Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The End is Near

May 21, 2008

1:00 PM

“A scientific genius is not a person who does what no one else can do; he or she is someone who does what it takes many others to do. The genius is not a unique source of insight; he is merely an efficient source of insight.”

- The New Yorker: May 12, 2008

“The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing—despite being despised by significant voices on the right—shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces.”

- The New Yorker: May 26, 2008

May 22, 2008

1:45 PM

The date has been revealed: I depart Kyrgyzstan on August 21, 2008

I received a phone call yesterday in the middle of my final lesson of the morning. (I usually don’t answer calls during lessons, but we were playing games yesterday – it’s the final week of school, no one studies.) I excused myself from a conversation I was having with a few students and answered the phone. It was my program manager.

“Salam, Jason. How are you?”
“Good, how are you?”
“I am good. I’m calling to tell you that your early COS date has been approved.”
“Oh, that’s good. What date do I have?”
“August 21st.”
“Ok, thank you, see you soon.”
“You are welcome, see you next week.”

The above dialogue was in Kyrgyz. Most of my conversations with my program manager are in Kyrgyz these days. She loves being able to have full conversations with me in Kyrgyz. I love talking to her in Kyrgyz because she is the only person I talk to in country that I can understand everything she says. She speaks a very clear and adapted Kyrgyz, sprinkling Peace Corps terminology (in English) in her conversations with me. This being said, I still have a slight delay in my comprehension. The delay has shrunk over time, but it still takes a few seconds for full comprehension of words and sentences.

After I hung up the phone I paused. “My COS request been approved,” I thought. A slight happiness ran through my body; followed by a second thought that froze entire body. “I leave Kyrgyzstan on August 21.” My facial expression clearly changed drastically.

“Mister Jason, what’s wrong,” one of my students asked my in Kyrgyz.
Forcing my lips to part, I responded with a faint, “nothing.”

For the past three months I knew I would be leaving some time in August, but nothing was ever concrete. Previous to my fourth lesson yesterday, my knowledge of when I would leave was revealed to those who asked, and to myself, in a series of ellipses. “I leave in August…” Suddenly I had a date. My entire service, my life in Kyrgyzstan, was abruptly given a date of closure.

As my students stared at me I felt my forehead tighten and my eyes widen. My back sunk into the chair and my thoughts took flight. “Wow, on August 21 I will be home. My life in Kyrgyzstan will be over.” Sounds kind of dramatic now as I recall it, but I’ve been able to keep myself clear of major departure anxieties by keeping my departure a distant thought. I don’t want to think about. I can be a very open person when it comes to emotion, but by and large goodbyes are my weak point.

I have two levels of emotion during departures: stoicism and sheer destruction. I have no doubts that leaving Kyrgyzstan will be the latter. Thing is, I really can’t afford to fall apart for a while. I’m not going to lie to myself and believe I will be able to hold myself together when I leave. But that is three months away. I think I will take the stoic approach to my impending departure for a while, but inevitability has a way keeping the clock ticking. When the time comes, I will have my carry-on ready. I wonder if carrying pieces of myself in my carry-on counts as human trafficking?

Where my thoughts escapin’
Where my music’s playin’
Where my love lies waitin’ silently for me.”

- S and G

June 4, 2008

5:45 PM

“How I dream, Natasha, how I dream,” he was saying, waving a small, whistling stick. “Am I really lying when I pass off my fantasies as truth? I had a friend who served for three years in Bombay. Bombay? My God! The music of geographical names. That word alone contains something gigantic, bombs of sunlight, drums. Just imagine, Natasha—that friend of mine was incapable of communicating anything, remembered nothing except work-related squabbles, the heat, the fevers, and the wife of some British colonel. Which of us really visited India? . . . It’s obvious—of course, I am the one.”

‘Natasha’ – Vladimir Nabokov; The New Yorker: June 9, 2008
(Circa 1924. Translated, from Russian, by Dmitri Nabokov.)

June 7, 2008

11:15 AM

“American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, if feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. “Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus,” wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And – for the first time in living memory – the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.
Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is in Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.”

- Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (excerpted in Newsweek May 12, 2008)

I quote this article above because by the end of the entire article I can honestly say I was beaming with happiness. Sounds kind of Anti-American doesn’t it? If it does, then so be it. I love my country and I am proud of where I am from. But something inside of me loves knowing that America is being challenged as the great empire it once was (and may still be). I love that developing countries are becoming developed. I love that former colonies are stepping up to challenge their colonizers. I love that America is not the best.
I should probably remind you now that I am not anti-American. I am very far from it. The benefits and possibilities my country offers me are incredible and I’m thankful everyday to have them. There are many things that I may not be able to do if I were not an American (writing what I am could be one of them), and I am glad that our country has fought so hard for the freedom it allows its citizens.
The great thing is we can still be a great country, all the while sharing the spotlight with the rest of the world. What a beautiful thought! Honestly. A world where people all over the world start to live on level playing fields! I know, I know, sounds far-fetched, but check this: it’s about time that Americans started using the world map instead of just the US map. We are not the entire plant. There are other countries that share our globe with us. America, you have a 50% chance of having a Black president come November, the Latin-American population is growing daily and will not stop (people have kids remember), and soon, if it has not already happened, America is going to be challenged for it spot atop the world’s economy.
And while Americans are screaming about the threat of losing our top spot, I am very loudly voicing my love for it! Why you ask? Well, I think the world could be a beautiful place with so many new colors helping to paint the global mural. Why do so few people know about Bollywood? Why do so few Americans care about Soccer (or Futbol as the rest of the world knows it)? Why are we only one of three nations on the ENTIRE PLANET that does not use the metric system? You want my answer. Well too bad, you are going to get it anyways. I believe this is so because deep inside the souls of many Americans there is the belief that we are better than the world around us.
I’ve seen this even in Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and many other foreign-aid workers who come to Kyrgyzstan to work. Many Volunteers are here working, but they never really see the people they are working with as their equals. There is a lot of people here to give everything they can to help the people of this country, but good handful of people of those people could care less about the people they are helping. Volunteering and aid work to them is more of a selfish act; something that makes them feel better about returning to America and showering once a day or having a school system with books. This is by no means the majority of PCVS or foreign-aid workers, but sadly majorities are not always the people that leave the greatest impressions.
America needs to get off its horse, put on some walking shoes and explore the world around them. This doesn’t even have to be done traveling the world. The beautiful thing about America is that so many cultures, languages, and peoples live within the borders of our country! We can simply wander around some of great cities and see and meet an endless diversity of world cultures. Getting Chinese take-out does not count as exploring the diversity our country has. But little things can be done. Try talking with a British co-worker about something other than David Beckham, inviting your Mexican neighbors over for dinner, or maybe heading to a Japanese cultural center for a relaxing day.
There are so many little things that we can do to see what our great world has to offer us, but so many people chose not to for what reason? For fear of the other? For fear that the other may be equal to us? Get over it America! We are not the greatest. Ok, yeah, we have a military budget that equals Africa’s GDP and enough nuclear warheads to take out a third of our solar system. But what does that really mean? Are we really such a macho group of people to believe that our military strength alone makes us great people? 50 Cent was shot a few times and likes to talk about guns a lot, but does that really make him a great person? As a country are we not above the frat-boy machismo persona?
I still think America is a great country. But I also think there are a lot of other great countries. I believe America is great because of its diversity, because of its culture, and because of its history. I am bothered by our country’s fear of the unknown. We want our lives orderly. We want to know we have control of the paths we follow. Let go America! The free fall is so much more exciting and filled with wonder!

