Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31, 2012

Anna had emailed me last night to postpone our meeting until eleven o’clock, and that was just fine with me as it gave me more time to work at home. I dropped some photos to be laminated on the way to Lingua and thankfully found the computer room completely empty. Anna and I sat down once again to make numerous corrections, additions and deletions to the letter of invitation and announcement for the CATEC conference and we made sure to save the document to both our flash drives and email addresses just in case. I sent the document to my RELO immediately
Elvira had come in in the meantime and we got to playing with a new program, the one recommended by the PCV Judson, to see if we could create a template for the Forum newsletter alongside a mailing list. Just to sign up for the site was a nightmare and then we couldn’t even find the templates. I gave up in exasperation and called Judson to ask him to give us a couple of hours of his time to walk us through the site. He promised to meet with me on Friday afternoon. We then tried getting the Forum FB page to add other sites, but were unsuccessful as we can’t get the feed from those pages to show up on theirs. Elvira promised to check with some IT people at her university for a solution.

Idina informed us that there was cake in the teachers’ lounge to welcome Zarina back into the office and they wanted for me to take some photos. I had brought some leftovers from the Chinese restaurant and had lunch by myself later on along with two pieces of cake, and coffee. Zarina told me had been very happy with the photos she had just seen on my FB page and that she hadn’t had a chance to see the ones taken by the professional photographer.

Zamira then called to say she had hired a van to transport a group of teachers from Kazakhstan to attend the webinar session that evening at her school and wanted to have me present to meet them. I wasn’t too thrilled about this offer for it would entail leaving my flat again to be there at six. I told her I’d think about it and get back to her, but when I mentioned it to Zarina she told me the webinar had been postponed until next week due to hurricane Sandy. Zarima apparently had not been notified of the change.

I finished my presentation on motivating students, printed more cards to be laminated and went to the underpass to get them done. It was very warm, and somewhat humid, and I decided to walk home for I knew the minibuses would be crowded and airless at that time of the day.
A few minutes after I got home, Zamira called to ask me if she could come and pick me up then and I informed her about the webinar cancellation. She went into a panic and said the teachers were already on their way and could I please help her out by presenting anything. I was tired and in no mood to get dressed again and go out and told her so.

Zamira must have called Natalia at the embassy, and she called me immediately to beg me to help Zamira out this one time as it was not fair to the teachers coming from so far away to have nothing to learn this evening. I felt browbeaten, but agreed nonetheless saying I’d just present a few conversation activities as I had no time to prepare for anything else. She indicated they’d be grateful for whatever I could do.

I stood at the corner for more than twenty minutes waiting for Zamira while being showered by exhaust and driven half mad by the all the honking going on during rush hour traffic. She finally showed up with four teachers piled in the back seat and apologized profusely for her lateness. We drove to the school and I then noticed heavy smoke everywhere and found that people were burning the autumn leaves on their sidewalks while others were doing the same at a park nearby. I was alarmed at the idea of these fires getting out of hand and destroying entire neighborhoods, but the car’s occupants merely laughed and said that was the way they dealt with the accumulation of leaves at this time of the year.

We all piled into another tiny classroom with a long table at the center and I did what I could to pair the teachers up and offered some six different speaking activities and corresponding handouts to a very appreciative audience I have to admit. One late arrival, Dilnat, told me she owns another private language school here in Bishkek and would love to have me come and visit. I turned down Zarima’s offer to take me home since I knew she was tired and had her daughter with her again and instead accepted Dilnat’s offer to ride in her SUV. We exchanged numbers and she promised to invite me to different places in the city so she can practice her English.

I was plain exhausted when I got home and plenty hungry, too. I had some leftover pieces of flat bread with Nutella and a cup of milk before going to bed.

October 30, 2012

Slept badly and consequently I overslept again. When I had barely finished my coffee, I got a phone call from Nadya, my landlady, indicating she needed the reading from some meter inside the flat before being able to pay the corresponding bill. She tried to instruct me on how to find this little window somewhere in the bathroom, but to no avail. She then called Zarina, still on her honeymoon, and had her call me but we still couldn’t find this meter, so Nadya gave up and said her husband would come along in few minutes to find it and take care of a couple more things in the flat.

Samir came and dislodged a tile next to the bathroom sink, and with the aid of his cell phone as a flashlight, read the hidden meter. I then pointed out that the tea kettle’s plug had melted into the wall outlet and he had to remove all of it from the wall, go out to buy a new one and return to replace it. He also took care of shaving the two extension cords I had purchased so they would fit into the wall outlets in both the kitchen and bedroom. While he was there, the cable guy came in and opened a box in the landing and reconnected the service.

I watched CNN for a while only to see that the entire coverage was dedicated to the devastation wreaked by hurricane Sandy. I still don’t understand how that company can neglect to cover the rest of the world when something happens in the United States. They seem to persist in the belief that the United States is the center of the universe. When they started to repeat the same stuff, I just turned it off.

I got to Lingua past noon and found Idina sitting at the computer that has been designated for me since I can’t read the Russian commands on the other ones. She was, once again, sitting next to Mat, the Peace Corps volunteer, and ignored my presence as she normally switches to another computer when she sees me coming. Since I was only going to be there for a couple of hours, I decided to take the high ground and not make a scene and just moved into the teachers’ resource center to use the crappy computers there. I will talk to Zarina tomorrow when she returns to work so she can have a word with Idina about relinquishing that computer when I arrive.

Sophiat, who had been my chaperone at Zarina’s wedding, came in then and we talked for a bit about the event and I reassured her I was putting together a CD with all the photos from the wedding. Zamira, from the Real Knowledge Learning Center, had promised to pick me up at Lingua so I could attend their Halloween celebration as recommended by Natalia at the embassy. She came by a little bit after two and picked me up in her own car.

Zamira is an amazing woman as she started this language school seven years ago, with the help of her husband and father, has two children, is completing a doctorate program online and manages to look gorgeous all the time. She drove like a bat out of hell while talking non-stop on her cell phone. I was a bit worried, but she kept reassuring that she had been driving for more than ten years and knew exactly how to maneuver in the jam-packed streets of Bishkek while talking up the whole time.

We arrived at a ramshackle building that shared its space with a general store ran by Zamira’s brother. The parents and siblings were assembled in a narrow reception area while the performers tried to do their thing and as it has become usual by now, there was a lot of dead time between performers as apparently rehearsal had not been one thing they had taken into account. The one surprise was the performance of a cha-cha dance by a very cute Korean student in a hot pink dress. She could teach me a move or two.

Thankfully, the program only lasted one hour and after more photos were taken; we had a chance to tour the school classrooms, tiny, tiny rooms and the sumptuous office where she and her father take care of all the paperwork. I was dying for a cup of coffee Zamira ordered coffee and pastries to be brought to the office. When it was time for her to take me back home, she asked if I wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and I said yes. Her five year old daughter came along and rode in back seat without a seat belt while getting up quite frequently to look through the window.

The place was called Frunze and had a lot of customers even though it was before five in the afternoon. I asked for eggplant in a spicy sauce and steamed rice, but Zamira thought we needed at least five dishes and ordered lamb, black mushrooms with beef, another type of mushroom salad and vegetable fried rice not mention what apparently is routine here, to have steamed buns with every Chinese meal. The food was brought to our table in just minutes and everything was delicious, even the cold mushroom salad. I ate like a pig, as did Fatima, the daughter, who seemed to have been starving at that point.

Zamira insisted on my taking the leftovers home as she was treating me to dinner. I told her I’d have enough food for a week and I told her next time it’d be my turn to treat her to dinner or lunch. She wanted for me to commit to coming back to her center for the webinar series, but I didn’t make any promises about it. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 29, 2012

I overslept once again and having promised the staff at Lingua that I’d be bringing rice and beans this morning prompted me to notify Gulnara I’d be coming in an hour later since I didn’t have a meeting or observation scheduled anyway.

The coconut milk I had purchased turned out to be more coconut water as it had no taste of coconut whatsoever. I cooked only two cups of rice in the little saucepan and even at the lowest setting the stove offered it burned the bottom layer rather quick. There was no aroma of cooked white rice in the flat as I so much like to smell. I packed as much as I could in one of the two plastic containers I have and took them to the school. It was warmer outside than the weather forecast indicated and it was a delight to walk to the office admiring the continuing changes of the leaves.

