Wednesday, August 03, 2005

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Two years away, and something other than 2 years older... So I left for like two years. Leaving, easy, but coming back, yeah not quite so easy. Everybody told me that the reverse culture shock is worse than when you leave, but as much as I was ready for what was coming, it was not what expected. Over the next few weeks, I'll be updating some of those challenges. Two thoughts about returning in relation to the time I've been gone. First, in the invinite wisdom of those who make decisions related insurance premiums I am some how less of a risk than I was when I left. While overseas living in a country where every taxi ride is something akin to a high risk version of Russian roulette I crossed that magic age of 25 and with that passing, my insurance dropped. I understand the theory that there are certain age brackets that are higher risk than others, but come on the only thing I leared about driving in that time was that if you don't have bottle opener in your car, seat belts are remarkabely affective at doing such a thing. Of course, not only I am getting credit for my change in age, I am also getting credit for the fact that I have had a clean driving record for two additional years. Go figure, I could either have tried to drive there (likely dying in the process) or I could return a less experienced driver and save on my car insurance. Of course not everybody feels the same way about my departure/return as the insurance people. Some people assume that I lost about 14 years in the two years that I was gone. For some, I am 26 going on 12. As I am with much of my extended family, there are a couple of members of the family who find it necissary to give me "helpful hints about being curteous to others in the family." Have I done anything to earn these? No, in fact they were not really in response to anything that I was doing, but rather preimptive. Of course of all you who know me know that I really am one of the most inconsiderate bastards walking the face of this earth. I never think about others, and quite honestly I am incredibly immature to boot. It's all enough to make me say something sarcastic to the offenders about how I managed to survive taking care of myself in a country halfway around the world. While my aggrivator may still at 56 act without always having regard for how his actions affect others, that is not the case for all of us. Okay, stepping off of my soapbox. In other news, I might possibly maybe might have found a place to live in DC. If I have, I will be moving there at the end August. Now all I have to do is find a job.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

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I know that I promised that I would let folks know the future of this page, so here it is: I’m going to keep it as a way of just letting people know what’s up as well as a source for me to write that which entertains me (and hopefully use as well). I hope to get better about keeping it updated.

You couldn’t help being stupid, but you could’ve stayed home… wait because you were stupid you are staying home.

There are points in life in which we out do ourselves. I mean, we really go above and beyond the call of what is reasonable and just give that 110% effort. Unfortunately, sometimes where we push ourselves most are in the parts of life that, hmm, shall I say are less than distinguishing. In other words, sometimes we’re stupid, and by stupid I mean really stupid, and not just any kind of stupid, but that almost Darwin awardesque kind of stupid. So I decided the other day that I needed to go to Washington to look at some apartments with my future roommate. I hemmed and I hawed about whether to fly or drive, but deciding that driving was just too much of a hassle for such a short period of time, I decided to go online and by a plane ticket. I researched my options, and I found what I thought to be a pretty good option, so I ordered a ticket. On the day of my flight, I went to the airport to check-in, but there was a problem. There was no ticket reserved under my name. The lady asked to look at my flight itinerary. It was then that my stupidity was revealed. It seems that rather than buying a ticket for the Tuesday in the last full week of July, I had purchased one for the Tuesday of the last full week of August. I could chalk it up to any number of different excuses, but let’s face it, I was an idiot. I never bothered to read what month I was buying for. The end result is that I am not traveling to DC, because, well, to fix my stupidity would cost more than its worth. Instead, I will just elect to use the ticket on its given dates, or I will pay the cost of changing ticket and use it at a later date.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