June 13, 2008

7:30 AM

“It was a nice feeling to have a Microvac of your own and Jerrodd was glad he was part of his generation and no other.”

- Isaac Asimov, “The Last Question” (1956)

I wonder if all generations wonder this about past and future generations. Does everyone believe that where they are now is far better than where they once were? So many free thinkers, yet so many people locked in their love for who and where they are!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ups, Downs, and Veggies.

April 9, 2008

10:20 AM

There’s no hiding it. I’ve had some major ups and downs lately. My latest episode was a pretty heavy attack (anxiety, over-thinking, loss of control, etc.). In short I have come to this conclusion: My heart is being torn in two directions. Kind of obvious, and even bordering cliché (being a Peace Corps volunteer on the other side of the world), but it has never been more evident than in the past few weeks.

The major dilemma is that I am ready to come home, but I am not ready to leave Kyrgyzstan. I stated this in my previous posting, but it deserves an adjustment of perspective.

I returned yesterday from a short trip to Bishkek. The doctor was worried about my mental status, and figured it would be a good idea for me to come in and have a talk with her. In the end it was concluded that I am not depressed, I don’t hear voices in my head (seriously), and that I need to try and stop over-thinking life. In other words, I need to take a deep breath. It all sounds kind of silly that I had a minor mental breakdown over this. It is this mentality, though, (the “macho” mentality of PC volunteers) that brought me to this point.

On a very deep level, I believe I am a very strong person; someone who doesn’t have mental breakdowns or suffers from anxiety attacks. Yesterday and today so far I have begun to accept my humanity. Yeah, I’m emotionally weak on some levels, and I need to accept that. Accepting that I can and do struggle sometimes with the world I live in seems to be the most difficult part of all of this.

For now, I will just start with being human.

When I returned to school yesterday, never was it more obvious as to why I am going to hate leaving here. Like news about me tends to do, most of the people knew that I went to Bishkek a few days ago to see the doctor (I told my host mother and the director of my school that I was going, so naturally most of the village found out). From the time I left my house for school until the time I reached my classroom, I had to have been asked by a dozen people (students, teachers, neighbors) how I was doing.

They were not asking the usual, “how’s your health?” They were genuinely concerned about my health. They heard that went to the doctor were surprised since most people think I’m super human (I run and play soccer, making me a super-sportsman; I don’t correct their misconceptions, I like being super). When I informed them that I was fine, then resumed their usual questioning (“How’s work? Do you miss America? How’s Amy? Where are you going?”).

I have become a relative, a member of the giant family that lives in my village. It will not be easy to leave my family here.

April 14, 2008

8:45 PM

‘Fiddler on the Roof’:

Villager: “Let the authorities grow like onions with their heads in the ground. AMEN!”

Tevye: “The wit she gets from me…the tongue she gets from her mother.”

Perchik: “Money’s the world’s curse.”
Tevye: “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!”

Tevye: “He loves her. Love, it’s the new style.”

April 15, 2008

7:30 AM

I dreamed in Kyrgyz last night. Crazy.

A quote from Ellis Cose (from Newsweek):

‘”But it was not just such benign, generally unstated assumptions that forced Obama to play the role of racial teacher. It was also an unending stream of racial-baiting silliness emanating from people with strong opinions about his candidacy. There was Bill Clinton, who seemed inclined to make Obama out as a latter-day Jesse Jackson. There was Gloria Steinem, who, in an op-ed, stopped just short of saying it would be unfair for a black man – instead of a white woman – to be offered keys to the White House. Then there was Geraldine Ferraro, famous largely because she was once selected to run for vice president. She believes Obama “would not be in this position” if he had been born a white man. Never mind that most of us would probably not be in our current positions if we were fundamentally something other than we are. Never mind that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy would not exist were she not a woman – since no man could run largely on the basis of credentials garnered by being the spouse of a former president (at least not until same-sex marriage is more acceptable than it is now).”

April 22, 2008

9:45 AM

In a very sad display of my love for cheese, I just endured a brief moment of choking in order to save a bite of cheese. I discovered, and purchased, some wonderful parmesan cheese in Karakol this past weekend. As my midmorning snack I was having some cheese, crackers, and cucumbers. With a few pieces of cheese left on my plate (and in my possession) I took an unsuspecting dangerous bite. Caught midway between a cough and swallowing my bite, I began to choke. Instead of spitting out the rest of the food in my mouth to clear my airway and stop from choking (like most humans who like to live would have done), I chose to fight the gag reflex and reposition the food in my mouth so as to find an opening for air. Eventually I stopped choking, and, more importantly, was able to save the cheese, cracker, and cucumber in my mouth (which I proceeded to finish chewing after I stopped choking); all for the sake of good cheese.

Sad, Jason. Seriously. Sad.

April 22, 2008

10:40 AM

Me: Fiona?

Fiona: Yeah?

Me: You still around?

Fiona: I never leave.

Me: I haven’t heard from you in a while.

Fiona: I tend to back away when you’re having emotional struggles.

Me: You fade away when I’m unstable?

Fiona: Sure, if you want to look at it that way.

Me: What do you when you “back away?” Do you still observe me?

Fiona: Well, I do live in your head, so as much distance as your imagination affords me I take.

Me: What do you do when we are not talking?

Fiona: Observe, listen, live, absorb; the usual things a conscious does.

Me: Any interesting observations lately?

Fiona: Well, among many of my observations of you, I have been most interested with your ongoing struggle with humanity’s imperfections.

Me: What interests you about it?

Fiona: You seem to have an understanding and concurrent mistrust in your own beliefs. Your actions and words are more often than not empathetic and confident. Subconsciously, though, you have a hard time with the flaws of our imperfect world and spend a lot of energy questioning your own intellect.

Me: I feel I need to question myself. If I don’t question my beliefs and understandings, then I fear I will become complacent and ignorant.

Fiona: Questioning your beliefs and understandings is not the problem. The problem is that if all you ever do is question yourself, you will never have any beliefs or convictions. You have a deep rooted talent of empathy and a thick skinned belief in the power of love. These are powerful things, but you weaken them with your mistrust in them.

Me: So how do you suggest I go about coming to terms with the flaws of humanity? It seems that so many of my inspirations, leaders in the fight for a better world, champion for one cause but fail at another.

Fiona: Examples?