There wasn’t much time for me to print and laminate the cards that day’s presentation after Anna came to ask me if I had had a chance to work on the CATEC documents. I admitted I had had no time to do so and would do it that evening once I was back home. The two of us had received a memo from Natasha subsequent to our meeting asking for other details to be included on the document. 

She gave me directions to her university, the Russian Slavic University of Kyrgyzstan, where I’ll start to do my workshops next Tuesday. It was relief to hear teachers only had an hour and a half to devote to them. I offered to give the teachers a survey form to determine what topics they wanted to see covered after the initial workshop.

I took my lamination to my guy and waited for the three pages to be done while standing in the crowded passageway. On the way to the bus stop to get to KNU, I noticed there was an entire line of stores I hadn’t seen or paid attention to before. These tiny cubicles, so to speak, all sold gold and silver jewelry and had plenty of women mesmerized at the offerings on the windows. Some of the jewelry appeared to be Kyrgyz, but other resembled Tibetan or Indian pieces.

The usual classroom we had occupied for the last three weeks was being remodeled, with money provided by the Chinese embassy, to become a computer lab, so we were dumped into a tiny room with some wired-together benches and a red blackboard. The sixteen teachers that showed up then were barely able to fit into the four benches available.

To my dismay, I learned that the presentation I had slavishly worked on was completely off-target since it was aimed to address issues related to large classes with students at varying levels. The teachers informed me that their classes were small by comparison, fifteen students maximum, but there was no entrance exam or placement test as the students were assigned to classes simply based on their status as freshmen, sophomore and the like.

As a result, some of the students were fairly fluent while others could barely read or write in English much less speak at all. The teachers have no choice as to who gets into their classes and must work with everyone at whatever level they might be. So as not to waste their time, but still interested in showing them some strategies to deal with low level and advanced level students in the same classroom, I moved on to the portion of the presentation that provided specific ideas on that topic. They were interested in the concept of cooperative teaching and learning, but I told them that was a completely different presentation.

At 4:10pm, students were knocking on the door letting us know another class was due to begin there soon. We packed up our stuff and I reminded them that certificates should be ready by Thursday and had everyone check their hours and spelling of their names before five of us repaired to a café, for what I thought would be a cup of coffee, but turned out to be a full dinner. Bazilat had chosen a nearby restaurant owned by people from her region, Talas, so I could try the local cuisine. We sat at a tapchon and she did the ordering. 

The teachers had asked for contributions to buy me a small present and they gave me a set of earrings that looked exactly like the ones I had been peering at that afternoon at the jewelry row made of silver with a small green stone in the center.

We had two somewhat spicy salads, one of them with sesame seeds, and one with the usual large amount of mayonnaise. The main entrée consisted of the local dish, beshbarmak, which turned out to be a pile of overly cooked noodles with pieces of boiled horse meat in around the noodles. I didn’t care for the flavor of the meat and the noodles’ texture was a turn off. I ate a little bit of it by mixing it with the sauce from the salad and had to take the rest home claiming to be already full. Gulnara, from Forum, came in toward the end of the meal and we were able to talk in a relaxed manner for the first time.

One teacher commented that her daughter’s child care bill almost equaled her monthly salary at 4,500 soms or $97.00 and that her husband wanted for her to quit her job and stay home to take care of their child. She had been successful in convincing him that her job was important and made her feel like she was making a contribution to society.

Another confided that she had been married for only a year and her husband had been away for almost as long living in the UK because there are no jobs here for him. She said he worked in the construction field and acknowledged he sent her no money at all. Two of them concurred it was easy for them to get visas to Europe, but not to the United States, and their problem in leaving the country was not having the money to do so.

Two of the teachers walked me home while commenting on the deplorable state of the streets, the lack of sidewalks, the irresponsible manner of most drivers all the while feeling nostalgic for the Soviet years when they both felt the city was a safer place to live.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October 28, 2012

Woke up feeling hung over even though I only had two sips of champagne all night and even forwent the numerous toasts at my table where wine and vodka flowed freely. There was a crystal clear view of the mountains now that the clouds had drifted away without dropping any rain whatsoever around here.

I had no choice this morning but to return to the Osh Bazaar to exchange the pot I had purchased on Friday since I found it had a puncture hole in the center and could probably leak. I was hoping to be able to conduct this transaction with a minimum of fuss even though I could barely remember the vendor’s face except for the fact that he was very young male and his stall was located on the right hand side of the housewares alleyway.

It took several tries to find it as he no longer had the pots in the same place I remember seeing them, but then I showed him mine and he denied selling it to me. I showed him the sticker, in the same color and ink as the others, as he still tried to deny it. Another vendor, an older woman across the narrow passageway, apparently understood what was going on and talked the young man into accepting it was his pot, but he then told me didn’t have any in that same size. He offered me the next in size and asked for an additional 100 soms. I thought I was still getting a good deal and grabbed on to it.

Once back at the apartment, I started to cook the black beans and did the dishes. I uploaded the photos I’d taken at Zarina’s wedding on Facebook and finished both the PowerPoint and the handouts for the presentation on Monday. Since I still only have use of one burner, I had to wait until the beans were done to attempt to season the new pot with a bit of oil and a low flame, but even at the lowest setting, the oil burned and the apartment stank.

My landlady called to say she wanted to pick up the bills I had accumulated from the apartment sometime during the day on Monday and to please leave them on the door for her retrieval. She promised to pay the cable TV company for the service also tomorrow.

I had the remaining salmon for dinner and watched yet another movie, “Cracks”, which I had never heard of but offered beautiful landscapes, so-so acting and a somewhat predictable ending. After reading a couple more chapters of Bukowiski’s “Post Office”, I went to sleep.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 27, 2012

The day didn’t start promising for Zarina’s wedding as it turned out cool and cloudy as I made my way to the Children’s Library for Forum’s second meeting of the year. Natalia had already set up in the American Corner so each teacher would have access to a computer and could follow her presentation on using the many resources the State Department offers online to English teachers worldwide.

Only about eight teachers had shown up by ten and a few more straggled in later on. We had to go back to the third floor auditorium for the PCV’s presentation on the uses of technology in the classroom and I had a chance to present an icebreaker to give the teachers a chance to get to know each other. We played “Snowball fight” in which the teachers were given a piece of paper to write three things about themselves and then tossed in the air several times. I had planned to have music for this activity, but the speakers on the laptop failed to play along. Some of the teachers must have failed to write anything for two teachers had no papers to introduce anyone else.

We then had a coffee break with Elvira providing the cookies for it. Gulnara complained the association didn’t have the funds to provide such refreshments on a monthly basis and didn’t even own an urn to supply hot water having had theirs stolen after some conference or another. I offered to contact my RELO to see if part of my allowance could be used for such purposes.

We then met for a little while to talk about the topics to be included in the pre-conference section of the CATEC 2013 event. I reiterated the need for leadership training, fundraising, use of social media and getting teachers to contribute even a minute amount to the association. I had to leave early so I could prepare to go to Zarina’s house as she wanted me there when the groom arrived at 3:00pm.

Tatar weddings must be a long-drawn out event as the both the videographer and photographer were already in the house photographing Zarina alone and with her family and bridesmaid. Then came the groom and a series of silly games had to be played during which his knowledge of the bride was tested to the limits and he and his best man had to pay money every time he failed, which happened quite often.

There was an initial toast in the house before departing for the wedding registry building and then we followed in a caravan of vehicles, including the minibus for a group of us. The videographer had to jump out of his car numerous times to film the wedding vehicle coming by, a practice I’d consider downright dangerous. The inside of the registry looked like a tawdry Las Vegas wedding chapel with plenty of plastic red roses and marble. The ceremony in itself must have taken less than fifteen minutes as the couple was read something already prepared by a government official, bowed before their parents and then started down the stairs.

I took advantage of the pauses to photograph other couples and their attendants as the place is simply a conveyor belt anointing couples every few minutes and then dispatching them downstairs for an official portrait while two employees feverishly touch them up for DVDs sold on the spot.

After a wait, we drove to Victory Park to have the couple photograph while depositing a bouquet of flowers in front of the eternal flame so as to insure their love will last forever. There were many other couples doing exactly the same while surrounded by trash being left behind by the celebrants. One of the guests commented that the littering problem was due to the fact that Kyrgyz families were too busy earning a living to teach their offspring how to behave in public. Well, that sounded so familiar somehow.

