27 December 2009

Waiting... Uzbek style

12:48 24 December 2009

I am currently sitting in Tashkent International Airport of Uzbekistan waiting for my connecting flight to Tokyo Japan in the International Transit Lounge. Yeah, I’m pretty excited about that. So far my trip has gone pretty well other than an unusually long and obnoxious marshrutka ride into Bishkek yesterday. But I stayed at a friends place in the city last night and we ate shashlik (grilled marinated meat on a stick like a shish kabob) and I got duck, which was delicious. I’ve just been so excited about my trip, and getting a badly needed respite from Kyrgyzstan, and of course most excitedly, getting to see Saori!!! I barely slept last night, we went to bed super early because I was tired from the marshrutka ride and I woke up thinking, “Alright! I slept a lot now I am ready to get up and go to Japan!” only to find out that it was actually 2345 and I had a good 6 hours of on again off again sleep to get through before I departed. The departure from Bishkek was good and smooth- it is only an hour long flight from Bishkek to Tashkent but I have a twelve hour layover here which is just passing by with the most cruel slowness… Oh well, as soon as I get on the plane to Japan, I am going to hopefully be able to sleep (Peace Corps Medical gave me Melofonin specifically for that purpose) and then I will be reunited with Saori when I wake up!!! Yay!!! I can’t wait. Seriously. I can’t wait.

oh nos!

19:30 21 December 2009

Uh-oh… I just got sick! And so soon to me leaving!!! I woke up with a sore throat today and it has degenerated into a full hacking productive cough- ewww, I will spare you the rest of the details but I am upset because I am leaving so soon and I don’t want to be sick in transit or at Saori’s place in Tokyo… Yikes. Luckily Peace Corps Medical got me started on some azithromycin, which, if it is bacterial, should ensure that I’m on the mend by the time I get there and, perhaps even more importantly, make it so I definitely won’t be contagious. But I say to my illness- Hey, buddy, bad timing!

In other news today I worked at the rayon-level English Olympiads for which I designed the tests for and I will just say that it was an… interesting experience more on that later I suppose. It was fun working with Holo though, a fellow volunteer that works not too far from me in Jet-Oguz and who I don’t get to see often, and it is always rewarding to see the tests that you designed and wrote used for relatively high-level purposes…


11:20 16 December 2009

I’m home on my lunch break and I have been mulling over in my head an idea for my blog for some time about the cold here and the snow and the ice. My mom recently asked me if there was any black-ice here. But let’s start with some basics- while I don’t live in a terribly northern area, I live at a high altitude (over 6,000 feet) and it is pretty darn cold here- winter lows can be in the low single digits to teens below zero sometimes where I live and even colder (-40 and worse) in places like Naryn. Overall though, it’s a pretty cold country. And with November being unusually cool (as you remember we got a decent amount of snow and the temperature didn’t peak it’s head about freezing for over a week) a lot of people are afraid of the winter this year.

Now some of you that read this blog are in pretty cold places your self- Ithaca comes to mind, and no doubt are there much colder places during winter in the US than even the coldest locale of Kyrgyzstan. However, there are two main differences that I think bear consideration when assessing the impact of winter. The first is snow removal and the second is heat.

I saw the first snow plow in Kyrgyzstan I had ever seen a few days ago. I was stunned. I didn’t know they existed here. Why? Because the roads are pretty much covered with snow from November to March with only the main road (do to it’s traffic) ever really seeing periods of true clarity during the winter. This is because Kyrgyzstan is a very poor country- it can hardly afford to feed and clothe itself so I understand why snow-removal is not a top priority of the country’s government. So what happens when the collected snow isn’t removed and instead is just trampled by cars, horses, sheep, people, etc. Well, it turns to ice. And this is where the problems start. Kids love this, Kyrgyz children have a remarkable sense of balance and it is truly common sight to see kids take a daring running start and slide a good 20 feet. Impressive. Unfortunately, being the klutz I am, I can not nearly as successfully cope with such slippery areas. More often than not, I just fall (which is when I get to experience one of that aspects of Kyrgyz reaction that does actually upset me a little bit- instead of helping me up or asking if I am okay or even ignoring me, if someone falls, the almost universal immediate response is “Should have been more careful” Thanks… That would have been more useful BEFORE I fell…) Regardless, I fall a fair amount here and have learned a few tricks (walking on the toes of your feet, walking super slow, titling your head forward) to reduce the likelihood of my falling while increasing the ridiculousness of how I look.

But I have strayed from my original topic- snow removal is treacherous for pedestrians and also causes a huge amount of automotive accidents each year… I personally have seen vehicles slip off the road, hit each other, and winter taxis and marshrutkas are always at least a bit of a gamble. But in my opinion, winter this year here isn’t made so hard by ice on the roads- it is made by a much more pertinent problem of not having heat.

