"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." -Mother Teresa

Friday, March 22, 2013


                                                          village road, Barskoon.

After a rough day I walk through the door to my home and let out a sigh of relief. I try to think of things to pick myself up. Then I remember the hot chocolate packets I received in a recent package from my mom. What better time to break into some old Swiss Miss than after “one of those days”? I tear open the corner of the packet and smell the contents. “Mmm” I hum audibly. I heat up hot water in our electric teapot and mix the contents with the steaming liquid. After the chocolate-y goodness cools just enough so I won’t burn my mouth, I sip a tiny amount and let it sit on my tongue. I’m immediately thrown back to a distinct memory from my childhood. I’m 8 or 9 years old, lying on my stomach on the grey shag carpet at my grandparent’s house surrounded by my siblings and cousins. We all have mugs of Swiss Miss hot chocolate and are watching The Little Rascals on the big screen T.V. It tasted like home and like sweet, sweet memories.

Although this blog highlights the interesting and different aspects of Kyrgyz life and culture, and seemingly always ends on a somewhat positive note, it goes without saying that life here has it’s difficulties. As an American serving in a village in Kyrgyzstan, my growing up and living the first 24 years of my life with all of the conveniences of a typical American life has not done me any favors in adjusting to my current lifestyle. All Peace Corps Volunteers experience this difficult lifestyle change to some degree regardless of where they serve. My journey certainly has been no exception.

The vast majority of volunteers, at some point during their service, question the significance of their work. Am I really helping anyone? Am I doing anything a Kyrgyz person couldn’t do? Does the work I produce make all of the sacrifice and difficulties worthwhile? Am I doing anything? Could I be doing more somewhere else, doing something else? Is it worth it? Questions surface, then more questions, and then even more complex questions. Everyday I ask myself questions regarding the significance of my work here. Some of which I will never know or see the answers to, which poses yet more difficulties. I imagine I’ll have some of these questions for the remainder of my service.

The encouraging friend or family member would tell me “if you help just one person, then you’ve done something.” Could this be the silver lining in this journey? I know that my Counterpart’s English has improved over our time working together. Is this my purpose? Some would say yes. I’m much harder on myself then anyone could be. I have a difficult time imagining the significance of my work resting with one person. This, you may say, is narrow-minded. I would agree with you. Though changing a frame of mind is a large creature to tackle. The significance of a person’s work can be interpreted in a variety of ways, as can it’s impact. I set myself up for failure when I placed certain expectations of the significance of my work here without knowing if those expectations were attainable.

The reason there’s been such a long gap between my blog posts was simply because I was waiting for something positive and lighthearted to write about. That didn’t come. So I decided to be honest. After all, this blog is about my journey here including all of it’s beauty and struggles. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

girls turn into mothers.

“How should we breath when we are doing these? She asked.” Kushtar translates one of the women’s questions. I look around the room to find where the question originated. “Great question…” I couldn’t decide what made me more proud- the fact that the women had pieced together “sports clothes” for the session on Exercising at Home or the fact that they were asking questions to make sure they did each of the stretches and exercises correctly. Probably a combination of both interest and effort, I could tell that these women really cared about becoming more knowledgeable and learning how to live a more healthy lifestyle. At 4 o clock on Thursday afternoons, our “Young Mom’s Club” gathers in either a well lighted classroom or a not so well lighted wrestling room that smells like feet to learn about nutrition, fitness, and some other gender related issues.

A problem for people living in the village, especially younger wives who do not get the opportunity to leave the village much, is a lack of information. Most women living in the village will move through their obligatory daily routines almost robotically and rarely stray from that simple routine. I touched on this idea in one of my earlier blogs regarding the demanding life of a village mother. Cooking and cleaning are performed every day and are not as easy of tasks as we know them to be in the States with Western conveniences. Kyrgyz village women are thorough cleaners and they cook everything from scratch- usually making the act of cooking a several hour-long affair. It is no wonder why they rotate through 3-4 basic meals which they know how to make better than the details of their own face- something we Western women know very little of.

