Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Peace Corps Assignment: Kyrgyzstan

June 12, 2004
Kyrgyzstan. I found out less than a week ago I would be a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Kyrgyzstan. Where is Kyrgyzstan? I hopped in my car and took-off for Borders Bookstore.I didn’t bother to check my appearance, so with tousled hair and crazed eyes, I stormed into the bookstore and walked straight-up to the information booth, “Gimme all ya got on Kyrgyzstan!”

The pimple-faced kid behind the counter stepped back a pace or two and instinctively glanced at my hands to make sure my demand wasn’t backed-up with the threat of violence. “ahhhhh…I’m sorry sir, what did you say?” His eyes bounced from side to side trying to spot a manager or the closest Exit.

“Kyrgyzstan.” I spat out again, “You know, Central Asia; Uzbekistan, Afghanistan…Kyrgyzstan!”

“Oh is that a place?...we’ve got atlases and travel-guides upstairs and to your right.”

“Thank you.” I replied over my shoulder as my legs carried me toward the stairs.
After rifling unsuccessfully through a few shelves of travel books, I finally opened up an atlas and flipped to the index, K-Y-R-G…ah, Kyrgyzstan, page 19. I flipped to page 19. China, Russia, Kazakhstan. And there, nestled between three stans (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan) and China, was my home, my country, my future.

Less than a week ago, I knew absolutely nothing about Kyrgyzstan. Now I’m studying Russian and trying to track down Kyrgyz language books. Today, I can tell you that the capital Bishkek has an Opera house and that Lake Issyk Kul is the second largest alpine lake after Titicaca. That the U.S. air-base established in Manas, post 9/11, brings in over $50 million/year. That the average Kyrgyz makes about $350/yr. and that Askar Akayev, the thrice-elected president has spoken to two previous Peace Corps groups. I can tell you that the Kyrgyz people are predominantly Muslim but that alcoholism runs rampant, and I can tell you about Bozo and Kumys, the millet and mare’s milk based alcoholic beverages they consume.

I can tell you lots of facts and things… but I can’t tell you how it will be to live and work there. I can’t tell you about the smell and texture of boiled goat’s head, I can’t tell you how my water faucet bleeds rust for about 45 seconds before each use. I can’t tell you that I wrote a grant to help the local mullah set up an internet cafe …. I can't tell you these things because they have not happened yet. In fact, they are not likely to happen in anyway that I imagine them. I know this, and yet I imagine. I imagine everything from the spectacular; tracking the prints of a Snow Leopard over a glacier on some Tian Shan mountain pass, to the practical—trying to earn the respect of my Kyrgyz co-workers through hard-work and example. I imagine shaking the hand of Askar Akayev and buying a horse to ride to work. I imagine growing so sick of boiled potatoes that upon my return to the states I’ll hunt down Mr. Potatohead and slowly melt him over an open fire--a sadistic smile stretching across my face. I imagine all of this, because I can’t help but wonder about my future.


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