Me: MLK cheated on his wife. Gandhi neglected his kids. My parents, well, in the past years I’ve seen so much humanity in my once superhero parents.

Fiona: Being human is not a flaw. MLK and Gandhi chose to sacrifice their lives and their relationships for the call of a greater cause. Your parents may be human, but their humanity is no different than of MLK and Gandhi.

Me: Are you saying that my parents and Gandhi and MLK are equals?

Fiona: Yes. MLK and Gandhi and your parents all sacrificed their personal lives to fight for something far beyond humanity’s grasp.

Me: What is that?

Fiona: Trying to create a perfect world for you.

Me: Well if it is beyond humanity’s grasp to achieve this, then why do we even fight? Why do we sacrifice and struggle if we know that all we fight for will forever be flawed and imperfect?

Fiona: Because to this date, one of humanity’s greatest calls for purpose is rooted in our desire to improve the lives of the people we know will follow us.

Me: If we are endless fighting to make the world better for the next generation, doesn’t that lead to an inherent lack of attention towards the life we are currently leading?

Fiona: Time doesn’t stop. Every action you take, battle you fight, and thought you think is going to affect the people that follow you. May as well accept that now and begin your life.

Me: What if all I ever do is love? Love my lover, my parents, my brothers, my friends.

Fiona: Then I count them lucky that you have chosen to spend your life giving them all you have to give.

Me: Some how, though, I don’t believe love alone will be fulfilling.

Fiona: Trust your convictions. You have a long way to go. If you want love, then you need to believe it; even its imperfections.

Me: Give me sometime to think about all of this.

April 22, 2008

8:25 PM


“I think a guy who’s always interested in the condition of the world and changing it either has no problems of his own or refuses to face them…we all have problems, you can’t escape having problems, don’t ya know. But to take on the problem of all humanity, to save all humanity, my god that was too big for even Jesus Christ; don’t ya know, he got himself crucified. How the hell do we expect to do those things?”

May 3, 2008

1:00 PM

I’ve spent the greatest period of self-discovery in my life in country not my own, a culture I had to learn, and amongst a language I am only now coming to terms with it. Who I am and the impact I choose to make on the world has only begun to become clear in my mind. The crazy part is that most (if not all) of what I’ve “discovered” about myself in the past few years is in the context of my life in Kyrgyzstan. Oh, America, here I come! I hope you are ready to have some fun!

May 7, 2008

7:10 AM

Yann Martel (‘Life of Pi’):

“I have nothing to say of my working life, only that a tie is a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he’s not careful.”

“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”

“I felt a kinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap.”

“To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

“…when he splurged on transportation, it was a regular donkey.”

“How true it is that necessity is the mother of invention, how very true.”

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life…One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy.”

“I thought I would run out of paper. It was the pens that ran out.”

“Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

“Isn’t telling about something – using words, English or Japanese – already something of an invention? Isn’t looking upon this world already something of an invention? The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

“I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.”

May 8, 2008

7:30 AM

Kurt Vonnegut (‘A Man Without a Country’):

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as your possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

“Total catastrophes are terribly amusing…you know, the Lisbon earthquake is funny.”

“Speaking of plunging into war, do you know why I think George W. Bush is so pissed off at Arabs? They brought us algebra. Also the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which Europeans had never had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.”

May 10, 2008

7:15 AM

My meals yesterday were as follows:

Breakfast: Peanuts and a Banana
Snack: 2 Beef and Onion Samsas (a Kyrgyz ‘Hot Pocket’)
Lunch: ½ Kilo of Cherries, an Apple, and a Banana
Snack: An ice cream cone
Dinner: Carrot, Cucumber, Green Onion, Garlic, and Tomato salad.
Snack: Popcorn

Suffice it say, yesterday my stomach was dancing with joy all day! Summer has arrived; the weather and the bazaar are now in full display of this. Yesterday I sweat. Not while working out, simply by walking around my village. It was hot yesterday. It was beautiful.
Besides great food and the ability to walk around in sandals, the nice weather has also allowed me to get back into a running routine. My current running play-list (which also seems to cover a lot of the music I am addicted to right now):

‘Around the World’ – Daft Punk
‘Fame’ – David Bowie
‘Could You Be Loved’ – Bob Marley
‘Listen to the Music’ – Doobie Brothers
‘Keep on Truckin’ – Eddie Kendricks
‘No One’ – Alicia Keys
‘Great Expectations’ – Jurassic 5
‘Get By’ – Talib Kweli
‘Brainwashers’ – Blackalicious and Ben Harper
‘Black History Month’ – Saul Williams
‘Benzi Box’ – Dangerdoom and Cee-Lo
‘Disenchanted’ – My Chemical Romance
‘In This Scene You’re Just an Extra’ – Search the City
‘Beat It’ – Fall Out Boy and John Mayer
‘MTV is Over if You Want It’ – We are the Union
‘Stranger than Fiction’ – Bad Religion
‘Dateline (I’m Gone)’ – Yellowcard
‘This is My Life (And it’s Ending One Minute at a Time)’ – We are the Union
‘You Know How I Do’ – Taking Back Sunday
‘War Pigs’ – Cake
‘Twin Cinema’ – The New Pornographers
‘Program Director’ – OAR
Yun Hi Chala Chalahi – Swades Soundtrack

May 10, 2008

7:30 AM

From the April 21, 2008 New Yorker (‘Up and Then Down; The lives of elevators’ by Nick Paumgarten):

“Smart elevators are strange elevators, because there is no control panel in the car; the elevator knows where you are going. People tend to find it unnerving to ride in an elevator with no buttons; they feel as if they had been kidnapped by a Bond villain. Helplessness may exacerbate claustrophobia. In the old system—board elevator, press button—you have an illusion of control; elevator manufacturers have sought to trick the passengers into thinking they’re driving the conveyance. In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer. Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command.”

I copied and pasted the above paragraph from the middle of a twelve page (in MS Word) article about elevators. It was a good article. No, it was great article. It was fun to read because the author of this article obviously put a lot of time and effort in describing a very overlooked necessity to life (in cities at least): elevators. Two things struck me from this article that I want to comment on:

The authors dedication to such an obscure topic
“…the door-close button doesn’t work.”

I have a deep respect for anyone who dedicates themselves to something. I don’t think this is a respect that I developed while in Kyrgyzstan, but it surely has been enhanced here. After spending the last two years staring and the US from the other side of the planet, I’ve come to the conclusion that having more does not necessarily mean knowing more. There is so much information, so much stuff in the US. While we have a ton of people that specialize in the most detailed aspects of life, I feel that we also have a ton of people who live topically. “A mile wide and an inch deep,” as a mentor of my mine from college was fond of saying. (I know I love to use that phrase, but there is something I love about the image of a mile wide body of water that is only an inch deep.)

