Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27, 2013

I woke to another dreary day, the sixth in a row with not a single ray of sunshine. While having my coffee and trying to gather my thoughts, my phone rang and it was Zamira, the owner of the Real Knowledge NGO, who works closely with the embassy. She wanted to invite me to a birthday party celebration among her Dungan relatives to take place in Kazakhstan today and to a teachers’ conference in the same village on Friday.

I immediately jumped at the chance to be part of the celebration today, but informed her I was already committed to two other events on Friday and couldn’t cancel on either one. I asked her to give me a chance to contact Natalia to make sure I didn’t need permission from anyone to leave the country, even just for the day, and to get back to her as soon as possible.

Zamira had already contacted Natalia asking her to intervene so that I’d cancel the events on Friday and join her then. We both agreed that Zamira needed to get her act together and inform us about her plans at least one week in advance. Natalia said it’d be no problem for me to travel to Kazakhstan for the day.

As it is typical of her, she made me wait for about twenty minutes at the corner while she navigated the “traffic jam” she had encountered. We then picked up her sister Rima and were on our way traveling through the city of Kant to reach another one of the border crossings to Kazakhstan. It still took her over an hour to clear her vehicle through customs while Rima and I stood on the other side waiting. I was starving by then, but Rima advised me not to eat anything since there would be tons of food at her aunt’s house.

We traveled through another desolate landscape with an occasional dismal village interspersed here and there. The houses looked like ruined buildings just about to collapse on one another and there wasn’t a dash of color to be found anywhere.

We reached our destination close to three in the afternoon, and I noticed that both sisters promptly pulled a heavy scarf from somewhere and covered their hair before stepping out of the car.  We were ushered into room where a group of women were setting around a couple of low table already covered with a variety of dishes and a birthday cake. They had been waiting for us to bring out the main dish.

I was informed that the men were celebrating in another room; no alcohol though as they were Muslim, and the nephew, only a year old today, was not really part of the event. More guests, on the little boy’s mother’s side, were expected to come later on in the afternoon.

Three young women took it upon themselves to ferry in an extravagant line up of little bowls filled with innumerable dishes until the man of the house walked in with the piece de resistance: the beshbarmak dish cooked with beef instead of horse meat. Zamira confirmed that a cow had been sacrifice to celebrate the grandson’s birthday and now huge chunks of beef were being foisted upon us.

I was polite enough to take a little bit of the beshbarmak, but the fatty flavor was again a turn off. I asked for more of the cold noodle dish I have come to love, funchoza, and then mixed the two to be able to swallow it. After a bowl of lagman soup and some herring salad, I was completely satiated and just needed coffee, instant unfortunately, to make me feel quite happy.

I resisted all attempts to make me eat or sample the other bowls even though they looked so appetizing. The young mother turned out to be a student of Gulnara, from Forum, and spoke halting English at best. She was delighted to have a chance to impress her in-laws with her command of the language as her father-in-law is paying her tuition and had doubts as to her ability to become an English teacher.

The highlight of my visit could be said to have been the moment when they man of the house turned on the flat screen TV affixed to the wall and there we were treated to a Mexican telenovela, "Triunfo del Amor", dubbed into Russian with a soundtrack sung by Luis Miguel. Ironies of ironies, indeed.

She mentioned she could make $800.00 a month in Kazakhstan as opposed to the $100.00 a month in Kyrgyzstan. She accompanied me to the pestilent squat toilet built on the outer walls of the house next to the fields and gave me warm water and a dirty towel to dry my hands.

 It had started snowing while we were eating and two and half hours after our arrival, we piled into the car now accompanied by Zamira’s mother and aunt. I sat in the back seat wedged between Rima and the mother being unable to even move my arms.

With her vehicle registration now at hand, the border crossing was a snap and after dropping off her mother, Zamira took me to my flat. I had a bag full of leftovers the young boy’s mother had packed for me. I had to say that was one strange birthday celebration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26, 2013

I had the most horrible dream, or perhaps nightmare, last night in which I had accepted to be put to death, but once facing the stark shower-like enclosure with jets popping out of its wall to let out whatever poison would kill me, I had a change of heart and ran out of the place in a mad scramble to keep anyone from yanking back inside. I woke up in a terrifying cold sweat, but glad to be alive and kicking you could say.

I texted Damira to let her know I had changed my mind about meeting her at eleven to visit a seamstress who could shorten a couple of calf-length skirts I still have a around. We agreed to do it next week when I won’t have any more afternoon sessions at BGU.

Jennifer called to say she was going to be in Bishkek on Thursday and Friday for a retreat and wanted to have dinner with me alone. We settled on meeting at seven in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel and then decide where to eat that evening.

After stopping at the ATM to withdraw another $200.00 so as to gather enough cash to pay my rent on Friday, I took the trolley to the university under leaden skies. This was the fifth day without sunshine and it began to remind me too much of winter days in Seattle.

The session on teaching collocations went rather well as the teachers had not been exposed to the games and matching activities I had brought in. The presentation worked out very well until I got to the song I wanted for them to listen to but for which we had no speakers available. Only fourteen teachers were present today and yet no one could tell me where the other seven or eight were at.

On my way home, I stopped at the little bakery, which had been opened every time I went by, but with my luck, it was closed today. I found another convenience store nearby and bought some bread there hoping that heating it in the non-stick skillet will to the trick of bringing it back to life.

I had dinner while watching highlights of the Fashion Week in New York realizing that most of the designers’ names they were quoting were completely unfamiliar to me. Mariamgul called to say that Forum members were invited to some celebration for a journalist who had been present at the winter break professional development sessions last January this Friday at noon. Since I happened to be free, I agreed to go with them.

One of the teachers at BGU also mentioned a conference taking place in mid-April for which she’d like me to present a workshop and I told her I’d love to do something about using humor in the classroom. She was delighted to hear it. In addition to that, the American Studies Association will hold its conference in May, and Elvira has asked me to present a paper there as well.

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25, 2013

Another gray, overcast and foggy day greeted me on the way to Willoughby’s flat. The fog was so thick I couldn’t even make out the building where she lives from the marshrutka and needed reassurances from the driver that I had indeed reached the end of his route.

Willoughby offered me some cold ginger tea before we spread all pages of the resource booklet on her long table to sort them out according to some logical categories. I then realized that she had only printed the original booklet as it was originally published in Nepal, but not the additional pages I had sent Bill with the vocabulary lists and the new materials I had created since 2002.

I promised to print those pages at home and then bring the package back to Willoughby so she can deliver it to Bill for the eventual printing. I hope the Peace Corps office doesn’t balk at the number of pages included as it seems to be growing exponentially.

Willoughby went on her way to get a pedicure, and I got on the trolley to go home where I spent the rest of the afternoon working on a variety of projects including emailing my landlady about the repairs still to be done in the flat. She replied she’s now enrolled in German classes five evenings a week and has no time to take care of them. She agreed to my hiring a handyperson and deducting the cost from the month’s rent.

Damira called to say she was having trouble downloading the CATEC application and wanted to stop by and see if I could help her. She hadn’t given any thought to what she would be presenting and thus couldn’t complete it while she was here. She now thinks she wants to prepare a poster, but has no clue how to incorporate one of the topics on critical thinking.

I offered her dinner and tea and the obligatory question about what religion I belong to came up. When I told her I was an atheist, she went on a long soliloquy about how great Islam was for the Koran contained explicit rules on how to guide a person’s life from the cradle to the grave. She believes in the existence of the hell and heaven, the devil and angels and jins (ghosts), dead people who roam the earth because they haven’t been allowed into either hell or haven. 

February 24, 2013

I had discovered the night before that Willoughby had left her cell phone on my dining room table and thus necessitated coming to my house today anyway. She emailed to say she’d be on her way early and so I started to cook another stew to have our now usual late afternoon lunch and then attend the program at the Opera Ballet.

