Friday, November 30, 2012

November 30, 2012

My reluctance to cook caught up with me last night as I only had some leftover samsis for dinner and then woke up in the middle of the night with terrible hunger pangs. I recalled having brought a pear from Lingua and ate it while looking out the window at the snow continued to pile up on the roofs of cars and buildings.
I had set up the alarm so I could make it in time to the American Pilot School. When I stepped out of my building, I was surprised to find a stout woman removing the snow from the front stoops and walkway. I guessed that must be the same woman tasked with cleaning the staircase and felt very grateful to have such service for a measly sum of 50 soms a month.

On my way to the school, I got a phone call from Natalia notifying me that she couldn’t make it to the afternoon session to deliver the certificates and magazines to the teachers. She had already left them at the university with one of the teachers, and just wanted me to get there a bit earlier so I could sign them.

The fresh snow made it easy to walk to the bus stop and then to the school while stopping along the way to buy a couple of fried snacks for breakfast. Tatjana only had five teachers in her room when I got there and the room was once again just lifeless. Four more teachers eventually showed up  indicating the traffic had been awful due to the amount of snow on the streets. The topic of the day was the interpretation of dreams, but no explanation was given as to why that topic had been chosen or what the aim of the lesson was.

                         Children play in the snow during recess at the American Pilot School

For the second hour, I moved to Zeynep’s classroom and found six teachers engaged in an activity whereby they needed to identity the actions taking place in a piece of text. I sat at one of the computers to create an exit slip for the final session at the Russian Slavonic University and printed the new Bloom’s taxonomy document to give it to the teachers. Zeynep moved on to show them how to conduct a sentence auction but without money. I suggested that she could print fake money from the Internet next time and provide them with “money” to spend.

Tatjana came in asking if I could give her feedback while Zeynep paid the teachers their per diem, but I declined telling her we needed to be in a private place with plenty of time and not rush it just because she was on her way to the Dordoi Bazaar.

Made my way to the Turkish stationery store and bought a stapler, staples, pencils, eraser and other supplies in preparation for the workshop using pictures. Around the corner, they were selling shawarma and I bought one for lunch along with a piece of cake they make that has the exact same texture and flavor as our Dominican cake.

Arrived too early at the university and ate the sandwich in the hallway while waiting for the class to be over. When we were gathered around in a U-shape configuration, I explained we’d have a short lecture on dealing with multi-level classes and then would proceed to deliver the certificates along with the magazines and CDs Natalia had delivered. I really messed up and couldn’t find the longer PowerPoint presentation I had worked so long at just yesterday while at Lingua. I had no choice but to use the shorter one and then make it up by asking the teachers about their own experiences dealing with this situation.

We had the customary photos taken and teachers were reminded of their commitment to allow us to observe at least one of their classes in the near future. I asked that they try and make it before the end of the year even though they said exams were fast approaching in some of their classes. Two of the teachers stayed behind and complained about the lack of resources at the Russian Slavonic University, which is  considered the premier educational institution in the country. They mentioned they have only one set of teacher’s book/CD/student books per level and most pass it from teacher to teacher. They do not have access to the computers or the Internet and must pay for their own photocopying.

I understood where they were coming from and felt deeply disturbed that such a run-down building with such squalid desks and chairs, ancient windows and dark, narrow corridors could be housing the best university in the country. What hope is there for the other ones?

I had major problems trying to get into the marshrutka carrying the additional bag left by Natalia with the remaining magazines and my own purchases. Then it was time to stop at the supermarket to get water, milk and juices and I could barely move. It seemed to have taken forever for me to reach my floor. What a day!

                                       Snowman in front of the supermarket

Decided to forgo my usual distaste for violent movies and watched “The Untouchables” without even realizing that the lead character was going to be played by Kevin Kostner, an actor that looked almost like a dead-ringer for my very Waspish paramour, Michael.

November 29, 2012

The snow must have started falling shortly after midnight and then continued to fall all day long. I didn’t get out of bed until eight since everything was so quiet and there was no daylight squeezing through the bedroom’s blinds. Still in a sleepy mood, I made my coffee and proceeded to deal with emails and Facebook posts. Although Grace must have arrived from Tajikistan two days, she has made no attempts to contact me. I let her know I’d be available for lunch or dinner if that suited her plans. There was no reply from her.

                                Non-stop snow made the courtyard look like this.

My new boots fit me like a glove and I felt all cozy and warm heading to the bus stop in what felt almost like a blizzard as the snow steadily fell all around us. Since I didn’t have to deal with lamination or photocopying today, I headed straight to Lingua bypassing the underpass and found the staff attending a meeting. I got to work on a new presentation I want to offer the teachers dealing with presenting movies to examine different cultural topics.

Nargiza came by to indicate she’d like to attend my presentations but usually has to teach at the same time. I offered to email her the PDF version of them and whatever handouts she found necessary. Chinara came by to show me the changes she had made to the Forum flyer, but I still found that more changes were needed.

I ordered two samsis to take home as I had brought flat bread and cheese for my lunch not being willing to go out in that weather to visit the Halal Kitchen place. At two o’clock, Nargiza told me that the mother of a staff member had brought in a full lunch for everyone to share to celebrate the upcoming opening of the McMillan Center. We were treated to chicken noodle soup, Kyrgyz fried bread, which I’m not enamored of, dried fruit, sweets and fresh fruit. I took a pear and lemon home as I was already full. The soup was quite tasty and the cook had chopped some fresh dill to top it off at the last minute, the way it should be done.

Zarina called the hotel for me once again and had to deal with a clerk whose elevator didn’t seem to go all the way to the top and who insisted it wasn’t possible to send an electronic confirmation of my reservation so I could forward it to my supervisor. I got a number from her and a total bill of $397.00 for the five day stay. Zarina called my landlady to ask her if I could get some sort of furniture piece on which to hang my winter clothes so I don’t have to drape them over the dining room pieces. She answered that perhaps by January she’d be able to figure something out. Not exactly what I wanted to hear.

I decided to go back home by four so as to avoid the crunch of commuters that would be packing the marshrutkas on a day like today. Managed to ride standing next to the door and got off easily when my stop came up. Walking home was a piece of cake as the snow had now piled very high and there was plenty of traction. My feet felt marvelously warm and I was plain happy.

I did all the dishes piling up in the sink, made myself a cup of coffee and swept the kitchen floor. The snow continued to pile on the courtyard while some youngsters reveled in it by throwing snowballs at each other and rolling in the deep powder. I do love to see snow fall as everything turns white and clean and silent.

I got to watch the most fantastic movie about the business of making movies in Hollywood. It’s called “The Player” and boasts a lineup of the best actors in the business either portraying themselves, making cameo appearances or acting in some role. The movie was made in 1992, when I was living in Panama, and thus went under the radar for these many years. This is one of those films I’d like to see again for I certainly missed a few things the first time around.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November 28, 2012

Elvira had offered to take me to the Dordoi Bazaar today as snow was predicted for tomorrow and I really needed to buy a pair of boots for the winter. My hiking boots, which had done fine by me in Dushanbe, seemed like no match for the amount of ice I was encountering on the streets and sidewalks. We agreed to meet across from the post office and ride the marshrutka from there.

The minibus we took had a complete set of seats and the driver waited until it was filled before departing. There were curtains on the windows, so I could see little of the landscape as we traveled about thirty minutes out of town to reach the market. For whatever reason, the minibuses travel inside the market creating complete gridlock and enough fumes to make one dizzy in seconds. I asked Elvira to get off the bus and walked the remaining paces just so I could breathe fresh air.

The scene was not a pretty one as the market consists of unadorned cargo containers, stacked two high sometimes, that have been fashioned into individual stalls with all the charm of an improvised flea market back home. All of them placed in a muddy field with no logical design or flow. Once we got into the labyrinthine bazaar itself, it became painfully clear to me that the temperature had dropped by about ten degrees as the place gets no sunlight whatsoever and I had brought no gloves.

