Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 31, 2013

I felt as if I were back to the days when I lived in Seattle and I knew spring had started because I woke up feeling as if my head was full of cotton balls. Unable to breathe and chased by a throbbing headache, I got out of bed knowing I would be unable to go anywhere. The night before, I had made a pot of our Dominican “cure all” tea: ginger, cinnamon sticks and a quartered lemon, but it had done me little good.

Elvira called to ask where I was, and I was so disoriented that I had forgotten I had promised to come to her class today at 9:30 as she would like to get a letter of recommendation from, but I have yet to observe her teaching. I felt really bad as I hadn’t even written it in my calendar, but I reiterated my intention of doing so next week.

I notified Lingua of my absence for today and went back to sleep until the people across the landing started to hammer away again. No amount of Advil could release the grip my headache had over me and resorted to taking more of the Claritin pills I still had leftover from the clinic in Dushanbe.

By mid-afternoon I was feeling a bit better and proceed to do the dishes and two loads of laundry. I finally put away all the stuff I had accumulated on the love seat in the office cum guest bedroom and felt slightly better about not having wasted the entire day.

I finished reading the book about the Mongols, which was written in and then remembered the article on the same subject I had read just last year in the National Geographic. The magazine article discussed how more and more of the former nomads were moving into the capital setting tents anywhere without any services being provided by the city government.

I got to watch a fascinating documentary called “The End of Suburbia”, which filmed in 2003 and purports to show that living outside the city limits is the most wasteful way of living as its existence is predicated on an unlimited supply of oil to drive our cars, heat and cool off our homes and bring food to those locations. The documentary flatly denied that solar or wind energy could ever supply the needs of the ever-expanding suburbs. Sobering thought, indeed.

January 30, 2013

I don’t know if the air quality is getting worse in Bishkek or whether the warmer air is bringing about pollen already, but I had my sinuses swollen and was coughing most of the night. On my way to Lingua, I stopped at the pharmacy downstairs and bought some more lozenges to soothe my sore throat.

My memory seems to be slipping for after about an hour of being at Lingua working on a new warm up for my next round of presentations, Elvira called to remind me we were supposed to work on her application for a one-year sabbatical in the U.S.

She proposed we get together for lunch first, and we headed to a cafeteria on Frunze Avenue located near many of the government ministry offices. The place was clean, well-lit and comfortable. I wasn’t that hungry and just ordered a bowl of lentil soup and tea. The lagman noodles looked delicious and they were steaming hot.

We returned to Lingua after discussing other ways Forum could try to raise funds, a subject that has come up numerous times already, and I tried to edit her responses to the three major questions related to her proposal. It was slow work as, like many of my former writing students, Elvira had not directly addressed the question per se, but went about it in a tangential manner.

I emailed Natalia at the embassy to inform her of my desire to participate in the conference in Shymkent that another ELF is organizing and that Jennifer urged us to support. In order for me to attend, I needed for her to postpone my participation in the textbook project slated to start at the beginning of April. I proposed we discuss the subject matter when Jennifer gets here this weekend.

When 4:00 o’clock rolled around, I was starving and went home to have a proper dinner. I watched CNN for a bit while telling myself I ought to cancel the subscription as I get so little in return. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 29, 2013

When I opened my eyes this morning, it was light outside and that meant I had overslept for sure. Checking my watch indicated it was half past eight and I had meant to be at Lingua by nine as Willoughby had invited me to go along for a visit to the towns of Tokmok and Kant where she and Elvira were going to be explaining how to complete the CATEC application. We were to gather in front of the Opera Ballet Theater at eleven where Elvira’s husband was going to pick us up and take us there.

I rushed through my morning routine, packed my breakfast and ran out the door not even knowing what the temperature might be as my Internet account had run out of money already. The milky skies indicated snow would soon be falling and my breath trailed behind me as I ran to get into the approaching trolley. A young woman offered me her seat and spoke to me in English as she’s married to an American and works for the Hyatt Hotel right across the street from Lingua.

Angelica, the new receptionist for the bookshop, was the only one at Lingua when I got there. Zarina and Gulnara came by later on and welcomed me back with a big hug. I explained my desire to accompany Willoughby and Elvira on their outing and since there wasn’t anything pressing for me to do, we all agreed it would be no problem to do so.

Willoughby had been observing Julia teach her class for the staff at the Children’s Library and Elvira had been teaching at the AUCA. We all convened about the same time and got into the car to drive for about an hour to the town of Tomok where the distinctive mark was an array of aircraft positioned in different parts of the town. It was time for lunch and we stopped at a Dungan place where I ordered lagman noodles and tea. The place was crowded as the food was good and inexpensive.

We then drove to the public library where, eventually, fourteen teachers gathered to hear us talk about the necessary steps to complete the application and insure that it would be considered by the selection committee. We then drove some more to reach the city of Kant where the American Corner is located. Willoughby mentioned that she was originally slotted to that particular post but when a suitable apartment couldn’t be found for her, the Peace Corps sent her somewhere else.

At the American Corner, we coincided with Bill Middleton, the librarian from Almaty, who was visiting this particular one to inspect the newly added facilities. Elvira inquired about the possibility of adding an American Window to another region, but his reply was that the region was “at capacity”, meaning no more money would be budgeted for new projects.

Joel Deen, the other Peace Corps volunteer, was also there, and we finally got to exchange the Russian study materials we had discussed previously. We then learned that a misunderstanding regarding the date had occurred and the teachers had shown up yesterday. Today, only one teacher did so and Joel agreed to help her complete the application so we didn’t need to hang around.

I noticed that the entire drive had taken us through another bleak area of the country highlighted by ugly buildings and some farming sections. There doesn’t seem to be any “center” to these places, just a makeshift feel of vendors gathering on a spot and then giving it a name for future reference.

Elvira asked if she could drop me off near the Turkish bazaar and I agreed since I had really nothing to eat at home. It was getting colder by the hour and I rushed through the market buying some fruit, some Korean salads, flat bread, milk and dry fruit to add to my muesli. I then caught a marshrutka across the street and made it home only to realize I still needed to go to the Narodni supermarket to pay for my Internet service.

One of the young employees helped with the transaction since this was a new company and a new machine and I had no idea how to do it. Back at home, I watched CNN for a bit getting more details on that horrific fire in a nightclub in Brazil. It seems completely inexplicable that any club nowadays would allow pyrotechnics displays after all the other tragedies that have beset country after country under similar circumstances. The fact that the club only had one entrance and exit and that security guards tried to prevent the customers from leaving without paying their tabs is simply unconscionable.

Natalia wrote to provide me with the schedule for Jennifer’s upcoming visit. She’ll be present at the Forum session on Saturday, for a meeting about CATEC later on the same day and then at my first presentation at the Bishkek Humanities University next Tuesday. I wish her observation would have taken place after I had had a chance to get acquainted with the teachers there; however, I got to do what needs to be done then.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 28, 2013

Hunger and a pounding headache drove me away from my bed at 3:00 am, so I made my pot of coffee and had more toast and Nutella but no amount of coffee could relieve the hammering in my head. I took two Advil tablets and went back to bed for a while making the decision at that time not to go to Lingua as I was feeling too tired to even move.

After sending Zarina and Gulnara an email that I was staying home, I watched the news for a bit and then set out to cook a lentil soup so I’d not have to go out at all. After making another pot of coffee, I felt somewhat normal again.

Willoughby called to let me how successful the Saturday session of Forum had been with more than fifty teachers in attendance to learn how to successfully complete the CATEC application to ensure selection. She also mentioned she'd doing the same thing tomorrow at two other places and I was invited to go along if possible.

I called my landlady and reminded her I was still waiting to get dining chairs, the oven knob, a set of table knives and a plumber to check the leak in the bathroom. She alleged she was taking an online course and had been really busy with quizzes and what not. She agreed to come on Saturday, in my absence, and bring in a plumber and the other things listed. We exchanged email addresses this time.

