Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31, 2012

Spent a very quiet day at the apartment just working on a presentation on listening skills for the upcoming winter break workshop. Nargiza had texted me the day before to indicate she was rescinding her New Year’s Eve invitation as the family was traveling to visit her uncle. Willoughby had invited me to spend the evening with her and two other Peace Corps volunteers and I had agreed.

Douglas had mentioned he had no plans for the evening and I emailed Willoughby asking her if she could include one more person to which she said yes. We agreed to arrive at five to have time to talk before dinner and we both offered to bring wine to contribute to her meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gingered carrots menu.

I stopped at two Narodni supermarkets on the way to the marshrutka and they both offered only non-alcoholic wine. Neither store personnel could speak enough English to explain what had happened to their full stock of alcoholic beverages. I called Willoughby to explain the situation and offered to bring a cake instead, but she declined the offer saying she had enough food for all of us already. I learned later on from Douglas that the supermarket chain had lost its liquor license.

As I waited for the minibus, I noticed a striking young woman standing next to me with her six-inch stiletto booties covered in rhinestones. I had to take her photo, fake eyelashes and all, and she gladly complied. We boarded the same minibus and she insisted on paying my fare and then handed me a piece of candy wishing me a new year, I surmised. I could see that Ala-Too Square was overrun with people, mostly families with young children, already celebrating the advent of the new year.

                                               Take a  look at those heels!

Douglas boarded the same minibus in front of the VEFA Center and using his smart phone got us to Willoughby’s building, a decaying structure inside and out, where she occupies a unit on the second floor. She pays $250.00 for a three-room flat full of darkness and as cold as an iceberg with little furniture but the incongruous presence of an old piano. Her stove and fridge are located in what used to be a balcony and lacks any source of lighting, so she uses a flashlight to cook by.

We sat at a banquet and had ginger tea, sans cinnamon sticks, and granola bars while waiting for Joanna, a Peace Corps volunteer of Filipino origin, who had just returned from a trip to Armenia. The food was delicious, especially the gingered carrots, and we even had gravy with it. I had a glass of wine while we discussed the differences between participating in the Peace Corps and being a fellow. Joanna is on her third year here and indicated the city has changed substantially since she got here in 2010.

When asked if we were going to wait around until midnight, Douglas said no as apparently he had other plans. I didn’t relish the idea of hanging around for the silliness of breaking a bottle of champagne and wishing for good things for the artificial construct that a new year is and indicated I’d leave when Douglas was ready.

I decided to take a taxi from Willoughby’s house since I didn’t want to walk in the darkness to my new place and didn’t want to risk riding a new route and probably getting off at the wrong stop. Douglass negotiated with the driver and got dropped off first. I got to read for a little while aware all the time of the fireworks going off every few minutes.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

December 30, 2012

Finally, a quiet day in the apartment with only a brief interlude when first the cable guy showed up to connect the service and then the landlady came by bearing a small microwave and the router to get the Internet service connected. Money in hand, she left again and returned to get me set up for good before leaving for Issyk-Kul Lake where she would be greeting the new year with a group of friends.

Although she claimed her brother would be coming along with the electrician to solve the issue of a lack of outlets to plug appliances into in the kitchen and other small nuisances, the guy didn’t show up at all. It was fine with me as I already had the things that really counted at this point: Internet access, a microwave to heat my meals and access to CNN for the news.

The cable guy informed me I’d need to pay about $100.00 dollars to buy a special box that could convert almost any channel into the English language and then about $10.00 a month for the continuous service. He provided a list of the channels offered and I saw nothing of interest except for the BBC and EuroNews. It hardly seems worth it. I really don’t understand why satellite television is not more widely available here as it used to be in Tajikistan where I had access to three channels in Spanish and at least a dozen in English.

When it came time for lunch, I brought out the meal from the Soho Club, slices of beef covered with some kind of white sauce and mushrooms with a side order of white rice, and added part of the sauce Asel brought me for the house warming party. I let the whole thing simmer for a while to soften the meat and then served with some for the Korean salads I had in the fridge. It turned out to be a delicious meal.

Watched CNN recount of the most compelling stories of the year 2012 and thought they had done an extremely lousy job of it. Only superficial coverage, shallow assessment and talking heads for the most part. Bored with it, I switched to reading a book, “The Giver”, which I had borrowed from the Forum offices as I recalled it was a mandatory read at Forest High School the year I was unfortunate enough to have to teach there.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

December 29, 2012

The bedroom in the new apartment faces the street and I had contemplated the idea of switching it to the living room, which faces the inner courtyard, but since I didn’t have anyone to help me with move, I had no choice but to sleep there last night. It was surprisingly quiet as apparently traffic dies down completely once it gets dark and although I did a tossing and turning, as I do whenever I get to sleep in a place for the first time, I wasn’t disturbed in the least.

I managed to use the gas stove for my coffee and used the huge skillet to toast the last piece of flat bread I had for breakfast before the landlady and the rental agent showed up to sign the lease. Mika, the owner, was delighted to see how thoroughly I had cleaned the kitchen and how organized everything was. I pointed out to her that she needed to make some significant improvements to the flat if she wanted to continue to rent to foreigners such as electrical and plumbing.

She complained to me she didn’t want to pay the agency the $325.00 finding fee and was scheming to find a way out. I told her I couldn’t how since I was already installed in the flat and the agency was aware of that. When the agent arrived, the two of them argued, in Russian of course, for a long time and I just retreated to my computer room and let them go at it.

For my part, I just handed her $1300.00 to cover two months of rent making sure there was a note in the contract stipulating she’d be installing an AC/heating unit, a microwave and a flat screen TV set before signing. Mika left promising to be on her way to buying the TV set and microwave as well as completing the paperwork to get the Internet and cable service installed.

I needed a few provisions and Mika pointed out that there was convenience store right across the street as well as another Narodni supermarket just one block away. The Vanilla Sky coffee house was also across the street and she highly recommended their pastries and salads made with ingredients they grow themselves. I perused the goods at the convenience store and ventured only as far as the supermarket for the streets and sidewalks were slick with ice and I was afraid of slipping and falling. I bought juice, milk and water and came back to the apartment for a nap.

Mika returned mid-afternoon with a preposterous scheme. She claimed she owns the flat with her brother and that he wasn’t aware she had agreed to pay the agency half of the first month’s rent. So, supposedly, she had called the agency to find out how she could get her money back and they had said she needed to evict me and, of course, I was such a nice person that she hated to do that to me. The solution: could I kick in half of the agency’s fee so her brother wouldn’t be so mad at her and she would pay me back $50.00 at a time?

I was so mad I could barely see straight. I flat out told her I didn’t believe the story about her brother not knowing and even then, it wasn’t my problem and I had no more money to allocate to rent expenses. She had brought some insulating tape to wrap around the door and windows and proceeded to do that after showing me the receipt for Internet payment for three months. She’d brought back no microwave or TV set. I didn’t have a good feeling about this relationship anymore.

Gulnara and Zarina had both called to let me they were arranging for the taxi driver to pick me up for the New Year celebration the school was sponsoring. I had failed to buy a new dress as it had been my intention and just dusted off one my Tajik outfits and packed my dancing shoes in a bag. We picked up Douglas, an American I had met at the Beta Stores when I first got here and whom Gulnara plans to hire to teach at the school even thought he has no background in teaching whatsoever. He was delighted to see me feeling better that I least there was one person he knew somehow.

We arrived at the Soho Club, the first ones there, and had to wait forever so everyone was there and the toast was made before we could dig into the salads already on the table. The servers came by with red wine, champagne and vodka throughout the night. We were served solyanka soup later on and I never got to the main dish for the place quickly filled with smoke and when Zarina said her husband was waiting and she was taking the main course home to share with him, I ordered mine to be take out as well.