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With my flight departing Bishkek scheduled for some 13 hours from this writing, it seems fair that people are going to ask the inevitable question of what exactly did I do in the 21 months that I spent over here. Well there is a two part answer to that question. The first part is the factual list of Peace Corps recognized achievements. That's what this posting has (I'll post the more fun stuff later. What follows is my official Description of Service that is required of every Peace Corps volunteer. DESCRIPTION OF SERVICE Brian Parks Cowan Kyrgyz Republic After a competitive application process stressing applicant skills, adaptability and cross-cultural sensitivity Brian Cowan began Peace Corps training on September 19, 2003 at the Kant City HUB Office and completed the 12 week training program. The training program included: · Kyrgyz Language 150 classroom hours · Self-Directed language 16 hours of self-planned and experiential language learning · Community Skills 36 hours of sessions & 12 hours of community assignments · Technical Training 28 hours of sessions & 64 hours of community assignments · Health & Safety 40 hours of sessions · Administrative 3 hours of sessions During PST, Brian lived with a host family in Nurmenbet for 6 weeks before moving in with a host family in International for the remaining 6 weeks and learned about Kyrgyz life and culture. At the completion of training, a certified ACTFL Examiner tested Brian. At that time, he scored intermediate low in spoken Kyrgyz. Brian was enrolled in the Peace Corps on December 10, 2003. He was responsible to the Ministry of Education during her service in the Kyrgyz Republic. As Brian’s primary assignment, he served as an English teacher at M. Tanaev Secondary in Orgochor Village, Issyk-Kul Oblast where he taught the following classes: Year and Duration Subject Grades Number of Students Hours Per Week December 2003-May 2004 English 9-11 130 18 September 2004- May 2005 English 8,10,11 134 18 As a teacher, Brian helped a number of his students prepare for and compete in several regional English competitions including one who placed 4th in the Oblast-wide English competition. That was the first time in at least five years that a student from that village has placed in the Oblast level competition. In addition to his teaching responsibilities as part of his primary project, Brian also led the following daily English Clubs: Year and Duration Subject Grades Number of Students Hours Per Week December 2003-May 2004 English 9 10 2 December 2003-May 2004 English 10 and 11 12 2 September 2004- May 2005 English 8 and 9 10 1.5 September 2004- May 2005 English 10 and 11 20 3 During his service, Brian had a number of secondary projects in addition to his primary project. These projects included the writing of a grant and raising funds for the grant to build a new roof on his school, coordinating two cultural exchange relationships with schools in America including one instance in which he helped coordinate a book drive with the students in America that help raise over 7100 books for his school, raised funds for dictionaries to utilize the new dictionaries, as well as help organize and run parts of four different summer camps held in four different regions of the country to more than 300 students. In these summer camps, Brian developed and present curriculum on theatre, theatre in America, theatre in India, political life in America, and human rights. In addition, Brian presented the following seminars: Date Subject Attendance Length March 2004 English curriculum development 40 1 hour April 2004 English curriculum development 20 3 hours March 2005 Acting and Theatre in America 15 1.5 hours So that's what I did folks. Kind of humbling to see it all in that small of a space. Brian

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

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Ok, so I said I would use this space to keep people posted on my situation, so that's what I am doing. I just learned that I am going to be sent home from Peace Corps. The doctors feel like they can no longer effectively manage my pain here, so they want me to go back to America where it can be more affectively dealt with. I should be home in the next week. I have plans on traveling the areas where many of you live, so feel free to drop me a note (cowanbp@yahoo.com or cowanbp@gmail.com) to let me know your plans and your phone numbers (its been 2 years since I've seen most of you and I don't remember the numbers). To reach me in the states call 865-984-2131 that's my parent's house. I'll get a cell at some point, and let you folks know the number. Anyway, I'll write more later. Brian