Sometimes it feels that in order to grasp everything we are forced to live and love the surfaces. Inevitably the people that dive below the surface to explore the depths will have to return to the surface. Once they do they will be faced with a surface drastically different from the one they left. The currents never stop; we don’t want them to. The currents produce things like vaccines, computers, and washing machines. Problem is that the stronger the currents, the less people seem to have a will to fight against them. If the winds are blowing west, it seems foolish to then want to head east. Sometimes it seems just as foolish to just stop and not move. Why pause when the currents will carry you?
But there are people that stop, and there are people that fight to head against the current. I love these people: People that find an interest in the life we are living rather than the one we are going to live; the people who return to the waters that so many people just skim over. I love the people that are ok with living a life a “mile deep and an inch wide.” I want to be one of these people. I don’t want a life that is so narrow is lacks reality. I do want a life that explores the depths.

My good buddy Pi Patel shared with me some of his insight into life the other day. “You are as likely to see sea life from a ship as you are to see wildlife in a forest from a car on a highway…If you want to see wildlife, it is on foot, and quietly, that you must explore a forest. It is same with the sea. You must stroll through the Pacific at a walking pace, so to speak, to see the wealth and abundance that it holds.” You could very easily replace “wildlife” with the word “life” and his statement would hold the same meaning.
The fact that Mr. Nick Paumgarten put twelve pages of work into a report about elevators may mean very little to some people. To me it glowed of dedication. It introduced me to someone, no matter his motives, that put in the time to slow down and look at the life inside the framework. His article is a very well written article, but more important to me is that it is a beautiful combination of poetics and a vested interest in life.
As for the ‘door-close’ button not working, I guess that’s kind of like the scrolling bar on our computers that shows the progress downloads and other things of that nature. How many times do we sit there impatiently looking at the percentage downloaded or the time remaining? We all know that is will inevitably take a few minutes after the download is completed for it to actually be completed. Yet we still use that scrolling bar as a gauge for time; a gauge that helps us feel comfort in knowing that something is happening. We all watch the bar and we all press the button, they both seem to be embedded into our psychology.

May 16, 2008

1:00 PM

T-Shirts I saw in Bishkek today:

1. Dare - To Keep Kids Away From Drugs
2. Olive Garden - A Family Italian Restaurant
3. G - Star - Original Rap

I love T-Shirts.

I miss my home.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Anonymity Please

April 1, 2008

4:00 PM

I woke up this morning very far from center. I was anxious and had a detached feeling that followed me from yesterday into today. I don’t really know where it came from, but it began chipping away at me yesterday and by this morning it had worn me down. So I did what I usually do when I need to find center: I went for a walk.

I grabbed my iPod and a book and took off in a direction that I knew would carry me a good ways away from everything. Like I tend to do these days, I ended up at my new favorite spot: an old water well. This well is on the far, far outskirts of our village. It is a huge well covered by a cement lid ten feet in diameter. The well’s top is flat, clean, and out in the middle of no where; a perfect spot to just sit and let the sun soak into my skin.

Michael Franti lifted me up and carried me there with his words. Once I got to the well, Coltrane in the ears and Rumi through the eyes helped me find return to center. By the time I felt a new source of energy running through my veins, The Decemberists stepped in and added a little rhythm for the walk home.

My remedies change depending on the illness. Today, my therapy was music, my medicine was the sun and my guidance was Rumi.

As for the walk home, here is where my mind wandered off too:

I want to be anonymous again.

I know it sounds weird to say, but I am ready to become anonymous again. The one thing that used to bother me about life in the States is the one thing I long for most right now: anonymity. I want to return to my culture where I am piece of the puzzle.

I am not ready to leave Kyrgyzstan. I am ready to come home though.

Wow, don’t think I have vocalized that thought yet.

I love my students. I love my counterparts. I love my host-family. I love a lot of my friends in the village. I love my fellow PCVs. All of those things keep me here, keep me working, and keep me focused (most of the time). I have more than just work keeping me here, I have relationships. There are people here that I care about. These people, my friends, are keeping me here, even with so much of the love that awaits me back home.

Overall, I really do believe that I have overcome my fear of returning home. I have parted with my fears of life back home. I have come to terms with my former home, and I am ready to come back to her. As my time winds down here in Kyrgyzstan, I am sure I will grow ready to leave. For now, I know that the life that awaits me back home is something that excites me rather than scares me.

I don’t long for all of America. I don’t necessary long for America at all. I long for a center ground. A neutral location I can reach into a past of things I once was a part of; and then dive full force into the future. The States is a disturbing place. I am not looking forward to the material word; the ignorant and forcibly naïve people back home scare me; the endless drive to control time (and every other uncontrollable aspect to life) is a pressure I’m not excited about. But in the end that is my home. Not the flag, the anthem, the monuments, or the buildings; the people are my home. I want to return the people and the culture they collaborate on.

April 1, 2008

6:00 PM

So, I lost a piece to my earphones. Good thing it looks exactly like sheep poop pellets. I guess if we didn’t have thirty sheep (and twenty something lambs) I would have a small hope of finding the earphone piece in our driveway or yard. I am keeping a tiny bit of hope to find the piece among the thousands of poop pellets. Looks like I’ll be using little free white ear-buds that come with iPods.

A tribute to Rumi from today’s earlier walk:

Open your hands,
if you want to be held.

Some thoughts on literature, from me:

A. Poetry is meant to be read outdoors.

B. Short stories are like the free samples of food at the grocery store on Saturday: when you finish the piece, you always want more of the same thing; but only fools actually think more would be better.

C. Gabrielle Garcia-Marquez is heavenly.

D. The impact of a poem, short story, or novel’s meaning can be felt years after the said literary item has been read.

E. “Calvin and Hobbes” is a comic-strip gold.

F. Every person that uses the, “I can’t believe you haven’t read [fill in the blank]” phrase in a condescending tone is a moron. Be careful who you take book recommendations from; there are too many books in this world to read something just because you don’t want to miss out.

G. I like to read fantasy sometimes. Just like sometimes I like to watch “Grey’s Anatomy,” listen to Punk music, or day-dream about Red Bull cans dancing on rainbows. They make me happy.

H. The metaphor about life being a book is bullshit. I never heard of anyone putting life down and starting it up again a few weeks later. Every time I think, “On to the next chapter,” I kick myself. What a stupid metaphor. I have a new one: life is a shooting star. When you see it, you rarely know where it came from or where it is going, but while it was in your view it was beautiful.

April 2, 2008

11:25 PM

Random thought of the day:

What is it that drives the world outsider the borders of a nation to care so much about the beauties inside that nation? Examples: Endangered animals in Africa and the nature in Kyrgyzstan. Obviously many of the citizens of each respective location care deeply for their lands and its inhabitants. But why does it seem more often than not it is also the local citizens who take part in the destruction (poachers in Africa or major garbage problems in Kyrgyzstan). Does the rest of the world cause this? Obviously there are economic factors and very deep historical issues dealing with poaching in Africa. But pollution in Kyrgyzstan is a mystery to me. Maybe the lessons of my youth are starting to show the head: Turn the water off when you are brushing your teeth; flip light switches off when leaving a room; littering is bad; a hot dog, potato chips, and pop are rightful rewards for playing a little league baseball game.