When she got in, we first had coffee and then repaired to the computer room where we exchanged files and took a preliminary look at the application for the “Teacher of the Month” contest that Asel thought would be a great idea for Forum to run. We both concurred that the association has no logical way of establishing an impartial criteria for the selection of a teacher nine times a year.

The contest is supposed to be run nationally, but who would be checking on the work these teachers do? How do we gauge how their students are doing? How is community service or other voluntary work to be verified? I simply have my hands full as it is and want nothing more to be put on my plate.

Just on Friday, I had received a notification from Gulnara, at Lingua, with a flyer attached, that a Youth Initiative Center idea had popped up and both Willoughby’s and my name were included in it. I have no idea in what capacity I’d be expected to contribute to such center, but since I wasn’t consulted in the least, I just didn’t acknowledge it.

We got on the trolley and went to the Opera Ballet where another great dancer/choreographer was being honored today according to the note Internations posted on Facebook. The theater had a live orchestra and the numbers were peppier than the traditional ballet ones with my favorite being one named after the Don Quixote with the ballerina dressed in a flamenco outfit.

While at the theater, Willoughby recognized this exotic woman as a folk singer she'd seen at a festival last year.

A light snow mixed with rain was still falling when we stepped outside. On the way to getting into our respective modes of transportation, I got some water, milk and juice and timed it so that when we got out both her marshrutka and my trolley were waiting for us.

We agreed to meet the next morning at eleven to categorize the many pages she’d printed for the resource booklet so the project can get on its way.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23, 2012

A light snow was continuing to dust the streets when I got up this morning, but didn’t seem to be sticking around. The apartment felt chillier than usual and dark as well and I was really hell bent on seeing spring as being just around the corner. Darn it!

I set out to go through the box of books I had packed when moving from the other apartment and which I hadn’t opened yet. I figured I should decide which, if any, of the books I still wanted to keep and plan on giving away the rest to either Forum or Willoughby who could then give them away when it was time for her to leave as well.

Naoe sent me text reminding me to bring my flashdrive so she could copy the music in it for future Zumba lessons. I was the only one present for this class, so I just asked her to demonstrate some of the steps in slow motion while playing some of my favorite tunes from the list. She told me it takes her weeks to put together the choreography to a new song.

Back at the apartment, I had lunch, did my hair and started a load of laundry. I started to soak the garbanzo beans and marinated chunks of beef to try and make a “cocido” even if I don’t have half of traditional ingredients needed. Willoughby called to say she was at Sierra Coffee and would be coming over shortly to bring the printed resource booklet and go on with our plans for the weekend.

I made coffee when she got in and we then agreed to go to the museum next to the White House and then to dinner at the Lebanese restaurant she’d discovered a few weeks ago. The museum, a dark and imposing place full of bronze statues on every floor, took less than hour to tour since portions of it were blocked off and all the signs were in Russian only. The place seemed to be a favorite for canoodling couples who took advantage of the dark corners to embrace and kiss.

There was a photographic exhibit on the second floor apparently honoring the men who died in the uprising of 2010. It appeared as if the families had donated personal items from many of them and these were on exhibit inside glass cases showing anything from clothing, to personal ID cards, to books and medals. It made for a very somber exhibit, and I wished then I could read all the signs to learn more about these people.

The full-size yurt on the third floor, along with some costumes and artifacts gave me an idea of how life was in Kyrgyzstan before the Soviet Union took over. I wonder if any remnants of that culture survives today outside of Bishkek. We saw intricate examples of silver jewelry, felt embroidery and knitted rugs that seem have fallen out of favor with people here in the capital.

Snow had continued falling as we waited for a marshrutka to get to the restaurant, and it took us a whole hour to make it there. The inside of the place was rather grand except for the flat screen TV on every wall. I requested they turned down the volume on the one closer to us, and we proceeded to order a combination plate with all the typical Middle Eastern appetizers such hummus, falafel, baba ganoush, tabouli  and pita bread.

Willoughby ordered a beer and just to keep her company, I did the same insisting to the server that I wanted mine to come together with my meal, but as usual, another server showed up with the two glasses of beer about a minute later. Willoughby advised me to just take it as most likely it’d just sit on the counter until the food was ready.

                      Here's Willoughby facing our glasses of beer with their respective straws.

The meal came in by dribs and drabs with a cold salad and tabouli arriving first, then kibbe and falafel, cubed potatoes in a greasy sauce and some other items I couldn’t identify. We had to ask for a plate and utensils and never got napkins. The kibbe was passable, but the falafel didn’t even come close to what I’m used to eating and both seemed to have been fried a second time just for us. The pita bread was a white, cold and tasteless disk of flour not worth touching.

If this was the best they could do for Lebanese cuisine, the place ought to be closed down immediately. Willoughby took the leftovers home and we walked upstairs to see if that was different and found that they have private dining rooms for special functions there and they were quite elegant indeed. A guy was serving plov from a huge container and insisted we take a bite of the beef to see how tender it was, which we did.

Willoughby and I agreed to wait and see how the weather turned out the following day before deciding whether to attend the ballet or not. I waited for trolley #10 for quite a while and when none came, I jumped in a marshrutka that could take me close to my flat. It was a bit unnerving walking in the snow on the desolate side street until I got to my building.

Friday, February 22, 2013

February 22, 2013

I realized this morning that today marks the half-way point in my fellowship here in Kyrgyzstan. I’m hoping the remaining five months will go by as fast as these other ones did. When I looked out the kitchen window, snow was falling quietly and it was still dark outside.

Naoe confirmed we had Zumba class again and I risked falling on face by just wearing my clogs instead of my boots as I’m getting pretty sick of them. The snow was still fresh and not sticking to the ground, so it wasn’t a problem whatsoever. There three women present and Laira got in a little bit later than I did. We had the same choreography as the two previous classes and didn’t sit too well with me.

I can understand repeating a routine so the participants can learn some steps, but having the same music every time would drive me up the wall. Since Naoe is offering a class tomorrow, I’ll make sure and bring my flashdrive so she can copy my music and have something different to offer us, or at least me.

I spoke to Laira about her use of her MasterCard here in Kyrgyzstan, and she confirmed that she too can only withdraw $200.00 or 15,000.00 soms per day from the KazCom ATM. We both agreed that the two sums weren’t equal, but I’ll be happy to try it out tomorrow and withdraw soms to see what happens.

Once back at the apartment, I cooked some muesli and caught up with my emails while waiting for Elvira who was coming over to get a letter of recommendation from me and to discuss other issues related to Forum. It took much longer than I had anticipated as we weren’t done until past four.

I called Willoughby to see how she was coping with her cold and she indicated she had been to the Peace Corps compound and seen a doctor who had prescribed some medications for her nasal drip and congestion. She was sure she’d be all right for the weekend and didn’t want to make any changes to our tentative plans of getting together then.

Willoughby also informed me she had been able to print the entire resource booklet I had created when I was in the Peace Corps in Nepal while at the compound and was all excited about working with me to have it brought up-to-date and printed again. The Peace Corps country director had been informed about her working with me on this project and he had green lighted it. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

The Peace Corps director was informed of my desire to work with the new group of volunteers who will be arriving in April and said he’ll keep it in mind. It would certainly bring back memories of the days in Nepal when I took part in the training that took place in the village of Gaindakot.

I got to watch a documentary from the BBC on the history of art in America. It was extremely informative especially since many of the paintings shown were familiar to me from the art appreciation class I had taken at Florida State College at Jacksonville. The presenter, a man with an outstanding vocabulary, brought out facts and details about each painting that I either didn’t know or was never able to observe on my own. I need to watch the remaining episodes to see how they compare to what I saw in my class. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21, 2013

I spent a restless night dreaming about having to do yet more presentations and just being on edge the whole time. It wasn’t until daylight shone through the bedroom curtains that I finally stirred awake and by then it was close to eight in the morning. It was a good thing that I have tried to avoid early morning commitments unless absolutely necessary.