Saturday, May 21, 2005

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Absurdity in the classroom? Okay, so I have learned by now to try and never be really surprised by much of anything that happens to me here. I have dodged enough inanimate objects, had enough animals crawl under my classroom, and seen enough bizarre decisions at the school to sort of expect things to be weird. Of course, I once again found myself a bit shocked the other day. I walked to my 8a class (satan's personal little present to me) the other day when I found the entire class standing outside of their room with the door locked. Where this first period, I guess I wouldn't have been too surprised, because all it would likely have meant is that the teacher was running late with the key. This, however, was third period. As I approached, the students explained to me that the key to lock on the door had been lost. They proceeded to start sawing on the lock with a hacksaw. After about five minutes, their class teacher approached me looking rather disheveled and asked if I would mind just letting the kids go play basketball. My initial reaction was a forceful no, but then I realized that I really wasn't going to be teaching anything new, that these students were going to drive me nuts, and a free period in the middle of the day is always nice, so I relented. I went into my tiny classroom next door (we can't fit that class in my room so we use theirs) and started doing some end of the year paperwork. It was then that I heard a loud banging coming from the hallway where the students had been. Always curious, I went out to see what was going on. What I found was the students who had stayed to saw on the lock standing in front of the door with the hacksaw broken into about five pieces. The loud banging was the sound of them attempting to break the lock off of the door with a rock. A teacher or two approached to see what was going on, but none of them seemed to affected when given the answer. They seem to think that canceling class because somebody lost the key to the lock and then leaving the students to their own devises as they attempt to open the door seemed normal to them, and I guess it should me as well at this point. These are the moments... It's a cheesy song, but there is one that says that "These are the moments that I thank God that I'm alive. These are the moments I'll remember all my life" or something like that. For me, I keep thinking, "These are the moments that I know why I live life the way I do. And these are the moments that make everything else worth it." Four of my eleventh grade students will taking a special English exam with me in a couple of weeks. Each students selects a few subjects to be tested in, so these are really my best students. In preparation for the exam, I held a review session like most teachers do. The session was scheduled for 30 minutes, but after an hour and a half, I had call a halt to it, because I had to go home to cook. I think the students would have stayed there all night if I had let them, and part of me really wanted to let them. It was one of those times that I guess I have dreamed about when thinking of Peace Corps. I just sat around for most of the hour and a half bs'ing with them. We talked about everything and nothing at once. We kidded each other and finally showed the kind of relationship that volunteers want to have with those they work. At the end of the day, I finally realized how much maybe I meant to them. I have know for a while how much I care about my students and how much I have enjoyed working with them. It was sitting and listening to them that I realized how much they appreciated me. They insisted on me coming to a couple of events they are having this summer, and they were thrilled when I said yes to everyone of them. They asked how they could keep in touch with me when I leave in six months. They wanted my address in America and my e-mail address. At the end, they asked when I would come back to Kyrgyzstan and visit them again. In their minds, maybe I am leaving, but I will always be a part of their lives. I am so used to leaving and saying goodbye to folks never to see them again, that they thought of continuing a relationship with the people here after I left never totally crossed my mind. I guess all of the stuff listed above seems normal, but for me it was always something that I saw happening to other volunteers. I guess that is partially because I have only ever seen other volunteers leave. I suppose now is my time, but it means more to me than those students will ever know that I am having my time. It doesn't take too much to sustain me at points. Its just something little like the realization that your students really appreciate you, and the idea that they are going to miss you when you leave that makes all the difference in the world. Words really can't do justice to the conversation itself. For me, it will be one of the most important moments in my Peace Corps service. It will stand as the moment when I realized that I had gone from a Peace Corps volunteer to our Peace Corps volunteer. In the end, I guess that is all I have ever wanted while I have been here: to be close enough with members of my community to where I am considered theirs.

