Saturday, February 21, 2004

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I apologize to my loyal readers that I took a bit of a week off, but the computers were down at Peace Corps headquarters, so while in Bishkek e-mail was limited. There are times in life in which you cannot help but stop and think “this just isn’t normal.” I suppose I’ve had my fair share of those already at the tender age of twenty-four. Its just that every now-and-then you emerge from the haze in which you live and sort of look down on what you are doing. Those moments give you the perspective that this just isn’t normal. I had another such experience this past weekend. Another volunteer and I decided that we needed to head to Bishkek for the weekend (a good 7 or 8 hour trip on Kyrgyzstan’s marginal road system). We met Thursday night intending to leave the next morning, but then we realized that we really had nothing to do Thursday night, so we figured we would catch the night bus in. That way we would also have two full days in the city instead of just one. Just as we saw the night bus approaching (about 8:30pm), a man approached us and asked where we were going. We told him Bishkek, and he asked if we would like to ride with him. We asked him the price, and he offered to charge an even 200 som a piece. At a little more than 40 som to the dollar, with the night bus being within 50 or 60 som of that price, and considering the amount of extra room we would get, it was an easy yes. So we took off in this total stranger’s car as if there was nothing usual about what we were doing. Sometime into the trip, we sort of looked at each other, and realized this isn’t normal. There we were cruising across Kyrgyzstan in the middle of the night in a man we had met only a couple of minutes before getting into his car. We don’t hitchhike much in America, and we are particularly wary of it late at night. This, however, is a very different place where nobody thinks it’s unusual to grab a ride from a total stranger at anytime of day or night. Get water…. For some as of yet unexplained reason, my village has gone dry. While indoor plumbing is a bit of myth in my village, most homes do have one pipe that brings in some form of vaguely clean water, but at this point even those pipes seem to have run dry. This of course means that somebody has to go to the frozen creek at the edge of the village and bring water back to the house. I have managed to acquire this chore rather happily I might add. Of all of the things that I have done in the two and half months that I have lived here to try and help people feel more comfortable with my presence, I don’t think anything has gone farther towards this goal than taking on the chore of water collecting. Granted this has something to do with the fact that it is winter, so other than the random groups of men squatting by the side of the road drinking vodka or the kids sledding down the road, most people are inside. That conceded, there is also something to be said for gaining respect through hard labor. It gives the message that here is this “wealthy American” who is willing to do the lowliest of chores. Collecting water is an experience all it own. Most families hitch-up a cart to their horses, load it down with 12 gallon water jugs, and head to the water hole. My family has sold most of their horses to put their three sons through college, so they hitch-up the next best thing: their Peace Corps volunteer. Okay, so my cart is a little smaller and not actually hitched to me, but you get the point. You then take said cart and pull it through the quagmire of a road that leads toward the creek. Once you reach the creek and navigate its weak spots out the hole cut in the ice, you dip the small bucket that you brought with you into the icy water and fill the larger container. The locals love it. There is something disarming about pulling something that ways something akin to a small horse down the road as your boots are covered in a weird mix of mud and other such items. I get more smiles and greetings from people since I started making my daily pilgrimage to the watering hole. I got gotten… I’m not certain how they did it really. I never really noticed it to be perfectly honest. Somewhere and at some point, I became invested in this village and more importantly, these children. Don’t ask me, because I don’t know when it happened. I was just sitting there today thinking about how great it would be to jump in my car in the States and do a cross country road trip. It would just be really nice to see some things that I have never seen before. Then I started to think about living here, and as much as that seems like a nice idea in theory, there is part of me that simply cannot fathom leaving any time soon. There is a group of kids here that wants to learn too much for me to just leave them behind. Part of me hates myself for feeling this way. It is easier if you don’t allow yourself to get attached to people, but then again, that’s the only way you get the good stuff as well. I don’t know that I can do any more for these kids than their other English teachers, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to give it a shot. There is too much potential especially in my kids who I will have for two years not to try and take advantage of this opportunity. The beauty of living in a country such as this is that the potential is virtually limitless. A student who learns to communicate with the outside world could play a major role in the future of Kyrgyzstan. I guess that is thing that continues to draw me to work with young people. It is this zest for life. There is a desire to see other things and do other things that does somehow disappears from most people somewhere along the way. Some people would argue that would I see in these “children” is naiveté, and there may well be some of that, but there is also a certain amount of faith. They believe that they can do something interesting with their lives. That life can somehow be more than the depressing humdrum that so many people resign themselves to.