I pitied all the vendors bundled in numerous layers, wearing gloves and pacing around or drinking tea to stay warm. I simply could not fathom what life would be like for them for the next four or five months. Everything I requested a quote for was more expensive than things were in Dushanbe and prices approximated those you’d find at Target or Ross back home. For example, a pair of dress pants was going for 1300 soms or $29.00.

                             A bazaar vendor displaying a camel-hair filled comforter

I zeroed in on finding a pair of lined boots that would suit my wide feet and have a zipper and after stopping at the third vendor found exactly what I wanted for only 1600 soms or $34.00. I reflected on the fact that these were my first pair of real dress boots as I had never been a fan of having my feet imprisoned in boots all day. How do you like them?

I had brought a long list of things I wanted to buy; however, I had forgotten how adverse I’m to shopping especially the going around and around from one stall to another to find exactly what I needed. Our search for a battery charger that didn’t include the batteries was a lost cause. We never got to the household section so I could find a colander and I just got extremely dizzy and told Elvira we needed to pause and have lunch or I was going to keel over. We found a Dungan place, very similar to the Uyghur’s, and had plov and fried lagman accompanied by plenty of tea to replenish me.

Elvira told me that Forum would like to see me stay for another year and perhaps utilize me at the teachers’ retraining center in the future. I told her it was outside of my control whether my fellowship was extended or not, but I’d be willing to stay if it was offered to me.

On the way out of the bazaar, I bought two turtleneck sweaters to give me more choices in layering my outfits and then finally some lamb meat for a curry I have been meaning to cook for some time now. Elvira bought some beautiful persimmons and then got me into the minibus headed straight to the Osh Bazaar. The minibus traveled through some really bleak areas that seemed part deserted, part dilapidated until we reached Chuy Avenue and I got off to walk the rest of the way.

It was nap time when I got home after calling Elvira to let her know I had made it to the flat with no problem at all. Managed to send the invitation to all the teachers and acquaintances in the area for the first book club meeting in less than two weeks. I’m going to be on pins and needles until the day comes as I have no idea how it’ll go.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 27, 2012

Either Google’s weather satellites are emitting wrong data, which seems farfetched, or I’m getting very comfortable with the temperatures around here, which would be laughable for someone coming from the Caribbean, but it felt relatively balmy yesterday. I wore my fleece sweatshirt under my coat and had no need for gloves or hat as I made my way to the American University of Central Asia to meet with Elvira.

We had agreed to meet in front of the two guards posted in the Ala Too Square, who look like mummies in glass vitrines, and walk from there to her office. I didn’t realize there were other government buildings and parks right behind Chuy Avenue and need to go back on my own and take some photos. The AUCA occupies a former government building in the typical gray concrete bunker style that the Russians favored and once inside I found the usual warren of small dark rooms, narrow hallways and lifeless atmosphere prevalent in these buildings.

I met Alex, an American working for the university who told me a new campus is being built in the suburbs to accommodate the growth of the university, but that it might take 3-4 years before they actually moved into it. Elvira shares her office with at least five other colleagues and we were lucky to have just one other woman present when I showed up. She didn’t acknowledge our presence and Elvira didn’t introduce me.

We sat down to write a proposal letter to the embassy that would allow the Forum Association to adapt English language textbooks for Kyrgyz students from 4-7 grades. Elvira felt the organization had little chance of obtaining this grant as Lingua might also be competing for the grant and they had more experience and resources to carry out the project, but she wanted to have a shot at it anyway.

We went downstairs to the crowded cafeteria where most of the hot dishes were already gone by 12:30 and only a runny soup and samsis were on sale. When I heard we could order lagman, I went for that instead and bought some samsis to have for dinner. There were no tables available in the hallway outside the cafeteria and we waited for a group to depart so we could take over their table.

Elvira accompanied me to the bus stop so I could hop on a marshrutka and head to the Russian Slavonic University and somehow got to talking about relationships. She thought that I had an ongoing relationship with Ryan! I told her that he was flamboyantly gay, not my type and way to young anyway.

The session on grammar games went quite well; however, it became quite obvious that most teachers do not include games as part of their lessons and they felt very awkward about trying out the different games, too afraid of making any mistakes in front of their colleagues. It’s a shame that this group of teachers is so overly concerned about keeping up appearances instead of acquiring new activities their students might actually enjoy doing.
Anna came by at the end of the presentation and asked how it went. The exit slips confirmed they had enjoyed the presentation and a few said they would be putting some of the games into practice, but it was almost pathetic to see that they didn’t even know how to play “Concentration” and found the rules too complex, so some of them said it had not being enjoyable.

I was able to shed my coat and just wear my sweatshirt on the way home and took a nap as soon as I walked into my flat. I couldn’t believe how tired I felt. The hotel in Almity wrote requesting my credit card information and I sent it to them. My RELO also wrote requesting confirmation that my reservation had been completed.

I watched a great movie, “The Lincoln Lawyer”, one that I had never heard of, but which was immensely enjoyable following in the long line of courtroom dramas and detective stories placed in L.A. There was great acting on everybody’s part, a look at the gritty parts of the city, and the best part, Marissa Tomey in it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

November 26, 2012

Plenty of sunshine this morning to ward off the chilly weather, but snow still remains on the ground and no effort is being made by the public or store owners to remove it from their doorsteps.

I picked up my laminated materials and went to Lingua hoping to meet with both Zarina and Gulnara to determine what the rest of the year would look like for me. As soon as I sat down at my work terminal, Chinara approached me to help her edit the flyer Forum had printed a long time to bring it up to date. I made numerous corrections and commented on the fact that three different email addresses appeared on the document which would make it confusing for prospective members to decide who to contact.

I was able to open a Gmail account for the association and tasked Chinara with the responsibility of informing the managing committee and of adding the list of contacts to it, but I’m not quite sure she knows how to do that either. It’ll probably fall on my shoulders to do that as well.

Chinara then said she didn’t have a Facebook page since until now she had relied on the social network from Russia that is the equivalent to our “Classmates” one. I created the page for her, looked for her contacts through her email account and showed her how to upload a photo since she didn’t like the one I took of her that morning.

Zarina ordered samsis for me, and I had them while chatting with Gulnara, Larissa and Aigul. When I finally met with Zarina, she helped me make the hotel reservation for the conference in Almaty and notified me the school would be open until December 28, or the same date when I’m expected to finish my sessions at the Arabaev University. The school then would reopen on January 9, 2013. Not that long of a break, indeed.

Gulnara came in then and we talked about my assignments and the conversation club commitments. She mentioned that rumors were flying around that the world would end on December 22 this year and therefore the school won’t open on that day since no one would be willing to plan for classes anyway. I sincerely thought she was joking, but she was dead serious. I’ll take over the conversation club for the next three Saturdays, as I had agreed with Matthew, and then be done with it for the year.

Once I was done with my photocopying and other tasks, I left Lingua and returned to my apartment to relax and catch up on my reading, movie watching and posting on Facebook.

I saw the movie, “The Human Stain”, based on a Phillip Roth’s book I had read years ago, and couldn’t believe how miscast both Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, whom I had never seen as a good actress anyway, were in their roles. He, of course, doesn’t have a single trait of a black person, and she couldn’t portray a janitor if her life depended on it. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 25, 2012

I had a perfectly marvelous day as I got to stay home and take care of housekeeping stuff. The weather was sunny and I could see lots of children and teenagers frolicking in the snow as the weather warmed up a bit. By mid-day, I could keep the window open to bring some fresh air into the flat even though some people must have been burning leaves somewhere and the smell drifted in.

 I tackled the kitchen and only then remembered I had left the smoked fish we bought on the way back from Yssy-kul Lake in the plastic bag and, of course, they were rotten. I cooked the deep-orange hued pumpkin I had bought many days ago thinking of making a soup similar to the one I had had the day before, but mine turned out to be stringy and I didn’t have a colander or strainer to get rid of the rind and strings.

After a long bath, doing my hair and getting into my pajamas, I did another load of laundry. Tried to watch a bit of TV, but CNN was re-running the same program on the Irish IRA for the third time this week. Just sickening.