I live in an apartment that was built during the Soviet Union to house workers at a factory that made construction supplies. During the Soviet Union- this was a really great place- it had a toilet, refrigerator, running hot and cold water, really the works for a village in which the vast majority of people have outdoor toilets and have to fetch their water from a public well or spigot. But nowadays, while they are still good (I still have a working fridge and toilet and the water is on for at least a few hours each day when it isn’t off for three weeks at a time) the central heating system that was providing heat and hot water 20 years ago no longer works. This means that my apartment, other than the Peace Corps issued electric heater, has no heat. This is bad- most mornings I wake up and my kitchen is about 40 degrees (Fahrenheit). Brr… But I have been coping with this problem by using a combination of my Peace Corps heater and what I have dubbed my “Heat Tent 2.0” (to distinguish it from the useful but less successful Heat Tent 1.0). This is a really fabulous invention. It combines the heat of a heater with the heat-trapping ability of a tent to make a livable area in my apartment. I sleep in it and do most of my work in it, I just cook and eat outside of it. Essentially all I did was place some old sheets and drapes over a line I strung over my bed, but boy does it work! It gets right nice and toasty in there! So if you’ve called or chatted with me recently, you probably know how much I like my heat tent, but it really has improved my quality of life in this country and in my apartment.

Anyhow, I am tired of talking about heat and cold and ice and snow for know, but it is usually one of my favorite topics to talk about so feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to reply…

Heat Tent 2.0 4eva!

Dien Blogadariena - Thanks Giving!

21:40 30 November 2009

Mmm… Thanksgiving dinner was DELICIOUS!!! We all gathered at fellow volunteer Lynnie’s house and had a pot-luck style dinner complete with stuffing, cranberries, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, veggies, and in place of turkey, four delicious rotisserie chickens. We all went the first round and then chilled out for a while and then had a much more disgusting and more awesome second round that primarily consisted of seven volunteers standing around in mostly silence munching on chicken and scooping up the rest of the fixings… Yum… I have no manners.

After the dinner itself we were planning on going home but in our path was a new club- CCCP (USSR) and with its thumping beats, Soviet decorum, enticing location, and spotlight, it drew us in where we decided to work off that Thanksgiving meal by dancing it all away. I have been to a few clubs in Kyrgyzstan (and honestly, I don’t really know if it is really part of being a volunteer) but this was far and away the best I have been too. Most clubs in Kyrgyzstan are dimly lit renovated sports halls with bad music from somebody’s mp3 player and maybe a disco-ball. But at CCCP, the music was great (still crapping Russian pop for the most part- but I have to admit that it is growing on me) and it was actually spun really well, in comparison to the awkward pauses and silences that plague some of the nightclubs here. The lighting was good, there was a fog machine, and the whole place was made to play off of the old Soviet Union- all the workers wore the Pinoneer’s uniform (the Soviet’s mandatory participation version of the Boy/Girl Scouts). So pretty much, it was a great time dancing and getting rid of the lethargy that was followed by the gluttony of earlier and made what was a good night a great one.

Russian Wedding Pictures

Wow, free and fast internet is awesome. That's why I'm putting up so many pictures...

Russian Wedding!

21:35 16 November 2009

Yesterday I returned again from Chuy oblast for the second time in the month- that’s about 13 hours of sitting on a marshrutka, usually crammed next to a huge older woman that is taking up half your seat, which was really not designed for anyone over the height of 4’10” anyhow- yeah, not so comfortable, but pretty darn cheap (it’s about seven dollars to get a similar distance as Washington to New York, even on a Chinatown bus you can’t do that good)

I digress, the reason that I went to Bishkek for the second time this month is because I was invited to my training host-sister’s wedding. I mentioned in an earlier entry how I had come to visit my PST host family and found out the dual news of my host-grandmother/mother dying but then the happier news of Alyona, my host sister’s upcoming marriage. So despite not having enough funds, I wanted to be there for the family during this happy time and I made the long and expensive trek to Chuy Oblast once again.

While I had been to many Kyrgyz weddings, as you may have remember- I wrote about them, I had never attended an ethnically Russian couple’s wedding. They are different in a whole lot of ways. First of all, the wedding is not just a ceremony and a party- it is an entire process that takes pretty much all day. After staying up late the night before getting ready, we woke up early to go prepare the house that the initial reception of the groom was going to come to. At this house they prepared decorations, food, and a type of event that they call “concourses”. Concourses are very common here and are used for everything from parties to celebrations to English-language demonstrations. They are part games, part presentations, part music… basically they are a variety show on a particular theme- in the case of the wedding they were all love themes. I suppose to describe the actual events of the concourse on this day. As the groom and his party drove up to the house, he exited the car and the bride’s party (including me) stopped him at the entrance way- his first task was to demonstrate his strength by chopping some wood. So, tuxedo-clad, and in mid-teens cold, he did as instructed and proceeded to the gate of the house. The gate was locked and the groom was presented with a three liter jar of tomato juice and his party asked to down it to find the key. Well after the groom and a couple other fellows from his party took turns sipping at the cold liquid, a babushka (grandmother) said something to the tune of “Oh screw this!” and rolled up her sleeve and retrieved the key. As you can see, the concourse was primarily to be a test of Igor’s (the husband) love and dedication to Alyona despite each obstacle placed in his way.