April 4, 2008

1:00 PM

Random thought of the day:

Why do sheep make noise? Are they talking? Seriously, sometimes I feel like their BAAAAAA is just a random honk. Unless I am entirely ignorant to the world of sheep communication (which is very likely), their noises are about as necessary as my appendix. But who knows, maybe I just have issues with sheep now, considering they live outside my windows. Maybe if I spend a few days studying their BAAAAAA I might be able to catch some patterns. Probably not; I will more likely just spend the next few months telepathically telling them all to please BAAAAA quietly during the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring is Here.

January 24, 2008

5:00 PM

I can’t return home and be who I was. That is going to challenging. Everything that was part of my life (and still is – though in a personal holding pattern) will be different when I return home. Career, family, friends, and all else will have new lenses twisted onto them. Everything is going to be different, even though it will all be part of a life I (should) know. How, you ask, will I reenter American society? (Houston, we have a problem. Reentry looks to be a bit shaky.) Good question. If you have an answer, I would love some help.

I know I can’t return home and look at a salary the same. For Benjamin’s sake, minimum wage (for one person) for a year in the States would nearly cover all of the teacher’s yearly salaries (combined) at my school. Money in general is going to be just plain odd.. I have lived a year and half with a tenth of the luxuries I grew up with. I’ve never once gone into convulsions due to a lack of microwave. Shit, running water! I’m still standing despite my lack of running water. And after this winter (widely being touted as the coldest in recent Kyrgyz history), setting the thermostat will mean so much more (or little?).

The thing is, when I return home I’m surely going to use these luxuries. They are there; and I am surely no minimalist. I guess the question I think about most is the question of privilege (and growing up in a situation of privilege). My current notion of what it means to be privileged is a bit different than it used to be. How about growing up with running water, access to constant electricity, and having a school with text books? Does that count as privileged? Would anything beyond this count as living in excess? Should I feel bad, when I return home, for using a toilet? Shower? Internet? I want to return home and live like I know I should be living (like a person who has lived in a developing nation for two years). Where do I start, how do I start? Do I buy energy saving light bulbs? What about a water saving shower head? Maybe I buy only organic food and fair-trade coffee.

Oh! I got! I could ride my bike everywhere. That’s it! Riding my bike will surely make me feel better about toasting my bread (in a toaster) and making a protein shake (in a blender) before I leave for work. Only question is where do I put my Starbucks while riding my bike; do they make cup holders for bikes? Will they let me go through the drive through with my bike)? No, that’s not it. Wait, I know…Save the whales! Yeah, screw riding my bike (where will I go on my bike?). I am going to join the WWF (Hulk Hogan) and champion for whale saving. That is obviously the goal of joining Peace Corps. Return home and save the world (one whale at a time)!

Obviously Robert L. Strauss (the now famous – in PCV talks at least – NY Times Op-Ed columnist) returned home and found it easier to get the back into Peace Corps. He even questioned Peace Corps’ effectiveness while he was a PCV, but then must have struggled being home so much that he decided to join Peace Corps for a while in varying fashions. (Maybe he felt instead of saving the world, he was going to save Peace Corps.) Did he struggle returning home because of doubts with his own service and inexperience? Did he have any struggles returning home? Is his current career – management consulting – a step up from Peace Corps or acknowledgement to the depth of what life is (and how little control we have over what we want to change)?

Mr. Strauss, do you have any tips for returning home? Apparently you felt like pissing off every RPCV and PC Washington before saving the world.

Thing is, I agree with about little parts of Mr. Strauss’ Op-Ed, and that fact has led me to have even more inner battles about returning home. Optimism is the name of our ship, but our water is swirling with pessimistic sharks. Can international development be counted one person at a time? I am proud of what I’m doing. The question I have sometimes, though, is what is it that I’m really doing? Gaining experience or passing it on? Should I return home feeling I gained or gave more?

If my holiday trip home was any indication as to how incredibly easy returning home will be, I should be hyperventilating for, say, only the first three months I’m home (instead of just one night at Barnaby’s). My worry is I can’t just transfer my mentality here into life back home. My two realities are entirely different (we’ll save the third reality – in my head – for my doctoral thesis); I can’t just transfer my lessons and habits from one into the other. No matter which direction I go.

Home has problems and struggles (no matter where I call home). A lot of people in my life in the States have worked hard to get what they have. Does that mean they need to give up some of what they have because the rest of the world doesn’t have that? I don’t know. I don’t know what we/I need to do in the States. I guess that will be part of the return process.

(I do think we need to calm the F down in America; but in what way I am not really sure…we could stop bombing people…)

Damn, I knew this experience would seriously kick my balance off kilter. I came here for that. Returning home never really crossed my mind though. Can someone put some padding down for me, hopefully the fall won’t hurt as much then (or if anything, just remove the floor when I fall; free falling for a while would be better than crashing into the floor a few feet below).

January 30, 2008

7:20 AM

Thanks Charles Frazier (and your book Cold Mountain):

On Marriage:

“Marrying a woman for her beauty [alone] makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing. But it’s a common mistake nonetheless.”

On Advancement:

“A song went around from fiddler to fiddler and each one added something and took something away so that in time the song became a different thing from what it had been, barely recognizable in either tune or lyric. But you could not say the song had improved, for as was true of all human effort, there was never advancement. Everything added meant something lost, and about as often as not the thing lost was preferable to the thing gained, so that over time we’d be lucky if we just broke even. Any thought otherwise was empty pride.”

Interesting viewpoints, though I don’t entirely agree both of them.

February 13, 2008

8:25 PM

I am constantly learning Kyrgyz, and have come to understand it the same way I learn about and understand much of life: I study a tiny bit, listen very carefully, and take a genuine interest in the life I live. A lot of my knowledge seems to just be. My understanding of most of the Kyrgyz grammar rules is just there, something in my mind linked up and allowed me to “get it.” There are lot of things in life (and with the Kyrgyz language) that I would have a very hard time explaining – both in how I know them and how someone else could learn them. I grab on to a lot of phrases and grammar without knowing the formal names. My life tends to follow the same course.

I need to work on building a base of knowledge outside of the lived and experienced. It might help to know some facts once in a while.

February 15, 2008

9:10 AM

‘Say you want a revolution;
well, you know,
we all want to change the world.
You tell me that it’s evolution;
well, you know,
we all want to change the world.’

Jason, every generation IS A REVOLUTION; stop being so immature to think that your own is on the verge of something new. Saving the world will have to be done on a personal level.

February 15, 2008

10:50 PM

This world needs help. Another shooting. WTF.

