One Week

With 125 hours left (yes I’ve been counting by the hour since 1000) I have recently been experiencing mixed feelings.  The obvious ones surrounding leaving my longest relationship of my life are clear, but the reason for my writing today is not to dwell on that.

Its hard not to constantly compare my life with my time in the military, but I may have come into this experience hoping it would be similar, and I have to conclude that nothing will ever come close to then.  Today was my fellow Bishkek FB-er’s last day, and her friend asked me if I regret coming here.  I am not sure yet.  Coming off my time in the military and then school, and getting to live back home for a year for the first time in 5+ years, to this isolation, that I most surely won’t miss, and I seriously look forward to settling down back home for the long haul, whatever it may bring.  As this is my KGZ blog, I wanna end it more positively than my last entries were, as I stopped blogging a while back as I saw it as becoming selfish, had been told too many times it sounded like I “hated” it here and the kicker and straw that broke the camels back was when I was reminded that it was unprofessional to publicly and openly express the downside to being here when I am essentially a paid advertisement for the Fulbright program.  That said, I refuse to bullshit, so instead of write fluff pieces about how wonderful my time here is, and the amazingly hopeful things happening here, I shut down the writing, not to say I didn’t want to continue to write as it is my only true outlet to the outside world and my tool to not have this experience be solely internal.  Now that I have finished classes at the University, had my final talking club and stopped taking gruelingly unproductive Russian lessons (best decision I made here, wish I had done it earlier), the time for reflection has started as the pressure to do a better job at work is over, whats happened has happened and I can only tell myself that no one else knows what it was like in my shoes here, I should have been stronger and more productive, but given the circumstances, and not making excuses, I can say I made an above average effort to make the best of the situation to the best of my ability.  In summary, for now, I hope I can one day, after a thorough debriefing, de-stressing and reintegration back into society and productivity, that in my time here most importantly, I learned how important it is to know one is doing the best they can without acknowledgement or accolades.  After that huge lesson, kinda unlearned cause I still feel like I wish someone would truly have recognized my work here and fear I will go right back to the rat race for recognition (fine with me if it makes me money this time around, j/k, sorta), I can surely be happy leaving here knowing I learned a hell of a lot about a world which few Americans understand in a non-academic and non-elite way, along the way making a few friends who I look forward to sharing stories about my time here with in the future (similarly to my vets).  My best friends in the world are still at home in DC (for the most part), and it is unreal that soon I will be going back to them, and the frustrations that go along with having 9-5 ers as best friends when I have thus far lived an alternative life.  It has been time over the past few weeks to cut myself a break, and that has eased the difficulty and at times self inflicted difficulties I faced here.  I am going to the big mountain lake, the most popular vacation destination in Central Asia, for the weekend with my girlfriend, have 2 days in Bishkek next week, and its over.  As other FB’ers I have come to know have started returning home have begun posting how much they are sad they had to leave their country, right now I cannot say I am sad to leave here.  I will be sad to not see my girlfriends daughter running towards me in joy, or her exuberant smile.  I will miss the sense that I am a role model for hungry students in a place where there are few, and the sense of being looked up to, something that doesn’t happen when I am asking people if they want lemon with their water, the profession I am returning to.  Most of all, I will miss knowing that, despite the oft turbulence, I know that here I have a partner who is with me 100% heart and soul.  That part I can truly say I feel so sad about, I have almost pathologically removed it from the forefront of my mind.  In summary, Z and her family and the things she taught me about her life and humanity in general will never leave who I have become and who I will be.  The other people I met, ex-pats and locals alike, have shown me a side of life I will never forget albeit am unsure if I want to join life so far away from home for a year straight for a 3rd time.  As for the country as a whole, it will always occupy a solid place in my understanding of life and I will forever give gratitude for being allowed to take part in KGZ’s cycle of life which will now go on with me in absentia.