In between, we went to the dance floor to listen to what appeared to be one long song with the same beat. Zarina tried to get the DJ to play music from my flashdrive, but he claimed he had to find a track that sounded similar to what he was playing so he could blend the two of them and he never did. I got bored pretty quickly and returned to the table where I talked to Douglas and Johnny, Gulnara’s husband, whom I hadn’t met until today. I also met Larissa’s daughter who currently lives in Istanbul and who invited me to visit her next time I happen to be in that city.

The taxi driver dropped me off in front of the main gate, but I wasn’t able to open it with the combination given to me and had to walk around the building to where there’s no gate. Once in front of my building, the same thing happened and I had to call Mika to be told I had to push all three numbers at the same time and then pull the door open. I could have been there all night pushing numbers to no avail.

Friday, December 28, 2012

December 28, 2012

Gulnara followed up on her word and called me from the rental agency indicating she was getting the list of available flats and sending out the driver to pick me up at 10:30. She also advised me that Lingua was picking up the tab for the 1500 soms fee as part of their agreement as a host institution. She had already contacted Elvira to meet me at the agency at the agreed time. I was glad I had gotten up very early, had had breakfast and cleaned up the kitchen completely.

It was very cold, around -2 Fahrenheit, when I stepped to the curb to wait for the taxi. We picked up Elvira and a young woman from the Salut agency before heading to the first showing, an older apartment close to where I was living. I didn’t like the looks of the dark, unsecured staircase and none too impressed with what they called a “remodeled” flat since everything in it was old, dark and dreary. The apartment was incredibly small and there wasn’t even any power on to be able to appreciate the bathroom, which was in total darkness.

I then learned that the agency only had three flats to show me as the other ones had already being taken and they didn’t get many units located on the top floor as I had requested. The next one showed more promise as it had a separate room that could serve as an office, but no separate dining area. The young woman who owns it agreed that if I were to rent it long term, she’d be willing to make improvements to it. The unit was on the third floor of three-story building and had a gas stove with an oven. Moreover, I liked the fact that he owner spoke English and seemed easy-going.

The apartment resembled the one I had rented in Dushanbe in the fact that the bathroom consists of separate toilet and tub area and then there was the kitchen, living room and bedroom. The unit has tall ceilings, but really small radiators to cope with all that space. The kitchen was outdated and had no microwave and the TV set most have been around for at least twenty years. The owner agreed to purchasing a microwave and bringing in a flat-screen TV once we had sign the rental agreement and I had paid two months in advance. We had agreed on a $650.00 rental fee.

We went back to the apartment to get my things and were able to fit most of it in the car except for the desk, which needed to be taken apart. Elvira had to go back home and the driver and I returned for the second trip while also waiting for the landlady’s agent to come and collect the rent and payment for the utility bills. Once that was accomplished, we made the last trip to the new place and I was left alone to cope with the cleaning of the kitchen which seemed to have been used by the Miss Piggy family as every surface was covered in dirt or grime. I had no luck in making the tub look any better as the surface seems to be pitted and is simply beyond redemption.

There were lots of old broken kitchen items that needed to be discarded, and I placed those in a bag to deliver to the owner tomorrow when she comes to sign the rental agreement. I’ll be making a list of the things I really need and just hope she’ll be amenable to purchasing them.

Am I happy now? Not exactly as I’ve traded a modern beautiful apartment for an older unit with lots of work needed. On the other hand, I know I’ll have some peace of mind when spending time in this unit and that happens to be priceless. I’ll miss the view of the mountains from the kitchen window, the updated bathroom and open-floor plan, but I’m gaining more space, a bookshelf and two balconies to boot. Things could be worse.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

December 27, 2012

Despite the uncertainty of finding a new place to live on such short notice, I slept relatively well and didn’t get up until past seven. After having my coffee, I proceeded to pack the printer, most of the teaching materials and books occupying my desk and some of the grocery items I thought I could do without for the next couple of days.

Elvira emailed to say she’d be busy with personal errands most of the day, but would try to meet with me after my session at Arabaev to go see another apartment close to where I’m right now. I packed most of my clothes and cleaned the bathroom again just so I don’t to think about it tomorrow.

Natalia confirmed she’d be present at Arabaev to bring the certificates, magazines and CDs. My RELO confirmed she’d approve of my covering the expenses for refreshments and certificates for the winter break workshops. That was a relief, indeed. I walked up to the Narodni supermarket close to the house and withdrew additional money to cover the 1500 soms the real estate agency would demand to provide the addresses for their listings. This agency does not provide any transportation whatsoever.

A friend who saw my post on Facebook regarding my search for a flat commented privately that many apartments were vacant but not available for rent because they are rented by the hour for prostitutes to service their clients, which is a much more profitable enterprise than the monthly rental kind. How interesting!

I walked the rest of the way and was surprised that the cold wasn’t bothering me that much. I got to Arabaev by 1:30 and noticed quite a few people gathered across the street around the Christmas tree, or New Year tree as they like to call it here. Many families and young people were milling around having their photos taken or just plain goofing off. I kept snapping photos even after noticing that some of the vendors were upset I was taking photos of their backdrops without paying for it. I just played the dumb tourist role and kept walking.

Natalia came into the Resource Center bearing gifts even for me as I was treated to another burlap handbag from the embassy, a coffee mug and a Nalgene water bottle. The coordinator for the English program for the university gave me a miniature map of Kyrgyzstan and a miniature komuz, or locally made guitar. Natalia talked about the online resources provided by the State Departments, online professional development opportunities and traveling abroad chances for teachers.

Upon her departure, we held a shortened session on dealing with multilevel classes while practicing a whole class mingle of “Find someone who…” to practice words with prefixes and then the 4-3-2 speaking activity suitable for both lower and advanced levels. Certificates were issued, photos taken and goodbyes said. 

Elvira had called during the workshop and when I called her back indicated she was still tied up helping her parents. We agreed to resume the apartment hunting tomorrow when perhaps we can count on the driver from Lingua to take us around in a more diligent manner.

Walked home again, had an early dinner and watched TV for a while still listening to the continual noises my neighbors never seem to get tired of making. I then got to watch a somewhat silly film, “Green Card”, in which the actors marry for convenience and then had to fall in love, of course. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

December 26, 2012

It must have snowed through the night for the courtyard and every car in it sported a deep layer of the white stuff when I got up this morning. The sun was trying to come up from behind the clouds, and fortunately it wasn’t too cold when I headed to my Russian class.

Once class was over, I headed to the Kyrgyz National University to meet with Gulnara, Elvira and Willoughby and flesh out the tentative schedule for the winter break professional development workshops we’ll be offering for secondary school teachers. Willoughby got a couple more Peace Corps volunteer to agree to participate along with a Kyrgyz teacher from the American Corner.

Lunch was a disappointing affair at a nearby canteen for students where my request for a soup with vegetables, noodles and meat was met with a watery, oily broth, minced pieces of beef and zero vegetables. Willoughby declined to eat anything as she was going through a diarrhea bout.

Elvira and set out for the first of three appointments to look at apartments just as the sun disappeared completely and the temperatures plummeted significantly. The first stop was an apartment that looked like an attic with sloping ceilings and the look of a studio where there was no room even for a desk. They were asking for $800.00 and it didn’t even have gas for cooking.

The second, located at a busy intersection just like the first one, had been renovated and the owner was asking for $1000.00 a month claiming there had been a misprint in the newspaper add where it said $800.00. The inside of the building looked like it was ready for demolition though and I didn’t like the traffic noise coming off from Chuy Avenue anyway.

The third one, located on the ninth floor of a nine-story building, was reached by the usual rickety, rusted tin car that makes me feel claustrophobic the minute I set foot inside, and the apartment had no flow to it to the point that the stove was located in the balcony in an unheated area. For $700.00 a month, this unit didn’t even have a formal dining area.

