Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30, 2013

Breakfast was disaster as we were served a thin layer of rice porridge to which salt had been added instead of sugar. Only bread and tea were served in addition to the porridge, so I declined all three. Elvira was frantic wondering what I’d be able to eat before heading to the university, but I stopped at the convenience store nearby and got flat bread and salami, which I had the sales clerk slice for me.

I requested that Elvira went first while I finished eating and then I presented after the tea break. Lunch was another debacle as the only choice for me was a watery bowl of soup with some diced beef and a spoonful of rice in it. I ate some more of the flat bread and salami and felt full enough to continue working on the next presentation.

I had brought my laptop today since we had been able to keep all the remaining materials in the classroom. As a result, I worked on my presentation on body language while Elvira did hers on alternative assessment.
The power went out in the middle of my critical thinking presentation and thus I had to continue to work without a projector. The teachers seemed to like all the activities in it such as the analogies, riddles and mad debates.

At the end of the sessions, Gulnaz chose to accompany us to the center so we could find a place to photocopy the remaining handouts and print the certificates on Thursday. After dropping our bundles at the guesthouse, we boarded a marshrutka and got to the center in just a few minutes.

The bazaar was unremarkable as it combined both the fresh produce and clothing sections almost side-by-side. I bought some fresh fruit and what I thought were dried figs, but turned out to be some desiccated fruit whose flavor I didn’t recognize, or like, at all.

It was time for dinner and Elvira asked for recommendations. The place we went to offer the typical Kyrgyz dishes containing mostly meat with no rice, vegetables or even French fries. I gave up in frustration and refused to order anything indicating I could just have the fruit I'd purchased for dinner.

Elvira mentioned how capricious I could be when it came to food and ordered some lagman soup for herself. Flat bread and tea were served and the lagman didn’t look too bad. She offered me a taste, and I decided to go ahead and have another bowl of soup for the day.

We rode back to the guesthouse just as the rain started again. This is the third day of just overcast skies and occasional rains.

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013

I had a stunning view of the low-lying hills this morning from the third floor landing. The clouds had dissipated overnight and the temperature risen slightly. I had no trouble making coffee and took it back to my room to drink it while catching up with my emails and Facebook postings. I chose to wear a skirt as there seemed to be little chance of rain.

Once again, I had to carry my handbag, the tote full of cards and games, and the plastic shopping bag full of handouts. Thankfully, the walk wasn’t so far. Baktigul, an employee at the university, was waiting for us at the door and some teachers were already mingling around the foyer.

I was dismayed to see that we had only small chairs with a writing surface attached to them instead of tables and chairs that could be moved around. Except for a lectern in a corner, there wasn’t any other piece of furniture. We asked Baktigul for at least one table where to place the laptop and projector.

I went first doing an introductory game and then the classroom management presentation. I forwent the coffee break and instead worked on getting all my cards ready for the different games included in the collocation presentation. Lunch was an unpalatable plate of plov and radish salad in the university’s canteen. I couldn’t even finish it.

The collocation presentation went rather well and was followed by Elvira’s presentation on speaking activities. I was simply falling asleep and had to go for a walk around the small campus, more like a business office building. I walked across the street to the restaurant Aiperi had pointed to yesterday as being opened for dinner only.

The doors were locked, but I could see two waitresses bustling around and knocked to get their attention. I was informed the restaurant was open from ten in the evening to twelve noon. When I returned to the classroom, Elvira was wrapping up her session and asking the teachers who were members of Forum to stay for a meeting with Gulnara who was on her way.

Willoughby and Gulnara were delayed and so I started by asking the teachers to brainstorm about problems or issues with the Forum chapter in Jalal-Abad. One teacher said she hadn’t been active for the last three years and another said there were no fixed dates for meetings or scheduled workshops. Members were not paying dues and the coordinator was the only one taking care of all tasks related to the organization.

When Gulnara came in, I ceded the floor to her and she asked all those presents to be aware that their coordinator was stepping down and new candidates were needed to fill the post and create new ones. I suggested that a treasurer, secretary and vice president be added as officers to lighten the coordinator’s load.

The teachers were obviously tired after a long day of training and indicated that they would think about their options and make a decision by the end of the seminar on Friday. I got Baktigul to allow me to keep the key to the room so I could leave all of our materials there.

We invited Gulnaz to have dinner with us and headed to another restaurant past our guest house. A wedding was being hosted in the main area and were allowed into a side room where we ordered some salads and more meat. I swear I’ve eaten more meat this week than in this entire year.

Willoughby told me they had been unable to get direct flight to Jalal-Abad and had flown to Osh and then taken a taxi to get here. She was staying in a hotel in the city center while Gulnara was staying with friends nearby. I really couldn’t see the purpose of their trip to speak to Forum members since Elvira and I could have taken take of that task on our own.

Willoughby’s landlady has informed her that her son is getting married and wants to move into the apartment she’s renting. If unable to find a suitable apartment of equal comfort, Willoughby is threatening to return to the States for good as the $250.00 she’s currently paying wouldn’t get much close to the city center, and she hates the suburbs.

When our visitors departed, I got ready to go to sleep earlier than usual as my body was screaming for some rest.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 28, 2013

We needed to be ready to be picked up at 9:30 in the morning, so despite being extremely tired and sore all over, I got up at seven and went downstairs to make coffee. Mohammed brought out the hot plate and then begged me to help him reconcile his accounting book as he was short and would get in trouble with the administration.

I tried using his big calculator, but it wasn’t working properly and had to go back to my room to secure my own. We added the columns twice and came up with the same number. I then noticed his breath smelled of alcohol and could almost swear he’d been drinking beer from the bar and now could not account for the missing bottles. I left him there shaking his head indicating this was going to be the end of his job.

Packing was a headache for even though I hadn’t purchased anything at all, my suitcase was bulging and my bag full of teaching supplies couldn’t hold another item. Elvira offered to carry the laminated pictures and my coffeemaker in her wheeled bag for me. The driver came promptly for us and we set out for Jalal-Abad.

The ride was a comfortable one in a relatively new mini-van. The landscape was gorgeous with the emerald green hills all around us and neatly carved rectangles of land being readied for rice planting. The skies were ominous with clouds and the weather much cooler than I had anticipated. I wore my earbuds and listened to Malena Muyala for most of the hour and half ride.

The nicely paved road we’ve been on turned into a potholed nightmare the closer we got to the city and then we were riding on just gravel. On the way to the guest house where we’d be staying for a week, we passed the burned-out shell of the Uzbek University campus that had been destroyed during the 2010 uprising. Next to it stood the site of a former café that also being burned down.

The guest house in question turned out to be quite pleasant in appearance, but both of our rooms faced the busy main thoroughfare and when I requested a quieter one on the opposite side, the administration wanted an additional 500 soms or 10.41 per night. I refused too pay since the difference would have to come out of pocket. I sulked for a while and then decided to play music from my computer to muffle the sounds coming from the street.

I had noticed that the guesthouse offered Wi-Fi and wrote down the password immediately. Despite the clerk’s assertion that the signal didn’t reach the third floor rooms where we were lodged, Elvira got a signal and so did I. We were ecstatic as up to now we had been taking turns using the portable modem Willoughby had loaned us.

The owner recommended a Turkish café nearby for lunch and my order didn’t look anything like the photo on the menu with my getting some cubes of beef with no color or sauce and just plain rice and shredded carrots. I demanded that some sauce be added, but the staff said all they had was ketchup. I returned the dish and simply refused to eat it.

The waitress returned again having poured some kind of broth over the rice and demanded I consume the dish because I was going to be charged for it anyway. I turned it away and ordered the usual lentil soup I’ve become accustomed to by now. We left the exact change for our soup and salad and left the restaurant.

Back at the guest house, I took a short nap and before heading downstairs to make coffee, knocked on Elvira’s door and found Gulnaz, the Forum representative who had been so helpful in securing our lodging and making photocopies of the handouts ahead of time. We shared a cup of coffee and then walked to the venue where the training sessions will start tomorrow.