One of the teachers at the Forum session last Saturday had asked for recommendations on songs that teenagers here might be interested in listening to in her class. I looked up who was “hot” in the charts these days and came up with Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and the like. I didn’t recognize a single one of the songs being quoted, a clear sign of the generation gap.

Doing yet more researched, I finally found the perfect article for me to start the foundation work on a presentation on using film in the classroom to increase fluency for intermediate and advanced learners. The cherry on top? The article contained a detailed list of movies with a brief summary that I can use to  guide my selection of clips for the presentation.

I managed to open a Gmail account for our book club and drafted the memo that would be sent to all prospective attendees. I sent it to Rebecca for her approval and she made some changes to it. All we need to do now is put together a mailing list this week and send it out.

I watched Ben Affleck’s film, “The Town”, averting my eyes every time the mayhem started, and found it too violent for my taste. The best part of the movie concerns the romance between the female protagonist and Affleck, but the movie devotes too much time to incongruous scenes, especially the last robbery.

All in all, I was very pleased with the way my day went. I felt rested, happy with the work I had done and ready to face another day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

November 24, 2012

Made my way to the Children’s Library wondering if Gulsham, the teacher who had repeatedly invited me to her village, would come today so we could go there immediately after the Forum session was over. Asel was ready to do her presentation on the proper way to issue instructions in the classroom, but she spoke so softly we could barely hear her much less make any sense of what she wanted us to do. Willoughby was present as well as Joel who would conduct a presentation on classroom management later on, which turned out to be quite lively even when the register was way too high for those present.

Willoughby informed me the Peace Corps staff was holding a potluck dinner that same afternoon and she wanted to bring me along to introduce me to the rest of the volunteers in the area. Since Gulsham had not shown up by 11:15, I agreed to go with her, but then at 11:30 she showed up and tried to excuse herself by saying she had overslept.

While I felt bad that she had made the one hour trip probably just to fulfill her promise, I had to be the bearer of bad news and let her know I had made another commitment in her absence. The minute I said that, she turned around and left the room. I hope to make it up to her in the future.

There was a meeting of the Forum staff members, and even though I was starving, I stayed alongside Willoughby to discuss the creation of yet another committee to handle the day to day affairs of the organization now that Gulnara is stepping away gradually from those duties. We agreed to hold a conversation club for the teachers so as to increase their fluency level to be run by Willoughby and I along with other Peace Corps volunteers in the area. The first one will be held December 22 and will be all about Christmas.

We finally took a trolley to the Peace Corps education coordinator’s flat and Willoughby held on tight to my arm while navigating the icy sidewalks as she confessed she had fallen twice already and was grateful not to have suffered any injuries so far. We walked to the sixth floor of a somewhat modern building and found the volunteers busily carving one of three turkeys and putting the trimmings on the tables.

The country director, who also served in Nepal, showed me photos of his recent trip there contrasting them to the ones he had taken 30 years ago. I was surprised to hear he had outsourced all of his photos and negatives to a company in India to have them scanned, cleaned up and retouched by professionals as it was so much cheaper than in the States.

I was introduced to the stout, red-headed Judson, the volunteer who had stood me up twice at Lingua after offering to help me with the newsletter format. He pretended not to know who I was and then finally relented and claimed he thought Matthew had agreed to help me with it. What a liar! I made no effort to speak to him during the gathering at all.

The turkey was the usual dried up, tasteless, and colorless business I had experienced so many times in the past. I feasted instead on the delicious mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin soup, roasted vegetables and a somewhat dry cornbread. There was a table laden only with desserts and I loved the pumpkin pie and bread pudding with a persimmon sauce someone had concocted. An apple crisp was way too sweet for me and the ice cream didn’t appeal to my senses being completely white, but not in the coconut ice cream way I’m used to.

I saw no coffee or tea anywhere and couldn’t conceive of eating all those desserts without a shot of coffee at some point. I asked the coordinator, Bill, about it and he offered to take me to his flat upstairs to make some just for us as he knew the rest of the volunteers were only onto chai. He had the same type of coffeemaker I do, albeit a more expensive contraption, and best of all, gas for cooking.

We discussed the pending booklet we are expected to collaborate on and agreed to so after the Christmas break when he’ll be back from the States and I’ll have some time before starting the next round of teacher training workshops. The coffee was superb and I bid everyone goodbye as I wanted to walk home before it got too dark. Seth was able to pull my coordinates on his cell phone and I found myself about 5-6 blocks from my apartment.

I watched the movie, “The Secret Garden”, based on a children’s book I have failed to read and didn’t find it engrossing, believable or even appealing based on the beautiful images of the English countryside. I’ll hold my final judgment until I get to read the book one of these days.

November 23, 2012

Although the temperature had risen slightly, 12 F this morning, the sidewalks and roads remained just as icy as the day before thus forcing me to operate according to old M.O. of walking on the road facing traffic. The marshrutka was already waiting at the stoplight, and a young woman ceded her seat to me the minute I boarded it.

I dropped a group of photos in need of lamination and proceeded to Lingua to photocopy the rest of the materials I needed for that day’s presentation on motivating students. Lingua has an old copier that keeps jamming the paper thus wasting both ink and paper while there is another copier, a newer one, with plastic wrap all over it. I have to find out why in the heck we have to use the one that is constantly malfunctioning.

Zarina had informed me that Lingua was holding a luncheon that day to celebrate Thanksgiving, but instead of a proper luncheon, we were taken on a tour of an adjacent building Lingua had been remodeling to accommodate another facility that will be selling McMillan books. Gulnara was tight-lipped about the operation only saying it wouldn’t open officially until December first, but she wanted the staff to take a peek at it ahead of time. We were treated to something that looked like calzones, muffins baked by Zarina and chocolate bars along with sushi, the rice not quite cooked, and juices.

I had to run in order to make it to my presentation on time. The teachers had never heard the term “immediacy” and worked in groups of three to determine how accessible they normally were to their students. I didn’t have time to collect their findings but urged them to consider the fact that the closer the students perceived their relationship to be to their teacher, the more motivated they were to participate and do well in their class.

When shown the student survey that should be completed at the beginning of the semester to determine the students’ attitude toward learning the language and the way they like to learn it, none of the teachers had seen or given one like it and acknowledged they aren’t required to obtain any kind of feedback from the students at any time during the semester.

As I was packing my stuff to leave, one teacher approached me to say she had tried one of the speaking games in her class and the students had loved it. I wasn’t able to find out which one as her English was deficient to say the least. In any event, it was gratifying to hear at least one thing had stuck so far.

I stopped at the store across the street to buy milk, but there wasn't any in the regular tetra pack container, so  I opted for the one that comes in a regular plastic bag only to discover when I got home that it was cream instead of milk. And it wasn't as if I couldn't read it in the Cyrillic alphabet. Oh was a I mad because there was no way I was going back outside to get the right thing.

I watched a movie, “The Searchers”, in which John Wayne sets out to kill the Native American people responsible for killing his family. Reflecting the times when the movie was filmed, 1956, it doesn’t bother to go into any deep analysis of the reasons Native Americans were engaging in the scalping and kidnapping of European descendants who were taken away their lands and livelihood. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

November 22, 2012

I knew last night that today would be bone-chilling cold as the temperature was a measly 5 degree Fahrenheit when I went to bed, so it wasn’t too shocking to see the mercury at -2 this morning. I needed to bundle up in order to walk to the bakery and buy a cake to take to the Thanksgiving dinner.

The cold weather had had the intended consequence of converting the streets and sidewalks into a huge ice rink and I could hardly find a spot to place my boot where it would not skid forward. Just as in Dushanbe, I saw young people putting their lives at risk by skating down the sidewalk with no protective gear whatsoever to soften the blow of a fall.

I draped my scarf over my mouth to keep me from inhaling the frosty air. The wind had died down and at least the snow was no longer drifting down on the pedestrians. There were quite a few people out and about, but then I needed to remind myself that it wasn’t a holiday here.

When I got to the bakery, I found five women gathered at a table behind the vitrines having a tea break. I motioned for the chocolate cake I found most enticing and was glad to see they all had prices clearly marked. They packed it in a pretty box and tied it with a ribbon.