Willoughby called to say she had come down with a cold, but still needed to come to the city center to buy some staples. She had baked the fruit bars I so much like and had them ready for me to pick up. We agreed to meet at the photocopying place at 12:30 pm as she was also picking up some lamination work.

My handouts hadn’t been done the way I requested and they weren’t even stapled together. I had to breathe deeply and remember where I was so as not launch into an expletive tirade. Willoughby handed me the bars she had baked and indicated she’d be feeling pretty good toward the weekend so we could try a Lebanese restaurant recommended to us and take in another opera on Sunday.

We went our separate ways and it was too early for me to head to the Bishkek Humanities University, so I walked to the KazCom Bank hoping to find someone who spoke English and could help me with my debit card. Four young women congregated around me, each one contradicting the other, to inform me that regardless of what my bank had said about a daily limit of $1000.00 a day, their system was set up to allow only $200.00.

The other option would be for me to make a withdrawal using my credit card for which the bank would charge a 2% commission on top of which, most likely, my bank would also charge me for the transaction. In order to do the withdrawal, I needed my passport. I was able to use the card and withdrew $200.00 in crisp bills. I think that it doesn’t matter how I do it, the bank is going to make a killing from me.

I boarded the #118 marshrutka I’d seen on my way to the university and got there in time to have a young teacher help me staple the handouts. She didn’t know what to call the action of “stapling” papers together. Once in the classroom, I sprayed the whiteboard with the cleaner I had purchased and yet another teacher offered to clean it off completely. That was a relief as still needed to organize all my papers and supplies.

We started our discussion on the difficulties of teaching listening and the teachers came up with a list of obstacles which I wrote on the board. Subsequently, I wrote a list of suggestions to overcome those hurdles. We spoke briefly about the traditional manner of teaching listening and the fact that teachers in this part of the world tend to use a very formal register in their classes thus depriving their students of the chance to listen to informal styles on a daily basis.

I went over the handouts and instructed the teachers on the different ways they could be used to bring the listening portion of the class to life. When I mentioned linking and blending and speaking in chunks, one teacher said she’d never heard of those terms and asked me to spell “chunks”. I never got very far into the presentation because there wasn’t enough time to do so. Teachers had never heard of dictogloss either, and I promised to send the presentation and handouts to them in the near future.

I’m really making strides in my walks. I made it back home today in less than half an hour. I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the news for a bit since they were discussing the use of child labor to pick cotton in Uzbekistan and the efforts of many activists to get consumer to avoid purchasing any type of clothing coming from that  country. I remember Yoomie working on a report on that issue last year when she was working for the International Office of Migration.

February 20, 2013

I was glad to face another day without the prospect of snow in the horizon. I was even able to forgo my fleece sweatshirt this morning and just wear my wool coat on the way to Lingua. If only all the ice were gone from sidewalks and streets as I could then ditch my boots and just wear my clogs.

I decided to cover the cost of the ten-page handout I was going to give the teachers tomorrow and printed the originals at Lingua. I asked Nargiza to write me a detailed note in Russian explaining to the cute guy at the underpass that I needed 25 sets of double-sided copies to be picked up the next day.

Chynara sat with me to inquire as to how many applications for the CATEC conference we had received so far and I indicated that only a handful. She felt this was no cause for alarm as Kyrgyz people tend to wait until the last minute to get things done. She’s still debating as to her participation since she’s already taken part in other conferences, but I encouraged her to submit a proposal just in case we were to run low on qualified applicants.

I left Lingua at two and dropped the original documents trying, pointlessly, to verify if the note was clear to him. He nodded his head repeatedly, and I left it at that not completely at ease, but just recognizing that it was beyond my control. I walked to the NT stationery store to buy two reams of paper and a cleaner for the whiteboard the Bishkek Humanities University so I could finally be able to write on it.

The afternoon was so pleasant that walking the rest of the way home seemed like a good idea. I turned on Toktogula and after walking just two blocks came upon the Kolobok store my landlady had mentioned to me. It was a bright, well-stocked store with mozzarella cheese on display along with ricotta and many others. My eyes instantly latched on to the display of coffee beans, brands I had never seen, and I purchased one that said espresso. We’ll see how they stack against the ones from Sierra Coffee as the prices were about the same.

Madina called at four to confirm she was on her way to my place. When she arrived and I ushered her into my kitchen, she apologized for not having brought a present as it is the custom in Kyrgyzstan as she’d thought we were having coffee across the street at Vanilla Sky. I told her my coffee was a good as theirs and much cheaper.

Madina, whom I had judged to be about 23, is actually 27 and desperate to find a man to marry as most men her age are already married. She lives with her married sister, and her family no longer inquires about the possibility of her getting married soon. She’d be more likely to wed if she agrees to marry a man who’s currently divorced.

She asked about my apartment and I complained about the landlady’s lack of response when a problem cropped up. Madina had the perfect solution: tell your landlady I’ll help find a “Husband-by-the-hour” person who’ll repair whatever is broken, will provide me with a receipt and then I can deduct it from the rent. I was laughing uproariously about this concept, but promised to try it on the owner very soon.

I walked Madina to the bus stop on Manas Avenue and found out she knows exactly where the seamstresses are located near the Osh Bazaar, and is willing to take me there next Tuesday. On the way back to my flat, I stopped at Narodni to buy my usual supply of water, juice and milk. The cashiers recognize me by now and only point to the screen when the total comes up.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19, 2013

Instead of the snow that was forecast for today, I woke up to blue skies and the temperatures went to up the low forties. It definitely didn’t feel like February around here except for the crusted mounds of dirty snow still decorating the sidewalks and some streets where the sun doesn't really hit the pavement.

Construction on the store downstairs must have been in full swing for the hammering and drilling started early and went on until I left for the university. It didn't matter that I wore my earplugs and played music in the background, the noise could be heard above all of that. Sigh, sigh.

I encountered these structures behind the Bishkek Humanities University, and wondered if they are the equivalent to our storage units in the States.

The session on teaching academic vocabulary went relatively well as most teachers were not familiar with the use of graphic organizers for students to manipulate vocabulary or the activities of open and close sort. As in many other settings, the teachers themselves didn’t know the vocabulary contained in the worksheets and were terribly embarrassed to admit it.

It was a delight to walk back to my place while basking in the definitely warm sunshine and just doing a lot of people watching. Once at home, I sat down to work on yet another presentation for Thursday on ways to teach listening, which I’d like to do in a slightly different way from the one I presented at the winter session last month. The construction noise went on unabated.

I had leftovers for dinner and watched a documentary by Oliver Stone on American history and all the lies that most folks accept as the truth about the United States and its long line of lying presidents. Not much was new for me here, just the numbing certainty that most citizens in that country refuse to accept the truth and would rather live a lie that accommodates their supposedly Christian faith and the mandate to be a beacon for the rest of the world.

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18, 2013

My body must be getting the right training for I have been able to sleep until 7:30 or 8:00 most morning these days and that is in the absence of my taking any Benadryl to contend with my post nasal drip. I am delighted to have been able to kick the habit, something I had been doing since my days in the Peace Corps more than ten years ago.

I made it to the KazCom Bank’s ATM around the corner from my apartment and this time I got a clear message that my card had been turned down by my bank. There was no sense in my panicking since there wasn't much I could do at that time. I’m so appreciative of having people like Willoughby in my life to lend me money at the drop of a hat, but I’ll have to bother my sister Esther again to intervene with the bank on my behalf.

Since I was close to the Beta stores, I stopped to buy the French roast coffee that Sierra Coffee offers through a kiosk in front of their building. The very handsome young guy tending the kiosk spoke no English and all the labels were in Russian. In exasperation, I finally pointed to my black beret and asked for “chorni” beans and he produced a package that he claimed contained Brazilian coffee.