While looking through my Facebook page, I noticed a video on the reasons poverty still existed and went to the YouTube site to download and watch it at my leisure. It turned out this video was part of a series and I got to watch the one subtitled “The Birth Lottery” which basically states that a baby born in certain parts of the world has his/her life expectancy determined by that factor alone.

I created a FB album with the photos I had taken in Almaty and then read for a while. I noticed that most of the snow was already gone from the streets around my complex but I doubt we are out of the woods in terms of snow accumulation yet.

Monday, January 28, 2013

January 27, 2013

Despite my best intentions of getting up very early to finish packing before going downstairs to have breakfast, the cell phone alarm didn’t go off as apparently the battery is already too weak. I got up at half past seven and rushed into the bathroom to take a shower while a pounding headache propelled me to act very fast.

Jennifer, Irvin and David were the only ones downstairs, so I joined them to listen to Jennifer’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Poland. David asked me for assistance in setting up the conference room, so I gulped my coffee and followed him after having my now customary sandwich of pickled herring and cheese.

His session on ways to supplement any textbook to insure that all four skills were integrated into the lesson was thoughtful and well-planned. I hated to leave early, but I had been signed up to spend the next hour with the Access coordinators so all of us would have an idea as to what they do and how it is done. Annah was conducting a session there on a similar idea, this time asking the coordinators for ways to enhance the syllabus. The group I joined was working on putting on a fashion show during the summer where the students would use recycled materials for their costumes. I made a few suggestions before we headed for a coffee break.

I listened to the presentations of the other groups while jotting notes for the future until Jennifer tapped in the shoulder and told me I could rejoin the other group and listen to Toni’s presentation on using pictures to teach English. I was delighted to be able to do so since I’ll be presenting on the same topic on February 9 at the Forum session. When I walked in, the participants were working on drawing a family tree of their partners, a novel idea for me, but no pictures were being used.

I skipped the rest of the session so I could take my backpack to the front desk and remind them I’d need a cab at two o’clock. We then had a last session with Valerie who described the process she had gone through to get the Access students in Almaty to create a travel brochure for foreigners visiting the city. Certificates were awarded after this, email list handed out and last minute housekeeping details discussed.

It was time for the last luncheon at the hotel and they must have gone all out for we had salmon wheels, roasted vegetables, borscht and pumpkin soup and many other delicacies. I sat next to Corrie and we finally had a chance to catch up with what was going on in Dushanbe. I then learned that the fellow assigned to Khulob had never made it there as he turned out to be a lush, and when Georgetown did a background check on him to determine if a termination was warranted, turned out to have a criminal record of some sort.

My taxi was waiting for me and the cute bell boy brought my backpack to it. The driver offered to take me all the way to Bishkek if I was so inclined, but I turned him down for I find the long rides with just a driver a bit unnerving. I also find myself more at ease in a minibus full of passengers than being the sole occupant of a vehicle.

I managed to get into a marshrutka with the two front seats available with much pantomiming, gestures and writing down of fares, but even after I paid for the seats, the driver wanted to throw my backpack in the trunk. I firmly reminded him the two seats belonged to me and the backpack was staying. He then backed off while the rest of the passengers stared at me incredulously.

Getting out of the city was still a nightmare on a Sunday afternoon for I had imagined that traffic was going to be lighter. We only stopped once, for ten minutes and I made use of them to get to the smelly bathroom quickly. I then managed to doze off repeatedly as the road was relatively smooth at that point. Going through immigration and customs was relatively fast, but for some reason that I don’t understand, the van took about an hour and half to reappear.

I was accosted by numerous men wanting to take me into the city in their taxis, but I stuck close to the two women I could recognize from the bus terminal until our marshrutka made it back. It started to rain as we got into the city and as we unloaded, other taxi drivers started shouting for passengers. I gave the names for my intersection to one of them and was quickly taken home.

When I got the third floor of my apartment complex, I was delighted to see that all construction materials had disappeared from the landing. I sincerely hope that all construction is now finished and peace and quiet can be back for good. I only had toast and Nutella available for dinner along with a glass of compote and that was what I had.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

January 26, 2013

I always get all stressed out when I am expected to present in front of my peers and last night was no exception. I woke up at three in the morning and had a hard time falling back asleep. I was up by five and had to mix the little packet of 3-in-1 coffee in the lukewarm water coming out of the faucet to sustain me until I could get to the cafeteria at seven.

Sat with Irvin again and ate my breakfast quickly as I needed to set up the tables in the conference room in a different configuration. I stopped at the front desk and asked to borrow a pair of scissors and for some scrap paper. The front desk clerk had never heard of any of those terms and needed clarification. She did give me some paper plates for the cookies.

While Sarah was doing her presentation, I realized I didn’t have a warm up for mine and hastily put one together. Irvin and David helped me pass out the handouts and placed the cookies on each table. I only had one hour to talk about a new subject and have the audience practice using it for two different activities. I think I spoke too fast and put too much pressure for them to move from one part of the activity to another. I wasn’t happy with the presentation at all. I’m glad Jennifer wasn’t present to observe me.

Lunch was pretty good with fish, lentil soup and some salads among the offerings. We then went back to listen to Larissa, but most of us were having a hard time doing this as she lectured straight from her PowerPoint until perhaps the last ten minutes of the hour. I signaled to her that only five were left but she kept going on asking participants to contribute their ideas.

Irvin presented next, and I was impressed with his use of Norman Rockwell paintings to illicit students’ responses. I asked him if I could use it in Bishkek during one of Forum’s sessions. He seemed noncommittal, so we’ll see what happens in the future.

Holly had prepared a session to teach line dancing and it went very well. I had to take off my clogs to be able to participate and it was a lot of fun even though the room was all too small to hold such a big crowd. It turned out to be a good stress reliever for sure

We were given a break to get ourselves together before heading to a Kazakh restaurant where we’d be treated to a banquet of local dishes, music and dance. We boarded the buses a half past six and were taken to a fancy restaurant very close to where we had been the night before

The restaurant offered us everything the kitchen could prepare: samsis, manti, a variety of salads, bread, plov, shish kebabs, and two different desserts along with water and compote. After eating some of the salads, a chunk of bread and a bit of plov, I was completely satiated.

Secretly, Rich and Toni had managed to buy a nice card and a bouquet of flowers to offer it to Jennifer as a sign of our appreciation. We sang for her and everyone vied to take a photo of her holding the flowers and souvenir they had also given her. We spent a long time thereafter having a group photo taken as almost everyone had brought a camera and wanted a shot of the moment.

The entertainment never materialized, but a DJ started to play and little by little we moved into the dance floor. This time, I did get him to play two songs from my flashdrive, but it took some doing. The Tajiks had better luck as their music is better known around here.

When most of us boarded the buses to return to the hotel, around 9:30, Chris came up to announce that a group of them was going to a bar nearby that offered music in case anybody else wanted to join them. No one accepted the offer and we left. I was glad the day was over and we only have half a day tomorrow. Except for helping out with the coordinators’ session, I have no other obligation so to speak.

January 25, 2013

I was delighted to find the three Tajik teachers already at the cafeteria when I went down there and Aziza told me a fourth one would be joining them shortly as her flight had been delayed. When I asked where she was coming from and was told Shahriston, I immediately knew it’d have to one of the two lovely teachers I had worked with at the Access summer camp last year in Istaravshan and it was indeed Nigora that had been chosen.

She joined us a few minutes later and we hugged for the longest time as Nigora told she never thought she’d see me again. She still looks frail and stooped despite our many conversations about aiming for a better posture and becoming a more assertive woman. She’s only 32 years old, but looks around 50 as she has a hard life in the village where she lives.

After breakfast, we proceeded to the larger conference hall that could accommodate all the Access teachers and coordinators for a general session with another warm up activity and a poster session where the different groups showed up what they do on a regular basis. Off we went to lunch after that, and upon our return, the group was divided and we stayed with the teachers for professional development sessions conducted by the ELFs.

