Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Getting to PST

Last March a new group of Peace Corps volunteers came to Kyrgyzstan, like my group, they spent the first three months of their service studying the language, culture and programs. For their last few weeks of PST (Pre-Service Training) I was brought up to their training site as a trainer for the SOCD group (Sustainable Organization and Community Development.) My role was to share my experiences as a volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, answer their questions and present sessions on culture and business.

Seeing as I had never left Jalal Abad for longer than a week, my director thought it fit to invite me my co-workers over for dinner the night before I left and to send me off in a proper Kyrgyz manner. The evening started out wonderfully, we sat outside on a topchan (an elevated platform with cushions and a small table where people eat) chatting about our families and work. Eventually dinner time came around and as the food was placed on the table, the glasses were filled with vodka. Throughout the meal we went around toasting to one another, to life, to family, to health, to happiness, to Kyrgyzstan, to America and to the world.

I was having a blast! That is until I went to the bathroom and my phone fell down the toilet. Now this is no western style toilet where your phone just plops into a bowl of water, no this is an outhouse where your phone falls down a deep, dark hole and sinks into years worth of shit. There was no way in hell I was getting that phone or SIM card back (although I have known more than one volunteer who has…) But this occurred late enough in the evening that I didn’t really care all that much and returned to the table unfazed to continue toasting with my co-workers.
I wake up the next morning at home with a splitting headache, a revolting taste in my mouth and the horrifying realization that I had to buy a phone, pack for three weeks of training and get to the airport all within the next three hours. That was a very painful morning.

Waiting for me at the airport was the new group of volunteers who had just spent a week visiting their new site, I did my best to hide my excruciating hang over, but several volunteers commented on the lack of color in my face. As I recounted the events of the previous evening, I reminded them all that this was the perfect example of how Kyrgyz parties got out of hand very quickly. I hadn’t even gotten on the plane and I was already showing them the ropes!
After check in, as we are waiting for the one and only flight out of Jalal Abad that week, an air traffic controller comes into the sitting area alerting all passengers that not only was the flight delayed but we were going to have to make a quick stop in Batkent (a restricted area where Americans are prohibited to go for safety reasons.) Seeing as I thought the Peace Corps security officer should know that we were going to the one prohibited place in Kyrgyzstan, I immediately started fumbling through my bags to find her phone number- which had been programmed into my phone that currently sat at the bottom of five feet of crap. I thought my head was going to explode.

Once the security officer cleared the situation we all boarded the plane for Batkent/Bishkek. At this point I am still in a very fragile state so when the turbulence began shaking the plane and the lady next to me started puking, it was really just a matter of seconds before I started puking as well. When we finally landed and got off the plane, I immediately noticed it was about 15 °F cooler in Bishkek that it had been in Jalal Abad, I was freezing in my sundress. After almost 2 hours of riding in marshrutkas from the airport to the training village, I finally arrived in the apartment where I would be staying for the next few weeks. After a bowl of spaghetti it was just a matter of minutes before I called it a night and crawled into bed.

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