Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30, 2013

As I had expected, but failed to do anything about, there was no Internet access this morning. I made use of the extra time to continue to work on the two presentations needed for next week and then had my bowl of muesli before heading out the door to walk to the KNU campus.

Willoughby, Elvira and I converged on the second floor at the same time and then Gulnara came in. Tatiana and the Uhmut, the accountant, also showed up and took an inordinate amount of time passing money back and forth between them. When she left, we then discussed the final schedule while the two students responsible for printing it waited for us.

Asel had scheduled me for two sessions on the same day, which was unnecessary, so I suggested one session daily. We decided to cancel the afternoon coffee break and made the lunch one full hour. I still don’t know about the location where the sessions will take place and whether technology will be available.

We had another long discussion on the need for Forum to take advantage of grants available in the country. Elvira had two in mind and we went about discussing the merits of applying for either one. The largest one, 25K, has to do with democracy and outreach and simply can’t see a teachers’ organization qualifying for or being able to carry out that type of project.

Asel offered to look into further and get back to us. I was starving at this point and asked if anyone wanted to join me for lunch at the Korean place around the corner. Asel, Elvira and her little boy came along, but we found the luncheon buffet is only served Monday through Friday.

We ordered from the menu and what I thought was a beef curry soup turned out to be an oily, watery tripe soup similar to the Mexican menudo I’ve come to dislike. There was no way to eat the insipid broth, so I just asked Elvira for some of her son’s spicy beef and ate it with some steamed rice and the variety of salads they had given us. I took the soup home to fix it at some point.

Asel made suggestions for places to eat in Osh where she had been recently. We said goodbye at the intersection and I proceeded to stop at the Narodni supermarket to pay for my Internet access and buy a few staples so I don’t have to leave my place tomorrow when the temperature is expected to dip into the low 30s again. 

March 29, 2013

I wore what has become my conference uniform by now, the black pantsuit with a stripe top, and my Mary Jane pumps to the conference at KNU. I wrote down the address for the taxi driver and he seemed more than happy to take me there for 100 soms or a little bit more than two dollars.

The weather was fabulous with plenty of sunshine and temperatures approaching the 70 degree mark. I took some photos of the flowering cherry trees and emerging daffodils while waiting for Nargiza to meet me at the entrance. We proceeded to the administration building where female students dressed in the traditional costumes greeted visitors.

The conference room had a round table set up for the important dignitaries and I sat in the second row jotting down some notes for the two minute speech I was scheduled to give. Since Nargiza was going to be translating it into Russian, I made it as simple as possible by mentioning the numerous doors that learning a foreign language can open to anyone.

We had to sit through two solid hours of non-stop speeches given by mostly old guys from different university departments and government ministries. At 11:40, I had my chance and relayed my thoughts to the audience. They politely applauded and after two more speakers, we had a chance to move to another room and enjoy the coffee, tea and refreshments.

I ran into Willoughby’s landlady, the one who teaches Spanish at the American University in Central Asia, and she asked we speak in Spanish since her English is not very fluent. I was simply ecstatic to find someone in this part of the world who speaks Spanish almost as well as I do. She obtained a doctorate in Barcelona years ago. Now, why can’t our teachers of English achieve such level of fluency here?

Willoughby herself was out front waiting to start her class and we hugged tightly while trying to catch up with all the new items on our lives. She has someone to go to the opera tomorrow, which is good since I’ll be too tired to even consider it. Gulnara, from Forum, reminded me they’ll counting on me to present an additional session for the spring seminar next week.

I took the trolley home and stopped at the corner restaurant I’d seen many times while walking to BGU. I ordered a shawarma sandwich to go so I could have something for dinner as my fridge and cupboards are still practically empty.

I spent the rest of the afternoon doing online research on the functional approach to teaching a foreign language as Asel felt that was a topic most teachers at the university here didn’t touch upon for lack of exposure to it. I also worked on my original presentation on body language.

I finally went through the photos taken during my trip to various parts of southern Kazakhstan and made a couple of albums for my Facebook page. I sent some photos privately to Max and mentioned the Forum meeting tomorrow to finalize the schedule for the spring seminar. He indicated he’d be interested in participating, but then I heard nothing else.

Friday, March 29, 2013

March 28, 2013

Having had a chance to sleep a full night, I didn’t even hear Holly when she came back from the night club; I got up a six and finished packing my suitcase and miscellaneous items I had accumulated during the week. I had my bowl of muesli and was ready to go when Holly finished doing her morning ablutions.

We walked to the guys’ apartment and Holly went up to the sixth floor to get Max as my legs couldn’t stand the idea of such exertion again. We got into a taxi with a very cordial driver whose family had originally come from Korea many years ago. At the bus terminal, the marshrutka driver tried to cajole us into occupying the last two seats at the very back of the van, but I refused reminding Max I couldn’t be without any ventilation for very long.

The guy even told us no other van would be leaving Taraz until three that afternoon, but I didn’t believe him and chose to take a chance. Immediately after he pulled out, another van took its spot and we informed that driver that the two front seats were for us. It took another hour before the van got full, so we didn’t leave until half past ten.

We kept being harassed by a group of young gypsy girls who were going around burning birch twigs in small pots and asking for money claiming to be removing evil spirits from around us. After that came the regular beggars and then a guy who thought Max and I were a couple and asked him for money to pay the fare for his wife.

We drove through the same grim landscape as last Thursday with Max falling asleep almost as soon as he got reasonably comfortable in the rather narrow van. I tried listening to my MP3 player, but the battery was dead so I just had to stare straight ahead. Crossing the border took no time at all and even the driver came through it somewhat speedily.

There was no stop for lunch and I had to eat some chocolates and grapes I had stashed in my bag just in case. We went through the same dismal little towns as before and it seemed to take forever to reach the bus terminal in Bishkek. Max and I shared a taxi once again and before reaching my flat, I stopped at the convenience store across the street and bought some cooked noodles, potato salad and salty fish for dinner.

It was a relief to be back in my own place after almost a week of being cooped up in such a small place. Checking my emails, I found that Nargiza had written to indicate my presence was expected at the opening ceremony for the conference at KNU. She would be expecting me at 9:30, and I needed to be ready to speak for about two minutes. I was able to complete my blog entries for the last four days and then read for a while before going to sleep.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 27, 2013

After only five hours of fitful sleep, I woke up with a pounding headache and got up to make coffee in the tiny kitchen where nothing seemed to have been changed since the building was originally occupied. The tiny fridge barely cooled the yogurt and the sink was rusted through and through. I found matches in the cupboard and boiled water in a rusted out teapot. There was only one mug.

I looked everywhere for a plug for my laptop, but the bedroom had none, so I had to unplug the fridge and use that one. Bill had informed me the night before that I’d replicating the same presentations as for Monday, so I had to take the wrinkles out of my pantsuit and get ready to take part in the plenary once again. At 8:30, Holly and I walked to the guys’ apartment and then we walked together to the university.

The plenary took place in a conference room of modest size where a smart board was prominently displayed up front. I immediately asked Bill if my afternoon presentation could take place there to take advantage of the numerous monitors for attendees to read the jokes at their leisure, and he felt that shouldn’t be a problem. The schedule was fined tuned once again with coffee break and lunch offered at the same time, which made no sense to me at all.

Attendance was so light that everyone fit inside the conference room and after a few speeches, quite short thankfully, I made my presentation on mentoring new teachers and it went quite well with some of the teachers actually asking question and Max, Bill and James also adding their input. I felt quite pleased with the outcome.

I stayed in the same room to take part in Bill’s presentation on using debates to see how it compared to mine. We only had six participants, not including myself, and he tried really hard to get those six teachers to take part, but some of them spoke so little English that they simply refused.

James, Max and I went downstairs to the student’s canteen and had the day’s special: borscht soup, plov, tea and bread. The portions were small and bland, but still edible and we held a passionate conversation about the school system in the States and how it simply warehoused kids from the lower stratum of society while teaching them nothing.