One more ride took us to the restaurant where the tables were already laden with salads, fresh fruit, flat bread, vodka, wine, juice and soft drinks. I was hungry and was delighted to see a whole fried fish set in the middle of the table. I tried one tablespoon of each salad, all of which contained lots of mayonnaise, and had two servings of fish only to discover later on that all the food on the table was considered to be appetizers. Servers started to come by with samsis, shorbot soup and then the entrée: chicken cutlet, white rice and some type of coleslaw. I didn’t eat anything else as I was already full.

The reception included an elaborate lineup of entertainment options which started with a fire breathing Kyrgyz guy who subsequently pulled out a sword and broken glass to pull some very dangerous stunts. I managed to get a short video of the performance. I looked quite doubtful when the guy pushed his face into the broken glass and then asked his assistant to stand one foot on his face and one on his chest. Gulnara reassured me that the stunt was real and required years of training.

Zarina had begged to bring my jump drive with Latin music to play during the reception, which I did, but despite repeated requests for the DJ to play it, he kept putting it off supposedly until the games were over. He did play lots of Tatar-influenced music and there were a few spirited dancers on the floor including Zarina’s uncle and some other older guests.

We had a group of Kyrgyz break dancers next and, of course, I wasn’t quite impressed since I’m used to seeing African-American teenagers turned out stunning moves in places like Philadelphia. They were followed by a dancer who, to the horror of some of the guests, had a live Python snake wrapped around her neck. Gulnara and Aigul ran away after she passed our table while I had enough wherewithal to pull out my camera and record the rest of her performance.

The master of ceremony had started out the evening quizzing people on some subject or another and handing out fake money to the winners. He now had some of the them play yet another dart game and having them perform some action like giving the bride a massage or perform a fake strip tease. That was followed by handing out the letters of the Russian alphabet to others and having them come up with words beginning with that letter. I was getting tired and a bit cranky by them.

At another point, the bride took a leave, supposedly to powder her nose, but then we were told she had been kidnapped and the guests needed to pay money to contribute to her release from her captors. I wasn’t quite sure how to play this game and just stayed out of it.

When he brought out a box full of trinkets and started an auction, apparently to recoup the fake money he had given earlier, I begged to leave and had Zarina’s friend secure a taxi for me. I had been on my feet most of the day and just needed to get some rest. I didn’t get to say goodbye to Zarina as she was in the process of cutting the wedding cake and people had to pay for each slice.

The taxi driver took directly to my front door, and I gave him a generous tip. It felt great to be back in my flat.

Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26, 2012

A pretty much uneventful day as I only managed to make it to the Osh bazaar to buy a cooking pot for rice and a bouquet of flowers to take to Zarina’s house for the holiday luncheon she had invited me to partake of with her family.

The market was more crowded than usual as shoppers bought huge quantities of food to share with family and friends. The teachers had informed me that during this holiday, Eid Al Mubarak, they were obligated to visit at least seven houses. After much looking around and checking prices with vendors, I found a medium size aluminum pot for 750 soms or about $17.00 and had the vendor locate a knob for it and offer just 700. He happily took the deal.

The flower market was also booming and there few bouquets to choose from at that time as it close to noon and I guess most people had already purchased theirs. I found a combination of peonies, angel breath and other greens and paid 200 soms for it or about $5.00. I had to hurry up to my apartment in order to take a shower and get ready.

The minibus to Zarina’s house took me to a part of town I had never seen before. It was made up of mostly single family homes behind shabby fences and many dusty parks where only young men could be seen walking around. At the end of the line, I got out and called Zarina who promptly came to pick me up and we walked on an unpaved street for several blocks to get to her house.

It reminded me of houses in Dushanbe by the fact that it was set behind a fence, but instead of a pretty garden beyond it, I found her father’s tow truck and SUV parked in the front yard, and she took me directly to the kitchen which was detached from the house. Her father, mother and uncle were already eating at a small table with a TV set blaring behind them in Russian. The table was laden with pastries, candy and soup, but it wasn’t as full of different food items as I had seen in Dushanbe for the same holiday.

Zarina’s dad is 100% Tatar while her mother is half Russian and half Turkish. Her dad wanted for her to marry someone of Tatar descent and just by pure luck, Timur, her fiancé, is Tatar as well. I was served an insipid noodle soup and then the chicken pieces, from a free-range chicken in their yard, along with boiled potatoes. I was compensated later on by been offered plenty of sweets her mother had baked herself including one filled with grated coconut. When asked where her mother had found it, Zarina indicated a friend of her father’s had brought a huge jar full of it and offered me some to take home.

I got a tour of the house, a place obviously showing the fact that it had been built piecemeal, and found it dark, cold and cheerless. Zarina confessed she had been crying every night for the past week just thinking she’d leaving her childhood home for good the day after. I took a photo of her in her bedroom for nostalgia sake. The house did include a separate sauna and a tiny area to grow flowers, but overall, I wasn't impressed.

Zarina walked me back to the bus stop as she needed to get ready to go and decorate the hall where the wedding ceremony would take place tomorrow. The nikah had already taken place on Thursday, so that according to their Muslim religion, they were already husband and wife, and the trip to the wedding registry was a mere formality. She told me the families didn’t trust the restaurant to provide fresh salads for the meal and therefore, the two families had split the duty of cooking all the salads tonight.

I got back to my flat to deal with yet more teacher preparation for Monday. However, I took a break later on and watched the hilarious movie “For your Consideration” about the movie-making business in Hollywood. I then continue to read “Post Office” by Bukowaski. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25, 2012

I had run out of money the day before, so going to the bank was the order of the day. I found two crisp, clean fifty dollars bills and walked to the nearest bank to exchange them and then bought flat bread from the little stand near the supermarket. Beta store was next as I had decided to buy a canister to keep my coffee and a couple more containers for spices. I stopped at their bakery, but the samsis were not out yet and I settled for two other types of pastries even though I wasn’t quite sure what they were. Found a piece of salmon in the frozen case, a bit expensive at more than $10.00, and bought more Sumatra coffee just in case.

The puff pastry had a cheese filling, and it was the perfect thing to eat between breakfast and lunch while preparing to deliver my sixth presentation at the KNU campus. I walked there under leaden skies while a soft breeze pulled the remaining leaves from the trees creating a multi-color carpet at my feet.

Since the topic of pragmatics was a new one to these teachers, and I didn’t want to bore them with a lecture, I interspersed the role play cards every so often so we could have an example and a source for comparison and contrast between the United States practices and the ones here. In most cases, there was a stark contrast and teachers admitted they could not behave in the same fashion here without losing friends and offending family members.

I announced that Natalia from the embassy would be expected to make an appearance at our last session next Thursday bearing their certificate of attendance. The teachers informed they wanted to have tea with me outside of the university next Monday as a token of their appreciation for all I had shared with them. I was quite touched by the invitation and told them I was more than eager to share time with them outside of the classroom.

I returned to the flat and spent several more hours poring over books and research findings for my next presentation on teaching to multilevel classes. I did another load of laundry and cooked the salmon in a bit of butter after marinating for a couple of hours. It was delicious and worth every penny I paid for it. I had enough leftovers for another meal.

Zarina called to give me instructions on how to get to her tomorrow as she had invited to celebrate the Eid Khourbon holiday with her family. I informed her that my cable television connection was lost and I was afraid the landlady had perhaps forgotten to pay the bill. She offered to call her tomorrow after the lunch to find what is going on.

I watched “The Man who knew Too Much”, a film that had been on my list of movies to see for the longest time. Hitchcock outdid himself here and the acting was quite good even from Doris Day, whom I had never considered such a good actress until today. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24, 2012

I practically overslept today as I didn’t get out of bed until 8:00, something extremely rare for me. Even the tenants upstairs failed to wake me up with their usual comings and goings. I had to rush the two couch surfers to get in gear as I had a meeting with Anna at ten. They had been up until very late skyping with family and friends. I boiled two eggs and took them with me to have them for breakfast once I got to Lingua.

Natalia and the two Gulnaras were already deep in conversation about the future of the Forum organization and so I took my stuff to the teachers’ workroom. Anna was a little late, but we got working on the documents once again, this time having to use an older computer with the Russian commands I still can’t understand. We agreed I’d put the finishing touches on them once Aigul found out how much participants who were not going to receive a scholarship from the State Department would  need to pay for lodging, meals and attendance at the conference.

