Friday, June 22, 2012

Welcome back!

Alright, so, it’s pretty obvious that I haven’t updated this in quite some time.  Quick recap:

1)   ET’ed (early termination) myself from Peace Corps for reasons that go far beyond what I will write about in here. 
2)   Left Kyrgyzstan and moved back to Anchorage, Alaska.
3)   Scored my old job back and have been spending my days passing time as a well paid admin assistant.  Even though management swears that isn’t what my job is, I’m not yet convinced.

(I’m sure there are a few more details, but I mean really, that about sums it up.)

Why am I starting this back up?  Well to be cool like all my other friends of course.  It seems that blogging has been brought back from the dead in the past few weeks and now I have numerous friends who post to their own blogs and I am constantly amused.  In an attempt to bring even part of that same level of joy to you, I am going to try and get back into this blogging thing.  That is until I get bored with it again.  Stay tuned to find out when that will be.

My first post after over a year of silence?  I figure I’d better make it Kyrgyzstan related since that’s what this whole blog is supposedly dedicated to.  I’ll have to figure out how to update this thing since apparently I did buy some vowels get out of a country that has none.

So, I’ve decided to write up my Top 5 grossest and most memorable experiences from PC.  In true countdown style here we go:

5) Peeing myself on a walk home.  So, we’ll start this list off pretty tame with just a little pee trickling down my leg.  I am still not sure what happened to my bladder control while living over there, but it was quite a change from what I am used to.  Most people who know me can confirm that I rarely have to get up and run to a bathroom.  In fact on long car rides, I hate the idea of having to stop to let other people take a pee break.  They’ve all informed me it isn’t normal that I go for the full 6 hours between Anchorage and Fairbanks and never need to stop to find a restroom.  This fact just adds to the oddity of me almost peeing myself on numerous occasions while in PC.  Then the day finally came that it happened.  I was “downtown” Kant with a group of friends when we left the café we were at to all head home.  It was about 25 minutes from there to my house, so I didn’t put too much concern in the fact that once we left I realized that I needed to use the bathroom.  I mean, 25 minutes?  Shouldn’t be a problem at all.  WRONG.  At one point I was scoping out the woods wondering if I would be better off squatting behind a tree than risking the next 10 minutes of pure bladder exploding pain.  But I told myself, ‘no, you can do this Sweeney.  Keep walking.  Just around that corner is your street.’  So, I stuck my hands in my coat pockets and held under my bladder and hoped that my futile efforts would help me make it to the outhouse waiting for me over yonder.  Little did I know that I was going to round that corner and literally be on the home stretch when it happened.  In all fairness it was only a few drips.  But it was enough to get me running wondering what was about to happen.  Yeah, there I am, holding my bladder, pee drips running down my leg (THANK GOODNESS I WAS WEARING A SKIRT) in full pee dance “jogging” down my street.  I just turned into my yard when to my unfortunate discovery my whole family was sitting outside waiting to greet me.  Gritting my teeth through the pleasantries I threw my bag down near the front door and took off in full sprint to the outhouse.  I knew at that point it really didn’t matter if I let it all go, cause what was the worst that would happen?  Thankfully I made it into squat position and breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I made it in time.  Then I looked down and realized that laundry day wasn’t for a few days and just sorta shook my head at the whole situation. 

4) Scrubbing a full week of dead skin off.  Going into Peace Corps, I knew that showering wasn’t going to be top priority on my daily agenda.  Heck, I knew there’d be a good chance that it’d rarely happen.  I came to terms with all that.  No biggie.  What I didn’t realize was the repercussions of not bathing.  Sure, I knew my hair would be greasy, my acne would rear up again, and that I’d likely be surrounded by a cloud of smelly funk at all times.  No one had told me about scrubbing off dead skin.  The first time it happened I didn’t quite know what was going on.  For anyone who hasn’t been in this predicament before, let me break it down for you.  We didn’t have real showers.  We’d bathe in banya’s, which is really just a sauna.  You have hot water that comes from a pipe that is heated by fire and you bucket bathe with a group of other people, or if you’re lucky maybe just yourself and one other.  So, picture this.   Banya time is upon you.  It’s been a week of pulling your hair back into a ponytail that’s greasy enough to make a used car salesman jealous.  You go in and as the sauna heats your skin up, you start to notice it’s turning a slightly different color.  Out of curiosity you sort of rub up your arm wondering what is going on.  Not only does the skin start to flake off in your hand, but it balls up into oblong shaped skin pellets.  Multiply this by scrubbing your whole body in the same fashion and you’ve got yourself one big pile of skin bits.  Yum. 