James and I took a walk around the university only to find that only the building facing the street was part of it while the rest looked like a storage place of some sort. Back inside, we both took part in Sholpon’s session to find that her tinny voice could barely carry across the room and the topic of storytelling for a fifth grade level didn’t hold my attention.

 She indicated she needed to cut her session short as she needed to return to her city and I thought that perhaps there was an emergency there. Instead, Holly told us she had been selected to take part in the TEA program and simply wanted to go back home and celebrate right away. I wasn’t pleased to hear that since her hotel had been paid for already and she was scheduled to take part in the closing ceremony. She and Holly seem to be quite close and Holly had authorized her leave taking. That’s totally unprofessional behavior in my book.

My turn came up to do the humor presentation, and to my amazement, I had sixteen participants. I gave them enough time to read each slide carefully and felt pleased to hear the laughter and chuckles elicited by the materials in most of the participants. I again offered them the presentation to take home so they start using some of the jokes, funny signs and cartoons in their own classroom.

At four, the closing ceremony started promptly with Bill giving the closing speech, presenters getting a certificate and small gift and participants receiving their much awaited certificates. Photos were taken and then we went to clean up the room where refreshments had been served noticing that huge quantities had been purchased for such a small audience.

We had to carry the remaining items so that Natalia could use them for her Access program’s kids. I desperately needed to use a bathroom and to have a cup of coffee, so I had to walk up five floor to the guys’ place to use the bathroom and then walk back three blocks to find a coffee house. My legs felt like gelatin by then.

Only Holly and Max wanted coffee as Bill and James decided a nap was the thing to do then as they planned on going clubbing with Natalia that same night. We went to another Madeleine coffee shop and sat on cushions on the floor while the server brought me a latte and Holly cherry mint tea in a French press this time. Max went downstairs to buy pastries.

On the way back to the apartment, Holly said she was trying to move me into the hotel room that Sholpon had left vacant as she knew I hadn’t had any comfortable place to stay during the visit, but I turned down the offer letting her know I wasn’t about to start packing my stuff again just for one night.

She then offered to show me a bit of the city if my legs could hold out for a little bit longer. We walked to the center where some newly constructed pastel-colored buildings sat on a wide avenue with the requisite statues in place. Walking a little farther, she showed me the statue of some local legend, I can’t quite recall who the couple was, and ran into a wedding party being photograph there.

We agreed to have dinner at a nearby Turkish restaurant and invited the two other teachers from Shymkent who had come with us. I had a lentil soup and some bread covered with cheese, no flavor whatsoever, while they had the doner kebab platter so common in these restaurants.

My eyes were practically closing on me while I desperately tried to follow the conversation, so I told Holly I really needed to get some sleep. We paid our bill, bid goodbye to the teachers and retrace our steps in the now well-lit streets where buildings were flooded with lights coming from every possible recess.

Once at the apartment, I flossed and brushed my teeth while Holly primped herself to join the guys for their outing to the club. It was only nine o’clock when I turned off my light and went to sleep. 

March 26, 2013

The little cave where I slept had been pretty warm the night before as plastic covers all the windows and no air comes in. Thankfully, there was a stand-along fan in the room and I had it set up so it blew directly onto my face. As a result, the mosquitoes didn’t have a chance to feast on me on my last night there. As a result of the same plastic veil, I didn’t know it was raining and that the temperature had dropped down considerably from the day before.

I wore a black skirt with tights and my red sweater set. Holly and I took a taxi to Bill’s flat where Max was barely getting dressed. Another taxi ride took us to a different bus terminal and she got us into a marshrutka to the village where Sholpon would be waiting for us. James had loaned Max one of his SIM cards and he could now use his phone locally.

It was raining very hard and puddles were gathering all around. The ride was only about half an hour and after taking refuge under a bus stop, Max called Sholpon who was at a school nearby and she came to get us right away. The teachers were not there yet, so instead, we were taking to have coffee and biscuits with the school principal, a relatively young woman who had a spotless desk with not a piece of paper on it.

I had decided not to do the humor presentation for the village teachers conscious of the fact that they might not get it and instead asked Sholpon to allow me to print a couple of handouts to do my speaking activities one. Holly had provided me with a set of dice and Bill had loaned me his deck of cards, so I felt I had enough materials for the one-hour session.

After much confusion as to what room to assign to us and the usual technology glitches, we began at 10:30 with my group of teachers being pretty much mute except for a couple of younger teachers who took the lead in answering questions. There were three older guys in suits that I simply pity as they seemed to be so uncomfortable in that environment and who never spoke a word.

At 11:30, Max’s group rotated and came to my classroom and I repeated my presentation to an audience that was slightly younger and more interested in speaking and discussing why students are unwilling to do so in the EFL classroom. Once finished, we handed out the requisite certificates, not enough of them for everyone, and took some photos. I left my presentation and handouts on the computer for teachers to copy them at their leisure.

I was starving at this point and Sholpon guided us back to the bus terminal and through the now flooded streets as apparently there is no drainage system in the city. My sweatshirt was getting thoroughly soaked and drivers were splashing my legs as they went by. I regretted not having worn pants on this particular day.

We had to try four different restaurants before we found one open and ready to serve us. The place was huge, modern and completely empty, but there was no plov or lagman to be had either. Max ordered some kind of Chinese dish he knew about along with a bowl of pelmeni and ordered shorbot soup and bread. I then realized the soup wouldn’t be enough as I had idea how long it might be before I ate again, so I ordered the same dish as Max as well.

Sholpon put us back in the marshrutka, we had same driver in fact, and we got to Bill’s place to find that no one else had returned yet and we had no key to the place. I was practically soaking wet and miserable at that point, so after Max called Holly and found out they were running half hour late, we decided to find a coffee shop nearby to warm ourselves up.

We ran into Bill on our way there and returned to his flat with him where he made us his Dunkin Donuts coffee in a French press. He didn’t drink any and when Max him why he informed us he was fasting and I didn’t immediately caught on to the fact that it was still lent. I opened my big mouth and said: “Oh, you’re a Catholic.” He cut his eyes at me and told me I didn’t know him and shouldn’t be judging him.

Holly, James and Valerie returned at that point and lightened the atmosphere. The schedule, the one we had never seen, was already off by an hour as us women waited at the curb for a bus back to Holly’s place. I didn’t want to make things worse by suggesting we take a taxi to save time and just kept my peace. We got into the right bus after a lengthy wait and then Holly missed her stop and we had to retrace our route for a long stretch.

I had almost packed everything in the morning and just needed to get some of the grocery items I had purchased and my laptop. I said goodbye to Valerie, who’d returning to Almaty that evening by train, and she allowed me to borrow a cloth bag to carry my laptop and some presents we had received at the conference the day before. I’ll be seeing her for CATEC in June.

It was yet to another bus terminal where we sat in a marshrutka waiting for the driver to get one more passenger. Max had taken precautions to save me the front seat next to the window where I sat next to an assistant to the driver. We didn’t leave until 6:00 and had to pick up Sholpon on the way out of the city, gas up the van, stopped for some of the passengers to use a toilet out in the middle of nowhere and finally for the driver to pick up his dinner, something stuffed in a piece of bread.

It continued to rain on the way to Taraz and close to the city a thick fog enveloped us to the point of practical blindness. I was tense and tired of sitting in such a position that I couldn’t even turn around and my feet were numb from having the bag with the laptop sitting on them for more than three hours.

We reached the city and no one knew where to go. We finally met Natalia, the local coordinator for the conference, and had to trek to two separate buildings where the guys would be staying at one apartment and the women at another. We had to stand around while Natalia got the keys at one place, took the guys to theirs and finally Holly and I to another.

I was starving by the time we made it to cafeteria next to a supermarket where I ordered lagman noodles and waited for what seemed like forever to get them. Bill and Natalia were discussing the fact that provisions were being made for offering the attendees a coffee break, so after eating, we went right next door to buy what they needed while I got 3-1 coffee, raisins, walnuts and yogurt for my muesli.

