After swearing in on June 19th, volunteers departed to their new homes and permanent work sites. I have been busy settling in to my new site and exploring the beautiful surrounding areas. Let me tell you a little bit about my new home:
Ananevo is a large city of 9,000 located on the northern shore of Lake Issuk Kul in the Issyk Kul Rayon (district) of the Issyk Kul Oblast (state). If you can’t tell, people are pretty big on the lake here. It brings in a lot of tourist revenue for nearby towns like Bosteri and Cholopon Ata as well as providing fertile lands for farming and grazing sheep, cattle and horses (all of which are eaten here). Issyk Kul is the second largest (182 kilometres, 113 miles by 60 kilometres, 37 miles; 688 metres or 428 miles around) and highest alpine lake in the world. At an altitude of 1,607 metres (5,272 ft) it reaches 668 metres (2,192 ft) at its deepest points. The lake is cold, but refreshing to swim in on a hot day. Because the lake is salty, no animals drink from it so the water is also relatively clean compared to surrounding freshwater ponds and smaller lakes. I have yet to see any wildlife living in the lake besides some sea grass looking plants, however people here swear by the fish that are “caught in Issyk Kul”. These are the smoked and salted fish that are sold on the side of every road and by Baikes wandering the tourist beaches in every town in the Oblast. They taste a little like smoked salmon (if you close your eyes and think really hard about lox) but overly salty, a little dry and usually a little more potently fishy. Not my favorite treat here, but they are a favorite with the locals when people can afford to splurge (they are a little pricy for the every day dinner table).
Ananevo was named after “Ananev” a soldier in the war from 1941-1944. There is a large statue of his bust outside the entrance to the park where people frequently leave flowers and gifts.
There is also a large mural on the wall behind him to commemorate those who fought in the war.
Just beyond the gate of the park there is a memorial wall with the names of those from Ananevo who fought.
My main work site is the Village Health Committee in Ananevo, but since they do not meet very frequently (it is run by volunteers, usually local nurses and other interested parties, I’ll go into more detail about the health system in a later post) I have been working at a “Rehabilitation Center” for disabled children near the town’s center. The building is pretty new (only 2 years old) and is a very nice space fro children. It is connected to the local library (which is open sometimes, not every day) so I have gotten to know the Librarian since she has to show up to unlock the outside door for me. She promises she is getting a key for me since many days I show up earlier than she does. Currently the Center is only being used as my “office” and as a space for me to hold my English Club, for which I am very grateful seeing as many volunteers say it is sometimes difficult to find space to hold meetings. However we have yet to have any rehabilitation days or activities for children with disabilities at the center. With my limited Russian language skills I have gathered this is because the children this facility serves live not only in Ananevo but also in surrounding villages and only come to the Center for events, training days, or special parties when we invite them. Summer is the busiest time of year in Kyrgyzstan because many families work in agriculture and rely on the summer’s income for most of the year so not only are many adults very busy, but children are also frequently expected to help at home. I speculate, but this could also be a reason the Center is not as active at the moment.
Despite the fact that I came here not wanting anything to do with teaching English, my English club is something I do that makes me feel pretty useful here. Every volunteer takes part in some sort of English teaching and I am glad I have found a great group of students who are interested, engaged and for the most part show up within twenty minutes or so of the club’s start time (this is typical Kyrgyz time, this are just a little slower here). Every Wednesday and Friday anywhere from 6 (if it’s raining and no one wants to go outside) to 26 (if it’s not quite nice enough outside for them to want to play instead, but still not raining thus barring them in their homes) school aged children (ages from 11 to 16) come to the Center and we have an hour of fun. Wednesdays are our “health days” which essentially means I make the kids learn basic vocabulary about body parts, medical professions, nutrition and healthy lifestyles and other simple health related topics that wont scare all them away yet. They love to play games and despite their request for more “cool American music,” their favorite song is “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” They are a little camera shy so I haven’t quite gotten the full song on film yet, but when I do and when I have the internet speed to upload a video I’ll post it.
Fridays are “fun days” where I let them pick the topics. So far they have mostly requested to learn about American culture. Their interest in American holidays was perfect timing since my very first Friday fun day was the 4th of July. Here are some of the gifts they made me for Independence Day:
They also remind me every day that they want to listen to more American music, which they think consists solely of young female ex-Disney stars gone pop rock and Justin Beiber (don’t worry I’ve begun educating them on quality American music and I immediately corrected them that America can’t and doesn’t want to take credit for Justin Beiber, he is all Canada’s responsibility/fault). Overall I am excited that I can work health into the English club and still have interested students, but we will see if they continue to be interested after the magic of me being a shiny new American volunteer wears off.
My family in Ananevo has changed a little since I first arrived. In late June, I arrived to a home with a mother, Zanipa (Занипа) who is 52, a host brother Daniel (Даниел) who is 12 and a host sister Ainaizik, (Аинаизик) who is 8, however last week I discovered that Ainaizik and Daniel are actually my cousins 9the children of my mother’s brother) and live in Osh. Despite the fact that they both helped me draw a family tree the very first week I arrived at site (and watched as I drew their names as Zanipa’s children without correcting me) I found out that they do not live with us only when their father came last Monday, picked them up and took them back to Osh Oblast (literally the furthest south we are allowed to travel without being in dangerous territory in Kyrgyzstan). The good thing is, I now have someone to visit in Osh and an excuse to get down there. On the other hand, despite the fact that I don’t have any siblings I have to teach to knock or to not eat all my food, now my mother and I have a very quiet bachelorette pad and it is sometimes a little lonely since we both work a lot. Just another reflection on how important it is to become fluent quickly, so you know what the heck is going on and who the heck you’re living with. My mother is a wonder woman and works two jobs, one at the Ail Okmotu (local village level government) in Ananevo and the other is in Cholpon Ata with the Rayon office finding jobs for the unemployed. She is patient with me, teaches me something new every day and is a very sympathetic listener to my terrible Russian. When I asked her why she wanted to host a volunteer, her response was “I want an American friend.” My heart melted. What more could I ask for?
My house is on the main north-south road, which runs 3 km down to the lake and 7 km up to the base of the mountains. Needless to say I have incredible views. We have three buildings that make up our home. One is the kitchen and eating area, connected to my mother’s area by an indoor/outdoor hallway and dishwashing space (it has walls and is enclosed but you wear your shoes in it which you would never do inside so I’m not quite sure how to classify the space). My mother’s area has two rooms, her bedroom and guest room with a television (yes, we have Russian cable) where the kids mostly used to hang out during the day. My room is in another building that faces the kitchen area but consists of a small storage room, a huge guesting room and my bedroom. All three buildings have pechkas (coal, and sometimes dung, fired ovens used to heat homes here in Kyrgyzstan) but since I am the only one living in my building and the space is very large I will have to figure out how to efficiently heat my room in the winter. I will also have to learn the ways of the pechka (what to burn, when to burn it, how to not burn the house down or smoke myself out of my room), which I have been told, will officially make me very Kyrgyz and thus a good Kalin (a Kyrgyz daughter-in-law/bride).
All in all I am very happy with my site and despite the language frustrations, constant miscommunications, and feeling of uselessness since it seems like I’ll never be able to give a health seminar or present relevant information in Russian language, I see a little improvement every day and the little things are what’s most exciting.
The center of town where all the Mashrutkas, Taxis and people hang out, is only 50 yards from my house. We also have a small bazaar just down to road (behind the larger yellow building)
My walk home from work provides a rather fantastic view of the mountains