Friday, May 13, 2005

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Yet another dose of Kyrgyz logic... I am not an easy teacher. That is probably an understatement. In a school system in which other teachers may give one or two 2's (a 2 is equivalent to an F in our system) to a class in an entire year, I am notorious for failing as many as 25% of the students in a given class every quarter (that number has dropped some in a lot of classes). I don't just give-out grades. Beyond that, my way of really sorting-out my strong students from my weak students, is my tests. I figure that tests are the one place where I can see what students can do on their own (and God rest their souls if they attempt to receive help from other students). To put in bluntly, my tests are not easy. On this last set of tests for my 8th grade the curve was set at (on a scale between 2-5 with 2 failing and 5 about an A) (16 possible points) 1-3 as a 2, 3-6 is a 3, 6.5-9.5 as a 4, and 10-16 as 5. I curve, and I curve huge. In a normal quarter, a student who averages around a 1.3 gets a 3 for the quarter. Regardless how much I curve, the students still struggle to pass my tests. They are not meant to be easy, but instead to raise the bar for students, because I know many of them are capable of more than they have shown me. In all of this, imagine my surprise when I learned that I had to give a year end test to all students who had gotten a 2 or a 3 for the year from me (this is only for my 8th grade students). 11th grade students can opt for an English final (4 brave souls did, and their reward will be a relatively easy exam, because they are my best students in that grade). Instead, for all grades 5-8, the students who do not do well in the class are forced to once again prove their ineptitude. I know this sounds defeatist, and had I a couple of months between now and the test, I might be able to teach enough to the test where they may actually do well enough on it to appease the school, but the exam is in 2 weeks, and I am only around to teach the first of those two weeks. Given that they exam is supposed to cover an entire year's worth of material and that these are the students who have either failed or been caught cheating on every test (with maybe a couple of exceptions), I am not exactly certain how they are expected to pass this one. I made this point, through laughter, to my counterpart, and she just laughed with me and said that she understood but that rules are rules. Fair enough, but it just seems to defy any sense of logic that students who have never managed to pass one of my tests will suddenly and magically be capable of doing just that. Oh well, maybe miracles are possible, but somehow I doubt it in this case. Presents... One of the odd joys of living in a country like Kyrgyzstan is that every season is like opening presents at Christmas. I know, I know, seasons change in every country, but with the arrival of Spring and soon Summer, I reminded of things that I had forgot existed. Half of the year is spent without a lot of things that I really love, so with the return of the proper seasons, comes a return of those things as well. Starting in about September or October, all things green in Kyrgyzstan disappear. It is like a mass exodus, so as I was walking down the street the other day, I was reminded that green does in fact exist here. Actually, not only does it exist, it exists in abundance. Right now, virtually everything in my area is green. The trees have leaves, the fields are not dead, and there is grass all over the place. It is beautiful. The same can be said for the bazar. Where once all that was for sale were things of the depressing colors of brown or off-white now there are reds, oranges, and greens. Sure, tomatoes are still about a dollar and half for a kilogram (they get down to close to 10 or 15 cents a kilo later in the summer), but still my eyes are not bored to sleep while walking through the bazar. It is awesome. My taste buds are running crazy from the return of flavors long since forgotten, and my eyes just dance as they see something other than a shade of brown. What a wonderful time of year!!! Things I think I think I think... I turn 26 on Tuesday (yeah for me). I was talking to Allyson about it last night, and I realized that with this change, it will be 8 years since I graduated high school. A long time on its own, but with that came the realization that since I graduated high school my longest residence has been my home in Kyrgyzstan. By the time I leave here, my residence in my village will double and of my previous residences in length. That's just trippy to me. My brother is getting married. I have long considered our life developments relatively attached. Not in the sense that we do anything vaguely similar, but just in the fact that once one of us makes a major change in life that indicates a new stage in life, it means both of us are around that time. I am not ready for marriage, but David's marriage in a year means that maybe I am also no longer a kid. We are getting older, and at some point I will actually have to start acting like an adult. Oh, on this note, no worries folks, I am still the same irreverent and almost childish at point person that many of you have grown to know and love. Hell, I maybe even a bit more crazy than when I got here (scary thought huh?) The greatest thrill that has happened to this village since I arrived here was when I passed-out a copy of a newspaper article from home that was written about our village. The article included pictures taken by my mother of the school and several locals. The locals went crazy. People were talking of getting drunk in celebration of their little village having made it in a newspaper around the world. There were calls for one of the teachers whose son appeared in the paper to buy candy for the other teachers in celebration. How cool is it that something seemingly that small will be held in high esteem for a number of people in this village for years to come. Okay that's it from here. Brian

