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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Summer Camp!

Peace Corps loves summer camps.  I had the (mostly) pleasure of participating in two back-to-back summer camps a couple weeks ago.  I originally volunteered for one, a TOBE (more on this later) camp, but after another camp was left shorthanded I decided to help with that one also.

 

We got the kids to the 'impossible chair'
We got the kids to the ‘impossible chair. The first camp I helped with was a sports camp put on by the American Corner in Karkol.  American Corners are little clubs in many countries across the world, Kyrgyzstan has 5 or 6 of them.  Sponsored by the US Embassy, they serve several purposes including providing fun activities for local youth, English clubs and ways for locals to learn about the US and opportunities to study there.  Every year the American Corner in Karakol puts on two sports camps, one in summer and one in winter.

 

At the camp, the kids were split into four teams.  I led Team Seattle, obviously we ‘won.’  The 5 day camp was filled with sports, hanging out at the beach and teaching the kids about topics like leadership and teamwork.  My team was awesome.  My kids were creative and really fun to hang out with.  Most of the kids had learned quite a bit of English and they were some of the most ambitious kids I’ve met.

 

As the sports camp was winding down, the TOBE camp was beginning.  They overlapped by a day but conveniently for me were at the same location so I easily moved from one to the other.  TOBE was an entirely different type of camp from the sports camp.  TOBE stands for ‘Teaching Our Boys to Excel’ and goes along with GLOW camps (Girls Leading Our World.)  These camps are funded by Peace Corps grants and entirely planned by current Peace Corps Volunteers, many PC posts around the world host these camps.  The idea behind these camps is to teach boys in Kyrgyzstan about a variety of topics they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed too such as leadership, healthy relationships, HIV/AIDS and sex ed.  All of the volunteers’ counterparts also came with us to this camp.  The camp was conducted entirely in Kyrgyz so our counterparts were instrumental in making the camp a success.

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Weekend at the Beach

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:

We entered Kyrgyzstan, a land of snow-capped mountains and high alpine meadows.  A confused group of volunteers wonders how we ended up on a beach with a warm lake and a ferris wheel?
We entered Kyrgyzstan, a land of snow-capped mountains and high alpine meadows. A confused group of volunteers wonders how we ended up on a beach with a warm lake and a ferris wheel?

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So, What Am I Doing Here?

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.

Because of the latitude of KG, only one side and the top here is exposed.  The North side gets little sun so it is just insulated.
Because of the latitude of KG, only one side and the top here is exposed. The North side gets little sun so it is just insulated.

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Altyn Arashan: Hiking, Hot Springs & Storms

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.

 

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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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We’ve arrived intact (mostly) to Kyrgyzstan

Coming into the Peace Corps, we expected some great challenges to go along with amazing experiences.  It’s our first day in country and we’ve already had both.  You may have seen the photo earlier of our packed luggage:

 

That's it, 2 years of stuff, can we carry it all?
That’s it, 2 years of stuff, can we carry it all?

Here’s what ended up making it:

 

The bags that made it to Kyrgyzstan
The bags that made it to Kyrgyzstan
Our group taking up as much room as possible in the DC airport
Our group taking up as much room as possible in the DC airport

After 35 hours of travel we’re a little beat and missing all four of our checked bags (at least 15 bags total were lost in transit from our group) was more than a little frustrating however we’ve heard word that they were located and should be returned tomorrow to our hotel.  It’ll be nice to have a change of clothes!

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