The real estate agency guys showing us this unit informed us there was another flat on the fourth floor of a building closer to where I’m currently living they’d be willing to show me but it might not be available for another two weeks. Elvira had to go back to her house and I told her I’d be fine going with the two guys to the last viewing and they drove me there.

The young woman showing the apartment said was from Bulgaria, even though she looked Kyrgyz to me, and proceeded to lead us into an ugly building with broken windows on the landings and a narrow staircase. There were four units on the fourth floor and construction workers could be seen in the one next door.
The apartment looked gorgeous, even though it was very small, but everything was brand new including the gas stove and stainless steel fridge. She said the unit wouldn’t be available until the end of January as she was traveling out of the country for a while. The guys dropped me off near my place and promised to keep their ears open in case something similar turned up.

My landlady showed up with her mother, the real estate agent who had led me to this place and an unknown young woman. Apparently, she needed reinforcement to let me know I couldn’t live in the flat for an undetermined number of days and to complain about the way Gulnara had spoken to her on the telephone. She thought I was going to fall for her scheme of paying her ahead of time for whatever time I thought it would take me to find a place and that she would graciously return any amount not spent.

But I knew I couldn’t trust her as she walked to the foyer, where she unwisely had placed the washing machine, and she started to complain that the laminated floor had been ruined by water coming out of the washer. Gulnara had already told her I wasn’t responsible for such damage, if in fact it existed, as it was her responsibility to check and make sure her appliances were working properly. I had never witnessed any water gathering there, period.

As luck would have it, the neighbors upstairs started their furniture scraping, drilling and other infernal noises just them and the entire group simply agreed that such noises were typical of government buildings and that some tenants found comfort in them for it let them know they were surrounded by other people. Moreover, they said, I’d find the same situation no matter where I moved unless it was to a private house.

Although she demanded payment on the spot, I just agreed to draft a document stating I’d be out of the unit by Friday and would pay $20.00 per day plus utilities. They finally left and I started to pack hoping I could find a suitable apartment in just two days. The tenants continued their noise-making activities until past 11:00pm. I could have gone postal indeed should I have had the right equipment tonight.

December 25, 2012

Another overcast day greeted me this morning, but the temperature still remained in the high 30s, so no complain from me. I spent most of the morning finalizing my presentation, proofing the handouts before emailing them to Jyrdaz and cutting up the cards for the concentration and dominoes games we were to play that afternoon while learning how to teach collocations.

The marshrutka was suffocatingly hot and crowded, so I had to ride pressed against the dashboard while a river of sweat ran down my temples. As soon as the driver passed Manas Avenue, I got off and walked the rest of the way enjoying the fresh air and the fact that the most of the snow had now turned to slush making it easier to walk around.

The minute I stepped into the campus I realized I had left my jump drive attached to my laptop computer, and with only fifteen minutes before the beginning of the session, there was no way I could go back home and retrieve it. The IT guy was setting up the laptop and screen and I let him know there was no need for it. Anna, the most fluent of the teachers there, called my attention to the little Christmas tree on a shelf behind me and said Santa had left a present for me there. It was fridge magnet with an image of the city of Bishkek and a handmade Christmas card. I thanked them profusely for the present.

In the absence of the PowerPoint presentation, to which I had even added a song, I had to improvise at best I could but since I had prepared several activities for the group, they took up the entire hour and a half. It was obvious from the group’s answers and level of difficulty while performing the activities that collocations were unfamiliar to them as they had to keep asking me if the ones they had matched were indeed collocates.
I walked from the university to Lingua as agreed with Gulnara so her driver could take me to the Kazakhstan embassy at 6:30pm to pick up my passport. As we were getting ready to leave, my landlady called to say once again that she needed to inspect the apartment tomorrow. Apparently she had lied yesterday when she said she’d go there on her own. We agreed to meet at 6:00pm. She was definitely more courteous to Gulnara this time as there was no screaming to be heard.

We dropped Gulnara off at home and proceeded to the embassy where a group of mostly young males were waiting outside. The driver tried to park his car in front of the embassy to wait for the half until they opened, but the guard told him it wasn’t allowed. I agreed to stay there while he drove to a gas station in the vicinity and waited for me there.

A little while later, I was surprised to see the three Fulbrighters I had met at the reception arrive with two other friends. They informed me Natalia had requested they get a visa now just in case they’d need one in the near future. I asked them to let me know if they knew of a decent apartment as I needed to vacate mine.
The doors opened promptly at 6:30 and the group of males rushed to the front all trying to be the first one to claim their passport. We decided to just stand back and wait for the unruly mob to be done with their request, and then got our passports. It had taken all of five minutes to do so.

I couldn’t offer the Fulbrighters a ride back into town because there were too many of them to fit into the car, so we said goodbye and I was taken back to my place. I had the last of the mung bean soup and got to watch a movie, “Being Julia”, which I vaguely remember seeing while on a cruise to the Bahamas back in 2005. It was a silly movie all around with characters that were not believable and lots of scenes of ballroom dancing and singing songs from the 30s and 40s. I remember Stephanie and I commenting that we couldn’t even understand the protagonist attraction to a young guy, not even that attractive, and then her falling apart when he falls in love with someone his own age.

Monday, December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

I must have slept tied up into a knot for my whole body ached when the people upstairs woke me up at 5:40 am. Cursing under my breath, as I’ve become so used to doing these days, I got out of bed and made my coffee promising myself to start packing whatever I could early this morning.

It was not meant to be as my sister sent me an email indicating she was ready to skype then and we got into a long conversation about the family, their house and my mom’s condition. She was surprised to hear I had to work on Christmas Day as last year while in Tajikistan; classes had been over way before this date came along.

Once we hung up, I had a piece of pastry and hot chocolate before departing for my Russian class. Ainura agreed to take a look at the rental agreement and found no clause indicating there would be any penalties if I moved out earlier. She had brought a Christmas present, a miniature yurt for me to keep my earrings and other jewelry. I felt bad I hadn’t brought anything, but she said it was my holiday and not hers.

Took the marshrutka to Lingua and stopped briefly at the underpass to pick up my lamination. I brought Zarina up-to-date on my decision to vacate the apartment as soon as I found something suitable and she called Nadya to inform her. The landlady hit the roof and started screaming alleging she had been to the building while I was out and had not heard any noises whatsoever. She demanded that I paid two week’s worth of rent to give her a chance to find another tenant.

Zarina was getting very nervous speaking to this woman and Gulnara came by and took over explaining to Nadya that I was not obligated to stay in a flat where I couldn’t even relax. Gulnara then asked Nadya if she was reporting the income from the rental of this unit and Nadya said no. Knowing she now had an advantage, Gulnara explained I was staying put until I found a place and that she would be paid for every day I was there. Nadya insisted on going over to the apartment right away to verify its condition, but I told her I couldn’t do it then. Nadya said she’d proceed to enter the apartment with the woman that controls the building. I felt very uncomfortable with that idea, but Gulnara put me at ease saying it was the best course to follow.

We had our Secret Santa gift exchange accompanied by pizza and soft drinks. I got a salmon-colored sleeveless top and a tube of hand lotion from Leyla. Gulnara treated everyone to handmade soaps wrapped in a beautiful satchel. I gave Zarina the bracelet I had purchased for her and she was delighted with it. Nargiza liked the necklace she got from me and indicated she didn’t have anything like it.

It was time then for the observation of the micro-teaching lessons from the candidates who had survived the previous round of interviews. I had missed half of them because of the severe weather last Wednesday, but this time I was ready. Some of them were better prepared than others, some I could barely hear or make out what they were saying. We only had fifteen minutes at the end of five lessons to choose the three candidates to invite for the communicative activities methodology training.

The Christmas Eve dinner Willoughby and I had planned for seven was changed to five after the other Gulnara indicated that time was too late for her. I got on a marshrutka and headed to the Peking Duck restaurant only to encounter the worst traffic jam yet. When I got off, I showed two guys the name of the restaurant Zarina had written in Russian and they pointed across the street. On my way there, I ran into Willoughby and a young African-American woman, named Asia, how appropriate, who is also a Peace Corps volunteer in a village about two hours from Bishkek.

