Friday, May 31, 2013

May 31, 2013

Spent the entire day at home puttering around aimlessly. My inability to focus on any one project was so unlike me that I had to pause and reflect on my state of mind. Perhaps skipying with my sister early in the morning to get an update on my mom’s condition was what started my less than upbeat mood.

Having discussed the issue of moving our mother into an assisted living facility once and for all when I get home, I offered to look at a few possible sites for her to visit and choose from. I sent my sister several links noting that only one of them offered a quote and the rates started at over $2,000.00 a month.

I wrote to Zarina to find out if anything had been done insofar as being able to retrieve the files from my flashdrive and to determine if Willoughby and I could use their computer room to put together the Forum newsletter for the CATEC conference. She didn’t have an answer yet about the flashdrive, but informed me that Lingua was closed for classes on Saturdays during the summer.

When Willoughby called me, I told her the news and we decided to meet at my flat after her Russian class was over. Once we finish the newsletter, I’ll accompany her to the Tsum department store as she’s interested in buying a smart phone before heading back to the States this summer.

The temperature reached 90 degrees and the sun came in as a slanted ray into the computer room. The stifling heat drove me to the living room where it was a bit cooler. I read a bit more of the Kingsolver’s book, but kept falling asleep.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 30, 2013

Still having trouble sleeping the whole night through. I was up before five and got down to work on the myriad of projects still remaining before my departure. No word yet from Rebecca regarding the Access program summer camp schedule and I’m not going to be the one to remind her even though I want to go ahead and buy my ticket to Dushanbe soon.

The weather was gorgeous even if it was beginning to look like a scorcher from my window. I did more cooking, more washing of dishes and more boiling of water so I could wash my hair. This not having hot water for a whole month is really for the birds.

Willoughby had purchased three tickets so Damira could accompany us to the concert being given by Kanykei at seven and we agreed to meet in front of the Sports Palace. Damira offered to come to my flat first and then we’d walk from there.

I finished reading “Daughter of Fortune” and found the ending lacking as the major characters are left in suspense. That’s not the kind of book I enjoy reading at all. I want a resolution of some kind at the end. I got started on Barbara Kingsolver’s “Lacuna”.

Damira called to say she’d meet me at the concert venue and I just walked over running into Willoughby just a block prior to the place. I had seen mulberries hanging from a tree, finally, but still don’t know if they’d be for sale at the bazaar soon.

                                                      A mulberry tree

The doors to the place were still closed at 6:30, but many people were milling around waiting including some very elegantly dressed young women. I was surprised by the number of children who seemed to be accompanying their parents to this event.

Instead of starting at 7:00, the singer showed up at 7:40 and blamed it on the audience according to Damira. She wasn’t dressed in the outlandish fashion I recall seeing at the Opera Ballet House and seemed to be wearing glasses. I had a difficult time looking at the details for some idiot had positioned a couple of reflector lights behind her and they were beaming directly at me.


I pulled out my notebook and kept it in front of my face to avoid going blind. I’d expected for her to be a better dancer, but all she did was sway to the music from time to time. She only had a bass player and two electric guitar musicians. The three young men who took over to give her a chance to change were a torture to see or listen to as they played some kind of electronic music in the background to do their break dancing/hip hop/crunk type of number. I couldn’t wait for them to get off the stage.

Following that, two thuggish-looking guys came on the stage for a trio that sounded very close to a rap song. The highlight of the evening was the performance by an older, but very attractive, singer by the name of Gulnor who sang like an angel. I’ve to look her up on YouTube to hear some more of her songs.

Damira had indicated she needed to head home by 9:30 for she lives far away and finding a marshrutka after that time could be a challenge. Willoughby wanted for her to arrange a taxi as well, so we left at that time and Kanykei was still singing more of the same as she’d done before.

I turned down the chance to ride part of the way in the taxi and told them the night was beautiful and I needed the exercise. I came home to heat up my leftovers and had a decent meal before heading to bed.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 29, 2013

The first thing I did this morning upon waking up was draft a long email to Johanna relating the fiasco of my trip to Naryn and my impression that the trip had been organized, not so much for the benefit of the teachers, but to allow Gulnara to visit her brother on our dime while bringing along her pal, Asel.

I cooked some cream of wheat for breakfast adding all of my favorite spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, along with a generous tablespoon of vanilla. It tasted divine and I almost ate the entire portion which was intended for two days. Off I went to Lingua to meet with Anna for yet another session making changes to the CATEC program.

I had noticed that my flashdrive had refused to open in Naryn and subsequently at my house, but was hopeful that I had saved the work I’d done last Friday on the computer at Lingua and that perhaps their tech person could repair the flashdrive. Once at Lingua, where a bunch of kids were playing on the computers, I discovered to my dismay that I hadn’t saved the documents to the computer.

In a panic, I asked Zarina to contact their tech person for I thought Anna would kill if she knew all the changes were gone and we had to start all over. She had recommended that I email her the new version upon finishing it, but I had simply forgotten.

The tech person came in, took a look at the drive and in a mournful tone declared that he felt nothing could be done as apparently it had been dropped in water. I denied such occurrence, and he took it to his office to see if any of the files could be recovered.

Anna came in and immediately set out to make the changes to the program herself as she only had 1.5 available before her classes began. We made the changes to the program handout, but I still need to modify the titles of all the presentations to make them uniform. What a chore!

I got an email from my sister notifying me my mother was still in the hospital while the doctors tried to find out the why of her abdominal pain.

On my way home, I stopped at the convenience store across the street and bought water and a few prepared dishes to supplement the pork ribs and vegetables I had cooked that morning. I had added the jar of homemade sauce Willoughby’s landlady had given her and she’d passed on to me. The final dish was the most delicious I’ve prepared here so far as I had added eggplant and cauliflower to it. I practically licked my fingers when I finished eating it.

Willoughby had sent me a few suggestions on the e-book format and a few mistakes she’d caught. I set out to correct those, but never got around to working on the answer key as that’s one task I’m not looking forward to tackling.

Johanna replied to my email lamenting the outcome of the trip to Naryn and agreeing with me that she’d have never approve the expenses for all four of us to travel there. I later learned from Willoughby that she’s hosting a barbecue at her house on Sunday and wondered if I had been invited. I hadn’t and wasn’t surprised at that either.

I took a break from the computer to continue reading the book “Daughter of Fortune” and almost finished it before sleep overtook me.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 28, 2013

I spent another sleepless night tossing and turning while trying to find a comfortable angle so as not to irritate my hemorrhoids. I got up at the crack of dawn and got busy doing another load of laundry and other chores.

I could see that a beautiful day was in store for the citizens of Bishkek, but I was in too much pain to even consider walking anywhere. I took turns throughout the day between sitting for a while and taking short walks around the flat to relieve the pressure.

I put some more work into the e-book to the point that I was pretty satisfied it was ready to get page numbers and then I could write the table of content and so be done with it. I sent it to Willoughby for a quick review before proceeding.

In the late afternoon, I lay on the sofa and read a good portion of the book “Daughter of Fortune” as the part dealing with the Chinese character was quite compelling in its description of his upbringing and training as a healer. The female protagonist didn’t seem as believable in my eyes.

Willoughby wrote to say she wanted to attend a concert by Kanykei, the singer we’d had met at the Opera Ballet Theater, and I agreed to go with her on Thursday evening. I spoke to Damira on the telephone and invited her to join us as she’s trying to get us the information required to travel to Moscow by train.

My sister wrote to say my mom was back in the emergency room this time complaining of abdominal pain as apparently she had an intestinal obstruction of some type. My sister went back to her house to try and sleep a few hours while Mom was transferred to a regular room for observation. I really pity my sister.

Johanna wrote wanting to know what my plans were for the rest of my fellowship, and I decided to answer the question the following day after my spirits were a bit higher following the Naryn fiasco.

Monday, May 27, 2013

May 27, 2013

I was up at two a.m., my stomach growling and my bladder in need of emptying in spite of my having had nothing liquid for hours. I forced myself to go back to sleep only to wake up at half hour intervals, hoping to hear some movement in the kitchen, but it wasn’t until five that the light went on.