Mom’s Club is a chance for some of these women to break out of their normal daily routines and explore something different and really, a chance for them to gain information they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I speak about the importance of stretching or eating portions from the basic food groups and these women look at me in amazement and busily write notes in their copybooks like it’s the first time they’ve heard some of these things- and for some of them it is the first. I ask them if they think that walking is an exercise and many of them answered no. It’s so normal for them to walk across the village to go guesting or down the street to get water that they don’t even know they are exercising. Every word I speak might as well be gold dripping from my lips for these women- they’re so eager to gain information and all they want is more handouts so that they can share this new information with others.

The first week of the club we made apple carrot bread for the women. I was worried that the women wouldn’t love our snacks because they are so different than what they eat on a daily basis. A few of them practically ate their piece in one bite and others took one little mouse-sized bite and set it back down on the napkin. “You win some, you lose some.” I thought to myself. The next day I was speaking to my Counterpart, Kushtar, “It’s too bad some of the women didn’t like the snack… should we make something that’s closer to Kyrgyz food so that they will enjoy it and maybe even make it for their own family?” I asked her. “What!?” She exclaimed. “The women loved the snack! Some of them even only took one bite so they could take the rest home to share with their children.” I laughed to myself and realized that I was only beginning to understand these women. They come to the club because it’s interesting for them, yes. But really, they are coming to gain new information for their children, to be better mothers and wives and women. Really looking forward to the next seven weeks with this group of women. :)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

we found love in a hopeful place.

As most of you already know, I happened to meet someone very special while serving in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan. As this blog is about my journey as a whole, it seems only fair that I include this monumental aspect of my trek. Almost 3 weeks ago today I married my wonderful, bright, sweet, humorous husband and we couldn't be happier! He's been wondering when he would "make it into the blog" since we started dating- here you go bub! 

Sunday, January 6, 2013


The rays from the morning sunrise are attempting to peak through the dense fog that covers the road before us. The bus driver just stopped briefly for a quick bathroom break for the 50+ travelers. The road between Mumbai and Dehli is long but well traveled. I love watching the sunrise and the early morning unravel like this simply because, as our bike tour guide the other day put it, you get to watch the world wake up.

I'm currently backpacking through India with some fellow volunteers from Kyrgyzstan. I apologize if you were hoping to read a post about KG, those will return in late January.

India has been nothing less than a colorful, flavorful, loud at times, peaceful at times, stressful and relaxing, laughing and dancing, sandy, eye opening experience so far and I'm only a little more than halfway through my trip.

There is one particular experience I'd alike to highlight: a tour of the slums in Mumbai (previously known as Bombay), India. I had certain expectations of the tour and, frankly, they were not met. I expected the people to be suffering, starving, unhappy, grasping for more in life to no avail. I found something I could have never anticipated.

We used a tour company named Reality Tours for our adventure in the slums. Our tour guide, Akash, is a resident of the slum we visited. This particular slum called "Dharavi" is located fairly centrally in Mumbai city and is the third largest slum in the world with one million inhabitants. First and second largest are located in Pakistan and Mexico city.

As we arrive in the slum I realize how rather orderly everything seems. There are shops (owned by the residents), taxis, children wearing school uniforms (Dharavi has 2 schools), various factories, brick and cement buildings, and the list goes on.

Possibly the most impressive facet of the slum to me was the industry the people had created. Many of the poorer people in India will collect trash and sift through it hopeful of finding something of value. In Dharavi the people sift through trash to find plastic and various metals including aluminum to break down, melt, and sell for reuse. Akash showed us the plastic factory where the people of Dharavi had constructed and built a plastic crusher machine and sell the plastic pellets it produces to contractors. The aluminum and other metals can be melted down and used to make flat sheets of metal for constructing machinery.

As we passed the industrial area of Dharavi we arrive in the residential part of the slum. Narrow alleyways between cement buildings made the residential portion a bit harder to navigate. Though the people of Dharavi are living in very in very cramped conditions with limited space, we were met by smiles from old women sitting on their door steps and young children wanting to practice their English with us.

