I previously wrote about my new Photo Club I’ve started at Danko and I wanted to talk a little bit more about how it’s been going. We’ve held 7 classes so far and just did our first field trip. Attempting to teach a technical topic in a foreign language is incredibly challenging to say the least but my students are patient and some know enough English to help me translate. The biggest challenge at my last attempt at a photo club was attendance and it’s still a bit of a challenge but I’m averaging 9 students or so out of 12 at each class, having cameras and computers to play with definitely keeps their attention. I’ve been teaching basic concepts like the ‘Rule of 1/3s’ and ‘Leading Lines’ but mostly we walk around Balykchy taking photos while I give them pointers along the way.
Two students having a camera war on the tracks
One of my students on the tacks between abandoned factories
These girls love to pose for photos…
Are first field trip (of 4 total) was last Saturday to Bishkek. The capital city is only 2 hours away yet the students rarely get to visit. Most go once a year or so and two of my students had never been. They really enjoyed walking around the city and I was able to show them many things they had no idea existed in their country. It was also really hot so of course they ate ice cream, lots of it. Below are some photos from the field trip. Scroll down for photos from my students.
Super excited faces at the ‘Water Museum’
A group shot at the water museum
Testing the macro function on ants
Alina may be my favorite, she always tries to get good angles and probably takes 3x the photos of anyone else
This Bishkek greenhouse is something I spotted from the road a few months ago, none of the people I know had ever heard of it. It’s 70 years old and was built by German WWII prisoners!
Our group shot in front of the greenhouse at the Bishkek Botanical Garden
The last group shot of the day in the mountain valley before you enter Issyk Kul
Here is a gallery of photos by various students. I’ll leave their names off for now but I’ll share a gallery of their credited work this fall when we prepare for an exhibition.
We recently took a trip back to Ala Archa, our first time since going last year during PST. The previous trip was easy to arrange as our host family owned a marshrutka and a group of us just hired them to take us up for the day. This trip we had to find a taxi on our own which is a pain even when we speak the language. After too many phone calls and conversations at the bus station, we negotiated a ride, picked up our friends and drove to Ala Archa. Of course upon arrival the driver showed us an ‘official’ price list that said the price was nearly double what we agreed to and he seemed to forget our previous conversation. Too bad guy, we’re not falling for that… we gave him the agreed upon fare and headed into the park.
Crossing a small stream
The wet trail disappearing into the clouds
Me on the way up
The worst part of the hike came as we neared the top
Approaching Ratsek Hut, it’s only a few hundred yards away but we it can’t be seen through the fog
The hike up to the hut was a little less pleasant that our previous trip. Between the persistent mist that soaked everything and our heavy packs, things were a little less than ideal. There was also a bit of snow to deal with than our last trip which was at the end of August. After a few hours of hiking we neared the hut, the clouds parted and we got a glimpse of the towering peaks that make Ala Archa so special. We set up the tents and settled into one of the kitchen huts (which you have access to if paying for a tent site or spot in the Ratsek Hut) to make dinner.
Walking a short bit up the valley before turning up the hill
Andrew & Kara as we begin the climb from base camp
As Taylor and I keep on our mission to explore every part of Kyrgyzstan, we took advantage of some holidays to go visit friends and explore Talas, the home of the biggest hero in Kyrgyzstan, Manas.. We set out with several other volunteers through the high Too-Ashuu pass and 3km long tunnel we went through last year on our way to Toktogul. After a quick stop we turned right past the huge sculpture of Manas and through the gate to Talas.
A large statue of Manas guarding the entrance to Talas
The huge gate guarding the entrance to Talas
The high pass into Talas
Talas city turned out to be really nice (my Kyrgyz friends thought it was odd we were going there but they think it’s strange we like to travel around the country at all) with a lot of new buildings in the center of the city. It’s a small city but very concentrated so the center is fairly bustling as far as Kyrgyz towns go. They have a real Chinese restaurant and a fantastic (and cheap) coffee shop, major perks you don’t really find outside of Bishkek or Osh. Continue reading “Visiting Talas – Birthplace of Manas”
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.