I had slept with my clothes on since it was very cold in the room and there was no heating source of any kind. I walked into the kitchen and found the grandmother waiting for water to boil in what looked like an old-fashioned samovar. I brushed my teeth, cleaned my water bottle and when the water boiled, used some of it to dissolve the 3-in-1 mixture I had brought.

                                              An old samovar

I went back to my room and read some more while waiting for Saltanat who had promised to pick me up at 8:00. It was still raining when I fished my umbrella from the backpack and made my way to the pit toilet to answer nature’s call. I had to leave the door wide open for the space was extremely small and there was no source of lighting inside.

Saltanat showed up at ten to eight and asked if I’d had breakfast and I said that except for tea, which I had turned down, no breakfast had been offered. She called on the young mother of the house and she indicated breakfast was being made as attested to by the fact that a pot of milk was boiling on the hot plate most likely to make that most dreadful of entrees, the rice porridge.

I informed the woman I wasn’t interested in eating porridge and she offered to fry me an egg, but I just wanted to flee the place and, mistakenly, thought I could buy something to eat someplace else. Across the street we went with all my bundles and a taxi driver stopped cigarette hanging from his mouth. I refused to get into the taxi and had to wait under the rain some more.

We got to a building that was still locked up and there were some children, obviously Saltanat’s students, waiting for her. She told me they were there that morning to register for some kind of program. The classroom where the training was to take place was relatively spacious one, had a computer tower and a flat screen TV monitor acting as a screen.

Saltanat addressed the students in Kyrgyz and then introduced me as a “volunteer”, something I quickly corrected. The kids, from 3rd to 8th grade, could barely say their names and when I offered to play two games with them, they couldn’t follow the instructions. I then had to stand around until ten when the rest of the group showed up.

I couldn’t wait to ask Asel and Gulnara who’d had the bright idea of sending me to the home-stay place without first consulting with me. Asel tried to claim she’d discussed the situation in the car on the way to Naryn, but Willoughby stepped in and said no discussion had been heard by either one of us. Gulnara only said she felt the homestay should have been a better place than her brother’s even though she’d never set eyes on it. Asel's response was that such "hotel" was the place where all volunteers had stayed in the past. I reminded her that I wasn't a "volunteer" and stop calling me that.

I had already decided that I was going to do my presentation first, for the one measly hour that Asel had decided all four of us should have since she needed to be back in Bishkek the same day, and then high tail it on my own. Gulnara tried to dissuade me by saying that it would be a headache to find a taxi or marshrutka on my own, but I was convinced otherwise and recruited Saltanat’s help to make it happen.

At ten in the morning, only about twelve teachers out of twenty had shown up. Gulnara indicated that they had decided to run four workshops, one hour long each, without any breaks, so as to be done by two since many of the teachers lived quite far from the village proper. I was not quite satisfied that this was true and suspected the schedule was made up to accommodate Asel’s commitments back in Bishkek. I still have no idea why in the hell she was included in this trip.

While searching for my teaching materials, I came to realize I had lost or misplaced my house keys. A frantic search of every pocket in my new bag turned up nothing and I had to text my landlady to ask her to come to my rescue with her spare key once I got back to the city.

I was so mad about the whole situation that I could barely talk. Gulnara introduced me and I said nothing more, but got the teachers to do a whole class mingle for five minutes before showing them what a closed and open sort vocabulary activity looked like. Each activity was difficult for them to do and I just ended by doing the speaking activity using a dice to select a topic from the list on the board. To get teachers to speak without hesitation, repetitions or stopping was almost impossible.

My time was up and I explained to the teachers that I needed to leave immediately and gave the floor to Asel who was going to repeat her session on teaching vocabulary. Saltanat stepped outside with me to wait for the driver and told me how much she’d enjoyed the activities I’d presented and lamented I couldn’t stay longer to share even more.

The taxi driver heading to Bishkek drove an almost new car and I was fortunate enough to be the first one to be picked up, so I had front seat to myself. He made two more stops in the village, one of them to pick up a hefty package of what turned out to be meat of some sort and for a young man who smelled like an ashtray.

                    The road from Naryn heading back to Bishkek

We stopped once to have lunch and, wouldn’t you know it, my lagman noodles were completely cold. When I complained to the waitress, she just looked at me as if I had come from Mars. I pushed the dish aside and only had the last of the 3-in-1 concoction before using the bathroom and getting back in the taxi.

The car had air conditioning which was a blessing when passing the numerous road construction stretches where dust was flying everywhere. The driver didn’t head straight to Bishkek, but went first to Tokmok where he made two deliveries of meat, one stop in Kant and one outside Bishkek. He was courteous enough to drop me off right in front of my building, something I really appreciate it.

I had advised Meka to just leave the door unlocked once she got in, something she was alarmed to do, for she had a class to attend and I wasn’t sure exactly what time I’d make it to the flat. I was home around 6:30 pm feeling like the two longest days of my life had finally come to an end.

May 26, 2013

I found a message from Asel in my inbox in which she was asking if I could pay to hire a taxi for the round trip to Naryn and for Willoughby to pay the cost of transportation from the city of Naryn and the actual village where the training sessions were scheduled to take place. She claimed that Forum had no funds to pay for such outing, but I know for a fact that that’s not true.

I didn’t bother replying since I had told her already on Saturday that my PAA money needed to be spent under strict guidelines and approved by the embassy ahead of time. It was too late to submit a budget and I wasn’t even sure that they would consider the need for four trainers to travel to this hamlet in the middle of nowhere.

I had a chance to briefly skype with my sister and brother-in-law, mostly about my mom’s condition and the impending task of letting her know, in no uncertain terms, that her living-on-her-own phase was coming to an end. Evidently, that task will fall on me upon my return to the States.

I took a taxi to meet Asel, Gulnara and Willoughby at KNU since I was carrying too many handouts, magazines and my own stuff. Willoughby was sitting on one the benches outside doing her knitting while waiting for the rest of the party. I found it odd that we were scheduled to leave at noon with no arrangements whatsoever being made for lunch.

A taxi was waiting nearby and once we got in, he was instructed to stop at a nearby bazaar so Asel and Gulnara could buy things to munch on during the drive. I got the front seat and made myself as comfortable as I could for what I thought would be a 3-4 ride. At the first stop, I learned the trip would be much longer than that, perhaps six hours.

My questions regarding the hotel Asel and I were expected to share, what dinner plans there were and what the schedule was for the next day were answered in vague terms and Willoughby gave me that look indicating I should stop pestering Asel and Gulnara with those kinds of questions.

                            Entrance to the region of Naryn

As soon as we reach the mountains, a fine rain started to fall and the wind picked up. When we got into Naryn around five, I would not call this a city by any means, it was definitely cold and very windy. I requested a stop to use the bathroom since my stomach was still unsettled and I wanted to have a cup of my 3-in-1 coffee. I took a Lomotil pill just in case hoping that overnight most of the pain would go away.

It took another two hours to reach the village of At Bashy, we were close to the Chinese border Gulnara informed us, where without any prior announcement or explanation, Gulnara instructed me to switch into another car and then this car took off with a local teacher in it who explained she was taking me to my hotel. I tried to tell her that Asel and I were sharing a room and I needed to wait for her.

To make a story short, the decision must have been made between Asel and Gulnara, I suspect, that I was not to go to Gulnara’s brother’s house and that Asel didn’t have enough money to pay for the hotel room, so I was packed away on my own. The taxi drove into a muddy courtyard where my socks immediately got wet when stepped out as I cursed under my breath.

The teacher, Saltanat, made all attempts to apologize for the awful conditions, but there was nothing she could do or say that would relieve the dreadful feeling I had of having been abandoned without even an explanation as to where we would meet the next day. Saltanat took me into a home where the family rents rooms for the day, basically a home-stay arrangement, and one where I wasn’t happy to see about seven children under ten floating around.

I was given a room with no lock or key and the woman got busy covering the basic korpacha with a new duvet. There were other people apparently having dinner in the room next to my own, but I didn’t care for even smelling what I suspected would be shorpo or even worse, beshbarmak. Saltanat had a funeral to go to, but insisted on coming back and checking on me later on.

I had had no breakfast whatsoever, no lunch but a few pieces of flat bread and cheese and now no prospect of dinner either. I was so furious I could I felt like screaming. I called Willoughby, who still riding in the taxi on her way to Gulnara’s brother’s house, and explained the situation. She confirmed she hadn’t heard any agreement about my staying on my own and felt very sorry for me.