I walked the rest of the way to Lingua fighting not to be run off the pavement by the Kyrgyz drivers who look at pedestrians as lowly, insignificant nuisances to be scared away whenever possible. I met with Anna and finalized the rubric for the selection of the participants and mailed it to all those involved in the conference.

While waiting for Gulnara to return from lunch, I continued to work on my presentation for tomorrow and on locating a few examples for handouts that the teachers could work on for better understanding. I had to vacate the room at two for Nargiza’s class and then waited for a few minutes to meet with Gulnara who was in the process of delivering a stern lecture to a misbehaving student.

Along with Zarina, we selected the dates for the sessions I’m to going offer beginning on March 5 and ending on March 28, twice a week for four weeks. I asked for twenty participants, a laptop and projector and put no barriers as to who could attend as long as they were fourth and fifth year university students planning on becoming English teachers.

The sunshine was gone by the time I left the building clearly indicating the approach of the snowstorm expected for tomorrow. My boots have come unglued already and I was hoping to have been able to ditch them, but it looks as if more snow is coming our way this week.

I settled down at my computer with the firm resolve of finishing my mid-year report and send it on its way to all those concerned. Willoughby convinced me I was right in mentioning the shabby way I had been treated by the RELO, the embassy and the director at Lingua when it came to notifying me of the non-renewal of my post. I did my best to make it sound professional and not just like I was whining.

In adding up all the expenses I have incurred so far that will need to be reimbursed from my PAA, I found I have just spend $320.00, or practically peanuts. Jennifer recommended waiting until the end of my fellowship to decide if any money was leftover to buy the books Lingua had requested last summer as the PAA wasn't actually intended to build up the host institution’s library.

I skyped with my sister and she informed me my bank had sent a new debit card and that she had mentioned it to me before but I had disregarded the note. I really don’t understand that since the one I have doesn't expire until 2014. She’ll call the bank on my behalf to figure out what can be done until I receive the new one.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

February 17, 2013

I spent a pleasant morning at home cooking, doing the dishes and catching up on FaceBook. Elvira called to say she couldn't come this morning to work on her sabbatical application and promised to send it via email for me to review it.

The drilling and hammering started once again, this time from the opposite side of the apartment, and I decided I was not going to put up a fight this time around. A little while later, the door bell rang and the tenant across the landing came in to explain she wasn't the one making the noise as her unit was finally finished. She promised we would become best of neighbors once she settled in for good.

She also notified me that someone was opening up a store on the first floor, and they had just started remodeling the unit three days ago. I certainly must have a knack for selecting buildings to live in where one or other tenant is perpetually renovating their apartments.

I started to work on the mid-year report I need to send to Georgetown, the embassy and my RELO this week. When it came to the sticky question of how communication had been with all three entities, I had to pause as I realized I had to mention the awful way they had handled my post renewal without sounding like I was whining.

Willoughby and I agreed to meet for coffee prior to the opera so we could catch up with latest happenings in our professional lives. Although cold, the sunny afternoon was perfect for a stroll and many families could be seen walking around the plaza where a display for Valentine’s Day was still up.

                                 Backdrop for lovers to have their photos taken

The Masal coffee shop had quite a few customers this time including a whole family at one table. We occupied a booth set somewhat about the others and talked at length about the report from the previous ELF I had sent Willoughby. She had taken copious notes as she wants to follow up on some of the comments and recommendations Sally had mentioned.

                          I have yet to find out where this trolley takes tourists to

We walked back to the Opera Ballet Theater after stopping at the underpass to collect some photocopying Willoughby had left pending. The place was also buzzing with people and most vendors were open, so it sure didn't look like a Sunday to me.

The opera was short and sweet with a few dancing numbers sprinkled in to make me happy and the live music was superb. We had a few teenagers around, all with their cell phones alight, who talked practically non-stop for the first portion but who thankfully disappeared after the first act.

When we stepped outside at 6:40 pm, it was still light. To me that was a clear signal that spring is approaching, but Willoughby remained cautious indicating that snow was still in the forecast for next week. She boarded her marshrutka and I my trolley and I got home while it was still light outside. I remain optimistic.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 16, 2013

Despite my best intentions to arrive at Lingua before their training session on communicative methodology began, I was late by almost ten minutes and both Laila and Olga looked at me as if I had come from outer space when I walked in. It became obvious to me that Zarina hadn’t informed either one of them of my desire to observe their training and it became very awkward in there.

The two trainers were in the process of showing teacher how to use the game “Race to the Board” and among the participants one stood out: Douglas, who had posted a comment on FaceBook indicating he was getting his TEFL certification. We exchanged greetings and that was that. The session continued with the game “Back to the Board” and then a modification of “Taboo”.

During the break, I went to speak to Aigul about the fare for the transportation between Bishkek and Issyk-Kul Lake and found Gulnara standing there talking to her. We discussed the amount Jennifer should budget for it, and then I asked about the training sessions she wants for me to do for the pre-service teachers, many of whom I had seen in the session being ran by Laila and Olga.

Apparently, she hadn’t sent out any official invitations to any teacher in particular even though she had asked me to be ready to begin on Tuesday the 19. When I pointed that out to her, she suggested postponing it by a week or so until she’d a chance to contact other trainers with recommendations for their top students to attend. I don’t have a good feeling about this at all. It seems so disorganized and almost pointless.

The second half of the training session dealt with the presentation of new vocabulary following the same formula Asel had presented during the winter session: Meaning + pronunciation + form. When it was over, I approached Olga to apologize for both being late and for imposing on her session when it was obvious she hadn’t been notified about my coming. She confirmed that Zarina hadn’t said anything to her and that next week there wouldn’t be any classes since it was a national holiday: Man’s Day as if all days weren’t already for their benefit.

I went to the Halal Kitchen and had my usual serving of lagman noodles. Laila was at the bus stop when I got there and we engaged in some small talk then. I caught one of the minibuses to head to the Osh Bazaar where I made sure and buy enough staples and meat to last me for a while.

 I recognized the number 35 bus as one of those that went past my bus stop and I was home in minutes. I still needed milk, water, juice and bread so I dropped my heavy shopping bag at home and went to Narodni to buy the remaining items.

Once back home, it was time for some beauty treatment as I colored my hair and finished doing my nails. I marinated the beef to cook it with red beans tomorrow and ate leftovers for dinner.

February 15, 2013

Despite an initial inertia on my part, I did make it to the Zumba class and found that Laira was already there along with three other women. Naoe repeated the same choreography from two weeks ago and although I found a bit easier to follow it, I just wished she had introduced at least one new number to spice things up.

During the break, Laira struck a conversation with Jamila, a consultant, about the cheaper places to buy fashionable threads with Laira affirming that she just followed the sales ads and bought things for herself and daughters at unusually high discounts. Jamila opined that buying things from the States was the way to go since even with the high shipping charges the quality was much higher than anything purchased here.

Jamila answered a query of mine as I had wondered for quite some time how the numerous boutiques in the area could afford to stay in business since people making an average salary of $200.00 to 300.00 could never afford to set foot inside. She responded by saying she knew quite a few of these boutique owners and had been told their clientele consisted of mafia-type guys and prostitutes. I no longer have to wonder about this one.

I asked Naoe to let me know when she has some free time so we can practice the choreography separately so that when I get to the States I’m better prepared to take the certification classes for Zumba. She informed me she’s taking ballroom dancing on Saturdays with a woman named Maria. Perhaps I can go one day and take a look at what does.

I went back home and concentrated on working on my new presentation on academic vocabulary and on finishing the application for the conference this summer. I emailed the completed form to both Anna and Jennifer while also adding a few more details as to how the workshop would be run.