When I attempted to email Christian for the final arrangements to get to his house, I got an automatic “Out of the Office” reply and his mobile would not allow my call to go through. I was incredibly annoyed at having gone through the trouble of buying something for the gathering and then not having even the exact address to get there. I sent another email letting him know I was trying to call him and then gave up on it. I really didn’t need to have another huge meal and I don’t even eat turkey.

Received an email from Grace, a Fulbrighter in Dushanbe who has been introduced to me through Ryan as she’ll be visiting Bishkek at the end of the month for a conference and would love to have someone show her around. She related she was on her way to the dinner sponsored by the embassy along with the rest of the ELFs. I got another email from Zarina notifying me that two pieces of mail had arrived for me from the States.

Spent the rest of the afternoon finalizing the details for my presentation tomorrow, going through the magazines ripping out photos and watching another movie, “The French Lieutenant’s Wife”, but the washed out colors, difficult to follow plot and less than stellar performances by Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep made for an unsatisfactory experience.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21, 2012

Still feeling groggy from lack of sleep as I woke up numerous times coughing and looking for the lozenges to soothe me scratchy throat. Around seven in the morning, the contours of the mountains just began to make themselves visible thus announcing an end to two days without any sun whatsoever.

I remembered that I had saved the carcass from the rotisserie chicken with the intention of making a soup with it and got to it this morning by adding chicken bouillon, potatoes and carrots to it and finally some chopped dill and cilantro leaves. It made the perfect breakfast on such a chilly morning.

Waiting for the marshrutka while the snow drifted from rooftops and treetops wasn’t any fun, but at least a young woman yielded her seat to me the minute I stepped inside. Traffic was just as snarled as the day before with much revving of engines by impatient drivers and the skidding of wheels on the icy roads.

I've come to realize that Kyrgyz do not observe our rule of walking on the right side of the road thus forcing me into that awkward "Shall we dance" pantomime routine until they realize I'm not budging from my side and  then they move over to the left. I guess that thousands of years living in the steppe without having to ever yield to anybody else has left an imprint on them.

I got to Lingua on time for my meeting with Anna and said hello to Zarina and Aigul. When Anna showed up, we quickly sat down to draft a selection criteria to be used for the presenters at the CATEC conference and immediately sent it to the members of the committee for their review and input. When I happened to mention that I had been disappointed with the choice of locale for our ELF mid-year conference, she countered by saying that it wasn’t as if I was being sent to Siberia and I quipped that to me Almaty in January was exactly like Siberia.

I saw Gulnara and Larissa in the hallway getting ready to have lunch and greeted both of them. After finishing work on a couple more documents, I notified the other office manager that I was on my way to the American Corner and would see them all on Friday when the office will be hosting a Thanksgiving lunch.

Aigerim, the American Corner coordinator, supplied me with plenty of magazines so I could rip a few pages for my upcoming workshop on using pictures to teach English. A young guy approached me to say he had been part of the huge workshop on teaching English interactively and wanted to know if I could help him in practicing his English. I always feel about when having to tell them I’m not available for that kind of teaching.

Stopped at the store across the street for water and juice and then got a call from Brice inquiring about the details of the Thanksgiving dinner. His call kept dropping, but I gathered that all Fulbrighters had made other plans for the occasion and apparently weren’t interested in going with me. Brice indicated he had a class in the early afternoon and promised to email me as to whether he’d be going or not, but never did. And to think I had gone through all that trouble of adding their names to the list of invitees for nothing.

I still didn’t know where the dinner would be held at and emailed Christian asking if I could get a ride with his family to which he agreed as long as it was only one person. He wasn’t familiar with my location and suggested I take a marshrutka to his house. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

I managed to do more research online on the topic of motivating students and found a fascinating report on something called “teacher’s immediacy” related to how close to the students a teacher gets, the more motivated the student will be to succeed in that class. I hope to be able to use it in my presentation on Friday as I know that’s totally the opposite of the approach here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20, 2012

It had continued to snow throughout the night and the accumulation on the ground was now quite tangible. I wore my fleece sweatshirt under my coat and managed to stay relatively warm on my way to Lingua, but just as I had suspected, navigating the steps down to the underpass and up the other side entailed quite a bit of balancing and careful placement of my boots to avoid skidding and falling.

I could clearly hear the tires skidding as many drivers tried to speed up through the sluggish traffic and it was obvious most of them hadn’t bothered to change their tires into snow ones. Lingua was a very quiet place when I got there as only Aigul and Larissa were present. I waited for Elvira while tweaking other materials for upcoming presentations and then went over her presentation on using portfolios when teaching writing. There wasn’t anything I really needed to add to it and only made suggestions about using a more simplistic rubric for its grading.

Matt came in as Elvira was leaving and asked me how my shindig had gone. I was frank with him and said I had been disappointed in the lack of attendance from members of the Lingua staff and the unnecessary expenses I had gone through thinking they were going to be there. He said he was sorry, but never actually apologized for being one of those who received an invite and never bothered to reply.

I skipped lunch and went directly to the Russian Slavonic University so I could set up the classroom for a face-to-face role playing session at the beginning of the workshop. We discussed pragmatics and I was again disappointed to see the teachers being reluctant to read aloud from the situation cards I had provided them with so we could hear how they’d handle the language act. In fact, it struck me that the youngest teachers are much more open to speaking about any topic while the older ones, who have probably acted as their mentors at some point, are much more guarded in their interactions.

I had agreed to meet with Rebecca at the Sierra Coffee shop after the session and found the place jamming with people including Willoughby, the Peace Corps volunteer and Cristina, the Filipino woman. Rebecca joined us and confirmed she had been to Bishkek before on at least two occasions. Willoughby informed us she’s leaving her post, where she’s been teaching children, to work only with the Forum Association as of this Friday.
Rebecca and I talked about the selection process for the candidates that will be presenting at the CATEC conference next year, which will be the topic of my meeting with Anna tomorrow morning, and then the creation of a book club along the same lines as the one in Dushanbe.

We decided to set up the first meeting at my apartment on December 11 at 7:00 pm, potluck style, and to ask members to donate a book to start our own collection. I need to set up an email account and a mailing list as well. All book discussions to be held in English only.

My cough was getting nastier by the minute and I begged Rebecca to write down, in Russian, the words for cough drops so I could buy some on my way home. She did so and then reminded me these needed to be purchased from a pharmacist and not the supermarket. There was a pharmacy across the street and she accompanied me there. I was glad to see the same brand I used to purchase in Dushanbe and got two packets.

While Rebecca went in search of a comfortable pillow to buy, I walked home suddenly realizing how swiftly the temperature was dropping as my nose went practically numb. It’s supposed to go down to single digits tonight.

The movie for tonight was “Taken”, another film I’d never heard of but one filled with adrenaline for all of its 96 minutes. An improbable tale, for sure, but one so well done that the film goer doesn’t mind suspending disbelief for so long.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November 19, 2012

The snow must have started overnight as the trees were covered in the white stuff when I got up and the wind was swirling it around the courtyard of my building. I felt worse than the day before, so stuffed up that I could barely breathe and had to reconsider going to the Lingua School. My only engagement for the day consisted of a meeting with Elvira to go over her presentation on using portfolios in the classroom, and that didn’t seem like such a pressing one.

I texted her to find out if it could be postponed to Tuesday when I’d have no choice but to go out for my workshop at the Russian Slavonic University, and she agreed. I then notified Zarina and Gulnara, both of whom asked if I needed anything and to just stay warm while recuperating. It was a great relief to be able to stay home and just watch the copious snow fall all day little by little covering the streets and sidewalks.

I got time to compose a well-thought message to my RELO regarding the use of my PAA funds and responded to an invitation for the Thanksgiving dinner at someone’s house this Thursday. When I asked Andrea if the Fulbrighters had been invited as well, she said no but asked me for their full names to see if they could be added to the list. Brice was thrilled to be going, but then Andrea balked at the idea of having all four of them and promised to check with the higher ups and get back to me.