She handed the phone to Gulnara who acknowledged she didn’t know the conditions for this “hotel” as she kept referring to it, but as a far as the outside pit toilet was concerned there was no way getting around it since that was also what her brother had. I lamented that no one had conferred with me before making that selection and hung up on her.

I had had the wherewithal’s to bring my tablet with me and could at least read for a little while before Saltanat returned and accompanied me to another malodorous toilet on the edge of the vegetable garden, and one that I’d be hard pressed to find on my own at two in the morning. I decided that no food or drink was passing my lips that night, brushed my teeth at the sink located in the entryway and went to bed hungry and angry. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

May 25, 2013

Spent one of my worst nights with a severe case of diarrhea, the first time this had happened in Bishkek. The rumbling started before I went to bed only to get increasingly louder and more painful until the trips to the bathroom started depriving me of sleep and causing my hemorrhoids to start bleeding.

When I fired up my laptop, I found a message from my brother-in-law telling my mom was in the emergency room complaining of a severe headache and shoulder pain. The hospital was about to do a scan to try and find the cause of the pain. We went back and forth a few times, but there was nothing much to be done but wait for the results of the scan. I asked James to keep me posted.

In spite of the discomfort I was in, I knew I wanted to be present for Forum’s last session for the school year as Jill would be presenting for the entire two-hour slot and she’s a great trainer. I couldn’t eat anything for breakfast and just packed a few pieces of chocolate in my bag to eat while listening to the presentation.

Only a handful of teachers were present as today was what the Kyrgyz call “last bell” or last day of classes and apparently it is also the day when high school graduates parade all over town with a red sash across their chest while celebrating in many different ways. Many of the teachers were required to be present at their schools when their students graduate.

Jill gave a very energetic presentation on interactive ways to engage students in the English classes and even provided a folder with all the handouts she’d used during the presentation. Elvira came in at some point to talk to Jill and didn’t even bother to say hello to me. I did remember she’d promised to invite me to her daughter’s kindergarten graduation today.

When the presentation was over, Asel, Gulnara, Willoughby and I tried to discuss what the agenda was for tomorrow when we’re scheduled to depart for Naryn. Asel must have been operating under the assumption that I could finance the hiring of a taxi to Naryn and back for 4,000 soms or about $100.00. She also thought that Willoughby had funds of her own to cover the cost of the transportation between the city of Naryn and the village where the training is due to take place.

I disavowed her of such notion immediately telling I had been very clear in indicating that the money I had requested from my PAA was only for my transportation since lodgings were being secured at Gulnara’s brother’s house. In fact, I didn’t even understand why Asel was joining us at the last minute since that now made it four people in need of a place to sleep.

Before we left, an announcement was made that Forum would sponsor a picnic after all but details were hazy. I had heard from Calvin that a fantastic ballet was performing at five today and urged Willoughby to go get tickets before they might be sold out. The remaining tickets cost 1000 soms, or around $25.00, and a couple were left on the mezzanine. We also purchased our respective tickets for the opera “La Traviata” being offered next Sunday.

We headed to the Orto Sai bazaar so Willoughby could buy some fresh pork chops which planned on cooking and taking with her on the trip to Naryn so she wouldn’t get sick with the food served in the village. We returned to her apartment complex and I had a bowl of solyanka soup and tea at a restaurant nearby to calm down my stomach before we headed back to the Opera Ballet Theater.

I had been able to check my email at Willoughby’s place and got another message from James telling me the cat scan on my mom’s had come out negative and they were preparing to go home with her. That was a relief.

We saw tons of teenagers, the guys dressed in suits and bow ties, and the women in their white blouse and black skirt uniform parading on foot or in cars all across the city all of them in a very gay mood.

The ballet in questions was way too long, over three hours including the speeches, and I had a difficult time sitting for such a long time when my hemorrhoids were playing a number on me. When more speeches started at the end of the last performance, I asked Willoughby if we could leave.

Once at home, I had a little bit more of the lentil soup I had cooked a couple of days ago and finally got to go to bed.

Friday, May 24, 2013

May 24, 2013

Since I had slept so poorly the night before, I had a hard time getting myself together this morning. It had started to rain right before I went to bed and this morning the skies remained dark and ominous while the temperature had dipped substantially or enough for me to see people wearing their coats again.

I got to Lingua a bit before eleven after dropping off the original handouts to be printed for the session in Naryn on Monday. I brought Zarina the set of kitchen utensils I had purchased last fall as she and her husband are now building a house for themselves and will be needing everything for the household.

Gulnara was available, so I sat down with her to discuss the results of Jennifer’s visit and what was happening at Forum, which wasn’t much since no meeting of the officers had been held in a couple of months. I brought her the book Peter had given me on reflective teaching as I never had a chance to use it here.

I finally sat down to make the changes to the CATEC program Jennifer had requested so that all entries were uniform. Zarina notified me that a special luncheon was being held at one to say goodbye to both Nargiza and Adina as one was getting married and moving to Kazakhstan and the other to Dubai to make more money.

I wasn’t particularly hungry, but tradition dictated that I had to have at least a small portion of the plov prepared by Nargiza’s mother and the salads provided by Adina. The plov had no color or flavor and I had a tough time eating even the small plate of it mixed with a green salad.

I excused myself to go back to my project and worked on it until about 3:00. My copies were ready and the young guy even remembered to prepare a receipt for me. The #4 trolley came by just in the nick of time and I was home in no time at all. I had to take a short nap as I felt depleted of all energy.

Asel and her student were coming by at six, so I got up to make a list of the pages that were giving me problems with the e-book. They showed up on time and I made coffee for them before he positioned himself at my computer to look at the e-book.

It turned out that  the student wasn’t familiar with the program I was using and felt that unless he download it to his computer and played with it for a while, he couldn’t find a solution to the problems I pointing to. He did agree to provide me with a program so I could design a cover page on my own.

I worked on the booklet for another two hours before giving up on it and deciding that watching a movie would be a more suitable pursuit at that time. I chose a rather harrowing tale of human determination, “Rabbit-proof Fence”, based on a true story of a group of aboriginal sisters that are first abducted by the Australian government because they were of mixed blood heritage.

As in many other parts of the world where the notions of an inferior race plays a significant role, the sisters are taken to a camp to be indoctrinated into the Christian faith and prepared to become the future servants, nannies, and guards for the white people as well as unpaid prostitutes for the white masters.

No one makes any mention of the fact that if the white masters didn’t rape the aboriginal women, there wouldn’t be a mixed blood children problem to be dealt with in the first place. The hypocrisy of the Australian society continues to this day as the prime minister refuses to acknowledge the theft of the lands from the aboriginal people or the inhumane treatment to which they had been subjected ever since England turned that country into a penal colony.

Why did choose such a depressing film tonight?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 23, 2013

More gorgeous weather came my way today. I got busy as soon as I finished drinking my coffee as I needed to have the flat in tiptop form since Jennifer was coming to spend part of the night with me. I cooked the lentil soup, froze the marinated pork chops individually and cooked some white rice for dinner.

Once the dishes were done, I moved on to clean the bathroom, tidy up the bedroom and living room as well. I had lunch and then took out the trash. In between, I got to do some more work on the e-book and got confirmation from Asel that she’d bringing her student  by on Friday to look at the remaining issues with it.

I had agreed to meet Willoughby at three to go to a travel agency and firm up our plans to travel to Russia in mid-June. I walked to our agreed intersection and we went into the Carson Wagonlit travel agency where we were quoted very high rates to fly to Moscow and for the required visas. We decided to try another one and were given a just slightly lower quote.

Our inquiry about traveling to Russia by train, as the locals do, and return by airplane were met with disapproval by both travel agents as they felt it wouldn’t a pleasant experience and that it could take much longer than what the schedules says since there several border checkpoints with Kazakhstan to cross.

We found a coffeehouse nearby and had decent cup of coffee while pondering our choices. I offered to do some searching online to learn more about the train before we made a decision. From there, we moved on to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant Willoughby had visited a couple of weeks ago and had really liked.