Umed, from Dushanbe, emailed to say he was ready to get on Skype so I could help him with the process of completing his application for the same conference. We spoke for a while and he decided he wants to present a poster, but was unsure as to the actual content of it. I asked him a few questions to help him along the way without actually feeding him any answers. He promised to work on completing the application and will send it to me for review before submitting to the embassy in Dushanbe.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14, 2014

I spent a quiet morning at home going over the presentation for the day, emailing the corresponding handouts and catching up with my emails and Facebook postings.

My sister Esther wrote to inquire about my troubles using my MasterCard here and trying to offer a solution. I might be hard pressed to pay my rent at the end of the month if the local ATMs continue to refuse to process my card.

It was a relatively mild day and I took a marshrutka instead of the trolley to get to the Bishkek Humanities University. It dropped me right in front of another large Narodni supermarket and I went in to try their ATM, but this one too only accepted Visa cards. I did notice that this store was offering wine for sale for the Valentine’s Day celebration and I quickly bought two bottles of a white and red variety.

Once at the university, we had the usual technological problems as apparently the university doesn’t have a laptop available with PowerPoint or even a PDF converter for my presentations. We finally got underway at twenty minutes after and they seemed to enjoy the variety of grammar games we played and requested that I emailed them all the handouts and cards to be laminated.

I walked home once more and this time I was able to locate the little bakery where the flat bread is baked in a tandoor oven. The young guy was unable to tell me what specific hours I could come by to buy the bread fresh off the oven.

Madina called me and we settled on next Wednesday to have coffee when her classes are over. She is the very talkative young teacher who was present at the winter professional development session, and with whom I developed an instant rapport.

I spent the rest of the evening in some kind of funk. Not quite sure about the reason, but just felt out of sorts. I watched a few episodes of “Two and Half Men” to try and cheer mysefl up.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February 13, 2013

It was another gorgeous morning, albeit still a frosty one, when I made my way to Lingua. Zarina was arranging huge chocolate bars on the table, one for each teacher, as a token of appreciation on Valentine’s Day. Asel told me that most teachers had classes today and not tomorrow, so the office was presenting the candy today instead.

I reminded Nargiza of her offer to accompany me to the main post office to inquire about Elizabeth’s package and we headed in that direction while I answered some of her questions on teaching count and no-count nouns. I gave my ID to the clerk and she poked around the many packages on different shelves, but she came up empty and recommended we call a different post office which handles smaller packages to see if per chance they had received it instead.

Back at the office, Nargiza called the two numbers she’d been given, but was told they weren’t holding any packages for me. I sent Elizabeth an email asking her to check with her local post office to verify that the package had indeed reached Kyrgyzstan before I continue to inquire any further.

I met with Anna and we discussed the handling of the applications for CATEC as they have started to come in already. I suggested getting a box to eventually print all of them and go through the rigorous process of selecting the 75 participants from Kyrgyzstan. I started to work on my own proposal as Jennifer wants to peruse it as well since she’ll covering the expenses for all EFLs to attend.

The guy that sells the samsis didn’t show up today and I didn’t feel like going to the Halal Kitchen restaurant downstairs. Instead, I had a few bites of the chocolate bar and left Lingua at two when Nargiza needed to use the computer room for her class. Once home, I had some leftover pasta and took a short nap after the drilling in the unit next door subsided.

It was the night for our book club meeting and I had called Rebecca to clarify the directions to her apartment. She lives not too far from me and the marshrutka dropped me off practically in front of her complex. Her unit must have been remodeled recently as every wall was pristine white, the furniture looked Italian and she had a lot of built-in shelves. She pays $450.00 a month, but her unit is much smaller than mine thus she has her desk in the living room.

Rebecca cooked macaroni and cheese, and offered wine and juice while Willoughby prepared a garbanzo salad and I brought in the Korean salads. Martha brought a cold lentil soup and others contributed Mandarin oranges, salted almonds and other snacks. Another person brought humus and pita bread from a Mediterranean restaurant I had never heard of.

I was the first time to show up followed by Elvira and Gulnara, then Nona, who was back in town, then Willoughby and four other American women Rebecca had invited. I started the discussion by commenting on my book, “In Search of Genghis Khan” and then proceeded to donate the book to the club. Rebecca and all of the other American women had read their book in digital format and thus had nothing to contribute to the pool of books. Willoughby brought a book written by Lance Armstrong in which he still denied doping, and that one was added to the collection.

Elvira brought the Frankenstein book she’s reading with her class, same as the last two meetings, and Gulnara produced a paperback edition of some unknown science fiction book she was still reading. Martha, a former Peace Corps volunteer who now lives here full-time, agreed to host the next meeting on March 13.

As we left the building, Gulnara and Elvira retook the topic of my applying for a post here next year so I can continue to work with Forum. I don’t know how to explain it to them any clearer that such decision is beyond my control and that there’s little likelihood that the organization will get a full-time ELF to work with them.

I quickly located a marshrutka heading my way and jumped on it. When I paid the driver the customary ten soms, he showed me two fingers and didn’t understand what he meant until a woman behind me told I was short two soms because it was past nine o’clock. Since I had never ridden a marshrutka this late, I hadn’t paid attention to the difference. I rooted through my bag and came up with another coin and gave it to him. I reminded him I wanted to get off at Isanova, but he went right past it anyway.

The intersection was almost completely dark and I could barely make out where the sidewalk was. I decided that walking down the middle of the street was the safest thing to do and made to my flat with no problem whatsoever.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 12, 2013

As I approached the American University of Central Asia to do the second observation of Elvira’s class, I realized I had left my cell phone on my bed and had no way of letting her know I was downstairs waiting for her. This university has a strict security system thus without an ID or someone to escort in, there is no way to gain entrance. I mentioned Elvira’s name to the security guard, but he didn’t recognize it and even when he called the Department of Foreign Languages, they still acted as if they didn’t know who she was.

I was allowed to go up to the third floor where a man pointed to a schedule and to the right classroom. She was teaching in a different one this time, one with a computer, projector and screen, but still a small one with no room to move around. When an interactive activity was set up, not all students were willing to participate and remained in their seats until specifically being told to get up and talk to other students. I still couldn’t see the point of the lesson and no lesson plan was ever submitted for my benefit.

Once the lesson was over and we were walking toward the bank to get my new Visa card, I gave her some pointers on the lesson including reminding her that many of the words she was using had the stress placed on the wrong syllable and that as a role model for her students’ pronunciation, she needed to do better on that front. She confessed she never watches TV in English, doesn’t have any channels, nor to the radio and rarely to anything online.

The bank had my card ready and informed me they would charge the cool sum of $150.00 to cash a personal check because, supposedly, the check would need to travel all the way to the States to be cashed. When I tried to deposit a few of the dollar bills I still had with me, they turned them down because there was writing or some other flaw in them. I was so furious that I just stormed out of the place.

Elvira suggested going to her own bank, the Demir Bank, a Turkish one, as she thought any bank would be willing to cash a personal check, something I highly doubt it. We were told they would charge $152.00 plus a 2% commission to do so. I simply said thank you knowing that in this age of computers and scanners mailing the check is completely unnecessary and it’s simply another way of ripping off the consumer.

I took advantage of our time alone to notify Elvira that my post had not been renewed as she kept making reference to the things we’d be doing next year. She was appalled to have been kept in the dark and proposed different ways Forum could go about trying to change the decision. Apparently, Lingua had been instrumental in the recruitment of the senior ELF, someone whose name I recognized, as Gulnara, from Forum, had already been informed of her arrival for next year. I asked Elvira not to contact Jennifer directly with a request to reconsider the decision and that I was fine after all. Still, Elvira wants me to apply for any hard-to-fill post that might become available here.

