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Thursday, July 9, 2009

long time, no write

June 16th,

Well I haven’t written anything here in a while, but lately there hasn’t been much to report. My camps went very smoothly, the camp at the Russian School I really enjoyed and learned a lot. I was worried because with planning a camp I was pretty hard up for ideas, as I never really did the whole camp thing when I was a kid. I did a Girl Scout camp like once, and I wasn’t very good camp material, I was in trouble with the counselors pretty much the whole time there for never listening, so that was that- no more camp for this girl. Anyway, the teachers wanted to teach how to write newspaper articles and advertisements, so the theme of the camp became ‘News Channel’. We had the campers split into 3 teams; team Newsroom, team Cameramen, and team Reporters. The kids all had funny nicknames (like Audio, Print, and Microphone) that we had to call them all week, and we recruited some older students to help us lead songs, go through the morning drills, and organize the teams. I made a giant black Samsung TV out of a cardboard box and at the beginning and end of camp everyday the counselors stood inside of it and we did our daily announcements like we were giving the news report (yeah, I realize, the geek level was pretty high here). Besides doing the arts and projects, we played lots of games from bowling to bingo, organized an English scavenger hunt, and I set up a huge sports obstacle course that included an egg and spoon race, ball and cup tosses, and a Frisbee relay race. We watched Planet Earth in Russian, and on the last day had a poster competition and an ice cream party. For my second camp, only a handful of kids showed up for, so I modified it and instead of playing lots of sports games and activities, we focused more on grammar games and arts and crafts. I took some pictures from my first camp, so I’ll try and post a few of them. All in all it was a lot of fun, and one of the teachers and I decided that next summer we are going to write a grant for a region wide camp, and try and involve students and teachers from around the region. It should be a riot.

Lets see, what else. Well, now that the camps are behind me, I am finding that the only way to exist in this country is in the mannar of extremes. During the school year teachers are worked to the point of exhaustion/mental breakdown, and when the summer rolls around I find I now have the mental activity of a goldfish. Besides keeping a few of my classes at the resource center going, and showing up to the school to shoot the breeze with my teachers every once in a while, life as I know it has pretty much stopped. I wake up in the morning and the day stretches out before me in a large wastland of nothingness, and I find myself thinking, ok, so how many months until school starts again? There is literally NADA to do here in terms of entertainment, unless you call washing clothes for three hours entertainment. In the last two weeks, I have read more books and watched more dvds than in the last 6 months combined. But my host family has pretty much the same deal. My host mom and I eat b-fast, go to work for a few hours, come home before noon, and then everybody in the house passes out until like 5 pm, or watches TV, or twidles their thumbs, or decides to come annoy me with questions under the guise of making me practice Turkmen. I am thinking it might be a looooong summer at this point. So if anybody wants to write me an email or letter in the next three months, lets just say any news would be VERY appreciated. Right now I am counting down the days until July 4th-when the Embassy is having their Independence Day party in Ashgabat. They invited all of the volunteers in the country to come, as well as oodles of diplomats and political big wig types. Should be a riot-although I am mostly excited because I have heard a rumor that there is going to be actual honest-to-goodness WINE available. Dear sweet Jesus, let that be true.

To the T-18 Newbies:
June 20h

Well, just about this time last year I was checking my mailbox for my placement sheet and chewing my fingernails to find out where the Peace Corps plane would be taking me. I was one of the last ones in our group to find out my country assignment-about three or four weeks before I left, so I’m sure a good lot of you incoming volunteers have already called in your acceptances (after looking to make sure Turkmenistan is even on the map). And as it is really friggin’ hard to find out anything relevant on the net about this blessed country (other than it’s a desert and really, really HOT) I’m sure many of ya’ll have zoned in on the blogs of current volunteers, like a lot of my group did, so maybe a few of you have found mine. I think I read about 15 packing lists before I left. The typical questions: What do I bring? What gifts should I bring? How much money should I take? Do I bring money at all? Or even clothes for that matter? Am I going to DIE? You know, general stuff.
As I am sure there are10 other volunteers who have already written packing lists for all of ya’ll, I’m not going to do that. One, every site is different, so everybody needs something different. And two, I don’t have that kind of attention span to write an entire detailed list. But I am going to impart a bit of knowledge to those who are trying to decide what to cram into those lovely rolling suitcases.