3) Puking out my 7th floor bedroom window.  I spent a good chunk of my days over there fighting a losing battle with giardia.  This meant a lot of days feeling sick and not able to travel too far from the safety of a bathroom.  It also meant I threw up a lot.  I hate, repeat, HATE throwing up.  I grew to hate it even more during the middle of the night when I would wake up with a rush of nausea that meant I had better find somewhere to puke and fast.  Most of the time, I woke up with enough advance notice that I knew I could make it out of my room and across the hall to the toilet, but one night I didn’t have that luxury.  There I was asleep in my cozy couch bed and I awoke to the sudden pang of vomit rising in my throat.  I jumped up and in my sleepy haze I threw open the window and started puking.  I didn’t have the forethought to think about how that puke would land.  Or well, not land.  Since I heard it hit the side of the building all the way down, being sure to hit each and every window possible.  It must have sounded like a rain of upchuck to my innocent neighbors. 

2)  A full night spent in the outhouse.  As I mentioned, I puked a lot.  And this story comes from one of my first real big bouts where it was me versus my insides.  I had three separate infections that my body was fighting and this left me in a pretty miserable state of despair.  On this particular night, I was camped out in the outhouse not able to leave its sight without having to turn and do the 'Kyrgyz shuffle' back to it for another round.  Enter Marisa into this scenario.  The best friend a girl could ask for.  The type who will laugh in hysterics at you as you squat over the poo hole of the outhouse and vomit out the open door.   There I was shooting various bodily fluids out of every which end when my phone rings.  “Uh, hi, Marisa…  You’d never believe what my life has come to.” I chat with her on the phone while I finish up what I was hoping was the worst of it and take a seat on the brick that holds up the sinking side of the outhouse.  That’s when things hit a new low and I look over to the dogs have made their way over and are chowing down on the fresh vom.  I just shake my head thinking that I never would have pictured this being my life.  And I DEFINITLY couldn’t have guessed that within the next 15 minutes I would be back in squat position finishing up another bout only to find that the horses had made their way over to the party and wanted in on the action.  The thing about that was while the dogs were small and easy to get around, I can’t say the same about the giant horses.  They had squeezed themselves between the outhouse door and the fence in order to really get a good meal outta the vomit.  This meant that I was stuck in the dimly lit outhouse until they finished their feast and went on their way.  No amount of ‘scram horsey!’ was working on them until they cleaned up on the meal I’d left waiting there for them.

1) Poo’ing in a bathtub.  Coming in at number one on my list and possibly the best story I have to tell comes down to the time that I had no choice but to do my business in a bathtub.  Yeap, bathtub.  Let me paint a picture for you.  Summer in Bishkek hits mid to upper 90's daily and sometimes rockets past 100*.  And with no air-conditioning it's pretty terrible for anyone, especially the Alaskan girl.  Often I'd lay naked on my bedroom floor open so I could catch the slight (and I mean slight) breeze that'd travel across the room.  So, this particular day I was miserable.  I'd been battling an intestinal demon for the past 24 hours and the heat was killing me.  Having to get dressed each time my bowels were about to explode and run across the hall to the bathroom was getting super frustrating.  In a moment of genius I threw on a skirt so that I wouldn't have to keep putting on and taking off pants.  I crawled up onto my bed to take a break from the floor and that's when it happened.  As I sat there I let out a small fart.  But was it really a fart?  I didn't know and I wasn't going to give myself time to find out.  I jumped up and went running for the bathroom.  Unfortunately it was occupied by my little brother and that meant I needed to think fast.  Thankfully the host family I was living with had an apartment with a separate bathing room from the toilet room.  I rushed into the bathing room and jumped in the tub.  I think I may have even started laughing at the absurdity of poo'ing in these people's bathtub, but really, this was the best choice.  Not to get into super gory details here, but at this point in my intestinal confrontation with Kyrgyz bacteria nothing was coming out in a solid state.  This really worked to my benefit, because honestly, what do you do when you find yourself staring at poop in the tub?  You can't flush that shit.  Literally.  So, I just turned on the spray nozzle and cleared 'er out.  Ultimate low.

So, there you have it.  Top 5 grossest and most memorable experiences from PC.  And before I end this here, I’d like to point out that these are the things that happened to me in the mere half a year I was there.  Which means that I have friends over there who are still racking up these sorts of experiences on a likely daily basis.  I have so much respect for all of them who are sticking it out and laughing these sorts of things off.  I don’t know the count on how many of them have actually pooped their pants yet, but I am sure at least a few have.  Congrats for becoming real volunteers, guys.  You all are awesome.     

