily break
in spite of the best overseeing)

i mean that the blond absence of any program
except last and always and first to live
makes unimportant what i and you believe;
not for philosophy does this rose give a damn…

bring on your fireworks, which are a mixed
splendor of piston and pistil; very well
provided an instant may be fixed
so that it will not rub, like any other pastel.

(While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

each dream nascitur, is not made…)
why then to Hell with that: the other; this,
since the thing perhaps is
to eat flowers and not to be afraid.

-e.e. cummings

On Thursday July 3rd, two weeks from tomorrow, I depart for my big adventure of teaching English for the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic (a.k.a. Kyrgyzstan). As the time seems to be rapidly approaching, I thought I should make an inaugural “Peace Corps Post” to designate this page as my official Peace Corps blog.

Here are the details: I will leave July 3rd from Minneapolis to Philadelphia and spend the 3rd, 4th and 5th there during staging – the Peace Corps name for our pre-service orientation. On the 5th I and the other 30-50 volunteers leaving for Kyrgyzstan will fly out of New York City, change planes in Istanbul, Turkey and arrive in Bishkek, the capital city in the north of Kyrgyzstan. We will then begin our pre-service training (PST) in and around the capital city (near a neighboring city called Kant), and we’ll be there until mid-September when we will be assigned our permanent post for our two years of service.

I know that I will be living with a host family during PST, and then with a different family for at least my first three months at post. After my first 6 months in Kyrgyzstan I will get to decide whether I want to continue living with my host family or if I want to rent my own apartment. My life until mid-September is fairly well planned out: I will spend 6-8 hours Monday through Saturday in intensive culture, job and language training. I’m fairly certain that I will be learning Kyrgyz, the native Turkic language of the Kyrgyz people, during PST. Since I took two years of Russian at Gustavus, I doubt that the Peace Corps office will have me learning Russian during this time. Learning Kyrgyz will be my number one task since it is much more conducive for building strong connections in Kyrgyz communities if you speak their language. Knowing Russian, however, will be my initial way of buffering the huge adaptations that will be required of me during the first few months (most everyone knows Russian in Kyrgyzstan, but not everyone who knows Russian knows Kyrgyz). I hope I will be able to use and study both languages equally wherever I am placed for the duration of my service, but time will tell if this will be the case.

The last two and a half weeks since graduating from Gustavus have been wonderful. I’ve spent them unpacking, repacking, relaxing, reflecting and spending time with friends and family. The highlights so far have been getting to go on big bike rides with my dad, road tripping to Chicago with Oaks and Law to see Iron Maiden live, seeing Mark Kozelek play at the Varsity Theatre with Michelle, and going up to Grandpa and Gay’s cabin with my family and Michelle for a weekend. Other than this, I’ve had to do a lot of shopping in preparation for being in Kyrgyzstan and for having a job that requires a more professional dress than my casual college student wardrobe.

I don’t know if I’ll be posting much on here before my departure, so let me end by saying how important each and every one of you who are reading this blog are to me. Sharing my experiences, photos and (possibly) videos while abroad will really help me feel connected with everyone back home whom I care about. Depending on how available internet is where I will be living, I may not be able to check email more than once a week (possibly less, possibly more). If I may make a request, please don’t hesitate to send me emails or leave messages/comments on my blog. Even if I can’t respond quickly, please know that your words will mean so much to me while I’m over there, probably even more than I anticipate right now.

I’d also like to thank the people who have helped me immensely in getting to this point. Thanks to Phil Bryant, Will Freiert and Oaks for writing letters of recommendation during my application process. Thanks to Prof. Crnkovic and Prof. Rosenflanz for sharing their wealth of knowledge about Central Asia and of the Russian language with me. Thanks to all of my best friends (you know who you are) for our conversations and your support regarding this decision. And a huge thanks to my family for their wise advice and supportive conversations throughout the last few months. This opportunity would not be viable for me without any single one of you. Thank you.

Am I nervous about this, or excited? You tell me. I am so excited to go to Kyrgyzstan, to learn Kyrgyz and to speak Russian, to become a teacher. I am nervous for all the reasons that leaving home can strain the heart strings. I have little fear of the departure itself – it’s the return that intimidates me, since it’s then when I’ll realize how much life has happened since my departure, both for myself and for those who surround me right now. It seems to me that volunteering for the Peace Corps merely intensifies all of the normal feelings that come to everyone, anywhere: the excitement for the future coupled with a fear of losing the people and places that are apart of us now.

But for now I’ll let sleeping dogs lie, since “the thing perhaps is / to eat flowers and not to be afraid.”