We walked to the Beta Stores and ran into Willoughby there. I had no luck getting the ATMs to accept my MasterCard and Willoughby offered to loan me some money until I could figure out what the problem was as I had no money whatsoever left in my wallet.

The session at BGU went rather well even after I discovered that the laptop brought in didn’t have PowerPoint and none of the computers in the Department of Foreign Languages had a PDF converter program either. We went into a discussion as to the reasons most students were reluctant to speak in class and then analyzed some possible solutions before my showing them some of the speaking activities I had found to be successful in my own classes.

I walked home once again taking advantage of the abundant sunshine to exercise a bit. I stopped at Narodni and bought a couple containers of Korean salads to bring to the book club tomorrow. Once I got home, I turned the TV on to be treated to only two topics: the resignation of the Pope, who cares? and the North Korean nuclear test. Since neither topic was of the slightest interest to me, I turned it off. I’m definitely cancelling the service at the end of March when the pre-paid option is over.

I struggled to stay awake while watching a documentary on “Stupidity”, which seemed a bit dated as it kept mentioning Bush junior, as well as Reagan, as an example of how stupid people can rise to the top. I went to bed at eight o’clock.

February 11, 2013

I’m definitely getting over the congestion in my sinuses and felt even better when I saw the sun coming up from behind the clouds after three overcast, cheerless days. I went to Lingua and while waiting to meet with Gulnara to discuss the end of my participation in the conversation club, I worked on the presentation for the following day.

I finally sent the tentative rubric to all members of the CATEC committee for their input so we can finalize it before the end of the month. Anna came by to let me know that the applications from Uzbekistan had been received already. We have yet to develop a system to handle the applications. I’ll have to set up another meeting to discuss that aspect of the academic portion of the conference.

I had lunch with Nargiza, Zarina and others and asked Nargiza if she would be available to go with me to the main post office to inquire about the package Elizabeth had sent me two months ago. She had to plan for her two afternoon classes, but offered to do so on Wednesday morning before she started teaching. Gulnara indicated that Mondays were usually crazily busy for her and we should meet on Wednesday as well.

Nargiza needed to use the room where the computers are located to teach her classes for young learners and not having anything specific to do there, I left Lingua and went back home. I emailed Azema, at the Bishkek Humanities University, the handouts needed for the session the next day and set out to gather all my materials for the speaking activities I’d need.

I then had a portion of the evening to watch the movie “Argo” and found it quite compelling, a nail-biter indeed. No wonder it has garnered so many prizes on the award circuits. I still wish Ben Affleck had had the decency to offer the role of Tony Mendez to a Latino/Hispanic actor instead of casting himself in it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

February 10, 2013

After a pretty good night sleep, I started to cook the lamb only to realize that I had no onions, garlic, peppers or tomato paste to finish the dish. Reluctantly, I got dressed to face the chilled air outside and made a run for the Narodni supermarket where the clerks had a tough time weighing one onion, a head of garlic, two green peppers and a single hot pepper. I need to make a trip to the Osh Bazaar and stock up on everything next week.

I go the lamb browned and then cleaned the kitchen, tidied up the place, and started a load of laundry. When Willoughby called to say she was on her way, I added the black eye peas to the lamb and started to cook the white rice. I took a shower and got ready for company.

Willoughby brought a bottle of red wine labeled “Merlot”, which turned out to be much too sweet even for me. The rice had too much water in it and turned into  clumps much to my dislike. I have yet to find the right proportion of water to rice to cook it so it turns out fluffy here.

The landlady didn’t show up with the chairs as she had promised. We left the flat and stopped at the VEFA Center for a cup of coffee as Willoughby had never been there. The fancy coffee shop on the third floor had an extensive list of coffee drinks, but it was in Russian and the female server spoke no English. She finally gave up and brought a young man along who turned out to be the barista and who did his best to describe the different drinks.

I ended up with something with caramel that was way too sweet and had too little coffee in it. We chitchatted there for a while until the place filled up with smokers and we had to leave. We took another marshrutka and made our way to the Opera Ballet Theater where a ballet based on the story of the 1001 Nights would be performed. I remembered reading that books years ago and couldn’t conceive of a ballet based on a woman telling a king stories night after night.

There was a good crowd already waiting inside and out and people kept arriving even after the ballet had begun. It was a short one, about 45 minutes, and I had no idea what it was about, but it certainly didn’t follow the story in the book. Three young women sat to our right and one of them spoke to us in English. They had purchased the program and told us another ballet, a Russian one, was to follow and we stay for it. Apparently, it was to portrait the wars that had taken place between the Mongols and the Russians before they decided to make peace among themselves.

I had pretty much run out of money, and Willoughby was fine with not splitting a cab tonight, so she jumped into a marshrutka and I waited for the trolley. The streets were so deserted of traffic that we made it to my stop so quickly I didn’t even recognize it and had to get off at the next one.

When I walked into the kitchen, I found that the landlady had brought in three used chairs and six steak knives which she left on top of the washer. The toilet was still leaking and no garbage can materialized, but at least, finally, I had a comfortable chair to sit at my computer.

February 9, 2013

It was a frosty morning with the sun hidden behind thick clouds. Mercifully, the trolley came up almost as soon as I reached the curb and took me to the Children’s Library in a jiffy. Willoughby was already there and we set out to clear the space so I could bring the tables from the back of the room to the front so teachers would have a surface to write on. For the first time, Gulnara was going to be absent suffering from a bad cold.

We had a turn out slightly higher than usual but I was dissatisfied with my presentation from the standpoint that I had no surface to display the pictures as not even the whiteboard was magnetic. I had called Elena to please bring me a roll of masking tape and did what I could to display the pictures and the caption for one of the activities. Teachers seemed to like it nonetheless and once again, there was not enough time to carry out all the activities I had planned.

One of the members had offered a master class in the art of making felt objects for just 50 soms. This contribution was then to be donated to Forum. Only four teachers stayed afterwards and I felt that the activity had been planned too hastily and hardly advertised.

Willoughby and I went to lunch before I had to report to the conversation club at Lingua. I confided in Willoughby how unhappy I was about conducting this class for such a small number of students and such a young group of learners who had little in terms of experience to share. She felt that I should not be obligated to do something I truly dislike since I wasn’t getting paid anyway.

There were only eight students, one of them new, and I tried to get them to talk about Valentine Day’s and even though they knew in theory what the holiday was about, they had little to contribute to the topic since most of them are not yet actively dating and thus they don’t purchase gifts, take dates out or do anything romantic on such day.

To complete the lesson, I had to make use of my photos to get them to do another speaking activity until the time ran out. I made up my mind right there and then that I would request that Lingua stop using me for this purpose as I really don’t have anything in common with these students and find it very hard to relate to them. I feel that the Peace Corps volunteer, being much younger than I am, is much more suitable to continue with the club in the future.

I stopped at the convenience store to buy water, milk and juice and then went home to catch up with my email until the hammering started back up when it was past six. I knocked on the neighbor’s door and she opened it to plead with me to give her just one more hour to finish what they had started. She reminded me that when my landlady renovated my unit, it took two long months of constant noise to get it done.
I had agreed to go with Willoughby to go the ballet and to host her for lunch first, so I defrosted the lamb chops and marinated them for the following day.

February 8, 2013

I got up full of good intentions including the one of going to the Zumba class across the street. After drinking my coffee, I felt so lightheaded that I texted Laira to let her know not to expect me for the class. I was still highly congested and found it difficult to breathe normally. She called me later on to recommend a clinic nearby whose staff spoke English. I said I’d consider it, but knew all they could do for me would be to prescribe antibiotics and wanted nothing to do with taking those.

I spent the rest of the day working on several project including the presentation for Saturday morning for which I needed to label the pictures I’d be using and come with captions for some others.

I took a late afternoon siesta until a noisy family came up the steps and disrupted my sleep. It must have been a handyman of some sort for shortly after that, the hammering started and continued for quite some time.