It was pas midnight when we got into the apartment and I was able to collapse in the only bed in the place as Holly had been gracious enough to take the sofa.

March 25, 2013

I was a bit nervous this morning knowing that I was going to be addressing over 200 teachers for the first time in my life. Holly had asked me to change my topic from teaching unplugged to mentoring young teachers and I had asked her to look over my presentation to make sure it would hit the target audience, but she said she trusted me.

My pantsuit was wrinkled free in the morning, and after having my now usual bowl of muesli and yogurt I prepared to depart for the university as I had heard we needed to be there at nine. I had requested a copy of the schedule on a couple of occasions but had not received one. I found Valerie still in her pajamas in the dining area and she told Holly had left ahead of us and her roommate would walk us there before ten.

Elsa walked with us while relaying that she’d lived in the Central Asia region for more than six years and currently teaches an IELTS preparation class for a private language institute. The walk was longer than I expected and my wearing high heels didn’t help matters at all. We finally  came up to another decrepit building with the paint chipping off its walls and we went in.

The auditorium had not been properly set up and Bill had just discovered that the was too much light coming in through the huge windows thus making what was projected on the screen invisible. I suggested projecting into the violet-colored wall on the side, but even then the text and pictures were not visible. After much wrangling of hands, we were informed that no PowerPoint presentations would be possible.

A sense of panic overtook since I hadn’t bothered to memorize most of the information about mentoring having been reassured a laptop and projector would be available to every presenter. The speeches started then including the obligatory one from a representative of the Ministry of Education who appeared eager to eat the microphone while yelling at it. He then disappeared for good immediately after his speech.

The plenary speaking had been divided into two parts, so after listening to an overly long presentation on the Access program, the other presenter spoke about something having to do with presenting a positive attitude but I didn’t get what her point was. She was representing the British Council and apparently had to put in a plug for the Headway textbooks.

The teachers present were apparently unable to understand spoken English and had been told several times to turn off their cell phones, which kept ringing nonetheless, and to refrain from talking while someone else was presenting. The president of the English teachers, association had also addressed them about maintaining decorum throughout, but to no avail.

When Holly introduced me and I started to speak, I told them I wasn’t about to try and speak over their conversation. When I started back up , the chatter could be heard once again and Valerie stood up and told them off while James and Max went around telling the mostly female participants to put away their cell phones. The atmosphere had turned decidedly unfriendly and unprofessional. I continued to speak extemporaneously until Bill came up  with the idea of placing his laptop with my PowerPoint right in front of my eyes so I could read it.

 It was still a bit unnerving since I had already said some of the things at the beginning of the presentation, but I made it the appointed time and offered to share the entire presentation with anyone interested in the subject. I can’t recall if anyone applauded, but I was just relieved to have the affair behind me.

We didn’t have a program yet as they coordinators hadn’t printed enough of them and no housekeeping announcements had been made at the start of the session. We were led to where refreshment had been served and we then walked around the four or five posters students of English at the Miras University had created about activities on their campus to learn English.

We then took another long walk to the building where the afternoon presentations would take place. Max and I chose a Scottish guy who was going to talk about critical thinking but all he did was read his slides line-by-line even though we couldn’t even understand him because of his accent.

I did my presentation on using humor in the classroom, but knew from the get go that it would go over the head of most of the attendees as some of them even refused to leave their seats and find a partner by matching the proverb cards I’d given them. I had the usual technical glitches as the presentations consists mostly of cartoons and signs and the images were so small as to be illegible.

I had to read each slide, which was a pain in the neck, and except for Elsa and a couple of young teachers who kept bobbing their heads, no one else enjoyed it. We went back to the auditorium for an awful closing ceremony including some really bad acting, singing and dancing and the issuing of certificates and gifts to all the presenters. The teachers were handed their certificates after that.

Holly informed us we were being taken out to dinner at eight, so Max, James, Valerie and I decided to go for a cup of coffee. Elsa was heading in that direction to meet a friend and escorted us on the bus ride to a fancy coffeehouse in another part of the city.

I had suspected that Elsa, her roommate Christie and Holly might missionaries in disguise, just as Corrie was in Tajikistan, as the wall of my little sleeping balcony was covered with butcher paper where scriptures were written. The bookcase was also filled with Christian-related literature. Now she told me that her permanent home would be the one she’d get when the Lord called her to be reunited with all her departed friends and relatives.

Max and I had asked her what she had found alluring about living in Central Asia and she coyly indicated she just loved the place and had no desire to go back to the States. She indicated she had learned Turkish and Uzbek and was now in the process of learning Russian so she could communicate with people who spoke that language. It sounded to me like code words for being able to talk to non-Christians about the word of God.

We walked back to the Uzbek restaurant as Valerie remembered how to get there and were treated to some delicious food and lemon tea. The association president and two other teachers were also there and we got into a spirited conversation with one of them until she indicated she was a Christian not a  Muslim and would never support gay rights at all. In fact, she’d campaign among her friend and relatives not to support them as well.

Max became incensed as he revealed that his older brother was gay and could never dream of meeting a man, falling with love with him and just marrying him to take him to the United States. Holly, who apparently had been eavesdropping on the conversation, stepped in and said we were attacking the woman for her Christian beliefs. Max got up from the table and went outside to cool down.

Bill went after him concerned about his reaction, but Max just needed to smoke a cigarette to regain his composure. I asked about the agenda for the next day, as the schedule seemed to be kept under wraps at all time, and was told Max and I were traveling together to a nearby village for a half-day session and everyone would come back to the apartments to pack up and get ready to go to Taraz for the last day of the conference.

Bill walked Valerie and I to Holly’s flat and I promptly went to bed exhausted.

March 24, 2013

Having gone to bed at a reasonable time insured that I’d be up at the crack of dawn on Sunday. I made my 3-1 coffee and caught up with my emails and Facebook postings while waiting for Holly and Valerie to get up as we were scheduled to depart early for the tourist destination nearby: Turkestan. I noticed while brushing my teeth that my face was covered with red marks that were beginning to swell and they continued down my neck, shoulders and arms. Mosquitoes had been feasting on me while I was trying to sleep.

Holly told me the guys, mostly Max I should mention, had cooked spaghetti with meat sauce the night before. I was really glad I hadn’t left the comfort of  my monastic cell to partake of that delicacy. I prepared myself a bowl of muesli with the addition of nuts and dried fruit and even though it wasn’t as sweet as the one I regularly buy in Bishkek, it turned to be quite tasty.

We took a bus to meet the guys at the terminal under overcast skies and slight breeze. Bill and James were able to negotiate a marshrutka just for the six of us for about $8.00 a head and we off we went through some areas completely deserted of vegetation, houses or animals. It wasn’t a desert per se, but there was nothing out there to even look at.

The road started out as wide four lane highway and subsequently turned into a two-lane one with patches where the pavement had disappeared entirely and only dirt remained. Workers were building what appeared to be overpasses when no road still existed down below. We then drove over gravel, more dirt and finally another paved portion before pulling into the city three hours later.

By this time, the weather had turned decidedly chilly with high winds and dark skies. I had only brought my sweatshirt and felt pretty miserable. We used the bathroom at the beginning of what appeared to be a long row of vendors selling scarves for the women to cover their heads before entering the mosque and other souvenirs.

A dirt path led to the mosque, which appeared completely unremarkable from the outside as it featured a dun-colored exterior and no landscaping whatsoever all around. We went inside and found that the only thing to look at was an ancient giant bowl someone had donated to the mosque. All the other rooms were bare and others were blocked off as if ready to be remodeled.

Max couldn’t contain his disappointment as we looked around and couldn’t find anything else to see until we spied a group of four camels pasturing near the mosque. He took off in that direction followed by James and Valerie and insisted on touching them while I took photos from afar. We were hungry by then and found another Halal kitchen nearby which offered lagman and shish kebabs.

