Thursday, May 27, 2004

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Wow! Another week has already passed (almost) So I spent the last week fighting over grades. Surprise, surprise, surprise. Thankfully, we celebrated the end of school on Tuesday with the “Last Bell Ceremony.” It is a really interesting ceremony that starts with the graduating 11th graders parading around the school yard in their official school uniforms (coats and ties for boys. For girls, think French maid.) Each of the students’ accomplishments is called out for all to honor them. Then there are about two hours of speeches by people whose position I still have no clue, but they seemed really into their speeches. That was followed by one of the coolest academic traditions ever (okay, I’m dork for thinking that any academic tradition is cool). Two of the 11th graders walk two of the 1st graders around the school yard and they ring the last bell of the school year. I have to give a special thank you at this point to two of my 11th grade classes that honored me with flowers during they ceremony. They each read a poem in English and me some flowers. I was touched more than they will ever know. So with the ringing of the last bell of the school year it would seem that my work has just tapered-off significantly. Oh were that the case! The ending of the school year now frees a lot of time for me to pursue more interesting projects for the summer. I am already started to plan the lessons that I am going to be teaching on human rights, democracy, theatre, and other vitally important things at some camps around the country. The next three weeks, as best I can figure at this point, should be slow weeks to be used for relaxing at the beach and preparing for future projects. I give an exam to any 11th or 9th grader sadistic enough to request one of my exams on June 12th. After that, my summer picks-up the pace a bit. I have to help another volunteer prepare for a camp that I cannot make the next week. My family is slated to arrive on the 18th of June (yeah!!), and after they leave on July 8th (booo!!!) my summer becomes less of a break. I get a five day break followed by two ten day camps on human rights and democracy through drama. After that (early August), I have to start doing research for this massive project on Manas that I continually make vague references to. That research has to be done in other parts of the country, so I will be traveling for a lot of that time. At some point, I have help my village get clean water (we’re drinking from the creek again). Basically the long and short of it is that I really won’t be in my village much from the 15th/16thish of June until sometime in mid-August. I will apologize in advance for not posting more often to this journal. Assuming that my summer follows the course at it appears at this point (never a safe assumption), I will be out of internet and more importantly weblog range for weeks at a time. The good news is that hopefully in there I will be able to scan some pictures for the net. There really is nothing all that exiting to post this week. Life is just sort of rolling along. The weather is beautiful. The sun is bright, and the lake is still oh so very cold. The name of the giant lake near me (Issyk-kul) literally means hot lake. Funny, in mid-May it is certainly not a hot lake. Okay, take care all Brian