Start of the hike with TUK
Taylor’s excited we’re finally hiking again
My co-worker Ariana (on the left) and her friend on their first hike
Tay jumping over a small gap
This is why I brought the wrong hiking boots to KG. Everything here is wet and boggy. New boots are great though!
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”
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.
I wanted to take home this 4 day old calf
This little lamb was just born the day before we visited
This young lamb was pretty curious about me
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.
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.
The walls of the new Balykchy museum are completed and they are prepping the floor for new tilework
The balcony of the museum will be part of a cafe or something, I didn’t really understand what they were telling me
Taylor and I found this while riding our bikes around Balykchy
I’m mostly enjoying Kyrgyzstan but it’s not always the easiest country to live in for an American used to certain things (burgers, guacamole and decent wine mostly.) It’s been 9 months since we’ve been on a plane and we needed to get out to somewhere warm with good food. Since I’ve recently been convinced to make some time for India, the usual warm vacation spot for KG PCVs, we wanted to pick someplace else. We found out there are direct flights to Dubai and the weather was forecasted to be near 80… perfect.
Another volunteer near the airport was kind enough to host us and after chatting for a bit we settled in for a restful 90 minutes of sleeping before getting up at 2am for our super early flight to Dubai. The upside was landing early enough to have a full day in Dubai once we arrived and so we grabbed some breakfast at the airport before taking a taxi to meet our couch surfing host. If on a budget, I recommend checking out couchsurfing.com. I was amazed how many hosts there were in Dubai and staying for free in Dubai saved us at least $1k over four days. We met up with him at Starbucks near his apartment, David turned out to be a really interesting guy. A Malaysian-born, ethnically Chinese doctor now working in Dubai. One awesome advantage of couch surfing are the people you meet. Over the four days we had great conversations with David and took some notes on future vacation ideas (we’re now adding Malaysia to our trip home, sorry mom, that’s another week!) David took us to his apartment which was in the perfect spot with a great view of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
We were a little tired but we had only four days to see this city so we went for a walk. Craving sushi we headed to a Japanese restaurant that Google says was about 30 minutes away on foot. Reminiscent of Las Vegas (and this wouldn’t be the first thing that reminded us of Vegas,) 30 minutes turned into over an hour while we tried to navigate the maze of the Dubai Mall, they definitely avoid any straight routes anywhere. It was worth the walk, fresh, authentic sushi does not exist in Central Asia. We walked around a bit more, took a nap, enjoyed the sunshine and ate Lebanese food while watching the fountain at dinner. Day 1, a success.
It’s been a bit since our last blog post but we’re still alive and mostly healthy (it’s a bit hard to eat how we’d like to here in winter.) Continuing our mission to see the entire country, we planned a trip to Naryn, the highest and coldest of all oblasts in Kyrgyzstan. I asked my counterpart, Nurlan who is from Naryn, when the best time to go would be and he immediately suggest January. Knowing he wouldn’t steer us wrong we picked a weekend, hopped in a taxi and headed to Naryn city.
A typical Kyrgyz rest stop
The large outdoor ice skating rink in Naryn
The torch from the Naryn Winter Olympics
A woman selling products at the Naryn City bazaar
Naryn city turned out to be surprisingly close. The road isn’t great but our driver seemed to not mind pushing his ancient car to its limit, constantly bottoming out when we hit bumps. Forty-five minutes into the ride and into the first pass, the road is covered in snow (not that it slowed our driver down.) Once in Naryn City we met up with another PCV, David, set down our bags and took a little tour of Naryn. We really liked the city and it was nice to walk around and not have all the vendors attempting to talk to us in Russian. They don’t really get many tourists in Naryn so they don’t have the instinct to switch to Russian when they see white people. We stopped by the bazaar, ice skating rink(s), saw a hockey game and the normal Lenin statues.
The next day we found a taxi to At-Bashi to visit some other volunteers. By coincidence we ended up in a taxi with an English teacher who was a little bit confused as to why we chose January for our first visit to Naryn and kept telling us we must come back in summer. We were enjoying it though, we don’t get any snow where we live so it’s fun to be in the snow for a bit. After arriving we had some tea with our friend Tamera and her host-mom before taking a tour of At-Bashi. We walked through the village to the Sunday animal bazaar which was pretty entertaining. There are hundreds of bazaars in Kyrgyzstan but they all feel a bit different somehow. At-Bashi is the highest and coldest village that volunteers live I believe and the cold air felt great. Even the animals seemed well-adapted for the weather, they had the furriest cows I’ve ever seen.