Willoughby called and offered to come earlier to the library to help set up the tables for the session tomorrow. She also wanted to invite me to the ballet on Sunday afternoon, but I told her I needed to see how I felt by then.

In the evening, I got to enjoy a couple of documentaries about a new phenomenon that had passed me by: permaculture or cultivation of the soil on a permanent basis with only organic fertilizers and pesticides. It was mind blowing to find out that many countries, including Cuba, had turned to this way of growing food when they could no longer afford the cost of transporting the food from the countryside to the city much less the oil-based fertilizers and pesticides.

I definitely want to know more about this field of self-sustainable agriculture and will endeavor to read upon it once my obligations here subside.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February 7, 2013

As promised, I made my way to Elvira’s class so I could observe her methodology and subsequently provide her with a letter of recommendation. She came to meet me in front of the building and escorted me to another broom closet of a classroom with enough seats for exactly twelve students sitting at individual chairs. There was a small whiteboard on a corner and that was that as far as audio/visual equipment was concerned.

Elvira spent the class guiding the students through the introductory biography sketch of Mary Shelley before proceeding to have them read the preface to “Frankenstein”. Everyone mispronounced the name, using the Russian way, and correction was never offered. All the sentences written on the board contained mistakes in both spelling and punctuation marks, but then again no corrections were offered.

I gave Elvira feedback while having a portion of cold plov and insipid potato salad in the cafeteria and offered a few suggestions for avoiding the dead time waiting for students’ responses. I had not been clear at all as to what the goal of the lesson had been and a lesson plan was never forthcoming. I plan on doing a second observation next week and hope to see some improvement.

I had run out of paper and couldn’t print the handouts for today’s session. My email to the dean had gone unanswered, so I contacted one of the young teachers to help me out and she agreed to print them for me. I got to the university with fifteen minutes to spare and was immediately whiskered into the faculty’s meeting room as they were having a banquet there.

One of the teachers had had a death in her family and her colleagues put on this banquet as a sort of wake for the soul of the departed. The teacher in question was dressed in black and I asked if she was doing so as a way of mourning, but she said no. Only wives were expected to dress in black or blue to show they were in mourning in this culture and they would do so for only one year. I got to try a new dish from the Dungan cuisine called “funchosa” that looked and tasted very much like our chow mein.

The workshop in itself seemed to go well with my dividing the time into finishing the classroom management first and having them complete the survey on classroom management practices and sharing their findings with their partners. Many of them admitted their results had fallen into the “Poor” category thus indicating they were failing to practice the type of behavior that would insure learning would take place at all times.

The second half was taken up with my giving them a glimpse of what Bloom’s Taxonomy was all about as once again none of these teachers had been exposed to it. I could see many heads bobbing along as I pointed that the type of actions they regularly took to ascertain students had learned the material fell into lower order questioning and testing which demanded a mostly passive role for their learners.

I showed them how, by using higher order learning strategies, the students could become independent learners and the teacher more of a coach or facilitator who would work alongside them to unleash their creativity and ability to come up with a finished product. As usual, I promised to email them the entire presentation so they could peruse it at their leisure.

I walked back home in the brilliant sunshine stopping once again for staples at Narodni and then got home to crash in the living room couch. I must have slept for a scant twenty minutes when a group of people, including some shrieking children, came up the stairs and started another form of racket that was to stay around until the late evening.

My head felt as it was in a fog and I could barely look at my computer screen. I’m afraid I might still need to take antibiotics, something I really hate to do, but my allergies/cold seem to be lingering around for too long.
Willoughby and I had played phone tag all day and finally got to speak so we could compare notes about our days so far. She had received the announcement about an American hip-hop artist presentation on Sunday afternoon and the subsequent ballet that same evening. I told her I needed to wait and see how I felt before making a decision.

February 6, 2013

My meeting with Anna to come up with a rubric for the selection process of participants for the CATEC conference was slow work. Despite Jennifer’s request that we include such factors as whether the teacher came from a rural area or was presenting for the first, we had no real way of ascertaining that information from just the application. We put together a tentative rubric, and I suggested sending it to the rest of the committee for their review and input before formalizing it.

I had a couple of samsis with Gulnara, Zarina and Larissa and learned they had hired another young teacher, Victoria, to take over the new classes for children as small as three-year-old. It was her birthday today and a cake had been ordered, but I steered clear from it. Zarina commented that she too would be teaching the little ones at the center. Lingua appears to be heading into all kinds of new territories.

Natalia and Elvira showed up on time at two o’clock and we had no choice, but to hold our meeting in the teachers’ lounge as every other classroom was already taken. The three of us came up with a schedule for the training sessions in the southern part of country to start on April 25 and end on May 10th. Elvira clarified for me that Forum had never held elections for its officers and the board was simply appointed. There is nothing in the by-laws referring to holding elections. She agreed we should bring up the subject during our next board meeting.

When Elvira left to join Gulnara for another meeting at the Kyrgyz Academy of Learning, I point blank asked Natalia what had transpired to cancel the request for an extension on my membership since she apparently had no intentions of ever mentioning it. With a look of real contrition on her face, Natalia said it had Jennifer’s decision to do so and that she had just learned about it last Saturday. She claimed she pleaded with Jennifer to have me transferred to any other post, but to keep me in country since everyone I had worked with had been so pleased with my performance, but she had said no.

I reassured Natalia that Jennifer was right in indicating she couldn’t simply move me to another post as Georgetown does not approve of such practices. Jennifer had suggested that I apply for any other post that became available in Central Asia and I’d be considered for it. On the other hand, I might be done with my work in this region. This might be my signal to look for other horizons.

Upon Natalia’s departure, I met with Gulnara to finalize the dates for the teacher training sessions I’ll be providing for the pre-service teachers who participated in the competition last December. We settled for beginning on February 19 ending on March 12.

If the above dates work out as planned, I hope to have a breather between the end of that training session and the ones in the South. Perhaps I can fit in the trip to Dushanbe in between as I really want to visit some friends there before my departure from this part of the world.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February 5, 2013

As it had been predicted, a light snow was falling this morning when I got up. Coffee in hand, I checked my email and Facebook updates and learned that my best friend Stephanie had finally caved in and joined the 21st century by opening an email account and sending me a message through her niece’s FB page. I must admit that she did it mostly out of frustration at not being able to get snail mail reliably to and from Central Asia.

The letter I posted at the beginning of December has never reached her, and I have yet to receive the package Elizabeth sent me on December 12 either. Someone recommended going in person to the main post office to inquire about this package, but I will need an interpreter in order to do so. I’ll see if someone from Lingua can accompany me there.

I headed to the Bishkek Humanities University way too early as I was uncertain of its location only to discover it was a ten-minute trolley ride from the bus stop on Manas Avenue. It was only one o’clock and I chose to use the half hour left until my meeting with the dean to walk around the neighborhood, an area totally unknown to me. It was not a pretty sight once one stepped away from the main artery as muddy streets showed unfinished houses and small badly-lit businesses.

I returned to the campus, called the dean from the lobby, and was ushered into his office for the obligatory tea and biscuits ceremony. He had been to the States on two previous occasions and had even visited Kyrgyz friends in Miami Beach of all places. I kept nervously glancing at my watch while periodically mentioning that I wanted to go and set up the classroom, but he insisted the room was being prepared for me and I didn’t need to do anything about it.

He then got a call from Natalia saying they were running late and for me to wait for them before starting. That seemed odd, so I tried to clarify by asking if they wanted to watch the workshop from the beginning and he nodded his head.

When two o’clock rolled around and most of the teachers were present, I mentioned we were waiting for a couple of visitors to arrive, but I’d go ahead and introduce myself in the meantime. More minutes went by and they weren’t there yet, so I introduced the “Famous Pairs” cards for them to find their partners with the usual clueless participants needing some help.