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's Official

I have officially been a Peace Corps volunteer for a week and a half now!  No more trainee status!!  This means we don’t have to deal with curfews, Hub Days, checking in on weekends, or Tech sessions.  Unfortunately it also means that I don’t get to see all my friends on such a regular basis.  But, the upside is that there was a conference that happened the past couple of days here in Bishkek, so quite a few of my friends who have moved to different oblasts were able to come back to Chui to attend.  It was an AWESOME couple of days.  I had a lot of fun seeing everyone and when they were in sessions I occupied myself with experiencing city life.

Let’s back up to Tuesday night.  I got a call around 7pm from my friend, Steve, saying that I needed to get to Issyk Kol hotel pronto since everyone was in town.  Issyk Kol hotel was the first place that we all stayed when we arrived in country a few months back.  The place is classically Soviet looking and by no stretch of the imagination could it be called a swanky place, but I think any volunteer would agree that their hot running water that comes from an actual shower head makes staying there amazing.  So, after I get the phone call, I decide that I can’t pass up the opportunity to see everyone, but enter the issue of language barriers.  I had to explain to my new host family why I was leaving and what I was doing.  It was a convoluted mess and at one point even called an English speaking family member to have them translate what my plan was and I why I was going to be spending the night somewhere else.  The best part of all this was when I left the apartment I thought my HM (host mom) was just walking me to the marshrutka so she could make sure I got on one to the right place, but then she had me wait a couple minutes and out comes my HD (host dad) and they drove me like a mile down the road to the hotel.  I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT!  I live within walking distance of the hotel and had no idea.  Thank heavens they drove me or else I am not confident I would have ever gotten to the hotel.  I most likely would have gone all the way across town and looped back on three different marshrutkas since I have little idea of the city layout.  This is just one example of how awesome my new family is.  I am really starting to like them a lot.  My HM is protective of me in a super motherly endearing way and it cracks me up that at 25 I have someone cooking my meals and checking in to make sure I get on the right “bus”. 

The first night at the hotel was a blast.  It may have only been a week since I hadn’t seen people on a daily basis, but it had seemed like forever since everyone had such funny stories of what they had been living at their new sites.  It was awesome to catch up with ‘em.  The only bummer of that first night was the fact that my cell phone wound up MIA.  No one has ANY idea where it possibly could have gone.  I never lost a phone back in America, but leave it to me to lose one here.  Dang it.  Thankfully, I was able to buy a new one a few days later and get my same old phone number back, so it wasn’t the end of the world.  Though the mystery of where it could have gone rages on.

On Wednesday I woke up and headed to Kirkshelk Village.  Kirkshelk Orphanage is where we had out Hub Days during PST.  It is also where my friend, Eric, is placed for his permanent site.  So, he had asked myself and our other friend, Brian, to come and help him with some renovations they are doing.  I spent the afternoon painting and most likely inhaling copious amounts of asbestos.  It was a blast though and again, it is the little things like that which make being here worth it.  Hello, how many people can say they spent their afternoon painting orphanage walls in Kyrgyzstan?  Not many, right?  Exactly.

So, after we finished up painting, Eric and I headed back into Bishkek and had a few hours to waste before everyone back at the hotel was done with their sessions.  We ended up heading back to my apartment so I could inform my family that I was staying at the hotel again.  Without a cell phone I had no other way of getting a hold of them, so I related the information the best way I could to my 12 year old host brother and hoped for the best.  Eric and I ended walking over to the hotel through the one of the fanciest neighborhoods I have seen in country.  It was sort of strange to see buildings that easily could have been right out of an American magazine.  HUGE houses with amazing views. 