Friday, May 21, 2004

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Pavlov anybody? First, I would like to pat myself on the back and congratulate myself on having lived to my 25th birthday. Yeah for me!!! For those of you who were betting against me, shame on you! Yes, I seem to have penchant for getting myself either hurt or in relatively unsafe situations, but I got staying power baby! Regrettably, I am still a little short of my goal. At this point I have officially entered only 21 countries, which means I have some work ahead of me over the next year or two to try and catch-up with my age. I have lamented about the educational system here in a number of this postings. Much to my surprise, I actually did not catch much flack last quarter for the grades I wrote down for my students. Funny, I don’t seem so lucky this time around. I was approached in my classroom on day by the homeroom teacher (and my counterpart to act as a translator) of the 11th B class (each grade is divided into groups of students when they start school in first grade and they stay with that class the whole way. Each class is assigned a letter to distinguish it from the other classes in the same grade). The teacher wanted to know how many of the students in her class would be receiving 2’s (2=F 5=A). I told her that I was uncertain at this point as the class has another exam with me the following day and that the book I carry with me only has their daily grades which account for only 50 percent of their grades (not to mention the fact that I have not decided on the curve for the quarter), but that there will certainly be some 2’s (as of this writing over half the class is averaging a 2 or worse). I was told that this was a problem and that the school does not want me to give them 2’s. I said that that was great, because I don’t want to fail any of the students either, but the simple fact is the students have not come to class, cheated on exams, and not done their homework. The problem, I was told, was that these students are supposed to graduate, and a two will make that a problem. “Wow!,” I thought, “that really is a problem for those students who will be failing. I really wish they had thought of that before they chose to not come to class, to cheat on my exams, and to not do their homework. If they had thought that through in advance, maybe they wouldn’t be in this self-created problem.” My final decision has actually been to write everything but their final grade in the book, if they have earned a 2 from me. I will write 2’s for everything that they have done, but I will not write a 2 for a final grade. I know that this is in some ways compromising my ethical position, but I think that I have made my point. I that, I know that at least one of the 3 11th grade class teachers will have a dilemma of their own as they will be forced to either give the 2 or lie. I refuse to lie about grades, but their is limit to my influence, so if others want to lie about grades, then that is their option. The most amusing thing about all of this is that I a conversation only the night before with my counterpart about the problem of lazy students in this country. She was well aware of the problem, and actually seemed vaguely concerned about it (vague concern is a momentous thing here). She actually talked about how it would be really nice if the students would stop being so lazy. I guess she failed to find the irony in the fact that one night she was lamenting laziness of students, and then the next morning asking me to give students grades that they did not work for. I wonder if people here have ever heard of a guy named Pavlov. One real quick shout-out the week: I want to offer my congratulations to my brother who will the weekend of the 22nd become the 3rd of 4 in my immediate family to earn the title of Dr. Congratulations David. I'm proud of you. Brian

Saturday, May 15, 2004

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Okay, so as some of you have noticed, I have changed my blog a little bit with the hope of creating a little bit of a nicer space as well as giving myself the option of uploading some pictures at some point when I get the chance to scan some. I have also added a new e-mail address, so please feel free to contact me at my old yahoo account or try my new google one: cowanbp@gmail.com.

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No words… There are times in life in which you see something that is simply awe-inspiring. Times when you want to thank whoever or whatever was kind enough to put you in that place at that moment. I had one of those this past weekend. A group of volunteers decided that because we had a day off from work on Monday, that we should spend the weekend in the mountains. Never one to turn a good hike, regardless of the pain in my knee, I joined them. The hike itself took us through the valleys South of Karakol near where I am living and then up the side of one of the mountains. The farther into the hike we got, the more we started to see this magnificent color that had long since been forgotten: green. It was everywhere. The leaves in the trees were a deep evergreen, the low level vegetation sprang-up around us in a myriad of greens, and the grass, oh the grass, was a deep healthy green the like of which I have not seen since leaving the States. One of the things that I miss most are yards of green healthy grass. It was beautiful simply beautiful. Of course this is the alpine region of Kyrgyzstan, so the path led us over one recent avalanche and past a couple of others. If you have never seen the remnants of an avalanche in person, it is an impressive site. The destructive ability of snow is pretty incredible. The final stretch of trail took us up the never-ending hill (literally a kilometer of 65 degree hiking) before opening-up into a valley that had me expecting to see the Van Trap family coming over the mountains at any moment singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” Waiting for us at the cabins where we were staying we a hot sulfur spring. We spent two nights there before returning with the off-day spent wondering through the incredible scenery of the valley. A lot of literature refers to Kyrgyzstan as the Switzerland of Central Asia, and I have always wondered why. I learned why this past weekend. I would try to offer more of a description, but words just cannot do it justice. You will all just have to wait and see the pictures when I get home. Okay, so I am a complete ass. I totally forgot to wish any of mother who may be reading this a happy Mother’s Day in my last posting. Sorry about that. I love all you mothers out there, and that goes especially for my own. I cannot ever give enough credit to my mother for where I am today. Thanks mom. Well, there remains one full week of school left more me. Assuming I actually teach every day this next week, which I really need to do, it will be the first full week of class that I will have taught since sometime in mid-March. One of the many anomalies of Peace Corps is the amount of time that you have to spend doing things other than actually working on projects. I take a day off a month just to go to the bank to get my monthly allowance. After this weekend’s little venture into Bishkek, I will have been in the capital city 3 times in the last 4 weeks, which is ridiculous. As most of you know, I am not a big big city fan, and that goes for Bishkek as well. It is an okay place. The street food is pretty good, and you can actually get non-Kyrgyz/Russian food there. Oh yeah, and there is free internet at the Peace Corps office, but beyond that, there really isn’t much draw, except for that being the only place where you can get anything accomplished outside of teaching. Thus, I continue to go in to get work done. Brian