Last year in Dushanbe, all fellows and Fulbrighters were included in this event, so I don’t understand what the big deal is since it couldn’t possibly be lack of food or space as these embassy employees tend to live in mini-mansions and get food shipped from the States. We’ll just have to wait and see how they react to hosting some compatriots with no place to go on that date.

I tried calling the IT person that Takhmina had recommended here in Bishkek, but only got a weird message in Russian. I had no luck finding him on Facebook either, so I’ll have to contact her again to see if she has an email address for him.

I got to watch two movies tonight, “My Summer of Love”, a British film that I found completely unsatisfactory except for its unexpected ending, and “Carlito’s Way”, based on a couple of books written by a Puerto Rican judge in New York. I find it hard to believe that the director couldn’t find someone of Puerto Rican, or at least of Hispanic origin, to play the main character as to hear Al Pacino trying to speak Spanish was simply risible.

The movie contained too much violence for me and the plot was somewhat predictable. On the other hand, it was great to see the recreation of a late 70s disco club playing some of the greatest hits of both Fania’s salsa hits and R&B crooners as it brought to mind my days running to New York City to dance all night at one of these places.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

November 18, 2012

At last I had a full day to just relax and practically do nothing. I had to deal with the leftovers first and a kitchen that looked like a disaster zone, but then it was time to get back to my computer and put together another presentation, this time on the topic of using pictures to teach English as I need to present at the Forum Association in just two weeks.

Snow is predicted for  this evening and then for the next three days and I have failed to make it to the second hand shop to see if I can find a thick sweater to wear under my elegant coat. By Wednesday, the temperature is expected to drop into the low teens. I might have to wear my sweatshirt under it for now as I cannot motivate myself to go shopping.

Watching CNN has become such a frustrating experience as the company has chosen to focus only on the Israeli side of the conflict while completely ignoring the huge casualty toll on the Palestinian side. One half hour program spent its entire allocated time, about 25 minutes, in front of a sidewalk where a rocket had landed in an Israeli village without causing any property damage or injury to those living nearby. One can immediately tell where their bread is being buttered as not one single correspondent was reporting from the Palestinian side much less providing images of the carnage there, especially the gruesome one of children being massacred by the dozens.

It was great to have a chance to skype with my sister and brother-in-law as they always manage to cheer me on and leave me more relaxed knowing everything is all right on their side of the world even in my absence.

I had never heard of the film “Melancholia”, directed by the hugely talented Lars Von Trier and including an awesome performance by Kirsten Dunst. I was simply mesmerized by it even after realizing that this wasn’t a film about depression, but a much bigger question. I wish all my friends and relatives got to see this one. What a gem of a film!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17, 2012

The weather was gorgeous in spite of the frost in the air and icy puddles I encountered while walking to the supermarket to make the last minute shopping for the evening’s gathering. I looked and looked fruitlessly for a corkscrew to open the bottle of white wine I wanted to add to the chicken recipe, but found nothing in the house wares section or the wine one. My last hope was that some of the guests would call me for directions and I could ask for them to bring one of their own.

I stopped at the little bakery on my way back to the flat and asked the guy for five pieces using the word I knew in Tajik. The poor guy thought I spoke Persian and started to speak to me in that language as he is from Uzbekistan he indicated. He produced three round cakes from the tandoor oven and two others from a stack nearby and they smelled divine. I love the fact that he covers his loaves with sesame seeds thus giving them an additional aromatic flavor.

I was able to buy a bottle of bleach even though I wasn’t quite sure I was getting the right thing as I guided myself by the color of the label which looked almost like the ones back home. I scrubbed the toilet, sink and bathtub with it and was quite pleased with the results even though I could barely smell it since my sinuses continued to be plugged up. I managed to put all the clothing away in the cubbyholes I have instead of a closet and the valuables inside one of my suitcases. I prepared the salad and started to cook the rice and beans early knowing how temperamental that stove top can be.

I don’t have any counter space even to set up the cutting board I had purchased and needed to use the sink to peel and cut up the vegetables for the chicken fricassee recipe. The dull knife didn’t make things any easier and my hands felt rough after a while. I soaked the Chinese mushrooms in water, instead of the white wine I had intended to, and added the black olives to the dish. I had already placed all the plastic plates, cups, cutlery and napkins on the ledge next to the dining room table along with the instant coffee, green and black tea and water.

Natalia, from the embassy, sent me a text message indicating she’d not be able to attend due to family problems. Rebecca, formerly from Dushanbe and who had just moved to Bishkek today, called to say she was all tuckered out and wanted to skip the party and offering to meet with me later on in the week. 

At 4:15, a group from the Forum Association, Gulnara, Tatiana and Mariamgul, showed up bringing Korean salads and Kyrgyz fried bread. Shortly after that, the Fulbrighters, Masha, Max and Bryce arrived with more wine but no corkscrew to open them. Masha had made a lemon curd dessert instead of the sangria she had promised to make. Asel, also from Forum, showed up bringing me sweets and a homemade sauce to add to my dishes.

My biggest frustration had been not being able to play music for even the MS media player kept rejecting every blank CD I put in and the old  stereo system in the living room doesn’t have a connection for an MP3 player. Bryce had shown me some music he had in his IPod, but we didn’t have a chance to upload it to my laptop. I brought the laptop into the dining room and played music, barely audible, until the battery died out.

No one from the Lingua School showed up or even called to cancel. I have a difficult time believing everyone had a prior commitment today and couldn’t even begin to speculate as to what might have kept them away including the Peace Corps volunteer, Matt. It’s going to be a bit awkward when I show up on Monday and they either ask me about the party or try to politely come up with some excuse.
I ended up with tons of food and asked Bryce and Max to please fill out a container and take some home. Masha turned down the offer and left the lemon custard for me to eat it in the future. I picked up the used plates and cups, napkins and cutlery, put away the salads, returned the furniture to its original placement and then realized that my freezer isn’t big enough to put away all the leftovers. So, I just dealt with the flat bread and decided to deal with the rest tomorrow.

I got to watch yet another movie, “The Adjustment Bureau”, one I had never heard of but which kept me at the edge of my seat with its futuristic outlook and somewhat plausible premise that our lives are really outside of our control and that somebody else, the chairman, directs everything. Superb acting, believable characters and, of course, the fabulous setting of New York City was the cherry on top.

Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16, 2012

My head was so congested that no amount of coffee or Advil could help dislodge the phlegm and I could feel my voice being just a croak when Anna called early in the morning to ask me to bring my laptop for today’s presentation as the teacher who had been lending hers would be absent that day. Natalia had suggested that I cancel the session altogether if I didn’t feel well, but then I knew that would derail the rest of the schedule, so I decided to soldier on despite my cold.

It was a dreadful day all around. It was cold, rainy and windy as I made my way to the Russian Slavonic University by first stopping at the underpass to get more lamination and photocopying done for that day’s workshop. Carrying the laptop in a plastic bag along with the games and photocopies while trying to balance an umbrella over my head was no fun at all.

When I was waiting for the lamination to be done, I was approached by a young woman who identified herself as one of the teachers currently involved in the training program at the American Pilot School. She could barely carry on a conversation, and I had to finish all her sentences out of frustration. She offered to walk with me to the bus stop while telling me how desperate she was to improve her fluency.

Zarina called to find out if I still wanted to engage the services of their taxi driver to get me to and from the university, but I told her my RELO had just informed me that contrary to how it was done in Dushanbe, I couldn’t use the PAA funds for local transportation even to buy something as bulky and heavy as the printer. She indicated that she had had no confirmation as to how many of the teachers would be coming to the housewarming party, but would try to get a head count tomorrow morning, but I told her it’d too late by then.

The session was better attended than I had expected given the terrible weather outside, and I just interspersed speaking activities while going through the PowerPoint presentation emphasizing how much preparation was needed before students were expected to speak and how much better the students would feel given a chance to practice in the safety of pair or group work first.

