17 July 2008

In 18 hours...

I'm leaving Kyrgyzstan in 18 hours -- something that is awesome, sad, and very, very strange. Funny stuff that's happened to me in the past week:
- Last month, I did an interview (in Kyrgyz) with two other Volunteers on the Kyrgyz Radio Free Europe station for their youth-oriented program. We talked about our jobs, our villages, what we'll most remember when we get back to America, etc etc. I'd kind of forgotten about it until Tuesday morning when, as I'm having one last breakfast with my host mom, she mentions that all the neighbors heard us on the radio the night before. Then, when I get to Bishkek later that day, I'm talking with my cab driver and he suddenly says, "Wait...your name is Teresa? You're not the Teresa from the radio, are you?" So I'm kind of famous, I guess.
- On Sunday, I went to a toi (a party for the new house and the circumcision of the 7 year-old son of our host). According to my host aunt, every good Muslim must have at least one such toi in his/her lifetime. They invite every person they've ever known to their house and everyone comes in shifts to sit around a 'dastorkon' (tablecloth on the floor that everyone sits around), drink tea and/or vodka, talk, give blessings, and eat sheep and rice and multiple kinds of fried bread and candy and fruit til they burst. After you eat at the host's house, you then go over to one of his neighbor's house to do the exact same thing. It's kind of exhausting, actually...but something amusing usually happens to help pass the time. I'd been toi-ing for about 4 hours and was very ready to go home when, in a room full of other middle-aged women, my host mom suddenly hands me this box of something called "Voluptua" and asks me to translate the directions. I open it to find a bunch of little ketchup-packet-sized things and a brochure in which I, upon opening, found an illustrated set of directions about how to use lube to stimulate the clitoris. This was unexpected. Kyrgyz folk don't really talk about sex that much and, when they do, it's usually assumed that sex is enjoyable only for the man. So when I tried to explain the nature and purpose of lube, vaguely gesturing around my nether-regions, the ladies became very puzzled. Eventually, I just said it was for dry skin.

14 June 2008


For the last month, I've been beginning to say goodbye to the life I've made here. I'm not exactly in the Sarah-McLachlan's-I-Will-Remember-You-on-repeat-on-my-iPod mood, nor am I feverishly marking off the days till I get the hell out of here…but I am feeling a certain combination of relief and wistfulness not unlike that felt when I graduated from UVa and DB.

We had graduation on May 24 – a very long, but good, day in which yours truly became the unofficial photographer. Ceremonies began fairly early in the day, with the graduates receiving various honors, performing skits and dances of their own devising (they can break dance! Well!), and receiving armloads of flowers. I don't know if I've mentioned the traditional attire of Kyrgyz schoolchildren: boys are to wear black suits with white shirts while girls should wear some variation of black-skirt-white-button-down (the strangest incarnation of this being the lacy apron variety, which makes the girls look like some odd version of a French maid – imagine Britney Spears in that in "…Baby One More Time"). And atop the girls' heads are giant bows, making them look like walking Christmas gifts. Anyway, at my school at least (it's a semi-private school, so the kids are "cooler" than your average villager), this uniform goes by the wayside by 8th or 9th grade…until graduation, when the girls once again don the big bows and matching skirts. Every year, the two graduating classes of girls design some outfit and have it made. This year's were, for me at least, particularly amusing. One class had white button-downs paired with pleated miniskirts and silver-shiny tube tops. The other had alternating pocketed bubble skirts and plaid suspender-ed minis. A show of schoolgirl sexiness that made me a little uncomfortable. Oh, and not to be outdone, the boys were brightly colored button downs with matching ties. It was quite the fashion show.
The kids wrote poems about every teacher at school – mine was about how I have learned the Kyrgyz language and customs so have become a Kyrgyz girl…and they like that I'm always "joyful" (and it probably didn't hurt that I didn't give them any homework for the last month of school). I also got a nice thanks-from-all-of-us-and-best-of-luck-in-the-future speech from my director. And a calculator and a whole bunch of roses.
After the ceremony, the teachers went to have lunch with all of the parents, which was your typical ash (rice pilaf+carrots+meat+onions), bread, seasonal fruits and salads, and, of course, tea and vodka affair. It was kind of cool for me to meet the people who created the kids who have both won my heart and driven me crazy over the past two years. My favorites were the tired mothers of naughty boys who seemed simply relieved that their young men made it to graduation. Toward the end of the lunch, we started the "singing cup" Kyrgyz party game where there's a cup of something that gets passed around the group…if you hold the cup, you've gotta sing a song. Usually I sing some English song that people recognize and/or whose lyrics I can translate, e.g. Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You" (which is, along with other classics like the Beatles' "Come Together" and the entire catalogue of German 80s duo Modern Talking, universally well-known here). This time I tried to shake things up with "Midnight Train to Georgia," but I forgot the words by the end of the first stanza. Oops.
By late afternoon, I'd been recruited by the graduates to come to their version of prom. I showed up and was – big surprise – the only adult there. So I danced with my kids (including a couple of mildly awkward middle-of-the-dancing-circle-dance-offs between me and some boys I'm pretty sure have teacher crushes on me). I felt both well-liked and old.