I wasn’t really hungry, but since I needed to be home by seven to allow Jennifer into my apartment, I had no choice. The food was terrible, too oily and too salty, flavorless and perhaps not even fresh. I ate a couple of tablespoons of it and decided to take the rest home hoping to be able to perform some magic in my kitchen.

Natalia then called to say they were already at Vanilla Sky waiting for me even thought it was only a quarter to seven. I said goodbye to Willoughby and walked back to my place. Jennifer and Natalia were sitting in the new outdoor space Vanilla Sky has added to their building. After chitchatting for a few minutes, we picked up her suitcase and crossed the street to my place.

The front door to my building was locked, so I placed the container with the leftovers over the ledge and opened it, quickly forgetting the food. Once inside, I remember I had no water and after showing Jennifer the flat, we both went across the street to get some snacks for her and water for me. I didn’t realize the food had been left behind.

Jennifer and I talked for a while mostly about the EFL program and the peculiarities of some of the members of our group. We talked about the book club and its format and she showed me her Sony reader, one I hadn’t seen before. I offered my Wi-Fi access code, but she was unable to log on for some weird reason as the name of my provider didn’t appear on her screen.

She was going to be picked up at 11:45 pm and I thought for sure I’d be awake as soon as she turned her light on. Instead, she had to rouse me from my sleep to let me know she was letting herself out. I was so totally out of it, that I just stared at her uncomprehending her words. I finally got out of bed and locked the front door after she left.

I had the hardest time falling back asleep.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 22, 2013

I was delighted to see bright blue skies and torrents of sunshine streaming through both the kitchen and living room windows. After making my coffee and catching up with the news of the day, I was ready to tackle the kitchen duties. I stir fried the broccoli, boiled the pumpkin and marinated both the pork chops and pork ribs to make soup later on.

I did the dishes, cleared up the table of all other grocery items and put away the eggplant and cauliflower I hadn’t had the time to cook. I was able to do one load of laundry and had to spread this load over the furniture to allow it to dry as the rack was still full of drying clothes.

It was time to get ready to meet Natalia and Jennifer for lunch at a restaurant just about three blocks from my flat. I had a difficult time finding it because it wasn’t at the corner as Natalia had indicated, but a little up the street. We sat outdoors on beautiful rattan furniture and I ordered the fried lagman and salad I usually have, but instead of the tomatoes and cucumber I normally get, I was presented with a huge salad with no dressing of any kind.

A request for oil and vinegar went unanswered and by the time the noodles came, I had to hurry up and eat about half of it before it was time for us to go to Lingua. I had the waiter bring me a container for the lagman and the salad went into a plastic bag so I could have it for dinner.

The embassy driver dropped us off at Lingua where we met with Anna to go over the tentative schedule for the CATEC conference. Anna appeared to be angry at the requests for changes that Jennifer was making and especially her opposition to the addition of an extra session for Amanda, the ELF who used to be posted at Lingua.

Anna had a class at two and had to leave the meeting. I agreed to try and make the changes to the timetable once Anna sent me the entire document. It’s going to take quite a bit of work to make all the changes Jennifer wants, but I’ll do what I can knowing that Anna has done a lot of the work on her own.

We proceeded to the grand opening of the McMillan book shop attached to Lingua. There was the usual lineup of speakers from the Ministry of Education, McMillan representatives, and embassy employees and so on. The pre-service teachers, who had just completed their methodology course at Lingua, were also present so that Jennifer could officially hand them their certificates of completion.

Jennifer had requested that I try to fill my remaining time in Bishkek, now that schools and universities were closing for the summer, with activities for the Access students. I informed her about my intentions of traveling abroad with Willoughby for at least one week. She in turn asked me if she spend the night at my apartment before departing for Almaty Friday morning.

Rebecca was present and we had a little bit of time to talk about the upcoming teacher training sessions for Accels teachers and the summer camps for the Micro Scholarship program. She didn’t have a timetable ready yet, but promised to keep me informed about its progress.

After the speeches were finished and certificates handed out, we had time for coffee and pastries. I ran into Tatiana from the IUCA who had a question regarding the IBT, but I don’t know a single person who’s taken the TOEFL online and could comment on it. Gulnara commented that although she’d invited all members of Forum to attend the event, no one had shown up. Johanna and I talked for few minutes before she’d to move on to another event.

I made it home and put away the marinated pork chops in individual Ziploc bags while cooking the pork ribs so they would be ready for tomorrow when I’ll make some red lentil soup with them. I ate the remaining lagman for dinner and watched the movie “Everybody Says I Love You”, an unusual musical filmed by Woody Allen back in 1997. I really don’t remember ever reading about it and didn’t find it as satisfactory as other films in his oeuvre.

Anna forwarded the CATEC program pages without even including a greeting to me, that’s how mad she’s about the whole thing. Who can blame her? She’s probably overloaded with her classes as it is and then on top of that she’s got to work on this project for which she probably never volunteered in the first place.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May 21, 2013

I chose another perfect day to stay at home and work on a myriad of projects as the weather turned cooler and then the rain started and I mean heavy rains. We did get to see some weak sunshine in the late afternoon, but for the most part, it was a great day to stay at home.

I continued to work on the e-book, which is turning out better and better the more I work on formatting the individual pages into single ones. It is a time-consuming task though as I then had to move each page individually to where it ought to be. I got to listen to three great Argentinean singers as I went about my work: Sandro, Jairo and Malena. I also listened to Barbra Streisand for a while.

I took a pause from typing to continue to do laundry as I had decided it was time to start sorting my clothing into what would go back to the States and what I plan to donate to the Peace Corps organization. I brought down my suitcases and started piling the winter clothes I no longer need into the old blue suitcase I don’t plan to take back. It filled up pretty soon.

My fish stew still turned too salty even after the addition of potatoes and carrots, tomato paste and lots of water. I knew the fish I bought on the way back from Issyk-Kul would be salty, but I didn’t suspect it would be almost inedible. I ate mostly the vegetables with the flat bread I had at hand.

Willoughby confirmed we’d go to the travel agency on Thursday afternoon to find out about our choices of places to take a much deserved vacation before the CATEC conference at the end of June. We’ll then have dinner that same evening.

I took a break from the computer work and got to read the book “Where’d go, Bernadette?” to its conclusion. I didn’t find the ending satisfying as it doesn’t establish what the family dynamics turned out to be after the mother comes back in. I then started to read “Daughter of Fortune” by Isabel Allende, a book I’d had on my list for quite some time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

May 20, 2013

When I fired up my computer this morning, I was glad to see that I had no commitments for the day for I really needed some downtime. I ate the pieces of cake I had brought from the Royal Beach hotel and got caught up with my emails and Facebook postings before deciding I really needed to shop for food and a new handbag as mine was falling apart.

I decided to try the Orto Sai bazaar since I’d only been there once in the middle of the winter season and then for just a few minutes. The marshrutka ride was excruciating since most of the streets surrounding the bazaar were full of potholes. I got off at the same spot as I had done last January when I visited with Cristina and looked for a place to have lunch first as I was famished.

The first place I walked in reeked of tobacco and I had to back away quickly to avoid the assault on my nose. I then walked around for several blocks looking for another cafeteria where I could enjoy a simple plate of plov and some salad, but had to return to the bazaar itself to find one. The plov was all right, but my order of salad consisted of a handful of shredded carrots only.

Fortified now, I faced the daunting task of finding a handbag in the shape of a laptop carrier that would not be too bulky, but offered outside pockets to carry my cell phone, change and other accoutrements. After stopping at four or five stalls in the airless corridors of this bazaar, I found a very cordial vendor of Russian appearance who had what I wanted, so I didn’t even bother to try and bargain, something I’m horrible at anyway, and paid the 1,000 soms or $25.00 for the bag.

It was then time to seek out the butcher shop where I could buy pork meat and the vegetables needed to start cooking at home once again. I managed to fill my shopping bag to the very top including the purchase of some luscious cherries which I ate the minute I got home.

Getting home turned into an ordeal because I boarded the wrong marshrutka which instead of taking back to Manas Avenue traveled on Sovietskaya all the way to the city center and then turned on Kievskaya. I had to get off at Isanova and walk back the three long blocks barely able to carry my shopping bag. That should teach me to just buy a few essential items at a time.

