Out of touch/Happy New Year!

30 12 2010

I owe y’all a Christmas post, and I’ll oblige when I return next week from Almaty, where I’ll be spending New Years.  So, as this will almost definitely be my last post of 2010…



Holidays Far Away

18 12 2010

Getting into the holiday spirit can be a challenge when living abroad.  Particularly if you’re living in a place that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.  And even more so if you’re in a place that hasn’t been taken over by such overt consumerism that Christmas vomits itself all over you sometime in mid-November and then holds on tight for the next eight weeks.


Bishkek is such a place.  However, they do decorate for New Years, and the decorations are just what you would expect in the States for Christmas.  There are just a lot fewer of them.  But the main square is well done up, giant tree and all.



We’re hosting an expat’s Christmas at our apartment on Christmas Day, and I’ve been frantically downloading Christmas music in preparation.  I think I’m even going to try to make homemade egg nog.  Huzzah!

Research Update

17 12 2010

Things are finally moving with my actual research project.  After having some major trouble making a decent contact at the Ministry of Education, I set up a meeting with my contact at AUCA.  She suggested that I just go straight to the schools that I wanted to visit and offered to help me arrange the site visits, as much of her family works in education.  She also offered to translate my survey into Kyrgyz (for free!) and to proofread the Russian version (which I did myself, so I’m sure it needs some work).


So now I’m scheduled to visit schools in Kochkor and Naryn in early January.  That will be followed by visits to schools around Issyk-Kul (probably in Cholpon-Ata, Karakol, Tuyp, and maybe Bokonbaevo).  I’ll fit Talas and Chuy in there somewhere too before I take off to India in March.


That’s right, I’m heading to a Fulbright conference in Goa (!) in March for a week.  I’m super-stoked, as I’m sure that I’ll be ready for a break from the Kyrgyz winter by then.  And most of the cost is being covered by Fulbright, so, yay!  I found a relatively affordable flight out of Almaty via Sharjah in the UAE, so I’m going to stop there for a couple days as well and visit Dubai.  Cool, eh?


The plan then will be to visit schools in the south of Kyrgyzstan (Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken) when I get back from India.  Hopefully then I’ll be finished with my site visits by the end of April, which will give me all of May to organize the data and see if any local NGOs can use it for anything.


In other, but somewhat related, news, I’m giving another presentation next week, although this one is much less academic and more just giving some English language classes the chance to practice with a native speaker.  We’ll be talking broadly about education, and I’m going to ask the students to pilot my education questionnaire to see if all of the questions make sense.


And I’m going to be judging an English language presentation on Christmas Eve.  Apparently my status as native English speaker qualifies me to judge students’ work.  We’ll see how that goes…but it should be fun.


That’s mostly it right now.  I’ve been pretty focused on the research, haven’t had too much exciting happening outside of that.  Hope all of your holidays are running smoothly.


Trip to Karakol and other life updates

12 12 2010

I’ve posted the last two months worth of photos on Facebook.  Please check them out if you like.


Last weekend, my roommate Stuart and I headed up to Karakol, the capital of the Issyk-Kul Oblast for a couple of days.  This was the first time since my trip to the lake in September that I’d gotten outside of Bishkek, so I was glad for some different Kyrgyz scenery.  We got a marshrutka (public minibus) Thursday morning and settled in for the six hour ride to town.


The bus ride was unremarkable, if somewhat uncomfortable.  But that’s to be expected.  The Kyrgyz would rather squeeze an extra row of seats into a minibus than give anyone leg room.  But when the driver’s only getting 250 som (~$5.31) for a six hour drive, I can understand the need to maximize profits.


We arrived in Karakol in the early evening, but it was already pretty dark, and it was bloody cold, so we checked into our guesthouse and wandered out to find somewhere to have dinner.  We dined at Kalina, a small Russian restaurant with pretty decent food.  As we were heading out, Stuart reached for his wallet to pay for his half and couldn’t find it.  We checked around, but it was nowhere to be found.  We were certain that it had been left at the guesthouse, so we didn’t think any more of it.  As we were on our way out, three local guys waved us over, told us that it was their friend’s birthday and invited us to partake in some vodka (as if they need a birthday excuse to do so).  We obliged and engaged in chitchat about what we were doing in Kyrgyzstan and the usual small talk.


After about 20 minutes, things got strange.  The babushka who, we think, owns the restaurant, came out and said that we should be careful with these guys.  At the time, most of them had gone outside for a smoke, so we thought that maybe they were just going to try to stick us, the “rich” foreigners with their bill.  We didn’t think much of it, but did decide that it was probably time to head home anyway, as it was late, and the three guys were far drunker than necessary.


