Summer is coming to an end in Bishkek. The trees are dropping their leaves having gotten so stressed by lack of moisture. Temperatures are falling and the need to have a jacket in the morning and keeping the windows closed is more common than not.
Being in Central Asia does not mean that Charles is in Asia as most Americans think of it. Charles may be next door to China but there are none of the ubiquitous ingredients available on the local market; bamboo shoots and water chestnuts are simply not available even though there is a sizable Chinese population in Kyrgyzstan. This means that Charles has had to get creative or do without; carrots make an acceptable substitute. This is the story of all foods available in Bishkek. There are hamburgers available but there is also the local version called a gamburger which is a cross between a gyro and a hamburger. Some processed foods make it from Turkey or Eastern Europe but they are priced out of sight thanks to shipping charges. However, if you can make it out to Ganci air base (the United States staging point in Kyrgyzstan), you can now enjoy Subway! The very first American fast food joint in town; the rest are ripoffs of American brands. Not really viable for a PCV but it is nice to know that it is there.
PC had a reception for all of the new people in town; those at the airbase including the Air Force surgeon, those at the Embassy and the new ex-pats that have come to town. The surgeon is on a four year “pay-back” tour.
One of Charles’ assignments for Arabaev has been to look up various universities in the area, ie: China, South Korea, Japan, India, to begin an inquiry into whether or not they would be interested in student or faculty exchanges. There are quite a few that have not managed to either have a website or one that is translated into English. Another assignment has Charles giving many different talks to different faculty groups. Charles’ topics have ranged from Manifest Destiny to why we don’t have high walls around our personal properties to what US college students are like to marketing everything.
Another assignment has been added to Charles’ already full schedule. Thanks to the Embassy’s request, he is now working for the Academy of Law working on conversational English for the faculty. The hemophilia group, while they are all back in town, have yet to find a new place to meet so much of the work there is on hold for the present.
August 31 is Independence Day in Kyrgyzstan. No battles were fought; rather the Russians picked up and left in 1991 leaving the country completely devastated. Things have improved enough that everyone puts on their finest and gathers in Ala-Too Square for speeches and entertainment and fireworks at the end of the day.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have made it to Kyrgyzstan even if you haven’t. Charles has gotten hit up a couple of times to purchase a copy of the Watchtower. While Charles’ response was thanks but no thanks he did enjoy his conversation with the Finnish girl who was fluent in English.
And the new crop, K-12, has arrived in Bishkek. Instead of being based around the Kant area, they are headed out to Tokmok. The Russians took over the airbase at Kant making it a less than ideal area. All ready they have lost one of their over the age of 30 members who left before completing staging. That leaves just two members older than 30 in the newest group; it takes a special kind of person to want to join the Peace Corps and older people just don’t consider it often enough.
For a nice blurb on Charles please check out the School of Education at KU. Click on News & Events. Click on Jayhawk Educator. Click on Summer 2004. Scroll down to page 14 for the alumni snapshot. You will need Adobe Acrobat to view this .pdf file.
posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 9:17 PM  |
On the one year anniversary of Charles' leaving the United States for his Central Asia adventure I posed these questions to him:
Congratulations! You have made it to the year marker! A year ago today you left Chicago for an amazing experience. Has it lived it up to your expectations? How many people from your group have survived? What has been the defining moment of your year? What do you miss the most about the USA? What do you miss the least? Is there something that you thought you couldn't live without that you have lived without just fine? Are there unexpected things that you wish you had?
Here is Charles' response, verbatim:
It was just a year ago that I and 61 others left Chicago. The most amazing part of it all is that 57 of the original 62 are still here. That must mean that life in Kyrgyzstan is pretty upbeat and livable. As for me: There have been moments of joy, of depression, of dissatisfaction. I've threatened twice to leave, and both times there were positive situation changes. At this point, I'm here to give it a go on the second year. There are three high points in the year: The gift from a group of students at the end of the two weeks of practice teaching (a gift that I'm sure they could ill afford); the pleasure of watching a group of hemophilia youngsters come alive when they realized that somebody outside the scope of their normal existance cared about them; the male Kyrgyz friend whom I see once a week as I work with him to prepare him for a move to the States.Paradoxically, my low points are related to the first of the highs: The realization that the English Department at Kyrgyz National University was not interested in making any change. The Department was not interested in my thoughts, my efforts to change, my working with students. Let's not disturb the status quo. For some five weeks, after I made it clear to the English Department that I would not work with them any longer, I floated in a limbo, wondering from day to day when I would pack up and leave, even writing Megan once to unpack the box she was about to send me because I was on my way home. I literally bought my food one day at a time, thinking that "tomorrow I will leave here." And then, Peace Corps rescued me, giving me a new assignment that is truly one of the best, and most challenging, jobs that I've ever had.And at this point, what do I miss from the States? Everything. What can I live without? Everything. Life here isn't always easy; little successes can be rewarding (I'm doing a pretty good job of making my own tortillas.) It is difficult conveying concepts of America that are in conflict with the re-runs of sitcoms and the movies. It is rewarding to see looks of recognition when a point finally gets through.Wondering what a trip to Central Asia might be like? (Other than an awfully long airplane ride.) Don't believe the guide books except for the scenery (spectacular) and the historic sites. All books are woefully out of date: Bishkek has made great strides toward becoming a real city. Yes, there are potholes in the streets; yes, trash collection is erratic; yes, things are done differently here (So is that unusual?)The only tragedy is that this experience is occuring toward the end of my life, rather than when I was still young and vibrant. I wonder what my life would have been like, had I been able to be in the Peace Corps at the age of 28, rather than 78.
posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 10:16 AM  |