They were in the process of completing the Venn diagram with things they both shared, around 2:25 pm, when Natalia Jennifer finally showed up ushered in by the dean. I explained to them I had had no choice, but to get started or the one-hour slated time would have been wasted. Jennifer apologized profusely and told me her instructions had been for me to start without them as she had been to yet another meeting and it had ran overtime.
The teachers were informed about the requirements for attendance and the obligation to allow for at least one class observation. They completed the survey to determine what they wanted to see covered for the next seven sessions and then we went on to talk about classroom management. Most of their comments were on the need for planning a tight lesson and only one mentioned creating the right atmosphere in class.

I had to compress the usual presentation, but even while doing so, the teachers made some very pointed comments that would have been worthwhile exploring further in the future. At three o’clock, I stopped since they had other obligations to fulfill and just promised to email them the presentation so they’d have a chance to read it and continue the discussion on Thursday.

Once they were gone, Jennifer commented that since the topic seemed to be so relevant to the teachers and they all appeared to be so engaged with it, she recommended devoting all of, or most of, the next session to finishing it. I’ll play it by ear depending on the reaction I get from the teachers once they get to read the entire presentation.

I chose to walk back to the house as the light snow had not hardened yet and it wasn’t too cold. I stopped at Narodni and bought a few staples before getting home. It was time to start putting together my presentation for the Forum session this Saturday as I still needed a few more pictures to round out the activities I want the teachers to carry out.

Monday, February 4, 2013

February 4, 2013

I had a decent night sleep and felt much better when I got out of bed at almost nine in the morning. Whatever that medication has in it, it surely works at drying my sinuses and preventing me from coughing all night. Having skipped the news entirely yesterday, I attempted to watch CNN while drinking my coffee, but they had the umpteenth rerun of the same program.

I had enough energy to do the dishes and tidied up the place in anticipation of the landlady coming by to discuss the noise level with the levels on both sides of my unit. Not that I had any faith such talking would be able to solve the situation, just to give her a chance to play the local card in this game.

Shortly after I had my muesli for breakfast, the most horrendous sound started coming from the unit being renovated. It sounded as if someone was operating an industrial-sized drill like the ones used in the States to break sidewalks or pavement. It sounded as if someone was drilling inside my head. It was time to flee the apartment once again, but not before dashing a note to Mika that was contemplating moving into a guest house if need be to get away from such infernal sound.

When I got to Lingua, I tried to speak to Gulnara to ask her for clarification regarding my post not being renewed but I think she saw it coming and blew me off saying she was heading to a meeting and would talk to me later. I didn’t see her for the rest of the day. I will not attempt to bring up the subject again as I do have my dignity after all.

While sitting at the computer, Nargiza asked me which university had been the most enjoyable to work at so far, and I selected the Kyrgyz National University because of the warmth of its teachers. Nargiza graduated from the Manas Turkish University, a private college partly funded by the Turkish government and she confirmed the administration there does not want any influence from American teachers. It only has one among its faculty members.

I called the contact person at the Bishkek Humanities University and confirmed he would have a laptop, projector and whiteboard available for me tomorrow. He requested I call him when I get to the front of the building and he would guide me to the appropriate classroom where the workshops are due to take place. I finished the photocopying of the handouts and warm-up exercise, made a few changes to the PowerPoint presentation and then left.

I headed to the Halal Kitchen for a plate of lagman noodles and was happy to find it practically deserted. The ride home was a pleasure since the #4 trolley was almost empty and I got to sit at the front in clear view of my stop and a step or two from the exit.

A woman was placing yet more construction debris on my apartment landing when I got home. I didn’t even pretend to be civil and simply ignored her. When the landlady rang the bell, she told me she had spoken to the woman in question and had been informed all work on that apartment is due to be finished this week. The older couple I had spoken to a few weeks ago is moving in then hence providing me with a note of relief that no children would be around.

Mika didn’t know the tenants on my left, the ones with the little elephants in need of Ritalin, but has a friend who will find out for her so she can go and talk to them. I feel she is overly optimistic about her chances of solving the problem, but it’s worth giving it a try for I hate the idea of having to pack up my stuff once again and move.

Once more, Mika promised to go in search of the dining room chairs tomorrow.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

February 3, 2013

It has become apparent to me that peace and quiet in Bishkek are not to be had as long as you live in a Soviet-style apartment complex where neighbors don’t seem to care for each other’s comfort. By mid-morning on a Sunday, the owners of the flat across the landing started to hammer away precisely on the wall shared with my bedroom.

I flew into a rage and knocked on their door repeatedly until a young woman came out. She claimed to understand some English and I think I made very clear to her that it was Sunday and no work was supposed to take place on that day. I returned to my apartment and not ten minutes went by before the hammering resumed.

This time, there was nothing polite to say. I rang the door bell until she came out again and just yelled at her to stop being such an obtuse person and stop the noise as I had a cold and my headache was being made worse by their racket. Apparently a decision must have been made to stop hammering and instead I could still hear someone doing sanding or something similar on the wall.

I had to flee my apartment for on the other side, the army of little savages had started their daily stomping. Even with the music on, I couldn’t stop from hearing them. I sent a note to the landlady letting her know this level of noise was unacceptable as it normally went on until close to midnight.

I called Willoughby and we agreed to meet for coffee before the ballet. It was colder than it had been for the past week and I wish I had dressed warmer as I cooled my heels waiting for her. We walked to the Masal coffeehouse and were served lukewarm coffee once again. When I mentioned it to the affable young server, he insisted that only freshly brewed coffee could be served piping hot but not the ones that were milk-based. He definitely needs to attend a barista course soon.

Jennifer joined us at the Opera Ballet Theater and we were pleased to see that the place was almost full to capacity with lots of children in attendance. We were subjected to the typical Russian-style speeches from three government representatives at the stage who spoke about honoring a local dancer and in favor of promoting the culture of ballet among the young. The last part of the message seems to have been lost on the young boy next to me who played video games on her mom’s cell phone during the entire performance.

The program was short and sweet, no intermissions, and some decent dancing except for a tango number that seemed to have no tango steps and much less ballet in it. I had suggested grabbing a bite to eat after the show and remembered Willoughby mentioning that there was a decent Chinese restaurant behind the Tsum department store, so we headed that way.

We were sat in an area where people, mostly men, were smoking and where a TV screen showed a program with Chinese subtitles. When I complained about the smoke, Willoughby inquired as to the possibility of there being a non-smoking section and there was with the additional bonus of not having to stare at a TV screen.

The food was a bust as the only edibles portions were the fried rice and the broccoli flowerets. I couldn’t find the eggplant in my dish and the sweet and sour pork proved to a be a tough piece of meat rolled in flour, deep fried and then ladled with what tasted like ketchup, and I refused to eat it. The beef broccoli was tough and stringy and came in a flavorless watery sauce. We requested chili sauce repeatedly, but apparently they couldn’t understand what we meant and brought us actual chilies in a bowl.

I was taken aback when Jennifer asked me what my plans were for next year. She must have picked up on the puzzled look on my face for she then asked me: “You know your post is not being renewed, don’t you?” I told her no one had bothered to notify me and she then went on to try and justify this action by informing me that the embassy and her office had made the decision to re-write the proposal for my post to request a senior fellow who could help out with the textbook project being undertaken in Kyrgyzstan.

Since this is the second time that I’m denied the chance to extend, I can’t say I was surprised just dismayed to see that no one had had the decency to pull me aside and tell me. And these are people working on the diplomatic front, mind you. Jennifer insisted on paying the bill once again and we proceeded to walk her back to the Hyatt hotel where Willoughby and I got into a taxi to our respective destinations.

The little monsters next door were at it again, so I chose to watch a movie until they went to bed. “Bitter Moon” was a distressing flick to say the least.