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Monday, November 1, 2010

September Blog

And, That’s Curtains Kids!!
Sept and Oct, 2010

Well, I have been completely horrendous over the last four months about updating this blog. Partly, it had to do with the fact that most of the internet places in T-stan have now censored many information sharing websites and to add to that, both my computer charger and my backup computer charger decided to fry out on me, and so I have been virtually computer-less for the last few months. Instead I have been fervently using the internet connection on my little Turkmen cell phone, though I am unable to download or upload anything (like a blog...ha) Luckily, a departing comrade who happened to have the same computer as me loaned me her charger on the promise that I pass it on to another volunteer within the month, so I am taking advantage of this small window and using it as much as I can before the times up. So I will recap, in brief, the last few months of my life here in ‘the distant sands’:

The Summer

The summer, as summers generally seem to do, flew by way to quickly. There were both ups and downs, some great times, and some moments that I literally wanted to throw in the towel and call it quits on the whole game and pack my bags for home. Some of my triumphs were seeing some of my students pass their entrance exams to study at foreign universities in Byelorussia, and Kazakhstan. Also it was amazing to see the progress that some of my intermediate students have made since last summer. Some of them have gone from barely speaking a word to chattering like little English-speaking monkeys!! I had some heartbreaking moments as well, like when one of my prize pupils who was selected for a study abroad program was told she couldn’t go on the day she was supposed to leave, because she was 5 months too young. She was 1 out of only 7 students chosen from the entire country of T-stan, and then on the morning her flight was leaving to Washington DC, she was told to pack up and go back home. It was upsetting to see her dreams (try 10 years of studying English for the opportunity to go to abroad) dashed just because of a stupid clerical error. Also in June, one of my closest friends I have made here, who was a fellow English teacher, was killed in a car accident along with her little sister on their way home from her sisters college graduation. Many of my close students were pupils of her, and it was heartbreaking to have to give them the news, as many had known her since they were little, and then go with my co-workers to visit her family, as it expected in Turkmen tradition to do on the 7th day, the 10th day, and the 40th day after a persons death. It was yet another reminder of how fragile life is, and how important it is to make the most out of the time we have. Because even though Jahan was only 27, she was well known throughout the entire community young and old, and it was amazing to see how many peoples lives she had affected in her short time as a teacher, and how much respect she had gained from so many of the teachers and students. She was one of the most active teachers in Tejen, and it is hard to imagine going back to school without her being there. It’s weird sometimes just how much empty space a single person can leave behind them. You don’t even realize it until after they are gone.

Keeping busy, however, is always a good salve for the soul, so for the remainder of the summer, I hunkered down into my summer clubs, rotating about 5 different groups throughout the week, and opening up some new classes. I opened up a Spanish Club, which I had been wanting to do for a while now, and I enjoyed teaching it almost more than my English Clubs! I hadn’t realized just how rusty my Spanish chops had gotten, so it was nice to begin practicing again, and crack open my grammar book to refresh myself. I opened up an elementary English Club, and had my hands full teaching a bunch of rowdy 5th graders (though half of the time was spent keeping my Turkmen kids, Russian and Uzbek kids from killing each other (I had almost forgotten about all the racial issues that exist here outside the little Turkmen bubble that I live in). So most of June, July and August I was pretty much AWAL from the PCV community, avoiding most of the volunteer social gatherings in the regions and in the capital in lui of trying to get some work done before my vacation, and also because I wasn’t in the greatest place emotionally. Nobody ever wants to be the Eore of the group.

Also, recently in the last few months, I welcomed a new volunteer to Tejen. Her name is Karla, and she is an older woman from Oregon, who is assigned to the Tejen Hospital to work as a Health Volunteer. She is extremely energetic and exited about her new home, and I was amazed to find out that we had more in common than we realized. It turns out that she used to live in Whitefish, and summer in Glacier Park!! She was part of the Glacier Mountaineering Society, and even knows some of the same people as I do!! Once again, it’s funny to realize that sometimes the world isn’t as big as you think it is. So as she began to settle into her work schedule and figure her way around Tejen, my sitemate Russ and I, along with another volunteer friend of ours, decided to use the last of our vacation days to take a trip to Cambodia towards the end of summer, so mid August I once again bid my students and my host family adieu, packed my trusty backpack, and along with Russ and Collin, hightailed it for the airport. The boys and I spent about 2 1/2 weeks gallivanting around Cambodia, checking out temples, eating our weight in Seafood BBQ and Cambodian beer, meeting new and interesting people, and haggling in the markets, spending all our well-saved travel money (I put pictures up on my facebook page for anyone who’s curious). After we had run out of both money and clean clothes, the three of us dragged ourselves back to Ashgabat just in time to hop on another plane to go to our last conference as volunteers: our Close of Service Conference!!