                                       Dinner at a Chinese restaurant

Elvira arrived few minutes later and we entered the restaurant together, a brightly lit place ready for New Year’s celebration with tons of glitter and tinsel  hanging from every wall. My fish was all right, but the sauce was completely different from what the others had had. The fried rice at least resembled what I’m used to in the States. Willoughby was not impressed indicating she had been to at least two other Chinese places nearby that were much better than this one. Asia was happy with her choice and got to take home leftovers.

Elvira and I agreed to look at apartments on Wednesday afternoon after our meeting with Forum as I hope to be able to move out by Friday. I was fortunate to find a seat on the ride back to my apartment. Nothing seemed amiss in my place.

December 23, 2012

What a horrible day I have had. The weather was overcast and relatively warm, so the snow continued to melt from tree tops and building roofs making it look and sound as if it was actually raining.

I did two loads of laundry, cleaned up the kitchen, had breakfast and then colored my hair in relative peace until the racket from the tenants upstairs started again. I don’t know how many pieces of furniture they could be moving around or whether they’re still remodeling their flat, but I was getting sick of it. I tried tuning out the noises by listening to music, rain sounds in fact, and that didn’t help. I got a pair of my earplugs and wore them all day long to little effect.

At 6:30 pm, the sound of a drill was shrill enough to penetrate both the music filter and my earplugs and I marched upstairs again to loudly knock on their door. A young woman opened the door this time and she spoke English relatively well. She denied they were using a drill and invited me to come into her apartment, but I was already in my pajamas and had no desire to do so. The interesting thing is that the drill stopped completely after my visit.

I emailed Zarina about the incident and made up my mind right there and then to move out of this place as tomorrow is my last paid up day. I’ll have her notify the landlady that I’m going berserk with the noise and can’t take it anymore. I’ll have her review the contract to see what clause my mention penalties for breaking the lease and just deal with them.

I emailed Elvira, who had offered in the past to help me find a suitable place, letting her know to start the search immediately for I certainly don’t want to spend my Christmas break in this flat listening to the constant noise coming from other units. I could barely concentrate on the two handouts I was preparing for the workshop on Tuesday. She’s extremely efficient and almost right away wrote back with a list of apartment listings she’d found in a local website. I need to find a unit on the top floor and many of these flats were located in nine-story building with the usually unreliable elevator issue.

My sister and I had agreed to skype tonight and we had barely started our conversation when my Internet access simply got cut off for no reason whatsoever. I tried using my tablet and got a signal, so it was definitely the laptop computer that had some kind of glitch in it. We agreed to postpone the session for the following morning, my time. I couldn’t figure out how to download the Skype program to the tablet and import my contacts. I’ll save that for another day when I have more patience.

Trying to gain some distraction from my agitated state, I searched for a movie I hadn’t seen yet and found one recommended by Mathew, “This Boy’s Life”, based on the early years of the writer Tobias Wolff. It was mesmerizing movie with a young Leonardo diCaprio in it along with Robert de Niro and Ellen Barkin albeit a tad too violent at times. It certainly took my mind off the situation in the flat.

Read a little bit of “American Pastoral” while strategizing mentally as to what the best way would be to pack my belongings for the eventual move.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 22, 2012

A funny thing happened this morning when I sat at my computer and first saw the weather had been 1 degree when I went to bed, but upon refreshing my screen, Google indicated the current temperature to be 37 degrees. I knew there was no way in hell that there could have been such a steep rise overnight and went to the weather bug website to double check and it confirmed that it was indeed a lot warmer today than it had been for many days.

I dressed in the same fashion I have lately, but switched the heavy duty sweatshirt for the fleece one and arrived at the American Corner to find it closed. By 9:30am, there was still no one to open the door and I called Natalia to have her contact the coordinator. A few minutes later, a young woman, her face tied up into a frown, opened the door and was none too happy to hear me ask for paper to copy our handouts. She later told Gulnara she had to account for the paper used there and our session wasn’t considered part of their program. Gulnara promised to return the paper sometime next week
Just as I had suspected, only a handful of teachers were gathered by ten o’clock and few of them could follow or sing along with the booklet of Christmas carols Willoughby had painstakingly put together for them. I personally can only sing a couple of them and chose not to take part in the sing along. Elena agreed that carrying the program for two whole hours would be extremely tiresome and we agreed to ended by eleven, have a coffee break and then I’d take over with the activities I had brought.

                        The ancient rotary dial telephone still in use at the Children's Library

The teachers had fun with the “Call to Santa” pair activity and the “Let it Snow” practice where they needed to make changes to the lyrics while listening to the song several times. I really like the modern rendition by Michael Buble and wished we had access to the YouTube so they could have actually seen him sing it.
The Forum board met for about an hour to discuss the winter break professional development series and the nomination of Gulnara to attend the women’s leadership conference in the U.S. I had already agreed to have dinner with Willoughby on Christmas Eve at a Chinese restaurant and other members decided they wanted to join in the fun too.

Zarina had a samsi waiting for me when I got there along with coffee and some pastries. I reminded her that my landlady hadn’t called or come by and that I was sick of the noise in my place. Zarina would like to be present when she comes by to collect the rent so she can interpret for me.

Olga and Leila were going to help out with some games for the conversation group, but wanted for me to go first. I did the same two activities I’d done for the Forum teachers and the students were delighted with them. The games provided by the other teachers weren’t related to Christmas, including the popular “Pop my Balloon”, but the students really got into them and had a good time. Candy was passed out at the end.

Given the rise in temperature, it was then 45 F, the snow was melting everywhere causing huge puddles to accumulate on the streets and sidewalks. I decided to walk home and save myself the claustrophobic ride in the minibus. The Christmas tree was going up in front of the Ala-Too Square and a small crowd of onlooker had gathered around it along with individuals dressed in costumes related to the holidays. I took some photos and some of them willingly posed for me while families paid to have their photos taken with them.

                                   I'm not sure whose characters they were representing

At the Beta Stores, I frantically looked for a suitable present for the Santa exchange, an activity I have always loathed, and could find nothing remotely appealing for that sum of money. A clerk at the store recommended I go up to the second floor where more choices existed and just about when I was ready to give up, I saw a simple necklace for exactly 200 soms. I asked the shopkeeper if she had a pretty bag for it and she did for just an additional 15 soms. I spied a pretty bracelet and got it for Zarina hoping to give it to her privately.

                                  Fanciful Christmas tree outside the Beta Stores

The commotion at the apartment was so bad that when I heard voices on the landing, I opened my door and found a heavy-set woman across the landing bringing out boxes and something that looked like a small generator. I mimicked to her that the noise was driving me crazy and she responded she didn’t understand. I was so furious I slammed the door in her face. Whoever is above me continued to drag furniture or drop heavy objects on the floor or against the wall, or whatever in the hell it might be they’re doing all night. I couldn’t concentrate on doing anything at all. Even watching a movie with my headset didn’t prevent the noise from coming through.

I need to get out of this place for sure. The sooner, the better.

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 21, 2012

After making coffee this morning, I couldn’t decide what to tackle first as I wasn’t sure if I still needed to go to Lingua or not. Natalia had sent a message through Gulnara that she needed to meet me there in the early afternoon regarding my visa to Kazakhstan. I had replied I had committed myself to attending the Christmas celebration at the Kyrgyz National University and would rather meet in the morning. Natalia had not replied to this request.

I had a bowl of muesli and worked on printing the cards to have the teachers play a game of dominoes with collocations as part of the workshop. Just then, Natalia called to say I needed to be at the embassy before 11:00 and to please get ready right away as Lingua would be sending a taxi to take me there and wait for me. She was reluctant to explain why the sudden rush especially since my passport and visa fee had been sitting at Lingua waiting for her for at least three weeks.

