Beginning with the earthquake that struck Sunday night, these last couples of days have been a bit chaotic! Over 70 people died in the earthquake on the southeast Kyrgyz and Chinese border. Although I am living in the southwest region, that evening even I felt the earthquake. To be honest I had been running around the house and didn’t actually feel the ground shaking, rather I saw a light hanging from my ceiling swaying violently. According to reports the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.6 which is the largest earthquake in the region since 2003. For me this earthquake was a big reminder that those beautiful hills and mountains are still growing. It’s intimidating feeling the earth reshape itself under your feet.
After the initial shock and discussions of where people were and what they were doing when the quake struck, life seemed to continue on in Jalal Abad. My house has a constant buzz of excitement as the wedding approaches. During the day the whole family is busy repainting the house, repairing cracks in the walls, weeding the garden and cooking. My God, there is so much cooking going on right now! I can hardly step into the kitchen to make breakfast without feeling like I am disrupting this intricate system of preparation! At night is when friends and family start arriving to celebrate the upcoming wedding. They stream in through the gates with bags of deserts, fruit and vodka. Last night I was pulled in to celebrate with shots of vodka after I had eaten dinner. Toast after toast, the guest gave speeches to celebrate the new couple, wish them many children and to rejoice in the growing family. Interestingly enough, for all this celebration the new wife was nowhere to be seen because she busy working in the kitchen and cleaning up after all the feast preparation. There is still two days before the wedding begins, which will be a three day celebration, and I cannot even fathom what I am in for!
On the other side of town I have experienced a quicken of pace at my NGO. Yesterday eight highschool students came by and took a language evaluation that I created so I could place them in an English Club (with an underlying theme of human rights, volunteering, and community service) which I will be hosting on behalf of the NGO. The evaluation consisted of four questions; tell me about yourself, who do you admire and consider your hero, what do you want to do in the next ten years, why do you want to join this English club? There was a wide variety of answers, in the self description section they all described how much they liked music and hanging out with their friends (not so different than American teenagers) and one young woman stated her horoscope sign and proceeded to describe the characteristics of an Aries (horoscopes are followed very dutifully here!) As for what they want to do in ten years only half claimed they wanted to travel to Europe and America but they all described how they wanted to find the love of their life and live happily ever after! All the young women of the group but one young woman described their mothers or sisters as their hero. The exception in the group described her respect for the courage, strength and loyalty of Harry Potter!
In addition to the earthquake, wedding and English evaluation, this week I stopped by the American Corner at the University of Jalal Abad which is a resource center sponsored by the American Embassy where students can borrow English books, movies and practice their English. With the intentions of introducing myself and seeing if they wanted any help from me, I was suprised with their immediate assumption that I was there to serve! The moment I walked in I was welcomed and informed that they had been waiting for me despite the fact that I had made no appointments to come by! Within the hour I had agreed to help with three English clubs (a beginner, intermediate and a conversational club.) I also initiated a movie club where every Thursday we would watch a movie in English, discuss it and answer any questions about it. It was decided that I would start next week! As I was leaving the American corner the director asked me to come by the following day so he could introduce me to the Vice Director of the University. The next day after work, I returned to the University and met with the Vice Director of the school. He was a middle aged Kyrgyz man who didn’t speak English so the director of the American Corner translated for us. We discussed how I liked Kyrgyzstan, what I had been doing before the Peace Corps, what I wanted to do with my life after Kyrgyzstan, my family and basically everything else under the sun! Towards the end of the meeting he purposed that I start an English-Business Club for the business school where students could talk about western business practices, I nearly fell out of my chair when he said that! I have been itching for an opportunity to put my finance degree to use and this looks like the perfect opportunity!
A lot of community development volunteers have been hesitant to host English clubs because they feel teaching English is not their role in the Peace Corps but I’m totally pumped up about my five clubs!!! For me, these clubs have the potential to be my entry into the community, a great way to explore the Kyrgyz culture and finally there is obviously a huge demand for English practice here. I can only hope that projects that are requested by the community and are sustainable will turn out to be successful projects!