February 15, 2008

11:15 PM

An article from January 21, 2008 issue titled, “Kenya is a Nasty Surprise But it is hardly Another Rwanda,” and written by Scott Johnson stated the following:

“…Kenya is no Rwanda…In the first two weeks of the Rwandan genocide, more than 100,000 were killed. Just over two weeks into the mayhem, even the most liberal estimates put the Kenyan death toll at less than 1,000…The world was slow to recognize Rwanda as a genocide, and still feels the guilt, but rushing to judgment in Kenya [and labeling it genocide] won’t help matters; in fact, it could prove destructive.”

Ok, Scott, here are my thoughts: I understand where you’re coming from. Genocide has become, sadly, a buzz word and is often labeled much too generously to military conflicts. What I don’t understand, Mr. Johnson (and Newsweek) is at what point does discussing the severity of human loss become so easy as to debate humans as numbers rather than humans? I don’t really feel the need to write more of your article because it isn’t needed. You said all you had to in the few sentences above (both in and out of context). Report as you may, but you surely aren’t helping making the world any more human (we are 6 billion strong, but somewhere in all those numbers are individuals). Maybe it’s easier, though, to reduce our world to numbers (you can’t turn a blind eye to something you’ve never seen).

March 4, 2008

10:20 AM

Two poems written during sessions of a Like Skill HIV/AIDS workshop that I attended last week (with 14 other PCVS and our local counterparts):

Their Children

At some point they will disperse;
When that day arrives, the
Next will perch atop.
Their view will be
Their dreams will have
No restraints.
Soon the NEXT will take
Their throne;
When they own their
Future, they will own

For now, they sit and hope;
Confused as to what “hope”
Really is.


The lands I walk rotate;
I move in idle.
Forward I think
Among peripheral winds.
Today our light rose;
(why do we still misuse “rose”?)
Tonight I will stand still.
Another revelation will pass
As I (naively) fight inevitability.

March 5, 2008

2:45 PM

Well, recently I have caught myself changing in ways that I don’t like and doing things that aren’t me. No, I have not turned into a killer or a drunk, but I have moved out of character a bit.

Before I joined Peace Corps I was proud of the fact that I had never been in a physical fight before. The act of aggressively acting out my frustrations and disagreements with my fists seemed very counterproductive to me. I still have never been in a fight; but I cannot lie, I’ve thought about hitting a few men while being here.

The Kyrgyz male culture is a very Alpha Male culture. It is rare to go a day without seeing the “Rooster Men,” as my host father calls them. Mid-twenty males who walk with their chest so high I’ve wondered if they ever exhale. They are everywhere in the capital (Bishkek) and they appear randomly in the village. Usually I would ignore people so absorbed in themselves, but there is something about the presence of an American Male that makes them want to start displaying their feathers.

I can honestly say as many people that have asked me to marry their daughters, the same number of young men have challenged me to a fight – most of the time without provocation (though I can be rude sometimes and laugh at their strutting, which tends to piss them off). Some would call this ‘machismo,’ I call it an ignorant lack of perspective.

I am not writing all of this to say that all Kyrgyz men are like this. Nor am I writing this to say that the “rooster men” are bad people. I have become good friends with many of these so-called Alpha Males in my village. The problem is getting past their shell, looking past their strut and seeing the person behind it.

It is not easy.

I have caught myself on more than one occasion enraged over nothing. The sight of a man in the road in front of me used to piss me off and I would expect something bad to happen as I walked past him. I’ve gotten wrapped up in the Alpha Male mentality, and I have begun to recognize it and change it. I know I love to preach that is takes more effort to hate than to not think about it at all, but sometimes that is easier said than done.

March 6, 2008

7:40 PM

Well, I’ve talked about the “Alpha Male,” how about now the “Pious Male.” Pious men in Kyrgyzstan have become a source of knowledge and understanding for me, and not in the way that most would expect. I have great respect and look up to many of the dedicated Muslims in my village.

I look up to anyone that has chosen to dedicate themselves to something (religion, sport, music, etc.), and I’ve met some very dedicated men in my village. By and large, most of my best male friends in my village are men I’ve met while visiting the mosque. Their dedication to their religion tends to translate into life outside of the mosque, a trait displayed in their care and openness to the world around them. Many of my friendships have begun at the mosque and have thus grown into comrades I will have for life.

I respect many of these men largely because they respect me in return. Conversations with them are always on level ground; they can be fifty or twenty-five, I always feel like I am their equal when talking to them. Their dedication impresses me, but even more moving to me is the place in which it occurs. It is one thing to be dedicated to your religion when the place you live in exudes it. In the case of my village (and much of my oblast), seventy-plus years of Soviet rule nearly wiped out all signs of religion here. But like seedlings in a burned forest, the strongest and most dedicated people have found faith lingering within them and have begun to sprout.

I look up to many of these men as role models. Not necessarily for their dedication to religion specifically, but more so for their dedication in itself. By choosing to dedicate themselves to Islam, they are fighting against the grains here. I am not saying that Kyrgyzstan is against religion, nor am I saying they inherently need religion. What I am saying is that for several generations the population of Kyrgyzstan knew nothing but a secular life that punished anything else. The punishment and oppression is in the past, but the remnants of a secular life are still a very visible part of society.

I’ve watched as many of my pious friends attend parties where vodka is poured in excess. I’ve seen them exiting prayer at the mosque as men all around them light-up cigarettes. I’ve tensed up as the so-called “Alpha-males” will feel threatened and get in the face of my friends. I’ve seen them in many very tough situations, and in the end they all tend to lead to the same thing: a smile and a very calm response. I look up to these men because they don’t judge when they have so many reasons to. Their religion tells them not be take part in a lot of what they see daily here, yet they don’t judge it, or try to avoid it. They simply take it in stride, respect the people for who they are, and keep their faith to themselves.

I look up them because their actions are so much more than their religion, they are traits the world needs and endlessly lacks: compassion and an unprejudiced outlook.

March 8, 2008

9:00 AM

Happy Women’s Day! (A National Kyrgyz Holiday)

I’ve begun to change. My two postings above are shining examples of this. I expected to change while being here, but expectations and experiences are very distant relatives. Recently I’ve discovered myself in one of the toughest struggles I’ve had in country: the struggle to see past my embedded beliefs and perceptions. As much as I thought I was objectively living my life here – seeing life as it is rather than as how I thought it should be – my insides were slowing being weathered by the pressures living a new life in a new place.

I’ve grown comfortable with my new surroundings. Life is no longer new to me, it is normal, it is where I live. That, I believe, is where I allowed the pressures that come of living in a new culture erode my objectivity. I became arrogant with my comfort here and thus believed, subconsciously, I was allowed to judge. How very wrong I have been.

There is a very fine line between judgment and constructive criticism. Both involve accessing a situation, many times on the go, and using that assessment for future actions. There difference between the two (for me) is that judgment is a blind assessment. Constructive criticism is a calm and informed assessment. This may be obvious to a lot of people (it seems obvious to me as I write this), but my recent revelations have taught me that the obvious is not always easy to see (especially when you’ve built up a mental block against it).