James called Holly to let her know we’d be heading to the museum nearby, a bland building near the mosque. Max ignored the clerk at the entrance and walked into the foyer where a huge yurt sat and then refused to pay the 500 tengue note to be admitted. We all decided that the contents might not be that appealing and everything would be labeled in Russian and Kazakh anyway.

The city had nothing else to offer and we begged Holly and Bill to just find us another marshrutka to return to Shymkent. At first, we were given conflicting instructions as to where to find one, but we finally got into a bus headed to the terminal and into a marshrutka where I lost my fight to sit near the window as a young woman, who apparently knew the driver, argued she had reserved that seat earlier on.

Everyone in the group went to sleep as soon as the marshrutka got underway except for me who was jammed between a corpulent driver with dragon breath and the woman near the window. The ride seemed interminable for there was nothing to break up the monotony of the landscape and I didn’t even have anyone to talk to. We got back to Shymkent by six and I asked Holly to take us to her favorite Uzbek restaurant for plov as she had promised the day before.

We had a decent dinner while sharing stories and jokes. My arms started to itch terrible and took off my sweatshirt to find that my elbow area had swollen considerably as the bites had run into each other by now. I asked Holly to please point to a pharmacy on the way home for me to buy some kind of ointment to placate the itch.

We walked home from the restaurant, I took a shower and got to bed after pulling out my new pantsuit from the suitcase and setting it out over the bookcase for the wrinkles to hopefully disappear overnight.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 23, 2013

I had hardly gotten any sleep since the mosquitoes danced around me all night sometimes landing on my face, my neck or my bare arms. It’s really incomprehensible to me that people can actually live in a place packed with mosquitoes and not be bothered by it at all. I had a throbbing headache to soothe and cursed myself out for not bringing my own coffeemaker as I usually do. I hadn’t even asked Holly if she drank coffee.

Bill had been generous enough to share some of his Dunkin Donuts brand of coffee with and in the absence of a coffeemaker, I boiled the water in a small saucepan, dropped the coffee powder in it and let it steep for a bit before pouring it through a fine sieve. It was all right for the time being. I read for a while since I still didn’t have Internet access.

Holly was the first up and got me connected to the Internet in no time at all. We had agreed to meet for brunch with the guys at ten at a restaurant that aspires to offer French dishes and once we all got ready, we just walked there. The place offered a terrace on the second floor and we thought it was warm enough to have our breakfast there.

There was no “brunch” in the sense I had expected, so I settled for a combination of salad, cheese sandwich, hard-boiled egg and cappuccino. Holly and Valerie ordered teas which came in a pretty glass teakettle and contained mint along with either orange rind or cherries. I tried both of them while waiting for my coffee and they turned out to be delicious.

The guys arrived with the two local women who promptly complained it was too cold for them, even after Bill wrapped a blanket around one of them, and we had to go in search of a table inside. When my dish arrived, the bread had been toasted so long ago that it could have served as a missile. It had no butter or mayonnaise spread on it and the cheese was totally cold. The salad consisted of bits of lettuce and some vinaigrette only. No coffee came with it.

I got some mayonnaise after a while, but still no coffee. Someone ordered the Georgian dish kachapuri that I had enjoyed in Tajikistan and I had a bite of it since it was fresh off the oven. My coffee finally came and it was more milk than actual coffee. As we left the restaurant, Max was hit on the head by the metal piece that allows the door to close back by itself.

Some employees standing nearby started to laugh and enraged Max to the point that he went back inside and threatened to suit them for damages. I went back inside and took him by the arm insisting he needed to let it go as no good would come of such confrontation. He was still livid, but allow me to steer him clear of the restaurant.

The guys returned to their place while the women went for a tour of Shymkent starting with the famed bazaar, the monuments to the current president, the numerous parks with their respective statues and the latest shopping entertainment complex.

I bought a pair of black tights at the market to go along with my black skirt for the presentation on Tuesday at a village nearby where women are expected to dress somewhat more conservatively than in the city. I found huge red grapes at a stall and asked the woman where they came from: Argentina she replied.

I looked for a simple tank top to wear under my pantsuit that would not have any glitter or ads in it, but it wasn’t about to happen. In addition, prices here were higher than in Bishkek, so I gave up and decided to wear the same top I had from my sweater set.

We paused for coffee at one of the same chain of restaurants from the morning and I had a dish of sliced beef and mushrooms set over a layer of hash brown potatoes, something I hadn’t eaten in ages. The coffee was still a ratio of too much milk to coffee, but it satiated my craving.

We walked back to the apartment walking through the cloud of mosquitoes that gather at the entrance to the building. I was glad it was still light outside for the building doesn’t have a single light bulb on any of its landings. Another one of Holly’s roommates was at home then and we chatted for a while.

Holly informed me the guys were cooking dinner and I was invited. I declined letting them know I was still full and very tired and wanted nothing more than to go to bed early. I had purchased some muesli and yogurt on the way to the flat and Holly had dried fruits and nuts to add to it and that’s what I had for dinner while catching up with my emails and Facebook postings.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March 22, 2013

I got up before my alarm went off and set out to finish packing my bags. For some idiotic reason, I decided against carrying the bulky backpack I had brought from the States and to just use my small carry-on bag. Once I finished packing it, my laptop would not fit in and I had no time to reshuffle everything into the backpack, so I had to carry my laptop in my hands.

Max was waiting for me at the corner and we boarded a taxi to get to the bus terminal under cloudy skies and a threat of more rain. The terminal was practically deserted as apparently most potential passengers were still sleeping off the effects of the previous day’s partying. We found an empty marshrutka and negotiated a price for the two front seats immediately and then stood there waiting for it to fill up. It was only 7:20 am and we had to wait until 10:30 for it to depart.

Thankfully, I had brought two pieces of pastry from the Beta stores and my water bottle filled with juice and thus had something to eat while waiting. We traveled through an area I had never seen and once past Kara Balta, we went through the border. The process was relatively pain free as we only had to wait for about ten minutes on the other side before the driver pulled up to the curb to pick us up thus giving me enough time to use the public toilet nearby.

It was another pit toilet with the usual pestilential smell where you have to hold your breath while using it. We then rode for another three hours until we got to the city of Taraz. We were famished at this point in walked into the first restaurant we found where a single server was trying to run the bar and tend to the single table occupied by a large group. Few items were available despite the lengthy menu, so we settled for plov and water.

After using another odoriferous pit toilet nearby, we crossed the street and boarded a marshrutka to get us to Shymkent. This one had rickety narrow seats, worn out floor, missing roof vent and zero ventilation. I was able to doze off at times and Max slept a good portion of the ride. It took another four hours to reach Shymkent and the desolate bus terminal had no place to make a phone call or access the Internet.

I saw a well-dressed young approach us and asked him if he spoke English. He did and informed us there were no Internet cafes nearby while offering to take us to another part of the city where foreigners usually gathered. When informed we had forgotten to write down either Holly or Bill’s phone number and that our phones didn’t work in Kazakhstan, the young guy asked us to get inside his car, pulled out his smart phone and gave Max his Wi-Fi account number. Max used his Notebook to access my account and presto we had them.

Once we had Holly’s number, he made the call and we let her know we were at the station waiting. We offered to pay for his services, but he declined. Holly and Bill showed up half hour later and we boarded another taxi to Bill’s flat where we met James, Valerie, who had arrived earlier in the day, and two local women. Another taxi ride brought us to a dark and ugly building where Holly shares a three-bedroom apartment with two other American women.

 The place was a warren of little room, run down kitchen and tiny bathroom. The whole place looked decrepit and unsafe. I was given the privilege was sleeping in the enclosed balcony area where I was dismayed to learn mosquitoes roamed at all hours of the day and all year round. Valerie was going to share Holly’s bedroom.

I was hungry again and one of Holly’s roommate told she had some turkey rice soup in the fridge and I heated it up on the stove top as there was no microwave and ate it standing there as I saw no dining room either.. After taking a shower, I promptly went to bed only to be kept awake by the damn mosquitoes buzzing in my ears and biting every exposed part of my body.

