Hiking season in Kyrgyzstan has begun

Winter can be a bit rough here.  It’s not that any particular thing is really that terrible but the frequent power outages, boring work days and cold, windy days just get a little… dull. But as we wrote before, spring has arrived in Kyrgyzstan.  This means the fighter jets are again dropping test bombs near our city (oh ya, that happens) and the best part is that hiking season in Kyrgyzstan has begun!  We went on our first long hike of the season last weekend.  It was our first time hiking with the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan (www.tuk.kg) which frequently arranges trips all around the country.  Definitely the best way to see the beautiful nature here if you live in or visit Kyrgyzstan.

Our hike was in a place called Ak-Tuz (Ак-Түз), directly North of us and near the border with Kazakhstan.  The name literally means ‘white straight’ but basically translates to White Valley.  One great benefit of hiking with TUK is that they filled us in on a lot of the fascinating history of the place which I later researched more on a local website I found.  The region was established in the late 1930s when large amounts of lead and some other metals were discovered.  As WWII went on, the USSR was in desperate need of the lead and other metals and they quickly established a large mine and processing factory, both of which are still there today but abandoned.  We didn’t have any time to explore it this trip but we now that we know about it we plan on going back this summer to check it out. Continue reading “Hiking season in Kyrgyzstan has begun”

My Version of Spring in Balykchy

It wasn’t until the 8 week period of semi-winter (we live in a desert, after all) was over that I realized things I had been working on had slowly and painstakingly fallen apart, just unraveled. Students slowly stopped attending my Health Club (that I put hours of work into planning each week), my Kyrgyz tutor got married suddenly and was too busy with family obligations to keep a regular schedule with me, my GLOW girls  (the ones who attended the Girls Leading Our World summer camp) didn’t come on the day we were scheduled to do yoga together, and the English center where my Health Club took place closed and was repurposed into a pawn shop – not necessarily a bad thing, just a sign of circumstances changing and a family’s need to make some income.

This is why I was shocked when my counterpart rounded up the GLOW girls a couple months later and told them we will do a flashmob about Tuberculosis. When I was 16 years old (as these girls are), I would have said, “What? What does that mean?” These girls nonchalantly said, “okay,” and started looking on the internet for dances we could copy. After 2 weeks of practicing, we ended up performing the dance a total of 5 times – 2 times in front of my worksite, the clinic, and 3 times in the bazaar (creating an obstacle for shoppers to go around in one case J).  And yes, I danced with them. My counterpart thought it was weird that I was practicing the dance too, but for once this was something I could do well at work – there was no need to struggle through a conversation in Kyrgyz, no need to try and understand the cultural nuances of how my counterparts get things done. I could just dance. Oh, and carry a banner around town that said ‘We are against Tuberculosis’ while following a car with a large speaker in the back.

Continue reading “My Version of Spring in Balykchy”

Spring in Balykchy

Spring in Balykchy

Spring has finally come to Kyryzstan!  Until it turned out to be a tease and it snowed again… But the sun came out again and it’s not exactly swimming weather but at least I finally was able to put away the warmest jackets.  Spring means kids playing in the dirt courtyard outside our window (throwing rocks at things usually,) the heat is turned off in our building (so it’s colder than it was last month in here) and I don’t get yelled at for wearing a t-shirt (actually, that still happens.)

The best part of spring is I actually feel busy!  We went on a bike ride to visit another volunteer’s village last weekend and have numerous hikes planned out for the next couple months.  My photo club is in full swing and I met a bunch of people from my home state here at a meeting.  More on both of those but first, a few photos from our trip to Tory-Aiger to visit Janet, who’s working as an English teacher.  Her little village is great and she lives with an awesome family.  Hopefully we’ll get to visit them again later this summer.

As it’s now spring, it means for AVEP* it’s time to get ready for the KARAGAT+ program (focused on improving the Issyk-Kul berry industry) to get into full swing.  This is the last year of the program under the original funding and they are hoping to extend it.  I took a trip around Issyk-Kul with them so they could talk with an apricot farmer and a couple politicians.  All the meetings were in Russian so I just walked around talking to random people and taking photos.  Sometimes these meetings are aggravating because I feel like I’m there as a token American but it’s still better than sitting in an office.  The farm we went into was pretty impressive, a massive apricot farm in the middle of a barren desert.  The farmer had recently drip irrigation too which is a very new technology here.

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It’s not all play… But the work is pretty good too!

cucumbers

My ‘work’ here hasn’t been that interesting for most of winter so I haven’t really talked much about it but a lot has changed so time to share what I have been up to here.  I’ve been continuing to support AVEP as best I can with their various agriculture-related projects.  Danko has a couple of large projects I’m not that involved with now, an oil cleanup and a new Balykchy museum, but that may change next month and I’ll write more about those then.  The biggest change is that I wrote my own grant which is not something I had planned on doing.

Coming to Peace Corps, we started hearing about grants all the time.  I came to understand this would be a part of our lives here yet I’d never written a grant and really had no clue how the process worked.  After a few Peace Corps trainings and exposure to grant applications from one of my worksites I started to get a handle on all the ways money flows into this country (and nearly all poor countries in the world) through grants.  At AVEP (the larger of my worksites) we’ve been working on a lot of grants for their various projects.  These are fairly large (as much as $500k from a Canadian company) but my role is mostly to support them and act as a consultant.  At my other site, Danko, it’s mostly just the director and myself working so I have a lot more hands-on work to do which is a little more fun.  Danko is primarily a youth organization and my counterpart/director, Alexander, has been great at looking at my interests to see what kind of projects we can do at Danko.  After attending the Peace Corp Project Design Management training (a misnomer as there was almost no training on project design) we decided we’d write a project about starting a Photo Club at Danko that I’d teach.

 

Continue reading “It’s not all play… But the work is pretty good too!”

Issyk-Ata Winter Camping

Close up of the mountain

In keeping up my ruse that I don’t actually work here and only travel and play, here’s some photos from my short backpacking trip to Issyk-Ata with my buddy Andrew.