Free Guestbook from Bravenet.com Free Guestbook from Bravenet.com

I apologize to my loyal readers that I took a bit of a week off, but the computers were down at Peace Corps headquarters, so while in Bishkek e-mail was limited. There are times in life in which you cannot help but stop and think “this just isn’t normal.” I suppose I’ve had my fair share of those already at the tender age of twenty-four. Its just that every now-and-then you emerge from the haze in which you live and sort of look down on what you are doing. Those moments give you the perspective that this just isn’t normal. I had another such experience this past weekend. Another volunteer and I decided that we needed to head to Bishkek for the weekend (a good 7 or 8 hour trip on Kyrgyzstan’s marginal road system). We met Thursday night intending to leave the next morning, but then we realized that we really had nothing to do Thursday night, so we figured we would catch the night bus in. That way we would also have two full days in the city instead of just one. Just as we saw the night bus approaching (about 8:30pm), a man approached us and asked where we were going. We told him Bishkek, and he asked if we would like to ride with him. We asked him the price, and he offered to charge an even 200 som a piece. At a little more than 40 som to the dollar, with the night bus being within 50 or 60 som of that price, and considering the amount of extra room we would get, it was an easy yes. So we took off in this total stranger’s car as if there was nothing usual about what we were doing. Sometime into the trip, we sort of looked at each other, and realized this isn’t normal. There we were cruising across Kyrgyzstan in the middle of the night in a man we had met only a couple of minutes before getting into his car. We don’t hitchhike much in America, and we are particularly wary of it late at night. This, however, is a very different place where nobody thinks it’s unusual to grab a ride from a total stranger at anytime of day or night. Get water…. For some as of yet unexplained reason, my village has gone dry. While indoor plumbing is a bit of myth in my village, most homes do have one pipe that brings in some form of vaguely clean water, but at this point even those pipes seem to have run dry. This of course means that somebody has to go to the frozen creek at the edge of the village and bring water back to the house. I have managed to acquire this chore rather happily I might add. Of all of the things that I have done in the two and half months that I have lived here to try and help people feel more comfortable with my presence, I don’t think anything has gone farther towards this goal than taking on the chore of water collecting. Granted this has something to do with the fact that it is winter, so other than the random groups of men squatting by the side of the road drinking vodka or the kids sledding down the road, most people are inside. That conceded, there is also something to be said for gaining respect through hard labor. It gives the message that here is this “wealthy American” who is willing to do the lowliest of chores. Collecting water is an experience all it own. Most families hitch-up a cart to their horses, load it down with 12 gallon water jugs, and head to the water hole. My family has sold most of their horses to put their three sons through college, so they hitch-up the next best thing: their Peace Corps volunteer. Okay, so my cart is a little smaller and not actually hitched to me, but you get the point. You then take said cart and pull it through the quagmire of a road that leads toward the creek. Once you reach the creek and navigate its weak spots out the hole cut in the ice, you dip the small bucket that you brought with you into the icy water and fill the larger container. The locals love it. There is something disarming about pulling something that ways something akin to a small horse down the road as your boots are covered in a weird mix of mud and other such items. I get more smiles and greetings from people since I started making my daily pilgrimage to the watering hole. I got gotten… I’m not certain how they did it really. I never really noticed it to be perfectly honest. Somewhere and at some point, I became invested in this village and more importantly, these children. Don’t ask me, because I don’t know when it happened. I was just sitting there today thinking about how great it would be to jump in my car in the States and do a cross country road trip. It would just be really nice to see some things that I have never seen before. Then I started to think about living here, and as much as that seems like a nice idea in theory, there is part of me that simply cannot fathom leaving any time soon. There is a group of kids here that wants to learn too much for me to just leave them behind. Part of me hates myself for feeling this way. It is easier if you don’t allow yourself to get attached to people, but then again, that’s the only way you get the good stuff as well. I don’t know that I can do any more for these kids than their other English teachers, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to give it a shot. There is too much potential especially in my kids who I will have for two years not to try and take advantage of this opportunity. The beauty of living in a country such as this is that the potential is virtually limitless. A student who learns to communicate with the outside world could play a major role in the future of Kyrgyzstan. I guess that is thing that continues to draw me to work with young people. It is this zest for life. There is a desire to see other things and do other things that does somehow disappears from most people somewhere along the way. Some people would argue that would I see in these “children” is naiveté, and there may well be some of that, but there is also a certain amount of faith. They believe that they can do something interesting with their lives. That life can somehow be more than the depressing humdrum that so many people resign themselves to.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Free Guestbook from Bravenet.com Free Guestbook from Bravenet.com