Gulnara called to say her driver had been given the passport and would be waiting for me across the street in just about twenty minutes. I felt really bad about both Gulnara and Zarina as Lingua was officially closed yesterday and they had to come in just to deal with this issue. The driver, the same who had picked me up at the airport, recognized me when I stepped into the curb and drove me to the embassy. For the first time, I noticed the two large buildings, almost opposite each other, housing the Manas University and the Humanities one. It’s going to be a long ride for me next February when I’m scheduled for sessions at the Manas campus.

I proceeded through the first gate at the embassy already dreading the emptying of my bag, the pat search, the X-ray screening and all the inconveniences that come from trying to get into this place when I saw Natalia approaching in the opposite directions. She hugged tightly and said she remembered how much I hated the process of getting entrance to the embassy and had brought the visa application, already filled-in, for me to just sign it. She’d be taking it to the embassy herself and then call me when it was ready. Well, that was a relief as we just sat in the car and got it done.

It was too early to head to the university, so I told the driver to take me back home. He let me know he’d be available anytime I might need to travel to the airport and back. I didn’t have the language skills to tell him I’d be traveling by road this one time. I had developed a terrible headache by the time I got home and tried to take a nap, but the people upstairs were back with their racket and it was mission impossible. I watched the news for a little bit and then left the flat having had a few crackers and cheese for lunch in case nothing to my liking was available during the celebration.

Asel met on the foyer and took me to a simple classroom, I guess there is no auditorium so to speak, where perhaps two classes had gathered and a few of the teachers that had trained with me last October. We heard a few speeches and then a parade of students performed songs and dances, all in English, including a bachata number. The girl did a decent performance, and seemed to be the one leading the number, while her partner remained stiff and uncomfortable. Certificates were issued to the participants and one of the teachers asked me to hand them out.

It was a good thing I had had something to eat for there were no refreshments offered at all. I ran into Mairamgul, from Forum, on my way home and she told she was on her way to work at the Academy of Law nearby.

Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on the rest of the materials needed for the presentation on Tuesday. Willoughby, whom I had emailed sometime ago about the program for Saturday, called late in the evening to say I should prepared the materials for the Christmas program as she’s only planning on singing carols for perhaps one hour. I hate this usual running around at the last minute to prepare materials and only hope that the American Corner cooperates with us and allows the printing of the handouts before the session begins.

Natalia emailed to say the visa had been approved and I should pick up my passport on the 25th at 18:30. That seemed odd and I wrote back to confirm it and she it was indeed at 6:30 pm and that Lingua would arrange for the taxi to take me there.

Got to watch a film that had been on my list for the longest time: “Back to School” with the comic Rodney Dangerfield. The highly improbable story and it feel good ending didn’t prevent me from enjoying the witty dialogue and 80s hairstyles and costumes. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 20, 2012

It was reassuring to see the contours of the Tian Shian Mountains in the early morning light as that indicated that the snow had come to an end at least for today. I spent all morning putting the finishing touches on the PowerPoint presentation on reading skills and gathering all the handouts needed to put on a demonstration of what a reading lesson should look like. I called Jyrdal and told her I’d be bringing the handouts with me to do the photocopying myself as her staff hasn’t managed to do it right yet.

Zarina emailed to say the landlady had spoken to the person in charge of disruptions in the building and that person had no idea where the noise was coming from. She promised to come by today to do something about it. I don’t particularly believe she’ll follow through on her promise.

The snow was thick and had been packed hard by the numerous cars and pedestrians roaming around. The sun did make a difference for it didn’t feel as cold as yesterday even though the temperatures were hovering around zero anyway. Marshrutkas continued to come by packed to the gills with riders, but I couldn’t afford to walk in this weather and just put up with the discomfort thankful that it was a relatively short ride to the university.

Baktagul, the resource center coordinator, led me to the place where a photocopier could be used and that entailed walking to another building when I had already removed my coat, hat and gloves. Another assistant helped me put together the handouts so they were printed doubled-sided and in the right quantity. Twelve teachers were present and I felt we had a good session discussing the difference between the traditional way of teaching reading as a solitary activity the student pursues in order to answer some questions at the end and the more interactive way where students pair up to discuss what they have read, answer questions about it and finally summarize their findings.

Walking out of the university on my way to board the marshrutka, I saw a group of soldiers removing the snow directly in front of the entrance and then another group of them near the Ala-Too Square involved in the same task. Wish I had someone to ask if this was a standard response to the risk associated with the icy conditions.

Stopped for juice and milk at the store across the street and tidied up the flat in the expectation that my landlady would show up to deal with the noise situation. Of course she didn’t, but I’m sure she’ll find time to show up this weekend to collect the rent. I’m so mad I could scream. 

I finally got around to watching the documentary "Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan" and was dismayed to find the reason behind it was "tradition", the way to affirm old customs and cement the Kyrgyz values and all of that hogwash used to justify barbaric actions that usually harm women and children the most.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

The nightmare I had foreseen so many times in my mind became a reality this morning when I woke at 6:30 am and found the apartment eerily dark. I can normally navigate the flat without having to turn the lights as there is enough light coming through the windows from the rest of the apartment complex, but this morning there was no power and the place looked ominous. I did happen to notice immediately that it appeared to be just my building out in the dark.

I cursed myself repeatedly for having failed to find an LPG balloon, but no one I’d asked could refer me to a specific place to buy one, not even Natalia from the embassy. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and couldn’t find the toothpaste by touch and only then remembered I had brought my heavy-duty flashlight. With much fumbling and more cursing, I managed to get dressed and left the flat in a rush to see if I could find a café open where to have a cup of coffee, or several, before the class observation.

Although it was already 7:30, the city looked as if it was midnight for it was practically deserted and still pitch black. I passed numerous businesses on Chuy Avenue and they all appeared to be closed, so I approached a young woman walking next to me and asked her where I could get a cup of coffee. She wanted to send me all the way to Coffeeman, but I didn’t have time to walk that far and she then pointed to the Narodni supermarket at the corner, which usually opens 24/7, but it too was closed.

I turned left on Manas hoping the university canteen would be open and I could get some coffee there. The snow continued to fall relentlessly while some municipal workers tried in vain to keep it off the passes where students held on to each other to keep from falling down. I asked for the canteen the minute I walked in, but the place was still locked and Asel promised me a cup of coffee from one of the offices. She sent one of the students to run that errand and we proceeded to her classroom where she had hung some pictures on the red board to get the students to practice describing people.

She had six students out of twelve at the beginning of the lesson. She didn’t provide a lesson plan or a textbook for me to follow the lesson. She called on students to come up to the board and individually describe the people in each picture, but since I couldn’t see the detail from where I sat, the exercise was simply frustrating. Asel fed the answers to the students where they faltered and repeatedly called on the two young guys in the class to do most of the talking. I later learned that both of them had been to the United States and thus were the most fluent in the class.

                                         Asel conducting her class

When it came time to explain the grammar portion of the lesson, Asel switched to Russian entirely. While we were having coffee later on, she commented how ashamed she was of her students as they couldn’t speak English even though they were supposed to be pre-intermediate and intermediate level. When I countered by saying that her speaking Russian for fifty percent of the lesson didn’t help any, she replied that her students were studying Chinese five days a week while receiving English lessons only twice a week.

Fortified with a plate of blintzes and another cup of instant coffee, I walked to the Kyrgyz International University to meet with Ainura and had my Russian lesson. I had her write down for me the name of the LPG balloon so I could show it to the vendors at the Osh Bazaar and called Zarina to let her know I’d not be coming into the office as I had nothing specific to do and needed to deal with my lack of power. She commented that I was in same boat as a lot of other people and that young mothers were complaining about not having any power to even cook for their children.