It was overcast and even cooler than it had been before lunch. I desperately needed a light coat or heavy sweater of some sort, but going shopping was the last thing on my mind. I had borrowed a sweater from Elvira, but it had neither buttons nor zippers to keep the wind out.

The locale for the training sessions will be the School of Economics and Business. The classroom in itself was locked, so Gulnaz said goodbye. Rain was threatening to start any minute, so I convinced Elvira that we should stay in tonight and just buy a few grocery items at the nearby convenience store.

We got cheese, salami, flat bread, and juice. Elvira bought some green apples for herself and I offered to share some of the leftover pastries I still had from the restaurant in Osh. We had a quiet dinner all by ourselves in the dining room area.

I got an additional comforter from the ill-humored housekeeper and then retreated to my room to try and sleep in spite of the constant sound of cars going past my window.

April 27, 2013

Sasha was watching TV at the bar when I knocked on the door of the bar coffeemaker in hand. He retrieved the old hot plate and got the coffee going while I went back to my room to catch up on my correspondence for the next twenty minutes.

Elvira came at eight and we went downstairs to have breakfast, rice porridge again, and then back to our rooms so I could pick up my bag of tricks, as I like to call it, before proceeding to the Agha Khan School where I was going to present a three-hour workshop on vocabulary and speaking games to a group of sixteen teachers.

I had previously emailed the necessary handouts to Burulcha, the AEPE program coordinator, and we had agreed to meet a little before twelve in front of the school. Jyldyz also agreed to meet us there as she needed to sign some document for Elvira and hand out some receipts as well.

I’d seen the Agha Khan School the first of arrival in Osh and remarked to Elvira as to the beautiful red brick building and well-kept grounds, assuming immediately it’d necessarily have to be a private school. We walked into the school’s canteen and I had plov and salad while Elvira and Jyldyz went for the manti. Burulcha then came to get us and took us to a classroom on the second floor.

Contrary to my expectations, the classroom didn’t have a whiteboard, but a worn-out black board, the kind that lets chalk slide to the floor when you write on it. I did a short introduction, got the teachers into pairs according to their homophone cards, and had them introduce their partners.

For the next three hours, with a short coffee break in between, I put the teachers through a hectic pace of multiple vocabulary games and speaking activities. We had a group photo taken, and I promised to email other games and handouts the minute I had time to do so.

Burulcha insisted on taking us out to eat even though I told her repeatedly I’d had plov only three hours earlier. She took Elvira and me to a gorgeous place with an Aztec motif where I finally had a chance to enjoy a latte made by a true barista. I was on cloud nine and, of course, had to have a second cup of latte before leaving the place.

I agreed to have only a bowl of lentil soup, but did taste the salad ordered by Burulcha, while she and Elvira ordered shish kebabs for themselves. When I asked our very professional server who had come up with the idea of decorating the restaurant with a Mexican motif, he acknowledged having no idea.

Burulcha asked me if I’d had a chance to visit one of the Turkish/Roman-style baths so common in the city and I said no while letting her know I’d love to have a chance to do so. She offered to take us to one within walking distance of our hotel and once there, we let the clerk know we’d come back in the evening.

After a brief stop at our hotel to get rid of our bundles and pack towels and some toiletries, we rode a marshrutka to visit the Suleiman Mountain, looking more like a line of low-lying hills to me, that seems to stand in the middle of Osh. Elvira started her ascent from an area where there were no steps or railing and I remarked on how unsafe that seemed to me. I stopped and refused to go any higher.

She then asked a group of teenagers sitting nearby about another approach that would offer steps for people like me who lack the agility of goats, and of course just as I’d suspected, there was an “official” entrance to the mountain charging 5 soms per person and offering both railings and steps.

It took about half hour to get to the top where couples and families had their pictures taken and a religious man sitting inside a dark and claustrophobic room appeared to offer advice. Further down, people of all ages were sliding down a smooth rock supposedly in search of relief from back pain. Money was being collected in a plate at the end of the slide. I just wondered who had come up with such harebrained idea.

Having nothing further to look at, we came down the mountain and into a “museum” inside a three-story yurt, musty with the odor of places that are never aired out, and containing little of interest to me as there were no signs or plaques next to the items being displayed.

I was itching to experience the bath hoping it’d be just like what I’d seen on Russian TV. We paid an admission fee of 200 soms or $4.16 and were given a key to the locker room where we undressed and placed our belongings. I thought we might need to take a shower first, but Elvira headed to the sauna first thing and I just followed her.

It was hot enough to make soup in there and the two women lying on their towels made room for us egging me to take up the highest rung where the heat was at its most perverse level. I only lasted a few minutes as I felt that my lungs were being scalded and quickly moved down to the first one. I asked about the origin of the heat source, but no one knew for sure.

We then tried lying down on the Turkish bath with its heated floors. I had wanted to have a massage and the beating with birch branches, but this establishment only offered an extreme form of defoliation. I watched the young woman work on a rather obese older woman and it looked painful.

Elvira was willing to wait so I could have a chance to experience and I did. Since I haven’t had a chance to use even a loofah for months, I had layers upon layers of dead skin that the young woman roughly went about removing. I screamed when she got near the back of my neck and near my breasts and I could the water getting darker and darker with my dead cells.

I reassured the woman that I did bathe at least once a year. She was a university student working on weekends only and extremely effective at her job. As her rough mitt did its jobs, I felt I was being scrubbed to within an inch of my life. The upside? I felt I had a completely new dermis when she was done with me. I’d be willing to do this treatment at least once more before I return home.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 26, 2013

Getting coffee made this morning proved elusive. Mohammed informed me that the housekeeper had taken the hot plate home the night before and the restaurant wouldn’t be open until 7:00. It was only quarter after six, but to a caffeine addict such as I am, forty-five minutes without coffee first thing in the morning is simply torture.

I walked to the reception area and asked the front desk clerk if she had a key to the restaurant and she said not. I was told to return at seven, but even then the restaurant was still closed. At half past seven, the servers were bustling about setting up the tables and cutting bread for breakfast. None of them spoke English and didn’t understand what I wanted done with the strange contraption in my hands.

I finally convinced them to allow me into the kitchen where I found a little electric double hot plate where the cook was making rice porridge in the bigger of the two burners. She gave me a murderous look as I plunked the coffeemaker in the other one and stood around until the feeble heat percolated the coffee. Triumphantly, I returned to my room when it was already ten minutes to eight.

I had a throbbing headache by then and my mood had turned sour. Elvira knocked on my door asking if I were ready when obviously I wasn’t. She checked her email while I put myself together and we then ran downstairs to have a bowl of porridge before heading to the school.

In my haste, I had forgotten my cards, the extra papers and the other supplies we might have needed for the remaining workshops. I asked Elvira to go first for a change so I could have a chance to organize myself. Her workshop on teaching vocabulary appeared to go quite well. I followed with mine on dictogloss, something they didn’t know anything about.

We had to break for lunch earlier for the teachers had chipped in money to cater a plov luncheon at a local restaurant. We were served a mixed salad, flat bread, plov and tea. The atmosphere was quite convivial with Idris playing the komuz for us again followed by a group photo on the grounds of the restaurant.

I presented on Norman Rockwell to illustrate the uses of art in teaching English, the one the fellow in Kazakhstan had allowed us to borrow. The teachers seemed to really like it and then I had to pause for we had someone from the local newspaper wanting to conduct a short interview and take pictures.

Elvira then presented on reading strategies and then the local TV channel showed up with the cameraman for another short interview and taping. They stayed long enough to cover the closing ceremony and the handing out of certificates.

Osh Forum members stayed afterward for a short meeting to review the expectations for that chapter and I took advantage of the opportunity to give them a pep talk as to the value of belonging to a professional organization to represent their interests. As we were finishing the meeting, a thunderstorm started with strong winds lashing at the trees.

I suggested that we take a taxi to the hotel as I hadn’t brought an umbrella and was too tired to struggle into a crowded marshrutka. Once at the hotel, I assembled the best photos to upload to Facebook and submit a report to Natalia and also emailed the first batch of handouts to the participants.