When we were traveling on Sovietskaya, passengers kept getting on the minivan even though there wasn’t any room for them. I looked at my watch and noticed it wasn’t even 2:00 pm, so where were all these people going in such a rush they couldn’t wait for another marshrutka to come by? I’ve come to dread having to travel in these conveyances as they make me feel claustrophobic and I start to sweat the minute too many passengers crowd around me to the point I can’t see where the vehicle is going.

I got home totally spent from that frustrating ride and promptly went to the couch to take a nap which turned into something like a two hour siesta. I really must have been tired.

Natalia wrote to say she wanted for me to meet her and Jennifer on Wednesday for lunch and then from there to attend the meeting at Lingua that would review how the preparations for CATEC are going. I confirmed my attendance glad to hear I didn’t need to be present at the meeting on Thursday as well.

Johanna wrote back confirming her approval for me to travel to Naryn next week with Gulnara and Willoughby to conduct a full day of teacher training in that city, one I have never visited before. She mentioned nothing about representing her at the American Pilot School next Saturday when we also have the last of the Forum sessions and Jill will be conducting a session. I had explained that few teachers would be present since their schools required their presence for a variety of activities designated as the “Last Bell” ceremony.

I got some work done in my e-book and now will wait for Asel to come by with a student of hers who has offered to take a look at it and help out with the cover page design. I’m still having trouble getting some pages to fit the one-page format and some of them are in the wrong place. I do hope he can get these issues resolved.

There was a reply from my landlady explaining she’d come to my flat to be able to read the electric meter as the numbers were needed to provide an accurate statement for the next bill. I really don’t understand why these meters are on the inside of the apartment thus necessitating such access.

I told her not to rearrange anything in my flat, if and when her presence was needed there, as that had really freaked me out, and she countered by saying I was not supposed to leave the window open as dust was getting into the apartment. The nerve she has to tell me what to do in the flat I’m paying for! And she expects me to recommend her unit to my friends when I leave at the end of June. Well, good luck with that!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

May 19, 2013

It was my turn to oversleep as the day turned out gray and I didn’t wake until almost seven. Willoughby was already up and dressed quietly knitting away on her bed. I made coffee quickly and took a shower so as to wash my hair conscious of the fact that there wasn’t going to be any hot water back in the apartment.

Jill chose to sit with us at breakfast and talked about how nervous she was at having to give the last keynote speech that morning. She has a booming voice and a bubbly personality, so I wasn’t worried about her ability to deliver a lively speech. Maria, a student of American Studies at AUCA, also joined us and told us that program was being phased out for lack of enrollment as students can’t see the benefits of getting such a degree.

It was too bad we missed out on her presentation for her English was very clear and her topic interesting as she related that in Kyrgyzstan it doesn’t really matter what the student majors in as long as they have a degree. She mentioned she’s held several jobs since she was 17 years old and no one has ever asked her to produce any credentials.

We had suggested to both Elvira and Asel that we meet to discuss the possibility of having a picnic sponsored by Forum to cap the school year and suggested June 8th as the most suitable date. Elvira was only interested in having all members of Forum have their picture taken in front of the conference’s banner. I had sent a text message to Elvira the night before suggesting we meet after the roundtable.

She never responded, but approached our table at breakfast time to speak to Jill and didn’t even say good morning to Willoughby and I. When I asked her about a response to the text message, she claimed not to have had time to read it. This is the same woman who even checks her messages in the middle of her presentations. I swore right then and there that I wanted nothing more to do with this woman.

Jill’s speech as the best of all I had heard. She spoke very fast and very loudly, didn’t fumble with her slides and hit every point the different presenters had alluded to. I was highly impressed and applauded her repeatedly. A roundtable about the future of American Studies in Central Asia was to follow and I had no interest in it whatsoever, so I went back to my room to continue to work on my e-book.

We returned to the conference hall when it was time to do the evaluations, obtain the CD with all the papers that presenters had submitted and pose for a group photo. We then had 1.5 hour free time before lunch, and this time I approached Asel and reminded her of agreement to hold a meeting with the Forum members. Her reply was that she doubted there was any interest in such a meeting then for all they wanted to do was have their photos taken with the different presenters.

I cursed under breath, silently sending all of them to hell, and told Willoughby about the reply. We agreed we would not pursue the issue any further and would in fact just travel to the Alarcha Park on our own and have a grand picnic by ourselves.

Willoughby helped me work on some problems I was having formatting some of the documents that included tables for the e-book and thus we were able to reduce the number of pages. Her previous work in the production of a technical magazine has surely come handy for me here.

Lunch was another lackluster affair and I refused the white corkscrew pasta they had offered with some beef slices requesting instead that more sautéed vegetables be added. The Polish couple who had been constantly talking through each presentation was sitting next to us and the guy offered an apology indicating that his boss spoke no English and he had to serve as her interpreter.

Having served as an interpreter myself in the past, I wanted to say that in that case they needed to sit at the back of the room so as not to disturb the presenter and not at the front as they had done throughout the entire conference. I went past Elvira on my way to the bathroom, but she didn’t even look my way.

The weather had turned windy and chilly as we waited for the bus to pull up to the main entrance. Since I could see the entrance from my room, the minute the bus got there, Willoughby and I took our bags and secured the two front seats again. We left half hour ahead of time and made only two stops, one to buy smoked fish, I got four of them, and the required bathroom one in another pestilential hole in the ground one.

The sun was shining weakly when we got back to Bishkek. I asked Azema to help me locate a taxi and she decided to share one with me. When I got to my apartment, I found that someone, most likely the landlady had been there and had closed the kitchen window and drawn the drapes. I was livid with fury and quickly sent her an email letting her know I hadn’t given permission for anyone to enter my apartment in my absence. I’m still waiting for a reply.

May 18, 2013

I woke early as the room had only flimsy curtains and faced east, so the sunlight was streaming into the room by around five in the morning. Willoughby was deeply asleep and I didn’t want to disturb her, so I waited until half past six to get up and use the bathroom.

I had no luck in making the teakettle work, so I realized the hot water from the faucet was coming out scalding hot and would be good enough to dissolve the 3-1 mixture I had brought with me. We both had a cup of this coffee and while Willoughby worked on knitting yet another sock, I tried to get a connection to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, but had no luck.

We headed to the dining hall and sat with Calvin and a guy named Ilia. There was no tea or coffee on the table at 8:00 and we were told only tea was going to be served. Calvin demanded to see the manager as coffee had been included in the menu the conference organizers had selected.

Chynara, the head of the Association of American Studies, joined the conversation and apparently gave the female manager a dress down for instant coffee, cream and sugar were immediately delivered to all tables. We were then served a porridge of hard-to-identify source and I turned it down. We were told that was it for breakfast. I had some bread and cheese and Willoughby ate only the cheese as she doesn’t like white bread.

Another keynote speaker was on at nine and this time the topic was something I didn’t know already, but could hardly concentrate on because at least six people had their laptops open and were busily typing away while conferring with other participants. Others were openly taking calls on their cell phones or walking outside the room to pursue such conversations.

I was so irate that I called Chynara outside when the presentation was over and told her that my tax dollars were being invested in bringing all these people here so they could learn something and instead they were using their time to complete their presentations or scroll through their smart phones. She made a half-hearted effort at asking participants to refrain from such behavior.

Willoughby and I stayed in the conference room to see Sherbet’s presentation as I had met her in Jalal-Abad and she seemed quite competent. It might have been her first time presenting, but when she started to read straight from her paper, we both got up and left. I find that practice simply inexcusable.

We then went to see another young woman doing a presentation that purposely compared the influence of American music on the young people of Kyrgyzstan, but with only twelve slides to her presentation, she didn’t have much to say and when we asked her questions, she just froze. Bryce was the moderator, and the young woman came from the university where he taught, so he tried to help her out, but she didn’t utter a word.

Brice’s presentation on the civil rights movement had to be cut down short for they had scheduled six presentations before lunch. He spoke for about fifteen minutes and then had to go back to his room to gather his belonging as he was heading back to Bishkek to leave the country early Monday morning.

Ilia and Calvin had invited us to come along to drop Brice off at the Cholponata taxi stand and to have lunch at a place they had found. At the last minute, Calvin couldn’t join us, which was just as well for three of us in the back seat would have been rather uncomfortable in Ilia's Subaru.