It was bitterly cold when I stepped out of the university and I knew walking to the bazaar was out of the question, so I boarded a minibus and got to the house wares section as fast as I could. I asked a young man about the balloon and he directed me to go ahead, but I could only find a sort of hot plate with a canister of gas similar to what we’d take for a camping trip in the States. The swirling snow and the cold were getting to me as I walked from one stall to another trying to see if per chance someone had the balloon I had used in Tajikistan, but to no avail.

                       These brave vendors were open under blizzard-like conditions

I asked another vendor and he told me what I was looking for could only be found at one of the distributors for LPG in the city and not at the bazaar. He recommended my purchasing the hot plate and, speaking through Zarina, indicated that each canister of gas lasted up to three hours. I caved in as my hands and feet were already becoming numb from the cold and just asked him to show me how to insert the canister and light it. Luckily for me, the contraption comes with its own ignition and needs no matches.

Since I was already at the bazaar and had nothing to cook at home, I proceeded to the butcher section and was delighted to find that they had illustrated each type of meat with the shape of the animal it came from. The staff was bundled up and the women had scarves around their mouths. The guy at the cash register was doing jumping jacks to stay warm and there appeared to be no source of heat whatsoever. I bought enough meat to last me a long time.

The produce section had little to offer and many vendors were gone already, so I just bought carrots, turnips and some Korean salads before deciding to spring for a taxi to take me home. The driver wanted to overcharge me writing the fare on the snow accumulated on his car, but I steadfastly held to my offer of a 100 soms for the three blocks distance and he finally agreed. I was much relieved to find power restored to my building and started to cook a mung soup for dinner. 

December 18, 2012

A light snow fell all day long while the sky remained leaden. Temperatures went from a -6 to just 1 degree by the late afternoon. I felt sluggish and unenthusiastic about going to the Arabaev University to present my session on motivating students as it was going to be pretty much a straight-forward lecture devoid of any interactive activities except for a survey for the teachers to complete
I made muesli for breakfast while catching up with the news and later on brought out another piece of flat bread from the freezer to heat it up and have it with cheese for lunch. I haven’t been grocery shopping for days now and the pickings were slim to say the least. The last bowl of lentil soup was in the fridge waiting for me to have it for dinner, but beyond that, I had no idea what I’d be cooking.

The ongoing racket from the fifth floor started early and at one point I was so fed up with it that I picked up my Russian/English dictionary and walked up to the tenant’s door knocking loudly on it. The TV could be heard and then feet shuffling around, but no one came to answer it. I knocked even louder then and a middle age woman answered by only partially opening the door. I mimed the fact that there was a lot of noise coming from her unit into mine, and she pointed to her feet, encased in a pair of felt slipper, to indicate she was trying to make as little noise as possible. I couldn’t tell if any construction was going. That had been a futile action on my part.

Asel, from the Kyrgyz National University, called to say she wanted to have her class observation tomorrow at 8:00, which I’d hate to have to do, but then it’d dovetail nicely into my Russian lesson, so I left it at that.
The ride to the university was a nightmare as riders had apparently been waiting for quite some time under the frigid temperatures and persistent snow and insisted on packing in as tightly as they could manage when their particular marshrutka came by. You really have to turn into a contortionist to be able to get off these vehicles on such day even when you’re standing practically next to the door.

Twelve teachers showed up for the season, a lot if you ask me for the weather was simply beastly. We had the usual technical glitches with the laptop translating my PowerPoint into Russian without being asked, but we finally moved into asking the teachers for their definition of motivation and what they did to motivate students. I’ve already noticed that many of these teachers are reluctant to write down anything, whether for lack of confidence or otherwise, and only want to discuss the issue verbally in spite of my asking for a list of talking points. As a result, what could have been a lively discussion with opposing or supporting viewpoints turns into a short list that everyone claims to agree with.

I provided the student survey they could use to find out that their students prefer to learn and the teacher’s immediacy scale to determine how approachable their students found them and then moved on to the points listed in the lecture. Yes, it might have been a bit boring, but none of the teachers offered any comments or had questions regarding the recommendations being made in it except to say that their culture dictated that the teach in a different manner and that it’d take a lot of effort to try and change it.

I turned right around and returned to my flat where I needed to work on the presentation for Thursday. I watched Piers Morgan interviewing yet another moron spouting the idea that more guns in the United States would make its citizens safer. The look of disgust on Pier’s face was all that was needed to show this slime ball that he needed to get off the air with his diatribe.

I found it curious that only one person, Gulnara from Lingua, had mentioned the shooting to me at all. When the Aurora massacre happened, I was living in Tajikistan, numerous people came up to me to express their condolences for the loss of life. I’m unable to tell whether this means that people here don’t follow international news or that they couldn’t care less what happens in the country most of them express a wish to go for either study or work.

For my daily fix of movies, I got to watch “Silver Streak”, a film I had never heard of, but that given the pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor immediately told it’d be worthwhile. It’s too bad I had to wait until the middle for the movie to finally see Pryor pop up. A most delightful comedy, indeed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

December 17, 2012

I feel as if I can no longer trust Google to provide accurate weather temperature for me in Bishkek. When I got up, it said the temperature was a frigid -6 and it was supposed to be snowing while a weak sun was shining outside despite the heavy clouds in the horizon. By mid-day, it claimed the temperature had risen to -2 in spite of its own forecast which stated it should have gone up to 14 degrees. As I ready myself to go to bed, it reads 1 degree. Ridiculous!

The streets and sidewalks were padded with the additional snow that had fallen over the weekend, but continued to be slippery. I had my Russian class by showing Ainura the Russian picture dictionary I had downloaded to my tablet, but which had been pretty much useless to me since it contained no transliteration into the Roman alphabet. We went through numerous pages with Ainura helping me read the Cyrillic letters, which was a bit difficult as the print appeared somewhat faded. We agreed to meet again on Wednesday.
I almost slipped on the way to catching the minibus and reminded myself to walk slowly and deliberately. When I got to the entrance to the Lingua offices, I ran into Natalia who was sporting a splint on her left hand. She related she had fallen the day before while doing her shopping, but apparently hadn’t fractured it. We exchanged some other bits of information and then said goodbye.

Neither Olga nor Gulnara were present yet for the next round of interviews, so I sat down to print some materials for the workshop tomorrow. I reminded Zarina to call my landlady and inform her about the continual noise issue at my flat and she came back to tell me there was a person in each building responsible for upholding the rules regarding what hours construction or remodeling could go on and she’d contacting this person to report it. The landlady said she was sorry I hadn’t spoken about it sooner. I don’t quite believe she’d be so diligent about this as she hasn’t shown much interest in anything I have reported before.

When I inquired about buying some samsis for lunch, Zarina told me the guy wasn’t coming in today but then came back to tell me a luncheon was taking place for a new group of trainees at a new restaurant called “Coyote Ugly” that had just opened on the first floor. She invited me to come along and then asked Aigul, the accountant, if I needed to pay separately, and Aigul said no. The salads were delicious, the white bread I didn’t touch and when the main course came in, a piece of chicken breast and white rice, I passed.

                       Having lunch at the new "Coyote Ugly" restaurant with a group of teachers

Gulnara and I interviewed four more teachers today, all women, and decided on the schedule for their micro-teaching sessions. I’ve never participated in these types of sessions except when I was doing my own presentations at FIU a long time ago. I’m looking forward to seeing them as some of the young teachers appear to really have a flair for teaching. Olga came in right before the last applicant and related she had fallen on the way to the school and had ripped her pants thus necessitating her going back home to change. She was physically all right though.

I left Lingua after printing some handouts and got into a marshrutka relatively easily, but pretty soon it was once again stuffed to the gills with passengers and couldn’t see out the window. Big and tall guys that should make an effort to move to the back as soon as possible to facilitate the exiting passengers, insist on standing by the door practically blocking any movement on or off. I need to study the possibility of paying for a taxi just to take me home as I usually don’t have this problem coming to Lingua, but going home only.