Elvira and I had dinner at the restaurant, just soup and salad, and talked for a long time about the future of English teaching in general and what we had learned from our first week together.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25, 2013

My morning started out smoothly as Sasha was at the bar and got the hot plate going for me so I could return to my room after the coffee got going. Once I got the coffee done, I realize I had no sugar and it was back down again.

Breakfast was cream of wheat again and a rather dry piece of coffeecake. It had started raining during the night and I didn’t even have a sweater with me. I started the session with the Bloom’s taxonomy I had promised the participants as they didn’t much about it.

When my lecture was finished, I asked them to read a piece of text and come with questions reflecting the different levels of the pyramid. It was a good exercise for the teachers to force thee to move away from the low-level order of questioning and testing and move on the higher order thinking skills.

During the lunch break, I walked with Azamat and another group to the other choice of restaurant where I had a better soup and freshly baked bread. Nazira told me the teachers wanted to treat to us to lunch there on Friday to celebrate the end of the week. I had no objections to such plans.

I had my session on speaking activities after lunch and then we left the school ground to go to the American Corner and the teachers to become familiar with the “Trace Effects” video game. Idriss offered to take the trainers in his car along with Azamat. The American Corner is located in a rather dark and uninspiring building with not even a colorful poster on its walls.

The coordinator told me they had been in operation for just about a year and were hoping to get more books soon. They had twelve computers for twenty teachers and several volunteers to help guide those teachers most reluctant to deal with technology. I ran into Nabiza while at the Corner as she was in town providing some type of training as well.

The FLEX students helped the teachers access the program, and I got to help a young teacher who’s taking an online course through the University of Oregon, but was having trouble navigating the site.

Elvira and I then put the finishing touches on the evaluation form I had created yesterday as well as the design of the certificates before heading to the printing center. I was carrying my handbag, the canvas bag with all the laminated pictures and yet another one with my teaching materials.

Apparently, we were so distracted talking that we passed the shop and continued walking until we were almost at the hotel. We had to retrace our steps and by that time I seriously dragging my feet.

The guy at the printing center didn’t have the right kind of paper for the certificates and Elvira had to find it someplace else. I ordered the copies I’d need for the next day’s presentation and rested my weary feet for a while.

Once we were done there, we walked some more to a restaurant Jyldyz had recommended nearby and which had a pleasant outdoor terrace where we sat in some kind of a covered swing. The food was just palatable.

I insisted we take a cab back to the hotel as my feet were killing and I had a lot of things to do before going to bed. 

April 24, 2013

I had to deal with another young bar at the bar this morning who knew nothing about my maniacal need for coffee as soon as I open my eyes. The hot plate had not been left in the bar and he had to go and get it from the housekeeper. I sat the coffeemaker in it and told him, as best as I could since he didn’t speak English, that I’d return in half hour for it.

About ten minutes later, he knocked on my door with the empty coffeemaker trying to say my coffee was already hot. I had to go back down two floors and get the thing going again until it actually percolating and coffee could be seen. The young man, Mohammed, couldn’t believe his eyes. After three trips just to get a decent cup of coffee, I felt my exercise for the day was done.

Elvira and I went down for breakfast, consisting of cream of wheat and some kind of sweet coffeecake, and then boarded the marshrutka to the school. I presented first again on the subject of critical thinking followed by Elvira on assessment.

We went back to have lunch at the same place we had done on Monday and while there was no line, the food was rather insipid this time around. I rushed back to the classroom to prepare the materials for my subsequent presentation on grammar games.

When we were finished, I was dying for good cup of coffee and Jyldyz sent us to find a place called “California” where she’d heard many ex-pats gathered to drink coffee. It took us a while to find it, but coffee was only the brewed kind and there wasn’t even any water at that time.

We were referred to another café, located inside an appliance store reeking of propane gas, where I was served coffee that albeit strong, didn’t have the taste of espresso. The burly man, who appeared to be the owner, seemed anxious to please me with his barista skills, but I couldn’t be fooled.

Elvira pleaded with me to go to the park with her prior to dinner at a Korean place recommended to us. We passed the usual kiddy rides and Elvira kept suggesting we ride some of them while I kept refusing telling her rides were not my thing. I finally caved in and rode the go-carts for a little while, but it was just the two of us in a ridiculously small space.

We then played some ping-pong at an outdoor table while men gawked at us since all the players showing off their prowess at the game around us were men.

The Korean restaurant had nothing in its décor to suggest it was so. The food was simply palatable and there were enough people smoking around us to force me to finish my food quickly and leave the place in a hurry.
We walked the rest of the way and once again it was bedtime before I even knew it.

April 23, 2013

My room was quiet and the bed relatively comfortable, but in spite of all that, I slept badly again. I got up before six and took my coffeemaker to the bar on the fifth floor where the housekeeper had assured a hot plate would be available for me to make coffee. The contraption was homemade and appeared ancient. It took about half an hour for the coffee to percolate while I chitchatted with Sasha, the young bartender.

Breakfast was served at eight, so Elvira and I had to eat quickly the crepes, eggs and a variety of breads they provided for us. The marshrutka ride was short and we made it to the school just in time for me start my presentation on collocations, which went really well even when there wasn’t enough time to finish it.

Elvira continued after the coffee break with a presentation on the writing process. We went for lunch at a different place, but my fried lagman had no flavor whatsoever and looked like spaghetti with meat sauce. I could only eat a few bites of it and Elvira recommended I take it back to the hotel where we could request it be reheated for dinner.

Back at the school, I presented my workshop on teaching English through pictures. Jyldyz brought in Michael, a guy from Nebraska who is currently teaching in Jalal-Abad and who wanted to observe our training sessions. The first thing to catch my eye when I got close to him was the pretty big crucifix hanging from his neck on the outside of his shirt. Most definitely another missionary disguising himself as a well-intentioned English teacher.

Elvira and I boarded a marshrutka to get to a place she’d found where our photocopies could be made and the proper receipt obtained. All windows in the business were shut and the front door closed so that there was no ventilation whatsoever. I felt I was suffocating while the copies, way too light for my taste, were painstakingly made one by one.

We decided to walk back to the hotel to enjoy the breeze weather and take in the sights and sounds of the city. Once at the hotel, Elvira asked the manager if we could use the restaurants’ microwave to heat up our leftovers and he said yes. After dropping off our bundles and taking a short breather, we made our way to the restaurant and the waitress took care of the leftovers while we enjoyed a very cold beer.

I truly surprised that the restaurant would be willing to allow consumption of food purchased someplace even when we were paying for the beers. We chatted for over our dinner while keeping our eye on a guy I’d seen passed out at one of the tables. The staff was doing all they could to try and get him to leave the restaurant but to no avail. When he could stand up, he came to our table to take a look at my face.

I went to bed as soon as I got to my room.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 22, 2013

I was up at the crack of dawn having gone to bed so early the night before and even got to hear a rooster crowing nearby, a sound that I hadn’t heard for a long time. I grabbed my coffeemaker and coffee and headed to the reception area where I found the young woman ready to take me to the kitchen and light up the stove for me. I took the coffee back to my room and enjoyed it in solitude.

I knocked on Elvira’s door at seven, just as we had previously agreed, and then had a buffet breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, yogurt, cold cuts, bread and tea or instant coffee. We were later offered what the staff called French toast, but it was actually the bread fried to a crisp. I passed on it and instead took some dark bread with me for the coffee break at the school.

Elvira called a taxi to take us to the Osh Nuru hotel where I had the unpleasant experience of being told the room I had selected the night before was now reserved for someone else. I raised hell and the manager had to be called in with my asserting repeatedly that the front desk clerk, in front of us, had assured me the room was available. The manager, a very young guy in this case, finally caved in and they gave me the key to the quiet room I had previously selected.

We dumped our luggage, found a place on the first floor where to make a few photocopies for the first session and boarded the same taxi again to go to the school where the training sessions were scheduled to be held. Jyldyz met us there and took us to the school’s assembly hall, something closer to a conference room, where the teachers were already waiting for us.

The school principal said a few words of welcome and so did Jyldyz followed by Elvira who then introduced me. I got to work immediately getting the teachers to complete the survey of needs and getting the presentation on classroom management underway. After the coffee break, Elvira presented a talk on what communicative methodology meant.