March 21, 2013

I made sure and get up before the couch surfers did so I could have my coffee in peace and quiet. They were up at seven and after having a cup of coffee said goodbye to take a taxi to the bus terminal once again. I continued to work on several projects until half past nine when I left the flat to meet with Willoughby at Ala-Too Square for what I had hoped would be a fun celebration.

What started out as a sunny morning quickly turned cloudy and cool as I waited for the marshrutka. When I got to the square, I didn’t see the throngs of people I had anticipated and instead vendors were barely setting up their stands, many of them purveying sumalak in a variety of containers including Coke bottles.

I stopped at the Masal coffee house and asked to let me use their bathroom. The young woman asked if I was going to order coffee and said no, that I was just there to watch the celebration at the square. She smiled widely and said she was glad I knew about this Kyrgyz holiday, but I corrected her by saying this was indeed a Persian holiday and she acted all confused. I guess she never got to study that part of history in her classes.

There were lots of families mingling around the square but except for the few people dressed in traditional costumes so others could get their photos taken with them, I found little of interest taking place. They young guys had drawn a circle on the pavement and were playing a game of chance throwing a sheep’s bone into the circle trying to hit some of the bills held by down by stones. I didn’t see anyone succeed while I was observing.

Although a stage had been set up with speakers and what not, nothing was going on up there either. At eleven, a loudspeaker indicated the change of the guard was about to take place and the crowd moved toward the glass case where the two soldiers, looking like mommies in their stillness, switched places with two others looking exactly like the first ones.

Willoughby indicated she was antsy to go home and start playing with the program I’d downloaded for her and didn’t much point in sticking around. I walked toward the amusement park area just to see if the scene was any different there. I found more vendors of sumalak, fried piroshkies and samsis along with displays of cheap toys and more balloons, but no music, dancing or singing. I gave up and decided to go back home.

Zamira called to say she wanted to invite to her parents’ house for dinner, and silly me expecting it might be something special, I accepted. When she picked me up and asked her about celebrating Navruz, she told me that as Dungan people, they didn’t observe this holiday at all. Dinner tonight was going to be just lagman noodles and salad.

Her parents greeted me with the usual effusiveness and one of the grandsons kept me company while the table was set and the meal brought in. He attends the Russian Slavic University and plans on becoming a translator, but couldn’t answer any of my questions. The grandfather, who’s paying his tuition, started to berate him and insisted he speak to me regardless of the fact that the guy has no vocabulary to convey any thoughts whatsoever.

During dinner, Zamira’s father extended an invitation, again, for me to come to his house and teach his grandson English on full-time basis refusing to believe I couldn’t make him a fluent speaker in the remaining four months of my contract even if I wanted to. Out of gratitude to the family, I offered to spend some time with poor guy as my schedule allowed.

Zamira took me home after her mother insisted on giving me a package with leftovers. She is also under pressure from her father to finish her doctorate at the same university as she’s the only child that has that possibility. He refuses to accept that she’s handling too many responsibilities as it is with the management of her language school along with a husband and two children. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20, 2013

I was up before seven to insure my availability in case the couch surfers needed help finding the Lingua driver, and they did. When they got to my flat, they had a cup of coffee and indicated they had slept on the plane and had breakfast at the airport and all they wanted to do was look around the city before proceeding to travel to Almaty by land.

I took them to the Osh bazaar first, making sure to pick up some Korean salad along the way for the lunch at Lingua, and then to the Ala-Too Square where Sven took numerous photos using his new IPhone 5. We then walked behind the presidential palace and came across an amusement park with a variety of old, somewhat decrepit rides that were being gussied up for the celebration tomorrow.

I then took them to see the Opera Ballet Theater and made arrangements for them to be picked up again in front of Lingua so their driver could take them to the bus terminal at one. I went to Lingua to enjoy another fabulous lunch with a variety of dishes provided by the teachers and plov supplied by Gulnara. My salad turned out to be way too salty for my taste.

Matthew and I sat side-by-side at the computer room and he acknowledged being an unreliable person but still wanted to help me design a cover for the resource booklet in the near future. I then emailed Willoughby asking her to join me tomorrow at Ala-Too Square to see what the city had prepared for the Nowruz holiday.

The afternoon session went very well, and Gulnara came in to hand out the certificates. There wasn’t enough room to take a group photo with all 31 attendees, so Zarina recommended taking three separate shots instead. Many of the pre-service teachers asked to have individual photos taken with the cell phone. I reminded Gulnara I’d be gone for an entire week and left the building.

The sun was still shining outside and it was relatively warm. Two girls were sitting on the bench at the bus stop carrying what appeared to be costumes for tomorrow’s celebration including felt hats. Willoughby had called to say she’d stopping by to download a file as her computer was having difficulty doing so. We chatted for a while and then I got a phone call from Sven, the couch surfer, informing me they hadn’t been able to cross the border into Kazakhstan because their visa wasn’t valid until tomorrow.

I invited to come back to my flat and spend the night. Willoughby spoke to them for bit in German, and then she left her flashdrive with me since the file would take over three hours to download. I had to leave the computer on overnight as I was too tired to stay up until eleven. Sven wanted to take me out to dinner, but turned down his invitation since I had eaten already and just wanted to rest. I recommended they go to the Vanilla Sky coffee house across the street, and they did so.

When they got back, I handed them towels and they rearranged the furniture to be able to sleep on the two chairs and the one sofa and I quickly went to bed simply exhausted. 

March 19, 2013

It was a beautiful morning and I set out early on to catch up on all my pending emails before turning to my presentation for the day. I sent the handouts to Zarina to be printed and made arrangements to have the Lingua driver pick up the two couch surfers that were coming to stay with me from Dubai. It was only for one night and it dovetailed nicely into my schedule.

I stopped at the ATM to withdraw money, exchanged it at the next bank and then boarded the marshrutka to take me to the seamstress. A young woman promptly sidled up to me and showed me she had a business card I’d given her last year. I had no recollection of ever meeting her, but she mentioned she studied at KNU and was graduating in June as an interpreter although her English was halting at best.

When I informed her as to my destination, she insisted on coming along so she could practice her English and also to ask me if I knew anyone who could hire her. I didn't have the heart to tell her that her level of fluency would never get her job when competition was so fierce and there were so many other students out there who could actually speak English reasonably well.

My suit was ready and looked quite professional. I decided to also spurge and buy the celebratory hats, coming from Uzbekistan, that women used to wear in Tajikistan so I could display them on a wall back in Florida. Exiting the market, I bought some flat bread and said goodbye to the student who was heading to a bank nearby, but not before promising we’d stay in touch.

Zarina was waiting for me to show her how to configure the certificates for the pre-service teachers as she was going to be the one taking them to the embassy for the required signature. She had the handouts ready for me and then I was told about the lunch the next to celebrate Navruz. I was expected to contribute an American dish. I told them I had no time to cook since I was expecting company and they had informed at the last minute. I offered to bring a salad from the bazaar.

I went to the classroom to rearrange the tables into individual ones with four teachers sitting around them so we could play grammar games comfortably. There were 33 people in the room and it was suffocatingly hot as the windows couldn’t be opened and the A/C didn’t work. In spite of the discomfort, the teachers appeared to have fun.

I returned home while the sun was still out, a first for the season. I had leftovers and then sat down to watch a disturbing film, “Take Shelter” about a about an impending disaster. The director did a tremendous job in keeping the film totally absorbing throughout.

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18, 2013

I made it to Lingua by nine in the morning as agreed to with Anna so we could finally conclude the selection process for the CATEC and send the respective letters of acceptance or rejection. We were fortunate to have Jennifer penned those letters for us so that we only needed to make minor changes to them before sending it to the respective recipients. It still took all four hours Anna had available before we paused for the day.

Brice had provided a telephone number for Max, so I called him and discussed traveling together to Taraz and then Shymkent on Friday morning and he agreed to that arrangement. I felt relieved to be traveling with someone else and assured him that Holly would be waiting for us when we got into the city.