You couldn’t help being stupid, but you could have stayed home…. And then you probably would have passed the test. Giving a test, as any of you who have given a test can attest, is a study in human behavior. You can stand in front of a class warning about the dangers of cheating to the point that the students are screaming at you that they understand, only to turn around and find some of those who had been screaming at you cheating. As I prepared my students for this week’s test, I warned them repeatedly about the perils of cheating. I informed them that cheating would at best get them a one. If they wrote nothing at all on the test, they were told that the worst they could do was get

Free Guestbook from Bravenet.com Free Guestbook from Bravenet.com

You couldn’t help being stupid, but you could have stayed home…. And then you probably would have passed the test. Giving a test, as any of you who have given a test can attest, is a study in human behavior. You can stand in front of a class warning about the dangers of cheating to the point that the students are screaming at you that they understand, only to turn around and find some of those who had been screaming at you cheating. As I prepared my students for this week’s test, I warned them repeatedly about the perils of cheating. I informed them that cheating would at best get them a one. If they wrote nothing at all on the test, they were told that the worst they could do was get a two. Allow me for a moment to explain the Kyrgyz grading system. It is a one to five system with five being about equivalent to an A. One difference being that grade inflation here is so rampant that professors at Ivy League universities seem down right stingy with their grades. The one is about as rare as a Frenchman at a “we love W rally.” They just don’t exist. Two is the lowest that students ever get, and after perusing the grade books of my fellow teachers, I noticed that a grand total of about ten were given out as quarterly grades the past two quarters combined in a school of seven hundred students. Alas, some of my students decided to make that prayerful lunge for the three by cheating. Imagine my glee when I caught a thirty of my students cheating on their test. I only gave the test to about a hundred students, so I currently have thirty percent of my students who have been caught cheating on a test. There is, however, nothing quite like the look on a student’s face when they have been caught cheating. They glare at you as though you were the one that broke the rules. Part of me feels as though I should apologize to them. I realize that I am an awful person, and that I planted that open dictionary on their lap just so that I could bust them. At least he was creative. Most of the rest of the students figured that since I don’t know all that much Kyrgyz I wouldn’t understand them when they told each other answers to the vocabulary. I’m funny this way, but I tend to at least know the Kyrgyz words needed to answer the vocabulary on my test. Knowing the answers makes grading so much easier. As much fun as all of this is, the frustration that comes from going to school is challenging to say the least when there are times in which you realize that most of the students just don’t care. Those times make you think about how good life is back home. There I have indoor plumbing, electricity that works 99 percent of the time, water, and friends and family that total more than two or three. I love the people here, and I love my fellow volunteers, but there are times when it just gets to you. When those times hit, that is when it is best to step outside into the frigid cold that is winter here and stare at the mountains. It is a wonderful place to have to live for a couple of years. It has its problems like everywhere, but for a nature lover like me, it is truly a blessing of a place to live as well. I have often tried to describe the scenery here, but I shall instead tip my cap to a French philosopher who observed that words attempt to limit that which cannot be limited. In the same way, to attempt to describe the mountains further would be to place a limit on their beauty and the emotions that they describe, which I am yet to find. Well, that should about cover it for the week. Stay tuned next week when I talk about the absurdities of an incompetent Peace Corps office. Brian