In addition to the test of love, there was another component to the whole action- money, money, money!!! After these first two steps each further one had a financial component. As Igor and his party entered through the gate he was confronted with a poster paper which all the girls (including Alyona) had kissed after applying lipstick- he was required to find her lips and each time he guessed wrong had to pay a fine. Further, he was required to spell her name out in money (something he tried to do initially by taking 5 one som coins and saying “Ah” “Leh” “Yu” “Heh” “Ah”- this was judged unsatisfactory by the bride’s party and they did a more satisfactory job with 10 and 20 som bills…). At this point, there were about 100 people in the courtyard of the house all shouting and yelling and trying to get inside with the bride’s party demanding more money and the grooms complaining about the cold (something we had little sympathy for as we had been outside waiting for them for a good 90 minutes before they came) and trying (with large degrees of success) to get everyone to take shots of vodka. But eventually (after having to spontaneously compose poetry about Alyona and show off his dance skills and shouting his love for her) Igor got inside and this is where the real bidding arose. There sat Alyona (looking absolutely beautiful in her white wedding dress) next to her brother Maksim and it was the groom’s party’s responsibility to “buy” that seat from Maksim so that they could proceed with the wedding. A fierce round of negotiating began with them offering Maksim increasingly large sums of money and asking him to name a price, to which he replied quite wittily, “you keep throwing down money and I’ll tell you when…” after numerous pauses in the negotiation, he continued with “Well, if you don’t want to shell out for her, it doesn’t matter to me, I am sure someone else would be willing to pay for such a beautiful bride.” But eventually a price was settled on- 2,000 soms (about $50) and Igor was able to sit next to his bride as everyone breathed a sigh of relief and took celebratory shots.

Naturally, after shots comes driving- (Haha, joke- the drivers were pretty sober) and we went to the Gost-Register, which unfortunately is not where the ghosts much register, but where civil contracts are made. Because of the USSR, religious weddings are relatively uncommon (though growing) and most couples have the actually ceremony of marriage in a government building. So it was done, in a pretty typical ceremony they exchanged rings, said vows, and popped some champagne. Then it was time to really party!

Well, not yet actually, first we had to do a Bishkek tradition of “walking” despite the flimsy-thinness of the dress, tradition dictates that new couples walk around the scenic areas of Bishkek to take pictures and show of their new love. So we did and as I was the official unofficial photographer, I was on hand to document everything that went on. We figured it was enough when both Igor and Alyona were literally shivering from the cold and unable to hold still for pictures any longer, but we really did get some nice pictures that will make a good keepsake for the couple.

So now, finally, it’s time to party (and eat perhaps more importantly- I was starving!). We arrived to the cafĂ© where the reception was held at about 1600 and immediately start pouring Papa Kolya’s home-made wine, vodka shots, and home made pear juice, and stuffing our faces with a delicious variety of snacks, salads, breads, and sweets. This is the part of the weddings that I had been to that were Kyrgyz so I expected it to be very similar- and in some respects it was- there was dancing and toasts and all those nice things, but there were a lot of differences. First of all- Russian people are crazy. And I mean this in a totally positive and happy way- they are totally unselfconscious about themselves when it comes to dancing and having fun, and that translates into everything from a fat guy in a cape and no shirt playing a inflatable guitar with an Uncle Sam hat on to me and my host brother and the groom and a bunch of others doing a can-can to American 50’s music. The music was also surprisingly good- while there was a lot of the typical Russian crap pop, there was also a lot of funky old songs and even some, as I mentioned, American oldies, that really pleased me. It was fun, a lot of fun, and there was a lot of dancing (and less toasting, which suited me just fine).

After about eight hours of eating, dancing, drinking, and repeating that cycle, it was time to pack up and go home. I helped my family gather all the left-overs and then traveled home with them in a marshrutka to return and lay down for blessed, blessed sleep. The next morning I left early back to site but left with them the nearly 800 pictures I took- that will be a nice keepsake for them. And for me- well, it was a truly great experience and one that I will certainly never forget in my life.

11 November 2009

Snowy village pictures

Images of a Jehova's Witness that lives in my village and always tries to convert me (in a very friendly manner though), the statue of Lenin in front of my school that looks like he is wearing a life-preserver, a shepherd with sheep grazing them through the snow, and the hazards of doing laundry during winter-time...