We broke for lunch and walked about two blocks to a busy cafeteria where everyone piled up at the counter shouting their orders to the two harassed employees who could barely keep track of them. My lagman was quite good, but Elvira was displeased with the ambiance of the place, the rude service and limited options.
I presented on pragmatics in the afternoon doing my best to keep the audience awake. Elvira followed with more activities that demonstrated communicative language teaching and then we were free for the rest of the evening.

Jyldyz accompanied us to the bus stop and we got into a marshrutka that dropped us off in front of the hotel. After dropping off our bundles and getting into more comfortable outfits, we went in search of a coffee house, but none was to be found.

We tried to find a place to copy the handouts for the next day, but my flash drive would not open at the only place capable of offering Elvira a receipt containing the equivalent to their IRS number. Dejected, I suggested we had dinner and just deal with that issue in the morning.

Another marshrutka took us to the center and to the Beijing restaurant Asel had recommended. We got to sit outdoors near the bazaar engulfed by all the traffic, noise and bustle so typical of such places. Our young waiter kept coming back to make changes to our order and then we got to somewhat enjoy another mediocre meal. We both had leftovers and took them to the hotel at Elvira’s insistence even though we had no microwaves in our rooms.

When we got to the hotel, Elvira asked me to let her check her email from my computer since I had the modem with me and I almost fell asleep while she was doing so. As soon as she was done, I went to bed.

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 21, 2013

Perhaps a bit anxious about the trip down south, I woke up before four in the morning and decided to get out of bed and get the day going. I went back and forth with the packing of my clothes as I didn’t want to pack heavy winter stuff, but wasn’t sure either that my lightweight stuff would suffice at this time of the year.

According to the Google weather forecast, temperatures would range from mid-50s to mid-70s in Osh. I decided to take a chance and just packed most of my Tajik outfits and carried a shawl in my purse. Elvira came to pick me up in a taxi and we headed to the airport in a clear day most suitable for a picnic somewhere.

I had had breakfast and confirmed with Elvira there would be a restaurant at the airport where we could have a bite to eat for lunch, but after going through security, we found out the restaurant was closed for renovation and there was only  available consisted of a kiosk selling cold fried snacks.

Elvira asked around and was told there was a restaurant right outside the airport and I headed there to have a bowl of soup and flat bread. When I came back, it was time to check in and our luggage exceeded the 20 kilo limits the airline allowed. She had to go and pay for the additional four kilos.

We rode the requisite bus to the old airplane and I found that there was no air whatsoever coming from the vents. I sweated for the most part of the 40 minute flight where we were offered a piece of hard candy and a small cup of water.

 The landing was smooth, but retrieving our luggage was a mess as the Osh airport doesn’t have a carousel for that purpose and the luggage was just piled on the steps of the building with the passengers pretty much fighting their way in to get theirs.

The guest house we were staying in had sent a driver to pick us up. We drove through the countryside where peasants could be seen squatting in their fields while others plowed the land with the help of draft animals. We then drove through the chaotic center with the usual run down structures although a bit of color seemed more prevalent there than in Bishkek.

The guest house in question looked as dilapidated as the city in itself. When the receptionist pointed to the two rooms directly in front of the reception area and the front door as being our rooms, I balked and simply refused to accept such accommodations. I felt doubly insulted when told there was no attached bath, but a toilet across the hallway, in view of anyone in the lobby, and a shower around the corner.

I had been quite explicit with Elvira in indicating I needed a quiet room with an attached bath since I usually get up once or twice to empty my bladder. We’d had that conversation not two weeks ago, so for her to now say she had forgotten to mention it to Jyldyz, the Forum coordinator in Osh, who waited for us at the guest house, was simply unpardonable.

I insisted we needed to find another hotel and it was almost 7:00 pm and I needed to eat dinner. Jyldyz got on the telephone and so did Elvira to no avail since apparently all the hotel cost more than the $25.00 per night Elvira had allocated for lodging.

I then remembered that Naziba was from Osh and had offered her assistance on Saturday. I called her and she recommended the Osh Nuru hotel, which happened to be practically around the corner from the guest house. Elvira and Jyldyz told me I’d not like it since it was an old Soviet-style hotel, but I was willing to give it a try.

Elvira felt it was too late to go looking for another room and agreed with the guest house to move me into a regular room with an attached bath, and away from the reception area, just for one night for $41.00. We then went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner, nothing to write home about, and next door to a supermarket to buy the supplies for the coffee break the next morning.

We took a taxi to the hotel Osh Nuru and were pleasantly surprised to discover that they had been remodeling the place and had rooms on the 7th floor with attached baths for the same $25.00 fee. The receptionist spoke some English and was very cordial. I chose a room away from the main drag and we made reservations for the next day.

We walked back to the guest house and after making arrangements for making my coffee in the morning and borrowing an iron, I went to sleep exhausted.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 20, 2013

Afraid of being late for the “Trace Effects” tutorial at the library, I left the flat in such a rush that I forgot my sunglasses on a morning when blinding sunshine was pouring all around me. I squinted my to the place almost at the same at Naziba and her fellow students and found out that none of the computers on the third floor of the American Corner had the program installed in them.

I had taken that possibility into account and brought my own copy just in case. The students set out to copy the program only to find out it had to be done through the one computer where an assistant sat supervising the space. I decided to use my spare time riffling through the numerous magazines displayed on several tables for unusual photos for my collection.

One of the students, Timerlane, approached me and we ended up talking the entire hour since no teacher showed up for the tutorial. Willoughby had texted that she’d overslept, which was just as well. Timerlane requested my copy of the video game to give it to his school, and I was more than happy to comply.

Elena, Olga, Natalia and I met at 11:30 to select the six semi-finalists for the TEA program. Natalia indicated she was not to take part in the decision process, but to keep in mind that applicants who had a Peace Corps volunteer counterpart should not be given priority as they were already benefiting from such an ongoing relationship.

We had 45 candidates and I had put together a table with my comments for each one. I offered to read mine first and then asked Elena and Olga for their comments to see if they concurred with me or not, and based on those comments we gave it a green or red light. It still took about an hour and half to get through all the names and debate the merits of each candidate.

I had agreed to have lunch with Damira when she was done with her training at Lingua and I found her waiting for me in the lobby of the library. We walked to a cafeteria nearby where I ordered soup and salad only as I had already made arrangements to take Willoughby out to dinner on her birthday.

Damira and I engaged in a spirited discussion about women’s status in this country, the role of sex education, the imposition of motherhood on every woman with a working uterus, their subservient status when they get married and so on. I like the fact that she’s willing to discuss these issues even when she usually falls on the “But it’s our tradition” line to justify the injustices.

When her friends came by to get her, I walked to the Panfilov Park nearby to take some photos and then decided to walk all the way to the Fortuna Café where Willoughby was to join me for dinner at six.

The restaurant Max had recommended so highly was such a small space that I wondered where they could fit the jazz band that was supposed to play on weekends. The place was completely empty when I walked in except for Willoughby already perusing the menu at one of the tables.

When I couldn’t find any dishes that indicated a Georgina provenance, the manager came to inform us they had changed the menu just a week before as they no longer had a cook from Georgia. They were now serving European-style cuisine, whatever that was supposed to mean in Bishkek.

Willoughby didn’t mind staying and trying out the place for once. We ordered beers, a schnitzel with fries for her and some concoction with lamb, peppers and “spices” for me. It took over an hour to get our food and in the meantime, a couple of musicians arrived and position their instruments not five feet away from us.

The schnitzel did not resemble what I had eaten in Germany last year and my dish was medley of tough lamb chunks and red peppers with no spices whatsoever in it. The corn pancakes were at least edible. Meanwhile, two guys with electric guitars and another with a set of percussion instrument started to play behind us something that resembled jazz music.

It was too loud to allow for conversation and a couple of tables on the other side were now occupied with its diners puffing away at their cigarettes. That was our cue to pay the bill and leave the place. Georgian food would have to wait until we find out about another restaurant. This one went directly into the black list. 