We stopped at a place called “Green Café” and I enjoyed a thick, juicy grilled pork chop with French fries and two different sauces to go with it. After suffering through the unpalatable food at the resort, I was in heaven. Ilia and I sparred for most of the meal as I had thought he was of Turkish descent and he felt offended as he was of Georgian descent.

The next session on comparing paintings from American and Kyrgyz’ artists had only three paintings and no background on any of them. The woman who followed tried to demonstrate that using graphic organizers to teach poetry was just the dandiest idea. She gave no information on the two poems selected, didn’t even know exactly when they had been written and got very defensive when one of the American professors questioned the usefulness of such devices.

We left the conference room and went to join Calvin’s presentation on using local history and famous Kyrgyz people to teach English instead of relying on the people and places found in either the American or British textbook most teachers here follow religiously. This is something I’ve been preaching since I got here, but I wonder to what effect.

After dinner, we moved to the lobby area where my presentation had taken place and were treated to some really bad entertainment provided by some of the participants. The music and songs were all out of tune and mournful, the dancing lacked in grace except perhaps for a teacher from BGU who performed to the song “La isla Bonita”.

May 17, 2013

Although I had set the alarm clock for 5:30 am, two o’clock rolled around and I was wide awake. No amount of tossing and turning brought me any sleep and got out of bed about an hour later.

I got to do some more work on the e-book and then paused to finish packing my suitcase, grab a bite to eat and stash some snacks in my handbag to have something to eat during the four-hour ride. Willoughby called me at seven sharp to let me know she was already at the university.

I wrote the address for the university on a sticky note and added that I was willing to pay 80.00 som or less than $2.00 for a taxi ride there. The taxi driver was asleep inside his car, but after looking at my note and trying to convince me to pay more, I think, he delivered me to the entrance of the AUCA. Willoughby was across the street and came to greet me.

Shortly after that, a huge bus pulled up and we promptly secured the two front seats with an unimpeded view of the road by placing our personal belongings there while others arrived little by little. I met Jill, Elvira’s friend from Chicago, who had just arrived that same morning along with the professor I had seen on Monday at the American Corner and another one named Martha.

We had great weather traveling through Tokmok on a newly-paved road until we reached an area where construction work was still going on. The driver stopped for us to use the bathroom, a scary one this time where you could see all the way down to where all the excrements lay.

We reached Issyk-Kul before noon and were given an hour to find our rooms, unpack and then find our way to the dining hall, which was set off somewhat far from the main building. Willoughby had requested that the two of us be housed in one of the cabins with a front a porch and individual baths, but instead, we were led to the old three-story building that used to be a summer camp for school kids.

Our room was located right next door to the conference room and faced the front of the building with a rickety balcony I didn’t dare set foot on. The door handle to the balcony door came off when I twisted it and the electric teakettle I requested didn’t work.

We had the choice of a double bed and a single one and Willoughby chose the single one. We proceeded to the dining hall after a little bit and found out that the menu was just buckwheat and what appeared to be stewed beef. I refused to eat buckwheat and needed multiple interpreters to make the server understand that I needed either rice, potatoes or pasta to go with the meat. They eventually brought me a minuscule portion of boiled potatoes.

We went back to the conference hall to listen to Martha discourse on the subject of learning objectives, something that wasn’t new to me and thus held little interest. I was scheduled to follow that but in a different room behind the dining hall. I was dismayed to find out my presentation was scheduled to take place in a lobby.

I only had about five people, not including Brice, the Fulbrighter I had met before, the moderator, a professor from Florida I had met earlier that day, and Willoughby who had been entrusted with taking a couple of photos to send to the embassy. The screen for the projector had a green tint to it and the sound system, vital to my presentation on Latino/Hispanic performers, refused to cooperate.

I was beyond frustrated, but went ahead with the presentation because the five or six young women present all seemed to know Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias among others. I had no questions at the end of it and left the space as soon as I could gather my belongings. Willoughby was to present next at the conference room and thus I followed her there.

Willoughby had perhaps twelve people present and she talked about trends in the United States that the Kyrgyz population might not want to emulate such as the consumption of fast food, but healthy ones such as organically produced fruit and vegetables, recycling and others.

We had an hour before dinner, so we took a walk around the lake, but the weather was on the chilly side and a stiff breeze was blowing all around us. The views though were fantastic with mountains all around the lake, some of them still covered with a miniscule amount of snow at the top.

We ran into Elvira and Asel after dinner, another barely edible meal, and I gave them a report on my presentation telling them it had been plain awful and that there weren’t enough participants in the symposium to warrant having three concurrent sessions. Elvira claimed there were 60 participants all together, so obviously, many of them were playing hooky. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 16, 2013

I was up early once again as sleep eluded me one more time. I decided to tidy up the flat as I was expecting Laira to come over for coffee this morning. I was busily typing away when I got a text from her asking if she could come up at 9:00 am instead of 11:00 as was originally planned. I had no problem with that.

She came in looking quite glamorous as she’s indeed a gorgeous woman who worked as a TV host before getting married. I made coffee and we exchanged pleasantries as she told her younger daughter was turning four tomorrow and she was on her way to ordering a custom-made Rapunzel cake for her. She also showed a video clip of herself dancing bachata at the Bishkek Place shopping center where free classes are being offered on Saturday afternoons.

I returned her book, “Stolen Lives”, and gushed about how fantastic it had been only to realize she’d never read it and that most likely it belonged to her husband. We promised to get together again when I come back and try one of the clubs that offers Latin nights.

It was time to buckle down and write all the missing “Highlights Reports” Jennifer had been begging me to do after seeing my photo postings on Facebook as she needed to report on the ELFs' activities as well. I had only completed three so far and needed an additional fourteen.

When it came to be one o’clock, I took a break to go have a pedicure done at the place Gulnara had arranged the previous day. I walked to Sovietskaya on another fabulous day and then called Irina from there. She spoke no English, but had a customer there at the moment who instructed me on how to find the tiny beauty salon where she worked.

The whole process was comical to say the least for as hard as I tried to follow Irina’s instructions, she had to move my feet herself into whatever position she needed. She started out by shaving all the dead cells from the soles of my feet and then clipped my toenail into a more natural shape. She charged 450 soms for all that hard work, so I tipped her an additional 100 soms for a total of $11.50 as I was very happy with the results.

I walked back to the apartment and sat down again to continue to write the reports and attach the corresponding photos. Took another break when the weather got really hot to buy myself a beer across the street. I then had to go back when I remembered I needed 3-1 coffee for the weekend at Issyk-Kul as I have no idea what the coffee situation will be there.

I did another load of laundry and got most of my suitcase ready. I should be able to pack my laptop inside of it since I don’t need that many pieces of clothing for just a three-day weekend. I figured that since the conference is taking place at a resort, a suit should be unnecessary.

The book “Where’d you go, Bernadette” is simply hilarious and the fact that the plot takes place in Seattle makes even more so as I can recognize the landmarks and attitudes of the local population. I stayed a bit late reading it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 15, 2013

Have I mentioned that residents of the city of Bishkek will have no hot water for an entire month? I couldn’t believe it at first, but then my landlady confirmed it. When I mentioned it to Willoughby, who didn’t know about it either, we both wondered why it would take the city workers one month to supposedly clean up the pipes. I volunteered that perhaps they’d be using a toothbrush to clean every inch of them.

In any event, now it is a hassle to heat up water for every little task such as brushing my teeth since I like to soften up the bristles on my toothbrush because of the excessive sensitivity in my teeth.

I responded to all three emails from Caroline, Carol and Corrie accepting my request for inclusion of their handouts in my e-book. I then headed out to Lingua where I hadn’t been for almost four weeks. When I got there, I found out that some work was being done on the first floor and power had to be cut off for the entire day.

Without access to their computer and Internet, I basically had nothing to do. I chatted with Zarina, who informed me that she and her husband had purchased a plot of land and were beginning to build their own house. That was really good news as I know she wasn’t particularly happy about living with her in-laws.

When Gulnara was free, we sat down and talked at length about my trip to the south and the state of teacher training in Kyrgyzstan, especially the lack of standards when it comes to the curriculum the future teachers were exposed to at the different universities. She’d like to see a systematic approach to the training of these teachers, but has seen little progress in that area.