The baby cow that PCV Tamara helped her family get through donations from America
The famous horse head statue in the center of At-Bashi (which means horse head in Kyrgyz)
An array of animal parts for sale at the At-Bashi animal bazaar
These are some of the remaining animals for sale at the bazaar. Most are already gone.
I assume due to the cold weather, I noticed most of the animals in Naryn have much thicker coats than elsewhere in the country.
A goat for sale(?) at the animal bazaar in At-Bashi
A woman selling produce out of the back of her van
Our last day in At-Bashi we went to the volunteers’ worksites before getting lunch at the new pizza parlor right next to the giant horse-head statue where you can find free wifi sitting in the park (there are so many odd things here.) We had lunch with another PCV, Jonathan, and talked about some ideas for hiking/climbing trips nearby (he lives in the best place to hike in KG, IMO.) Appetite satiated, we found another taxi, which is always fun here, and headed back to Naryn City. That evening we met a former PCV who convinced me I need to spend a few weeks in India (sorry mom, I guess I’m pushing my return home back even more!)
These guys wouldn’t leave me alone so I just picked them up
This baby lamb come coming up to Taylor and eating her pants
Erica pets a baby lamb
A baby lamb stumbles towards me
A Kyrgyz woman helps a lamb feed from her mother
This goat kept crying about something
Sunset through the smoky haze
Naryn is awesome! Of course it’s not the best oblast, that would be Issyk-Kul but we loved our trip there and will be back soon!
As previously mentioned, New Year’s is a big deal here. Thrown in our versions of New Year’s Eve, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween and you are on the right track. The festivities more or less last ten days, with many get-togethers to eat and little work (my work is on vacation still for another week. Taylor and I celebrated Christmas alone, but we did Skype with our families which was really nice. Our families sent us gifts from home and we put them around our Christmas tree Taylor made from a Sprite bottle before opening them. Besides staying in pajamas all day, we had bacon with every meal (first time in 8 months!) that we had saved from our last trip to Bishkek.
Chocolate chip pancakes, potatoes and bacon, just like home.
Presents from home and Taylor’s tree
The next day we went with my counterpart to Bishkek for a New Year’s party with my organization. It turned out to be a large banquet hall where different companies buy several tables and the restaurant puts on a show. There was a crazy amount of food and free beer (I took advantage.) The entertainment including comedians, traditional dances and an Elvis impersonator (which the crowd loved.) After the entertainment was over it was time to dance, they love to sing and dance here. Unfortunately we had to leave before the last meal but they always save sheep for last so perhaps it was ok to miss it.
Our chicken we’d eat later, it reminded me of ET
Taylor holding a portrait a young man made of her by cutting out a card
A girl performs as a butterfly
Yep, Elvis was there
A breakdance show set to Kyrgyz hip-hop
Two Kyrgyz youth perform a traditional dance during a New Year’s party
We came back to Balykchy for actual New Year’s Eve and went to our host family’s house (I don’t think I mentioned yet that we moved, we’ll show photos of our new place soon.) We arrived late, ate and caught up with the family on what was new. We watched the Kyrgyz President’s 2 minute speech and then went outside to light off a firework. Nurlan also shot off his shotgun a couple times and asked if I wanted to shoot it to. Besides my hesitance to add to the random bullets being fired in the air it’s a major PC rule not to shoot a gun so I declined. It was pretty fun to watch all the fireworks around Balykchy. There are very few tall buildings so you could fireworks going off all over the place. The next day we went to my other counterpart’s house to celebrate the New Year. We ate a ton more food and drank a bottle of scotch (seriously, it’s just a week of eating and drinking.) A good first New Year’s in Kyrgyzstan! Next year we’re going to get a hotel in Bishkek to see what goes on in the capitol for New Year’s.
Our host father celebrates the New Year by shooting a couple shots into the air