Elvira came in at that point and I begged her to go with me to an early lunch as I was simply famished. We went to the Muslim Kitchen, a restaurant she had never visited, and I order my usual fried lagman and a Greek salad, which came with no tzatsiki sauce. When I asked the waitress about it, she indicated that was the way they served it, and of course, there was no feta cheese to go with it but some other flavorless cheese. I happened to mention that I wanted to visit the Chinese store nearby and Elvira offered to go with me. This is a three story building housing a variety of shops offering everything from electronics, to groceries to furniture.

Perusing the grocery store aisles, I came across black beans and later on the clerk confirmed that the little can in one of the fridges contained coconut milk. I was beside myself with joy and just hope to be able to recreate my favorite dishes containing coconut milk. When I got back to Lingua, I found the whole gang in the teachers’ lounge sharing several cakes as it was Olga’s birthday today. I was offered three different pieces, ate one and took the other two home for another day. I asked the group about a place to buy a small canister of liquefied propane gas to have in the flat in case of another prolonged power outage, but no one knew what I was talking about. Nargiza promised to ask her dad this weekend.

I finished printing the pages I needed with role playing cards for tomorrow’s presentation and made my way to the lamination place where the guy immediately got them done for me while he watched a movie on his computer monitor. Traffic was snarled once again as I rode home and reminded me of Panama City where the traffic lights were turned off and traffic cops directed the mess. Here, although the lights are still operating, traffic is conducted in accordance with the baton wielded by a cop while the drivers made to wait honk at him incessantly.

The couch surfers showed up shortly before six to inform me they had been successful in securing lodging with another member of the group just around the corner from me. They had been shopping at the Osh Bazaar again and came loaded with plenty of purchases. I was really glad to see them go as I could regain my privacy again and have my desk to work at more comfortably. I’m not really sure now that I want to have any other couch surfers here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23, 2012

Since I was back at the dining room table typing away while one of the couch surfers slept in the spare bedroom, I had a chance to enjoy the view of the mountains from my kitchen window for a couple of hours before heading to Lingua.

I had remembered to place in my bag the two packages of Reese’s peanut butter cups for Brian Itoh, the Korean born, Japanese-adopted Peace Corps volunteer that had worked with Sally this past year. I was working away on the newsletter, and having a tough time trying to crop pictures and make the text flow from one column to another, when I asked Brian if he knew of a volunteer who was really good at computers and he did have a name. Luckily for me, this volunteer is posted in the city and his name is Judson. Brian is a health volunteer who is facing a similar situation to the one I had in Nepal in the fact that his counterpart is not really interested in co-teaching about health thus kind of forcing him into devoting his time to teaching English, for which he hasn’t had any formal training. I offered to come and observe his lesson, co-teach if need be, and supply materials he might find interesting. It was a very positive meeting and he was so pleased with the candy.

Jennifer, my RELO in Astana, called me while I was Lingua to introduce herself on the telephone and go over some of the changes she’d like to see implemented in the document Anna and I are crafting for the CATEC 2013. She very pleased to hear how happy I was to be posted here and how caring everyone at the Lingua School had been.

I bought two samsis for lunch and ate them while talking to Brian. I devoted some time to the newsletter and then made  my way to Sierra Coffee where Natalia had invited to have a chat outside of the embassy or other offices. I got off at the wrong stop and had to walk a bit before getting there and in the process overheard a young woman speaking with a recognizable accent even though she was certainly Asian. It then dawned on me that she sounded Filipino and I stopped and asked her about it. Cristina was delighted to make my acquaintance and told me she’s been living here for five years. She was accompanied by a bevy of young Filipino women and, of  course, was also heading to Sierra Coffee. There, we exchange numbers and she promised to call me next time she cooked adobo.

Natalia arrived on time and we ordered coffee and pumpkin pie covered with walnuts. The coffee shop is quite spacious and has an outdoor sitting  terrace already occupied with plenty of American or European-looking people. Except for Cristina and her group, everyone else there was Caucasian, not including the employees. Natalia and I discussed the future of the Forum organization and the fact that most of the women involved in it had little time to carry out the tasks assigned to them. I suggested that Forum try to recruit women who were new to the profession, preferably single and without children, who would have more time to devote to it.

Natalia also informed me she was looking into getting a grant to allow me to travel to the south of the country come spring and asked me I wanted to have Elvira as a companion as she knew that part of the country really well. I agreed wholeheartedly since I find Elvira very calming nature to counterbalance my high octane one, so we should get along just fine. I just don’t know about her ability to get away from her job and family for an extended period of time. We’ll have to wait and see. I pilfered an Oprah magazine from the rack while having my second cup of coffee.

I got to enjoy the flat to myself for a couple of hours before the couch surfers showed up carrying various provisions they had purchased at the Osh Bazaar. I heated up the leftover soup for myself and asked if they had had dinner already and the answer was no, they were planning on cooking rice with tomatoes and onions. Michele did the cooking while Simone skyped with family back home in Italy using their Notebook. I was skeptical about the meal, but found they just cooked the rice in a soupy mixture and tomatoes and onions for color and flavor. They didn’t offer me any and that was just as well for it didn’t look the least bit appealing. They had bought lots of dried fruit and I did accept a couple of dates as dessert.
I retired to my room after finishing my new PowerPoint presentation on pragmatics and the role playing cards I plan to give to the teachers to demonstrate the appropriate response to different speech acts. I read the magazine for a while and then went to sleep.

October 22, 2012

Having gone to bed so late the night before disrupted my sleep cycle as I got up relatively late today. The couch surfers were fast asleep and did not stir when I made my coffee and sat at my computer to read the news and catch up with my emails.

We had agreed that I would wake them up at nine so they could leave the flat at the same time I did since I only have one key for the apartment. They would be heading for the Chinese embassy to start the process to obtain a visa and move on. I headed to Lingua to meet up with Elvira and get some work done on the FORUM newsletter prior to that afternoon’s presentation at KNU.

Elvira was able to secure the camera from Gulnara and we copied the photos to my jump drive. She needed to go back home as her son was running a temperature and her mother was watching him. She first accompanied me to find several stationery items I needed included counters to be able to play speaking board games that afternoon. At my favorite store, the NT Turkish one, we found plastic bean counters in different colors. I also purchased a decent notebook with a spiral binder and a wedding card for Zarina. On the way back to Lingua, I bought a shwarma sandwich and a piece of what looked like a very moist cake. I picked up the laminated games from my cute guy, and they looked fantastic.

For the first time since starting my sessions at KNU, I could not get the #150 marshrutka to stop and with only five minutes to spare, I got no choice but to spring for a taxi with Zarina communicating with the driver to negotiate the price. Of course, he gouged me asking for 150 soms when I had paid 80 just a week prior. I was a bit late getting started and only twelve teachers had shown up. We did have fun though going through several games and activities to demonstrate how to motivate students to speak in the classroom.

My landlady had called once again to indicate she’d be at the flat at 5:00pm to pick up the utility bills, and thus I hurried home to be on time. I was puzzled to notice that my thingy to open the electronic door didn’t work only to realize there was no electricity in my entire apartment complex. I couldn’t even make myself a cup of coffee. I worked on my computer for about an hour or until the battery gave up since it wasn’t fully charged to begin with. It was getting dark by then and no signs of Nadya or the couch surfers. I’d go up to the window periodically so as to let them know of the lack of electricity and it then occurred to me that I didn’t have a flashlight or candles to deal with the darkness if the power outage persisted.

I finally saw them approaching the alleyway and asked them to please buy a couple of candles for me. They came back with the candles, four tomatoes, and a piece of flat bread they had already torn a piece from. Simona indicated they had planned to cook dinner and when I asked him what exactly they had planned on cooking, he stated rice and tomatoes, my rice I take it, accompanied by the flat bread. I couldn’t help but snort under my breath.

We sat around for a while discussing the fact that they might need a letter of invitation from someone in China in order to obtain a visa to travel there. They informed me the Chinese embassy was no longer in my neighborhood but had moved very close to the U.S. one.  I was getting desperately hungry by then and  suggested we go to the street near my house where there are several restaurants and shops to get something to eat as I had no idea how much longer we might be without power, and they had confirmed there was power across the street.