While on my way out to get lunch, Zarina informed me that Olga had called in sick and Lingua needed a substitute teacher for her class. I agreed to do it and then walked to a nearby cafeteria where I was able to get a generous serving of plov and a delicious fresh salad along with a glass of compote. The weather was still on the cold side and the skies remained overcast.

I returned to Lingua and made more copies of the cards and strips of collocations for the afternoon sessions since I had never made enough of those for thirty teachers. Sephiat came in then and we chatted for a while as she had a few questions regarding her lesson for that day. She promised to show me the section at the Osh bazaar where the fabric and seamstresses were located so I’d not need to go to the Madina market, which is somewhat distant for me.

The workshop went really well even when I had too many teachers and not enough tables or cards for them to play all the games. I arranged for some of the teachers to serve as observers to insure players were following the rules. The woman who had invited me to her church approached with a piece of paper containing the name of the pastor and the church’s address. I promised to give it to Willoughby who had indicated an interest in attending Easter service.

I took a short break to have a cup of coffee and a couple of biscuits before reporting to Olga’s class and found Douglas in the teachers’ lounge. He seemed deep in thought and somewhat unhappy, so I asked how things were going and he said he needed to quit teaching at Lingua since his internship at the FAO was taking up a lot of time and he was getting credit back home for that service. He had been able to arrange for someone else to take over the class at Lingua later on this week.

Olga’s class had only eight students present and the topic of the day was money. The office didn’t have the corresponding CD, so the listening portion had to be skipped as the students indicated they had never heard of the term “schwa”, and I was not about to try teaching it without any sounds to illustrate the point.

When we were done, the office guy, Janark, offered me money to take a cab home, and Nargiza negotiated with the driver for me. It was great to be able to get home so quickly as I was very hungry indeed.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17, 2013

I got to spend the entire day at home on a dreary Sunday. The temperature rose to the low 40s, but the sun never came out thus making the flat look somewhat lugubrious. I made a “To do list” and started by letting Holly know I had been unable to obtain a train ticket to Shymkent online as she had suggested.

She replied later on by letting me know I could take a marshrutka from Bishkek to Taras and from there to Shymkent even though it would make for a much longer ride. At the same time, she told me that Max, the Fulbrighter I had met last year, was also attending the conference and perhaps we could ride together for safety. I immediately sent an email to Brice asking him for Max’s information.

Damira showed up with her cousin to measure the broken window in the bedroom, and I took advantage of his presence to ask to replace the light bulb in the foyer as I couldn’t reach that high. He promised to come back on Tuesday with the glass and even offered to try and find a replacement knob for the oven.

I needed to start cooking at that point and Damira said goodbye to her cousin and stayed behind to chat with me. She informed me that the seamstress had called to let me know my suit was ready to be picked up on Monday. She stayed until the food was ready and had lunch with me not leaving until she pleaded with me to reconsider my stand regarding religion. In her view, no person can survive without it.

Holly had asked to consider offering my talk on the subject of mentoring new teachers, and I set out to find suitable material for that. I had done a session for the ETM in Tajikistan last year on the same subject and thus found I could use that as a foundation while adding other details to make it more suitable for the audience in Kazakhstan.

I also worked on the PPT on humor that I’ll be presenting there as well and sent my proposal to Elvira for the conference in May sponsored by the American Studies Association here in Bishkek. Gulnara wrote to say Forum was organizing another two-day professional development session for teachers at her university and to let her know if I could present on either day, April 1 and 2.

As a way to relax a bit at the end of the day, I watched a somewhat believable movie, “Beginners”, which I remember seeing snippets of it when Christopher Plummer won the Oscar for best supporting actor. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 16, 2013

I got up at three in the morning after spending a lot of time just tossing and turning in bed, perhaps anxious about a myriad of things. The thought of not being able to find my flash drive and having to recreate everything I had in it practically gave me a panic attack, so I turned on my computer and looked for the presentation on humor I had worked on last week and found I still had an earlier version of it at least.

After a couple of hours of doing other tasks, I felt sleepy enough to go back to bed and then was up again by half past eight. I had agreed to meet with Willoughby at quarter to eleven so she could accompany me to the seamstress for my fitting as she too wanted to have a few things custom made. It had been raining all night apparently and the temperature had barely reached the low 40s.

We boarded the marshrutka and got to the market just as the skies were beginning to clear up a bit. I had no trouble retracing my steps and finding Baktigul, the seamstress. She pulled a shower curtain around one of the corners of the little cubbyhole where three of them work and had me try the pants first, which were way too tight, but she assured me there was plenty of material to let them. The jacket came next and she used the tailor chalk to make many marks to assure it would fit me to a T.

Willoughby was very impressed with Baktigul’s professionalism and once she was done with me asked her for a similar suit except she likes the flare pants as opposed to my slim legs. When her measurements were taken, we proceeded downstairs to find the same fabric as mine and all the other notions needed. Willoughby also bought some fabric to have a couple of blouses made for the suit and a long skirt.

We had lunch at the same little bistro I had eaten with Damira and then traveled to the Ala-Too Square where an arts and craft fair was taken place. I wanted to see if I could find some souvenirs to take home, especially a felt hat for Heidi, and some colorful cushions. It wasn’t raining anymore, but it was a bit windy and cold as we proceeded from kiosk to kiosk looking at objects coming from Uzbekistan and even Afghanistan.

                 City employees were installing the announcement for the upcoming Naruz festival.

I bought a couple of cushion covers, a colorful hat from Afghanistan, and a pair of earrings intended for Stephanie. We ran into an American teacher from Seattle who works at the QSI School, the first I’ve met so far.

I was falling asleep at this point, so we went to the Masal coffee house right across the street and had our usual picks. Willoughby indicated that Gulnara was willing to host the book club meeting for April and she had suggested doing so at this café. We looked at the menu and confirmed they had sandwiches and pizza and the level of noise was not too uncomfortable. I’d be relieved if I don’t have to host next month.

We walked to the Beta stores stopping first at the French wine shop Rebecca had mentioned to us and found the prices way too expensive. Once at the store, Willoughby and parted ways, I bought the spread I had tasted at Martha’s house and some pastry for breakfast and then walked home. 

March 15, 2013

I had agreed with Anna to meet at nine in the morning to try and get through the remaining CATEC applications so we could send the letter of acceptance or rejection early next week. We spread the applications on the floor for lack of a better working surface and went about dividing them by region to insure every one of them was represented to some extent.

It was then time to call the participants whose submissions had been lacking in some aspect before making the final call. Anna didn’t have enough credit on her mobile phone, so we had to use mine. When it was time for Anna to leave for her classes, we still needed to compile another database by region and I had misplaced my flash drive with the older one. In spite of that, I offered to do it on Sunday when I planned to be home all day.

I had a couple of samsis for lunch while talking to Nargiza and Maria who complained they had a lot of spoiled students in their classes as they came from rich families who could afford to pay for their lessons. These students tended to misbehave a lot and challenge the teachers quite often. Maria indicated a typical day for her entailed working from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening.

I emailed Martha, the woman who had hosted the book club on Wednesday, to see if per chance I had left my flash drive there, and she promised to look for it and let me know. I’d really be hurting if I can’t find it as I have all of my latest documents and presentations in that portable hard drive.

While getting ready for my presentation, one of the pre-service teachers came in and asked me about my religious preference. I stated I had none and then couldn’t believe it when she told me she’d only recently learned that there Muslim people all over the world and not just in Central Asia. Wow!

When my session was over, an older participant approached me saying she wanted to talk to me in private only to ask me if I wanted to join her church, a Christian one, located nearby. I said no, but told her I knew someone who might be interested and left it at that.

