Thursday, January 28, 2010
A Trip Northland
So, on an up-note we just finished winter semester. I had planned to travel out of country, but at the last minute it fell through, so instead I stayed home for the break. I relaxed, read some books, had a few lazy mornings, and celebrated New Years and X-mas with my host family. The next day I went to the capital to meet up with a few other PCV friends who decided not to travel out of country, and then we traveled north to stay at another volunteers place. It was good to get out of our towns, as we were all going a bit stir crazy, and so the break was well needed. The other volunteers’ family was interesting, the host father is a Wildlife Biologist-a pretty rare profession in this country, and actually used to work for the WWF. After exploring the town and meeting some of our friends’ Turkmen buddies, her host father took us up into the hills to where he and his brother keep their horses. He is a real animal lover, and though his income is small and work is scarce, he still puts aside money to keep his horses-even buying feed for them (which in the winter costs $2 a day-extremely expensive for Turkmen standards) just because he loves them. Attitudes towards animals here are so different from western ideas, and it has been a while since I have seen anyone showing genuine affection towards an animal. To put it in perspective, it’s kind of like finding a dolphin in the middle of a corn field in Iowa. I can’t count the number of dead cats and dogs I have crossed on the way to work here in the past year, and so to meet someone who actually likes animals was kind of like a breath of fresh air. He let us ride the horses for a bit, and we watched him and his son feed and brush them. It reminded me of being a kid again, messing around with my dad and ‘lil brother’ Lindsey with our own horses out behind our house. As the sun set behind the mountains, the horses began to settle in for the night, putting their backs up against the night winter wind, and so the six of us all piled in the old jeep to drive back towards town. And as we drove past the old Soviet army tanks and training barracks silhouetted against the mountains that cross over to Iran, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s funny how the most random moments here remind me of home, and how they can somehow manage to put things on an even tilt again, and make it worth it.
The Seasons of Work and Home
January 20th, 2010
So it has been a while since wrote one of these, but life has continued to march on, and it seemed like every time I sat down to write, I could come up with nothing interesting to say. We have slipped full on into winter, and thanks to a generous leaving volunteer who gifted me her winter coat, I have been surviving this school semester in our unheated classrooms in relative comfort and warmth. The last two months has been a whirlwind of checking off dates in preparation for test exams for my advanced students. Last month several of my students wrote their first two rounds of FLEX exams, which is a program that chooses 60 kids from T-Stan to send to an American High School for a year. Last year I had two students go, and this year I am crossing my fingers that I will have at least three of my girls pass it. We prepped dialogues and TEOFL material for weeks, and almost all of my students made it to the second round. So now they will wait until next month, when they will hear the results for the third round and travel to the capital for interviews. I am crossing my fingers like it’s no ones business.
Besides the Flex exam, this month has been the Scholastic Olympiad, where kids from all schools compete in subjects like Russian, English, Math, and Chemistry. It was tough, because I was prepping half a dozen kids, all knowing they would be competing against each other. Added to this, I was on the English Judging committee, and had to determine all their placements for the final round. Teachers are super-competitive here, and many of them try to cheat on the final results so that their students get the best placements. Many are my co-workers, as well as my friends, and so it was difficult to try to be as fair as I could and at the same time watch that none of them tried to change or alter the results. If their students didn’t get the marks or places that they thought they deserved, they would start fighting and yelling at each other, or try to trick me into changing them. Some of it made me very angry, and needless to say I was more than happy when it was over, and relieved that I would not be around for next years Olympiad.
Well, in terms of home life, for the last year I have wrestled with the idea of trying to get my own apartment, even though getting all the government permissions seemed daunting, if not almost impossible. Like most Americans, I have over time settled into my independent routine of doing what I wanted when I wanted, and suddenly having to live in a family setting was frustrating. As my host siblings are young, and my host mother often works, many times I found myself having to cook for the family and watch the kids. My host parents family got it in their heads that I was going to be an English tutor for the whole family (a common problem for TEFL volunteers here), but after working a 9-6 everyday at school, I wasn’t to keen on coming home and teaching more lessons. The idea of being a substitute housewife and live in free-tutor didn’t really settle that well, and it led to quite a few scenes of frustration on both sides. With living with a family, I must say that it has further cemented my belief that I am not ready for the whole family scene-I am still way too attached to my carefree lifestyle (sorry mom, you’re gonna have to wait a few more years on that one…) But over the last year I have become gradually closer with both my host parents and my little ‘siblings’, we have made our compromises, and so I made the decision to stay with them until my contract is finished next year. Although it’s not always smooth sailing, we have all become really close, and I have no doubt that I will keep in contact with them for as many years as I am able after I leave here. And for now I will just dream of the day when I will have a place all my own….with running water and a washing machine J