Zarina ordered lunch for everyone since no microwave was available to heat up leftovers. I had my usual lagman and salad and we had a most cordial meal in the teachers’ lounge with Nargiza, Chynara and Adina joining us along with Vicky from the bookshop.

Gulnara set up an appointment for me to have a pedicure tomorrow as I mentioned I was going to the conference in Issyk-Kul and my feet looked terrible. I’m to call Irina from the bus stop near Chuy Avenue and she’ll come and get me. I left Lingua after lunch and returned to the house to work on my presentation for the symposium.

Since my presentation is dealing mostly with singers that might be familiar to the Kyrgyz general population, I had to add all the music clips anew to the presentation and that took some time. I only have twenty minutes for this one, so what I’ve done might be overkill; nonetheless, it’s done and ready to go.

I most surprised to receive an email from a guy from France notifying me that my blog had been selected for inclusion among a host of other international blogs. At first, I almost thought the message was just spam, but it turned out to be true. Here’s the link to my entry:

How flattering, indeed.

Willoughby called me a little after five to say she was already at the Chinatown restaurant since she’d finished her work for the day and didn’t feel like going home and coming back. I offered to join her as soon as I could get ready. I had no trouble finding the place and we had a chance to catch up on the latest news on both sides.

At six, I went to find Max, who had agreed to meet me by the Ala-Too Square’s fountains, and ran into Al who was just coming in. Rebecca was next, then a guy Willoughby had invited and who acted really weirdly until he chose to leave early claiming he’d already had dinner, but would be coming back later. He never returned.

Luann was the last one to join us. Neither Gulnara nor Elvira showed up, something I kind of knew since neither one of them enjoys reading for pleasure. Dinner was a hit or miss proposition with dishes freshly prepared while others were cold. My beef and peppers dish was overly salty. I enjoyed the soup more than anything else.

Max began his presentation a book by a female Chinese writer, I followed with my report on “Sex at Dawn”, which Max kept, and Rebecca on “Where’d you go, Bernadette “, which I kept as it had something like five pages of blurbs recommending it, and Willoughby reported on the “Stolen Lives” book we had both read.

Al had read nothing because he claimed to be preparing to take the TOEFL. Luann had prepared a book report on “The God of Small Things”, a book both Rebecca and I had already read. When Max asked her not read it aloud, but to talk about the author and its plot, she refused saying she needed to read it line by line.

She has a tinny voice and the fact that the restaurant had a crooner on the stage didn’t help any in our ability to hear her. Max kept needling her about being a teacher and thus able to talk about a topic without having to read it. Luann got offended and put the piece of paper aside and refused to talk about her book at all.

We settled on the next book club meeting as June 12th, so that Max can attend one last time before heading home for good. I offered to host since Al was the only choice to do so and he claimed to live with his mother and needing her permission to bring strangers into her home. All the locals have refused so far to host the book club at their respective houses.

I don’t mind hosting in June since most likely that will be the last time I get to see the members of the club and because I’m not really sure this group will stay together once I’m gone. The local teachers aren’t interested in reading, always alleging they have no time or, what I think is the real truth of the matter, simply because they find it intimidating to have to talk at length about a particular subject in English only.

Rebecca and I walked together to my apartment building chatting about Central Asia. She’d just returned from a vacation home, to Boston, and was questioning her need to be away from her family for so long since she’s not one of those people who detests her family and wants to stay away from them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May 14, 2013

I had chosen the perfect day to stay at home and work on my e-book project. Elvira came by before ten to deliver the attendance sheets and evaluation forms completed by the participants at all the training sessions so I could complete my report for Natalia.

I asked her if she knew the exact location of the Chinese restaurant where the book club would be holding its meeting, but she indicated she wasn’t even familiar with the street in itself. I told her we needed to make a reservation, or at least let the restaurant know to expect around ten people for sure. She didn’t offer any assistance.

A few minutes after she left, I got a call from Max who had run into Elvira and had been told about the reservation at the restaurant. He’d been hoping that someone who was fluent in Russian would make the reservation for the group, but since no one had stepped up to the plate, he offered to do it himself and called me back to confirm it.

On a gorgeous day, I spent it most of it adding pages to my e-book while confronting the same problem of having what was a compact one-page document in my MS word turned into a two or three page one in the LibreOffice program. I’ll need some help with the formatting of this booklet for sure.

I sent email messages to Caroline, Corrie and Carol (what a coincidence that all their names begin with the letter “c”) asking for their permission to include the handouts they had previously allowed me to use. All three responded with a resounding yes as I had promised to acknowledge their contributions.

By mid-afternoon, it must have been in the low 80s and I went across the street and got myself a cold beer to drink. I took my camera along to photograph the jungle-like quality of my building’s courtyard where intoxicating scents were floating around.

My neighbors must have been quite busy gardening during my three-week absence for there were all kinds of flowering shrubs and even the beginning of tomato plants in neat rows in some of the plots. The vegetation is so dense right now that I can’t even see across the courtyard to the building opposite mine.

I sent Laira a text message suggesting we get together on Thursday for a cup of coffee since Elvira confirmed my participation this weekend at the symposium in Issyk-Kul with us departing early on Friday morning. I’ll be presenting that same afternoon. Laira agreed to come to my flat at eleven.

Damira had agreed to come see me this afternoon, but sent a text message indicating something had come and she couldn’t do it today. She’s one of the CATEC participants who has failed to submit a description of her poster for the program. I sent Anna the tentative program with the corrections I deemed essential while letting her know about those still missing a description, including Damira’s. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

May 13, 2013

Sleep and I didn’t get along last night and as a result, I felt tired and grumpy most of the day. I did manage to put a couple of hours editing the grammar mistakes out of the CATEC presenters’ submissions, but had to give up on some of them as I simply had no clue as to what they were trying to say.

I got a call from Jennifer as she wanted to discuss some issues regarding both CATEC and my work and evidently didn’t want to put those thoughts in writing. We also chitchatted about her recent trip to Tajikistan where all the participants in the English Teacher Mentoring program, in effect since 2008, had gathered for a reunion.

Natalia wrote to inform me that the English Language Specialist she’d been expecting to work on the textbook project, and with whom I was asked to work, had postponed her visit until September. I wrote back asking for guidelines on the report I needed to submit regarding the trip south.

I then remembered that I’d seen a video on YouTube purporting to show how to create an e-book entirely for free. I googled it and came up with a few links. One in particular, it really surprised me, was created by an African-American guy and it recommended downloading the LibreOffice free software to write the book. I’m used to seeing only white people giving advice on technological tips.

After doing so, I left the flat to meet with Willoughby as we both wanted to attend a lecture on jazz at the American Corner being offered by a historian from the United States invited by the U.S. embassy. When I got there, Willoughby was nowhere to be seen, but when I checked my cell phone, I noted she’d called twice and sent a text message cancelling due to an expected meeting regarding her project on HIV/AIDS prevention.

I stayed for the lecture, which was hardly worth it as the professor kept looking down at her notes or stared at the screen where a poorly made PowerPoint presentation was being projected. She had failed to embed the musical selections into it and had instead brought along someone from the embassy to do so one track at a time.

The crowd present consisted mainly of very young women, and a few males, most of which were fiddling with their cell phones or openly taking calls while the professor spoke. I cut my eyes at a few of them and even motioned with my hands for them to stop talking. I really have no patience with these people who come to an event only to continue their cell phone conversations as if they were at home.

I fled the American Corner the minute the professor started her Q&A session and stopped at the 7 Days supermarket to buy some salads and other prepared dishes as I had no intentions of doing any cooking for now. The trolley pulled up just as I was crossing the street and I got home rather quickly.

I watched the videos on creating an e-book several times and took detailed notes of the initial steps. It recommended a couple of websites where I could create a free cover page, but most of them appeared too complex for me. I did get to open the LibreOffice program and started to play with it.

Elvira wrote to indicate the committee for the American Studies Association was making housing arrangements at the Royal Beach Hotel and only double rooms would be available for the participants. I immediately requested that I be housed with Willoughby while asking her if this message implied that my paper had been accepted. I got no reply.

Meanwhile, Willoughby had reached home and sent the identical message to Elvira requesting we bunk together. She had been to this resort last year and reassured me the rooms were very nice and the food delicious challenging me to find any fault with it by the end of the week.