I went back to the Halal Kitchen and had my usual lagman noodles, salad and tea before returning home. No trolley came by and I had to settle for a marshrutka where I felt out of breath immediately. A couple of blocks before my stop, the driver was pulled over by the police and I just got out and walked home enjoying the fresh air.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

March 14, 2013

Spring was definitely in the air this morning. The sun rose and a faint breeze started to blow early on and I had the luxury of leaving the kitchen window open all day to enjoy it. I started to work on my speech for the conference in Shymkent even though I haven’t firmed up in my mind quite what I want to say yet.

After taking a long shower and doing my hair, I still had a couple of hours before heading to Lingua and I decided to spend them in watching the movie “Precious”, which had sitting in my computer since I lived in Tajikistan. I knew it deal with the rather sordid issues of incest, extreme poverty, and mental illness; however, I also remembered that the movie had garnered several nominations and prizes for those involved in its making.

There wasn’t much to shock me there, except perhaps for the stream of profane language on the mother’s part, and in part because I had read so much about the movie in itself and the book on which it was based. The young protagonist did an excellent job as well as her teacher and social worker. Their lives just seem so far removed from mine that it was difficult to connect with them.

I decided to take a chance and just wear my dress shoes with nylons, a skirt and a low-cut sweater as the temperature read 63 degrees. From my window, I could see that the tulips were already pushing up from the ground and the grass was recovering its green color on some patches around the courtyard. The sap was rising on the trees and every indication led me to believe that snow might be behind me.

                                     I believe these will become tulips pretty soon.

Zarina had already printed all the handouts and had set up the laptop, projector and other supplies on the table for me. Just as I got in, some of the teachers did to and I had no time to gather my thoughts at all. Fortunately, fewer teachers showed up today, including an older man, but the room still felt overly crowded and too warm.

The theoretical part of the Bloom’s Taxonomy presentation went relatively well, but once I gave them a piece of text to read and then instructed them to come up with questions reflecting the different categories, they were stumped or only a couple of the teachers could do it.

When the workshop was over, I went downstairs to the Halal kitchen restaurant with two of the students who wanted to ask me a few questions for one of their classes. The questions revolved around preparing for the TOEFL and I reiterated that doing extensive reading was the only way to do well there.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 13, 2013

It was back to Lingua this morning to meet with Anna and Natalia and try to get through the remaining applications for CATEC. I had found at least ten names not on the list and needed to have those applications printed and added to the database. When I got in, Zarina informed me that the workshop for that afternoon had been confirmed.

We worked diligently on the pile of applications, but still couldn’t decide on some of them as they lacked enough details to merit selection. Natalia couldn’t afford to meet another time and so it fell on Anna and me to choose Friday morning as the last time to meet and go over the remaining applications. This has turned out to be a much harder job than I had anticipated.

I had purchased two samsis and shared them with Gulnara and Larissa before going back to my flat to pick up the materials needed for my workshop that afternoon and the book I’d be sharing with the book club that evening. I sent Willoughby a message to see if we could meet near Lingua and go there together.

When I returned to Lingua, Johanna was already there touring the book shop with Gulnara, and Zarina was organizing the large conference room right next to it intended to accommodate at least 20 participants. Natalia came by a few minutes later and then a stream of young teachers, mostly female, started to come in. We ended with 36 attendees and not enough room for them to sit or have a writing surface.

Johanna said a few words, along with both Gulnaras, Ainura from the Ministry of Education and Emma from the Learning Academy. I gave a brief introduction of myself and then we got started. A lot of the participants were the same teachers I had interviewed for the pre-service teacher contest, so it was nice to see their familiar faces.

When it was finally over, Zarina came by to let me know Willoughby had called to say she’d meet me in front of the 7 Day supermarket where I intended to buy a couple of salads to contribute to the dinner. Fortunately for us, the woman hosting the book club lived within walking distance and we had no trouble finding her building with the help of the map she had sent us.

Martha lived in the most luxurious flat I had ever seen in Bishkek. It almost looked like something out of a decorating magazine with white Italian leather furniture, stainless steel appliances in the kitchen and built-in shelves everywhere. I didn’t dare ask how much she paid for rent, but figure it should be in the thousands. She had assembled a variety of snacks on the long granite counter, along with beverages, and we chatted there until the remaining attendees got in.

The chicken enchiladas she cooked contained no sauce whatsoever, and I struggled to swallow the dry shredded chicken and tortilla-like bread, but soon gave up and just ate the salads. I had found a cream cheese-like spread from Turkey that tasted divine with the flat bread and had practically filled myself with it anyway.

We had two male attendees for the first time, one from Sarasota, FL, in fact, and only Gulnara was a local. Willoughby brought several books to contribute and Rebecca did the same. As a result, I ended up with two good books to take home with me. I’ll be hosting for the month of April since we had no other takers.

Willoughby and I decided to share a taxi as it was already past nine o’clock and Rebecca helped us negotiate with the driver. I was totally spent when I got home, but still read a few pages of the book “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Glass.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 12, 2013

In a stark contrast to the previous day, I faced another gray, windy and cold morning when I walked to the bus stop on my way to meeting Demira so she could take me to the Madina cloth market to see if I could get the fabric, and a seamstress, to make me a pant suit in anticipation of my presentation in Shymkent.

We met in front of the Tsum department store and boarded another marshrutka which dropped us off in front of a nondescript area. Once we went past the gate, I could see rows upon rows of those horrible-looking metal containers, some stacked two-story high, where the merchants had their fabric rolls on display. Demira told me most of the sellers were of Uyghur descent and didn’t speak Russian.

We walked through several tunnels of these containers, some with no lighting whatsoever, and I practically went crazy fingering all the gorgeous fabrics and dreaming of having countless dresses and tunic/pants combinations made with each one of them. I told Demira I first needed to find out how much a seamstress would charge for a dress or pant suit before purchasing any fabric, but she didn’t know where to find one as she herself had never had a single piece of clothing custom made.

When it came time to search for a bathroom, we were directed to a covered building housing yet more containers where vendors sold all the complimentary items to go with the fabrics: buttons, zippers, linings, embroidered pieces, glittering adornments and countless other things I couldn’t identify. On a whim, I asked Demira to ask around to see if seamstresses were known to be around, and low and behold, they were located on the third floor.

We found Batakgul working on a suit for another customer, and we promptly reached an agreement on the price, 1600 soms or about $39.00, and went back downstairs to select the fabric, zipper, buttons and lining. She expertly took my measurements and asked me to return on Thursday for a fitting. The pant suit should be ready for Monday.

Back downstairs, we realized we still had time for a quick bite to eat before Demira reported for work. We found a small cafeteria where I hoped to find plov being served, but had to settle for lagman noodles instead. Demira confided her school had asked her stop going to Lingua for the free methodology course she’s enrolled in on Saturdays or she’d lose her job. She’s desperately trying to line up another position so she can continue her classes. She had never heard of a union for school teachers and only knew of Forum.

We parted ways in front of Lingua and I return home to do laundry and work on some research for my speech in Shymkent. I didn’t hear anything from Lingua regarding the beginning of the workshops.

Monday, March 11, 2013

March 11, 2013

My internet connection refused to work this morning despite my unplugging  the router and restarting the computer several times. I boarded a very crowded trolley to get to Lingua so I could catch up with my email and Facebook postings before we started the review for applicants again.

Zarina notified me that twenty-one pre-service teachers had signed up for the workshops and she just needed to confirm they’d be fine with attending three days this week and then returning for one more session when I got back from Shymkent. She was hoping to have confirmation by the end of the day.
Anna arrived and started to print the remaining applications while I composed a list of the applications that had been sent to me in an effort to make sure no one was left out of the list. Natalia arrived a bit late and joined us in the review. We had over 140 applications for the now reduced number of only 60 participants from Kyrgyzstan.

We will have to meet one more time since Anna needed to contact some of them to clarify what they intended to do during their presentations. Overall, most of the applicants to the conference failed to address the questions in it including their affiliation, the summary of their presentation as it would have appeared in the program, or a logical abstract to give the reviewers a good look at what they intended to do.