Finding a marshrutka was no trouble at all and I got home by nine. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

April 19, 2013

I couldn’t sleep the night before and got up at 2:30 am, hungry and grumpy. I drank a cup of hot milk and watched a movie, “Adrift in Manhattan”, which turned out to be quite unsatisfactory as none of the characters in it appeared believable and the acting was less than superb. I was hoping to find some information on the young actor, Victor Rasuk, who appeared to be Hispanic, but none was available online.

I then went back to bed and slept some more. I had received an email from Anna indicating she needed to cancel our 9:00 am meeting at Lingua as she needed to be at her university. She wanted to reschedule it for Monday forgetting that I’d be gone for the next three weeks. She then agreed we could collaborate online for the rest of the CATEC program design.

Once I knew I didn’t need to go to Lingua, I relaxed a bit more and set out to do the dishes, two loads of laundry and other housekeeping tasks. I also walked to the bank, withdrew the money to pay the landlady, and let her know she could come by earlier to pick it up. I stopped by the supermarket and bought a few staples along with a pair of black nylons from a street vendor.

With the temperature in the mid-40s and no heating in place, the apartment felt so chilly that I had to find my leggings and put them on again while wearing my lined sweatshirt for warmth. I truly hope temperatures rise soon.

Meka came by around one and was obviously disappointed by my firm stand in not paying for her building maintenance fee. I had my copy of the contract with me and pointed out to her that it clearly stated I was only responsible for utilities and municipal fees. I also reminded her that I could pay my rent in either dollars or soms, not just crisp dollar bills as she had demanded last month.

Elvira sent me notification that my submission to the symposium for the Association of American Studies had been accepted and now I needed to submit a paper to substantiate it. I had no idea what the format for such paper should be and replied indicating I was grateful for the selection, but needed some information on how to proceed. No answer was forthcoming.

She did help me get a reservation for Saturday night to take Willoughby out on her actual birthday at the Georgian restaurant recommended by Max.

I was able to make a sofrito to cook the beef from the plov and add some flavor to it. I sliced it into small bites and cooked it slowly in it adding the rice later for it to soften. Accompanied by the green salad I had purchased earlier that day, it turned out to be quite a feast. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18, 2013

After tinkering at the apartment for most of the morning, I made my way to the AUCA for my meeting with Elvira at 11:00 am. Just as I was passing the security officer’s booth, a young woman greeted me and reminded me we had met on the trolley a couple of months ago and had agreed to have coffee. We decided on doing so tomorrow afternoon.

Elvira wasn’t in her office and the secretary told she’d left not long ago. I had agreed to meet one of the FLEX alumnae at the same time, and Naziba was there to meet me. Elvira then called me to say I was mistaken about the time and place of the meeting as she had suggested we meet shortly before Willoughby’s birthday dinner, something I simply don’t recall.

I talked to Naziba, who was an exchange student in Michigan, about the strategy for the Saturday session on “Trace Effects” and she confirmed she’d bring four other volunteers to help teachers navigate through the video game while we provided additional support.

We walked together until I got to Lingua where I held a much needed one-on-one conversation with Gulnara regarding the future of Forum as an organization. She promised to send me some documents showing that there had been an organizational chart and procedures for conducting elections in the past, both of which had been disregarded lately. She did email them to me and I forwarded them to Willoughby for her information.

Zarina went through my utility bills and separated them according to the specific category and month. I asked Gulnara her opinion about paying for the maintenance of the exterior of the apartment building and she told me to check my contract to see what exactly it said about it.

I had my usual lagman noodles for lunch and worked on other presentations marking time until the scheduled dinner party. When I talked to Willoughby, she informed me she was on her way to the restaurant to do some decorating and invited me to come along so we’d have a chance to chat before everybody else showed up.

I had received the package my sister Esther had sent me and knowing I’d not be able to maneuver inside a marshrutka with it, I waited for the trolley. I found Willoughby had made place cards for everyone to know where to sit and I was to her right. Max had confirmed his attendance also.

She had twelve people showed up, mostly Forum officers, along with talkative Al and Max. She had requested that no presents be brought in, but that we share the cost of the meal. Regardless of her request, Gulnara brought a bouquet of flowers in the name of Forum and others brought in small presents.

We had salads, an imitation pita bread, water, tea and even vodka for the guys. The plov came in much later than expected and was served in a manner I had never seen as the meat wasn’t sliced as usual and instead the restaurant had plunked a huge chunk of meat on top of the rice. I found it simply unappealing as the rice had been cooked separately and thus had no flavor whatsoever in addition to being extremely dry.

I was already full anyway and removed the chunk of beef on my plate on put it on Max’ who is heavy meat eater. I requested a container to take the rice mixture home in the hope that I could fix it somehow for dinner tomorrow. We had an excellent time sharing stories, jokes and reflections.

Max and I shared a taxi home with his promising to send me the name of the Georgian restaurant he favors so much so I can take Willoughby there on Saturday when her actual birthday takes place.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April 17, 2013

It was another gray morning with the temperatures in the low 40s and the threat of more rain in the horizon. I worked some more on the review of the TEA applications until it was time to head on to the Bishkek Humanities University for my presentation on teaching critical thinking skills.

Once at the university, we the usual technical glitch as the CPU in the conference room would not open my flash drive. I told Nazira I had email myself the presentation just in anticipation of such a problem, but her department has no Internet access at all. I was simply dumbfounded since there’s an Internet café on the first floor.

I hated the idea of having to improvise since I had embedded most of the activities into the PowerPoint itself to cut down on the number of handouts that needed to be printed. Nazira decided to take my flash drive to someone with IT skills while I got started on the warm up activity which consisted of having the third and fifth year students find the respective halves of some common proverbs.

Nazira then returned with the cleaned-up flash drive and using one of the students’ laptop we were in business. The students got to work on analogies, odd-one-out, rock or feather, children’s riddles, mad debates and other fun activities that increase the student’s critical thinking abilities. We only had 1.5 hours and the time went by extremely fast as it usually does when one is having fun.

I was starving by the end of the workshop and Nazira recommended the cafeteria next to the Narodni supermarket where I had my usual combination of plov and a green salad along with a glass of compote. On my way to get on the marshrutka, I could feel that the weather was getting colder and my heavy shawl hardly protected me against it.

I took a nap when I got home and then tried calling Willoughby to see if she still planned on attending the ballet with me that evening as a company from Kazakhstan was putting on a production of “Carmen”. She didn’t pick up or return my phone call, which was just as well since the evening was chilly and then it started to rain again.

By that time, I was determined to finish the TEA application review since the deadline is tomorrow. I worked until 10:45 and sent Natalia a summary of my views on each candidate. I haven’t been able to establish who will be doing the selection for the six finalists. Totally exhausted, I went to bed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 16, 2013

I woke up to another gray day with signs of an impending thunderstorm. Then I sat down at my computer to learn about the tragic bombing in Boston when people were gathered for what should have been a felicitous event. I have to declare that I will never understand the nature of a human being who can conceive and carry out such a senseless act in the name of whatever ideology it might care to profess.

I was practically sick to my stomach reading the reports and knowing deep inside me that the repercussions of such act is bound to heighten the police state already imposed on us and to make it look as a natural response to the attack.

Elvira called me early on to informed me her daughter was sick once again and she wanted to postpone our meeting for Thursday. It had started to rain cats and dogs by then and I was more than happy to agree to the deal.

I called Natalia to ask the status of the package my sister had sent more than three weeks ago as I really needed the ground coffee to take with me when heading to Osh. She promised to look into it and then confirmed we’d be holding a session at the Children’s Library with FLEX alumni to guide teachers on the use of the video game “Trace Effect”.

I got through most of the TEA applications as Natalia corroborated my hunch that applicants who were already participating as Peace Corps counterparts, or had been trainers for those volunteers, had already received their share of professional development.

Naziba, one of the FLEX alumnae, called me later on to set up a meeting for us to coordinate the Saturday session. We agreed to meet at AUCA before I got together with Elvira on Thursday.

I started work on the presentation on lesson planning that Elvira had requested for the teachers down south. There are so many possible approaches to this topic, but without knowing what they know or practice already, it’s rather difficult to aim my presentation. I’ll discuss it with Elvira on Thursday to decide on a more specific approach.