More goodbye-Kyrgyzstan moments to come.


PS I *officially* return to Kingsport, TN, on Friday, July 18. I'll then move to Charlottesville mid-August. You should come find me -- I'd love to catch up.

11 June 2008

Packing list for K16s

So I wrote this last year, for the K15 group of incoming PCVs. And here we are, more than a year later, with a brand-new batch of little ones prepping for their big PC adventure. I've added a few things to the earlier post -- hope it helps!

Ever since I moved to Kyrgyzstan, I've been composing a mental list of things that I wish I would have brought/am glad I actually remembered to pack and, since school's out for the summer, I thought I'd post it for any of you new kids combing the internet for info on K-stan, PC, and how the hell to fit your life into 2 suitcases and a backpack. * USE YOUR 100 POUNDS! You're going to hate me when you're dragging all your crap halfway across the world (yes, you have to move it all yourself), but you'll be glad once you do get here (you can easily have people from home mail you stuff -- but sometimes the contents of packages are...'liberated' before they reach you...so if you really really want something, pack it.)* For luggage, I'd say bring a big backpacking backpack and something with wheels. You might even want to practice to see if you can carry it all at once. And you'll want some sort of day bag to bring your books to language lessons during training and work once you're a real PCV. Girls will probably want a purse, too.* Computer -- good for watching movies and TV (at site you sometimes have an abundance of free time), writing/reading emails (saved to a flash drive to cut down on internet cafe time), writing lesson plans and grants, etc etc. And since the power here can be kinda shotty (killed my iPod and computer chargers), it would be good to bring an external hard drive as well to back everything up. I probably wouldn't go out and buy a laptop if you haven't already got one (things get broken here pretty easily, although there are tech support places in the cities), but if you've got one, I'd definitely recommend bringing it along. FYI -- You can get power strips/surge protectors and computer speakers in Bishkek, so don't bother bringing them with you. But don't forget power adapters and converters! And, if you really want to make some new friends among other Volunteers, you should probably bring some DVDs and/or TV shows with you. We are pretty good at sharing and always appreciate a new infusion of programming into our lives. *cough cough* Lost Season 3 *cough cough*
* iPod. You need an iPod. Believe me, it comes in handy when sitting around in your room and when trying to avoid being harassed on public transportation.
* Clothes -- PC's gonna tell you to bring mostly business casual clothing for teaching/working at NGOs/PC meetings and training sessions. For guys this means khakis and a button-down...girls can get by with black pants/khakis or skirts and nice tops. You'll probably want one nicer outfit for official stuff (maybe a suit or nice jacket). It's freaking hot in the summer, so you'll probably find yourself relaxing the dress code a bit during training. You'll definitely be hanging out a lot with other PCVs, so you'll want casual stuff (this is especially true once you get to site). Girls have to be more conservative (e.g. no shorts that come up past your knees in public, no super low-cut tops, easy on the sleeveless stuff -- this is particularly true in the villages, less so in the city. Actually, in places like Bishkek and Osh, you'll be surprised at how much skin is shown)...but don't think that you have to be covered from head to toe all the time. For example, I'm wearing a tank top and knee-length skirt right now. In general, I'd bring clothes that you are comfortable wearing. Once you get to site, though, you'll probably want business-casual-type clothing. I know that every time I wore a skirt to school, my colleagues thought it was pretty friggin' great. And I was the talk of the town the day I wore high heels (seriously -- it was the gossip tidbit of the day..."Teresa -- did you see her? She is wearing HIGH HEELS! Seriously! I know! She NEVER wears high heals! I bet she has a new boyfriend.")