I had to ride standing all the way to the flat and could feel my stomach becoming nauseous from the repeated stop-and-go motion of the marshrutka. As soon as I got close enough to my place, I exited it and walked back without even bothering to open the umbrella as I so welcome the fresh air and cool rain on my head to wipe away the sweat that had trickled down my head and neck. I really don’t know how the average Kyrgyz deals with riding in such crowded, stuffy and demeaning manner. I feel especially bad for the older men and women, usually stout in build, who have to squeeze into these minibuses and then fight their way out when their stops come up.

It was a relief to get home and get out of my wet clothes, put on pajamas and have a cup of steaming café con leche while perusing the web for additional materials needed for the next two weeks of presentations. I also realized this morning that I didn’t buy any rice for the cooking tomorrow which implies another trip to the grocery store. What a drag! On the other hand, I do need to go out and buy fresh flat bread.

I got to watch “Hannah and her Sisters”, an old Woody Allen film I had seen upon its release in 1986 while I still lived in Seattle. The master of witty dialogues was in full display and the movie had me feeling a bit melancholic for those years when I used to go to the cinema up to three times a week.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November 15, 2012

I had a terrible congestion and no amount of Advil was helping it go away. I managed to do one load of laundry and then got properly dressed to go and do the grocery shopping needed in preparation for the housewarming party on Saturday. It wasn’t as cold as I had expected and I felt suffocatingly hot in my sweatshirt and coat as I walked to the Beta store to exchange money, buy a rotisserie chicken and other accoutrements for the event. I got to the store at the right time to find the pumpkin-filled samsis I so much like and took the last five on the tray still piping hot from the oven. Since I spent over 2500 soms in groceries, the store issue me a ticket to the local cinema which I think I’ll give to Zarina.

A rotisserie chicken here costs 480.00 soms or over ten dollars, so I wonder how many families can afford to buy it although the business seems to be thriving. I didn’t want to bother cutting up and cooking a bird for the event, so it was worth it. I returned to the flat carrying my heavy shopping bag and after having a couple of the samsis for lunch, proceeded to the Osh Bazaar to get the fresh ingredients needed for the chicken fricassee and the salad.

Back at the apartment, I settled down to finish my expense report and sent it to my RELO for preliminary approval. She shot back that I was out of compliance with the procedures needed to get approval since I was requesting it after I had incurred said expenses. She sent me a link to the handbook for me to review the rules. It seems as if she’s asking for prior approval even for obtaining photocopying and lamination services. I was dejected and in no mood for plowing through the manual to find out how to do it properly. I even think I’m willing to absorb the expenses and not deal with the bureaucratic process.

Instead, I got to watch two great films that had been sitting in my laptop for ages. One was “Friends with Benefits”, a cute but predictable comedy and then “Goya’s Ghosts” where Javier Bardem does an excellent job impersonating a priest living in Spain during the inquisition and subsequent to the French Revolution. I had never heard of this film and need to do a bit of research to determine in what year it was filmed.

I emailed Zarina asking her if she had any idea how many people from the school were coming to the party as I needed to know before deciding how much food to cook, but I got no reply by the end of the day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November 14, 2012

I decided to stay home today as I spent another sleepless night taking sips of fruit juice and sucking on lozenges to soothe my sore throat. I realize my body has taken a toll from the frenetic pace I have subjected it to, and it is now  paying me back by demanding that I slow down a bit. I had no medication whatsoever in the house and not even ginger or lemon to make myself some homemade remedy. Snow was still on the ground and had no desire to bundle up and get to the bazaar for what I needed.

Instead, I concentrated on getting the printer to work and was able to figure out where the ink cartridge was still covered by a strip and thus no releasing ink at all. I was able to scanned most of my receipts only to realize a few of them were in one of the folders I left at Mr. Wright’s house last Friday. I did one load of laundry and the laundry rack couldn’t hold anymore items, so I’ll do another one tomorrow. I was hungry by noon and could find nothing to cook, so I ate the potato chips Ryan had left in the fridge.

Zarina called me to ask me if I wanted to join the school staff for their New Year’s celebration on December 29 which consisted of a dinner and dance gathering costing over a thousand soms. I replied I wasn’t sure yet as I hadn’t made any plans, but she was insistent the deadline was yesterday and I needed to make a commitment right then and there. Why would they wait until the deadline to invite me? I said yes tentatively with the caveat that I’d be able to change my mind if something else came up.

Natalia emailed me asking that I drop my passport and $160.00 dollars for the Kazakh visa I’ll need for the mid-year conference in Almaty. The price for the visa had gone up from just 60.00 two weeks ago. What a rip-off! I had, in fact, jokingly asked my RELO if we, the fellows, were being punished for something by having us attend a conference in such an ugly city in the dead of winter instead of rewarding us with some tropical setting. She didn’t seem to appreciate my sense of humor and instead lectured me about the need to contribute to the development of Central Asia’s teachers.

Elvira asked me to look over a presentation she’ll be giving on assessing students through the use of portfolios and we agreed to meet on Friday prior to my workshop. Anna and I agreed to meet on Monday to discuss the selection criteria for attendees at the CATEC conference next year. I don’t seem to be able to get a break from additional commitments.

Late afternoon was a good time to watch some movies and I started out with “Basquiat”, a biographical movie about the young Haitian painter Jean-Michelle Basquiat who died of a drug overdose when he was only 28 and who was befriended by Andy Warhol. I thought the movie wasn’t gritty enough in portraying the world of drug abusers and signs of mental illness he bore throughout his young life.

The second movie was Almodovar’s “Atame” or “Tie me, Tie me down”, which I recall watching upon its release when I lived in Panama City in the early 90s, but whose plot I couldn’t recall. It was amazing to see Antonio Banderas, perhaps in his first film, looking so young and handsome next to Victoria Abriles, one of Almodovar’s earlier muses. As it is usual for this director, there was a lot of nudity and sex scenes.

After reading a few more pages of the book “The Perfect Man”, I went to sleep.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 13, 2012

I woke up at five not certain that Ryan had set up the alarm to get himself ready to go to the airport at seven. He was up a six and we chatted as he had a cup of coffee and some pastry while waiting for the taxi driver to arrive. He mentioned his experience at Wasabi had been a good one even though it had taken them forever to get there in the midst of a traffic jam as it was still snowing.

There had been no let up in the snow falling except for the fact that it didn’t seem to sticking around. I pulled my coat from the suitcase and found it creased beyond recognition and the iron did little to restore its shape completely. Stepping outside, I found that the buckled up sidewalk was covered with icy clumps and my pumps had little traction to maneuver there, so the pavement was a much safer bet.

When I got to Lingua, Zarina came to apologize profusely for having misunderstood the taxi driver quote of a fare for Ryan saying that the 700 som fee was only for one way and not round trip and that Ryan hadn’t paid him that morning. I told her I’d compensate the driver that same day. I printed the handouts I’d need for that day’s workshop and went back outside to get the photocopies done. It was miserable out there with the snow still falling lightly and clumps of it dropping from the trees onto my coat, handbag and hands.

The taxi driver took me to the Russian Slavonic University and agreed to pick me up at three so I could avoid having to ride in the crowded marshrutka with all my materials at hand. I ate a couple of tasteless samsis in the school’s cafeteria and walked up to the fifth floor to get set up. Attendance was higher than I expected that day and we had a good session on teaching vocabulary strategies.

Back outside I went and the taxi driver was nowhere in sight. After fifteen minutes of freezing my behind out there, I called Zarina who once again apologized for not having called earlier to let me know Gulnara and Aigul had engaged the driver on some other errand and he wasn’t back yet. I can’t deny I was a bit angry, but just crossed the street and got in one of the marshrutkas and fortunately only had to wait a bit before someone who was seated exited the minibus and I got to sit down all the way home.

A short nap restored me somehow and after a steaming cup of coffee, I sat down at the computer to deal with emails, responses to the invitation to my housewarming party and other minutiae. After dinner of more leftovers, I got to watch “Dirty Dancing”, a movie I had seen when it first came out but of which I could remember little, not even the fact that the first dance lesson Baby takes is the merengue.

Went to bed around midnight and continue to read a bit of “The Perfect Man” by Naeem Murr, a British writer who’s residing in the United States for many years.

