Saturday, October 30, 2004

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A magical thing... A magical thing happened other night as I slept. It was so subtle that I didn't even feel it. The world wasn't rocked of its axis and mountains did not crumble, but it remains significant at least for me. Since I arrived in Kyrgyzstan some thirteen and a half months ago, the days have been counting up. There are certainly always been a counting down side of this, but for the longest time, that counting down side was much larger than the counting up. That night they switched. No longer do I have longer until I leave than I have already done. At 11:59 that night, I had been in country for 406 days, with 407 until the last scheduled day of my service. At 12:01 it was 407 here and 406 until home. As much as I love being here, there is a bit of relief in the fact that I have now officially crossed the half-way barrier. While I will certainly continue to face new challenges over the next 400ish days, I can now say that I have done now as much as I will have to do before the end of my service, and that is a wonderful feeling. It's important I did something rather remarkable when I was in Bishkek a week ago. I actually managed to send in my vote for this upcoming election. Granted, my request for an absentee ballot has either fallen or deaf ears or simply died in transit, so I had to vote via federal right-in ballot, but I voted nonetheless. I would implore each of you to try and do the same on Tuesday. I mean, if I can manage to vote from half-way around the world, I doubt that it will be too traumatic for any of you to take the hour (if that) out of your life to go to the polling station and vote. You all know better than I do how important this election really is. We find ourselves in time of war (or violent peace depending on whether or not you believe the war in Iraq ended when President Bush landed a plan on the aircraft carrier). Not only that, the rights and freedoms that many of us hold dear are symbolically on the ballot with the presidential candidates as well. Whatever your personal politics, in the end, this is a vote over whether or not you like the direction in which we are headed or you think that somebody else can take us in a better direction. Either way, express your freedom to have a say in the future of our country. I say this sitting in a region which has never seen a peaceful transition of power from one elected leader to another. Neither Kyrgyzstan, nor any of its neighboring countries have ever elected a new leader. Kyrgyzstan is slated to be the first in a little under a year, and at this point there are many who doubt whether that will actually happen. Most of the people in our country have no idea what it is like to never have a say in who will lead their country, so again I implore you to take advantage of the right that so many of us take for granted, but that many around the world have or would die for. Oh Consistency... It's time now for another of those ever so fun entries on the trials and tribulations of teaching in Kyrgyzstan. We rejoin our hero as he attempts to give his first exam of the year which has been delayed by over a month by various holidays, school cancellations, and general nuisances. If you have been following along, you know by now that academic integrity in Kyrgyzstan is sort of like a, well (insert analogy of improbability here (ie politician's integrity, my ability to walk on water, or somebody from West Virginia dating outside of the family)) nice idea but nonexistent (if you haven't been reading along check-out some of last Spring's writings). Thus, I decided to try a new test format for 4 of my 6 classes (my other two classes who received the old format held true to form with about 30% of students taking the test being caught cheating (and where I meaner it could have been about 50% at least)). As the first class was taking the new exam, a student began complaining to me that the test was too difficult, and that he did not understand. I was curious as to why he was having so many problems. After all, we had spent two classes doing the exact writing that was on the exam. I literally had them write the same essay in consecutive classes that also happened to be the vast majority of the exam trying to help them get the material down. A quick glance at my grade book revealed the problem. He happened to have missed those 2 classes as well as 10 of the other 13 classes that we have had this quarter, thus successfully attending 3 of 15 classes. Not wanting to see a student not understanding, I offered to him the advice that he would understand the material if he bothered showing-up more than say once or twice a month. Maybe this quarter I can get him to come once a week! Here's hoping. Incidentally, instead of simply taking his failing two for not knowing the material (and accepting the failing grade for the quarter he would receive regardless of how well he did on the exam), he got caught cheating and took a zero on the exam, which places him at 60% in the percentage of exams caught cheating on since having me as a teacher after going 2 for 4 last year. You gotta love the consistency!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