1. LESS IS MORE. This should be your packing manta. For one, host nationals are always shocked at how much crap volunteers haul with them, being as life here is really minimalistic. Some volunteers in my group literally took the bag limit and then some-even the staff was taken aback at how much crap they packed. Their host families didn’t know how to deal with it. You will find you can survive just fine on a big suitcase and carry on. Second, it’s kind of unnecessary to bring two years worth of razor blades and 34 pairs of underwear. For example, it has been 10 months and I am still using the shampoo I bought before I left. And they have the same brand in the Bazaar 10 minutes from my house. Although, I’m not gonna lie, I brought a lot of bottles of my favorite concealer, and I’m glad I did, cause they don’t have it here- but normal stuff, like toothbrushes, face wash, shampoo, and all that jazz-they got it. If you are placed in a village, you can go to your etrap center every few weeks or so and restock. But you’d be surprised what you can find in the villages. I randomly found feta cheese and olive oil one week at the store near my house. We ate Greek salad for like two weeks. Whoduthunkit?

2. CLOTHES: the clothes packing thing is tricky. OK, so that whole “bring lots of loose flowing skirts and loose fitting tops” thing? Don’t. The whole little house on the prairie look here doesn’t fly. Neither does North Face Sporty Spice for that matter, especially for girls. I wore my ski coat to school once this winter and you would have thought I was wearing a skinned elephant. I swear that show “What Not to Wear” would probably do really well in this country. Talk about the friggin’ fashion police. But the business casual thing does go. Fitted skirts and blazers are a lot better bet than peasant skirts for work, if you really don’t want to wear the national dress. For winter, a really good peacoat. And if you’re like me and get placed in the conservative southern region, and can’t wear anything but the Koynek anyway, don’t sweat it. Turkmen women give material and dresses out like snickers on Halloween. It costs about 6 bucks to have the material made into dresses, so hella cheap. Myself, I have received about 10 Koyneks since I’ve been here, all free. I went out and picked out some fabric that I liked for work., and my host sister and a neighbor sewed them up for me for free. The clothes I brought with me are gathering dust in my closet. The stuff I do wear that I brought from home are mostly jeans and shirts for when I go to the capital and can stop pretending I’m a Turkmen gelneje for a day. And remember you get vacation days while you’re here, when you get to LEAVE the country and dress normal again, so bring something for that. But again, don’t overdo it in the wardrobe department-think about the clothes you want to bring and cut it down by a third, if not a half. Also, don’t bother with 12 pairs of shoes. Your shoes will get trashed here, so better to bring two or three pairs you absolutely need (I swear by my Chacos), then buy cheap shoes in the bazaar, wear them until they break down, and then buy some new ones with your living allowance. I bought a nice pair of dress shoes, and within four months I had to throw them away. It just makes life that much easier in the long run. Also, people won’t judge you for wearing the same dress 5 days in a row-as long as your belly button’s not showing or you don’t look you just stepped off a Flower Power tour bus. Some of my teachers here I’ve only ever seen wear the same three Koyneks. No biggie.

3. GIFTS: Remember: training host family, and then permanent family. Candy is good-but not snickers-they have that here. Useful things are good: Sturdy bags, t-shirts, stuff that says America on it maybe. Trinkets from your state. A little photo album for them of picture from America, friends, family. They friggin’ love photos here. My personal favorite: Tupperware. They might think its odd at first, but it’s good for both you and them in the long run. You will eat leftovers a lot-and keeping things sanitary and sealed goes a long way in keeping yourself healthy here. If anything, you can fill them with fun little stuff so it’s not just a plastic box, and then you can show them how to use it. And once you learn Turkmen (haha!) you can explain why it’s good to seal and refrigerate food. It’s a gift and mini health lesson all rolled into one. My host mom loves hers, and now brings her lunch with her when she goes to work or has to travel to see family, and occasionally even puts leftovers in it!