November 12, 2012

I slept relatively well once Ryan turned off the floor heater and opened up the window for a while as small the room had turned suffocatingly hot. I had begged the server the night before to give me a bit of instant coffee as the dining room would not be open, not even for coffee, until 8:30am. I was able to make two cups of coffee with it and the sugar I had pilfered from the table and sat on the toilet lid to read for a while so as not to wake up Ryan. He was up at seven, had a cup of coffee and a piece of pastry and then we went out to the lake to take some photos of the rising sun.

It was quite cold as you could see the frost over the bushes and shimmering from the grains of sand along the lake, but what a view as the light hit the trees in the horizon and then the mountains. Ryan had arranged for the same taxi driver who had brought us to the Raduga Resort to return and take us back to Bishkek even after I warned him I’d not be able to share the cost fifty-fifty as we had done so far for the driver had requested 2500 soms or about $50.00. He was expected to show up at nine as Ryan wanted to be back in the city early to meet with other people he knew.

We were served a generous breakfast that started out with an oatmeal porridge I turned down, but which Ryan promptly combined with his, followed by two fried eggs and a hot dog and then crepes with no syrup or jam. On the table, they had already placed slices of cheese, bologna and salami along with tomatoes and cucumbers. Coffee, tea and milk were also brought out along with some slices of bland bread. I fashioned a sandwich with the bread, cheese and salami, had the two fried eggs and tasted one of the cold crepes before having to rush back to the cabin to pick up my backpack and get into the waiting taxi.

Ryan got the driver to stop a few times so he could get a particularly beautiful landscape shot and later on to buy smoked fish from one of the roadside stands. I purchased two large ones for dinner. We made it into Bishkek by 12:40, considerably earlier than expected as my acquaintances had warned me the trip to the lake took about five hours. It was time to head to Lingua to retrieve my laptop, which was supposedly ready, and for Ryan to do some more shopping particularly at the Adidas shop and then Benetton.

It started to rain when we got there and everyone at Lingua couldn’t help but stare at Ryan who was still wearing his trademark Capri pants and t-shirt. I showed him around and introduced him to those present. We then went downstairs to have lunch at the Halal Kitchen where we shared an order of lagman, salad and flat bread. The lemon tea was not what they serve in Tajikistan, and Ryan was quite disappointed with it.

Despite the rain, we walked to the Victory Park monument so he could have his photo taken there and then walked toward the Tsum department store for him to buy yet more souvenirs. I needed to pay for my Internet connection and after doing so, we moved to the Adidas store where he bought a lightweight sweatshirt for $120.00 and another t-shirt with their famous logo. I was accosted by a drunken man while waiting for Ryan and the staff swiftly pushed him out the door causing the man to fall on the slippery floor. When he tried to walk back inside, two the guys roughly threw him outside. I was mortified to have been a witness to such cruelty and had no way to convey my discomfort.

We got into a taxi in the driving rain and ended up with a driver who was deaf-mute and asked us to write down our destination, something neither one of us was capable of doing. Ryan gestured he would guide him to the exact location and to his credit did exactly that. I was relieved to be home and wanted nothing to do with going out to dinner later on as the rain turned into snow by early evening.

Ryan’s friend agreed to meet him at the Benetton store and they came back to the flat together to discuss some grant application the guy was working on. When they decided to try the Japanese restaurant I had recommended, Wasabi, I bid them goodbye preferring to have some old leftovers to going out again.

My laptop was in exactly the same shape I had left it Friday with no programs on the desktop and Microsoft Office 2010 completely gone. I had no idea what this IT person had done with it all weekend and since we can’t communicate in Russian, doubt that I can ever find out. I went to bed around half past ten and Ryan was still out. I admire his willingness to go out in all kinds of weather.

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 11, 2012

Both Elvira and Gulnara made attempts to locate a resort in Yssykul Lake that would be open this time of the year and we left the house with a few suggestions. I just threw a few things into my new backpack along with my tablet and a book while remembering to pack the snacks we had purchased the day before. Ryan negotiated with the taxi driver to take us to the bus terminal and then we waited for a minibus that would have the two front seats available for I would not ride in the back.

The bus terminal was the usual beehive site with passengers coming in carrying bulky bundles and plenty of children. To my dismay, most of the male passengers waiting for the buses to fill up would spend this time alternatively smoking and spitting on the sidewalk and pavement. So disgusting! We finally left about 10:40am and were delighted to find out that most of the road to the lake was in pretty good condition except for a few patches where construction was going on. Police were out in force pulling over any driver that appeared to be exceeding the speed limit. Our driver apparently knew each spot where they stood and slowed down way before getting there.

We stopped at a roadside restaurant and Ryan ordered lagman noodles, bread and tea. I had eaten some of the cheese rolls I had bought the day before and wasn’t a bit hungry. The landscape looked pretty much lunar as there was little vegetation around and even the tiny settlements we encountered sported no greenery of any kind and could have passed for some ghost town except for the shiny new mosques we encountered in each one of them.

We arrived in Cholponata before three and the town was dead with all hotels, restaurants and concession stands shuttered for the winter. We walked around for a bit, but my backpack was heavier than I had expected and I just wanted for us to find a place to spend the night before it got dark. We walked back to the main drag where some taxi drivers had congregated and Ryan settled with one of them to take us to the Raduga resort we had seen on the way there and which the driver reassured us was open.

A smile spread across my face as we approached the front gate and found a beautifully landscaped space spotlessly clean and securely guarded by a surly officer. Ryan and I agreed to split the $120.00 cost for a cabin including dinner and breakfast and found the space luxurious with heated floors, a tub where Ryan soaked for a while, and Wi-Fi in the lobby. We walked onto the lake just before the light faded and got to take some great photos.

Dinner was served at a separate building and we found only three other diners there. Two salads were on the table and the lone server, a stout woman of Russian background, brought a minuscule serving of rice, stewed beef and vegetables. Ryan complained the food wasn’t enough and she brought him an additional dish of noodles and vegetables. I wasn’t that hungry and left pretty satisfied with the first course.

I took a shower, got into my pajamas and settled down to read one of the books Ryan had brought me back from Dushanbe while he went back to the lobby to do some Internet surfing. There was a TV set in the room, but it only had two channels that could be seen clearly and there were both in Russian. I was happy to just read.

November 10, 2012

I set out for the Children’s Library by 9:00am to collect my handouts on the way there and have plenty of time to set up the laptop and LCD projector. As luck would have it, the cute guy’s hole-in-wall operation was still closed when I got there and after waiting until quarter to ten, I decided to just go to the library and deal with the lack of handouts in whatever way I could while my blood boil at the lack of professionalism that many people exhibit.

Elena, Gulnara and Elvira were already present at the American Corner and Elvira offered to go back down to the underpass to see if the guy had opened up his stall, but she called from there to say he wasn’t there and the vendor across the aisle had indicated he came in at whatever time he felt like it. It then occurred to me to go down to the American Corner and ask its coordinator to allow to me to print a few pages so the teachers could at least have some vocabulary to create their own poems, and Gulnara accompanied to complete the task.

I was late by thirty minutes beginning the workshop, but I’d say that it went relatively well except for a couple of teachers who kept whispering to each other even when other teachers were trying to read their poems aloud. Willoughby was the only Peace Corps volunteer to be present that day and I later learned that she’s been transferred from her post out in the suburbs to the city center and was looking for an apartment for $200.00 a month with a washer! I wished her luck with such tall order. We all helped put the room back in order and walked together to the underpass to see if the guy is back just so I could hurl a few insults to his face. He was open and wouldn’t look at me in the face only answering that it hadn’t been possible for him to be on time.

It was time to head home to wait for Ryan whose flight would be arriving at 2:05. I even got to take a short nap, as I still felt a bit hung over from the two drinks I had had the night before, after a light snack as Ryan had requested we had a late lunch together. He arrived before three wearing his now peculiar Capri pants and t-shirt and pulling my cherished suitcase containing all of my winter clothes and a few kitchen items. I had forgotten that I had also packed some teaching books in it and as a result, it was incredibly heavy. It was a good thing Ryan was only carrying a small backpack himself so he didn’t have to pay for excess weight at the airport.

