Saturday, September 25, 2004

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Okay, so I would be out of line to not add a not of congratulations to my dear friends Coleen and Justin who are to be/were wed today Saturday 25th. I am raising whatever swill they call alcohol here in your honor. A sad ending… Over the last few weeks, several members of the group of volunteers set to complete service in December have been told by Peace Corps to either pack their backs now and quit or face being administratively separated ie… kicked-out (the Peace Corps equivalent to a dishonorable discharge). These volunteers have legitimately broken fairly major Peace Corps rules (all of them we caught out of the region of the country to which they are assigned with one of those being caught in Thailand). I do not disagree with the decision to enforce the rules as set-out by Peace Corps. Being away from your village for a short time and not saying anything is on thing (ie for the dayish), but to leave your oblast (state) or staying out of the country for longer than you told Peace Corps is another thing all together. At the end of the day, this whole situation is sort of sad, because you have a group of volunteers who have come so far, have done so much, and who are so close to the successful completion of their service. So here’s to them. They’re all good guys a couple of whom should be lucky to have made it this far without being administratively separated for more serious things. It’s just too bad that they made it is as far as they did only to trip before the finish line. I got my schedule (twice)… So as I mentioned in my last posting, part of the fun of teaching in Kyrgyzstan is that everyday at the beginning of school is like Christmas when you get to unwrap a new schedule everyday. My shortest lasting schedule was actual 12 hours, but I am now on one that has lasted since that change Monday morning. It’s great (which means it may soon change). I teach 18 hours a week (that’s normal), but they have managed to condense it into 4 days instead of 5. I teach four hours straight 2 days a week, 5 hours straight the other 2, and I get Friday, Saturday, and Sunday “off.” I say “off” because I don’t have to go to school, but I still have to do other things nonschool related. I’m becoming Kyrgyz… That’s right folks, I am on my way!! I know what you must be thinking, “Wow! Brian must be really culturally adapting.” Okay, well I guess you could call it cultural adaptation. Or you could call it becoming totally and utterly apathetic, which does mean roughly the same thing as being Kyrgyz. I don’t know that I should think of it in such negative terms (is it a bad sign when you consider being like the locals a negative thing?). I love these people, and in some ways their sort of relaxed attitude about, well, everything is something we could all learn from. Sure, they get into fights at points, but that’s only when they’ve been drinking heavily (read: all winter. The men in the winter do justice to the saying “It’s five o’clock somewhere”). Beyond that, time, schedules, classes, don’t really seem to impact the Kyrgyz. So when I waited for the bell for fifth period and not only did none of my students come, but no students were really there at all, I didn’t let it bother me. Sure I’d like to teach the kids and do my job, but at the end of the day, if the school cancels classes for no seemingly logical reason, classes are canceled, and you move on. 9 month ago, this would have irritated me. I came here to teach damn it!! Now, I more accepting of the idea that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I have come all this way, and I will make my help available if they want it, but I guess I am sort of refusing to go hoarse trying to make them take it. So instead of getting of perturbed, I left school to enjoy the beautiful day. In the same sense, when I need things done, I make sure to give people a good 3 months notice. Now if only I could teach them to expect the same of me instead of expecting me to do things immediately… I still have my drive folks, but I learning how to change gears to make sure that I get things done without over-heating my engine, blowing a cylinder, and having to come home early.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

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So I go to school on the first actual day of classes (there is an official first day, but like the official last day there are no classes) expecting nothing to really happen. Of course I was not disappointed. Nothing actually really ever happens at school, so I had no reason to expect the first day to be any different. That said, I did expect that maybe something would have been done in preparation for school. I mean, they built new bathrooms and painted every interior surface in the school. Of course no schedule had bothered to be written. By eight o’clock that first morning, I did have a tentative schedule for that day, but of my four classes, two were canceled for reasons I have no idea about. When I asked about the schedule for the next day, I was told that I would get it at 8 the next morning. I raised this as a bit of a problem, because I was trying to plan a trip into Bishkek for the next day with a fellow volunteer. They told me that I would know the next day. Besides, they said, these are only tentative schedules anyway. The assured me that next week they would all change anyway. When I inquired about my classroom, they again told me to wait until next week. This is in my book quintessential Kyrgyz. They spent the summer making the surface look beautiful, but when it comes to anything beneath the surface, they skimp. The school looks totally ready for the start of the new school year, but the school itself is woefully unprepared to do anything. Forget books (I know I won’t have any to teach with this year), they don’t even have the schedule prepared. They cannot tell you who is supposed to be where when. I could understand if it were something that they did not have the money to do. That would make sense in this economic situation, but they are failing in an area that requires only manpower. Hell, it doesn’t even require multiple people. It requires one person to spend a day doing it. I know that it can be complicated process, but they have had all summer. So we uh scheduled a meeting… So there is this human rights organization that wanted to meet with me about working some for them on the side. The problem is their village is 2 hours away, and Peace Corps prohibits us from living there because of small amounts of radiation. That means for me to work for them I have make the 2-3 hour commute every time that I am going to work with them. To determine how we were going to make this work we scheduled a meeting. We had a date to meet and everything. On the appointed day, I made the hour walk early in the morning to the bus station, caught a bus, and made what was on that day a 2.5 hour trip. After having spent 3.5 hours getting to this village, I was looking forward to the meeting. The office was easily found, but unfortunately the director was not so easy to find. It seems that she was in conferences all day in the village where I had caught the bus. A game rednecks would love… August 31st was Kyrgyz independence day (or the day Kyrgyzstan got weaned from mother Russia) in case you missed it. To celebrate, several of us went to attend the national games festival being held n the next village over. We watched as men tried to see how fast they could ride horse while picking-up a rock of the ground without falling off. There was the ever popular “tried to catch the woman on horseback,” which is the game that led to the Kyrgyz “national tradition” of stealing women. The fun part of that game was when they decided to let the women chase back and the game turned into chase the man and then hit him with your horse whip. Neither of those games compared with the grand finale. The British have long thought of polo as a civilized game to be played by the wealthy and the noble. The Kyrgyz decided to create their on version. You can almost imagine the conversation that took place: Kyrgyz man 1: We should compete KM2: I agree. Let’s try to out maneuver each other on horseback to show our skills. KM1: Excellent idea! But what is the goal? KM2: Hmmm. We could try to throw something into a hole in the ground. KM1: Brilliant! But what to use as a ball? What do we have lying around? KM2: The only thing I see are goats. KM1: Then goats it is. We’ll gut the head off, and play with the body. KM2: Perfect! You see the Kyrgyz are a resourceful people, so instead of creating a new kind of ball, they simply used what they had: a decapitate goat. We knew this was going to the game, but what we did not know was that the Kyrgyz like to play with a fresh ball. Right before the game started there was a slaughtering of the ball. So picture this scene for a moment: There we are in a throng of people standing virtually on the field as animals crash into each other with their riders trying to grab a decapitated goat, ride away with it, and throw it in an old tractor tire. Of course the whole time we were tossing back beers that were 11 percent alcohol (and not legal in America). So we had lots of things crashing, dead animals being tossed around, and lots of high alcohol content beer. You tell me this is not a redneck’s dream!