We had a break before boarding the bus that would take us to the Public Affairs Officer’s apartment for a reception. We were doubtful that his place could accommodate all of us plus some guests of his own. Nigora sat next to me and looked in wonderment at women driving, the Christmas decoration still hanging from trees and buildings, the tall buildings and many shops. A constant refrain came out of her mouth: “They are free to come and go, to shop and eat out, and go anywhere at any time. It’s not like us in the village.”

It was a snug fit at the apartment where we were treated to canapés and wine among other drinks. Groups quickly formed and out came the cameras with everyone posing with their favorite peeps. I needed to make my run to the Ramstor right next door and invited Aziza and Nigora to go with me in spite of Nigora’s misgivings about walking at night in a big city by ourselves. We passed the Cartier, Tiffany’s and Baccarat stores before realizing we needed to head in the opposite direction.

I wasn’t able to find an American brand of chocolate chip cookies and had to settle for some other ones that looked like it on the label. Nigora was looking for some presents for her kids, but found nothing suitable. The Red Mill muesli I bought turned out to be about $12.00 a package, so I only purchased one and then we left.

Jennifer introduced me to a tall middle age man who was an alumnus of FIU. He is currently teaching at a private university in Almaty, but doesn’t have a master degree yet. He knew Eric Dwyer, one of my favorite professors at FIU, and was interested in coming to Bishkek to visit. I gave him my card and asked him to look me up. I had another glass of wine and then it was time to go.

With no traffic to deal with, the ride back to the hotel took just a few minutes. The usual hard core party goers had stayed behind to go to some club or another. I was happy to be in bed reading my book.

Friday, January 25, 2013

January 24, 2013

I went down to the cafeteria at 7:10 am and there was no coffee to be had even though the entire food buffet was already laid out for the guests. The staff said the coffee was coming, but it took a while to get that first cup of coffee into my system. Irvin and David laughed at my addiction while talking about their own: to cigarette and chewing tobacco although David had quit years ago.

My morning was brightened when I got to see Aziza, from the Multikid NGO in Dushanbe, and two other Tajik Access teachers. We did the customary three kisses on the cheeks greeting and spoke for a few minutes before they chose another table for themselves. I promised to bring Aziza the package that Caroline had sent her to the training room.

I sat with a succession of ELFs as they made their way into the restaurant and got to agreed with Valerie that she’d take me to the Ramstor Store Friday night so I could buy a few grocery items for myself and the chocolate chip cookies I’ll need for my presentation on Saturday.

During my first presentation today, I spoke about the state of teacher training in Kyrgyzstan and we got into a heated discussion as to how we could break the resistance of the teachers to innovate, become more flexible and transfer some control to their students. The gist of it was how to allow the teacher to save face while still making room for their students to make decisions on how to learn the language instead of dictating every aspect of it.

Lunch was offered in a more elegant part of the hotel and we were treated to fish and a tasty soup among other dishes. I had another presentation in the afternoon to fill in the EFLs about the upcoming CATEC 2013. We had the usual mix of boring and riveting presentations, one of them given by the librarian at the American Embassy that is in charge of ordering all the materials for the American Corners in Central Asia. I had nothing to say about it since I haven’t done any close work with any American Corner so far.

One presenter, Chris, who is posted in Tajikistan, spoke about doing something called “Sideline Coaching” whereby he co-teaches with a colleague and intervenes at appropriate times when he feels the lesson being taught by his colleague is about to take a nosedive. He’d brought video clips to demonstrate his strategies and gave me some ideas as to how I conduct observations in a more positive setting. I need to do more research on this area for sure.

Larissa, originally from Ukraine, but currently residing in Tampa, FL, asked me to exchange some of my files with her at seven and then we agreed to go and have a bite to eat. I was surprised to walk into her room, officially marked as a non-smoking one, and find an ashtray filled with cigarette stubs.

The rest of the EFLs decided to take a tour of the tower I visited last summer and then go to a club, I declined and with Larissa just walked a few blocks to find a cafeteria offering the usual fare of over boiled meats and bland side dishes. I ordered a salad, mashed potatoes and beef chunks with overcooked vegetables.

We walked back while Larissa talked about getting her doctorate from one of those diploma mills online, Capella University. She never mentioned having any experience actually teaching, so I’ll reserve my judgment for now. She seems extremely proud of her title and likes to introduce herself as" doctor so and so" at every chance. Such practice tends to grate on my nerves after a little while.

I continued to read the book on Genghis Khan until I fell asleep.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 23, 2013

The restaurant for the hotel was located on the ground floor and the tile floor made it a rather chilly place. David and Annah were already there at a little past seven and I joined them to drink the abominable instant coffee served from a regular urn. Breakfast was a buffet affair offering everything from cereal to soup to fried rice, and scrambled eggs that had been mislabeled as “omelet”.

I spied a baguette nearby and made myself a sandwich with picked fish and cheese along with a boiled egg and some kind of juice. Other ELFs joined our table and the proper introductions took place with each one of us indicating whether this was our first or second tour; just as soldiers would speak of their posts.

Our sessions started promptly at nine with the Kazakhstan ELFs in charge of the warm up activity. We got into group of three to discuss what some of our challenges were and to post them on the wall for discussion at some point. My challenge was how to get teachers to teach English in the medium of English when their own fluency level was so low.

David and Valerie gave interesting and relevant presentations on creating a support group for pre-service teachers and teaching graphic novels to teenagers. Lunch was another buffet and I was hardly hungry at that point, so I just had a sample of salads and a bowl of soup. Toni, who is posted to Turkmenistan, invited me to go along for a walk to stay awake subsequently. The weather was remarkably warm albeit somewhat windy, but it was pleasant to walk after sitting for so many hours.

Presentations continued until five with only a respite for a coffee break. We had to schedule our one-on-one session with our RELO at twenty minute intervals and mine was set up for seven o’clock. I went back to my room to relax for a bit and didn’t make any attempt to join the others for a Kazakh dancing lesson to be provided by Holly.

My conversation with the RELO revolved around my activities in Bishkek and her upcoming trip to meet with everyone working with me. I really didn’t have any burning questions, complaints or advice to seek this time, so we ended the conversation with each one of us heading in different directions for our meals.

The dining room reeked of smoke at that time, so I went to the bakery around the corner and bought a couple of snacks, water and juice to eat in my room. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January 22, 2013

Made sure to wake up early so that the kitchen could be cleaned up, all food put away, appliances could be unplugged and the entire flat tidied up before going out to throw the trash away, find an ATM and buy some snacks for the ride to Almaty. I was unsuccessful in finding the ATM and just went ahead and exchange some more money.

Isman, the driver from Lingua, promptly showed up at ten and took me to the bus terminal on the outskirts of the city. Through Zarina, I told him I wanted to book the front two seats of the marshrutka, as Ryan had instructed me, so I could have access to my backpack at all times and not share the seat with anybody else.
We found an empty minibus and settled on a price of 500 soms, or a bit over ten dollars, for each seat.

I paid Isman and stood around for a while waiting for the van to get filled with more passengers. I then remember I had forgotten to buy the 3-1 instant coffee that I’d probably need at the hotel and I walked to the kiosks behind the terminal to find some. Just as I was negotiating with a vendor, an employee from the terminal came running to tell me the van was about to depart.

I was surprised to find out that the driver didn’t need to wait until the van was full, as they had done when we traveled to Issyk-Kul, perhaps because of the higher fare. We reached the border in less than one hour and all passengers had to get out with their luggage and go through immigration and customs while the driver went through a different section. When I came out on the other side, I had no clue where the driver was and started to panic.

Men started to approach me shouting different destinations and wanting to get me into their cars. Fortunately, one of the male passengers recognized me from afar and came to my rescue asking me to follow him to the spot where the rest of the passengers were waiting. The sun hid behind the clouds and started to get really cold as we just stood there waiting for the van to materialize from behind the customs gates. It took over an hour for him to come out and then he stopped to fuel up. I took advantage of that and after dumping my backpack on the front seat, scurried to the public toilet.