Michele and Simona found things to buy at the take-out section of the supermarket, but I was hunkering for something hot and we stopped at a nearby restaurant where the cook, standing outside with nothing to do I guess, reassured us that soup to go could be bought. While waiting by the cash register for the soup, a male customer stood there ready to light up a cigarette. I mimed to him I was allergic to smoke and could he please take his cigarette outside? I was lucky the guy had a sense of humor for he repeated my gestures several times and looked at my companions as saying: “Is she really serious about wanting me to go outside to smoke?” and then laughed hysterically. He ended up inviting us upstairs to his flat to drink some vodka, but we turned him down.

Power had returned to the flat by the time we got back and the guys sat down to eat their purchases while I open my soup and just sighed. My soup consisted of a colorless broth with small cubes of potato and two small chunks of lamb meat. Needless to say, there was no flavor whatsoever except for the dill floating on top of it. In a stroke of brilliance, I remembered that Elvira had brought me a container the day before with what she called a cold salad consisting of cow foot broth, gelatin and other condiments. I added that to my soup, more potatoes, carrots, chicken bouillon and even some of my cabbage salad and finally had something worth biting into. I offered the guys a bit and only Michele agreed to have some.

After perusing the Internet for a bit, I went to bed since having a conversation with these two guys was almost impossible both because their English is too limited and because they seem to have little to say. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21, 2012

What a relaxing day I have had! I got to sleep in relatively late and then got together with Elvira, who found my apartment with no help from me, but from Google, and we worked on her proposal to the U.S. embassy to fund the printing of the Forum newsletter for everyone present at the CATEC conference in June. Elvira reiterated what I had read someplace else, that Bishkek has a central heating system that is turned on at some point in November, so that even when temperatures drop into the mid-30s now in October, there won’t be any heat until then. I do have the convenience of a wall unit offering both A/C and heat, but haven’t seen the need to turn it on yet.

Jennifer, my RELO, wrote to ask me to send her a brief report on the Columbus Day activity at the American Pilot School along with photos so she could use them in her report. I then got an invitation from her to be friends on Facebook, something that had been popping up on my page, but I really didn’t want to accede to. I think my political views are too extremely liberal to have my supervisor look at every post I make. I complied with her request and just hope for the best.

I took a delightful walk after lunch and just wandered around the neighborhood while making my way to the Osh Bazaar as I found out yesterday that all the salads I bought from the Korean ladies had gone bad in the fridge as I couldn’t eat them fast enough. That should teach me a lesson: stop buying so much produce at one time.

It was hard to believe the temperature was only in the mid-50s as it didn’t feel cold at all. The market was its usual crowded, noisy and vibrant place and I snapped photos while sampling the flat bread and buying a few staples.

Another discovery: there is an elegant bakery on Chuy Avenue, not three blocks from my house offering the most exquisite desserts and the nicest boxes to pack them in. I had already stopped at a Turkish one and had bought a sandwich and something that looked like a creamy dessert. I’ll have to try this one out next time around.

The couch surfers from Italy emailed to say they would be arriving around 10:30pm despite my clear instructions about my retiring to bed early. Their arrival will happen way past my usual bedtime.
I emailed the resource booklet and the additional pages to Bill, from Peace Corps, agreeing to have him look at the contents and make recommendations as to what would be worthwhile keeping or throwing out.

Michele and Franco called from the bus station and got a local person to engage a taxi for them. Since they didn’t have a cell phone with them, this person accompanied them all the way to my front door. I was impressed by this guy willingness to insure his two companions would have a place to spend the night. As I had suspected earlier on, the pair had not eaten dinner and being past 10:30, the shop across the street would have been closed by then.

I offered them the remaining pasta dish I had cooked, the leftover flat bread and my cabbage salad and pomegranate juice. They both ate as if they hadn’t had a decent meal in ages and did so in that noisy manner I so much dislike. For being from Italy, these guys didn’t not even pretend to eat as the Europeans I’ve observed do refusing even to use the knife set on the table to help scoop up their food.

When we turned to the bedding situation, Michele and I couldn’t figure out how either sofa would turn into a bed as there were no hinges anywhere to pull the bed out. We decided on the spot that one of them would sleep in the living room sofa and the other in the spare bedroom. I was glad they had brought sleeping bags with them for it was getting cold inside the apartment and I only have one for moi.

Franco got into the bathroom to take a shower and stayed there forever and a day as he probably had layers and layers of dust and grime to remove from his body. I informed both of them of the fact that there is only one key to the apartment and thus they needed to leave when I did so. They are here trying to arrange for a visa so as to continue traveling into China. The Chinese embassy happens to be right behind my apartment complex. I told them we’d meet back at my place after five in the afternoon.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 20, 2012

I spent a leisure day at my flat working away at my computer while enjoying the gorgeous weather outside. Took a break in the afternoon and went across the street to buy juice, milk and water while waiting for my landlady who didn’t show up or call at all.

Called Brian Itoh, the Peace Corps volunteer Sally had asked to bring some Reese’s peanut butter cups for, and he promised to come by tomorrow at some point. The two couch surfers from Italy traveling in from Kazakhstan also wrote to say they plan on arriving Sunday evening. They were looking for accommodation for five days, but I was firm in telling me my couch is only available for three.

Elvira called to say she’d be coming by at nine am as something had come up and she needed to be someplace else by noon.

Spent the rest of the afternoon trying to come up with an index for the resource booklet that Bill, at the Peace Corps office, would like to reprint for his volunteers. I didn’t realize how many more pages I’ve accumulated since the publication of the original booklet back in 2002. Perhaps I could just send him all the material for his perusal and he can then determine what’d be most useful for his team.

I watched a riveting movie, “The Italian Job”, which kept me at the edge of my seat with its fast-paced action, electrifying performances, and absolutely unexpected ending. The stunt jobs were also superbly done. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19, 2012

The snow forecast for today didn’t materialize, but that didn’t stop me from cancelling my observation at the American Pilot School as I was feeling a bit rundown from all the activities that had taken place during the week and didn’t have appropriate clothing to face the low 30s temperature. The day started out overcast, but little by little, the clouds moved away and by early afternoon sunshine was streaming into my kitchen and living room and making me feel toasty warm.

Then it was time to hunker down at my computer and finish the CATEC documents so they could be forwarded to all those involved at the embassy level who will be giving it their seal of approval. I only heard back from Johanna at the embassy who reminded me she’ll be going on maternity leave soon and introduce me to her replacement until next February. My RELO sent a message asking for my phone number as she’d be making some suggestions soon.

Spent the majority of the afternoon finishing my PowerPoint on speaking activities and deciding which activities would be most beneficial to include. When I read the “Exit Slips” the teachers had completed the day before, most of them complained the session was too short, two hours, and that I never have enough time to go over every single handout and demonstrate how it is to be used. The rest of the comments were very positive mentioning mostly how useful the demonstrations and handouts have been so far.

It was a very productive day altogether. Tatjana sent me a text message asking if I was all right and I apologized for not letting her know I’d not be present at her session today. That was very unprofessional of me I have to admit.

My landlady had promised to come by today to pick up the bills I had found tucked into my door the other day. One is for the security system, which as I had suspected I’ll be expected to pay from now on, for 385.00 soms and the other for electricity going back to the month of August. She agreed to pay for both of them this month and I’ll pick it up from there. She then called to cancel as her husband was not available just then and said she’d be coming by on Saturday.

Elvira also called to arrange to meet on Sunday morning to complete an application for a small grant that would allow Forum to publish their newsletter and distribute it nationwide. We agreed to meet at ten at my flat.

Gulnara, from Lingua, wrote to ask if I was warm enough in my apartment because if that wasn’t the case, she could send the office’s space heater for me to use. I replied that the apartment was very warm and not to worry about it. I still can’t believe I’m surrounded by such caring individuals.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012

It was a cold and gray morning when Natalia came by on time to pick me up for our meeting with the Peace Corps country director and other members of his staff involved in the teaching of English in Kyrgyzstan. The compound sits on a residential area and has a pleasant garden beyond the high fence and prior to the guard entrance where Natalia showed her embassy badge and convinced the guard I didn’t need to show him any ID since she was accompanying me.