It rained most of the day and the temperature dropped considerably back into the 50s. Let’s hope this is that period of “April showers bring May flowers”. Natalia called me back to confirm my package had arrived. I pleaded with her to see if she could possibly drop it at Lingua to keep me from having to make another trip to the embassy, and she promised to look into it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15, 2013

I jumped out of bed early as I remembered I had promised to skype with my sister, and my nephew and his wife who were visiting from New Jersey with their new baby. Alas, I had no Internet connection when I tried to log in. I tried plugging and unplugging the cable several times, but no service was available.

After about an hour, I was able to connect and call my sister. We tried to talk using the video call service, but my connection was so slow that it kept freezing, so we just talked for a little bit as everyone seemed to be spent after a full day of activities and Kevin and his family were flying out the next day.

I had to deal with the fact that my tax preparer had given me the bad news that I needed to pay an additional #1006.00 to the Internal Revenue Service on the measly sum of money I made last year as an English Language Fellow. It really galls me that I’m paying more taxes than many profitable corporations in the United States. No wonder some people choose not work at all and rely on charity instead.

Willoughby came by this morning and brought me more apple cake for my breakfast. We immediately got started on putting the finishing touches on the spring newsletter and got it all done. We reviewed the list of names on our list serve, and I showed her how to add contacts to the list as they became available. She didn’t know about the fact that we needed to put out one other issue of the newsletter expressly for the CATEC event in June.

I returned to the tedious task of reviewing the TEA applications while the wind started to pick up outside. I then took a break to cook some polenta for dinner. I had nothing to eat in my fridge and out of necessity went across the street to purchase a few takeout options, but the place is apparently being remodeled or turned into some other kind of business as all the shelving was gone and workers were painting inside and out.

I walked to Narodni and bought a few staples, mostly prepared salads, and got some bananas from a street vendor. It was then back to my desk and to the applications. Elvira wrote to say she’d cancelled her trip to the South that was supposed to take place ahead of mine and would be traveling with me instead. That was good news as I definitely would feel better in her company.

I watched a documentary on Gene Sharp, a person I’d never heard of, who’s being credited with organizing countless groups around the world so they can topple dictatorial regimes through non-violent demonstrations. How come the mainstream media has never interviewed him? Obviously, they’d not be interested in such views as they would contradict the fact that we tend to support those dictatorial regimes in the first place.

I felt the irony of the documentary resided in the fact that Mr. Sharp never even hints at the fact that one country where the people could benefit from some of his strategies would be the United States. How myopic some people can be.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 14, 2013

Not much to report today. It had rained overnight and the skies remained overcast while the humidity skyrocketed. I was able to discard my heavy fleece robe for the cotton dayshift my sister had brought me from somewhere in the Caribbean and felt kind of weird to be able to see my legs once again after so many months of having them covered by leggings.

I had promised myself to devote the entire day to reviewing the pile of TEA applicants the embassy had burdened me with as the deadline is April 18, but after reading a mere ten of them, I needed a break. I started another presentation on basic writing skills, did the dishes, and watched TV for a bit as CNN had a documentary on about a group of West Indian cricketers who had refused to play for South Africa during apartheid.

The program was rudely interrupted to cover a press conference in Japan where secretary of state John Kerry and the Japanese prime minister were discussing the issue of North Korea. Knowing where the conversation was heading, I switched off the TV and returned to the applications facing one dismal prospect after another.

The landlady dropped by to return the utility bills so I can have Zarina review them before I shell out any money. I had questioned one item on her list: technical fee. She explained this was the twice-yearly fee to maintain the exterior of the building, something I know I’m not responsible for, but I let it go just saying I’d get back to her by Tuesday.

James, my brother-in-law, sent me some photos taken during my nephew’s visit to Florida with his young son. I asked if we could skype in the morning so I could say hello to them and he said yes. I posted one of the photos to my Facebook page as my mother looked particularly fetching in it.

I hardly made a dent in the pile of applications. Instead, I watched a movie called “A Time for Dancing” which turned out to be quite sweet and included scenes with superb dancing takes.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

April 13, 2013

Had an uneasy night for no specific reason whatsoever as sleep was hard to come by and I just got up early to get going on what appeared to be another full day ahead. I realized that both of my flash drives have been affected by viruses and refused to open up and show its folders even though all information was there.

As a precaution, I emailed both Willoughby and Mairamgul both presentations for the day along with their respective handouts. When I got off the trolley, I ran into one of the teachers heading to the Forum session and we walked together. Willoughby was already there sporting one of her brand-new skirts Baktigul had made for her in a bright blue pattern.

She hadn’t received the presentation on time, and I suggested we go downstairs to the American Corner to retrieve it from her email account, but the young woman working there informed us there was no Internet access yet. Neither Willoughby’s nor my flash drive would show up on their computers. We left the Corner feeling exasperated.

Calvin Preece, a guy from Texas who’s been living here for some years, was giving a presentation on Internet websites teachers could use for their classes and he had brought his own portable modem. He truly saved my day as I was able to log on to my email account and retrieve the presentation I had previously emailed.

After we explained the concept of the “Six Thinking Hats” approach to problem solving, we separated the audience into six groups according to the plastic color card they had drawn and posed a problem for them about the need to create a recycling program in the city of Bishkek to cope with the huge quantities of plastic bottles, glass and paper. They were to come up with solutions according to the thinking hats they were wearing.

We had each group send a representative to the front to inform the other groups as to their approach and the blue group got to summarize the findings at the end. Everyone seemed to like it as the activity used all four skills in addition to incorporating cooperative learning strategies. I promised to email everyone the presentation in the near future.

Gulnara, Bagdat, Elena, Willoughby and I were the only ones at hand for the officers’ meeting, so except for agreeing to come up with a step-by-step process to conduct an election before the end of the school year, everything was tabled until we had all officers on board.

I had an hour to spare before reporting to the School of Law where another training session was taking place all day. The day was beautiful and I decided to walk to the university while taking some photos of the newly sprouted tulips and poppies that now festooned the public plazas in Bishkek.

It was lunch time and I suspected that nothing would be offered to me at the university, so I stopped at a new fast food place called “Mama Noodles” that appeared to offer something worthwhile eating. As it is usually the case, I was extremely disappointed since the food was already cooked, was reheated in a plastic container like those the Chinese restaurants still offer in New York, and was totally insipid.

I called Mairamgul from the corner where I used to live and Chuy and she came to get me. The School of Law is housed in a rather new building with meticulously kept grounds where a gardener was using a lawnmower, something I’d never seen in Bishkek, and benches awaited students in shaded courtyards.

 When I asked about the difference between that university and the dilapidated ones I’m so used to visiting, she answered it was all related to the corruption of the respective deans who pocketed the money intended for maintenance of their buildings.

Apparently, a good number of teachers had left early by the time my 2:30 pm presentation came around. I followed a teacher from the Access program whom I had never met. I presented my session on classroom management for college professors and got the same response as everywhere else: they had no idea what classroom management referred to.

I gave them the handouts on students’ survey, teachers’ immediacy scale and classroom techniques so they could have a few minutes to discuss them with a partner. As usual, the one hour time slot was too short and then it was time for the customary certificate issuing with my even getting a nice framed certificate entirely in Russian. I could barely make out my name as I remain illiterate in the language.

I was dead tired by then and begged Mairamgul to put me in the right marshrutka so it could drop me off directly in front of my building, but she had a better option for me. One of her colleagues had a car and had offered to take me home. 

When I asked her how come she didn’t drive nor Gulnara, Elvira, Elena or anybody else from Forum, she started making up excuses including saying she had saved money to buy her son a car. At the end, she acknowledged she was afraid of dealing with the traffic.

Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12, 2013

I boarded the marshrutka to take me to the American Pilot School even though it was slightly crowded as the previous one had been packed to the gills with passengers. Once I got in though, the driver continued to take on more and more passengers and pretty soon at least four women seemed to be draped over the driver and I felt I was beginning to hyperventilate.

