A four months overdue Dispatch from the Other Side of the World.

October: Autumn settles into Central Asia with rain and leaves falling off of the trees and snow settling into the mountains just to the south of Bishkek. While the weather settles into that pattern of some warm and some cool days, Charles is relegated to using his oven to warm up his place; there is no such thing as a thermostat let alone heat that you control yourself. Charles will finally get his centralized heat on November 1st. And by central heat, that means somewhere in the city; there is no visible heating component in his building; this also goes for hot water production!

Charles has adopted a litter of kittens that live under the building across the street. Their mama is not too friendly but the kittens don’t know any better and let Charles feed them leftovers. He can’t bring one inside because a. PC really doesn’t want you to have pets because b. Charles will be leaving in a year and then where will the cat go?

His job has had its ups and downs. Some of his original grant proposals have been turned down. Charles was not initially made aware that many of the grant-funding organizations in Central Asia only want to fund “projects” and higher education is not a “project”. Perhaps with the addition of some “things” to the grant proposals, success might be had in addition to getting money to get the consultants that are needed to help move the University community along its path. Also, the grant-funding organizations do not give money to Arabaev, Charles must find a university partner somewhere in the developed world who will take on the responsibilities of the money and helping with the transition. Altogether a somewhat frustrating time in Charles’ job. The University of Minnesota had been a partner but pulled out after a final visit at the end of the month from a member of the education faculty. The “U” had all ready worked with Arabaev for a couple of years and decided to not renew their commitment. With all of the program cuts that the “U” has undergone the past few years, this is not surprising.

Charles met up with a number of the new PCVs (K-12) as they were being sheparded around Bishkek with their language teachers; a reminder of what life was like just one year ago. He will meet up with the K-12s again when he is held up as the “old guy” in this outfit.

Charles is acting as coordinator for a debate tournament to be held at Arabaev. The participants are PCV led teams coming in from some of the surrounding areas. And the prizes, maps etc. are coming from the US Embassy.

Rotary International sponsored one of its surgery clinics in Kyrgyzstan and used the PCV network to recruit possible candidates. Charles hosted one of the PCVs, his Kyrgyz girlfriend and her niece (the possible surgery candidate) for a couple of nights because they had traveled from Jalal-Abad. They cooked Kyrgyz food at night and Charles cooked Western food in the mornings.

November: Charles was successfully disenfranchised by the State of Minnesota as were many other Central Asia ex-patriate voters. He never did receive his absentee ballot from Washington County and ended up voting using one of the Federal Write In ballots. This method also applied to the airmen stationed out at Ganci Air Base as well as most of the PCVs in the region. How discouraging for everyone involved! They were supposed to be Fed Exed to the various states; hopefully they all made it. However, Charles did get to watch the returns come in on CNN International; Charles is ten time zones ahead of the East Coast so 8am in Bishkek is 10pm the previous night in Washington.

Tokmok is the new training site for PC so Charles headed out there to talk, in a panel format, about diversity. There were four current volunteers, one Puerto Rican, one homosexual, one Oriental and Charles representing elderly. Charles was able to impart that there is a level of respect given to the old that does not happen in the West. The West warehouses the elderly, in Central Asia they are treated with care and concern and respect. Because of his revered status, Charles has not been subject to some of the insults that younger PCVs have had to deal with such as rocks thrown or slurs said.

Concurrently with trying to land grant money for use by Arabaev, Charles is busy trying to get his boss out of the country. His boss, the Vice Rector, is trying to land a Muskie (not the fish, the US senator) Fellowship and needs help with editing on his English language essays. A Muskie Fellowship will get Arstanbek a free graduate degree in the US. Charles is not sure that Marxist-Leninist Philosophy or the Feeding of Cattle or Basis of Scientific Atheism will cut it in Western academia. Charles also had to hunt and peck his way through typing a page of Russian; even if Charles were fluent in Russian this would be a painful experience as there is no home key setup on their keyboards unlike in English.

Charles also spends time working on tutoring Bakyt, a young man who will be joining his fiancée, Natasha, a newly naturalized US citizen, in Portland, OR, on a bride visa. Another tutee is an English teacher and her son. The group of young hemophiliacs seems to have gotten discouraged after being unable to find a place to meet so Charles has not been meeting with them although he is still looking to help them in whatever way he can.

Charles spent Thanksgiving, celebrated on the Friday after so that more people could join in, with a group of PCVs and ex-patriates. He contributed cranberry-persimmon (on the local market known as komora) rice pudding and apple pie. On the Thursday he had an afternoon session with people from the Japanese language institute and they invited him to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Charles went even though he knew that he had to meet up with a group of K-11s at the Hyatt for a Thanksgiving buffet. Isn’t Thanksgiving about not being able to move because you are so stuffed?

December: The wine available in Kyrgyzstan is dreadful. Actually all of the alcohol available is dreadful. Vodka is in plentiful supply especially in it’s most basic, rotgut form. Beer is not much better. Charles has finally located wines from Moldova, a country that was once part of the old USSR that is tucked into the side of Ukraine. If you don’t like them, don’t bother cause the French wines that are available are not available on a PCV budget.

Charles went to the K-12 swearing in. Some of the new female volunteers had been given some very distinctive, traditional Kyrgyz headwear. He will not be bringing any of them home!

Snow has come to the land of the Ala Too Mountains. The Kyrgyz do not believe in removing snow from sidewalks, etc. Maybe they do believe in it, it just doesn’t get done so ice rapidly forms underfoot. PC issues these nifty little things called yak trax that are like snow chains for your boots. This is so that you remain upright most of the time and can continue to function.

A tentative plan to head south to Osh for the holidays had to be cancelled because the University Rector has decided that he needs Charles to present a talk during the time that Charles would be gone with Zamir. Instead Charles got together with other PCVs who have decided to stay in-country and go to brunch at the Hyatt.

As last year demonstrated, New Year’s is the big celebration in Kyrgyzstan. Less than a third of the population is any sort of Christian so Christmas has no real meaning but New Year’s has been co-opted to be all sorts of celebrations in one, Christian Christmas and New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas.

The half-way point in Charles’ service was passed on December 10th.

January: Charles spent a couple of weeks doing nothing more than navigating his apartment due to very icy walkways and a fall that left him on crutches. The yak trax are not all that Charles wanted them to be. Thank goodness for the wonderful medical officers, Nazgul and Yelena, at PC Headquarters.

Due to another PCV being medevac’d, Charles has been roped into a long term kitten sitting. Remember those kittens under the building across the street? Well, one of them turned into Vasco the kitten. When the medevac’d PCV returns, Charles will return his new companion to its rightful owner. Currently Vasco responds to commands in Spanish, Russian and English.

Mid-Service training starts on the 23rd so Charles is off to Lake Issyk-Kul again. A different resort from the one used for training last spring. While much of the information presented is not applicable to Charles’ position, it is still a chance to get away and see new things and meet up with a few people that have not been seen in awhile. Unfortunately, PC does not bring the whole K-11 group together for this so it is only the PCVs that are in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

     posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 9:10 PM  |  


Charles In