The Beginning of the End: Conference

Most of the volunteers, myself included, were marking the weeks-months even- to this particular conference, as it is the last milestone that we have in our service. Officially, it marked the completion of our service as volunteers, and from that point on, we were to begin our transition away from our host communities back into the “real world”. It was surreal sitting around the table with all these people, who 2 years ago were nothing more than 43 strangers to me, and realizing how much I am going to miss all of them, and miss being a part of the little community that we have all created over the last couple of years. Two of our fellow volunteers recently got engaged, so we had a celebratory engagement party-Volunteer style-with a duel vodka-pong tournament and an appropriately themed ‘future’ costume party, to end our service with a bang. It was both a really good time, and a little sad, because it was weird to think that it was the last time I will probably see a lot of them (and/or nurse hangovers with them) ever again. Although who knows, life is funny sometimes, you never know what the future holds. We received our exit dates, and I was placed in the third group, slotted to leave my work site the second week of November.

To wrap up the conference, we had a Cultural Olympiad, which basically consisted of the five regions competing in relay events that focused on the “important skills” we have learned during our service, such as “Turkmen Cola Chugging” ,“Toilet Squatting” ,“Chiggit (sunflower seed) Speed Eating”, “Manat Currency Conversions”, and “Turkmen Party Toasts”. I was appointed the currency conversion competitor for my region (Which was a stupid mistake on their part-they were doomed as soon as they gave me the pen. In high school, I was the girl who COPIED off the delinquents in my math classes. Needless to say, we did NOT win that event). All in all, it was good end to a mind blowing two years, and it was the last little push needed as we began the sprint to the end, and now can start thinking about life beyond the next school semester/harvest season. Though the thought of having to pay for car insurance, rent, utilities, a phone plan, and health coverage without a job is already enough to give me night sweats. In some ways, being a poor government volunteer is great, as we don’t have to think about any of that nonsense that exists out there in the ‘real world’. So, as the last few months funnel down to the end, I will begin the dreaded gauntlet of bag-packing-goodbye-party-hand-shaking craziness.

The Final Semester; Work and Farewells

Our Last semester is now coming to a close. At the end of October, work for most of us ends, as a 11 day Fall holiday/ Independence day break from school begins and immediately following it, many of us will begin migrating to the capital to finish the last of our paperwork, evaluations, and meetings which allow us to tie our two years of service into a nice little bow. For most of us, it is the lull when we can begin ‘cutting the apron’ strings from our students, and begin to transition our coworkers into continuing our work without us. I’m already dreading the day I have to say goodbye to my kids, as I have become really attached to a lot of them, and I can already tell I will be an emotional spaz when the time comes to bid them the final farewell. After 2 years of working with them everyday, helping them with their problems, and encouraging them through their failures and triumphs, a lot of them feel a little like my like my own kids (though as I am only 11 years older than most of them, logistically this is definitely NOT the case).

Also, throughout October, for us T-17 volunteers it was a bit of a roller coaster. Every 12 months, pcvs must re-apply to the T-stan government for work visas, and this year we lost our Peace Corps securities director, so consequently the process didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated as the staff was so overworked. We were given temporary extensions at the last minute, and were told we might be immediately evacuated if the paperwork wasn’t approved because they were submitted too late, and it was only this week, three weeks after our previous visas expired, that we were granted permanent visas until December. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal, except in this post-Soviet system where documentation and protocol is followed before anything else, and any little slip up will land you a one-way ticket to who knows where. But in the end no harm was caused, except for a few more gray hairs on the staff’s part, a lot of document shuffling and taxi rides, and lots of phone calls to appease frantic migration officers and disgruntled school directors. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on lesson plans when you’re not sure if you will deported within the next few days. In the end we get to stay a total of…. wait for it….four more weeks! All that stress for a few more weeks. Sheesh.

Besides all that nonsense, these last few weeks, I have begun preparing a lot of my students for (my last!! Ahh!!) Olympiad and the FLEX test, which I should hopefully be here for before I leave Tejen. If some of my girls pass the FLEX exam, they might be in America in the same hemisphere as me next year! THAT would be a trip. They have been working their tails off, and so I’m crossing my fingers that, for at least a few of them, their hard work will be rewarded with this amazing experience. Besides that, I am preparing two final seminars to train the new Volunteers that arrived in October. We got a fresh new group in at the beginning of the month, although a lot of us were holding our breaths after the disaster of Oct 2009 (where the new volunteers got stopped at the airport, and nobody made it over) But they made it in, our program wasn’t shut down (which would have been the case had they not come) and they are now in the whirlwind of PST training in Ashgabat, learning the language and receiving technical training for the next 2 years. It’s weird to think that was me 2 years ago. Crazy how time flies... So in November I and a fellow pcv will be presenting on “Teacher Training Seminars” and “Teaching Advanced Students”, which should hopefully be interesting and helpful to them as they begin their own services (well, at least I think so…says the inner nerd in me…).
So all that remains will be a few last work parties (including a big Halloween bash for my kids!) and packing my room. It’s amazing how much stuff I have accumulated in 2 years. I am crossing my fingers in hopes that I finish everything in time, and that all my crap is going to fit back into my bloody suitcase. It is, how you say, curtains baby. It’s been a crazy two years. Until soon, as now it’s America or Bust! Peace.

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