A much delayed summary of Dispatches from the Other Side of the World:


After a steady, three month diet of cabbage and lamb and beef, Charles was finally able to experience some of Bishkek’s other choices for eating. The Hyatt Hotel has a restaurant where Charles was able to eat a couple of nice meals around Thanksgiving (they are also one of the few establishments in the country that accepts credit cards meaning Megan got quite the surprise when she opened up the next bill) including a meal of pork. While the Midwest of America may revere pork and its products, Kyrgyzstan being a Muslim country, does not, so this was quite the change of diet for Charles. Because Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan there are many different ethnic restaurants to be found including Indian and Chinese. After the bland local diet, Charles is quite thrilled with the choices that he has once he is in Bishkek and no longer in Novo Pokrovka.

Swearing in took place on 10 December 2003. This officially began Charles’ period of service in the Peace Corps. He also moved in with the other host family and will be with them for the next 6 months. Charles has his own room in the apartment (Peace Corps rules) which he started furnishing with a bookcase. Charles is reasonably sure that he has more English language books than anyone else in Bishkek except the Ambassador! This family has also allowed Charles to utilize their kitchen. He is able to make his own breakfasts and, one night a week, makes dinner for the entire family. Pizza made without pork products, anyone?

Winter is not winter as the Upper Midwest/Great Plains knows it. Charles had mentally prepared for that type of winter based on descriptions from Peace Corps materials; his comment is that these people need to spend a couple of winters in St. Paul and then will know what winter really is. It is relatively mild with periods of slushy snow that rapidly forms ice on all surfaces forcing Charles to walk like a duck to avoid slipping.

Even though Charles is now officially a PCV, he is still at loose ends as the fall semester is still going on. This means that he is doing a lot of guest lecturing and getting a feel for the rest of the faculty and the rest of the facilities at Kyrgyz National University.

Christmas Eve was spent with other PCVs in the Bishkek area. Pizza and Jack Daniels (imported by the husband of one of the older volunteers who came in from Los Angeles for the holidays) was on the menu and enjoyed by all involved. Christmas Day saw the arrival of a package from St. Croix Valley Friends Meeting and Charles’ first day of doing nothing since arriving in Kyrgyzstan three months ago. His new host family fixed a special meal that included a roast chicken and gifted him with a Kyrgyz style baseball cap.


New Year’s celebrations are quite the thing in Bishkek. The whole place closes down and is decorated much the same as Americans would decorate for Christmas. Father Frost is a reasonable facsimile of Santa Claus and there are many evergreen trees decorated for the season also. At midnight the fireworks take over with them being shot off from anywhere possible including out of windows and off of rooftops. Thank goodness for the light mist or Charles believes the place might have gone up in smoke!

As there is still a relatively significant population of Russians in Bishkek, Russian Orthodox Christmas is also celebrated. Most of Bishkek shuts down again.

January is the end of term for students at Kyrgyz National so with almost nothing to do at the University, Charles spent a good amount of time communicating with people. You may have received an email from him during this time as he was able to catch up with most of his list. Travel to visit some of his PC friends in other parts of Kyrgyzstan was impossible due to snow conditions in the mountains.

Charles did get to spend some time with the American powers that be in Kyrgyzstan. He had dinner with the PC director and lunch the following week with the Ambassador. Granted these were all group situations but it is always handy to know the other Americans in the country.

Food items that are well wrapped in plastic zipper bags seem to get through the Moscow screening process just fine. Even Frango mint chocolates from Marshall Fields can elude the sniffing if wrapped well enough!

Weather has remained mild with not much snow falling all month long.


Classes officially started up on the 2nd. Charles has classes of 3rd and 5th year students who vary in their ability to converse in English but overall are good students and able to respond to selected articles from the International Edition of Newsweek that Charles gets as a PCV and other things that Charles receives from various people. One article that Charles has used effectively is one that Megan found in the University of Minnesota Daily (the daily campus newspaper) on a new sexual education system being implemented in Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately the article is not archived on their website but the gist of the article is that the Kyrgyz Parliament decided to revert to a very conservative version of sex ed. Charles likens the students’ sex ed to what he learned in Kansas in the 1930s!

You may have received an email from Charles begging for books for his University. If you need shipping information please contact Megan. And use this opportunity to clean off your bookshelves.

One of Charles’ most consuming things outside of class has been the lack of chicken breasts! In fact the lack of white meat seems to be the norm with chicken breasts only sold in a couple of restaurants. Megan located an article on slate.msn.com just as this discussion was getting to the point that Charles’ brother Hosea chimed in with the knowledge that the Brazilians produce chicken breasts for the US market and send the rest of the chicken to the rest of the world including Central Asia. Cheese is also a point on which Charles misses the American grocery store. He has had problems finding much that he recognizes even in the big groceries.

Charles got involved in reviewing scholarship applications for school teachers who want to come and study in the US for a month and learn new techniques. Out of the 35 applications that he saw there were definitely some with great potential. Now those teachers have to impress the interviewers in the next part of the process.

Via one of Charles’ stateside friends, Megan has received a roll of pictures devoted solely to rugs. It might have been mentioned before (or maybe not) but one of the things that the Kyrgyz are known for are their rugs. If you are interested drop Megan a line and she will get you more information (given enough time and technical savvy she might even get them online). Charles has contact with both a K10 and a K11 who are working with handicrafts and small business setup.

As the oldest PCV in all of Central Asia, Charles is somewhat of a curiosity. Unfortunately for the local media, security vetoed an interview due to concerns. Even in this relatively peaceful part of the world, the disappearance of Americans is still a concern.

If you were watching the Weather Channel during the week of 16 February, you might have heard a mention of Kyrgyzstan! There was a huge avalanche on the Bishkek-Osh road that buried many cars and killed a handful of people. PC has had their people flying that route instead as this is just the latest of many avalanches this season.

To be continued on a more timely basis…..
     posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 3:22 PM  |  


Charles In