As we got up to leave again, another woman at the restaurant stalled us and said that we should wait to leave until the guys had left.  She said that they were trouble and could cause problems for us.  We tried to get her to elucidate, but didn’t get any more from her.  We took our chances and headed out, confused by this turn of events.  We got back to the hotel free of any incidents and began to look for Stuart’s wallet, which was still nowhere to be found.  We knew that it had been missing long before we interacted with the guys at the restaurant, but couldn’t figure out where it had wandered off to.


When we got up the next morning, Stuart suggested that we check back at the restaurant just in case we had overlooked it there.  And indeed, there it was!  The owner had found it under our table (clearly we did a great job looking), and returned it, completely intact, to Stuart.  He also asked her about the events of the night before, and she said that she didn’t know for sure that the guys were going to do anything but that she’s witnessed groups of young drunk men harass and rob foreigners, and she didn’t want that to happen to us.  We thanked her and headed into town to see some sights.


Karakol’s a sleepy little town with, to be honest, not a lot going on — unless you’re into hiking or skiing.  Neither Stuart nor I had the equipment (or, in my case, the motivation) to climb up or slide down any mountains, so that left us with not a whole lot to do.  We checked out the orthodox basilica and Dungan mosque in town and meandered through the small market.

Me and the Karakol Basilica

Dungan Mosque. It's older than me. But only just.

Today's times for the call to prayer

Seeing the sights in town took about three hours — without a map and with getting sidetracked three or four times.  I called my friend Lara, who lives in Karakol, and she gave us her friend Vadim’s number.  She said that he had a car and could drive us around to some of the sights outside of town.


We took her up on the offer and, after a lunch of ashlan-fu (cold noodles with meat and potato starch),

Ashlan-Fu. Nomnomnom

we met Vadim and drove up to Jeti-Oguz to check out some really stunning red cliffs.

Vadim, our excellent guide for the afternoon

Jeti-Ogul. This picture does not do the cliffs justice.

The red cliffs of Jeti-Ogul

After the cliffs, we headed over to a hot spring nearby.  Unfortunately, a ton of other people had had the same idea.  So rather than waiting several hours to hang out in a hot spring, we took a hike to see an icefall…the opposite of a hot spring.  But the scenery was gorgeous and well worth the hike.


After the water(ice)fall, we headed back into town and had dinner with Lara and then retired fairly early.  We woke up Saturday morning to a fresh blanket of beautiful snow, hopped on a marshrutka back to Bishkek and arrived home in the early evening in time to go out with some friends here.


Since then, I’ve spent the last week continuing to lay the groundwork for my research…I’ve started to get some decent contacts and have crafted the questionnaire that I want to distribute in the schools.  Now it’s a question of getting the okay from the Ministry of Education to actually visit the schools.  We’ll see how that goes.


Aside from that, I’ve gotten a little bit more grad school news.  I got in to Indiana University (yay!).  And I found out that sometime in the last two months, the University of Maryland decided not to have a new Higher Ed Administration cohort next fall.  So I need to figure out how to get my application fee back from them.  Meh.  But that’s 2 for 2 for the schools that I’ve heard back from.  11 more to go!


Quick Update

6 12 2010

I’m currently in exile at a coffee shop because the power is out at our apartment.  So I’ll be posting quickly, and a bigger update (with pictures!) will be forthcoming once we have power back at the flat.


I spent last week making contacts to get my research off the ground.  I have a few contacts at some education related NGOs, and I’m gathering some contacts at the Kyrgyz Ministry of Education.  It’s slow going, but I foresee really getting into my research by the end of the month.  And that’s exciting.


I spent a few days in Karakol at the end of last week with my roommate Stuart.  Karakol’s a sleepy little tourist town on the eastern end of Lake Issyk-Kul, and, while there’s not a whole lot to do there, we managed to have a good time.  We saw an old orthodox basilica and an old Dungan mosque, checked out the small central market and took a trip outside of the city to check out some gorgeous red rock cliffs and some natural hot springs.  We got back Saturday to a beautiful snow-covered Bishkek, where winter has finally (and for good, this time, it seems) set in.


Since then, it’s been blisteringly cold (lows around 0F [or -15C]), but I love the cold weather, so that’s just fine with me.  I’ve got a Fulbright friend from Kazakhstan coming into town tonight, and it’ll be fun to get to play tour guide in Bishkek.


Hope things are well with all of you!