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Tough Times

Not unexpectedly as I am approaching 9 months away from home now, I have hit a low point in my time here.  I informed my Russian tutor today I no longer wanted to have lessons with her.  I have seen her every week day since I arrived in country, minus my trip to Sri Lanka, Batken and home for X-Mas, and after my GF, she has easily been the person I have spent more time with in this country than anyone else, albeit at $10/hr.  I just couldn’t take anymore what, as one of her “seriozna” students put it (aka, I am lazy), her task master style of teaching.  Last week, my GF all but broke up with me because I have been so angry and upset and it has rubbed off heavily on our relationship, not to mention my students think I am a grumpy person.  I have realized that with my final 42 days, as this is MY time here on a grant and not part of a program as was made abundantly clear by the “independence” I have been granted,  I must do everything I can to try and improve my attitude.  This will begin with weaning myself from quarter-hourly checking FB, taking a new approach to learning Russian, and in general cutting out negative and unproductive influences that I previously acquiesced to as coming with the territory.  No more destructive, inconsequential and meaningless friendships, behaviors or desires.  I will not continue to chase down friends who are not there, nor will I reach out for support from those I previously thought might be interested in providing advise or guidance.  I am hoping that this focus on myself will allow for me to at least be able to bare my final time here, as it has gotten so bad that I have been literally counting hours recently.  Despite the creature comforts, I have A/C and a hot water installed as hot water has been shut off for the city for the summer, the mind fuck here is as bad as anything else I have done in my life.  I just want to get home unbroken, with some belief left in myself, my abilities and the potential of a productive future.

On a couple side notes, my final day at Arabayeva yesterday came and went as expected.  My second class did not show up, the director was not at school, and upon saying goodbye to the teachers in the office who were busily filling out paperwork indicating which students were paid up and which were not, a process they call “reviewing” for final exams, they didn’t as much as lift their heads.  One muttered bye.  As for my tutor, she took my money and walked out angrily, fair enough, I just informed her with no notice that I no longer wanted to pay her 100/wk for 6 more weeks, a move I have only finally worked up the balls to confront her with.  Guess no love lost here.  Unless there is a specific immediate benefit, fuck emotions or politeness.  Shits going downhill at the American Corners as well, where the director recently accused me of loosing/stealing a book, I don’t understand what her implications were.  I would need to reimburse the library for it.  Good baby Jesus I don’t know if I can make it to the 4th, let alone a career as an FSO.

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About Time for a New Post

I was recently reminded that I should feel free to express myself, but I should do it in a professional manner, so this will be a tame post.  I have not written in a while, and regret that, especially considering my attempt to write 100 posts in 100 days, which was sidelined by my Batken trip, and then never restarted.  I recently read my AFG journal, and really wish I had daily entries in there.   It is surprising the little things which bring back the sights and smells, and small forgotten details.  Anyways, keeping in mind that this may actually be read by those who would look at it critically and not as a private yet publicly available journal, today I will talk about the real culture shock.  Not this thing that everyone is aware of, aka, go to Japan and you will have to take you shoes off and bow, or that you will miss the normalcy and comfort-ability of home, but the really odd habits and cultural norms that I just cannot wrap my mind around after 8 1/2 months, even if they in some far off fashion have justification on a primal level.  Here are a few odd ones:

Whistle and you become poor

Sickness:

     A breeze will make you sick.  So if you are in a stuffed and hot bus, whatever you do, don’t open the window…

     When sick, do not drink water, especially not cold water.  Drink vodka, and rub it on the affected body part

Yawning is rude, make no sounds and without a doubt cover your mouth.  Don’t wanna show that ugliness.  God forbid other bodily functions, even if inadvertent.

Sitting directly on the ground will cause infertility.

Cars get right of way over pedestrians, and the horn is a tool for anger, god help you if you shut a door too fast.  Traffic lights and roads signs are more suggestions than hard rules, and obeying police is optional and only consists of a small bribe.

Taking proper care of one’s appearance is necessary and lack of it is grounds for insulting those around you, minus using deodorant. 

Learning – Suffice to say, Paftorinye mats ucheniye – Repetition is the mother of learning.  This is Catholic school gone wrong.  Oh, and depending on how confident you are, who knows how one would know what would justify confidence in mystical testing, is what determines the proper bribe to pass a test.