While taking in the reality of the slums triumphing over all of our Western preconceived notions of a "slum", our guide pointed something out to us. "Have you guys been approached by many beggars in India?" "Oh boy..." We exclaimed. The truth was, our white skin and certain other preconceived notions had preceded us- mainly that all white people are rich. This notion caused us to be the main attraction for beggars and we are constantly approached regardless of where we are. Akash continued "have you been approached even once by a beggar or been made to feel guilty because you are a Westerner here in Dharavi " The answer was no. We had been in the slum for a few hours and had forgotten all about the beggars on India. The people of Dharavi work hard for what little they have and aren't looking for handouts.

The tour of the slums in India opened my eyes to something- in many cases, reality lies far below the surface. I thought I would see death in the slums but instead I saw blossoming, thriving, vivacious life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

my family.

I must apologize to you readers. I’ve been missing in action for the last bit. I could bore you with the details of my delayed post or I could simply talk about something much more interesting- my host family. I realized I have yet to tell you all about my host family members- people whom time spent reading about would certainly not be time wasted.

During Pre-Service Training (essentially the first 2 months of a Peace Corps Volunteer’s service) we are told horror stories of past volunteer host family experiences along with those glorious success stories. Of course, a wide-eyed trainee hopes to be one of the success stories, hopes to be placed with an incredible host family and build a bond that will last long after the volunteer has finished their service. I’m happy to say I’m experiencing my very own success story.

I call my host father and mother “Baike” and “Eje” which literally translates to “older brother” and “older sister” and are terms of respect the Kyrgyz use for older members of society. My Baike and Eje are both in their late 40s and have three daughters and one son. Unlike my Eje whom I lived with during training who took until the end of the two months to call me her “Kuhz” or “daughter”, my Baike and Eje immediately referred to me as their “Kuhzm” or “my daughter”. I was automatically a member of the family.

By Kyrgyz village standards, my family is on the wealthier side of life. My Baike is a jack-of-all-trades businessman and my Eje owns and runs her own Café down the street from our house. My Baike is very respected in the village, I have yet to make mention of his name without all those in earshot knowing who he is. He is incredibly hardworking. Our morning routine is paralleled before the sun rises and he goes to bed several hours after I’m fast asleep. He is charismatic with a warm smile that makes me feel as though I was never a guest and I’ve always only lived here.

My Eje is what I like to refer to as a gentle spirit. While other older Kyrgyz women use their age as status and reason to boss younger people around, my Eje is the opposite. Like my Baike, she is very hardworking with some of the roughest hands I’ve seen on a woman. Grabbing a boiling teakettle’s metal handle off the stove doesn’t faze her. One night she was ill and stopped cooking long enough to step outside to throw up then quickly washed her face and continued cooking while laughing at herself. She is the epitome of strength while at the same time the cornerstone of compassion in her family. She constantly hugs her children and showers them with kisses.

My sibling I’ve grown closest to is my 15-year-old sister, Altynai. She is a beautiful, innocent, graceful teenage girl with all of the potential in the world. She is shy when speaking her broken English, but her boisterous laugh could make the grumpiest old man smile. She is polite towards people she does not know and very respectful towards her parents. As the oldest girl (currently living at home), Altynai does the majority of the household chores while her parents are working outside the home. When I first came to live with my family, Altynai would ask me to accompany her to the store to buy food for the café. One time she asked me to go with her after dark and while walking with her and our cousin in the pitch black (something entirely normal for these girls), I linked my arm through hers for safety. Since that time, anywhere we walk together, even in the bright of day, Altynai immediately links her arm with mine.

The last two members of my host family are possibly the most entertaining of the bunch: My 8-year-old brother, Begsat, and my 4-year-old sister, Bermet. Begsat is a loud, macho (if you can picture it) young boy who loves playing in the street with his friends and enjoys teasing his younger sister. He is suspicious of any food I make that is unfamiliar to him- what else should I expect from an 8-year-old boy? Bermet is very shy at first but once she gets comfortable around you, you had better be ready for it. During one of my first meals with my family we were trying to piece together English and Kyrgyz in order to understand one another. Bermet was stealing food from everyone’s plates and my Eje was calling her “tentek” or “naughty”. She asked me how to say “tentek” in English and I told her. Then, as I should have expected, my siblings start calling Bermet “naughty” in English. Without knowing what “naughty” means, but understanding it wasn’t a positive thing by my siblings’ taunting, Bermet blurts out “naught emesmen!”- a quasi English Kyrgyz sentence meaning “I’m not naughty!”

