I’ve been accused of keeping my blog too positive. This may seem odd but it’s more than fair. The things I like to write and show photos about are the highlights. Writing a post about the many times someone just never shows up for a meeting or sitting and waiting hours for vehicles to leave (which seems to take up the bulk of my life) just doesn’t seem that interesting. A big part of Peace Corps life (at least mine) is boredom and being aggravated by little things that just add up over time. I haven’t had a single terrible experience but arguing with taxi drivers, convincing drunks I’m not a spy and trying to figure out how to keep my photo students motivated takes a toll (and makes the vacation I’m starting now the thing I really need.
Here, halfway through my service, I thought I’d write a post going through month by month with a few photos and thoughts on what my life was like.
Our first full month in country. The days were spent learning the language, going through many Peace Corps trainings and getting to know the other new volunteers.
The second month of training gets very tiresome as the weather heats up. I get tired of seeing the same faces every day, tired of learning Kyrgyz and I just want to get to my permanent site. At the end of the month we met a couple people from our new host family. It was awkward but it was exciting to meet them. Finally at the end of the month we were sworn in. It was exciting but also nerve-wracking because we were headed to our sites with colleagues we couldn’t really talk with and felt the pressure to be able to communicate and do work.
Our first month at site was packed with activities and a lot of time trying to figure out how to learn to live with a family. We went on hikes, explored Balykchy, tried to get to know our new family and helped at a couple summer camps. July was both good and bad. There were some fun times with the family but also a lot of difficult times were we felt like we were doing the wrong thing but had no idea what it was or how to make it better. The camps were fun but I got really sick and was stuck in one spot way too long. Work was also difficult because I couldn’t say anything of substance to my main counterpart and we mostly ended up struggling to get to know each other and drinking beer.
August was a little more fun than July because I felt like I was getting in a bit of a routine. We did a couple more hikes and had to go back to our training village for the last part of training. This was miserable since it was so hot and I think all anyone wanted to do was get settled in at their permanent sites.
September was a rush of trying to fit in as many outdoor activities as we could before the weather was going to turn. Work was going ok but a lot of the time was just spent trying to figure out what kind of work we could do together. Things were a bit awkward with our host family and we struggled to figure out if interactions were just always going to strange or if we were doing something wrong.
Bike rides, trips to new regions of Kyrgyzstan and a trip to Bishkek to attend a party for our Kyrgyz teacher’s baby. At AVEP work was going well but it could be a little boring at times when the only thing I could help with was correcting their reports (they’re written in English.) At Danko work was pretty frustrating because I had no idea how we could work together. Trying to discuss stuff in Kyrgyz was very difficult and my counterpart didn’t have the patience to sit with me and use Google Translate to figure out things I couldn’t say in Kyrgyz. We decided to start a photo club which was exciting because it seemed manageable and would be fun.
My photo club started and sputtered in November. Teaching in Kyrgyz was extremely difficult and we had a really hard getting kids to attend. Also, kids had to bring their own cameras which were usually very bad and limited who could come. At AVEP I went to several greenhouse openings, these were fun to see but I really didn’t have that much to do with the work. Things with the host family were deteriorating and we couldn’t find a way to make things work even with my program manager coming to help. At the end of the month we decided to move after Peace Corps said we could move to an apartment.
My photo club at Danko was basically dead but after a PC training, my counterpart and I decided to write a grant to buy cameras and give the photo club another go with the experience of one failure under our belts. We moved into our new apartment and it was exciting but came with its own challenges, electrical fires, water outages and crazy neighbors who thought we were spies.
The New Year! The New Year celebrations were fun. We visited our host family for the first time since moving out. It went better than expected but the grandma made more of the condescending comments that were part of why we moved out. We had a really fun day at my counterpart’s house with his family. We also took a trip to Naryn, the coldest oblast, during the coldest month. It was beautiful and fun to meet more volunteers’ families.
We finally took our first trip out of the country to Dubai, a much-needed break. We received the great news our photo club grant was approved so we began preparations for that. I did another hike. At AVEP we began writing a couple more proposals so the work there was a bit more interesting. The challenge at AVEP is I feel more like an employee, I can’t really offer much in terms of ‘skills-transfer’ as the organization is already pretty advanced.
The weather was warming up which was nice but March was a pretty uneventful month. I think the single biggest problem I’ve had in Peace Corps is boredom and this was one of those months. Both work sites were status-quo and we were just continuing what we were doing.
After one of the slowest months came the busiest. We received grant money to buy our photo club equipment and the first classes started. It took a ton of time to translate lessons into Kyrgyz so I could teach. At AVEP we took a trip around the oblast speaking to local farmers and politicians as part of the KARAGAT project, AVEP’s largest project. Between all the work, we managed to go on a hike and ride our bikes to a neighboring village to visit another volunteer and her family.
Another crazy month. My photo club was going pretty well and we did our first field trip. We did hikes in Ala-Archa National Park and Tash Rabat. I tried to start quite a few projects at AVEP that kept me very busy. Best of all, Taylor’s parents came and we started our vacation.
Half of my Peace Corps service is done. Looking back through all the photos and my notes from the first year I realize how much has happened even though it seems to be flying by and too unproductive. Most of the volunteers who are leaving felt like their second year was much better than their first which I hope is true.