Ne Culturna – Guess that is what I am here, it apparently means the same in Russian as in English. 

DISCLAIMER These are MY personal reviews and do not reflect in any way, shape or form the Fulbright Program.  50 days and a wake up.

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I got nothing but my word

I really have nothing interesting to add today, but true to my promise, I will blog every day till I leave, aka, stop getting email notifications if you do.  Zoia got in yesterday, and proceeded to sleep for 7 hours, I had forgotten about jet lag, so we didn’t get to plant flowers at her Dacha.  When I finally went over to her house, her daughter was sick with a couch, it was amazing to see the feisty eyes unable to get her body to behave, she was slumping over, coughing and sleeping, very cute.  She was better this morning and I walked her to school on my shoulders, a bright start to the day.  Then I got to class, and my students had for the most part not done their homework, to write about their dreams.  So much for that topic, fine, so i tried a game designed for 6 year old, “Don’t Say it”  That was a fail too, not a single student understood the rules.  So we digressed into playing hangman.  Reeeeaaaly making strides as a teacher here.  They all said they wanted to be translators, but none of them speak English, nor do they want to put in the hard work at home, nor really in the classroom.  Its like they haven’t grown up from being children, I wonder when reality will hit them, unfortunately, probably when it is too late.  Looking forward this evening to going out in the park with Z and Camilla, her daughter.  Its supposed to be 76 degrees today, shorts and flip flops! if I didn’t have to stay in to learn Russian.  Hope I don’t get in a fight with my totor today.  We usually quarrel about her methods and my laziness, but Friday, she all but walked out, saying on her way out the door, see you on Monday.  Wow, Russians are intense.  95 days.

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Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel

I picked Zoia up from the Airport.  It was nice to see, that even in an often dreary place, if you want to see smile, watch people being reunited at the arrivals area of an airport.  Getting to hear her laugh, see her smile and feel her inner warmth warm my recent coldness, which is only a result of two people who feel connected and close together back together in the comfort of each others presence, has for at least a day made me feel like I will for once write something truly positive, and not just bullshit positive, That combined with talking with LS last night, and having her remind me that there is hope, even if I return hope jobless, to eventually find something fulfilling, and Liz reminding me that its not the job title I should be so concerned with but more the work of which there are many types and I should focus more on that rather than the title, I am more confident, anything is better than where i was before and will probably return to tomorrow, that even if I do temporarily return to the service industry, it will not stay that way and I hope to have something lined up eventually and shouldn’t focus on the fear of toiling in obscurity in a non-self fulfilling position for perpetuity.  That combined with the weather in the 70′s, birds are chirping, sun is out, flowers are appearing, ice has melted, no “teaching” (its Sunday), mountains are not obscured by smog from my apartment window, why not just let myself be happy for a day even if in 96 days I will be jobless and no closer to Russian fluency…  Today is one for the good column, I have my best friend and brightest light in KGZ back and I’m gonna let the shitty shit slide, worry bout that shit again tomorrow.

