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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

a day at the lake: Kyrgyz style.

I see my counterpart*, Kushtar, walking towards me on the main road of Barskoon with a sack full of sweet iced tea (the Kyrgyz version of iced tea is so sweet it tastes as if someone melted a popsicle into a plastic bottle and called it tea...) and another sack containing 2 melons. “Ahhh Amanda, I’m sorry for making you walk! My family is coming in the shrut now.” I laugh and exclaim “Kushtar! I don’t mind walking! Let me help you with those melons.”

Kushtar’s husband, Kumar, is one of the few marshrutka drivers in charge of ferrying people on the route from Barskoon to Karakol city and vice versa. For those of you who are wondering what a marshrutka is, allow me to explain. Imagine a tall van/bus equipped with a few rows of seats and some metal bars hanging from the ceiling from which people can hold on for dear life. Marshrutka rides tend to be packed, hot, uncomfortable, and cheap to boot, which is why most people prefer to ride the marshrutka versus the taxi, the more expensive option. In proper marshrutka etiquite, seats must be made available for older Kyrgyz people, women who are pregnant, and women with small children.
The bright yellow shrut approaches us on the main road and I can see Kumar flashing a big smile and waving us over. “Oh!” Kushtar begins, “My family does not want you to think that we all live together in one house! They are worried you will think this. Many people come to visit to take a rest and go to lake. Not everyone live with me.” I nod in understanding and we continue on and go aboard the marshrutka to find Kushtar’s large, bustling family equipped with great smiles to meet me.

We take the bumpy road down to a private, serene stretch of beach on the lake. Parking the shrut near the sand, we claim our territory for the day. Immediately upon arrival, the women jump out of the shrut and begin setting up camp- laying out tooshuks, setting up a grill, and digging holes for the melons and the drinks in shallow water to keep them cool. The children quickly strip their clothes and run full speed for the water. I take a seat near Kushtar’s parents in law, the elderly Kyrgyz of our bunch.

We sit for hours- talking, eating, laughing, and sporadically wading in the water to cool off from the blazing sun. Kumar is manning the grill and providing a steady stream of “shashlik” (pieces of marinated chicken grilled on skewers- much like the American model of a “shish kabob”) with pieces of onion and bread. Kushtar occasionally makes rounds with the melons- cutting off pieces of melon and handing them out to everyone. Kushtar’s father in law takes a swig from a bottle of vodka and them shoves it in my direction, motioning for me to take a drink. “No, thank you.” I tell him in Kyrgyz, but he persists. “Just a little bit…?” He says, using his fingers to squeeze the air in the universal sign for “little”. “No, no no.” I tell him again, chuckling a little at his persistent attempt to get me to drink with him.

When Kyrgyz people go to the beach, they tend to use up every bit of warm sunlight available to them. This means staying at the beach until the winds grows cool enough to cause them to replace layers once shed in a prompt dash for the glistening water before them. The small children begin crying, knowing that a departure from their beloved beach is soon to come.

I sit out of the last round of shashlik, feeling as though my stomach was full enough to last 2 or 3 days at the least. Kushtar comes around with a bag of candies and cookies signaling the children over so they may dip their hands into the sugar filled bag of goodies. I take one chocolate covered cookie and Kushtar swiftly hands me 2 more, true to pure Kyrgyz form.

Filing onto the marshrutka, we bid goodbye to our small escape from village life on the shore on the lake. We take the bumpy road back into Barskoon and I exchange kisses on the cheek with the women as I say goodbye, disembark the bright yellow marshrutka, and open my gate leading into my home as the last drops of sunlight escape behind the mountains.

*All Peace Corps Volunteers in The Kyrgyz Republic have a counterpart- a host country partner with whom you work and will act as a community facilitator, a cultural guide, and at times, if necessary, a translator. In my case, my counterpart is a fellow English teacher. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

a project fulfilled.

I approach the entrance of the school to find a group of Baikes squatting and chatting next to a smaller , bright yellow semi truck. They stare at me as I walk up to the courtyard, probably wondering if I am with the group of Americans coming from the Transit Center. "Salamatsizdarbuh!" I exclaim to them. Surprised, some of the men respond with quiet "Salamachuluk" and return to their boisterous conversation. The American volunteer is a well known concept in my community, as my site mate and I are the 5th and 6th volunteers to live and work in Barskoon village. Most people in the village are excited to meet us, grateful to communicate with us in their native Kyrgyz tongue, and hopeful for the potential projects we will pursue.