Willoughby came by as we were finishing as I had invited her to join Zamira and me for lunch at the Frunze restaurant. Before leaving, Natalia and Gulnara sat down with me to indicate they wanted to have an opening ceremony for the workshops I’d be presenting where Johanna and someone from the Ministry of Education could be present. I told them to make whatever arrangements were suitable as I was completely flexible.

Zamira came by with her sister Rima and we were joined by yet another sister at the restaurant. They ordered perhaps seven or eight dishes, and as it’s their norm by now, refused to let us pay our share. Zamira wanted for me to go with her to her parents’ house, but I told her Willoughby needed help in purchasing some electronic equipment and to drop us off at the Tsum department store.

Willoughby decided to buy a one terabyte portable hard drive and a Kindle reader and I have to admit I didn’t believe readers of any kind would be available in Bishkek given the fact that people around here don’t seem to read at all. Low and behold, we found two kiosks selling the Kindle reader and she got her wish.

We walked to the coffee house located in the park near Lingua where Wi-Fi was available and I urged Willoughby to try her new toy and see if she could access the Internet from there. The appliance is too small for my taste and the buttons diminutive, so I didn’t even try, but she persisted and was able to get the signal from the business and log on to

It was warm enough at this point that the coffee house had the air conditioning on, but when I boarded the trolley, the heat was on in it. I was sweating buckets. Once I was dropped off, I walked across the street for water and juice and was then relieved to find that my Internet connection was working again.

March 10, 2013

It was a beautiful day all around. We had clear skies and abundant sunshine pouring through the windows while no construction or rambunctious children marred the quietude of my Sunday. The only phone call came from my landlady to indicate she’d be in the neighborhood and wanted to drop off the oven knob to see if I had better luck in finding a replacement.

We talked on the landing for a few minutes and she informed me the plumbing job would not be completed until the end of March as the heating needed to be turned off and the tenants would not agree to that. The heating system will be turned off by decree on March 26 regardless of what kind of weather we might be facing.

I decided to watch the movie “Django” while cleaning up my desk as I knew there would be a lot of gory scenes I’d not be interested in watching. I loved this film in spite of myself as the dialogue was so witty, the acting simply superb and the scenery breathtaking. I might even say that Tarantino has outdone himself thus putting his “Inglorious Basterds” in second place. I can imagine the hordes of white moviegoers who were put off by this take on Nat Turner’s revenge.

I have no more books in print to read, so it was time to turn on my tablet and charge it all day so I’d have access to my digital collection. I decided to read something light and came across “Sherlock Holmes”, a book that had eluded me for years, and I got started on it. I loved the use of the language in this book and I’m looking forward to reading some more.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

March 9, 2013

More snow was falling when I woke up this morning. I dressed up as warmly as possible and put on my, by now hated, boots before heading to the Forum session. It took a while for one of the trolleys to arrive and I barely made it into the library by ten. Willoughby had brought her knitting to keep her busy, and Natalia arrived at the same time I did bearing gifts for the officers of Forum.

One of the local teachers was presenting on the topic of teaching speaking skills and, like many other teachers I have observed so far, was reluctant to write on the whiteboard because when she did, her spelling was atrocious and she had to keep going back to make corrections. Another sign of someone who does very little reading in English.

Asia sidled up to me at this point and we chitchatted for a while. She mentioned receiving the flyer that Lingua has been circulating about my upcoming workshops and said she was interested in attending some of them.

After the coffee break, Asel presented a workshop; however, since she has a very thin voice and refuses to practice at projecting it, I couldn’t follow what she was doing or why  just a few teachers were engaged at the front while the rest were doing nothing.

When the session was over, the officers gathered to go over the many items pending including revision of the bylaws, not to be done as it was considered too expensive and time consuming, the holding of elections for all positions, the separation from Lingua, and so on.

Gulnara, the president, declared she didn’t want any face-to-face confrontation with Gulnara from Lingua, but agreed a memo could be drafted and sent to the organization letting them know that the name of Forum couldn’t be automatically added to all of their announcements and initiatives without prior consultation and approval from Forum.

Willoughby and I went to the Parsi restaurant, a Persian one, to have lunch and found the place deserted. According to the Lonely Planet guide, the place served delicious Persian food even though the service was slow. There was no ambiance to the place, just a generic look all around with two huge flat screen TV sets at either end. We requested that they turn down the volume for us and the server turned them of,f which was even better.

Half of the items listed on the menu in English were not available. My dish came with two strips of chicken lamb and white rice, no sauce in sight. When I requested any kind of sauce, I was, as usual, offered catsup. To make things worse, the white rice had been reheated and tasted awful. Another place never to set foot in, for sure.

We got into another marshrutka and headed for our weekly show at the Opera Ballet Theater to see Madam Butterfly. We didn’t know this particular opera was being sponsored by the Japanese government as part of their Japan Week and there was no admission fee. As result, I could have sworn that hundreds of middle and high school students had been sent to see it without a chaperon in sight.

I had the most disagreeable time with these youngster surrounding us on all sides while carrying on conversations, noisily getting up from their seats numerous times, and constantly using their phones to take photos or just scroll for messages. I turned around a couple of times just to shush up them. To my dismay, the opera consisted of three acts, started late, and seemed to go on forever. I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

It was almost nine when we finally got out of the theater, and Willoughby was able to find a marshrutka to take her home. I waited for the trolley a bit more, but none came, so I too got into a marshrutka and then walked home. The landlady must have come in my absence as the kitchen sink faucet had been fixed, but the toilet continued to leak. I’ll have to find out what the story is.

March 8, 2013

I had intended to spend a quiet day at home performing a myriad of tasks that required concentrated effort, but instead my morning was disrupted by someone ringing the bell. It was a man I’d never seen, and I just refused to open my door. My landlady then sent me an SMS to let me know she had sent him ahead as he was the plumber who hadn’t shown up the day before.

They came in and he declared the problem to be much more complex than a simple leak. He needed to have the main valve that supplies water to the entire apartment complex shut off and for that they needed permission from whoever looks after it. They hope to have approval by tomorrow and she’ll just let herself into the unit if that happens.

After I had settled down at my computer again, Zamira called to insure I was at home as she wanted to bring me a present as a way to honor me on International Women’s Day. She brought me a single red rose wrapped in cellophane with a pretty bow and a toiletry set containing deodorant, lotion and shampoo. When she realized I had no plans for the day, she insisted I had to go over to her parents’ house and have dinner with the family.

Her parents’ house is located in what you might call a “gated community” for a guy sits inside a tiny booth and moves a piece of pipe with a rope inside up and down to let cars get in and out. The street was dark and muddy, but once we went past the tall gate it was as if we traveled many, many miles. There was a substantial garden with an empty swimming pool, two tapchons, a fountain and a smaller house to the left.

The main house was a two-story affair with lots of hardwood floors, chandeliers and Western-style furniture. The table was set for what I thought was dinner, but turned out to be appetizers and was introduced to the father, a couple of sons, their wives and children. I had already met the mother in Kazakhstan.

With Zamira serving as an interpreter, I held a spirited discussion with her father, who had been a minister of agriculture under the previous government, to counter his allegations that the United States had destroyed the Soviet Union all on its own. I felt that the Soviet Union had overstretched its resources, including the failed occupation of Afghanistan, and thus had been unable to provide for the needs of its citizens.

We then went upstairs to take a look at his magnificent library. Zamira and I stayed for a while looking at the photos of her presentation to teachers in Kazakhstan until we were called downstairs to eat the real dinner: sautéed chicken, lagman noodles, more funchoza, bread, dried fruit and tea. Another grandson had come in who’s about to graduate from the Russian Slavonic University and the grandfather wanted to hear my opinion on his English since he was paying the tuition. I wish I was not placed on that role at all.

Zamira’s mother gave me a beautiful polka dot, black and green, scarf before I left. It seemed to have been daubed in perfume as it smelled divine. We finally left and Zamira took me home. I have to say that this house is the first one I have been to that is elegant, warm, and comfortable.