He was exceedingly pleased with the looks of the apartment and his sleeping quarters and even managed to open the sofa bed the couch surfers had been unable to crack. We then left the flat to eat the Ken the restaurant across from the university where he ordered some pork dish, French fries, salad and beer. I had an awful tomato soup and pickled herring served over slices of cucumber and potatoes.

After finishing our meal, we walked across the street to the Ala-Too Square just as the light began to fade. Ryan took some pictures, posed for others and proposed we walk back to my place just so he could see what shops were available as he wanted to buy whatever. We stopped at the Beta store for some groceries to take the following day on the trip to Issyk-Kul Lake and at Narodni for wine. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open and my legs were hurting for all the hours I had been standing that day and the previous one.

When we got back home, I showed Ryan where everything, was except for the lack of a corkscrew to open his wine bottle, and got ready for bed. I just had to take a peek at my suitcase to make sure everything I had left there was still intact and it was: sleeping bag, hiking boots, high heel pumps, flashlight, sweaters and tights and thermal wear, scarf and gloves, coffeemaker and grinder, coffee mug and many, many books. I was really thankful to Ryan for agreeing to keep the suitcase for almost four months and then making the trip here to bring it to me.
November 9, 2012

I discovered this morning that my laptop computer would not save any documents I created indicating it had no memory to save them to. I immediately emailed Zarina telling her I’d be bringing the laptop in so their IT person could look into the problem. I got there around ten and the poor guy was completely befuddled by the many issues I pointed out to him. He felt it was best for him to take the computer to his place of work and look into the problem slowly and methodically. I was full of anxiety about letting go of it and felt even worse about being disconnected over the weekend.

Ryan emailed me a copy of his airline ticket and reminded me to secure a taxi for him, something Zarina had already done. I made the copies needed for the workshop on Saturday and proceeded to the workshop due that day at the Russian Slavonic University where I arrived earlier than expected thus giving me a chance to buy a Shwarma sandwich across the street and have it in their lugubrious cafeteria. Fourteen teachers showed up for the second session and most of them seemed unwilling to really participate in the session on Bloom’s taxonomy. I later found out from Anna that this group of teachers comes from two separate departments and thus might self-conscious about their ability to speak English fluently in front of their colleagues.

Since there wasn’t much to discuss, I ended the session earlier than usual and asked them to complete the “Exit Slip” indicating what they had learned from the workshop. I returned to Lingua so I could accompany Zarina to pay all my bills at once and learn how to do it. In the meantime, Natalia informed me I could not bring a guest to the reception for the fellows and Fulbrighters taking place that evening. Zarina and I dropped the handouts and reiterated to the cute guy that I’d need them by 9:30am the following morning and he agreed to have them ready then.

When we were in line at the post office, an attractive woman standing behind us chimed in English wanting to know where we were from. I thought she looked Russian, but she said she was from Kentucky and worked at the American Councils. Zarina got me into a taxi and I rode to the Public Affairs Officer’s home in the midst of the worst traffic jam I’d seen yet. The taxi driver had a map I had supplied, but even then he didn’t know how to locate the specific street much less the house. He stopped several people along the way until he came across a young woman who happened to be on her way there, too. He asked her to ride with us and then we got there. Chris was waiting at the top of the stairs and brought us into what looked like a typical embassy-procured house like the ones I’d seen in Dushanbe.

I was introduced to a group of Fulbright exchange students, Kyrgyz, and current Fulbright scholars doing research here at the time. Salads were on the table and drinks were flowing. I filled a plate with a variety of salads only to discover, as usual, that there was soup and a main entrée in the works. I had two glasses of Bailey’s on ice and had a fabulous time talking to the young Fulbrighters who asked me at the end if I could be counted on to be their mom while they were serving here. I invited everyone to the housewarming party next Saturday and Masha even offered to make sangria with bourbon in it.

The public affairs officer is of Brazilian descendent and had some Latin music, mainly bossa nova, playing in the background. There was no way of plugging my flash drive anywhere so we could play my music, but he told me there was club where the Latin people at the embassy went to dance on Fridays. He promised once again to find out the information and let me.

Farida, the same young woman who had led the taxi driver to the house, had informed me that her husband was coming to pick her up and offered me a ride home. They had just purchased a car two days before and I had a very comfortable ride to my flat.

Friday, November 9, 2012

November 8, 2012

It was hard to believe that I had spent countless futile hours recovering documents from my portable hard drive and saving them to the desktop to discover this morning that the file had disappeared overnight. I was beyond angry and frustrated at this turn of events and didn’t even have much time to vent about it before it was time to depart for the American Corner for the session Natalia had organized.

I was pleasantly surprised to find about ten teachers already gathered there by 9:30. The coordinator helped me set up my materials and print what I needed, and then Natalia came in bearing hundreds of copies of all the handouts I had emailed her. My attempt to find a bathroom proved elusive as they are remodeling the one I knew and apparently had provided no alternative. The tables set up for the teachers proved insufficient and more chairs were brought in from other rooms. We must have had between 60-75 teachers present at the end.

I started out with a portion of my PowerPoint presentation on the importance of emphasizing speaking instead of grammar and then proceeded to show them several of the activities I use to engage the students. Starting out with the “Find someone who..” proved daunting as the teachers themselves couldn’t follow the instructions and insisted on completing each question in each square themselves instead of walking around and asking others. I think the fear of being found lacking in knowledge paralyzes many of them who prefer to retreat and only deal with colleagues they already know if at all.

When we did the “Speedy Interviews”, it was once again difficult for them to understand that they needed to ask and answer one question, trade cards and move up once to speak to somebody else. My voice was practically gone by the time we moved on to the third, fourth or fifth activity. The question came up over and over, “But we don’t know the meaning of these words ourselves, how can we play with our students then?”
This session was designed to last one and half hour, but was extended to two so we could practice a few more activities.

 The teachers were reluctant to write on the handout they had been given so they could have it for their classes, and I could not fault them for doing so since teaching materials are so scarce here. About half of the handouts weren’t used, and I just lined them up on the counter and told each teacher to grab one of each as they left. Of course, there was the occasional educator who insisted on taking an additional copy for a colleague, but overall, the distribution was done in an orderly fashion.

The Dominican woman I had met the week before at Sierra Coffee, Caira, had invited me to lunch and I called to find out where. It was at a restaurant I had never heard of and Caira suggested I go across the street to the Hyatt Hotel and get the personnel there to obtain a taxi for me. They did so and after a little while I got to the Navigator Restaurant located in a part of the city I had never been to.

Caira was already there along with three other women: one from El Salvador, one from Guatemala and one from Spain. We were later joined by another one from Peru. Our food took one hour to arrive and was simply famished as I had skipped breakfast in my rush out the door. I thought I was going to pass out as we weren’t even presented with any bread until we pleaded for it. My salmon and mashed potatoes were good even if the portions were relatively small.

I wasn’t able to establish what each woman was doing in Kyrgyzstan as several conversations were going on at once, but they all seemed to have lived in a variety of countries and had had their children raised outside of their respective countries. Caira mentioned she used to be a television presenter in the Dominican Republic and had worked with my brother in some project or other. When it was time to leave, and since I was completely lost, the Peruvian woman, who had a car and driver at her disposal, offered me a ride home.

Since time waits for no man or tide, it was time to polish off my presentation for the Russian Slavonic University, but my flash drive would only show an icon on the screen, but would not open the file. I began to hyperventilate since I certainly didn’t have the time or energy to create another presentation from scratch at the point. I called Zarina to notify her of the situation and see if I could email it to her at the office. She complained that my landlady had dropped the money to have all utility bills paid and asked her to do it. I apologized for her forwardness and promised to take care of it once I know where to go to do it.

Zarina didn’t reply to my request and I decided to try Elvira who quickly answered she had been able to open it from her computer. Relieved to know my work was done for the day, I treated myself to one of the few movies that had been left on my laptop, The Joy Luck Club, based on the book by Amy Tan that I had read many, many years ago. The film was too long, too depressing and the scenes too drawn out.