So there you have it folks, the members of my Kyrgyz family. I’m thankful for their friendly, hospitable, open, easygoing, kind, loving nature everyday. I couldn’t have been placed with a better group of people.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I sit cross-legged on my bed after a long day. It is dark outside and lightening flutters in the distance. Wednesdays are by far my longest day of the week. 5 English classes back to back in the morning, lesson planning, and 3 English clubs in the afternoon. Earlier, I’d ambitiously wrote out an evening “to-do list” in my planner, only to find myself now pushing so many of the items to the next page- tomorrow’s tasks are boxes waiting to be checked off.

I think about how I find rest in my life in Kyrgyzstan. Days are exhausting- standing in front of classes of students then leaving class only to be the continued center of attention. I have found that I need the evenings to rest in the comfort of my home in order to maintain the energy and enthusiasm to keep up with the children I teach. Though it makes me wonder, how do my fellow teachers keep up with the responsibilities of their lives? This struck me today as my Counterpart, Kushtar, tells me story after story of her family’s struggles.

Kushtar is subject to a Kyrgyz tradition, which dictates how the parents of a family will be taken care of in their older age. The wife of the youngest son in a family is known as the “Kalen”. A woman who becomes a Kalen is responsible for moving into her husband’s parent’s home upon marriage and becoming the main caretaker of the entire family. Some women, especially those who have kind parents-in-law, enjoy the tradition and the family closeness it promises. Others, who may have demanding and harsh inherited parents, will end up detesting their role and live in an endless abyss of unhappiness. Thankfully, Kushtar thoroughly enjoys her husband’s family and is happy to serve them. Though this fortunate reality does not make her role lighter than other Kalens.

Kushtar’s day starts very early each morning and often does not end until after midnight. She will make food for her family in the morning and get her young sons ready for school. She is always at school before 8am ready with new ideas, questions, and topics to discuss with me, which she thought of the night before. Her English is incredible- especially for a young teacher living in the village. She is constantly reading, looking up words in her dictionary, and asking me questions to improve her English. She and I teach classes and clubs together every weekday, and spend numerous hours lesson planning, in meetings, or simply talking about life in the school’s “Canteen” (I’ve tried to change the name to the Cafeteria in an attempt to reduce the wartime Army barrack-esque nature calling it the “Canteen” evokes). In the late afternoon (and sometimes not until early evening) Kushtar returns home to clean her home, help her sons and niece (whom lives with her) with their homework, and organize whatever family events are unfolding that day.

Kushtar cooks dinner for her family every night without fail. In the states cooking could range from a 2-minute hot pocket to a 2-hour cook fest. In Kyrgyzstan, women do not have the option of “the easy way out” when it comes to preparing food. Cooking is always a strenuous endeavor, as almost everything has to be made from scratch. After cooking, eating with the family, and cleaning everything from the meal, Kushtar will often work on her lesson planning or brainstorming new activities we can do with the children. I asked her before if she has much time to relax and her response was “Relax? I am confused. Do you mean sleep?” Thus my question was answered.

Despite her heavy home responsibilities, work expectations, and ups and downs of everyday village life, Kushtar maintains an extremely positive and upbeat attitude. She is part of the minority of Kyrgyz women who flash big, teeth-y smiles when they greet someone rather than the simple eye blink greeting most Kyrgyz women employ. She’s an impressive teacher and her students adore her.

I have yet to meet a woman in the village who would be caught dead with her feet up. In fact, I doubt they exist. Or if they do exist, I think they may have to wait until their old age in order to lounge. That said I’ve come to the conclusion that the idea of “rest” is a product of culture. I’m from a culture that says, “You’ve had a long day. You deserve to rest and watch your favorite T.V. show with a glass of wine in hand.” And Kushtar is from a culture that says to women, “You’ve accomplished much today. It has been a long day. What else is new?” I’m learning that this idea of “rest” is not only a product of culture, but also a learned luxury. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with rest (in fact, I’m a big fan of the concept), I’m simply realizing that my personal thoughts on the matter differ drastically from the culture I’m emerged in on a daily basis.