The fifteen minute ride seemed interminable as I began to sweat from being squeezed among so many other passengers and the only relief came from knowing this would be my last ride to the school as the teachers were finishing their training today. Elvira was already there to represent Forum as Gulnara had a class to teach. We chatted for a few minutes about our upcoming trip south.

The teachers were divided into groups and each presented a demo lesson demonstrating the interactive way of teaching all four skills. After speeches from the trainers, Natalia, Elvira and myself, we proceeded to hand in their certificates and took the requisite photos for our respective reports. One of the teachers handed me some flowers, which was totally unexpected.

Natalia, Elvira and I then met to hammer out the final details on the budget amendment to our grant for the trip south. Natalia wanted a small portion of the grant to be allocated for a follow up activity at each location and I suggested we trim the budget to give them $100.00 each. I could see that Elvira was displeased with my initiative as she didn’t want to share any portion of it.

I had skipped breakfast and was simply famished at that point. Tatyana asked if I wanted to have lunch at the school canteen and I jumped at the chance. I ordered meatballs; they weren’t meatballs, mashed potatoes and a medley of salads along with hot tea. The ground beef cutlet seemed to have been made with breadcrumbs only and had no flavor or color.

I rode the bus to Lingua where I needed to pick up the remaining TEA applications left with Zarina. My flashdrive refused to open at the usual computer indicating that a virus was present. I chitchatted with Adina, Nargiza and Sephiat for a while and left before the children’s class started there at two. Gulnara came in right before I left and mentioned how happy she was the A/C unit issue had been resolved. She also commented that she really liked my writing style, something that seemed to come out of the blue.

When I got home, I got started on a new presentation on assessment that Elvira indicated was needed based on her survey of the teachers’ needs in Batken. She also mentioned that lesson planning was another area in dire need of exploration, but luckily, I already had a presentation on that topic.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April 11, 2013

More gorgeous weather came my way today, and the good news that the landlady had arranged to have the A/C installed around noon. I worked on the index for the resource booklet for most of the morning and left the crew, Meka and her brother in the apartment to supervise the installation while I went to the embassy for my meeting with Johanna.

Tatiana came by at ten so I could sign the certificates to be handed out tomorrow at the American Pilot School. She mentioned she was Russian by birth, not Kyrgyz, and her husband was Korean so when they got married in Russia they decided to move to Kyrgyzstan so their children would not suffer the kind of racism children of mixed races are subjected to in that country. 

The driver from Lingua was waiting at the curb and it took a mere fifteen minutes to reach the embassy from my flat. The driver stated he would wait for me to return. I had to go through the humiliating body search and X-ray machine before being allowed inside where I sat in the lobby for about 20 minutes before Natalia came to get me.

Johanna sat with me for perhaps five minutes before telling me she’d have to leave the meeting since something had cropped up that her department had to handle immediately. She was referring to the fact that the “Vagina Monologue” production was scheduled to take place tomorrow evening at the Metro Bar, but now conservative groups were putting pressure on the embassy to cancel it due to its content.

She had me look through some of the outdated textbooks English teacher must work with in the public schools and to give her some feedback. The textbooks used the same grammar-translation methods I’d experienced in Tajikistan and not too far from the ones in Nepal. I’m keenly aware that new textbooks are desperately needed here.

Natalia notified me that I was part of a committee entrusted with the selection of the six finalists for the TEA program and gave me 42 applications to review with the results expected by April 18. We also discussed my impending trip to the South and the need to identify potential trainers among the teachers attending the workshops. Chris, the guy that stood me up for the Thanksgiving dinner, came by and shook my hand as if nothing had ever happened.

We then went to see Andrea who had promised to round up some books to donate for the book club, and she put them in a large box for me to carry. Once out in the parking lot and looking for the driver from Lingua, a portly man came out of his SUV and insisted on helping carry them into the car. He inquired as to the reason for the books and I informed him about the book club. He promised to let his wife know as she likes to read.

Back at my flat, the A/C unit was ready to go, but my bedroom looked like  disaster zone with the furniture not returned to its original position and dust everywhere. I had told Meka that the ancient vacuum cleaner put out more dust than it took in, but she hasn’t bothered to have it replaced, so I had to sweep the debris as best I could with the inefficient broom available in this country.

I spent the rest of the evening working on the resource booklet as Johanna expressed an interest in seeing it being published and making it available to teachers everywhere. I’m afraid that it has gotten too big as I keep adding pages to it as I find more interesting handouts from those I’ve created over the years. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April 10, 2013

It was another gorgeous day in Bishkek. I got to Lingua in time for my meeting with Anna, but she was running late and so I started to work on the index page for my resource booklet in the meantime.

When Anna got in, we started to work on the tedious task of actually plugging in the names of the presenters under each conference room at a specific time. She relayed to me that only four projectors were being rented for the entire conference and told her that amount wouldn’t do as I know all EFLs in particular will want to have a projector available during their presentation.

She went to talk to Aigul and then confirmed that nine projectors, one for each room, would be rented for the event. We worked until twelve and didn’t even get to the finish the presentations for first day. Anna is not available next week but on Friday and agreed to take the lists of participants home to work on it and we’ll check on the final tally next week.

I needed to have Gulnara help me deal with the landlady and the issue of the installation of the air conditioning unit. Zarina told me she was having lunch, so I went downstairs to the Halal Kitchen place and the place was jammed with diners and even all the tables in the courtyard were taken. It took forever to get my lagman noodles to go.

Back at Lingua, Gulnara listened to my situation and promptly called my landlady to let her know she was obligated by the contract she’d signed to provide the unit with an air conditioner or she’d make the arrangements to find me another place to live. Meka had asked that I paid her the month of May in advance before she went out to find the A/C and I had refused since there would be no guarantee she’d do it anyway as she’s blowing me off since February.

We went back and forth several times, but I stood firm in not paying this month’s rent until the unit is installed since temperatures are already in the mid-80s. She relented and indicated she’d find a contractor tomorrow to install it. I’ll believe it when I see it. She informed me she’d be coming by around six to pick the utility bills that had gathered here for the last three weeks.

I went home to work on the Forum newsletter since Willoughby had been really busy and hadn’t done anything with it over the weekend. She then called me to say she was in the area and would be stopping by shortly. We went over the changes I had made and we realized we still needed more information on the activities conducted by other Forum members. Willoughby promised to finish the newsletter and to meet with me on Friday if need it so it could be sent out that day.

As we walked out the building to head for the book club meeting, my landlady showed up and I introduced her to Willoughby. I had left all the bills securely attached to the door frame for her to easily retrieve them. She made no mention of the A/C and neither did I.

We had plenty of time before getting to the Adriano Café and stopped at the Tumar souvenir shop to check out the prices as Willoughby had never been there. She made a beeline for the vests and skirts made of felt material and heavily embroidered while I perused the bags, cushion covers and other knickknacks made from the same materials. Everything seemed too expensive to me though with a cushion cover costing 1100 soms or almost $24.00.

I got a call from Max letting me know he was already at the café. I was delighted to hear he had fulfilled his promise and found the time to join us. Elvira, Gulnara and an older female teacher whose name remains unpronounceable to me were already seated at the back of the room. The manager recognized me and came to greet us. Four of the pre-service teachers also arrived at this time.

The two pizzas Gulnara had ordered took forever to arrive and turned out to be not much larger than the personal size ones we eat in the States. There wasn’t enough to go around for the thirteen attendees. She had also ordered a bottle of wine which turned out to be cabernet sauvignon from Chile which not was too dry. We all went home hungry and Max indicated he was heading to a pizzeria to have one all to himself.

We settled on meeting again on May 15 at the Chinese café suggested by Max which is not too far from Ala-Too Square. Willoughby and I tried to cajole Elvira into hosting the next meeting, but she stubbornly said she wasn’t ready yet. Luann, a Couch Surfer I had met online, came to join us and along with Rebecca walked me home. She was heading to a club to listen to jazz and extended an invitation, but I wasn’t interested.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 9, 2013

I practically overslept today not getting up until almost 8:00 am even though the driver sent by the International University in Central Asia was due to pick me up at ten. It was a good thing I had organized all my materials the night before and knew what I was going to wear for sure.