I shouldn’t have been in any hurry since the driver then started to negotiate with a couple other passengers and then finally took off. We rode for another two hours and then stopped to have lunch at a Turkish restaurant where I was fleeced once again with the place charging me 660 soms or almost $15.00 for a small serving of some meat and vegetables, a small salad and a piece of cake. I almost choked on my food when I saw the bill, but unable to argue about it, I meekly paid swearing never to set foot in a Turkish place again.

Once we got to Almaty, I had to pay $20.00 to get in a taxi that would take me to the hotel. I once again felt powerless to negotiate or argue about the cost. The burly taxi driver started to smoke the minute we got into his taxi, but I made it clear I was allergic to it and he put it out. It was after four o’clock and traffic was a beast as he tried to maneuver around it.

When I got to the hotel reception, I met Richard, from Dushanbe, Holly and Chris and others just completing their registration. I requested a quiet room at the back of the hotel and then came back down to drink a cup of coffee as no teakettles were allowed in the rooms. My room was monastic affair with barely enough space to turn around. The coffee bar server was not present and just left to find a place to exchange money and buy coffee someplace else.

I found a terrific bakery just around the corner and ordered an espresso. The temperatures were milder than I had expected and so I went for a walk to familiarize myself with the area. There were no supermarkets around, just some restaurants and the bakery. Two convenience stores faced the hotel and went into both of them looking for cold water and beer, but neither offered it. I got the regular stuff and set it outside the window for a couple of hours before drinking it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January 21, 2013

Temperatures have continued to be relatively mild these days with the highest reaching 43 Fahrenheit in the late afternoon. This is certainly unexpected as I thought we’d be freezing these days and under a continuous blanket of snow.

I spent about four hours at Lingua mostly photocopying the handouts for the presentation in Almaty as well as printing the materials that needed lamination. The samsi guy didn’t come in, and I just skipped lunch and continued working so I could go home earlier.

At the lamination place, the young guy wasn’t in, but his assistant promptly took the pages and had them done in a jiffy. I then stopped at the nearest ATM to get some money to pay for my fare to Almaty, but that one didn’t accept MasterCard, only Visa. The #4 trolley came by and it was unusually crowded and I had a difficult time getting through the riders, all piled up at the front, to let me through when my stop came up.

Once I got home, I had a cup of café con leche, watched CNN a bit and then started to pack my backpack for the trip tomorrow making sure I didn’t forget any of my cables and laptop accessories as I knew the hotel in Almaty had Wi-Fi included in the price of the room.

I got so engrossed in my reading of the Genghis Khan’s book that I was up way past midnight. It’s a really engrossing read especially the parts that reveal the lifestyle of the Mongols in the 1990s. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20, 2013

I was up early to start cooking, cleaning the kitchen and getting my place tidy to receive Willoughby for lunch. I tried cooking the Filipino pork adobo according to a recipe found online, but the amount of vinegar was excessive and it turned too sour. I added sugar to it, but it had little effect on the overall flavor. I even had to open the kitchen window to let the acrid smell escape. My polenta turned out all right, but the pickled Haitian coleslaw was also too sour for me even though Willoughby didn’t complain about it.

Willoughby then informed me that volunteers were instructed to dilute the local vinegar in a solution of one part vinegar to five part water to make it similar to the one we’d use in the States. I wish I had know that earlier.

By ten in the morning, the construction noise started again with the sound of a drill that seemed to penetrate right through my skull. I knocked on the door of the offending apartment and notified the couple that opened the door that it was Sunday and they weren't supposed to be working on that day. The woman cut her eyes at me while the husband, who spoke some English, wanted to know where I lived. I pointed to my unit and left. There was no more drilling after that. I felt victorious for once.

We sat down at my computer and went over my presentation on the state of teacher training in Kyrgyzstan and she gave me some pointers especially when she thought I was sounding too negative about the whole situation here. I shared some more resources with her and after having her oatmeal cookies and coffee, we got ready to go to the Opera Ballet Theater to see the local production of the opera “La Traviata”.

Rohat, the Peace Corps trainer and friend of Willoughby  who had offered to buy the tickets ahead of time was nowhere to be seen, so we purchased three tickets at 100 soms each and tried to wait in the foyer for her, but theater employees practically dragged us inside as the production had started one hour ahead of the listed time on the poster. We had already missed fifteen minutes of it. The usher promised to reunite us with Rohat whenever she showed up.

Only about half of the seats were occupied and at least four rows of them were filled with soldiers in their fatigue uniforms, some looking not older than fifteen. The acoustics were terrible so that when the performers moved toward the end of the stage, we could barely hear them. The orchestra was magnificent and I certainly enjoyed the music much more than the actual singing. The costumes and set were just mediocre, but then again I’m sure the company might not have much money for such frills.

Rohat joined us before the end of the first act and bought a program for ten soms so we could have an idea as to how long it would be. There was no synopsis of the opera in itself, so I was still in the dark as to what was taking place on the stage. Rohat told me an anecdote about her visiting Washington, D.C. and the comments she garnered about her “grille” as she has both her front and bottom teeth capped in gold. 

Willoughby had never heard the term grille in reference to teeth. We certainly had a good laugh about that.
When we went in search of the bathroom, I met a glamorous young woman and complimented her on her dress. She spoke fluent English and told us she had been born in Kyrgyzstan but moved to the States when she was fifteen. She’s now back to look after her sick grandmother and as luck would have it, she’s an ESL teacher and looking for a job. We exchange information and promised to keep in touch.

Rohat helped us negotiate a taxi ride so I could be dropped off first and Willoughby second. It was pleasant outing all in all.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

January 19, 2013

I got to putter around the apartment most of the morning and even got to watch a fascinating BBC documentary on why humans have a need to talk. It followed a newborn baby as it developed the ability to speak, a stroke patient struggling to regain the ability to talk and the fate of a young woman raised pretty much in isolation. The conclusion: the need to speak is innate and critical to negotiate our way in society.

I attached the new trackers to my boots, but found them most uncomfortable as I could feel every little ball under the sole of my feet and it made me walk even more carefully on the still icy sidewalks. I guess it’s going to take a little while before I get used to them.

The trolley ride was again a pleasure and Lingua was full of people as they were concluding the latest EAP session and the teachers had ordered pizza to celebrate. Natasha invited to partake of the somewhat dry pizza as for some inexplicable reasons pizza parlors do not add tomato sauce to the pie before piling on the meat, cheese and vegetables.

There were only eight students for the conversation club until Nargiza asked if two of her elementary students could join in. Even though I knew they’d not be able to do much, I agreed so they could be exposed to what was expected of them. We talked about the New Year’s celebration they’d had and our tradition of making resolutions, something they’d never heard of. We proceeded to form groups and they worked on an activity on problem solving.

Willoughby had asked me to accompany her to see the opera “La Traviata” Sunday evening, and I had agreed to pick up the tickets before going home. For some reason, I had it in my mind that the opera was taking place at the Philharmonic Hall and not the Opera Ballet Hall right across the street from Lingua. So I took a marshrutka to the Philharmonic only to be told the entire place was closed during the month of January. Willoughby and I had a good laugh when I told her and the problem was solved by a colleague of hers who offered to get the tickets and go with us.

On the way home, I exchange some more money and stopped at Narodni to buy a few more things for lunch tomorrow as Willoughby will be coming by then. Watched the news for a bit while having a steamy cup of café con leche and then watched a few episodes of the misogynistic, crass and highly addictive TV show, Two and a Half Men. I needed some comic relief, indeed.

January 18, 2013

It was a frosty morning with temperatures dropping to the just 5 degree Fahrenheit when I walked across the street to meet with Laira for breakfast at the Vanilla Sky café. The place is adding an all-glass enclosure to allow customers to sit outdoors even in the dead of winter and workers were busily scurrying around to get it done as soon as possible.