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Okay, so I'm really sorry that I am not updating this thing more regularly. It is not due to lack of desire. Instead, it is due to me not being able to get the page to open at the internet cafe every weekend when I go in to use it. Hopefully, I will find a way to remedy that problem. Since I am writing this from Bishkek, I will try to get a couple of postings in over the next couple of days. Enjoy: It is with pleasure, sort of, that I congratulate my counterpart on her departure for 6 weeks of study at Kent State University in America. She has once again one a free trip to the States thanks to the US government. Having won twice is quite an accomplishment. All that said, I think the ACCELS program that is sending her should be closely examined by PETA. Every year, ACCELS in Kyrgyzstan sends 70ish high school students, about 20-30 high school teachers, and another 20-30 university students on programs to America (these are very rough numbers, so don't quote me). They send the same numbers from most of the surrounding countries. Now in Kyrgyzstan, and I assume the same to be true elsewhere in the region, such a trip is cause for celebration, which means the mass slaughtering of animals. At least 3 or 4 sheep have lost their lives simply because my counterpart is leaving. Imagine what will happen on her return. It is safe to say that at least a total of 5-10 animals could loose their lives over this. Figure that the same will happen for everybody else going on these programs, and we talking about 1000's of innocent animals loosing their lives because of a program sponsored by the American government. In this election year, I would ask you to consider this issue. Find-out how your candidates stand on the issue of American sponsored sheep butchering in Central Asia. Do not let the blood of those innocents go unaccounted for! For my part, I am making sure that some of those dead animals find a good final resting place as dinner. (while most of the facts in the previous passage or correct, the rest has been intended as satirical. I hope you have enjoyed it as such. For me readings on sheep slaughtering, please read on. ) So I was being a good boy, as I sometimes am, getting some water from the creek for the family when low and behold I came across a poor ship who had just received its last rights from my family. The last rights of course being a throat to the neck in preparation for its eventual consumption by the family. Now, this is not all that uncommon for a Peace Corps volunteer here, or in many parts of the world. Normally I just sort of passed by having seen the decapitation of a number of animals in my year plus her, but I had never taken the time to watch the process start to finish. Why? I don't know. Maybe it is because I always sort of figured the opportunity would be there, or maybe because I never really wanted to see the origins of my dinner, or maybe it is simply that I have tried not to be the gawkish American who stops to watch to everything new. For whatever reason, I had never stopped before, I decided I had nothing better to do than watch this time. A couple of interesting things happened as I watched. First, without being too disgusting, I never realized how connected everything in the body is. I mean that gutted the thing by taking the esophagus and pulling cutting only where tissue connected the entire mass to the rest of the body. Second, I was called to translate the various body parts we were seeing into English. Now, it has been 8.5 years since I dissected my last cat in high school Biology 2, and since then, I have honestly made it a point not to rip into the bodies of live or dead animals with a knife (not surprisingly a relatively easy abstention to have made). Needless to say, it had been a while since I labeled inner organs with T-pins. I proved an interesting game of recollection of those biology days as I pointed-out the gallbladder and various other organs with relative success albeit with a sense of complete and utter surrealism surrounding the moment. Perhaps even more troubling was the knowledge that for the third week running, my family had slaughtered an animal meaning that the various parts coming from the critter would soon enough land on my plate. So people ask how my integration into the community is going. "Do the kids like you?" they ask. This week, as hellish as it as been on some levels, proves at least on some level my level in my community. Two things exemplified the little things that make me smile. At the start of the school year, we had three 10th grade classes (remember they have every class with the same students), but the numbers were down in most of the classes, because you can stop going to school after 9th grade. They decided to collapse three classes into 2. What that meant was that two of my classes jumped to 32 students each. The school decided that for foreign language classes that was too many people, so they decided to split each class for their English and Russian classes. When the day of division came, there was a definite look of tension on the faces of the children as they learned who they would have as an English teacher. When the divisions were announced, there were students cheering, and get this, they were the students who learned that I was their teacher. How about them apples? I've got students asking to transfer into my section of the class. Speaking of apples... My second little success took place when I arrived home the other night. Sitting in the dining room was a large thing of apples and pears delivered to me for my family by one of my students from class and her sister both of whom I have in English clubs. I know that is small, but I guess I have to smile when the locals start delivering fruit. It means that I am doing something right.