Holy shenanigans on a stick. Not only has it been forever and a day since I’ve updated, but I’ve also finally arrived (at least for a short visit) at permanent site! I am currently sitting in my new room in the boonies of Talas in a village called Kyzyl Jyldyz. When I say I’m in the boonies, I MEAN IT. In the amount of time it took me to get about 300ish miles (I’m totally guestimating on that number, btw), I could’ve gotten from Omaha to Chi-town. Or from NYC to Edinburgh. Or from LA halfway to NZ. Yes, you heard me correctly folks, it took about 7.5 hours (a marshrutka and two taxis) for me to reach my site. The traveling here was an experience in itself. OMG. And THANK GOD Mel C was with me for it. I am not entirely sure I would’ve been able to handle it by myself or with anyone other than her. Haha.
The following is the exciting tale of my first adventure into the wiles of Talas oblast. Nothing is fictional. There may be slight exaggerations for the story factor, otherwise it’s the truth, the whole truth, so help me God.
So, this morning, I wasn’t quite feelin’ the vibe for what was supposed to be a really epic day: the day we meet our permanent site host families. Had to be in Kant by 8 am, which means I had to be up by 6 (which really means I adjusted my alarm twice to get up somewhere thirty minutes past) and out of the house by like 7.15. NOT a fan. Still the same ol’ Sarah – hate getting up early. Even after the 6 months of constant ‘Rise and shine’ in Africa, I still loathe getting up in the morning. I guess it really is an inherent, genetic trait. :p But I did it anyways if not only because I absolutely had to.
Anyway, all the trainees then head back to the Issyk-Kul hotel (everyone remember that place from the first few days in-country?!) for the matching ceremony and for the signing of our leasing contract thingies. Blah, blah, blah, we go through all the logistics of what’s about to go down, then we all get into circles based on oblast: volunteers on the outside, family members on the inside. We’re then supposed to go around the circle and USE OUR LANGUAGE (read: epic failure) to find out who our host families are. I can hear each and everyone of you laughing right now. And don’t worry, so were we.
Once we get into our circles, I see this adorable little old lady [OMG, Grandma, she is SO like you in so many ways! She’s honestly about less than 5 ft tall and has so much enthusiasm for life. Also, she’s a doctor, pretty sure she works in an ob-gyn? Not makin’ this up.] standing in front of me with this huge grin on her face. And because she’s standing in front of me, I ask her the designated question, she answers and then BAM! She’s my apa. The cute part of this whole story is that supposedly, the second I walked into the room and she saw me her ‘motherly instincts’ kicked in and she knew that I was her ‘daughter.’ She has since told numerous people about this feeling and experience in the time that I’ve known her, including the head of the local government, my director at school, and everyone else to whom she can tell the story. The crazy life in K-stan continues.
After signing our contracts (dear LORD was that a nightmare!), Mel, her apa, my apa, and I all head out on our way to Talas. We walk out of the hotel where I’m expecting there to be a taxi or something to take us home. Oh, how wrong we were. Despite the fact that Melis and I had shit tons of luggage – we were supposed to bring about half our stuff with us so that way we don’t have to carry twice as much when we move back here in three weeks – we head toward the main road. Trying to take deep breaths, Mel and I try to convince ourselves we’re waiting for a hired car or a taxi to show up. Wrong again.
I would like to take this opportunity to try as best as I can to describe what it’s like to ride on a marshrutka… Alright, everyone needs to picture themselves those little short, mini-bus lookin’ things; the ones that have like about 12-14 seats in them. Now, for those of you who have ridden on a dala dala, imagine the number of people on a full one of those, but then switch it to the mini-bus. It’s madness and 99% of the time, extremely packed. And to finish off the mental picture to continue the story, I’d like you to add me with a giant roller duffel and then Melissa with another one into a full marshrutka. Everyone get it? Yeah, needless to say, we were NOT liked on that ride.
A part of me would like to say that the ride was relatively short and that we didn’t have to go very far. But that would be a lie and I promised I’d tell the truth. We rode the marshrut for about… oh, like 45-50 minutes. And THEN after we got off, we had to lug everything and then walk about a mile and a half-ish in order to get to the bus/taxi station place. Elapsed time thus far: ~1 hour and 30 minutes. But once we got there, was it easy-peazy lemon squeezy from then on? Жок! [that’s ‘no’ in Kyrgyz]. We found a taxi, but he wanted to find another passenger that was headed our way so he could fill his little mini-van to capacity. Therefore, the apas, Mel, and I were forced to wait inside the taxi for roughly an hour before he found someone. When the other passenger showed up, I knew it was karma comin’ to kick my ass: a woman with two small children (like, under the age of 3). Luckily, she turned out to be lovely and the kids were really well-behaved. Thank goodness for small miracles, eh?
So, two and a half hours after we set off to go ‘home,’ we finally head in the direction of Talas. However, Melis and I are soon to find out that our driver pretty much HATES US. Or at least, that’s what it seemed like with the number of sudden stops, incredibly sharp turns, and numerous near-death experiences. And this was all before we even got close to the two mountain passes we had to go through in order to get where we were going. Let me tell you about the mountain passes – they’re gorgeous, but scary as shit when you feel your life is in the hands of a chain-smoking speed racer. The first mountain pass takes us about an hour and a half (my whole concept of time is just fucked nowadays; thank God for watches) to traverse. We text a bunch of people over the course of the drive with silly things like: ‘Well, it’s been good knowin’ you. See you on Saturday… if we make it.’ Mountain range 1 conquered. We stop for lunch and then are on our way again.