I was able to spend several hours working with the e-book format getting some pages to look the way I wanted them to while others had been changed entirely while copying and pasting. It’s going to take quite a while to get it all together, but I can’t wait to say that I was able to do it entirely on my own.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May 12, 2013

It was the perfect day to wind down after such a grueling road trip. I was up before seven and just after sending an email to my sister letting her know my Internet connection was working, she replied wanting to skype right away.

I finished my coffee and then spoke to my sister for almost two hours before my connection was abruptly cut off. We mostly talked about my mom’s deteriorating condition and the frustrating habit she’d developed now of not wanting to answer the telephone thus worrying everyone unnecessarily.

Esther also informed me that my niece Estefania had notified her at the last minute that she’d made other plans for transportation to her prom and would not need the services she’d been requesting for months. I haven’t heard from her since I asked to see a copy of her school grades.

The aspirations I had for her of attending a prestigious college based on her grades and extracurricular activities turned out to be just a mirage as she never really cared to study and detested reading all along.

I had some of the banana bread Willoughby had given me and a mug of foamy hot chocolate for breakfast. The combination tasted divine and made me question again why some people would settle for eating rice porridge every day.

I then got started on the “To do List” I had fashioned on the plane yesterday and got Max to give me the name and address of the restaurant where we’ll holding the May meeting for the book club. I sent out the notice right away.

With the much faster Internet connection, I was able to upload all my photos to Facebook along with copies posted to the Central Asia RELO and the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek. I also emailed Gulnaz all the photos I’d taken at her parents’ dacha.

I had a bowl of cereal and yogurt for lunch and even that tasted so much better than much of what I had eaten for the last three weeks. I took a long shower, did my hair and put on my favorite pair of pajamas to then watch a movie, “Grace is Gone”, starring one of my favorite actors, John Cusack. The movie was a very sensitive treatment of father dealing with the death of his spouse, who was serving in Iraq, and how he breaks the news to his daughters.

After thinking long and hard about the incident at the airport yesterday, I crafted a carefully worded email to Elvira, not to apologize since I didn’t feel that my reaction had been out of line, but to reiterate my befuddlement at her lack of planning so that our road trip could have come to a more harmonious end. She replied with a two line message saying she’d done what she had to do to comply with the paperwork requirement and was hoping I wasn’t still mad at her. No allusion was made to my original complaint.

Anna wrote to send me the tentative program for the CATEC conference and then I noticed the many mistakes in it such as missing articles, wrong prepositions and lack of subject referent. I started the corrections and got to page 17 before realizing the document contained 39 pages in all. Reluctant to undertake such a huge task on my own, I wrote to Anna suggesting we do it together sometime next week.

She replied to say the mistakes had been made by the presenters in their original submissions and that she wasn’t available to work on the document at all. The tentative program is to be emailed to Jennifer on Wednesday the 15 and she recommended that I complete the corrections on my own.

I agreed to do so as long as I could work from home as I was too tired to go to Lingua where most likely I’d be facing lots of interruptions anyway. I carbon copied Natalia, Gulnara and Jennifer on the message to cover all bases.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

May 11, 2013

I was having my last piece of cheese for breakfast when Elvira knocked on the door to indicate she was ready to take a walk to the Saturday market nearby even though breakfast hadn’t been served yet and it was already a few minutes past eight. She had peeked into the owner’s room and seen the couple still asleep.

As we were going down the steps, a stout woman I’ve never seen approached us with a tray containing a pot of tea, four fried eggs and that detested Russian bread. I turned the whole thing down reminding Elvira I’d had three pieces of salami and some cheese. She had her breakfast al fresco while I went across the street to take some photos in the park.

The market was a crowded, but colorful affair affording me the opportunity to take numerous photos of vendors and customers alike while they haggle for prices and tried to attract passersby to buy their wares. I only bought half a kilo of the sweetest dates unable to pack anything else into my already bulging suitcase.

Elvira went to town with her shopping buying a distinctive type of rice only grown here, pistachios, hazelnuts and dried apricots. The canvas bag felt like it was filled with rocks as we both pulled it by one handle on the way back to the guesthouse. While waiting for Jygit to come and take us to the airport, I worked on the photos I had taken and found the Internet speed to be good enough to upload them to my Facebook page.

Jygit came by at quarter to eleven and stopped at a convenience store so I could buy something to drink. There was nothing cold, but what they claimed to be iced tea and turned out to taste like cleaning fluid. After one taste, I gave it to Elvira to finish it. She, in turn, bought two fried samsas filled with a local herb to eat while in flight.

The tiny airport didn’t have an X-ray machine, so all luggage and handbags had to be examined by hand. Elvira was in a huff when told her luggage exceeded the allowance per traveler and argued with the airport employee trying to get an exemption. Since she was holding the line back, I told her to just cough up the money since she knew she had purchased all those edibles for her family.

Her riposte was that she was fighting the fees since she would not be reimbursed for that expense from the grant money. Dumbfounded  I commented that the grant money was not intended to pay for her personal expenses and that she needed to dig into her own pocket for those.

The flight took off on time and while I started to write a list of things to do when I got back to Bishkek, something that perplexed Elvira to no end, she promptly went to sleep claiming she’d had a restless night.

The day was overcast and we had chosen a seat over the wings, so there was no view to be had. I opened up my laptop and edited the remaining photos while the battery lasted so they could be ready for sharing when got back to my flat. I was able to read the beginning of a book on the life and works of George Orwell before the battery went dead.

Elvira woke up when the landing announcement was made. As we were exiting the airport, we went past a taxi kiosk and I asked Elvira what the plan was for transportation back into the city since were being besieged by taxi drivers at the moment. She didn’t reply and just continued walking.

She then struck a conversation with one particular taxi driver and we followed him into the parking when we boarded a newer type of SUV vehicle. He drove a little bit and then stopped on the curb, so I asked Elvira what was going on since my bladder was in desperate need of emptying and I was hungry and tired.

She informed me the driver didn’t have the required tax ID number she’d need to file her report and was talking to some of his fellow drivers to find one who had it. The car had automatic windows and thus I couldn’t even open them. After waiting for a few minutes, and noticing the murderous looks I was projecting, Elvira took off without saying anything to me.
I waited a while longer without seeing either one of them coming back. I was so furious I just wanted to get any taxi and pay out of my pocket so I could get the hell out of that place and into my own apartment. I went to find Elvira who was still talking to a crowd of drivers trying to find one with the proper paperwork. She panicked when she saw I wasn’t carrying her own handbag and yelled at me for leaving it unattended in the taxi.
I yelled back that I was sick of waiting and just wanted to get home. The driver followed us and apparently promised to get the paperwork along the way for he stopped again once again we got near the Osh Bazaar and said he’d be right back. I allowed him ten minutes before telling Elvira she’d better get me into a taxi for the remaining few blocks to my house or someone was going to get hurt.

Since the taxi driver couldn’t be seeing anywhere, she flagged a taxi and transferred our luggage into it and directed him to take me to my place first. She got into the taxi as well and refused to accept my offer to pay for it. When we got to my place, she offered to help me with my luggage and numerous bags, but I turned down the offer since I was just desperate to make it to the toilet in time.

I had nothing to eat at home except for an apple, an orange and the dates I’d brought from Batken. I ate those and called Willoughby to arrange for dinner at a Turkish restaurant she’d found to her liking. We settled for five o’clock thus giving me a chance to go across the street to pay for my Internet access and buy some staples.

I walked to the Anatoli restaurant and found Willoughby already there. The poor woman had to listen to me for a couple of hours I as ranted and raved about my three-week ordeal through the south of Kyrgyzstan. Even in Bishkek, of course, I couldn’t find anything to my liking at this place since I didn’t want to eat meat. I had to settle for a salad and the yellow lentil soup I’ve come to like.

The so called “salad” was just a rather dry dip accompanied by bread that was cold and tasteless. At least the beer was cold. Willoughby wanted for me to try their baklava, which I did, and found it to be was decent. She insisted on paying as a way of welcoming back to Bishkek and brought out half of a banana bread loaf she’d baked earlier so I could have something to eat for breakfast.

I walked back to the flat content to know I’d be sleeping in my own bed, with a real pillow, and no commitments to think about for the next few days.