The non-smoking section was completely empty at 9:00 am and I asked the server if they had just opened, but he replied they opened an hour earlier. Despite Rebecca’s assertion that the café had a fantastic breakfast menu, I found no evidence of it as there were no eggs, pancakes, crepes, omelets or anything I could recognize as a breakfast offering. The server brought me another menu in English, but that didn’t help any.

When Laira arrived, she brought me the pair of trackers she had purchased in Switzerland for me so I can attach them to the soles of my boots and keep from skidding on the ice and breaking my neck. They were quite different from the flimsy ones Peace Corps volunteers wear, but then again these were Swiss. I paid Laira the $40.00 I owed her and we proceeded to order something that looked like a cross between a wrap and a crepe.

I asked for American coffee and hot milk on the side, but the server brought me a large glass of hot milk instead. It doesn’t to amaze me that these places, catering to the expat community for the most part, fail to hire personnel with a certain degree of fluency in English. Laira commented that the NGO her husband works for, Helvetica, does provide training in the tourist area of Issyk-Kul as that region attracts more tourists than Bishkek does.

The meal was just all right and hardly worth the almost $10.00 I had to pay for it. I told Laira that next time we met; I’d cook Dominican-style scrambled eggs, toast and coffee at my place.  We went up to my place so she could see the apartment and agreed to meet on Monday for the Zumba class she told me was hosted just across the street and next to Vanilla Sky.

Willoughby called in the afternoon to ask if I wanted to accompany her to see the opera “La Traviata” which is being offered at the Philharmonic Hall on Sunday evening. Although I’m not really a fan of opera, I agreed to go with her and even pick up the tickets tomorrow afternoon after the conversation club at Lingua. I thought it’d do me good to get out of the house for a bit and haven’t seen this one anyway. Willoughby plays the piano and is thus quite knowledgeable about music.

In the evening, I got to watch yet another movie, “A Serious Man”, a film I knew nothing about but just knowing it was written, directed and produced by the Coen brothers was enough to get me interested. It’s a bleak film on the surface and merits a second watch before I form a definite opinion on it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

January 17, 2013

As luck would have it, the #8 trolley came by the minute I stepped on the curb and took me to Lingua in about fifteen minutes. Willoughby was already there talking to Gulnara in the lunch room and then Elvira, Nurkys, the other Gulnara and a severe-looking woman from the newly-created Center for Professional Development, Emma, joined us and the meeting got started.

We discussed the logistics involving the pre-conference schedule and recommendations were made to contact the RELO and Peace Corps to determine what they would like to see included and how they would contribute to the entire program. Gulnara, from Lingua, wanted to include some sort of survey to determine why some branches of Forum seem to be extremely successful, i.e., Issyk-Kul, while others were not. 

Since my RELO will be visiting the country at the beginning of February, Gulnara suggested offering an additional Forum session on the second to showcase what we do and to allow her to announce the winners of the pre-service teachers competition we held in December. Willoughby and I will decide if enough time would be available to offer a short presentation on Valentine’s Day.

Zarina and the new girl had gone out to lunch at a new Chinese place nearby and the samsi guy didn’t show up. I went downstairs to the Halal Kitchen and ordered lagman noodles to go. I saw that Matthew came and went out of the office, but didn’t acknowledge my presence. I’m so disgusted with his behavior for not showing up, or even offering an excuse, at the winter sessions, that I ignored him as well.

I worked on a variety of projects at Lingua while making time for the construction crew at the apartment to hopefully be finished by the time I got there. I was able to board the #4 trolley after a somewhat lengthy wait and struck a conversation with a young woman who appeared mortified at being found waiting the exact same animal print coat as an older woman behind us. She spoke English reasonable well and turned out to be a student of my colleague Elvira at the American University of Central Asia. Small world.  

I finished the evening by watching the final segment of the three part documentary “Welcome to India”, focused mostly on the state of Kolkata where its residents prepare to celebrate the Mother Durga festival amid the squalor of the city and heavily polluted waters of the Ganges River.  Yes, Indians are to be admired for their resiliency, unbound optimism and blind faith in a better future for their children. Wish I could feel the same way.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

January 16, 2013

It was snowing once again when I woke up this morning. I made my pot of coffee in the portable gas hot plate as a headache had announced itself immediately upon opening my eyes and it demanded coffee fast. I texted Elvira to verify she was still available to accompany me to the bank to open an account so I don’t have to carry much cash around. By nine in the morning, the hammering started across the landing. I’m beginning to feel that this remodeling of apartments is going to be the vane of my existence in Bishkek.

                                The view from the bedroom's window

It was easy to make it to the bank on foot as the fluffy snow allowed for fast walking, but the branch Asia had pointed to was in the process of closing and they referred us to one closer to my street, Isanova, and there we got to deal with a young capable clerk that explained I didn’t need to deposit any money to open the account then and there. Instead, I had to wait for the debit card to arrive in 3-5 days and then make a deposit. I’d need to keep a $100.00 reserve at all times and they would charge a 5% fee for any electronic transfer of funds.

                       The snowy view of the apartment's courtyard

As was to be expected, it took a lot of paperwork and signatures, photocopying of passport and visa before we were handed a copy of the application and allowed to leave. I invited Elvira to try out a Korean restaurant recommended by one of the Filipino guys last Saturday. We had no difficulty finding the place, close to the Kyrgyzstan National University, and we were treated to a buffet but not before being warned that we couldn’t take any leftovers home or leave any food on the plates. I wish the latter was also the rule in the U.S.

It cost 250 soms per person and 50 soms for a pot of tea. I was delighted to see that there were several dishes with seafood in them and even sushi. The kimchi wasn’t as good as I remember having had in the States when my students prepared it, but I gave it a try. The place was almost full with what appeared to be a mostly Korean clientele. When we were finished, we walked next door to their grocery store where I bought a bottle of fish sauce for the adobo recipe I’m planning on cooking tomorrow. They didn’t have any oyster sauce, so I think I’ll have better luck finding that staple at a Chinese store.

The toilet at the Korean restaurant has a toilet paper holder made from a cut-up plastic bottle.

Elvira walked back with me almost to the apartment building, but I didn’t invite her in because my place was a bit messy. My headache hadn’t gone away and I thought I could have a chance to lie down for a bit before tackling some of my chores, but I then found out that the workers were still at it hammering away non-stop. I tried to block the noise by watching CNN for a little while, but all the news were so depressing that I turned it off in disgust.

I decided to watch another movie and chose one by a film director that has become dear to me now: Len Loach, a British filmmaker with an outstanding sensibility for the plight of the average man, woman or child. This one was titled “Family Life” and left me practically in tears. This is the fourth one of his movies I get to watch and each one has been better than the previous one. I only hope he continues to produce more work of such caliber.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January 15, 2013

Willoughby sent me a message indicating she’d have to go and substitute for Julia at the English classes offered by Forum to the staff at the Children’s Library and to please buy some other things she needed for the gathering at the Beta Store. It was a challenge to walk the three blocks to the store for the icy conditions of the all sidewalks and once I got there, there was no one at the booth to exchange money for me.

The manager kept saying the guy would be right back and apparently no one else could do the job, so I had to wait there while employees came around sweeping around my feet and mopping the mud tracked in by the customers. I got everything she wanted except they had no small plates to serve desserts. I got on a marshrutka and as luck would have it, missed my stop and had to retrace my steps back to Lingua.

As I approached the library, I ran into Willoughby and was more than happy to hand her the packages with my supplies and her purchases. She asked me to come to her house as early as I wish so as to give her a hand with whatever might be needed.

Zarina was training a young woman at the front desk and introduced me to a beautiful girl that used to be a model. She’ll be working at the English shop on the third floor soon. We had lunch, samsis, together and the girl said she’d come back from Japan where she’d done runway modeling for Japanese designers.