I would like to stop at this point and make a small interjection as to the quality of the ride we had. Our driver, as kind as he was, provided us with a few tunes for our journey. However, it just so happened that the CD only had SIX BLOODY SONGS ON IT. I kid you not we listened to that blasted thing about 3218012 times. If I were in need of having a Kyrgyz song repertoire, I’d definitely be 5 songs ahead of the game (the last one was ‘Grenade’ by Bruno Mars). If I never hear those songs again, it’ll be too soon. Now back to your regularly scheduled storytelling…
For some reason, Mel C and I were naïve enough to think that Mountain Range Uno was the divider between the Chui and Talas oblasts, but we were wrong (like we were a lot over the course of the trip). We drove for another few hours before finally getting to the swanky ‘gate’ alerting us that we were entering the Land of Manas. Another hour or so before we arrive in Talas ‘City’ (that’s what they call it, but it’s so unlike any other ‘city’ I’ve ever seen…) where our driver stops on the side of the road and says ‘Alright, that’s it; you guys have gotta get out.’ The apas were not havin’ it, saying that they paid for him to take us all the way to our villages, but he was adamant that he wasn’t going to. Mel’s apa even called him a jaman bala (which translates to ‘bad boy’). Hilarious high point of the day. We finally get out of the taxi and lug our bags to another one. This guy takes us to Mel’s house, drops her off, and then heads in the direction of my house. However, about 20ish minutes after we’re on our way, HE stops and starts tryin’ to find us another car to take us the rest of the way. My life, right? Finally he comes back and starts talkin’ with the apa who convinces him we’ll pay him a bit more to take us the rest of the way, yet when we start off, two of his buddies ask for a lift and then get in. That puts us at 4 passengers (plus my insane amounts of shit) in a VW GOLF. Yeah, itty bitty living space.
But in the end, I guess everything worked out for the best as I’m currently snuggled in my new bed typing this. And while typing it out, I noticed that it by no means conveys the insanity and silliness of the day. I guess we’ll just chalk it up to being lost in translation. :) We’ll see how the next few days go with heading to school for the first time, teaching a lesson with a random teacher (my counterpart isn’t here for the week!), meeting numerous head honchos in the village, getting my lay of the land, and meeting some of the nearby K-18s. Madness. I’m going to be knackered when I get back to Kengesh on Saturday! Fo’ sho’!
Today (12 May), I was introduced to most of the ‘important’ people around the village and went to work for the first time. Since my counterpart is still in Bishkek for Peace Corps stuff, she wasn’t around to help introduce me to everyone at my school. However, we had discussed things before I left and decided that I would work with the other English teacher and observe his classes instead. He is seriously a great guy. His language skills are pretty awesome, so I’m considering myself incredibly lucky to have two amazing English speakers as my coworkers!
Watched one of his classes – so bloody different to the system I’m used to; let’s hope they’ll be open to switching things up once I’m here for good! – and then was set to watch another one when he was told he had to teach two classes at once! Get ready for Adaptable Sarah, guys. Not only did I have to take a class on my own (it wasn’t super formal, but daunting in itself!) but for some reason, I taught an English class IN KYRGYZ. *facepalm* What was I thinking? Luckily the kids weren’t too judgmental and I think they learned a little bit, even if it was just the Kyrgyz equivalent for interrogative words (Who? What? How many?, etc.). So excited, yet fucking terrified about what’s to come in the next two years. Wish me the best.
How is everyone? Haven’t heard from a bunch of you. Some of you are in Rio and Peru, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one, but the rest of you? Were you swept away by the hundreds of tornadoes ranging across the country? Or just bogged down in almost being with finished with school? No matter the case, I hope you’re doing amazing things with life and that things are going well. What’s everyone planning to do over the course of the summer? Who’s the ‘main’ headliner at Lolla this year? Who’s going on special trips? Any wild and crazy adventures planned?
Mom and Dad – I mailed letters to you yesterday (Tuesday, 10 May). Be prepared to get them some time in August or September. Haha. Grandma and Grandpa – I’m working on yours! Been crazy busy and only have time to send about one or two letters at a time. Yours should be on the way soon! Let me know who else (other than you, Nat, I’m workin’ on yours too!) is in the mood for some snail mail!
Miss and love you all so much.
PS – I have discovered my permanent address (or at least what they told me to write down today at the post office). It is as follows. I’ll put it in both English and Kyrgyz so that way if you want to make labels to ensure it gets to me, you’ll be able to!
Talas Oblast Талас Облусу
Manas Rayon Манас Району
Kyzyl Jyldyz Village Кызыл Жылдыз Айылы
30 Bokonbaev St 30 Боконбаев Кочосу
Hippity Hop Сара Хопкинс
That seriously took almost 30 minutes to work out, thanks to the Russian language button on my comp. Problem was havin’ to find all the letters on the keyboard! Only thing is (AND THIS IN IMPORTANT): with the word Кочосу, you must put a line through the Os, so it kind of looks like… Oh, what’s it called? A circle with the line through it. Θ That! Haha. Does that make sense? Since I’m using the Russian function and the necessary Os are Kyrgyz letters only, I can’t type it out. But you all get it, right?