While we’ve been trying to keep the blog updated with the big events, so many little things have happened that we wanted to mention, so we’re combining a bunch of things here. Hopefully this tells you a little about our daily lives here.
Last Monday our LCF (Kyrgyz language/culture teacher) invited us to a concert in Bishkek. Her husband works for the Swiss embassy and there was a party for the 20th anniversary of Swiss/Kyrgyz cooperation. It was a blast! First, we got to get out of language classes early so we could make it to Bishkek on time. Plus, any excuse to get to Bishkek during PST is great. The event itself was awesome; there were great presentations on the many projects they are working on around the country, several musical performances, and speeches by the Swiss ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, the Vice Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan and more. Here’s a clip of my favorite musical piece, anyone recognize it?
I don’t know too much detail about the role I will play once training is over, but as I learn more I am getting more excited.
I will be supporting the formal side of the health promotion structure in Kyrgyzstan – a complete change from what I was doing in the U.S. In a nutshell, my job will be to support a Health Promotion Unit (HPU) in a rayon center (a central village) in their work to facilitate health education activities in surrounding villages.
A little background: Each village has a grassroots Village Health Committee (VHC) that meets to discuss and take action against local health concerns. Common examples include Hepatitis A, smoking/alcohol, HIV transmission risks, infant nutrition, etc. Some VHCs are more functional than others, and most are run by retired women, called ayjays (эжелер), who coincidentally hold a respected place in the community.
The HPU staff travels to the VHCs each month with campaigns that were created at the national level. One thing I’ve learned already is that there’s very little flexibility in the content that’s shared and that it sometimes isn’t the most pressing issue for each village. On a visit to a local health facility, the director shared that she hopes we, as volunteers, can find a way to support more flexibility in content – to come ready to discuss whatever issue the village finds useful. It will be interesting to see how I can be useful in this environment.
Thursday was a day most of had circled on our calendars, site placement day! Throughout PST we’ve known that the day would come that we would learn our fate for the next two years. Where we’d live, who our neighbors would be and what our jobs will be. In the morning we showed up to the Hub site to see a large map of Kyrgyzstan drawn outside with chalk. We all stood around it and received envelopes and at the same time opened them up. Taylor and I looked in our packets and learned we were going to Balykchy (Link), a small city on the Western edge of Lake Issyk-Kul (the huge lake we stayed near during our orientation.)
With our new freedom (we can visit anywhere within our oblast now) we decided to head to Kant after our Saturday morning Kyrgyz lesson. Our plan started out ambitious, we hoped to visit the bazaar, print photos, etc but after we arrived we found out a large group was hanging out at the bar so off we went. The bar was a blast and it felt so normal to sit down, have a beer and get to know our fellow trainees better. It was the first drink we’ve had since arriving in country and it was the most enjoyable bad beer I’ve ever had. Current PC volunteers, John & Nicole, were also at the bar so we got to pepper them with questions and learn a bit more about what the real PC life was like.
We made it home around 6:30pm and guests arrived soon after. We got the impression the night before we were having guests but we weren’t 100% clear who or when. A quick note about ‘guesting.’ In Kyrgyzstan it’s very common to go ‘guesting’ which basically involves lots of food, candy, vodka, toasts, songs, gossip and stories. It seems to be at least a weekly event that you go guesting or someone comes to your home. We came out of our room and were introduced to our guests, best we can tell it was two friends of our host father and their wives. We were sitting at the large table for the first time and were directed to our spots (farthest from the door indicating we were the honored guests) and started out with chai.
Oh, how good the idea of a hike sounded on Friday. This is why we were so excited so be in Kyrgyzstan right? The mountains, the grazing horse and sheep, the fresh air and clean water… I forgot all about that Sunday morning when the alarm went off way too early. I was not expecting the hangover but this is a consequence of never having water on the dinner table while drinking vodka with your family. I laid in bed and considered the options. I wanted to hike but I felt bad. And it would be hot, so hot. And dusty, it’s always hot and dusty it seems…. But, this is why we came, so we got out of bed and rushed out the door without breakfast (or coffee) and ran to meet the group.
After another long week of PST activities, Bishkek day arrived and we were really excited to get out of our small village and see the capitol. It had been three weeks since we arrived in country and since we had arrived at 3am we hadn’t yet had even a glimpse of Bishkek. There was some apprehension in the group because of the many warnings we had been given. Between the threat of being labeled a spy on the bus, the drunks roving the streets and the pickpockets in the bazaar; it seemed an incident was bound to happen.
Our LCF group of 4 met in the morning to catch the Marshrutka (маршрутка) and meet up with the rest of the group in Bishkek. We had been given a checklist of places to find in Bishkek (most not all that exciting) and started out our trip by visiting the Post Office and a department store. We walked past various other monuments, statues and important buildings and came across an outdoor art show. There were some surprises on the way, especially the breakdance show sponsored by the US embassy (your tax dollars at work here in Kyrgyzstan!) For lunch we stopped and got Turkish food, which sounded yummy but was kind of fast food and not good.
We’ve been in country two weeks now (in a lot of ways it feels much longer) and we’re slowly settling into a bit of a routine. During PST nearly every day is very structured (we have a calendar of the entire 8 weeks.) About 60% of our scheduled time is spent at our LCF’s (Language and Culture Facilitator) house practicing our Kyrgyz and the remainder is at the hub site with the entire group in various sessions. During the evenings and Sunday we are free but typically our time is spent either studying, having meals with the family or playing Frisbee with the kids. When we walk around the village most of the people recognize us now. The kids often either yell ‘hello!’ or ‘Eric baike!’ (байке) which means older brother, young man, uncle and possibly other things.
It’s been about a week and there have been a ton of changes. All of our bags ended up arriving to the resort so we were able to relax a bit and enjoy getting to know our new colleagues, the food and learn about the culture. The three days spent in Issyk Kul were filled with language lessons and short training sessions on various aspects of being a volunteer in the Peace Corps. On the 30th, it was time to leave the resort and head to Kant (my guess on the English spelling) for the matching ceremony. This is when all of us volunteers get to meet our new host families for the duration of PST (about two months.) Taylor and I didn’t know until we arrived at the ceremony but we were paired with the same family and they are great! Immediately following the ceremony we had a fun adventure trying to cram all of our stuff in the van along with another volunteer (our friend Tamara, who lives in the same village) and back to our new house in the village of Krasna Rechka.