I love my village, the people I live with, and in broad terms, the country I am living in. By my nature (an endless idealist always searching for the good in people), I’m sure I could have come to this feeling in any country that I was placed in. That being said, I was placed in Kyrgyzstan, so my love has grown for my new home. My love, for the people I live and work with, the village I live in, and the future I see in my students, has been the driving force in helping to open my eyes.

Comfort is a dangerous feeling for me because it puts me on my heels. I sit back and lose the sharpness that I pride myself in having. Feeling so proud that I started to feel at home in my village, I began to relax and come down off my toes. In doing so, I began to ignorantly judge little parts of life (Kyrgyz men taking the blunt of my internal judgments). My internal judgments then seeped out to become vocal judgments of other little things (fellow PCVs and even upon myself). All in all, I began to drift away from the person I pride myself in being: an idealist always searching for the good in people. Sure, I can be naïve sometimes in my idealism and I am working on that. In the end, though, I prefer my idealism any day over my ignorant judging.

I think my next step will be a mental cleansing (and maybe I should clean some boxers too before I start have to go commando).

March 9, 2008

9:00 AM

Did Martin Luther King Jr. ever have relationship problems? What about Gandhi; did he and his wife ever fight? Figures like these two men are heroes of mine (and much of the world). They fought against oppression with a vehement stance of nonviolence. I look to them as models to which I strive for. But every once in a while I read something they wrote or see a picture of theirs and wonder to myself, “Did they have the same problems the rest of us do?” Problems like arguments with their lovers, disagreements with friends, or debilitating self-doubt.

I will not even try to compare myself to these two men, but I would like to compare my goals in life to what they accomplished. I would like to believe in my life time I will be able to help make the world a better, more peaceful, place. With all of my heart I know that my purpose in living is help the world around me – to help make the people I live with better people. To give everything I have towards making the world more suitable for generations after me.

The problem is that I am human. This human body I live in keeps me grounded. My skin and bones constantly remind me that sometimes the most difficult person to help is myself. How can I think about making the world a better place when the greatest love I’ve ever found is a half a planet away from me? How am I supposed to think about the “grand mosaic” of peace when my piece of the puzzle back home is missing me? I want to help guide the world to peace, yet I am far from finding peace within me.

Sure, to an outsider my life is a grain of sand when compared to world I live in. But for me these things are more important than saving the world. Is that selfish? I am not sure. Is it selfish to give myself over to my lover? Who knows? I want to go save the world from pain, but I cannot bring myself to do this over my friends and family back home. Maybe in time I will find a way to balance this all. At this point I am not ready. I cannot give myself over to anything knowing it will take me away from the people who need me most, and who I need the most.

March 9, 2008

1:00 PM

Thoughts on life from Victor Villaseñor’s book Burro Genius:

“…a real King doesn’t need to tell anyone that he’s the king. In fact, a real king keeps his reign as much of a secret as he can.”

If feels good to see a favorite sentiment of mine restated in simple eloquence.

“…there is no such thing as a kids’ game…there are only games with which kids are learning the facts of life, but it’s the parents that are so tapados – so blind and constipated that they can’t see what these games are really all about.”

Beautiful. We all need to keep the kid.

“And trust, remember, is the foundation of all love.”

Seeing more and more how clear and difficult this belief is.

“The beginning of all wisdom is to understand that you don’t know. To know is the enemy of all learning. To be sure is the enemy of all wisdom.”

A clearer telling of another one of my favorite sentiments: those that know they know don’t know. Those that know they don’t know are the ones who know.

And how about a random thought from Richard Brautigan’s book Trout Fishing in America (Published 1967):



It does not say it in Russian.”

March 9, 2008

6:30 PM

I’ve spent the past two days in my room reading and writing. I haven’t left except to use the washroom and get food. It’s been a great two days in my head. I have discovered that I’m pretty messed up. It’s kind of exciting. I always used to wonder whether or not I was, but this weekend has confirmed it. I am a whack job (who has found a way to adjust his insanity to not show too much to the outside world).

Why I am writing this here? It will blow my cover.

The sheep are calling and want to talk.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thoughts: Inside

Inner Thoughts

Friday, January 18, 2008

The the End.

January 11, 2008

6:45 AM

My first entry of the new year. I apologize for the gap between my last posting and now. A lot has happened in the past month.

Well, by a lot I mean I took a couple weeks vacation back home in Chicago. A lot in the sense that I had not been home for a year and half. A lot in the sense that reverse culture-shock is very real. A lot in the sense that I have a renewed outlook on the remainder of my Peace Corps service.

I was very ignorant to the effects of reverse culture-shock. It sounded like a buzz word to me. Something used by overanalyzing psychologists who needed to categorize a set of emotions. My ignorance came around and kicked me in the ass. (Sorry to all psychologists for mentally insulting you.) The pace of life, the sounds, the people, the lights. I found myself in sensory overload. There was too much stimulation. My body and mind were not ready to face the impersonal world of the U.S. My first few days back were a mess of jet-lag and culture shock (which feels comparable to a pain-killer high coupled with a tequila hangover).

I forgot how much America is; it is everywhere. Everywhere something and someone is happening. Watching the States through the internet and random magazines is deceiving. I thought I had a decent grasp on the happenings of life back home. I had kept up on news, emails, and letters and had done my best to stay in touch with life back home. Though now I feel like I was playing the role of controller for the Mars Rover. I had videos, pictures, data, and feedback. Still nothing could come close to actually being there. The You Tube-CNN-NFL Network-iPhone-Starbucks culture of the States wasn’t much different (in pace) than when I left to come to Kyrgyzstan. I was just more conscious of the amount of images and information thrown around every nanosecond. Eventually I was able to settle in a bit and by the time I left I had acquired a very new and unique perspective on my life.

I think I’ve finally come to accept the what I may never be a part of. I say this in terms of my passions, my interests and my future. There is just so much that interests me and so much I want to know about. At some point, though, I believe I need to make some choices. A mentor of mine from college (Martin!) is fond of describing people in terms of “an inch deep and a mile wide or an inch wide and a mile deep.” I would prefer to be the latter. This doesn’t mean I’m going to disregard parts of life, rather I am going to give all of my heart to the parts of life I know that are me. I can still have outside interests and loves, but when I try too hard to want to know everything is when I overwhelm myself and end up really knowing nothing.

This translates to my Peace Corps service in that I am going to spend the next several months giving all I can to things and people I know I can help. In my case, I am a people person. I believe that I can teach people a lot (and in return learn a lot from them) through simple dialogue. I have seen and experienced a lot for my young age. I have a passion to share what I have learned. This is where my students and host family come into play. I believe my greatest contribution to the people I work with in my village can be done through sharing the lessons I’ve learned, and in turn taking lessons from them. Sure, I would love to fix every problem in my village, improve the life of every villager I live with. But there is just too much. For every new project or plan I start or organize I find myself stretching thinner and thinner. I have chosen to make a difference, to have an impact on the lives of the people I live with, by giving everything I can to a few important things.

