Last weekend, my secondary organization, AVEP, invited Taylor and I out to the other side of the oblast to attend the grand opening of a greenhouse and to spend the weekend at jailoo with them. The greenhouse grand opening seemed to go very well. The Minister of Education was there and he and Makcat (AVEP Director) were both interviewed by a local TV channel (affectionately known by the volunteers as the ‘yurt’ channel due to the yurt logo in the corner.)
We were excited to come to Kyrygzstan because of the beautiful mountains, staying in yurts in high alpine meadows and learning about the amazing people. When we came here we soon got to see all that and it’s as beautiful as we hoped. But that’s not all Kyrgyzstan has to offer. We’re lucky enough to live in an oblast with all that plus a beautiful alpine lake with resort beach towns every bit as nice as St Tropez (or maybe closer to Coney Island…) We recently spent a ‘Welcome Weekend’ in the nearby town of Bosteri. Good times were had, here’s some photos:
The single question I’m most often asked is, ‘So what are you doing over there anyways?’ Well, today I’m going to try to answer that. At least in part, and only as much as I know so far. I’m a ‘site volunteer’ here in Balykchy City. This is a new type of volunteer for PC Kyrgyzstan, in the past Sustainable Community Development (business, basically) volunteers were placed with one NGO or small business. I’ll be working with two primary organizations and exploring at least one more to see if they are in need of a volunteer in the future. First, I should clarify, an NGO is Kyrgyzstan is usually somewhere between a small-business and a non-profit so it can be be a little confusing to Americans as we don’t really have a good label for what they are. In this post I’m going to talk about a part of what one of two organizations I support does.
For the second weekend in a row, we headed out towards the mountains to go on a hike. This time we were heading to the other side of Issyk Kul (the huge lake we live near) to Karakol which is the city I originally hoped we’d live in. Jake, Taylor and I took an early Marshrutka to Karakol and met all the other volunteers from Issyk Kul at Karakol Coffee for a quick meeting. After that, eight of us headed up to Altyn Arashan valley in an awesome (and ancient,) 4WD van. The road was the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on, often hugging the edge big cliffs. Although we were packed in tight, ½ way up we stopped to pick up two women with two kids (for free of course,) I was happy to be in the front seat at this point. After about 90 minutes of being bounced around we arrived to the valley and saw several houses scattered around. Most people camp here but we were hoping to hike to Ala Kul Lake so we continued on.
One of the biggest reasons we are excited to be in Kyrgyzstan is to experience the beautiful nature all around us. During the first part of PST we had a chance to go for a short hike (LINK) but that turned out to be more walking in a field then getting into the mountains. As we’re now in phase 2 of PST and have a bit of freedom we were able to get out for a weekend so we headed towards the jailoo (Жайлоо, a high mountain pasture where Kyrgyz families take their animals in summer) above Grigorievka along with Jake, Molly, Mira & Shawn. Shawn & Mira have been here for over a year now and were able to arrange for a taxi from the main road up the rough valley road where we expected to find yurts we could stay in.
Before reading this post please note that there are graphic photos below. Also, slaughtering animals isn’t something most Americans experience first-hand; before commenting or judging please be sensitive to cultural differences.
We’ve learned quickly that in Kyrgyzstan that plans are a fluid thing. One day in our first week here our mom said tomorrow we may make tacos. This news was exciting to us as we’ve heard rumors that our family, well versed in English and American food, made tacos amongst other foods I’d begun to crave. However later that evening our father said tomorrow I should kill a sheep and asked if I’d be afraid. He then laughed as he often does, he likes to makes jokes. But then he said ‘yes, I will get a sheep tonight.’ Now, these things here happen often. Never quite sure what will happen when plans are made we’ve learned to just roll with it. Sometimes people are joking, sometimes we misunderstand because we know so little Kyrgyz and sometimes I think they mean with all seriousness their words but somehow it’s just not important the next day. Our questions were erased when that evening a young sheep was tied up outside our door.