Friday, May 07, 2004

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I apologize for not having written the previous week. In many ways, I wish that the reason that I have not posted in a while were shearly out of neglect or lack of excitement in my life, but that seems to be relatively far from the truth. Instead, the past couple of weeks have been filled with intense periods of waiting and wondering. Several weeks ago, I speculated about my physical deterioration. I asked whether or not I could possibly be as injured as some were speculating. A week later, I wrote with much relief that I was not as bad off as initial indications. Unfortunately, all that may have been a bit premature. I learned on the 23rd of April that I have a potentially serious form of arthritis in a couple of my joints. The potential implications of this are numerous. At the respective extremes, it could mean very little at all other than some new medications, it could mean the termination of my Peace Corps service, or it could mean just about anything in between. I may have to move villages, move to Bishkek for a period of time, or go to another country for treatment. Upon diagnosis the medical staff gave me a better than fifty percent chance that I would be medevaced somewhere (be it the US or another country). After two weeks of waiting, I learned recently the for the time being we are going to pursue as aggressive treatment as seems is save from my village. The hope is that this will get the arthritis under control in a couple of months, and that there will not be the need for me to pursue further treatment elsewhere. As far as I can tell, I should be fine. I have a bit more pain in my joints than before, and I am thus limited in my ability to help around the farm, but I have full faith in the people with whom I am working. I love you guys, but I have no intention of coming to see you before my time here is finished. I would like to take this opportunity to comment on the medical support that I have received while in country. In the course of my postings, I have complained about, made fun of, and critized some of the Peace Corps experience. That is, after all, part of life. I hope that I have been positive and humorous at times as well. All that said, I can not compliment the medical staff in our office enough for the job that they have done for me since my arrival. As many of you who know me are aware, in some ways I am twenty-four going on sixty-four with joint problems, nerve disorders, and an unhappy GI track that ,while rarely stopping me from being active, are constantly reminding me of their existence. I spent much of my first two months here ill. I have managed to get my body to become inflamed, strained, and generally irritated in ways that have even impressed me. Through it all, the medical staff has done a superb job. They have caught drug conflicts and the starts of potential problems that I have never heard about as well read as I am about what is going on with me. Yelena and Nazgul, our two doctors, have been tremendous. They have listened thouroughly to each and every problem that I have had with genuine concern about me not just as a volunteer but as a person. For people who are responsible for the phyiscal well-being of over 115 people as far as 17 hours away by car, they knowledge is incredible. They are general practitioners who have to be able to diagnose more complicated cases that a gp in the states would be sending-out for consultation. As well as they know medicine, they are also smart enough to know when to seek outside assistance. Yelena in particular is simply incredible. She is Kazak with a training in America, and with board certifications in both general medicine and geriatrics from the states. She has provided me with so much support and assistance that repaying her will never be possible. Beyond it all, you know that when talking with her, she is generally interested in you as a person. I’m sorry that I have not done well at including the amusing stories from Kyrgyzstan that I once promised in my journal over the past few weeks. I am told by many that their first April in Kyrgyzstan was their most difficult month. Having had a rough one myself, I am glad to be in the merry merry month of May. Despite rumors to the contrary, I am doing well. I love my village, and I am looking forward to the number of activities that are planned for the summer. The beauty of this country is that literally almost anything can happen on any given day.