It's going to be hot when you arrive, so don't worry about bringing lots of sweaters with you (just have some shipped), although it would be good to a warm cardigan, sweatshirt, or pullover on hand. Come wintertime, you will definitely want some good-quality long johns. Think about layering strategies to get the most out of your packing space. Oh, and don't bring anything you can't hand wash! Or anything that you are worried about ruining (because, after 2 years, most things are a little worse for wear).
*Shoes -- bring some sandals like Rainbows, Tevas, or Reefs; you'll live in them during the summer. You'll want some practical shoes for work, naturally, and some running shoes, too. FYI: You aren't allowed to go hiking or climbing during training, so I'd probably have hiking boots mailed.
* Bring sunglasses -- maybe it's me, but the sun seems harsher here. They've got them (especially if you like those of the bedazzled, fake-designer variety) here, though, if you forget.
* Sleeping bag -- you'll want this 1. for warmth in the winter and 2. for weekend sleepovers at other PCVs' sites.
* Towel -- I totally forgot this item and was forced to use a dish towel for a month until my host family took pity on me and gave me 2 full-size towels for my birthday.
* Bring a few books to read and share...but don't go overboard. There's lots of sources for reading material (other PCVs, American Centers at universities). Use your packing weight for other stuff. Oh, and for the TEFLers, PC gives you tons of ESL teaching materials, so don't worry about bringing lots of that kind of stuff.
* Camera -- you'll want to document and share your experiences. And the batteries here aren't so great, so you may want a set of rechargables+charger.
*If you have a cell phone that can work with a SIMCard, bring it along if you like. If you don't have one, you can just pick one up when you get here (your language teacher will probably take you for a shopping trip to Bishkek within your first few weeks in country).
* Bring a couple of small presents for your host family -- maybe some American candy or stuff from your home state/university/city. Nothing too fancy or anything -- just a little something that, if nothing else, will give you something to do that first night when your language skills are exhausted after about 15 seconds and you have to resort to gesturing....at least you can dash away to your room at some point and return with shiny American stuff for your family to investigate. Along the same lines, bring photos of your family, friends, and hometown to share -- Kyrgyz people love love love looking at pictures. Showing pictures to my family that first night really helped me introduce myself, especially since I was jet-lagged, anxious/excited, and completely helpless in my language skills.
*Nalgene. You might also want to bring some Crystal Light or similar beverage powder to liven up your water.
* I wear contacts and have not found any kind of solution for sale here -- so if you wear contacts (and lots of PCVs do), bring lots of solution! You'll need extra sets of lenses as well.
* I'd probably bring a couple of travel-sized shampoo/conditioner bottles to refill, plus enough soap/shampoo/conditioner/face wash to get you through your first couple of months here (you probably won't want or have time to do lots of shopping during training). You can then either buy more in K-stan or have more shipped from home. Just don't go crazy with packing lots of toiletries. You can buy all kinds of stuff here -- soccer balls, socks, hats, scarves, earrings, shoes, toothpaste (Crest, Colgate are here), shampoo (Panteen and Dove are everywhere), soap, Q-tips, Kleenex, deodorant etc etc. Plus PC will give you things like dental floss, sunscreen, tampons/pads, any medicine you could ever want, vitamins, a water purifier. You will want to bring some baby wipes, though -- showers can be few and far between...
*Flashlight (great for late-night trips to the outhouse). The kind that don't require batteries are especially nice.
* Granola bars (or similiar packaged American foods) are nice to have on hand...especially as your stomach is getting used to the Kyrgyz diet.
* If you, like me, are helplessly addicted to coffee and you can't stomach the instant stuff, you should bring a french press with you.
* Playing cards or games like UNO are nice to have. Ditto for American footballs or frisbees (my students LOVE them). You can get soccer- and volleyballs here.
* Just so you know, you're going to receive a nice wad of cash when you get to Staging which you can either save and spend in K-stan or use for last-minute purchases.