We sat at a round table and I gave them my background as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal so as to save them time in telling me about their program. Peace Corps volunteers teaching English nowadays are called TEFLers, and constitute the majority of the volunteers in Kyrgyzstan. The head of this program, Bill, was very much interested in getting his hands on the booklet I had put together for the volunteers in Nepal and even offered to redo the format and add the pages I wanted to it before making it available to the volunteers here. I was elated by the prospect since I really don’t have the skills to do it nor the Mac computer that would facilitate such task. I promised to email him over the weekend.

The country director was interested in having a look at the results of the survey I had provided to the teachers at Forum and I promised to send it to him as soon as I was done compiling the answers. Bill provided me with a copy of their Russian language training book, as suggested by Natalia, and the name of another teacher now that I know Nurkys is not coming back. Bill accompanied us back to the entrance not before chastising the security guard for not having demanded identification from me and issuing me a badge. I felt really bad for the poor guy.

When we stepped outside, Bill pointed out that snowflakes were just beginning to fall, the first snowfall of the season. I can’t say I was happy since I still don’t have any winter clothes to wear and Ryan has said nothing about the progress in getting his visa. Natalia dropped me off where I could catch a minibus to Lingua, and I stopped at the lamination place just to see if by any chance my container had been set aside the day before.

The cute guy couldn’t understand at first what I was trying to convey by “salat” or by miming  “food”, but a vendor across the narrow hallway, an older woman in this case, loudly shouted I was searching for something containing food, and he then immediately pulled the plastic bag from one of the shelves. I thanked him profusely and he smiled widely. I really didn’t think that anyone would have bothered to save it.

At Lingua, I printed the changes Anna had made to the document for the CATEC conference and started to type them up, but then felt really hungry and went to the Muslim Kitchen for my usual lagman noodles and a salad for Zarina. There was no one sitting outside, to be expected, and the service was the usual chaotic mess. Back at the teachers’ lounge, Gulnara thanked me for bringing the salad the previous day, but confessed few of them had been able to eat it because it was too spice. She related that many Mexican restaurants had opened in Bishkek and had failed because the local people do not like spicy food. She also told me of a Chinese store about three blocks away where I could buy Jasmine rice and oriental condiments.

It was time to head to the Kyrgyz National University to present my workshop on vocabulary teaching in an interactive way. I gave the teachers a set of cards with homophones and asked them to find their partners, but many of them couldn’t identify the homophones in the first place. We talked about the importance of them, themselves, having an extensive knowledge about words, something I knew was lacking as many of them had indicated they do no reading at all outside of the required textbooks.

Through participation in different activities, “Find someone who…”, “Odd one out”, classification exercises and others, the teachers were shown fun and active ways to engage students in learning vocabulary while moving away from assigning lists of words to be memorized or looked up in dictionaries. Before leaving, I asked them to complete an “Exit Slip” telling me one thing they had liked, one they disliked, and one that wasn’t clear. They had never taken part in such an activity and it required a bit of explaining before they completed it.

One teacher complained the workshop timetable was too short as I never have enough time to cover the entire PowerPoint presentation or utilize all the handouts. On my way out, Bazilat asked me if there was any chance of extending the number of workshops being offered, and I said no since I’ll be rotating through four different universities before the winter break.

When I got to the underpass, it looked ghostly as the power had gone out, apparently for some time, and the vendors had lit candles to continue their operation. I was hoping to have power at home for I didn’t have any candles or even a flashlight, having left my good one in my suitcase in Dushanbe.

I did have power and enjoyed having a chance to watch the movie “The Lover”, based the story by Margarite Duras, once again. Such gorgeous setting, great acting and period costumes. What’s not to like?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October 17, 2012

It is definitely getting darker and darker. I was up at 6:33am and it was pitch black outside still. I made my coffee and sat at my computer only to discover that I must be out of funds as there was no Internet access and only a screen in Russian to inform me of the reason. The sky looked cloudy and people scurried around wearing coats, so I decided to bring my umbrella and wear the sweatshirt I have just in case.

It was colder than usual especially since I was only wearing sandals, but there wasn’t time to go back and change. We had the meeting for the CATEC conference where Anna and I would present the template we had come up with for the invitation and proposal submission. Gulnara, from Lingua, thought that our theme, “Critical Thinking in the Language Teaching Classroom” was too restrictive, but could not come up with any suggestions except for saying she wanted something that indicated this was a chance to exchange ideas and network. I told her all conferences contained those ideas in themselves.

 The other participants could not think of a better theme and in fact Munara, from the American Councils, indicated she liked very much and didn’t feel it was too limited. I chimed in saying that my experience in Nepal, Tajikistan and now Kyrgyzstan had demonstrated that critical thinking was left out of most lesson plans. I then suggested that we submit the template to Jennifer Uhler, the RELO sponsoring the conference, and let her give us some feedback. If she turned down the theme, Anna and I would go back to the drawing board. The idea was accepted and we were able to move on.

Some other minor changes were made to the forms since, I for instance, didn’t know that participants in the conference would not have to pay a penny to attend since the U.S. embassy was footing the entire bill, and therefore billing information was not needed. The conference is expecting 200 participants from the five Central Asia countries and a handful of guests from other countries nearby.

Zarina got the IT person to come by today and replace the Russian version of Windows on that same computer so I could work there since I wasn’t able to read the commands. The poor guy was there for more than two hours, but it was finally done and now I can do most of my work there instead of going home to do so.
Had lunch with Nargiza who kindly went downstairs and order fried lagman noodles for the two of us. Zarina joined us and shared her sweet plov made with carrots, raisins, apricots and prunes. I had never had this version of plov. They both found my salad too spicy and tart as they never add vinegar to their salad without diluting a bit with some water.

Zarina had called Megacon and determined my balance was finished and I needed to add money to my account. Nargiza accompanied me to a nearby supermarket where they had the same type of ATM where you punch in your account number, add money and get a receipt. Piece of cake. We also went across the street to the post office so I could mail the postcards I had purchased the day before. The clerk indicated she didn’t have any paper stamps, just a rubber stamp, but I insisted I wanted the paper ones and she asked me to pay up front and return before 3:00 to watch her send them.

I handed in more pages to be laminated to the cute guy, who knows me by now, and Nargiza commented that if she didn’t have a boyfriend already she’d go after him. I had another meeting with Asel and Chinara to discuss the preliminary program for the pre-conference day that had been assigned to them. I suggested a few ideas including fundraising, social media outlets and a local newsletter highlighting events in their regions.
By the time I left the building, it was raining steadily and the temperature had dropped some more. I now regretted not changing into my pumps as the icy rain hit my feet. Lamination was ready and after paying for it, I proceeded to the post office where, I think, the clerk tried to tell me it was past 3:00 and the postcards had already been mailed. I shrugged my shoulders hoping that eventually they will reach their destination.

I was lucky to find a seat in the marshrutka after waiting for more than ten minutes under the rain. There might have been an accident or something, but the vehicle hardly moved while more and more passengers kept piling in. Now, even though I was seated, I could not see out the window because they were completely fogged. After a while, I decided I had enough and exited the van about four blocks from my stop. There was traffic cop at the intersection and the drivers were rudely honking at anyone and everything in frustration.

I was happy to get to my place only to realize I had left the container with the remaining salad and partial lunch at the lamination place when I set everything down to pay for my materials. What a pain in the neck. I have no idea if it will be there tomorrow when I go by.

I watched a film, “Bread and Roses”; about the struggle of janitors in the Los Angeles area to be paid fair wages and receive health insurance. A bit too idealistic, but it reminded of similar demands in many parts of the country where immigrants continue to work for contractors who exploit them due to their undocumented status.

October 16, 2012

I had convinced Bazilat to postpone her class observation until next Wednesday in the afternoon so I wouldn’t have to be at her university at the ungodly hour of 8:00am. That gave me a chance to have another leisure morning in my flat until it was time to head out to Lingua where I’d be meeting with Elvira to discuss the Forum newsletter and FB page.

We gathered in the room computer room with fabulous 19-inch screen monitor and looked at what I’d been able to put together for the newsletter. Elvira had never seen a single issue of the previous ones and had no idea what they looked like. As for the Facebook page, although it had been opened in January of this year, only a few posts were there and a pathetic appeal for people to “like” their page. Elvira didn’t know the user Id or password and called Gulnara for that information, but she didn’t have it either. She promised to send an SMS message that same evening granting us access to the page so changes could be made.