4. CRAFT SUPPLIES. Guess what, if you’re an English teacher, you’ll have to do an ECA or a camp at some point! And a craft workshop is really fun for everyone. A lot of these kids don’t even know how to use scissors, so it’s this whole learning process for them. The teachers I work with asked me for things like water balloons, pipe cleaners, wiggly eyes, acrylic paint, foam paper-stuff like that, that they had used with a previous volunteer. We made crafts like photo frames, ladybugs, and masks out of paper plates and cups that I found in the capital. The kids loved them all, and it gave them something to take home to their families. And if you do an ECA a couple of times, have family members in the states mail you a ‘craft box’ to re-supply. Look up easy craft ideas on the web before you leave, or get a book with easy-to-do projects.

5. A GOOD PURSE/BAG. It’s part of the dress code here, for lassies. And all the purses sold hereabouts are shitty $3 China warehouse deals either encrusted with plastic diamonds or have metallic ruffles all over them, so bring one you like. If you have a bigger one to put school books in, even better. For dudes, a black satchel type thingie would come in handy-kind of like a briefcase, but not. Its weird to think that you might not have running water or a working toilet and you sleep on the floor, but people expect you to be well accessorized and have shiny shoes all the time. Go figure.

6. ENTERTAINMENT: Don’t bother with books, as sad as that sounds. The office library here has 10 million of them-and they are heavy to haul over with you. But a computer, not gonna lie-bring it. I use mine a ton for work, and for pre-typing emails to people so when I get online to send them it takes like 10 minutes and I’m free to do other stuff. Plus it’s good for movies and music on those slow days. The volunteers here have built up an impressive collection of*cough cough* p@#$ed movies, and when people get together, everybody pulls out their portable hard drives and trades new stuff. Also a mp3 player- music will save your soul. Yes, welcome to the new age: this is not the Peace Corps of our fathers. Volunteers are technologically savvy now. Plus, as there is not much here in terms of recreation, options are pretty limited. No hiking to distant waterfalls or exploring the rolling foothills or exotic campouts in the desert on your days off in this land. That’s for Thailand Volunteers. Here, we generally get together, cook, watch movies, and avoid the sun. Get togethers have to be planned sometimes months in advance. So, if you have a hobby, bring that. I am learning how to play the guitar and croquet, and people are constantly sending me yarn in care packages. It’s good for passing the hours. My tally thus far? Six scarves, three hats, two cell phone cases, a yoga bag, and a quilt-in-process. Just wait until I start croqueting tea cozies for people. I’ll be well occupied until I my service is up. Yes, I am aware that my life is riveting

7. MONEY: $500 bucks should cover it. If you run out, you can always withdraw more when you leave the country for your first vacation. I brought $400 with me for gifts and emergencies, and I only spent $100 of it thus far, for a plane ticket, so it was more than enough. But I’m a hoarder-I never even spend my living allowance; I just keep it in wads under my bed. So some people might have need for a larger amount. Also, apparently there is an ATM somewhere in the capital that works, if you get seriously hard up. But all the money you bring has to be PRISTINE-no rips, dirt, or pen marks. If its’ not up to par, nobody will exchange it, and there you have it, a useless $20 bill. Might as well use it for toilet paper. Heaven knows you might have need for that.

Well, there’s probably more, but I’m done with the whole typing thing for now. Hope this helps some of you. If anybody has more questions or concerns about their upcoming service, feel free to drop me a note.


June 12th
English is Stupid

I found this poem digging through a bunch of old stuff in my office, and it pretty encompasses how I feel about life right now. Hope somebody else can appreciate it as much as I did.

English Is a Stupid Language

There is no egg in eggplant,
No ham in the hamburger,
And neither pine, nor apple,
In our dear pineapple

English Muffins were not invented in England,
And French Fries do not hail from France.
And while quicksand takes you down slowly,
Why do boxers, in boxing rings, dance?

If writers write, how come fingers don’t fing?
If the plural of tooth is teeth,
Why aren’t phone booths called phone beeth?
If a teacher taught, why didn’t the preacher praught?

If a Vegetarian eats vegetables,
What does a humanitarian eat?
And why do we recite at a play,
When a play has a recital?

And why do we park on our driveways,
and drive on our Parkways?
And, in being of the human race,
we find that it isn’t even a race at all.

You have to marvel, that a house burns up,
while it actually burns down.
And when the stars are out they are visible
While when the lights are out they are invisible,

Yes, English is a stupid language,
Which makes not much sense at all,
And that is why, when I wind up my watch, it starts.
But when I wind up this poem, it ends.

The End

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