Woody Allen delighted me once again as I watched one of his earliest films, “Take the Money and Run”, where he plays an inept criminal who bungles every job, but finds a way to get out of jail quite easily. He’s a real genius when it comes to filmmaking.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 16, 2012

Wish I could say that I had spent a quiet day at home simply going about the tasks that I usually relegate to Sundays for lack of much time during the week, but my upstairs neighbors appear to be engaged in some furious remodeling job and gave me no peace whatsoever all day long
Out of pure frustration, I sent an email to Zarina asking her to please contact my landlady tomorrow to have her intervene in this situation since it has been ongoing since I moved here almost three months ago. It’s simply beyond my comprehension what they could possibly be building/rebuilding that has taken up this much time and for it to go on every single day of the week. I have given up entirely on taking a nap on the late afternoons for all the racket going on upstairs. I’m simply sick of it and have threatened to break my lease if need.

I read for a few hours the book “Losing Isaiah” and found it fascinating. I remember the book was made into a movie starring Halle Berrie and would love to see it in order to compare the two versions. Instead, I watched “The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, an Australian film that have been on my list of films to watch and I wasn’t disappointed as the acting was superb, costumes and make-up flawless, and the landscape of the Australian Outback simply breathtaking.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 15, 2012

After tossing and turning most of the night, I jumped out of bed before 3:00 am. Wish I hadn’t though for after making myself a pot of coffee and sitting down at my computer, I was confronted with the horrific news of another mass shooting event in the United States. I felt sick to my stomach to read that most of the victims had been school children at an elementary school. Our society is definitely is a sick one, and we’re heading into a downward spiral for sure.

I tuned in to the CNN and watched Piers Morgan interview members of a panel that included a moron who has written a book advocating that more guns in the society correlate with a lower crime rate. The idiot even had a smile on his face as he advocated his line that if teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School had been armed, the shooter would have been stopped before so many innocent lives were taken. I wanted to break through the TV screen and punch him in the face.  

I texted my Russian teacher and cancel the morning class as I had hardly slept and was in no mood to try and concentrate on learning anything new. Instead, I furiously read every article and post on Facebook regarding the tragedy as my friend Ann, in Jacksonville, FL, and others kept uploading new material on the web. What was disconcerting to me was the fact that a couple of posts seemed to hint at the fact that more than one shooter was present at the scene just as they had hinted when the Aurora Cinema massacre happened. I was too heartbroken already to even contemplate the notion that police or army trained soldiers could have been responsible for the killings instead of a lone shooter.

Google weather indicated the temperature was a bone-chilling -13 Fahrenheit when I woke up, and I could not even phantom what that might feel like. I had no choice but to bundle up and head to Lingua for the conversation club even though I was wondering if anyone would show up for it. It was a gray day and few people could be seen dashing around so the minibus had room for me. I guess that once the temperature goes below zero, it doesn’t really makes much of a difference. I still have to be thankful for the fact that there’s no wind here to take into account and that except for covering my nose and mouth with my scarf while waiting for the marshrutka, I was relatively comfortable.

There were only seven students for the conversation club and we played a couple of card games and talked about growing up. I reminded them that the school was preparing a Christmas program for the following Saturday and to tell their friends about it.

Something was going on next door at the bookshop sponsored by McMillan for as I was wrapping up my class, Gulnara, Zarina and other teachers came out of that room. I greeted them and left right away eager to return to the comfort of my own flat. Once home, I tuned in to CNN only to find out that they were still covering the event non-stop as if the rest of the world had ceased to exist because a tragedy had taken place in the United States. I turned it off and went back to the news online instead.

“Midnight in Paris” has now become my favorite Woody Allen movie. It’s got everything: great acting, a gorgeous setting, fabulous costumes and witty dialogue. What more could any cinephile ask for? I could watch this movie several times just to make sure I got every possible nuance from it. More important yet: it helped me forget today’s tragic event for a couple of hours.

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012

It could be said that today was my first real test as to how I could withstand the below zero temperatures that are expected to reign between now and probably March of next year. When I got up, Goggle indicated the temperature was -2 degrees, or -18 Celsius, but when I checked an hour later, it had gone down to -8. I posited my choices of clothing for the day and wore two pairs of socks, my thickest leggings under my pants, an undershirt, sweater and sweatshirt under my coat. So glad to have the fleece muffler my friend Stephanie sent me last year as I could cover my nose and mouth with it while walking to and from the house.

The cold didn’t seem so bad until I had to stand and wait for the marshrutka, which could have only lasted some five minutes. I realized then I should have worn the other, thicker sweatshirt as I could feel the cold air penetrating through my back. The walk to Lingua wasn’t uncomfortable as the path there is completely in the open air and the sun was shining in all its glory by then warming us up a bit.

We started with the first applicant a little after ten and ran through four of them before taking a break for lunch. The guy who sells the samsis didn’t show up today and the staff had gone to the Halal Kitchen place without letting me know. I certainly didn’t feel like putting on all of my winter gear just to go out for a plate of noodles and decided to wait out my hunger until I got back to my flat. We interviewed two more applicants in the afternoon and agreed to finish the roster on Monday between 1:00 and 3:00pm.

My RELO emailed me asking if I could consider doing my workshop on the designing and uses of rubrics in the classroom instead of the grammar games I had offered to do to save me some preparation time. I did a quick search online and there seemed to bit plenty of resources to put together an 80-minute workshop, but that means starting from scratch. Sigh!

I got into the minibus almost right away and a young woman yielded her front seat to me. My leftover lentil soup tasted divine once I reheated it and toasted some flat bread to go with it. Watched a quasi documentary on CNN, African Voices, about a woman whose parents were assassinated while she was studying in the United States and who returned to Nigeria to instigate change in many areas of society. What a brave soul.

“Requiem for a Dream” must be one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen about the drug culture in the United States. I had to avert my eyes several times to avoid looking at the most revolting or scary scenes. This director, Aronosky,  is one to keep one’s eyes on for he has produced a masterpiece here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 13, 2012

A light snow was still falling when I woke up this morning and the temperature had dropped to a chilling 9 Fahrenheit. I packed all the materials I’d need for the afternoon presentation and headed to Lingua for my participation in the selection committee for pre-service teachers. Only Gulnara, Leyla and I took part in it and interviewed four candidates today with more to do tomorrow. All candidates were women, of course.

              A municipal worker sweeping the snow from the walkway to the Children's Library

Once the interviews were over, I printed a couple more handouts for the workshop and then headed to Fat Boys, a restaurant that caters to ex-pats mostly, to wait for Laira. I was extremely disappointed when I walked into the place to discover that they allowed smoking and the place just reeked of cigarettes. We decided to stay put anyway knowing we’d never patronize the place again. My omelet had no flavor and the sautéed potatoes I ordered were just slices of the vegetables that had been refried and came in just lukewarm. Even the coffee was awful and although I asked for hot milk on the side, I was brought cream that was cold instead.

Laira and I finally had a chance to catch up with the details of our respective lives and she gave me some tips on places to shop for food-related items. She’ll be leaving for Switzerland next week to spend the holidays with her in-laws, but promised to stay in touch when she gets back. Best of all, she told of a Japanese woman who teaches Zumba from her house in the early morning hours. Right now, those hours conflict with my Russian lesson ones, so we’ll see how I do it to be able to take part in it. She only charges 100 soms or a little more than $2.00 per session.

We said goodbye and I headed to the Arabaev University just as the snow began to fall more copiously. The session went quite well as the teachers really got into the speaking activities and reported that they should be able to incorporate all of them into their teaching repertoire. We had a lively debate on the issue of students laughing when their classmates made mistakes while speaking. While I advocated that laughing was good as long as it was shared class wide as all students were bound to make mistakes along the way, the teachers all indicated their training had inculcated in them the rule that no laughing could take place as it would undermine the student’s self-esteem.

