We’ve been sharing some posts from some fun events we’ve had but haven’t shared much about what our day-to-day life has been like here lately. For all of August we were stuck back at our training villages for the last part (Phase 3) of Pre-Service Training. While it was great seeing everyone it was really hot nearly every day (90+ often and the training center does not have AC) and the days seemed to crawl by. Plus, we were missing the best month to be back in Issyk Kul where every day the weather is perfect and the beach is just a five minute walk away. Besides being able to see the whole group back together (minus our one fellow volunteer who went home) we had some fun adventures. We invited 10 other volunteers to Ala Archa (blog post here,) had an amazing weekend in Bishkek, bought mountain bikes, held the first annual Issyk-Ata Regatta, cooked American food, explored an abandoned apartment and perhaps best of all, took the ‘Balykchy Express’ to get back to Krasnaya Rechka. We’ll write up some info on the world-famous Balykchy Express slow train that runs from Bishkek to Balykchy later but read on for more photos and stories from our other adventures the past month…
Being back in Krasnaya Rechka was fun even though training wasn’t because the kids are so much fun to play with. We spent many nights playing Frisbee and surprised them with a Frisbee of their own that Taylor’s mom sent from America (thanks Cindy!) There’s a big difference between the village kids in Krasnaya Rechka and the city kids in Balykchy. The village kids all know who we are and scream our names when they see us even if they are on the other side of the school yard. Much like cities at home, you lose a bit of the ‘neighborhood feel’ in cities here which has its pros and cons. Our language still seems terrible to us but we were able to talk a lot more with our PST family and learn things like how they met, when they moved to their house, where they originated from, etc. We also tried to cook more American food for them, not only to share American culture but frankly, we’re craving a lot of food from home. We made pizza and had to resort to using pre-made frozen crusts we found. They tasted as good as a frozen pizza from the grocery store but we had fresh ingredients and the kids loved it. Taylor also went with some of the other PCV girls and made apple pies. She said they were delicious but forgot to bring a slice home for Eric so things are a bit rocky between us, тамаша (that means kidding!)
It was originally a joke, but here is my blog post about why I don’t have time to blog.
They said we would have a bunch of free time after we completed our first phase of Pre-Service Training (PST). We had had full day schedules and then homework and requisite family time, so we were looking forward to a less intense daily routine once we got to our permanent site. This has not been the case.
I can’t complain too much because things have been fun and interesting, but seriously, things have been busy. Between (unsuccessfully, I think) trying to improve my language skills so I can communicate with my counterpart (I can’t learn Kyrgyz fast enough, there is so much I’d like to say), trying to keep up an exercise routine (I eat way too much bread, sugar, and fat to not attempt at least), cooking for ourselves, learning how to make jam before the fruit is all gone (raspberry and cherry, check!), and packing for or going on our next adventure (2 weekend getaways in the mountains, 1 jiloo experience with Eric’s organization, and a weeklong summer camp), I can barely find time to brush my teeth (don’t worry, I’m doing this and flossing too).
Not to fret, though. I am still keeping track of my experiences, my highs and my lows. I’m also recognizing that they’re both transitory and it’s hard to write with real conviction what I actually think – my mind keeps changing. For insight on what my days have been like, here’s an excerpt of the notes I’ve kept.
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:
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!
Last Saturday we had Culture Day, a big event put on at all PSTs by each Peace Corps post around the world. Parts were fun and parts were frustrating as often is the case with things here. Rather than type a lot about it, here are a bunch of photos:
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.
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.
I don’t know too much detail about the role I will play once training is over, but as I learn more I am getting more excited.
I will be supporting the formal side of the health promotion structure in Kyrgyzstan – a complete change from what I was doing in the U.S. In a nutshell, my job will be to support a Health Promotion Unit (HPU) in a rayon center (a central village) in their work to facilitate health education activities in surrounding villages.
A little background: Each village has a grassroots Village Health Committee (VHC) that meets to discuss and take action against local health concerns. Common examples include Hepatitis A, smoking/alcohol, HIV transmission risks, infant nutrition, etc. Some VHCs are more functional than others, and most are run by retired women, called ayjays (эжелер), who coincidentally hold a respected place in the community.
The HPU staff travels to the VHCs each month with campaigns that were created at the national level. One thing I’ve learned already is that there’s very little flexibility in the content that’s shared and that it sometimes isn’t the most pressing issue for each village. On a visit to a local health facility, the director shared that she hopes we, as volunteers, can find a way to support more flexibility in content – to come ready to discuss whatever issue the village finds useful. It will be interesting to see how I can be useful in this environment.
Thursday was a day most of had circled on our calendars, site placement day! Throughout PST we’ve known that the day would come that we would learn our fate for the next two years. Where we’d live, who our neighbors would be and what our jobs will be. In the morning we showed up to the Hub site to see a large map of Kyrgyzstan drawn outside with chalk. We all stood around it and received envelopes and at the same time opened them up. Taylor and I looked in our packets and learned we were going to Balykchy (Link), a small city on the Western edge of Lake Issyk-Kul (the huge lake we stayed near during our orientation.)
We’ve been in country two weeks now (in a lot of ways it feels much longer) and we’re slowly settling into a bit of a routine. During PST nearly every day is very structured (we have a calendar of the entire 8 weeks.) About 60% of our scheduled time is spent at our LCF’s (Language and Culture Facilitator) house practicing our Kyrgyz and the remainder is at the hub site with the entire group in various sessions. During the evenings and Sunday we are free but typically our time is spent either studying, having meals with the family or playing Frisbee with the kids. When we walk around the village most of the people recognize us now. The kids often either yell ‘hello!’ or ‘Eric baike!’ (байке) which means older brother, young man, uncle and possibly other things.