I started yet another presentation on the current state of teacher training in Kyrgyzstan to show it to the participants in Almity next week. Sent an email to Gulnara asking for any statistics on English language teachers she might have at hand to include in the PPT. I did the same by asking the Gulnara at Lingua if she had access to that information and she promised to make a phone call to someone in the Ministry of Education, but warning me that they were usually uncooperative when it came to sharing their data.

I boarded the marshrutka to head to Willoughby’s place and got sit down this time. She really didn’t need my help as the chili was already cooked, very spicy she confessed, as well as the corn bread, also spicy, and ginger tea. I only helped bring out the plastic plates and cutlery and set the chairs and stools around the table. Galina, from the Russian Slavonic University, was the first one to arrive and then the others. Rebecca brought her supervisor, Ben, who was here on a 24-hour visit and was more than happy to be surrounded by women talking about books.
I got to take the book Willoughby had just finished, a travelogue following on the footsteps of Genghis Khan, and she took mine, “Losing Isaiah”. At least three of the participants had brought no book to discuss or share and we only hope that situation won’t be repeated next time. Rebecca agreed to host the February meeting, something I was hoping she’d do, and we set the date for the 12th of the month.

Ben, Ebi and I shared a taxi back to Moskovskaya Street and I got home by nine. I read a bit of the book on Genghis Khan and then went to sleep.

January 14, 2013

I had promised myself to bring a present to Isman, the older driver for Lingua who had helped me move to my new place, so I went downstairs to the fancy confectionery store to buy a cake as Zarina had suggested. There were only two chocolate cakes and both cost over ten dollars, which really surprised me as this is a very popular place with the locals. I bought the lower priced one and some green tea across the street. The trolley came in just then and I enjoyed a pleasant ride to Lingua since the trolleys have wide windows to look out, wide corridors and plenty of fresh air circulating.

The ride was shorter than it’d have been in a marshrutka as the trolleys can only drop off and pick up passengers at official bus stops. Zarina called Isman when I got in and he quickly came by to pick up his present. It was obvious he wasn’t used to carrying a cake home in its fancy box for he turned it on its side probably ruining the decorations on top of it. He seemed very pleased nonetheless.

I got to work on my presentation for the conference next week and stopped for a moment when Natalia came in. Apparently, the embassy is reconsidering the budget for the CATEC and needs to find places where cuts can be made without affecting the overall structure of the conference.

Going back home, I had the same problem as last Friday for no trolley came my way and my feet were beginning to feel numb from the cold. In exasperation, I jumped in the first marshrutka that came by showing a sign it was headed toward the Osh Bazaar and then had to walk more than five blocks to get home.

A persistent headache had plagued me all afternoon, so I made a cup of café con leche and watched the news for a bit. Willoughby informed me that ten people had confirmed attendance for the book club meeting and to please bring the leftover disposable plates and cutlery I had from the gathering at my house. Even Rebecca had confirmed her participation as well as the young woman from Albania I had met at Sierra Coffee.

I was relieved to hear we didn’t need to cancel the event entirely as I really had my heart set on getting this club going.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13, 2013

Having gone to bed relatively early the night before compelled me to get up early this morning as well. The apartment was a mess and I wanted to start cooking as soon as possible and get everything done before Willoughby showed up before noon.

I changed the bed, did one load of laundry, got the dishes done, started browning the beef, cleaned the toilet, vacuumed the carpets and finally took a long shower. I got into a pair of sweatpants and a sweater and I was ready for company before Willoughby showed up at eleven. She’d brought a loaf of banana bread she’d baked that morning.

I cooked white rice, put the finishing touches on the lentil soup and reheated the flat bread. I had made another batch of compote and sweetened with honey. We had a delicious meal ending with her banana bread and my French roast coffee of which I had to make another cup for her so she could finish her banana bread.

We moved to the computer room and I transferred all my files on speaking activities and games, warm-ups and icebreakers so she can get started with the conversation club for Forum teachers while I’m in Almaty. I also transferred some movies for her to watch at home. We went through the steps on how to use a web-based program that Peace Corps makes available to volunteers so they can find out which bus routes to take from any two places. This program comes really handy now that I need to familiarize with a new neighborhood.

I also showed her how to use my template to craft her own cards for whatever activities she might need and gave her the set she’d need for the first meeting on January 26. We also agreed that if no one replied to our invitation for the book club by tomorrow evening, the meeting would be cancelled entirely. There really is no point in trying to get people to attend these meetings if they are not interested anyway.

It was a most pleasant way to spend a snowy Sunday. In the evening, I watched the first two parts of three hour documentary made by the BBC entitled “Welcome to India”, which purported to show how a nation of over one billion people was coping with over population, lack of housing, an over abundance of plastic bottles and other ills of modern life. It was meant to be a hopeful paean to those of us on the other side of the planet, but I couldn’t see how a woman who had had 12 kids, a guy that uses mercury to find gold, and squatters on a beach had anything promising to show us. I’ll reserve my final judgment until I watch the last episode.

January 12, 2013

It was snowing heavily when I got out of bed this morning, and I was grateful for not having had any obligations pending early in the morning. For the first time since I got here, I was able to listen to my music through the set of speaker Caroline has sent and the sound was crystal clear throughout the entire apartment.

Christina called around ten to confirm she’d meet me at 1:00 to take me to her conversation club after we had adobo. The snow had pretty stopped at that point and what was on the ground was soft and slushy making it easy to make my way through it. We boarded a minibus on Chuy Avenue and traveled quite a distance, past the Ataturk Park and the Medical College, two places I had never seen, until we came to stop and she told me her apartment complex was a stone throw from the Orto-Sai Bazaar. I decided to stop by on my way back as I needed to shop for a few items.

Christina took me to somebody else’s apartment, occupied by two Filipino guys, and went back to her own place to bring the food and coffee. I chitchatted with them learning they had lived in Dubai and then we had our meal, but not before they stopped me so they could say grace. We had adobo, white rice and mashed potatoes with Christina telling me that mashed potatoes were considered dessert in the Philippines and were eaten last. She was drinking hot Tang instead of tea or coffee, something else I had never experienced.

Christina had been coy all along as to what she did for a living or how she had set up this conversation club, so today I finally pinned her down and she told me that she and the guy leading the discussion, Rodelio, worked at a Korean language school as English teachers. Rodelio had set up his laptop and an LCD projector in the living room and had chosen the topic of setting goals from some website. When I asked him if he intended to discuss New Year’s resolutions, he resolutely denied that.

I got the impression after a little while that this might be a group of Christian people trying to attract locals to their religion through the offer of free conversation classes in English as there was no format to the lesson, no blackboard to write on, no discussion of vocabulary or corrections when mistakes were made and Rodelio insisted everyone should feel free to speak even those who lacked the vocabulary to be able to do so. After an hour and a half of sputtering conversation, I indicated my need to get to the market before it got dark, and Christina was gracious enough to accompany me there and guide me through the maze of corridors.

I’ll have to find a way to let her know of my hunch and turn down her invitation to partake in any other meetings there. I did meet an attractive, engaging and articulate young teacher there, Cholpon, who served as an informal interpreter for those whose English wasn’t up to par. She had indicated that their meetings could go on until six or seven in the evening and I thought Rodelio didn’t feel comfortable bringing up anything religious while I was there.

My shopping expedition was a very successful one as I was able to buy the saucepan I was looking for, a corkscrew for the wine bottles I’ll be buying and a hefty one it was, along with a set of salt shaker and pepper grinder for a song. I then focused on getting the groceries to cook for Willoughby tomorrow: orange lentils, the kind very popular in Turkey, curry powder, and best of all, I finally found pork meat and bought a kilo for me and one for Willoughby who had been unsuccessful in finding any so far.

On the way out of the bazaar, I found a man baking bread in a tandoor oven and patiently waited to take one home. Christina got me into the right marshrutka and asked the driver to let me know when to get off. I felt as I was traveling in a different city for I had never been to that part of town and it looked and felt quite different.

The driver advised when I got to the corner of Moskovskaya and I then made one last stop at Narodni for salt, water, milk and vinegar. I now knew I could go to my flat sure of not needing to go out the next day at all.

