Friday, April 23, 2004

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For this week’s posting, I wanted to write something light and fluffy. You know sort of like wiped-cream or a meringue (spelling that word took me a good five minutes, and I still don’t know if it is the correct word). It has been a fine week. As of this writing, it has been what one might deem to be a bit mundane, or at least as mundane as things can be given my current situation. I gave a test, and I caught a fair number of my students cheating, but I’ve written about that once before. I do cherish the looks on my students faces when I take their test away after I have just walked by them whispering the answer. They seem so surprised and vaguely innocent. Then I act-out for them what they did, and their surprise turns to laughter. It is sort of like they want to see if you really caught them. It is sort of like a test for you to see if you saw them do what they know they did. When you pass the test, there are laughs and smiles all around. It’s bizarre, simply bizarre. I got agitated at somebody. That would be new and noteworthy, if Peace Corps did not by default shorten everybody’s fuse by an average of about 10 feet. We all have to be careful, because it is far too easy to say something that you might one day regret. Then again, as long as we don’t say it to other Americans, nobody can understand what we are saying, so we’ve got that going for us. As I am writing much of this before heading in to Bishkek for a weekend of fun and excitement, maybe more will between now and then, but if not, take care all. Brian

Saturday, April 17, 2004

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Easter In case you are wondering, this is why I travel: In an anomaly of calendars, Orthodox (ie non Protestant or Catholic (yes that exists)) and Western Christian Easters landed on the same Sunday this year. Most years they are separated by a week, but not this year. Most of the volunteers in my area decided to join together to celebrate the holiday. The Russian Orthodox church in Karakol has its Easter service at midnight, and a group decided to make the trek up to the church for the service. Not one to miss out on viewing a religious ceremony of any kind, I tagged along. We stepped outside into the weather that I had expected to be relatively warm as it is April and I have been able to wear shorts once or twice already, only to find that a blizzard or sorts raging. By the time we arrived at the church the snow was coming down in full force. I wandered into the church which had once been a field house before its conversion to a church. It was filled with the oil lamps on chains and icons that are so common in Christian sites outside of the US. There were few places to sit in the church with those benches that did exist along the walls reserved for the elderly. I stood watching the interesting mix of people who came to the service. They ranged from the devout local Russians, the local youth, and the drunks (because they are everywhere in this country) to the foreigners (a handful of Americans and Turks). As I stood in the half-lit room watching a snow storm that would dump close a good few inches on the ground before it left, I was struck by the simultaneous beauty of the moment and the beauty of religious ceremonies in general. It was awesome in the truest sense of the word. I am admittedly not always a huge fan of the organized side of religions, but the initial beauty followed by the movement out to the front of the church for a lap around the church, and then communal chanting on the front steps in the snow helped remind me of the beauty that can be found in a church. Okay, or maybe this is why I travel: I went to my English club on Monday as I normally do. When I got there, the students asked if we could please not stay inside, but instead go outside and play. I few English club as theirs not mine as it is a totally optional exercise. If they are not enjoying it or getting anything out of it, then it’s pointless. Thus, I willingly agreed to go outside and play soccer with them, but only after we had covered some of the affiliated English vocabulary (everything is a potential learning experience). As it turns-out there was a soccer tournament being played in the “stadium” behind the school. I love soccer. I mean I really love the game for all that it is worth, and there nothing more beautiful than watching the “beautiful game” being played in a place like this. It has all the passion that I sports fan like myself dreams goes along with sporting events. Every goal was the most important in the history of mankind, and every opposing player was another foreign invader to be booed and jeered by the crowd. In the moments when there wasn’t anything else to yell, the kids sitting on the basketball goal overlooking the field simply started to chant “Orgochor Champion.” I spent the afternoons of two days standing and watching the seven v. seven contests, and I enjoyed ever moment of it. Not every player was great, but there were plenty of excited plays, and they were all done for the love of the game. Oh, by the way I answered my own question from last week’s posting. Apparently I am not so ill that I will have to move close to Bishkek. Medical responded to my lengthy e-mail (as did our country director which was odd), and granted me a reprieve. Instead we will seek medical and dietary ways of controlling my arthritis. In another random observation for this week: I think chickens are one of the funniest looking animal in the world. Maybe I am a bit biased as I tend to interact with them everyday as I work in our garden, but it is relatively disconcerting to see these critters running around without any visible upper-body appendage. Other birds fly, so it doesn’t look so weird. With chickens, however, they spend the vast majority of their time running around on the ground, and it looks very odd if you ask me. I would encourage each and every one of you to take the time at some point, find a flock of chickens, and just watch them for period of time, or come to Kyrgyzstan, visit me, and watch my chickens with me. Whatever floats your boat. Okay, I’m outy ya’ll Brian By the way, for those of you who could sort of depressed e-mails from me last, I am doing much better thank you. I’ll write you each directly, but part of Peace Corps is going through downs as well as ups. Thankfully, I seem to be pulling out of the latest down.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