10 May 2008


Warning: I’m about to go into religious history mode…so if you’re looking for another story of a cough-drop-bearing suitor or a flame-engorged Santa, you’ll need to refer to my other entries. If you want to skip my mini-religious-history lesson, though, just skip down to paragraph #3.

As you know, Kyrgyzstan is a mostly Muslim country whose faithful adhere to the Sunni sect (the divide between Sunnis and Shi’ites was originally over the role of the imam…but has hence provided fodder for intra-Islam conflicts galore, including the most recent problems I in everyone’s favorite migraine, Iraq). Islam was originally brought to Central Asia in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D., where it flowered most significantly in Uzbekistan. Holy cities there – most notably, Samarkand and Khiva – were once the greatest of Muslim learning centers outside the Middle East. Uzbekistan, with its large cities and agriculture-based economy, proved to be an excellent incubator for devout Muslum. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (incidentally, considered to be one and the same group of nomads until good ole Joe Stalin started tinkering with borders and labels for the area), on the other hand, were home to mostly herdsmen and shepherds – partakers of a nomadic lifestyle that easily adapted to some outward signs of conversion to the Islam of their conquerors, but nevertheless remained loyal to many of their own animist beliefs and rituals. Think about it – a guy who spends most of his time on his horse, roaming mountainous terrain and looking after herds of livestock, doesn’t really have time to go to the mosque every Friday…nor do his wife and children, who spend the bulk of the year in the pasture as well. Furthermore, these nomads didn’t hold much interest for the powers that be (Muslim and otherwise); their natural resource and population levels aren’t nearly high enough to be pursued by anyone very seriously (that is, until the Russians wanted to conscript them for World War I…and ended up having to do so bloodily when the nomads refused to fight for a cause which seemed remote, unrelated to their day-to-day existence).

Now, Kyrgyz nomadic life has largely faded from view. It now takes shape in situations like that of my host mom’s cousin: a woman who, having recently lost her husband and daughter to illness, decided to move to the jailoo (summer pasture) in May, take care of the cows and goats, and make various milk-based products to sell in the bazaar as means of support for herself and two remaining children. With a shrug, Apa asked, “What other work is there for her to do?” referring, of course, to the lack of viable, lucrative job opportunities in most Kyrgyz villages, a situation that leads to all kinds of social problems, from alcoholism to misbehaving youth to hungry babies.

Ok, I’m losing my focus here. To return to the reason for this backstory…last Saturday, I attended the neighborhood kudai (literally, “god,” but here refers to the coming together of a group of people for prayer and fellowship). Every spring, the families from my street gather together in some shady spot, lay out blankets and tablecloths, slaughter a sheep, and eat ash. Kind of like a block party, except that after everyone ate, the local imam (leader in the mosque) read from the Qu’ran and offered a series of prayers on behalf of the community for good health, successful work, happy families, and calm weather (especially that the rivers don’t flood like they did last year).