The next morning I woke up and headed to work since I thought I had a meeting with my Counterpart to discuss a Talking Club that we are starting up for teachers at my University.  However, when I arrived I found out that she wasn’t able to make it since her Uncle had passed away and was in her village for the three day funeral.  It was no problem though since before she left she set up a chance for me to meet with one of my future students.  This student who I will now be calling “Dream Swan” just got her certification in Bishkek tour guiding and did and AWESOME job.  She agreed to let Eric tag along since we are both in need of learning the city better.  The three of us ended up having so much fun that our one hour tour turned into almost three.  Her English was fantastic and she humored us when we spoke in Kyrgyz.  She was even keeping score for a friendly competition between Eric and I about who had better language skills.  I believe I won, but that may have been since she knew she was going to be seeing a lot more of me.  :)  One of the funniest moments from our tour was when we were walking across the street and she tells us we need to raise our hands over our heads.  Imagine two American’s goofily walking across a busy intersection with both hands raised to the sky looking around confused.  We ask her what the benefit of this is thinking maybe it helps to be more visible and limit the chances of being hit by a car.  NOPE!  WRONG!  She starts laughing and says “well, when you get hit by a car and the ambulance comes to get you it makes it easier to take your clothes off”.  To say the least she was really funny.  Oh, and to explain why we call her Dream Swan is that almost everything with Kyrgyz culture has some meaning behind it.  So, when she was explaining what looked to me just like a fancy design on her purse, it turned out that they were actually symbols that represented the words for Dreaming and Swan.  Hence her new name…  And I have to admit that it may have been for my benefit also, since Kyrgyz names are often hard for me to pronounce and her’s, Izeeza (spelled phonetically of course) is no different.  Btw, her real name means something very close to “leaves no footprint in the sand”.  All Kyrgyz names have meaning behind them, just like most everything.  It fascinates me to hear the meaning behind everything.  But honestly, Dream Swan is a pretty BA nickname in my opinion.  :)

Oh, also, before we went on the tour, Eric and I braved the language barrier and set up a post office box.  SUCCESS!  The lady may have thought we were crazy, but we secured a mailbox for ourselves.  I KNOW that it looks strange, but really, this is how the address reads:

720000, Bishkek
Post Office Box 1857
Megan Sweeney

SO, that means get those packages in the mail.  And letters too.  :)  I am sharing the box with two other volunteers, so I am prompting you all to jump on the ball and send things before their friends do.  I can’t wait to finally get my first package in the post office.  I am going to be like a kid in the candy store.  And the Bishkek post office is pretty good, so you don’t need to be scared about them stealing, but it is still good practice to tape up ALL the openings, preferably with colored tape that the postal workers wouldn’t have access to here.  Or, you may also write over openings to make it more difficult to cover up the box having been opened.  If you send anything that would be deemed “valuable” put it toward the bottom of the box and wrap it within something else.  I have heard of people putting things into tampon boxes for cover.  Genius, really.  What male postal worker wants to get caught digging through a tampon box?    

After our adventure in the city, back to the hotel we went.  But only after an awesome encounter with a local.  We were headed in the wrong direction and asked a random passerby which way we needed to go and he ended up speaking a little English.  The man told us he was going to the same place we were and we walked with him for the 20 or so minutes to get the store we were headed to.  Once we arrived we thanked him and started to walk off.  As we turned to head into the store we saw that he was headed back in the direction we had just come from.  Most likely he didn’t need to go where we were at all, but he just wanted to make sure we arrived safely.  Another example of how nice people here are.  It never ceases to amaze me.    

So, once we were done in town we met up with some other volunteers and headed back to the hotel. There is a long story that goes along with the nearly 2 hours it took for a group of 7 of us to wind up back at the hotel, but I will just shorten it to: walked nearly 45 minutes across town, waited in the wrong spot for a bus that never came for another 45 minutes, had a helpful stranger flag down a taxi, then paid a butt load of money to get back to the other side of town we had walked from in order to get to the hotel.  To say the least, it is one of the lower points of learning to live in the city… But, it was worth it since night number 3 was the final day of the conference for everyone that was in town.  Randomly it turned into half the people there wearing togas.  I am still not sure how that happened, but every once in awhile a new person would come into the living room draped in a sheet they found.  It was hilarious to see the progression of participants through the night.  Good times yet again. 

The next day I ended up going and buying a new cell phone with the help of a K17 volunteer, Ryan.  She was a HUGE help.  Especially since the man who we bought my phone from spoke no Kyrgyz and I speak no Russian.  Again, language barriers can be a bit annoying, but thankfully she pulled out some Russian and I was able to buy the phone.  After that, I headed to one of the local coffee shops to chill for the afternoon on what we have endearingly deemed ‘Crack Corner’.  Not to scare anyone, because HONESTLY it sounds worse than it really is, but during our previous days adventure, Eric and I witnessed a street bum shooting up on the street corner.  Just like in big cities in America, drugs are a problem here too.  So, while sitting at the café it was no surprise that we saw one of the homeless people make a scene.  It was ridiculously hilarious.  She was ranting and raving screaming at the top of her lungs about one thing or another.  Obviously I have no clue what she was saying, but it must have been good since everyone that walked by was laughing and even the employees of the café came out to laugh at the babble she was spitting out.  But the randomness doesn’t stop there.  Once one of the male employees shoo’ed her away, we watched as she walked across the street and did what can only be described as high-kicking a random passerby.  Again, it SOUNDS scary, but HONESTLY, it was hilarious.  As the homeless woman was staggering around the woman that she randomly kicked exchanged some words and kept chuggin’ along.  It was like nothing happened at all.  I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could anyone else that was witnessing all this happen.      