                             The view from my apartment complex

I found a marshrutka the minute I stepped into the curb and made it to my flat relatively fast. I tried taking a nap, but wasn’t successful and watched TV for a while, had some lentil soup for dinner and worked on other materials for my subsequent presentations. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12, 2012

Slept fitfully once again whether as a result of the white wine or the disappointment at the lack of turnout for the book club meeting. I guess I’ll never learn to stop being so hopeful about initiating these kind of activities for which the people around me seem to have little or no interest even when outwardly they claim to do so. Rebecca emailed me claiming she hadn’t felt well the night before and had gone to the doctor and didn’t have my phone number in her new cell so as to call me and let me know. I believed neither assertion.

The scene outside was right out of a Christmas card with the entire city blanketed by a heavy snowfall that was still falling while the temperature continued to plummet. I bundled myself as best I could and went to my Russian class where Ainura and I discussed mostly food items for which she didn’t even have flashcards. She did say she went looking for them, but found none so I wondered how she did her Peace Corps language training in the absence of any visual aids.

Traffic was snarled with the heavy accumulation of snow on the ground and it took me forty minutes to get to Lingua. Zarina immediately came to ask me if I could be part of the committee selecting the candidates for pre-service training on Thursday morning and I informed her I had already agreed to meet with Laira at that same time. She implored me to try and change it for a later time as they desperately needed to have another person on the committee. I called Laira and she agreed to meet after eleven.

I worked on my presentation on teaching collocations until it was time to go to the Forum offices for yet another meeting regarding the book proposal. I was there exactly at 3:00, but no one was around and the office was locked. Willoughby came by a few minutes later and we chitchatted in the hallway until Elvira showed up and got the key to open the office. Nurkys, the Peace Corps education program coordinator, also came to the meeting to talk about how that organization had already done a lot of work on adapting textbooks to the local culture.

I have to admit that I simply detest attending meetings where people just ramble on and on about whatever pops into their head instead of having an agenda dictating exactly what is to be covered and having a time limit for such meeting. I still had a splitting headache and being in a small, cramped room just listening to people talk made me restless and sleepy. I started to yawn nonstop and my mind began to wonder as to how long it would before I could get a decent cup of coffee.

Willoughby had informed us that the embassy would be sending a template for this project next week, and I just blurted out the idea that we could postpone discussion of the topic until we saw the template and knew exactly what they wanted to know. She didn’t take kindly to my remark and instead replied they were discussing some very relevant matters. I begged to be excused from the meeting as I had already being there for one hour and it didn’t seem to be about to end anytime soon. Elvira looked pained by my request, but Gulnara understood.

The cup of coffee I had the minute I walked into my flat had the desired effect as my headache subsided a bit and then I was able to redo the presentation on speaking skills as I couldn’t find the last version I had prepared for the Russian Slavonic University. Snow continued to fall right up to the time I went to bed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 11, 2012

The fog was thick enough to obscure even the top of the buildings around the courtyard presaging the snowstorm that have has been forecast for tonight. I got dressed to get to the bakery and the supermarket to get a few more things for the evening’s meal and could tell the minute I stepped outside that the temperature had dropped considerably. On the spur of the moment, I decided to try my credit card at the ATM inside the Narodi Supermarket and viola! soms came out flying from the machine for the daily limit of 8000. I was so relieved not to have to bother my sister to contact the bank on my behalf.

I rode the marshrutka to the underpass, collected the laminated materials and then proceeded to the Arabaev University so I could put together all the materials for the session on grammar games. I had emailed Jyrdal earlier attaching all the handouts, but she hadn’t acknowledged their receipt. This is one practice in Kyrgyz society that is driving me up the wall as no one seems inclined to respond to emails at all.

The young woman staffing the resource center allowed me to work at one of the tables and then called Jyrdal confirming all handouts had been printed and would be brought up to the center a few minutes later. This young woman then told me she was a graduate of the Lingua program and had graduated from the Kyrgyz International University where my Russian teacher had been her teacher as well. Small world, indeed.
Twelve teachers showed up for the session, and in spite of the crowded conditions seemed to enjoy the activities and asked for both the presentation and handouts so they could replicate the games in their own classrooms.

Coming out of the building, I notice the first snowflakes coming down and I went straight home thereafter as both Willoughby and Elvira would be coming by earlier to discuss the book adaption proposal and I also wanted to start cooking right away. When Willoughby showed up, she informed she’d decided not to spend the night as she needed to travel out of town the following morning and would need to be at home to do the necessary packing.

We had a glass of white wine, which was not too dry, and then joined Elvira to discuss the project. Willoughby informed us that a Peace Corps volunteer had already started the book adaptation plan and she even had the materials in her flashdrive. We both copied them to our computer and flashdrive and agreed to meet tomorrow to continue the discussion.

Gulnara, from Forum, showed up with three of her students who work for that language school, Express Learning, I had laughed at when I first saw their sign. They were a bit miffed when I mentioned I had taken a photo of their sign and posted it on Facebook expressing my amusement at it.

                                Willoughby, Elvira, Bermet, Gulnara and Saadat at our first meeting

No one else showed up for the book, not even Rebecca, the co-host, and she didn’t even bother to call with an excuse. Needless to say, no one from Lingua showed up either. We had soup with flat bread, the fruit bars Willoughby had baked, coffee, tea and wine and then repaired to the living room to discuss the format of the book should there be other opportunities to hold it.

Willoughby agreed to hold the one in January and three books were exchanged as neither Gulnara nor Elvira had brought a book that could have been donated. Gulnara expressed her gratitude for the idea of a book club where teachers could talk about reading, but admitted she had no time for such activity and was hoping that the younger teachers, unmarried and childless, would be the one to keep the club going.

Elvira offered to give Willoughby a ride home when her husband came to pick her up and I went to bed exhausted.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012

Most of the snow had melted as the weather had been relatively balmy over the weekend thus enabling me to walk very fast to meet with Ainura for my second Russian lesson. She had brought in some handmade flashcards with objects in it for me to recognize or learn, and I couldn’t believe that a commercial set of such flashcards couldn’t be found readily available in the bazaar. I already feel as if I’m making progress for my vocabulary is expanding exponentially.

I had received a text message during the lesson from Gulnara at Lingua and when I called her back, she asked if I could possibly substitute for one of her teachers who was ill today. This teacher had two back-to-back classes from 4:00 to 8:00pm. I wasn’t really excited about the prospect of teaching for four hours straight, but didn’t want to disappoint the students and said yes.

After dropping off some additional materials to be laminated for tomorrow’s session, I went to Lingua to work on some new presentations I’d like to offer in the future such as one on humor in the classroom and the other on doing away with the reliance on the textbook so classes can be more flexible and fun for everyone. Adina came in to ask me to draw a name for the Secret Santa contest and I drew Nargiza’s, which was great as I think I know her and can easily buy a present that would be suitable although the 200 soms might pose a barrier to such selection.

Natalia sent me a message indicating that the PAO, the same guy who had never gotten back to me about the Thanksgiving dinner, needed to talk to me before 5:00pm. I replied I’d be available until 4:00pm, but he never called thus leaving me to wonder if I was in hot water for some reason.

The first class I subbed for had only eight students, all teenagers, and the two hours seemed to drag. The second one was livelier as there adults in it and the topic in the textbook was a bit more interesting. I guess I find it harder to substitute here because I’m not familiar with the textbooks, all published in the U.K., and couldn’t even operate the CD player as it had some round buttons to navigate that I had never seen before.

Gulnara had said she would pay for a taxi to take me home when I was finish and I was really glad for that as I was hungry and tired by 8:00. Natasha helped me get into a taxi and I was home in less than 15 minutes. I had some of my leftover pumpkin soup and went to bed early.