Charles has been very busy this past week with practice teaching at Kyrgyz National University. What follows is a summary of his week:

A package sent airmail by Megan has arrived. It took somewhat longer than two weeks from the point of leaving Minnesota to be delivered to Charles in Kyrgyzstan by the Peace Corps.

His days have been very full with leaving his host home at 7:30 am and not getting back until 7:30 pm. He has two hours of travel by bus and trolley, three hours of class at Kyrgyz National University, lunch and three plus hours of Russian studies packed into those twelve hours.

Classes at Kyrgyz National University are OK. A given class can range from students who never open their mouths to students who never close their mouths; any teacher should recognize this behavior pattern. Charles has one class where all of the students are on their third language, having previously taken either German or French. They all speak English well, even though they have just started.

On Sunday, 26 October, he will go to the Bishkek Opera Hall and watch Swan Lake performed by a local company for a price of 70 som or about $1.75. Next Sunday, 2 November, the group goes to Tokmok to look at some ancient buildings.

One member of the Peace Corps Trainee group has left Kyrgyzstan. A woman from New York had fallen madly in love after applying for the Peace Corps but came anyway; the separation became too much and she decided to go home. This leaves their group at 62.

Charles is developing an aversion to boiled lamb and potatoes and noodles. Being in Bishkek allows him to experiment at lunch and move away from the above items as they feature heavily in his home diet.

The sugar beet and potato harvest are almost done. The roads feature lots of tractors with produce wagons behind. There is still a lot of fresh produce in the bazaar. With ingenuity, almost any sort of meal can be produced using what is available fresh and preserved in the bazaar.

His host family father received a medal this week for driving his cement truck for 20 years without an accident. His mother came from somewhere for the event; Charles couldn't determine if she was as old or older than himself. He guesses younger as age does not wear well on people who have expended so much energy on getting to that age.

It has rained and that brought the leaves tumbling down. Unlike in suburban Minnesota, the results are burned. Charles had the sensation of walking the "Yellow Brick Road" from the Wizard of OZ after the rain as the roads were coated in leaves. The mountains are lovely and deep in snow.
     posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 9:07 AM  |  

As Charles spent much of the last week in Bishkek, ready access to internet facilities allowed for more than normal communications. A summarization of the last week in Kyrgyzstan follows:

Dispatch #1:

The plans to go to Lake Issyk-Kul fell through so Charles will spend the time off from classes as the guest of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bishkek. Now for those of you who thought that he was all ready in Bishkek, he has actually been staying pretty far out in the “suburbs” and this really is a change in location.

On Thursday (9 Oct) there was a cultural day where the trainees learned things such as sheep killing, yurt building, games, and traditional meals. Think of this as trainee day camp. There should be pictures of this day on their way to Minnesota and thence on to this site.

While Charles is in Bishkek, he is staying with Dustin, a TEFL volunteer at a local university. This is Charles’ big opportunity to start experiencing what types of food might be available locally starting with lunch at a Turkish restaurant in the biggest of the supermarkets in Bishkek. Charles will also get the opportunity to attend Protestant services on Sunday and classes at Dustin’s university.

Charles’ group of Peace Corp Trainees numbers 63 coming from all over the United States. There are 7 from the Twin Cities metro; the largest group from a single geographic area. While Charles is the oldest in the group, there are also two couples in their late 50s, early 60s and a couple of single women in their 40s. The rest of the group is aged from 23 to 35; some have masters’ degrees. 40 of the trainees will be TEFL volunteers; the rest will be economic organization volunteers.

Dispatch #2:

Today he ate lunch at a Kyrgyz ethnic restaurant following a non-sectarian Protestant service. He may or may not attend once he is settled in Bishkek.

He has discovered a lack of tortillas in the local markets. As for thoughts of sending them to him; have you considered what 2-3 weeks in transit would do for bread goods?

Dispatch #3:

Instead of attending Bible study group at the English language Protestant church, Charles wandered through Beta, the largest and most expensive of the grocery stores in Bishkek. As with grocery stores in much of the world, Beta also carries clothing and household items. Probably the closest comparison is a small WalMart SuperCenter. Charles did manage to find tortillas for sale at 50 cents each. Hmmm….a tortilla a day for the month and his living allowance would be mostly used. A recipe for tortillas from a Mexican cookbook has been sent to help assuage any tortilla cravings for the next couple of years.

Charles has met Steve Young, the new US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, a couple of weeks ago and has had an opportunity to talk to him a couple of times since. If Charles had gone to Bible study, he would have seen him yet again. Charles considers him a nice guy who happens to be a career diplomat. If you are Christian and speak English as your first language, there is only the one church to go to.

Another experience at the Turkish restaurant where the waiters speak English yielded a Big Mac type hamburger for 55 som or about $1.15. Pricey for the area but worth it just for the opportunity to speak English.

