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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

a peek at Democracy Camp, etc.

There was a thunderstorm on the first night of Democracy Camp!

                            The campers reading about the democratic process.

                           Team blue brainstorming about creating their own democratic nation.

                      The campers present their fictitious democratic nations to the rest of the camp.

I had the pleasure of meeting the U.S. Ambassador to The Kyrgyz Republic at the Swearing-in ceremony. Ambassador Spratlen just happens to be a fellow Northwest girl! :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jade The Blade.

                                          (wheat field, Barskoon village, Kyrgyzstan)

"May I practice my English with you? Please?" A young, tall, Russian girl approaches me confident and beaming with excitement. Even though she was one of the campers, she looked mature, maybe a few years younger than I. But I knew that sometimes, looks could be deceiving... "Absolutely! What's your name? How old are you?" I asked, glad to be speaking a language I felt comfortable with. "I'm Tanya! I am 14 years old." (or, "Jade The Blade", as she would later choose as her camp name) "No way!" I thought to myself and apparently also said out loud... "You look and seem much older than 14...." I replied honestly. "Yes, people tell me this all of the time. I think it is because I am tall." She spoke her English with such ease and free of mistakes... this was something I'd not yet experienced in Kyrgyzstan and especially not with someone as young as my new friend. "Well maybe so, but you're speaking English so well as well! This is very unusual for people your age, my dear.." "Oh yes, thank you very much! I study English a lot because I want to go to university in America. Maybe not at Harvard, but I would like to go to state university. Is this correct to say? A state university?" My young friend was blowing me away. Most 14 year old American teenagers have barely started thinking about which university they will attend (unless their parents have already decided for them ;).

Meeting my friend Jade The Blade was my introduction to the high school aged campers at a "Democracy Camp" put on by an American organization known as "IFES". Around 50 bright, talented, free thinking high schoolers were selected (based on submitted written essays) to participate in the 10 day Democracy Camp. I had the privilege of working with IFES and these young, promising individuals for one week. Soon after meeting Jade, I met many other 'youngins with incredibly impressive English speaking skills. Campers spent their morning in "lessons" regarding democracy and the democratic process. This information is invaluable to the campers for several reasons, one of those being that Kyrgyzstan is a democratic parliamentary republic, and it's important for the youth to be aware of how the government in the country works. Corruption exists, and the campers recognize this unfortunate fact, but they believe in progression towards a promising future for this country they call home. Several of the kids aspire to be politicians and even international diplomats. To say that I was impressed with these youth would be an understatement. We ended our work at the camp by teaching the kids the Cha Cha Slide... nothing like a 'lil nugget of silly American culture for the kids to remember us by ;)

Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until my next post to put up some pictures of the Democracy Camp. I'm in the city for a few days before I head back to Barskoon (a.k.a. "home") and later next week start a youth critical thinking and leadership camp with some fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. Jakshe Colingez! (Stay well!)

Monday, July 16, 2012

a surprise inside.

Lets remember back to a time of Cracker Jack boxes... a simpler time. Honestly, I didn't even like Cracker Jacks all that much but the surprise inside was always worth it! I remember when my brothers and I were addicted to playing with Pogs- and behold! Pogs were the surprise in the Cracker Jacks. Priceless.

My experience with my Eje has resembled a Cracker Jack surprise for me. This strong woman, in her late 30's, raising 2 sons while her husband is driving a truck half the time. She has a tough shell- something I can tell even though we don't speak the same native tongue. She loves to laugh and has many friends who visit her- I can tell she is adored by many people. She's not overly affectionate, which is a common characteristic of Kyrgyz women whose lives are overloaded with household responsibilities. Though, each time I've been sick, she's nursed me back to health in the comfort of my room. Although once I'm healthy again, the tough shell is back on with her fast speaking Kyrgyz. I wondered if my Eje really liked me, or if she sometimes looked at me as a burden- someone she could barely communicate with and who got sick a lot. Last night my question was answered.

I'm plastered up against the inside of the small taxi with 3 Kyrgyz women to the right of me sandwiched in the back seat. "Amanda, tura?" I looked to my side and noticed a 20 year old Kyrgyz girl I'd met my first day in the village. "Oh, hi!"I felt bad for not recognizing her but quickly forgot as I had to think fast and put my newly learned Kyrgyz skills to work. We began talking and before long, I noticed the astonished stares from the 2 other Ejes that this white girl was speaking Kyrgyz. Of course, one of the Ejes invited me to Chai Eech at her house. We drank tea, ate watermelon, and fresh bread with honey. When I left, she gave me an grocery bag full of raspberries. You couldn't have slapped the permagrin from my face. A Chai Eech get-to-know-you conversation with a family whom I didn't know conducted entirely in Kyrgyz... I felt as though I'd graduated.

While on this high, I head home to find the 20 year old Kyrgyz girl from the taxi and my Eje drinking tea. I set the raspberries down and tell them to "je!" (eat!). My Eje asked me who gave them to me with a slightly offended look on her face. Still struggling with Kyrgyz names, I told her I'd already forgotten the names. She said just as long as they knew that I was her "kuhz" (girl/daughter), then she'd eat the raspberries with me. There it was! I'd found my Eje's soft side- she was territorial over me. With only 2 days with them left, I ran to my room and grabbed the gifts I had for her and her family. A shot glass with an American flag (they love the vodka here), some Oregon jam, a book of postcards from Portland, and a nice bottle of wine I'd bought in Bishkek. She immediately opened the jam and started feeding some to my baby brother- success! My Eje then grabbed my hand and said she never wanted me to forget her. She took one of her rings off her finger and put it on mine. Both our eyes got teary and we embraced for our first hug. I'd found the sweet surprise inside my Eje- and she did a good job of hiding it!

A terrible picture, but a picture nonetheless. Here are some of the members of my current host family: My baby brother, Aidoniz, My 14 year old cousin, Nortelik, and myself.