Walking into the school I find several Kyrgyz women in their longer dresses, sandals, and head wraps working tireless to clean the entrance and hallways of the school in order to impress the Americans soon to be arriving at the school. One woman mops the floor while another is dusting windowsills and yet another is moving a table and some chairs to a storage room. I travel up the stairs to the third floor of the older children's wing to the newly created "English Resource Center". I enter the room to find stacks of fresh, newly printed textbooks, workbooks, crisp bookshelves, and a new computer. The 14 English teachers crowded around the books, speaking in brisk Kyrgyz, greet me with beaming smiles and extend a copy of one of the textbooks for me to review. Here it was, the fruits of Joanna (the previous Barskoon volunteer) and her counterpart, Dinara Eje's hard work. They had written a project to the Transit Center at Manas Airport to fund an English Resource Center for the English Department at the school in Barskoon. After a long wait, the project was approved and now the contractor had delivered the things from the grant. The men from the Transit Center would arrive any minute to conduct the "Dedication Ceremony" for the English Resource Center.

Crowded in the room which now housed all of the new teaching materials, the Director of the school addressed a room full of teachers, staff members, community members, and the 8 men from the Transit Center. Exuding gratefulness and pride, the Director made a promise to the Americans who funded the project. The promise was that the teachers would use the materials to their full potential and these materials would certainly be a great help for the students to increase their English language knowledge. A rewarding project with a sustainable plan for implementation... Yep, this is why I joined the Peace Corps. I knew that the materials would not only help the students' English skills, but would increase the teaching abilities of the English teachers- affecting generations of Kyrgyz students who would fill the seats at the school in years to come. Much to look forward to here!

Friday, August 10, 2012

taxi taxi!

        (photo taken on taxi ride between Bishkek and Barskoon village- mountainside KG pride!)

I approach the bustling aftovosal (bus station) squinty-eyed from the bright sunshine reflecting from the numerous parked cars. I look to my left at my trusty Bishkek taxi driver who smirks and then promptly swings his door open. He knows what is coming. Before I can even get out of the taxi, drivers approach me from all sides. "Taxi, taxi!!!" "Kochkor? Kochkor???" "Cholpon-Ata?!" It's hard to keep a straight face and not look like a surprised tourist... especially with a backpacker's backpack that makes me stick out like a soar thumb. It's overwhelming yet ultimately the typical scene at the aftovosal. The drivers are running around trying to snag riders to fill up their cars so that they can just hit the road already.

They begin to get more aggressive and start grabbing for my pack. I look at the group and simply say "No, Barskoon. I'm going to Barskoon.. Near Karakol. Are any of you going there?" That cleared at least half of them out of the mob. One driver said "Okay" and grabbed my bag and led me to his car. We arrived at his empty car, which right away sent the signal that I could be waiting for a while for other riders. After an hour of waiting and getting moved around 3 times, I finally ended up with a driver who lived in Barskoon. Thank goodness.

I ride off with Jemir Baike, who is telling me that we are picking up the others just outside of town. We arrive at a "neighborhood" on the outskirts of town and pull up to a small concrete house. A very young mother and her 3 children are waiting for us. She explains that they are going to Barskoon to "have a rest" near the lake and will stay with her sister. After Jemir breaks down a bike and some ride-able children's toys, we hit the road for our nearly 5 hour journey. The Eje explains to me how her husband works with volunteers in Bishkek she wishes that a volunteer would live with them because she would like to learn some English. Jemir chimes in and says he has known past volunteers in Barskoon, asking me if I knew the volunteers from 5 and even 10 years ago. Not wanting to disappoint him, I tell him no, that I was only a young teenager when some of them were serving.

Jemir tells me all about his 3 children, all of whom live in Bishkek and either attend university or live and work in the city. He tells me that he comes to Bishkek as often as he can to visit his children. He also tells me that he loves my name- "Amanda. Amaaaaaandaaaaaa. Beautiful name", he says in Kyrgyz. Every chance he gets, he uses my name for the remainder of the taxi ride.

We attempt an ongoing conversation for as long as my Kyrgyz conversational skills would allow before Jemir turns up the music and one of the boys in the backseat sings along with the Kyrgyz song on the radio. After several stops and several miles of travel, Jemir asks me if I'd like to stop for a swim. Thinking he's joking, I laugh at him, only to find that he is indeed serious. In my mind, we were on a schedule- I mean it should only take about 4.5 hours to get to Barskoon, right? Pushing my American "tight schedule" mindset out, I tell him I'd stop but I probably wouldn't get in. The Eje in the backseat wouldn't have it, though, so onward to Barskoon we went.

After arriving in Barskoon, I realized I'd made some new friends on my journey. We all exchanged phone numbers and hugs as we were dropped off. The avenues in which we can meet new people and hear their stories are endless... if we're open to the journey. Here's to many more taxi rides and new friends to come!