Dispatch #4:

Vacation is over and it is back to Novo Pokrovka. Charles couldn’t make it to the Osh Bazaar as he wanted to. No, this is not the bazaar in the city of Osh but the bazaar in Bishkek where you can catch the marshrutka (shared taxicab) to Osh.

Charles thinks that he can make it through his two year assignment without Russian but he feels that he needs to gain some mastery in order to get the most out of the experience.

A haircut in Bishkek is somewhat different than a haircut in Woodbury! Shampoo before and after, gel, careful trim, careful blowdry and it only cost 100 som or somewhere just over $2.

Charles visited American University of Central Asia and attended a class in American Studies. A former Peace Corps volunteer who had left in 2001 came back as faculty. The class was team taught by a male Peace Corps volunteer and a female Kyrgyz faculty who has a masters in economics from IU-PU in Bloomington, Indiana. As in all of the universities here, the student ratio favors women over men.

Dispatch #5:

A party last night in the host home of another trainee in the “language pod”. Tyson’s family is Russian who has, so far, been better than Charles’ in being inclusive and helpful. Food, conversation, a beer and a shot of the omnipresent vodka.

Charles begins practice teaching this upcoming week at Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek. He will find out the details early on Monday morning.

The bazaar in Kant is making the change from food to hard goods and clothing. Winter coats can be had for 450 som or $10. Right up the Peace Corps price alley. An overseas letter has been mailed for 17 som or about 30 cents. Compare this with the 80 cents the USPS wants to mail the same letter the opposite way.

The little cat is still recovering from her accident but has decided that Charles is a friend as he hand feeds her as much as possible. Hmmm…better not inform the three at home of that. I sense jealousy.

For those of you who have ever heard a description or saw pictures of Megan’s London flat, Charles describes Dustin’s Bishkek apartment as being a half step above that. Let’s see, in Megan’s flat the ceiling fell in with a deluge of water, the walls slid down (wet plaster), the communal dryer had no heat, the communal water heater did not work……..I fear to hear what Charles’ apartment will be like.

     posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 1:47 PM  |  

Sorry it has been so long between dispatches from the Other Side of the World. I will do the best that I can to update you on how Charles is doing by summarizing the past few emails that I have received from him.

Dispatch #1:
His host family in Novo Pokrovka is Kyrgyz in ethnicity. After a week in the home, he has discovered that being a senior, senior citizen is quite difficult in a culture that reveres its elders. This is the opposite of the problem experienced by many younger PCVs in that he is not experiencing the expected harassment as an American male.

Meals have been pasta, pasta, pasta with one exception of sheep’s intestines. Of course there is free flowing vodka; this is a former Soviet republic after all.

Sanitation leaves much to be desired as there is no indoor plumbing.

He is doing quite well at forgetting the Russian as soon as he learns it. It is not an easy language.

Dispatch #2:
His host family, while Kyrgyz, speak Russian. The father is half Kyrgyz, half Russian. They are very deferential to Charles, even after two weeks in the home. This is slowly changing. The family has two cats, one a very tiny kitten. These are not house cats; the little one has all ready been in a car/ cat accident.

Charles will never be a Russian speaker but he should learn enough to get along in the culture. This is what is expected of the senior generation in the Peace Corps.

Food has a little more variety; stuffed peppers and borscht have made it to the menu. However, if there are leftovers, they then show up for your next meal, even if that meal is breakfast.

On 11 October he will travel with a group of other trainees to a village on the north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. One day up, two days there, one day back.

BBC comes in pretty well through his short wave radio.

Dispatch #3:
Charles has progressed to traveling on his own from suburb to suburb so that he can email and his Russian is slowly improving. Immersion in a language really is the best way to learn it.

The trip to Lake Issyk-Kul will include meeting up with a PCV who is all ready there and is an opportunity to introduce rural Kyrgyz life to the trainees.

Tomatoes are a constant in his current diet. In the bazaar in Kant they sell for 4 som (9 cents) a kilo.

The mountains have gained another foot of snow and autumn is approaching. The leaves are beginning to turn.

Dispatch #4:
The SPCA should have a chapter in Kyrgyzstan. Animals, even pets, are barely treated humanly. The little kitten will survive. Koshka means cat in Russian.

The speaker today (7 October) is the provost from American University. Charles asked a question about the makeup of the faculty and was informed that they were all delighted that he was joining them! This is the first confirmation that he has received that his assignment is in Bishkek. He had been fairly confident of that but now he can better prepare for the reality of where he will be teaching.

Airmail takes about 2 weeks. Other trainees have started to receive items from America. Please send reading material of any kind. Also DVDs for his computer and books on tape for his Walkman would be appreciated. If you need his mailing address, please contact me.

He will email about Lake Issyk-Kul and his experiences there next week upon his return. He will also send along some film for me to develop and post pictures on the weblog.

Overall things are going well.

     posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 11:44 AM  |  


Charles In