Ah, man, it was a good week.  And it was even better when I came home and my family was really excited to see me.  We talked for awhile and then asked if I would like to come guest with them at my HM’s little brother’s house.  I obviously agreed and we headed over.  I was able to meet some extended family to include my HM’s mother.  Awesome old woman.  I love talking with old Kyrgyz woman, because they are always SO excited that I can speak their language. 

Again, it is the little things that make it great here. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mail Call!

Alright, folks, I have a permanent address!!  That means that if you’ve got some spare time and want to put together a package for me now is the time.  Well, now AND sporadically over the next two years.  :)  One of the current volunteers told us that friends and family start to forget we’re over here after the first year or so.  I am crossing my fingers that I don’t get a ton of packages in the next few months and then nadda for the next couple years. 

My friend, Catie, and I even discussed how we should set up a sign up sheet for our friends/family to pick a month they’d be willing to send a package.  That way it’d spread things out.  I’d hope that I have 24 people that’d be willing to take a month and spread the wealth (or even 12 people that’d take two months…).  I will feel this out and see if people would be interested or if I should just take packages as they come.  I am just excited for mail! 

Anything that you’re able to send would make me overjoyed, but a couple friends asked me to please make a list of items that I am craving.  Below is a quick list that I put together.  Again, I would happy with just about anything, but this may help give you an idea.  The dried fruit or any other healthy food is a BIG plus.  Eating sheep fat and fried food is really starting to wear on me.  I’d LOVE some good non fatty food.  But as I type that I realize that I did include Reese’s, soooooo, yeah…  :)

1.       Aloe Vera
2.       Colgate Toothpaste
3.       Reeses Peanut Butter Cups
4.       Dried Fruit
5.       Trail Mix
6.       Apple Sauce
7.       Rockstar (the yellow kind)
8.       Spices (cinnamon and vanilla extract come to mind)
9.       Sauce Packets
10.   Beef Jerky
11.   CDs of New Music
12.   Zumba DVDs
13.   Baby Wipes
14.   Cookies, Brownies, or any baked Goods
15.   Spiral Bound Notebooks
16.   Post It Notes
17.   Annie’s Brand Graham crackers
18.   Kraft Mac And Cheese
19.   Fruit Roll Ups
20.   Luna Bars
21.   Double Ply Toilet Paper
22.   Random things that will make me laugh
23.   Powder Drink Mix
24.   Doritos
25.   Tortilla Shells
26.   Face Wipes
27.   Opti-Free Contact Solution
28.   Seasons 4,5,6 of Grey’s Anatomy (or any TV show)
29.   USB Thumb Drive
30.   Alaskan Paraphernalia

And I figure I should probably include my address:

Kyrgyz Republic
Bishkek, 720010
304 Chokmorova St.
Megan Sweeney

BTW, I only have a mere 5 days left before I swear in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.  It’s going to be a huge ceremony.  They have invited almost 600 people.  PC was trying to get the Krygyz Republic President to speak, but unfortunately she going to be out of the country.  Total bummer, but PC is working on getting the US Ambassador or someone equally as awesome.  No matter what, I am sure it’ll be intense swearing in with that many people watching.  I am sooooo excited! 

And my last big news is that today I took my language exam.  I passed!!!  I can officially speak an intermediate level of Kyrgyz now.  I can’t wait to see how much that’ll come into use after my service.  :)  Nah, really, it is a neat language and I think it’s pretty cool we learn it.  In fact yesterday a few volunteers and I were sitting at a café and a Russian woman came up to us and started talking.  When she figured out that we didn’t speak any Russian and were all Kyrgyz speakers she got mad at us!!  She poked my shoulder and with a disapproving look she told me to learn Russian.  We couldn’t believe it!!  In our best Kyrgyz, we spit back at her, THIS IS KYRGYZSTAN!  Maybe she should learn the native language of the country she lives in?  Just an idea.  I respect all the Kyrgyz people who are bilingual in both Kyrgyz and Russian.  And even more the ones who go above and beyond to learn English or another major world language.  The people here are incredible and I have so much respect for their language abilities.  It never ceases to amaze me when my family flip flops between all the different languages while we sit down and talk together.  It is pretty impressive.