Saturday, April 30, 2005

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More words, words, words… Okay, so I’m no linguist (yeah I know I have spend time over here studying Hebrew and Sanskrit, but what’s your point?), but one of the fascinating things about language to me is what words are and are not in a language. Bare with me for a minute on this, because I think what words it has in its vocabulary really says something about a culture. Take Kyrgyz, it there are many words that can be found in the Kyrgyz language relating to farming, horses, and other nomadic type things, but if you look for words about cars, of all of the parts to a car, there is only one part that the Kyrgyz have their own word for (tire). What really got me thinking about all of this was my brother’s recent engagement to Karen (yeah I have a one-tracked mind, but can you fault me for being excited?) My students are always wanting to know about life in America and more importantly about my life and that of my family, so I decided to turn this whole thing into a bit of an educational opportunity (I know leave it to me to take a happy event in my family’s life and turn it into something educational). I went to all of my Kyrgyz dictionaries to look-up the words for engaged, fiancee, and other related words. Umm yeah, they don’t exist. There is no word for fiancee or engaged in Kyrgyz, which took me back to a poem we read my sophomore year of college which talks about the fact there is no word for goodbye in one of the Native American languages (okay not doing the poem justice, but you get the point. Col, it was from the goddess class). So the same can be said for Kyrgyz in a sense, which got me thinking. I mean come on everybody gets engaged and married (or at least it happens in every culture right?) I had a conversation later that day with a fellow volunteer who pointed-out the problems with the assumptions that I was making. I was subtly reminded that engagement is not traditional (or least does not really exist in every recent tradition) for all cultures. In Kyrgyzstan, brides are often kidnapped, and even when it is an agreed upon thing, a ceremonial kidnapping is often still carried-out. In some ways, that is sort of like proposing here. Take for my host brother for example. My host mother came-up to me early in March and informed me that my host brother would be getting married at the end of the month. I was a bit confused, because it seemed like a short time, and I wasn’t even aware that he was dating anybody. They don’t really do the long engagement thing here. Once people decide they’ve me the person they want to marry, they just sort of go ahead and get married, and there reaches a point at which even if they haven’t found the person, they go ahead and get married anyway. In other interesting news… I have often used this space to complain about the locals, so let me give some props where props are due. School here are by and large corrupt. That’s not an opinion. That’s just sort of the way things are. I wish it were otherwise, but even locals will tell you that it often doesn’t matter how much you know, but who you know and how much money you can slip them. You don’t have to be rich to get good grades, but being rich will get you good grades. Well, a victory was one this week for all those who are not corrupt. I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge the other day when one of my assistant principals came-up to me and asked how a particularly problematic class of mine was doing. I told her that they were still lazy and not doing there homework. She looked at me and said, “Then you give those little chicks (it is an insult to a child that age to be called a little chick) twos (ie fail them).” Another teacher who is a friend of mine (or as much of a friend as I can have here) looked on and gave her encouragement as well. Most volunteers in this country are told not to fail students. In fact, many are not permitted to do it, and yet there I was being told by one of my assistant principals to fail the little booger eaters. Maybe, they finally get it. Maybe there is hope for some of these people when people in education realize that failing a student who doesn’t deserve to pass is okay. Teach these kids to work for things, and I know that they will excel. I guess I’m lucky. I have a school where, with a few exceptions, they seem to get that concept, and they allow me to enforce it. Maybe they encourage me to do it, because they know I’ll do it anyway, or maybe it is because they wish that they could get away with it. Regardless, it was a pretty awesome moment, and help me gain a lot of respect for people around here. Things I think I think… I have only about 6.5 months left before I am planning on departing Kyrgyzstan. A lot of the new group keeps telling me that this a long ways off. Bullshit!!!!! I have been here almost 3 times that time now, and I can say with some amount of certainty that next 6.5 month will be gone before I know it. The goes especially because I have the summer sitting ahead of me, which is a notoriously quick period in the life of volunteers. I tried imagining my own departure the other day. Couldn’t do it. My mind cannot grasp the concept of not being here. Weird uh? If a former Peace Corps volunteer ever makes it on Survivor, it would be a site to see. Either the volunteer gets kicked-off early for not being a team player (come on we work on own away from other Americans), or the living conditions would be too easy, and they would coast through. Speaking of Survivor, I’ve never really seen anything other than a couple of final episodes, but why the hell is it always somewhere hot? You want a challenge? Try Survivor Siberia or northern Kyrgyzstan for that matter. Let’s see how well they do when they’re under 10 feet of snow and the only thing they have is rotten potatoes. The NFL draft this year had some of the most surprising failures in years. A Heisman trophy winner undrafted? What the hell? Speaking of sports, my fantasy baseball team continues to do well (or was a few days ago) with absolutely no work being done on my part. Finally, for those of you who happen to be alumni of Elizabethtown College, check-out the newest version of our alumni magazine ( I know you don't normally read them), but in this one there should be a familiar face (or not so familiar since you haven't seen it in a couple of years) staring back at you from somewhere inside. Folks I’m off. Enjoy Chong (my Kyrgyz name meaning: big) Brian