Natalia called me to set up the meeting with Johanna for Thursday at 1:30 pm with my coming to the embassy to see her. I wasn’t too happy about that as I don’t really know how to get there by public transportation and would need a transfer at some point from my house.

Tatiana, from the IUCA, called me to let me the driver was at the intersection waiting for me and that two other visitors would be picked up along the way. They turned out to be an Italian, with a British accent, and South Korean woman representing the Korea Foundation, which pays for faculty and students to engage in Korean studies.

We had a delightful conversation all the way into the city of Tokmok with Matteo, the Italian guy, relating his experience working in Central Asia for the last fifteen years while the woman disclosed how much they paid teaching assistants, 660 Euros per semester, while teachers got a lot more. In fact their salaries were higher than what I was earning at FSCJ as an adjunct professor.

The IUCA campus was a former health clinic built during the Soviet era and consists of three separate buildings around a pleasant, but small courtyard. It was taken over five years ago by former AUCA employees and has about 230 students enrolled. We were taken into the administration building and introduced to a whole lot of people including a guy from Illinois who shared the fact that he was here doing missionary work for his church while teaching English.

We had lunch in the faculty lounge, a watered down version of shorbot, and a small serving of pasta with a few shreds of beef on top. What appeared to be pastry turned out to be just dough with a dusting of sugar, so I grabbed a few pieces of chocolate and had those for dessert. Tea was served automatically, so asking for coffee seemed rude.

I sat next to one of the administrators, someone from Britain, who has been doing development work both here and in Tajikistan. He was quite familiar with the road to Khorog and other areas of Tajikistan and even knew about the coffeehouse, Morning Star. I wondered if he was here doing missionary work as well.

Tatiana had a pre-intermediate class at 1:00 and asked if I could observe her and she was delighted to comply indicating she was going to demonstrate the same strategy she plans to offer at the CATEC conference. It was basically a jigsaw reading activity in a ridiculously small room where moving chairs around was simply too challenging for all twelve students.

The students kept switching to Russian despite Tatiana’s admonishing them not to do. As usual, many students hadn’t done their homework assignments and couldn’t take part in the activities. Tatiana never wrote anything on the wall even when it came to grammar points just assuming the students actually knew the difference.

I was scheduled next and then my flashdrive showed to have a virus and it wouldn’t open. The IT guy had to come in and clean it up before I could open the file. The laptop in the room was really old and took forever to move from one slide to another. I simply gave up and with the remaining time just had the students play the games for collocations I’d brought with me.

Tatiana sat at the back taking notes and later told she didn’t know anything about collocations or how to teach them. I promised to send her the presentation along with the handouts so she could go over again with her students since they are preparing for the TOEFL and certainly will need practice in using those.

Our driver was ready at 4:00 and I got in the minivan along with the passengers from the morning and one other woman. The landscape had changed considerably since last January and now sported splotches of green here and there while vendors stood on both sides of the road offering fresh radishes. I wanted to stop and take photos, but everyone around was quiet and some dozing off, so I gave up on that idea.

I also started to nod off after a while and only woke up when the driver veered suddenly or when we dropped off the visitors at the Holiday Hotel. When I got dropped off, I walked to the convenience store and bought few things for dinner as I still don’t have anything to cook at home.

My landlady had sent me an email indicating she couldn’t come by tonight either as we had previously agreed to discuss the issue of installing the A/C unit this week as the temperatures are expected to rise quite a bit by the weekend. I replied that I’d have Lingua find me a contractor to take care of it and deduct it from the rent as I’m sick of waiting for her to do it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

April 8, 2013

I got to Lingua on time for my meeting with Anna and brought Zarina a couple of crystal items I had purchased for the apartment and no longer would need so she could have them for her own flat. She appeared to be completely taken aback by my gesture and very pleased at the end. I had given her my crystal vase a few weeks ago as well.

Anna was a bit late, so I started to review my PowerPoint presentation for Thursday and then stopped when she got in. We worked on the schedule for the CATEC with only the days and times while the bigger task of plugging the names of each presenter will take a while longer. We agreed to meet on Wednesday again.

Zarina had asked me to stay until 12:30 as Gulnara, Leila and Natasha had had birthdays over the weekend and pizza had been ordered for everyone to enjoy. Douglas, Matthew and his wife Elise were also present for the celebration. The honorees were given towels as presents and someone brought in a bouquet of flowers made from balloons.

I happened to sit next to Gulnara and while partaking of the desultory sushi and dry pizza, she mentioned she’d notice that I was very active on Facebook. I informed her that my Facebook page was my soapbox, a term she didn’t understand, or platform for me to express my views and advocate for change. I could see from the expression on her face that she felt my views might be too extreme for her.

On my way home, I stopped at the underpass and got some pages laminated and then walked on to the NT stationery store to buy plastic pages for the workshop on Saturday, a modified version of the popular “Six Hats” approach to critical thinking. I walked home getting rid of my sweatshirt along the way as the weather had become quite warm indeed.

When I turned on my computer, I found that both Gulnara from Lingua and Chynara had replied to the letters sent by Forum and the vitriol was all over them. Gulnara from Forum as well as Elvira immediately fired emails to Willoughby and me asking for us to compose a suitable reply. I told them I had no time for that at that moment and that there’s no need to reply immediately.

Matthew, whom I had asked to create a cover page for my resource booklet, sent me scathing SMS telling me he didn’t appreciate my mentioning to other Peace Corps volunteers that he had let me down on numerous occasions and that perhaps he didn’t care for any of the projects I had asked him to help out with. So instead of telling me “no” to my face, he just blew me off hoping I’d get the message. Such a mature way to act.
Two ELFs wrote emails to me wanting to have their colleagues be accepted to CATEC even though the deadline had passed even for those wanting to participate paying their own expenses. Chris had carbon copied Jennifer on his email, and she piped in saying Lingua couldn’t deny access to the conference to those who were self-funded.

I mentioned to Jennifer that I had made the same point to Anna in the morning, but her riposte had been that the resort couldn’t accommodate more people than those already accepted. Jennifer sent an email to the entire CATEC committee reminding her that this was an open conference and those wishing to stay somewhere else should be allowed to participate.

The organization of this conference is beginning to give me a headache.

April 7, 2013

Although I got to stay home all day it didn’t mean it was going to be a day at the beach. I had a long list of tasks to accomplish before the end of the day as I was contemplating a full of week of activities and no rest in between.

Damira’s cousin fulfilled his promise and brought the window pane needed to replace the broken window. I created a receipt on my computer and paid him 600 soms for the both materials and labor. He had been unable to find the oven knob, so baking anything is definitely out of the question now. I emailed my landlady letting her know about the work being done and asking if she still planned on coming by with the A/C unit, but she chose not to reply.

I sent a message to Elvira asking for materials for the newsletter, resized one of the photos and sent it to Willoughby and placed a notice on the Forum FB page about the book club meeting on Wednesday. I heard from a Couch Surfer who had contacted me about finding work teaching English in Bishkek and sent it to Gulnara at Lingua for a reply.

I added more slides to my presentation on critical thinking, both versions of them, and created more collocation tiles for the presentation tomorrow and more proverb matching cards for Thursday so I could get them laminated tomorrow after my work at Lingua.

I cooked one of those packages of rice and dehydrated vegetables I had found at the Food Plus store, but even after adding half of a chicken bouillon, it lacked flavor or even much salt. I ate it with the potato salad I had in the fridge and it was barely edible.

In the meantime, I got two loads of laundry done, the dishes washed and the fridge cleaned up and even colored my hair. I took a break in the late afternoon and watched an old film, “Gung Ho”, the colors a bit washed out, but still watchable, that full of stereotypes about Americans and Japanese. There were a few funny lines, but not enough to sustain the film.

When all my chores were done, I sat down to enjoy a fabulous documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, about the life of a sushi master in Japan who had dedicated his entire life to perfecting that art to the point of earning a three-star from the Michelin guide. The colors were fantastic and made my mouth water thinking of how long it’ll be before I can enjoy some fresh sushi with tuna, yellow tail, shrimp or octopus.