Then things got interesting. As I mentioned before, the Kyrgyz people traditionally subscribed to an animist kind of religion – that is, that the trees, mountains, skies, and waters were the keepers of a supernatural life force. And since they took to Islam more loosely than some of their neighbors, the Kyrgyz people blended some of their old animist traditions into their new religion – a development I got to see first hand at my neighborhood gathering. Once the imam finished reading and praying aloud, everyone – from the elders to the babies to the teenagers to the redheaded American – got up and began to circle a tree. Attached to one of the branches was a copy of the Qu’ran, snugly bundled in some sort of holy cloth. As we passed under the holy book, we were to put a small amount of money on a blanket on the ground and touch our foreheads to the bundle. We repeated this three times. Meanwhile, the imam splashed the crowd with water using a bunch of fresh herbs. This may sound like a very sacred undertaking, but – like most things Kyrgyz – it was all performed lightheartedly, as children shrieked with delight at the spraying water and squat old ladies failed to hop high enough to reach the bundle. So here you have a Muslim holy man and the Muslim holy book being coupled with a traditional cleansing ritual. Pretty intriguing stuff, huh?

Unrelated Footnote: I’ve had one of those days where I feel very Kyrgyz-fied. I woke up to my host mom giving me a pair of boldly-patterned camel-hair socks as a gift from my host sister. Since I didn’t have lessons until 11:30, I went to the post office and then found a nice tree to sit beneath and read. I’d done this the day before and I really confused my Russian neighbor (sitting under trees without a chair is something adults don’t do here).
After I’d been reading for maybe 15 minutes, three kids came up to me, their hands covered in kurut (a Kyrgyz snack made from hardened, salty, milk curds). They ask me lots of little kid questions like, “Where’s your mom?” and “What grade are you in?” and “Hey, is that a ball?” It was beautiful out, so I humored them for a while before heading to school. I got there early, but was soon overtaken by some boys from my 9th form, who informed me that they’d cleaned my classroom and locked the door. This was very good news. My classroom has been something of an elusive entity in recent months, being taken away for the winter, then returned sans furniture, and then furnished with desks but not chairs. Oh, and the lock was broken in December by our crotchedy maintenance man. I was very excited about having a usable classroom again…until the boys explained that now, in order to enter the room, one must go through the window since the door only locks from the inside. My current end-of-school apathy allowed this to be highly amusing to me.
So then I got back home and found my host dad home for the long weekend (we’re celebrating V-E Day tomorrow). As usual, he’d brought goodies from the city, including strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, and apricots (unlike America, these things are unavailable September-April)…and kimiz (which you may remember is fermented mare’s milk). So I happily had delicious produce and fermented mare’s milk for lunch as my host dad told me about the most recent slew of tornadoes in the U.S. (since meeting my family, they’ve taken a particular interest in natural disasters occurring in or around Tennessee).
Even though I’m feeling more and more like I’m ready to check out, I still enjoy many a marvelously odd moment here in the K.R.

20 April 2008

Muy Bueno!

I've written before about the various pick-up strategies that Kyrgyz men employ to try and get me to marry them (or -- more likely -- to become their mistress). Last night, though, I met one who used a truly unique method...
While my friends and I were dancing at a club in the city, this awkward English-speaking Kyrgyz tour guide named Samat took a liking to me. I humor him and dance a slow song middle-school-style with him and then scurry away. An hour later or so, "My Heart Will Go On" starts playing and he reappears and asks me to dance again. I try and say no, but he's kind of pathetic in that mangy-big-eyed-puppy way, so I give in. Turns out he'd shelled out 100 som to dedicate the song to me. After we dance, I extract myself from the situation once again. Maybe 30 minutes later, I'm dancing with the other Volunteers when he comes up and eagerly presses something in my hand. This something turned out to be a Halls cough drop. A HALLS COUGH DROP. This would have been kind of strange in America and, like most other things about life in this place, was even stranger here because Halls cough drops do not exist in Kyrgyzstan.
For the next hour or so, he kept dancing in my periphery, no doubt hoping to lure me away from my American friends. Unfortunately for him, I didn't really find his nerdy, eager-beaver gyrations particularly appealing. I eventually got a friend to pretend to be my boyfriend to my Kyrgyz admirer to back off. Samat understood and, to show that there were no hard feelings, randomly started speaking Spanish (a language nobody here knows), yelling, 'Teresa - muy bueno!' and the like into my fake boyfriend's ear, thus cementing his place in my head as one of the oddest people I've met in a country full of odd people.