Zarina ordered samsis for both of us and we shared our lunch while chatting about our respective lives. She was surprised that I was getting around via the minibus system and all by myself as she relayed that Demetria, a previous ELF from Mississippi, would not ride them upon recommendation from the embassy and was extremely fearful of going anywhere on her own. I gave her my background of having been in the Peace Corps and the Tajikistan assignment. She offered to take me to the Dordoi bazaar to look for winter boots as snow had been forecast for this Friday.

Made my way to the Tsum department store to add money to my cell phone and buy some postcards on the fifth floor. I encountered a lot of apparently bored store clerks leaning on counters and playing games on their cell phones as customers were hard to come by. Found one store with several mannequins outside sporting traditional Kyrgyz outfits I've never seen anyone wearing around the city. Postcards were somewhat expensive at about 80 cents each.

I worked on the documents for the CATEC conference and then decided to walk home while taking photos as the kind of Indian summer we were having was bound to be finished by the weekend. It struck me while taking said photos that most of the advertising displayed on bus shelters, buildings and sidewalks had images of Caucasian people in it although the percentage of people of Russian or German descent here is less than 10% of the population.

Self-hatred must be quite abundant around here. I had a glimpse of that just by watching young women pay lots of money to get their hair curled for an important event and then running home to find a way to preserve the style along with the elaborate eye makeup intended to minimize the slant of their eyes.
It was a most pleasant walk as I poked around buildings and courtyards and aimed my camera at building plaques and odd sidewalk tiles. I stopped at the Narodi supermarket and bought salad ingredients to make one for the office at Lingua tomorrow.

I had dinner and waited for my Russian teacher, who must have changed her mind about teaching me, to show up and when she didn’t, sat at my computer to put the finishing touches on my vocabulary presentation for Thursday. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

October 15, 2012

The day started out quite promising as I took my trash out and all the plastic bottles, takeout containers and yogurt cups in a different bag as Anna had advised me that I could leave those on the side of the trash bin and people would come by looking for them for resale. Low and behold, when I got there I saw a grizzled old man, he looked like a bum, rummaging through the trash in search of those same items. I showed him the content of my bag and he happily took it from me.

I unloaded all the pages that needed lamination at the young man’s little place, not bigger than a broom closet, located in the underpass leading to Lingua’s offices and walked there under the most beautiful fall weather one can imagine. Leaves were fluttering in the wind carpeting my path while the sun shone only slightly warming my skin.

Anna was already there and after I took care of my email, we sat together to review the two formats we had selected to decide which one to use for the CATEC event. I’ll be putting the finishing touches on it in preparation for the meeting on Wednesday. Natalia called to say she had arranged for us to meet with the head of the Peace Corps on Thursday at 10:00am and she’ll come to pick me up.

I went back to pick my laminated materials, and they guy had done a terrific job and even had my receipt ready as I had asked him to do. Back down to the Muslim Kitchen for a takeout order of fried lagman noodles, they were out of salad again, and up three flights of stairs to Lingua to cut up the materials into cards to use that afternoon at the Kyrgyz National University. Nargiza mentioned she too had ordered noodles and would be happy to pick up my order. We had lunch together and agreed to go to the botanical gardens on Sunday if Ryan doesn’t make it here this week as she has never been there.

Made it to the university and was met by Gulnara who had left the photocopies of the handouts I had emailed her and needed to move on to another university. She teaches at four of them in order to make ends meet as she has four children. Full time teachers only make $5200.00 som a month or about $113.00 for a teaching load of 18 hours; therefore, many of them either request additional hours, sometimes double that, or teach at other places.

One of the teachers at the workshops, Bazilat, told me she had used the “The Name Game” with her class last week and it had been a hit. Other teachers commented that they really enjoyed my sessions because I always had fun things for them to do. My head was getting really, really big. I asked them to please complete the original survey I had crafted for Forum and was dismayed to see that even these college professors could not understand the questions or provide comments in writing. Some of them returned the form practically empty.

The grammar games were a hit even though we got to play only about half of the repertoire I had created. I promised to email them both the PowerPoint presentation and the handouts so they could recreate them in their classrooms. I was very pleased with their reactions.

Walked home slowly savoring the waning sunlight and appreciating the changing colors of the leaves on every tree as I went by. Once I had dinner, I watched a classic movie I had wanted to see for the longest time: Luis Bunuel’s “Tristana”. Great acting, vivid colors in spite of the age of the film, and an ending that still has me puzzled.

Elvira, from Forum, called tonight to say that Natalia had asked her to help me out with the formatting of the newsletter, and we agreed to meet at Lingua tomorrow to work on it. A most productive day indeed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14, 2012

The temperature today reached 73 degrees and I felt it was really a shame that I had so much work to do at my computer for it was the perfect day to go for an outing somewhere in nature.

I was able to find a template for the newsletter and another for a possible agenda to conduct the meetings for Forum. I forwarded them to Gulnara for her review and approval. I emailed the certificate template to Natalia so she can also review it and approve it for signatures at the embassy.

At least I managed to take a long shower and don my new baby blue fleece bathrobe my sister Esther had so thoughtfully bought for me before my leaving the States. It wasn’t really cold enough to necessitate this type of clothing, but I felt like wearing something soft and new next my skin.

Corrie and I had agreed to skype at 2:00 pm this afternoon, but she never answered my email confirming whether we were on the same time zone. We emailed each other a couple of times, but when I tried reaching her, her line was unavailable.

After reviewing the PowerPoint presentation for grammar games, I realized I didn’t have enough time to produce all the handouts and laminated cards I had the chance to create in Dushanbe. I modified it so as to have fewer games and just demonstrate the others with the few handouts Gulnara should photocopy tomorrow.

Taking a preliminary look at the surveys completed by the teachers yesterday told me that they are complaining mostly about not having enough time to conduct their lessons as they teach English only twice a week for 45 minutes and students don’t seem to retain the material from one class to another. They also complained about not having enough textbooks for everyone, lack of audio/visual materials and equipment, lack of involvement on the part of the students and few ways to inject interactive activities within the limited time frame of their lessons. Forum has their work cut out for them in trying to address these issues during their training sessions.

Two kids knocked on my door and mumbled something about representing some association. I told them to come back with someone fluent in English before I’d open my door to them. One of them came back this evening accompanied by his mother who informed me that the building pays a woman to keep the staircase and entryway clean for a 50 som ($1.08) monthly contribution from each tenant. I acknowledged I had been impressed with how clean the stairs looked and the lack of cigarette butts and empty containers to which I got used to in Dushanbe.

I wonder if the fact that my building has a secured door with an intercom access was achieved in the same way for the other three entryways do not have one. I definitely feel much more secured here and don’t have to be bothered by any traffic of people coming and going unless they actually live here or are allowed in by one of the tenants. The fact that there are only two apartments in each floor makes it more private as well.

Based on the recommendation of the New York Times, I watched the film version of one of the latest Nobel laureate’s novels, “Red Sorghum” tonight. I cannot say it was enjoyable and the subtitles left much to be desired. I’m not even sure I want to read the novel on which it was based as there was a gruesome description of the appalling treatment of Chinese people during the Japanese invasion. Not the best thing to see right before my bedtime.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 13, 2012

Headed to the first Forum teachers’ association’s meeting at the Children’s Library and was met by a woman sitting in a little booth who gesticulated to me about a piece of paper that apparently I needed before going upstairs. I apologized profusely and just mentioned the name of Forum. She allowed me to proceed to the third floor. I later learned that everyone entering the library needs to check his or her bag with this woman and is given a ticket to reclaim it upon exiting. I was also informed that I needed to purchase a membership card for 20 som to be allowed in next time. So, I take it that this library is just no open to the public at large. I wonder if they have the requirement at the National Library.

Natalia, both Gulnaras, Elena and Elvira were present along with a handful of teachers and two Peace Corps volunteer who were scheduled to do a presentation on warm ups and games for the classroom. One of them, Willoughby, is a senior citizen who reminded me of Sonja, the one who served with me in Nepal. The meeting was being held in a cavernous room with more than twenty chairs set out in two rows thus emphasizing the poor attendance since we only had five teachers aside from the organizers of the meeting.

Natalia went first to remind everyone that Forum is getting funding from the U.S. embassy and to distribute the now mandatory Forum magazines. She was followed by Gulnara, from Lingua, who spoke at length about the CATEC conference her institution is hosting this year. Elena then introduced Elvira who had a PowerPoint presentation about her semester in Kansas as a Junior Faculty Exchange program professor. There was a lot of dead time between one presenter and another and no break at all.