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Oh the police… I was riding in a taxi the other day on my way to attend a meeting with embassy personnel when the taxi ran out of gas. In a country where drivers do not seem to grasp the notion of filling up a car when purchasing gas, this should not be all that surprising. What made the even that much more interesting was the fact that the police officer riding with us, got out of the car and began waving cars over as though he was doing a routine check of all cars. Normally, when a police officer waves a car over using one of those large orange wands here, they get a small bribe so that they will not write a larger ticket for any one the many violations that almost every car here has. They can get you for anything from no seat belts (almost no cars owned by locals have functioning seat belts) to tires that do not have enough tread (again pretty much every car). Instead of requesting his normal bribe this time though, the police officer made several cars that had extra fuel give us some in place of his bribe. We ended-up with a liter or two of free gas, which was enough to get us to the next gas station. Am I that old? Age is an interesting phenomena. People say that you are only as old as you feel, and if that’s the case then I may well be pushing a few years past my actual age. Peace Corps certainly seems to think so anyway. Of the 110 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Kyrgyzstan, a good seven or so are at least 50, with 6 of those seven likely being over 60, yet I am the first one about who’s health Peace Corps is so concerned that they are considering making move close to Bishkek, so that they can monitor my condition. I’m not talking about a week in Bishkek for recovery like others have had. I am talking about a permanent move. One of our doctors called me on the phone and said that they were that concerned about my health. I will grant them that the fact that I arrived here with arthritis at the age of 24 is a bit unusual. Beyond that, the fact that they have diagnosed at another case of it in the last couple of weeks with another couple of joints either already starting to suffer the affects of disease or likely on their way if the pattern holds is more than a little bit disconcerting. It’s just pain though right? I mean, it’s not like there is anything all that serious underlying all of this is there? They are supposed to be sending me information about arthritis, and I am scheduled to go in a meet with people directly in a couple of weeks. Hopefully that will clear some things up. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder about all of this. I mean, have I really fallen that far physically? I can still walk miles at a time without too many problems. Sure, my joints are sore, and there are a couple of days a month when I cannot really do much more than limp, but I’m used to that. I mean pains a part of life right? Maybe I am just falling apart, but I refuse to be resigned to that fact. I’m okay folks. I’ll make it through this. What’s a little soreness between joint? It’s part of life, and I am certain that I will be okay at the end of the day. I have no intentions of changing the way I live because of a little bit of pain. All right, take care out there. Keep in touch Brian

Saturday, April 03, 2004

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First some thoughts on terrorism… With the recent bombings in Uzbekistan, Central Asia once again returns to world’s stage. Many of you may well have heard a lot more about what happened there than I have, but from what I can tell the attacks were carried-out by a group known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. (IMU). The IMU is an organization with a mixture of goals. Fortunately from what I have read, among this goals is not the killing of Westerners. While primarily active in Uzbekistan, the IMU is believed to have been involved in a series of bombings last year in Bishkek and possibly Osh. So some people are wondering if any of this serves as a threat to me. The attacks in Uzbekistan are not directly a threat obviously having happened in Uzbekistan. At the same time, I do live in a region of the world that is increasingly volatile. This includes the recent discovery that an Islamic terrorist organization (as labeled by the US embassy) that had previously only been operating in the South as started operations (which could simply mean that they are chilling-out) in the village of another volunteer about 45 minutes from me. Attacks in the region are not uncommon, but to date, they have not been directed against American targets. They have also been limited to large cities. The closest of these cities to me is Bishkek, which is 8 hours away from me. So am I concerned for my own safety? Not really. I live in a city of 2500 people most of whom all know me, and have welcomed me into their village. I also do not tend to frequent the places that are possible targets when I go into Bishkek. Peace Corps has also done a very competent job training us to be vigilant about keeping an eye on anything out of the ordinary around us. So, no worries. The toughest thing about teaching… A couple of weeks ago, I completed my first quarter of teaching here in Kyrgyzstan. In those eight to ten short weeks, I gained a lot of respect for teachers. Theirs is a job that in some ways I would wish on my worst enemy. The daily grind of teaching those who don’t care can ware one down. I’ll be honest and say that I am not certain that I will continue teaching much past the end of this next quarter. Instead, I will probably try and find another project to work on. For me it is not the difficulties of teaching that may drive me away, but instead my own dislike for the subject that I am teaching. Teaching English to nonnative speakers has lost its novelty to me. Besides other projects call, but that’s all irrelevant to the topic at hand. As challenging and rewarding as teaching can be, I cannot help but think that the single most difficult thing about teaching is that teachers are called to make impartial decisions about people in whom they are emotionally invested. You work so closely with students, and you want to see them do well. You love those kids, but then some of them cheat on a test, don’t come to class, or do poorly on assigned work. The result is that their grade drops. It’s not your fault. They are the ones who are responsible for making certain that they do what they are supposed to do. It is simply your job to enforce the policies that you have set forth. I hated failing some of my favorite students, but it wasn’t really my choice. When the one student burst into tears after learning that she had gotten a 3 instead of a 4 for the quarter, part of me ached for her and part of me told her that it was her own fault. I don’t give grades, students earn them. I wish I could explain that more clearly to the students, but they all view the teacher as the person responsible for giving grades. They don’t understand this sense of responsibility for grades that at least exists in America. I know not everybody in the states buys into the idea, but at least it exists there. That’s not the case here. I’m walking away … Okay, so I mentioned the notion of other projects that are not teaching related. I guess maybe I should at least go into them in a bit more detail. Right now, I only have one other major project outside of grants, but I am actively searching for others. This major project is to take the Manas Epic which essentially serves as the theoretical basis for Kyrgyz culture. That is to say that it is like the Ramahyana or Ramakian (sp?) in other cultures. It is the defining myth of the people. My project is to take the Manas Epic and turn it into a curriculum on human rights for the local courts of elders. The idea behind this project is to help get human rights applied in the legal system (where it exists in writing) by linking them with a prominent part of their culture. It is in some ways an extension of the kind of work that I was doing graduate school, which makes it all that much more exciting to me. As always, if you have any thoughts, questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at cowanbp@yahoo.com. Also, please feel free to pass this sight along to anybody else who might be interested. Brian K-11 PCV Kyrgyzstan