Sunday, May 19, 2013

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. 

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