Friday, January 11, 2013

January 11, 2013

In need to familiarize myself with the bus routes from my new place, I walked to the bus stop while it was still dark outside hoping I could read the signs on the marshrutkas and find out which one could take me up to the VEFA Center. I waited for a while but none came and the trolleys seemed to have disappeared this morning, so I approached a young woman coming of my apartment complex and asked her. She mentioned three routes, and as if by miracle, one of them materialized on the spot.

It only took fifteen minutes to get to the center, and I ran into Zeinep on the way to the American Pilot School. The resource center had not power, so we had to combine both groups and head to Tatiana’s classroom to conduct the session on teaching children’s songs there. A frustrating moment came when I was unable to find the presentation which I had slaved on all day Sunday adding links to the sound clips on each page. Tatiana’s computer couldn’t even do a search by folder and came up with nothing when instructed to search by “songs”.

I had another presentation on the subject of teaching songs in general and had no recourse but to use that one even though I was aware that it was way over the level of the teachers present. I had brought my CD of children’s songs as a backup anyway and after the lecture we proceeded to play the songs and show them the movements. Some of the older teachers were not really into it and older one sat down after a while claiming exhaustion.

Tatiana had acquired some short video clips with many of the same songs and we watched those for a while. She doesn’t know how to make copies of CDs in her computer, so I offered to copy my CD for the teachers and she offered to reimburse me for the costs of the blank CDs.

I headed straight to the VEFA Center to try the Indian restaurant someone had recommended and got there around 11:20 only to be told they didn’t have a cook yet and to come back at noon. I boarded the minibus to Lingua and had lunch at the Host restaurant on the first floor, what they euphemistically call a business lunch or a simplified version of the menu. I got a piece of nam bread, some Basmati rice and tiny bowl with some fish chunks cooked in mildly spicy sauce. I had to pay for my tea separately and they didn’t serve Marsala tea. A complete disappointment, again.

                               Taxi drivers kill time in front of Lingua

Once a Lingua, Zarina called me into the lunch room to sing happy birthday to a teacher I had not never met as she only works in the evenings. I turned down the offer of cake, but learned they had been purchased from the bakery on the first floor of my building and that such bakery had a fine reputation for turning out delicious baked goods.

I met with Anna for a few minutes to catch up on what needed to be done for the CATEC conference so my presentation in Almaty was up-to-date and then sent an email to Natalia asking her to provide us with names and contact information for all other Central Asian embassies so we could get hold of them once the selection process was completed.

It was time to return a call I had received from Meredith, the person filling-in at the embassy for the public affairs officer, as she wanted to discuss with me the proposed trip to the southern regions to conduct additional training sessions this spring. Elvira had submitted the proposal, and even though it looked good on the surface, she had wanted to talk to me to see if I was in agreement that this would be a good investment of funds. After I gave her a glowing report on the just completed training sessions this week, she said she would green light the project sometime next week. I called Elvira and notified her immediately.

Gulnara had requested a meeting with Zarina and me to discuss my schedule and what activities I should be involved in this year. I notified her of my upcoming conference in Almaty and the remaining commitment for training sessions at the Bishkek Humanities University coming up in February in addition to the visit to the southern regions. Gulnara would like to see me do some training for in-service teachers at some point, but will remain flexible on the dates.

The package that Caroline had sent so I could take it to Almaty and deliver it to Aziza had arrived. Zarina gave me the slip to claim it and I proceeded to the post office where a young guy waiting behind me helped me with the process when it came to listing my home address and signing for it. Caroline had paid $48.95 for a small box in which she had included a set of nesting speakers for my laptop. That was expensive, indeed.

The misspelled sign at the post office

                                            Another example of a poor translation

I waited for one of the trolleys Zarina had indicated could take me home from the post office, but only marshrutkas came by dousing me with exhaust fumes on a steady basis. The weather was remarkably mild, the package not too heavy and I was not in any hurry, so I decided to explore the side streets and see how long it would take to get home on foot. I stopped to buy flat bread and then the thin-skin lemons I used to love in Dushanbe and finally made it home.

January 10, 2013

It was a frosty morning as I made my way to the school ahead of schedule so I could rearrange the chairs and desks in a single row for my presentation on pragmatics. I had taken my hat and gloves out of my handbag to accommodate the materials I’d need and then forgot them, so ears and hands were freezing as I walked to the school. One of the teachers caught up with me when I got to Chuy Avenue and I asked if she could give me a hand in setting up the classroom, but of course, she didn’t understand the “give me a hand” or “do me a favor” expression, so I had to explain I just needed help.

Getting the participants to get into pairs by finding the opposite noun to the one in their hands necessitated Willoughby’s assistance as they didn’t recognize the vocabulary for the most part. Giving them situation cards to read so we could hear what speech act they’d use to accomplish their goal was simply a frustrating exercise as they couldn’t understand the text in itself much less how they would respond in that situation.
At the end of it, participants indicated their appreciation for learning about an aspect of language teaching they weren’t aware existed. Even Willoughby indicated she had learned something new, so all was not lost. After a hurried coffee break, I got to do it all over except for the fact that the second group included a couple of teachers who actively participated in reading their cards and attempting to use one of the speech acts.

Nurila approached me to go to lunch with her so we could continue our discussion on her presentation on the first day. The cafeteria was jammed with people and took a while to get our food, but I reassured Nurila in the meantime that the mistakes I had pointed out were not serious ones and most likely the audience in general had not even been aware of them.

I attempted to attend the presentation given by Asia, the Peace Corps volunteer, but was called almost right away to sign the certificates for the 70 plus teachers and all presenters. I helped Gulnara with the speech for the closing ceremony and returned to catch the end of it. Willoughby and I followed her to the next one to find out she’s quite funny and makes up for her lack of teaching skills by endearing herself to the audience. We passed out evaluation forms for the entire three days at that point and then moved the participants to the auditorium.

Natalia came from the embassy and spoke for a few minutes, followed by a representative for the school and then Gulnara before we called participants to receive their certificates of participation. Willoughby and I were presented with Christmas decorations, little jewelry boxes in the shape of a yurt and a cake.
After promising participants that we’d emailing all presentations and handouts to them as soon as possible, we said our goodbyes and the three of us proceeded to Sierra Coffee to partake of the cake and for me to place the ad for the upcoming meeting of the book club on their bulletin board.

Asia had texted me the night before asking if she could spend a night or two at my place and I had agreed. Now she was talking about going clubbing and coming back at 4:00 am, which would certainly not work for me who is such a light sleeper. We had our coffee and cake and I ran into Christina again and reassured her I’d be there on Saturday to observe her speaking club while turning down her request that I run it this time.

Asia must have found another place to stay as she was happy to take the remaining cake, flavorless unfortunately; to the other volunteers she would be partying with that night and the next as well she indicated. I was infinitely relieved, so I said goodbye to Willoughby agreeing to meet on Sunday at whatever time she could make it to my place.

It was lovely to have a quiet evening at home where I watched a rather violent, though well acted, movie with a cast that included some of the best actors of all time: Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Angie Dickinson, and some others. “The Chase” depicts a small town in Texas where bigotry, racism and double moral standards lead to a violent confrontation that confirmed my perception that I’d never live in such a state.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 9, 2013

The second day of the winter break professional development session was a hit with more than 70 teachers in attendance. Joel, the Peace Corps volunteer, got lost on the way to the venue, and Gulnara asked me to do something with his audience until he got there. I had none of my usual teaching materials with me, so I just asked the teachers to take two minutes to reflect on what had been the most remarkable event in their lives. One of them mentioned winning a chance to go the Netherlands for further professional development and then Natalia spoke about her father, who had come from Germany, and she started to choke with tears as the emotions overtook her. At the point, I was busy helping Joel get the laptop and projector ready to go and missed the point of her message.