31 March 2008

The Taylor Family: Greatest Hits (+ the Kyrgyz Remix)

How does a musical act achieve longevity? You know, get past album slumps, appease adoring fans and not-so-adoring critics, and find their sound – that musical style which sometimes can't seem to be different enough to remain original-yet-familiar and other times seems to be so different that it seems affected or just plain idiotic. Perhaps after a few forays into the experimental, many intelligent acts look to score a sure-fire winner. And how do they do so? By releasing a Greatest Hits album. Many add a few new tracks to the original cut so as to appear to have not lost their game. Michael Jackson's re-release of Thriller with tracks featuring Will.i.am and Kanye West is one recent example; he's probably hoping that people will stop thinking about tabloid photos of his increasingly interesting clothing choices and ever-morphing facial structures and remember that, hey, Jacko really is one hell of a performer.

Forgive my poor imitation of Rolling Stone writing…but this Greatest Hits thing is about the closest approximation I can find to describe my experience last week having my family visit Kyrgyzstan. To be honest, the good ole KR had been acting kind of like Radiohead on Hail To The Thief: still recognizable and theoretically interesting, but hard to grasp and generally lacking in those qualities which originally sparked my affection – a lack of mojo, if you will. I needed to be reminded that this place is actually pretty cool - and that I haven't been wasting my time for the past year and a half.

And a family visit proved to be just the thing. Despite my initial premonitions about the trip (especially re: giardia), it ended up being nothing short of lovely. Mom, Dad, and Ben all proved to be excellent sports, willing to consume one more pile of rice or cup of tea; to look a little ridiculous in traditional Kyrgyz clothing; to shun bathing for days on end; to play with children with whom they shared nary a common word save "hello;" to dance with persons 5, 10, 20, even 30 years their junior or senior; really just to roll with the punches dealt out by this most unusual of vacations.

This was perhaps best illustrated – at least to me – by our attempt at driving from Bishkek to my village in Osh. The weather had been perfect up til our day of departure…and, initially, the cloudy skies and steady rain didn't faze me. It wasn't really until we could barely see 5 feet outside our SUV due to the snow, fog, and wind that I realized that I had potentially led my family to their deaths. When news of a baby avalanche came, we turned around and took the plane to Osh instead. Throughout the ordeal, though, my parents and brother were champs.

The highlight of their trip for me, though, was getting to watch my real family interact with my adopted one. I kind of had this actively-passive role -- I was talking all the time because I was translating all of their questions and comments, but not really saying many of my own thoughts. This translation process can be exhausting and annoying...but can also be pretty empowering. If someone says something that I think is inappropriate or uninteresting, I can tone it down or jazz it up a little without the involved parties being any the wiser. I stupidly told my brother, however, about the liberties I occasionally took with translating... During Nooryz (the Central Asian new year which my family celebrated with my entire freaking village), we were dragged in front of several thousand people from my village and forced to give little speeches on the platform. After Dad gives an appropriate speech thanking the village for welcoming us with open arms, my darling baby brother uses his turn to muse about the waving flags, green trees, etc etc. Basically, he got up there and, knowing that I'd just translate it as whatever I wanted, started describing what was in his immediate line of vision. Not so appropriate...so I told everyone that he said, "Allah has truly blessed us today as we can see by the beautiful weather," thereby giving Ben major points with the pious old ladies and village elders (and giving myself a private laugh). Anyway, my host family and real family got along amazingly well. I mean, one afternoon, I passed out from exhaustion and awoke to my host siblings' delighted shrieks as my parents and Ben were running around the yard, playing 'horsey' with them. My host mom told me that she had been really worried about my family coming because she was concerned that they might be haughty or condescending...but then she met them and realized that they were actually a lot like her own family. Hallmark, eat your heart out.