I went to the back of the room and asked Gulnara if a coffee break wasn’t scheduled in the agenda, and by the way where was the agenda? Well, of course, there was not one, and Elena seemed grieved that I was expecting one as she had some notes scribbled on a piece of paper and was following that. I bluntly told them that a professional organization needed to have something more concrete and organized and also a timekeeper to make sure everyone was on track. I don’t believe my comments were welcomed. I took a couple of photos for the record and that snapped Gulnara into doing the same.

Michael Santiago, the other Peace Corps volunteer, and Willoughby, proceeded to present some warm ups and games, but even then their pace was so slow and she kept referring to her notes endlessly that I felt I could have fallen asleep right then and there. I asked Michael afterward if he was of Puerto Rican descent, he looked very WASP, and he confirmed he was but most people did not believe him. He chuckled when he remembered he had applied to many colleges checking out the box for “Hispanic/Latino” and had been asked to provide documentation to that effect. He was not familiar with Esmeralda Santiago and her fabulous book, “When I was Puerto Rican”, but promised to google it and learn about it.

I missed the closing remarks, made in Russian, and asked Asel if the audience had been reminded about the next meeting and she said yes.

Although the members of the board had agreed we were going to meet for at least one hour after the session, both Elena and Elvira claimed prior commitments and left immediately thereafter. I was introduced to another woman who was supposed to be in charge of the newsletter for the organization, but which has not been published since 2010 when another ELF, Colleen, did it for them. I asked for a sample of the document and we headed to the basement of the library where Forum has a dedicated room for all their materials: TV sets, recorders, DVD player, books and the like.

A four-page beige color document was presented to me full of text with no color photos, no announcement of upcoming events or summary of previous one. In one word: dull. Gulnara was pleased I found the newsletter so lacking in interest as she now feels confident I’ll be able to perform magic tricks and make into something everyone will be dying to get their hands into. I have never published a newsletter in my life, but at least have received thousands of them and have pretty good idea as to what a catchy one looks like.
Gulnara took me out to lunch to a Uyghur’s restaurant near the Kyrgyz National University, and I had to scarf down my lagman noodles and take a taxi to make it in time to the conversation club at Lingua where I had about 12 students to talk about dating. Apparently they are free to set dates and meet at different places, which was kind of refreshing. Afterward, I printed some pages to laminate on Monday and then headed home exhausted.

After a few hours, I was able to skype with my sister and brother-in-law and had pretty clear connection. My Internet access is definitely superior to what I had in Dushanbe as only on a couple of occasions was the video image distorted or the sound lagging. I got to watch the movie “The Artist” and found it indeed worthy of the Oscar it got this year. Great acting, superb script and nimble dance number at the end.

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12, 2012

How did I ever get to be so lucky? I can wake up most morning and enjoy my coffee without having to run out of door the minute I do so. I don’t have to report to the same place every day or do the same thing in the same order either. Although I got up early today when the sun was still hiding behind the mountains, I got to drink my coffee, get dress at leisure and walk to the bus stop for my ride to the American Pilot School to do more observations of the trainers for this program.

I went to Tatjana’s class for the first hour and Zeinep’s class for the second after which I shared my notes on what I had seen and my recommendations for future training sessions. Tatjana came back in the process and produced a beautiful cake, cups (Christmas design on them) and plates for us to enjoy it along with coffee. Inna, the teacher I had observed last week, also came and then Gulnara from the Forum association. The cake was delicious as it had a not-too sweet cottage cheese filling in the center and creamy frosting outside. I expressed my appreciation for the cake and told them I needed to hurry up to get to Lingua next.

It was another long wait for a minibus that would have any room to accommodate one more passenger. I finally got on one only to have the driver allow more and more passengers to get on to the point when one feels suffocation will take place next. When it came time for me to exit, I had to ask another passenger for help to extricate myself from the bus. I can’t imagine what it might be like during the winter months with people stuffed into coats and jackets in a place without ventilation of any kind.

I didn’t get to Lingua until quarter past one and everyone had had lunch already. They had been so thoughtful as to place a nice note on the door congratulating me on my birthday and had also brought cake for the occasion. Since most of the teachers had classes scheduled for two o’clock, they wanted to cut the cake before I went for lunch, and we did so. Adina presented me with a bag containing a pair of yellow and orange earrings that were a perfect match for the bright yellow blouse I was wearing. There was also a card for me along withtwo cakes. We took the obligatory photos, sang happy birthday and cut the cake.

I went downstairs to the Muslim Kitchen restaurant and ordered fried lagman and a vinaigrette salad, but they were out of the salad. I had the noodles to go and ate in the teachers’ lounge with Nargiza and Zarina who then presented me with another bag in which she placed a set of Tupperware containers nesting inside each other. No wonder I love her so much already!

I took my pieces of cake home as I was already stuffed. After doing some computer work and printing the materials I’ll need for the presentation on Monday, I said goodbye to everyone and went home to crash from the sugar high. It was a short nap as the neighbors upstairs kept a racket going and it was impossible to sleep through it.

Many of my friends from around the world sent their birthday wishes through Facebook and email. It was very gratifying to see so many former students sending their greetings and good wishes. I had had one fantastic day all around.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 11, 2012

I was out of bed by six in the morning, and it was pitch black outside. I had to check the clock on the microwave oven to make sure it wasn’t midnight. After my coffee, I sat down to write the minutes from the meeting we held yesterday to submitted to Gulnora for her review and approval before it goes to everybody else. I also located the documents I got last year from the organizers of the NELTA conference in Nepal so we could use those as a guideline for designing ours. I emailed those to Anna for her perusal prior to our meeting on Monday.

I then turned my attention to finding a piece of text the teachers could read and use to model the Bloom’s taxonomy actions that would constitute the bulk of our session today. I settled for a four page biography of Helen Keller and emailed it to Bazilat asking her copy it back-to-back for the attendees. I put the finishing touches on the PowerPoint presentation I had started on Tuesday.

The weather was perfect for a long walk and it took me some twenty minutes to get to the KNU campus. Students were spilling out of the classroom where they had had a Chinese class and their instructor tried to initiate a conversation with me in Russian, but of course, that was a no go. He said he had forgotten his English and I told me him I only knew five words in Russian.

Asel, one of Gulnara’s assistant, came with the laptop and projector and got everything set up for me. Bazilat came in a few minutes later and brought the photocopies but not double sided as I had requested so as to save paper. We started out with the name game and then a series of questions for each group as to the steps they took while preparing their lessons. Few of them could articulate what they thought about when putting together their lesson plan, much less use action words to describe what the students would do to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

One teacher didn’t know the meaning of the word “variable” despite several illustrations and examples and the apparent fact that the term was very similar to its Russian counterpart. I was mentioning the need to take all variables into account when planning their lessons so as to insure that they’d reach all students and were aware of factors that could hinder comprehension.

After reviewing the different levels of the Bloom’s pyramid, I had then read a portion of the text on Helen Keller and had to rush to get them to give specific example from each column of what they would have their students do to show they had understood what they had read. There is one very eager teacher that sits at the front and answers every question I pose without giving other participants a chance to participate. I need to have a talk with her.

Gulnara came into the classroom for a little bit and then disappeared again. She left her purse and another bag in the room and then asked me to wait for her when the session was over. She returned with her little girl who had just gotten out of school. She was disappointed that only thirteen teachers showed up today, three new ones included, and was at a loss as to how she could motivate more of them to come. I advised her not to fret since she was not in a position to offer any monetary incentives to the teachers beyond the certificate that the embassy would issue at the end.

Gulnara said that she only expects another twenty teachers to show up for the general association meeting on Saturday out of some 200 members they have on the roster. I’m even wondering if this meeting is worth attending at all especially since it is supposed to last for two hours. Yikes!

I was expecting Nurkys, my new Russian teacher, to show up a six o’clock and so I hurried to prepare dinner: pickled fish from the Korean vendor, polenta and my version of Tajikistan tossed salad. I had delicious repast, but the teacher didn’t show up and I didn’t bother to call her. Instead, I sat down to watch a film I had been meaning to see for the longest time: The Ugly American with Marlon Brando sporting a mustache. I would like to get hold of the book on which the movie was based as the dialogue was intriguing and witty.