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Small Post

I know its gonna get annoying, 97 more posts to go.  Yesterday (when I should have posted) was dull, though I did find a “good” sushi place, seemed pretty legit, and they scream hello to you in Japanese when you walk in, quite entertaining, and decent food after walking across Bishkek twice in order to find it so my friend could have a vegetarian meal cause its Friday during lent, he found the place on google with high reviews.  We first went to the wrong side of the city looking for it, after visiting a Peace Corps complex, what they call an office, seems like over bureaucratic if you ask me, opposite of Fulbright.  After finally calling and getting directions, we found it, hidden among the common sheet metal roof houses, more like huts, and it was not bad.  Ran into a former PCA there, seems like a magnet for those who are looking for a form of good food here, KGZ isn’t know for its culinary uniqueness, despite having been on the “ancient silk road” spices in food are hard to come by.  Anyone who says come here for the delicious food is lying.  The PCV suggested I help officiate a future football game.  Got in such a big argument with my Russian tutor today, I’m tired of her getting angry with my lack of progress, telling me I don’t try, when I have never once cancelled a single two hour daily session with her.  Possibly learning introductory Russian from someone who cannot explain the rukles or translate in English was a bad idea.  I cling to the idea that I will never find a good teacher, its up to me, cause that at least gives me hope that Im not a lost cause at least, I just need to try harder.  I bed for alternate methods other than memorization, but she just insists to memorize all rules, words, and then expects me to be able to use them, including getting mad at me when I have forgotten ones from months before.  I’m at my wits end with Russian, starting to rethink my ability to learn foreign languages, and as unfortunate at it may be, may need to give up all hope of pursuing the career type I would like.  I’m tempted to fade into a normal 9-5, just show up, go home and fuck off to whatever new HBO show is on or cheap bar with a 1 and 1 special.  Sick of failing and being called names I feel I am not, lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined, rude, nervous, least in the restaurant industry and the military, I had opportunities to show how dedicated, reliable and hard working I am.  I’m considering just asking Matchbox if I can have a managerial position with them, for least a semblance of pride.  I’m not sure if its the isolation, self pressure, or an actual lack of talent or ability, but I feel like I am not succeeding at anything here or previously in my past employment, career wise or otherwise.  I also am feeling more and more every day that I wasted my opportunity to get serious about academia.  In need of some validation, or just to get to go home already, the good days are getting fewer and further in between, even on beautiful days like today was, I would prefer to sit on my couch and watch BS on my computer.  Hope this lackadaisical-ness knocks off when I get home, but I fear it wont.  Inaction breeds more inaction, the less important I feel, the less I do, and downward I spiral.

I want to make this a real blog, not the usual bland, i am so amazing look at me type, but need to find a balance between ranting angrily and depressing everyone, versus the insinsere positivity most people oblige their readers of in oredr to garner more attention or whatever, I don’t have that in me right now.  On a side note, found an amazing book about KGZ, read it in two days it was so clear and concise about questions I have asked myself about this place for a while, should be required reading for anyone who thinks they are qualified to talk about this region of the country, Restless Valley by Philip Shishkin.  As much as any other reason, this quote pretty much sums up my frustration with my time here:

“I thought of Kyrgyzsatn as a bizarre case of direct democracy taken to its most absurd extreme in a society where institutions and laws are weak or nonexistent, where clans are strong, and where poverty makes people edgy, easily manipulated, and ready to attempt risky things.”

This is, among many other wonderful one liners that succinctly sum up this place, found in this book, along with an incredible understanding of behind the scenes events and culture, and no fear or bias in telling things the way they really happen here.  I finally found answers to some glaring questions, especially surrounding their politics, xenophobic culture and crumbling public and private systems.  I was sick of hearing US policy about what this place was, juxtaposed with the government and “local media” bias, or getting stories form off the reservation ex-pats or brainwashed locals.  Such a relief to know I wasn’t the only one who didn’t buy those lines of thought, and an amazing and interesting read for anyone interested in the developing world, post cold war battles, corruption or regional central Asian studies.

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The Sun Came Back

Springtime again has peeked its head from behind the cold mountains, hopefully this time to stay.  The temperatures are great, the roads and sidewalks are no longer covered in ice and the muddy cold puddles are evaporating.  This leaves behind a city which seems worthy of maintenance, apparently.  People now sweep their stoops and sidewalks, rake the leaves and clear away the trash a debris that accumulated during the winter.  As this town is coming to life, I have renewed hope that these last 98 days will not be as much of a struggle as I feared.  I need to stop taking the despicable level of education occurring at my school, and the students apathy towards their plight, personally.  I hope to enjoy my final days here.  Hows that for a positive post.  Looking forward to my last weekend sans Zoia and then she gets back Sunday, when we will plant flowers at her Dacha, like a summer village with a garden.   This hasn’t been the harshest of cold Kyrgyz winters, but the effect has still been rough and Im looking forward to chirping birds, happy people and warm breezes even if my “work” continues to be a free for all jumblefuck with no real purpose.

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