So now I'm back on my own in my village...only, after my family's grand appearance last week, I have now lost all traces of anonymity while walking around. I get stopped twice as much by guys in donkey carts asking about my parents' health, giddy schoolgirls asking if my brother is available, and -- once -- a photographer asking if I wanted to buy the photos he'd taken of my family in their Kyrgyz garb.

Also -- my school has FINALLY started remodelling the club. I've been spending part of each day for the past week doing errands with various maintence men and builders...them doing the actual dirty work while I trail along paying for everything (kind of like a mob accountant). I'll send pictures once it's finished so that our very generous donors can see what they did with their money.

That's it for now. Take care, now.

12 March 2008

Feathers and Black Eyes

The brain is a funny thing. It hangs onto random, seemingly pointless things like Rihanna lyrics but can’t seem to harbor a 10-digit phone number for more than 20 seconds. One of my recent mental acquisitions came from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, which I read for the first time a couple of months ago. Now, instead of making lists of “pros” and “cons,” I opt for “Feathers In My Cap” and “Black Eyes!!!!” like one of the hapless officers in the book (of course I don’t actually remember the character’s name or why he was making such lists…but I do distinctly remember how splendidly odd his headers were). I realize that this is a kind of odd habit to have adopted, but don’t blame me. Blame my brain. Here’s my list concerning the current state of my life in Kyrgyzstan:

Feathers In My Cap
- My family is coming on Saturday! My family is coming on Saturday! I can’t wait to show them around the weirdly charming place that is Kyrgyzstan…but am also a little concerned about what’s going to happen to them once my local friends and host family get their hands on a bunch of blond Americans. Stay tuned.
- Several of my projects beyond giving English lessons have finally started to take off. Things like teacher training seminars, the completion of the club renovation project, and skills/character-building sessions for my kids look to make my last few months here busy but productive (holiday celebrations and end-of-the-year malaise notwithstanding).
- Soft serve will soon make a triumphant return to my village bazaar. Last summer, soft serve was virtually a food group for me, I ate so much of it.

Black Eyes!!!!!
- I think I wrote a letter a while ago about some of my more amusing lingual mishaps, like my unfortunate tendency early on in my teaching career to confuse the Kyrgyz words for “pig” and “penis” (that made for some very confusing “Life on the Farm” lessons). Yesterday, I was having tea with my 5 year-old host brother, who kept using a word I hadn’t heard before in reference to his cousins – “chichkak.” That this is just one letter away from the word for “mouse” and was used with a group of other animal words (e.g. “I am a lion. My cousin is ‘chichkak.’”), I assumed that this word referred to some sort of rodent. To my confusion, he was completely unable to answer questions like, “What color is it?” and “Where does it live?” and “How big is it?” Finally, when I started miming different kinds of body parts, he responded enthusiastically to my pantomime of a long tail. We dropped the matter until dinner, when the word came up again, this time with the whole family around the table. After we adults giggled at the kids’ antics (which included calling each other various names, including “chichkak”), I asked my host mom what kind of animal a “chichkak” was. Everyone then began laughing hysterically at me, because “chichkak” is not a rodent. It is diarrhea.
- Although one of my classes has heretofore been unable to master things like the use of the “to be” verb and present frigging tense, they have learned to forge my handwriting.
- Another class argued today that they “had to cheat” on the test because they “don’t know English well.” Bollocks.
- Seriously, men and women of Kyrgyzstan, I know that you mean well and I’m sure that your sons and neighbors are very nice boys, but I really don’t want to get married anytime soon. I understand that this is not considered to be normal behavior from a 24 year-old woman, but I ask that you bear with me the way that I try and bear with you. I mean, we just met 2 minutes ago and I’m not really comfortable having this conversation with a total stranger. And, by the way, Kyrgyz guys, lines like “I’ll give your parents 100 horses and 200 cows” or “I’m dark, you’re light…our kids will be normal!” really don’t do it for me.
- Need. Variation. In. Diet. I'm pretty much adhering to the complete opposite of Atkins Diet -- noodles, potatoes, and white bread for every meal, nearly every day of the week.