First Week in Balykchy

It’s been just a week since we’ve arrived but it feels like at least a month.  So much has happened we probably could have written a blogpost every day but for now a brief summary will suffice.  Since the first moment here, Taylor and I have felt incredibly welcomed.  The family is terrific, the house is nice by American standards and amazing by Kyrgyz standards, we’re figuring things out at work and Balykchy is much nicer than we expected.

Our family speaks quite a bit of English, especially our grandmother and little brothers.  Jason, the previous volunteer that lived here, told us Grandma had been studying here dictionary to brush up on her English for us.  They’ve told us many stories and our conversations are mixed between English and Kyrgyz.  It’s certainly not the ‘total immersion’ method of learning but I hope for us it will prove to be a great way to improve our language.

Taylor helping the family make strawberry jam
Taylor helping the family make strawberry jam

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New home, another move and we’re officially Peace Corps Volunteers

Kyrgyz language, food, inoculations, motivational sessions, vodka, more Kyrgyz, food, tea, trainings and even more Kyrgyz.  This has been our lives for the past two months but today the first part of our Pre-Service Training comes to and end and we were sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers!

We woke up at 6am tired but excited for the day.  Our luggage had swelled with the addition of the copious amounts of paper, books and medical supplies the Peace Corps provided us (I had to break out the extra backpack I brought).  Our family helped us load it into the Marshrutka for the short drive to the Hub site where three buses were waiting.  All 54 of us volunteers loaded the buses with our host moms and for the 3rd time in 4 days we headed off to Bishkek.  We arrived shortly to the Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theater and filed in to a beautiful hall that had decayed a bit but still had much of the glory from the Soviet days.

We ran around taking photos with each other and our LCFs, the last time we’re going to see them for a couple months (a long time when we’ve been spending all day every day together).  In addition to us, taking in the ceremony were members of the Kyrgyz government, the US embassy and the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Pamela L. Spratlen.  We took our seats for the ceremony.  We enjoyed speeches by Tammie Harris, our Country Director and the US Ambassador. Also, three excellent speeches by fellow K-22s, Serena, Amanda & Tim in Kyrgyz, Russian and English respectively.  Between the speeches we also had performances by Shawn, who played the guitar and sang a Kyrgyz song, and Jonathan, who performed a piece from Manas, the Kyrgyz epic poem.  We closed out the ceremony with Ambassador Spratlen administering the Peace Corps Oath, we are now PC Volunteers!

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PC Counterparts, the Key to Our Success

I didn’t have a photo from this day so enjoy another photo of our puppy

Over the past 50+ years Peace Corps has had an evolving method of development.  If you are so inclined you can research the various methodologies used in development work. Peace Corps has more or less followed the common trends.  Currently the PC method of development is summed up by these two (of many PC has) quotes:

“ANY PROCESS THAT PROMOTES THE DIGNITY OF A PEOPLE  AND THEIR CAPACITY TO IMPROVE THEIR OWN LIVES”

“A process whereby people learn to build on their strengths in order to take charge of their own lives, and to address their expressed needs.”

Likely the biggest factor in our success is the ability to successfully integrate with our communities and our counterparts are our most important tool do this.  Not only does the counterpart help us learn about our villages and cities, the language and introduce us to important people, but ideally through them we can transfer skills to the people here so progress can continue after we leave.

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Our Home, Our Village…for Training Anyways

For our first 8 weeks of training, we’ve been living in a village called Krasnaya Rechka (Красная Речка). Named (in Russian) for the red river that flows nearby, there are about 6,000 people who live here. As reference, Krasnaya Rechka is about 1 hour – by marshrukta – east of Bishkek and about 1.5 hours west of our permanent site, Balykchy (Балыкчы).

Some of the highlights of our village include:

  • One primary/high school – where our host brother and sister, 11 and 10 years old, go to school
  • One boarding school – where our large group trainings take place
  • Two mosques – we can often hear the prayers from our home although our family doesn’t attend
  • A handful of mom and pop stores – all over the village and all selling the same stuff
  • One chain grocery store and a small bazaar – we never really shop at the bazaar, although we once bought sweet potatoes that looked like dirty carrots…they turned out to be dirty carrots

Some of the quaint characteristics of our village life:

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Dance Parties & Puppies

PST hasn’t been all about language learning and technical skills training.  We’re also trying to integrate with our families and communities, which basically means have fun with them!  Here are a few things we’ve been doing the past week or so:

Our host mom was telling us about this concert that was going to be on TV by her favorite musician, Thomas Anders (self-proclaimed “Gentleman of Music”).  She was super excited and made sure we knew we were going to be watching it and maybe drinking a bit.  It turned into a pretty hilarious dance party in the dining room.  The music was fairly terrible, but I guess they love him here.  Thankfully, no vodka shots tonight.

Dance party!
Dance party!

One evening, during one of our village walks, we passed by our host sister and some of her friends who were hula hooping. When we returned home, the hula hoop had made it into our backyard. Taylor went out to take part in the fun, only to find our host mom taking a try at it. It was pretty amusing as the hula hoop was passed around and each person showed what they were made of. We’ve really come to appreciate some of the small things that don’t require much language proficiency – this was definitely one of them.

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Met Our New Host Family

Just a quick update to let people know we met our permanent host family and they are awesome!  All 54 trainees and our LCFs piled into a couple buses and drove to a hotel in Bishkek.  After a little wait we walked in and found a person from our host family that came to meet us.  We were greeted by our grandma Buken (Букен) and little brother Daniel.  We knew a little about our family before we met them because a volunteer named Jason (who’s site Eric is taking over) has lived with them and told us a few things.  They speak a little English and apparently have a really nice house.  Next Thursday is the day we leave our PST host family and move to Balykchy, it’s going to be great!

Taylor with our new Grandma and little brother
Taylor with our new Grandma and little brother

Family Portraits and Good Old ‘Merican Burgers

We had a fun morning with the family taking some family portraits.  They love photos and ask to look at ours all the time, but we noticed they didn’t have any of the whole family.  We were planning on heading into Bishkek for a few hours the following day and wanted to print a lot of photos from our time here. We wanted them to have some they could keep as well, so we got out the tripod to get a few photos of all of us.  It was pretty funny – we made them take photos ‘Kyrgyz-style’ (no smiling) and then ‘American-style.’  After the family portraits we took some photos in the new Marshrutka.

Hanging out w/ our friends
Hanging out w/ our friends

After photo time, we met up with other volunteers and some of the trainers living in our village for a little picnic along the river. It was a relaxing afternoon at one of the prettiest places in Krasnaya Rechka, even though we couldn’t see the mountains that day.

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