Asel followed Joel and did an excellent job of demonstrating how to teach basic vocabulary by employing a method I had never heard of: MPF which asks teachers to present meaning first followed by the pronunciation of the word and finally the form or spelling. The teachers had a chance to evaluate the lesson and break it down step by step so they could see the value of presenting new vocabulary in this new way. I was very impressed with her professional demeanor; the pace in which the material was presented and how the teachers were so engaged every step of the way.

Joel, Asia and I went to same cafeteria I’d gone to the day before so we could have a quick lunch as I was presenting right after the lunch break. I had plov and salad along with a glass of juice. When I returned to the school, I found out that the classrooms had been locked so that neither Elvira nor I could prepare ahead of time and Gulnara was still at lunch. She came exactly at 1:30 which was when our sessions were supposed to have started. I was a bit furious as it took another five minutes to get the laptop started and the handouts in order.

It seems as if no one here knows how to do back-to-back handouts in the order one designates so participants can just flip from one page to the next. I had requested six handouts to be printed sequentially, but instead got six piles of papers with some of them printed on both sides and some not. I should have known by now that unless I do it myself, it will not be done right.

I felt that the attendees at my session got shortchanged since I had to hurry through the PowerPoint presentation in order to have time for some of the listening activities demonstrating stress, linking, blending, contractions and the like. Then it was time to move on to the other classroom and do it all over again. This time I had a chance to pair the teachers using the homophone cards and they had never heard the term “homophones’ in their lives. I had to say that I was shocked since the English language has so many homophones that students need to be explicitly taught about them so they recognize the difference when listening.

We got wonderful feedback from the teachers indicating how appreciative they were of all the presentations they had attended and the handouts they had received in mine. Most of them promised they’d be implementing all or some of the techniques they had been exposed to during the sessions.

Nurila, one of the presenters on Tuesday, insisted on receiving feedback right then and there and we sat for a few minutes so I could refresh my memory with my notes and tell her what she had done well and where there was room for improvement. We were interrupted by Gulnara who informed me my presence was needed in the break room to discuss Forum business.

Willoughby, Elvira, Gulnara and I sat down to discuss the pre-conference schedule for the CATEC 2013 conference. There seems to be some friction between the two Gulnaras with Lingua apparently trying to assert more control over what Forum can and can’t do. I didn’t want to get in the middle of that dispute and simply stated that we needed to focus on the selection of participants and the program for the all-day event.
We were able to come up with a tentative agenda that included four presentations for the day, tentative presenters, sources of entertainment for an evening program and possible sources of revenue between now and then. We also discussed the closing ceremony for tomorrow’s session, the handing out of certificates and the fact that I’ll be responsible for taking all the photos.

Willoughby and I walked together as far as the Narodni supermarket and then said goodbye. We plan on getting together on Sunday so we can discuss how best to run the speaking club as both the Forum sessions and the Kyrgyz National University utilizing the tons of materials I’ve accumulated already.

I bought lagman soup to go and had it at home while catching up with the news. After crafting the announcement for the book club and sending it to Willoughby for review, I simply went to bed exhausted.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January 7, 2013

I enjoyed another beautiful, sunny day at the flat until it was time to meet Gulnara and Michael to buy the refreshments for the workshops. On the way there, I stopped at the Food Boutique and found they’d finished stocking the shelves and were now selling Pringle potato chips, tortilla chips and salsa and the shocker: a can of chili beans for almost ten dollars. Balsamic vinegar went for over ten dollars too, so the only thing I thought I could splurge on was the spinach fettuccine noodles. I looked for spaghetti sauce and found none.

A few buildings down the same road, I found one of the two German bakeries Douglas had mentioned, but this was only a hole-in-the wall type of operation with a few pieces of pastry on display and some chocolate and cookies from Germany on the shelves. Apparently, its attendant and perhaps owner, smokes inside and the place just reeked of cigarette smoke. I left as quickly as I could.

Beta Stores was the usual jammed packed place I’ve come to expect no matter what time of the day or day of the week. After exchanging some money, I looked around for a small saucepan where I can cook polenta, cream of wheat or just a small portion of rice, but all of them cost over $20.00 or were being sold as part of an expensive set.

When Gulnara and Michael arrived, we proceeded to buy the tea, coffee, sugar, cream, napkins and biscuits for the event in the process irritating the hell out of the clerk in the biscuits section who didn’t understand our budget limitations and the need to buy pretty much six kilos of the same type of cookie.

We took everything back to the school and locked it in one of the classrooms. Michael and I went straight to Sierra Coffee where we could find no table available except for one in the smoking room. Michael, who’s a smoker, headed there to use his computer and I started to chat with Christina, the woman from the Philippines I’ve met there several times. She invited me to visit her speaking club this Saturday and promised to cook adobo for me.

I asked the manager at Sierra Coffee if we could post an announcement about the book on her bulletin board, and she agreed as long as we make it half a page only. The woman behind immediately asked me about it and said she was interested in taking part in it. I gave her my card and agreed to be in touch.

Michael had agreed to stay with tonight to save himself the commute to his friend’s house in the suburbs. I reheated what I had cooked earlier in the day and we had dinner together. He also had a portable hard drive full of movies and offered to transfer some of them to my laptop. I’m always happy to have more movies.

I was unable to find the password to the Wi-Fi system and just went to bed to read “The Giver”, hoping to finish it, while Michael used my computer. I finished the book, but hated the inconclusive ending even after reading the author’s comments at the back of the book where she says it’s up to each individual reader to decide what the end should be. I simply don’t feel so comfortable doing that.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 6, 2013

I’ll have to revise my characterization of my landlady as she did follow through on bringing two electricians at exactly ten in the morning. The two guys promptly set out to repair and/or install all the outlets needed while Mika went out again to buy other supplies including a doorbell, something I hadn’t even missed. She brought me back a piece of crunchy flat bread from the market. How sweet of her
As instructed, they located an outlet in the living room for the TV set, two others in the kitchen for all the appliances so that I finally don’t have any wires going across the floor and replaced the faulty light switches on various walls. Mika will have then come back tomorrow to repair all three vents, over the stove and in each side of the bathroom, as none of them work at the moment.

I was able to move the microwave from the table to the counter thus making more room for people to actually sit there. Mika promised she’s still looking for four chairs so I can do away with the stools and also promised to bring table knives to match the set she already has here. It never occurred to her buy those since she knows Kyrgyz people don’t use them.

I revised my PowerPoint presentation for the umpteenth time and then sent the handouts to Elvira so she can get them printed at the American University of Central Asia. She told she starts classes on Tuesday, as any university in the States would, as opposed to in early February as the Kyrgyz universities will be doing. I also did some work on the presentation for Friday at the American Pilot School.

In the evening, it was time to watch another classic of the silver screen, “His Girl Friday”, another one of the great films made by Cary Grant with Rosalind Russell as his sidekick. The rapid-fire dialogue had me in stitches and the actual events in the film could have been happening today despite the fact that the movie was filmed in 1940. Incredible! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 5, 2013

Ended up spending a gorgeous sunny day entirely at home working on a variety of projects for the upcoming sessions of professional development at both the Forum Association as well as the American Pilot School next Friday. While researching materials, I discovered that I already owned a digital copy of the book “Teach like a Champion”, so I didn’t need to take notes or scan copies of my favorite tips in it.

The landlady texted to indicate she’d be coming by later on with the skillet and saucepan I needed. When she showed up, there was no mention of the fact that that her brother hadn’t shown up all week and instead she said she’d found another electrician available to come by tomorrow at ten to run a couple of outlets for the kitchen.

I made an attempt to make compote, the homemade fruit-based drink so popular here, using the dried fruit I had purchased in the market and adding cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, but the end product still tasted insipid to me. I wondered what I might be doing wrong.

I took some photos of the entire apartment and uploaded them to Facebook for my family and friends to see. In the evening, I got to watch a classic screwball comedy that had eluded me for years, “Bringing up Baby”, with two of my favorite actors from the golden age of the silver screen, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, never in better form. They sure don’t make movies like that anymore.