After Peace Corps, I know I need translate this new thought process back home. I am slowly getting a grasp on where I want to go with my life. Really focusing on who I am and how I can turn this into something tangible has helped with my grip. Though after my trip home, I truly believe it is going to be just as hard (if not harder) in many ways to return home. When the times comes I will be ecstatic to head back and see family and friends; but I will also need to face up to who I was and who I want to be. My time here has changed me, there is no questioning that. My challenge for heading home will be to find out in what ways I’ve changed and how to transfer what I’ve seen and learned here into life back in the States.

January 11, 2008

5:15 PM

My current mental wrestling match: Where do I belong?

Take the question in all the ways it can be read:

Physically - There is something obvious and reassuring knowing that I will eventually return to the States; to Chicago. There is also something ominous and scary knowing that I will eventually return to the States; to Chicago.

Mentally - The past year and half was like an explosion I knew was going to happen. An explosion, though, I had suppressed for so long by trying so hard to ignite it. Not a bad explosion; I’m talking about explosions of creativity, love, life, and understanding. For so long I kept planning the beginning moment of my creativity explosion. (Seriously, who in the hell plans their own moments of creativity?) I spent the better part of college blossoming at pace faster than time, but suppressing it with youthful ignorance.

As for love; well, yeah, love. Then second I stop pressing to find it, it met me…while she was leaving the bathroom. She is now the hand that caresses my soul, the scent that lingers in my dreams.

And for the explosion of life and understanding, I have no way to describe it. I constantly feel the bursting of life around me and more and more everyday I understand a little bit more.

Spiritually - We are all gods waiting to discover our ability of dialogue with the rest of the world (human and non-human). Some already have the ability of dialogue, others may never discover it.

Now, where do I belong?

I have no idea, lets get that out right away. For most of my late teens until about a year ago, I’ve always felt like I wanted to be somewhere else. Every place I was would be overshadowed by my thoughts of where else I wanted to be. I enjoyed concerts with the constant thought of the stories I would be able to relate to others once the show was over. I took road trips that always had another stop. I traveled the world and took as many pictures as I could so that I could enjoy my experiences afterwards.

My desire to want to be some place else has recently been replaced recently with an overbearing thought of believing I belong somewhere else. This thought process has an entire different feel to it. I no longer feel restless. I have acquired an ability to enjoy the moment more. The thought of belonging somewhere else could be better described as knowing I belong to something and somewhere. I am learning to enjoy the little moments; but I am also feeling an increasingly heavy belief that I am meant to be something.

This may come off as egotistical, but I believe it is far from it. I believe the roots of this thought are humble and grounded. They stem from the seeds of a passion for life. A desire to know more, to feel and love with everything my body allows. I am meant to be something. I have never been so sure of anything else in my life. It comes from the pressure, the joy, the anxiety. It comes from every morning waking up to the weight of the world. It comes the very real understanding every night I lay down to sleep that I may not wake up.

The world is waiting to explode. And I am not talking about gun powder and nuclear fission. I am talking about the rebirth of beauty, love, and understanding. Yeah, I may be lost in my own thoughts here. But while people predict the date of World War III, I am choosing to predict the coming of cultural revolution. I believe we are on the brink of a global revolution. We are teetering on the edge of global warming, America and Europe are being joined by the East as world powers, and technology is no longer advancing (it is warping).

I believe I am part of this revolution. I believe that we all are. Though I have no idea how.

January 12, 2008

7:20 AM

Yesterday morning I rose to the sight of snow. By the end of the day the snow level in my village had reached around a foot and a half. The people in my village are saying this is the most snow they’ve gotten in four years. I love snow, so this is fun. Yesterday I got pinned (twice) by my host father during a snow fight. (The man is six foot three inches and easily two-hundred and eight pounds.) I got yelled at by my host sister because I gave her a white-wash (she provoked it) and I took a thousand pictures of Sezim playing in the snow. I even spent an hour or so shoveling a few paths in the driveway (a path to the outhouse, to the road, and to the garage--where Kanopka and her puppies are).

Yesterday was fun. I needed yesterday. It was good to get outside and play around with the host family. They, as much as my English club girls, keep me going here and keep me focused. I have no question that a large factor in happiness here comes from having a good host family. I realize that now more than ever and I a grateful to them letting me into their family.

And on a very Peace Corps-ish side note: snow can mean fun, but it can also mean water. Yep, I’ve been collecting buckets all day and melting them in my room for water to pass through the distillers. It makes me smile because on one hand it strikes me as the quintessential Peace Corps thing to do. On the other hand, I smile because it was part of my natural train of thought. “Snow is falling. Oh, probably should collect some buckets for water.”

Plus, after some investigation I found out the few pumps in the village we collect water from were snowed in. So, I guess melting snow is my best option for a few days. Oh, Kyrgyzstan, I love you.

January 18, 2008

11:00 AM

Is striving to improve myself and acquire as much knowledge as I can a selfish act?

What is selfish and what is not?

I want to be, I know that. Beyond being I still have a lot to figure out.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Donkeys, Puppies, and Vodka

November 19, 2007

6:15 AM

My walk outside to the outhouse this morning brought about a moment of great epiphany. Before heading outside I stopped by the kitchen area to drop off the French-press (I usually clean it up when I come back from my morning duty). Waiting for me on the floor of the kitchen was all of the garbage that usually stays inside of the garbage. Starring at me in the kitchen was our new cat assassin (more on her later). I looked at the cat and told her, “you better hope a monster rat did this; something so big that in your best efforts to protect the kitchen from it, you still couldn’t fend it off.” Thus my morning began sweeping up garbage.

Following the clean-up, I went back to my routine and headed for the door. Stepping outside (I love everything about mountain mornings) my eyes were quickly drawn to the sky. There was not a cloud in the sky. Every star that has shined since the dawn of humanity was putting on a show this morning. I walked a few feet staring and lost in the sky and only stopped when I realized I was walking like a drunk. (The combination of my aging bones that take a little while get into working order and me walking starring straight into the sky produced a sweeping wobble.)

On my way to the outhouse I was greeted by my friend the turkey. For some reason this weirdo sleeps perched up on a giant metal contraption (the frame to some long lost truck). He is there every morning; and he doesn’t sit, he stands like Mufasa observing the pridelands. Upon close inspection I have discovered that he digs his head into his chest catches some shut eye. The intrigue of sleeping like this struck me one morning. I was still really tired and didn’t feel like being away. I tried sleeping with him like this, once. It wasn’t meant to be. Combine the fact that I get talkative in the morning with my body’s center of gravity and the result was no sleep and a pissed off turkey. He’s not much of a talker (ever, but especially in the mornings) and got mad that every time I’d dose off would I keep tipping over.
Good ol’ turkey, he’s a grouch; I had no desire to join him this morning, so I just smiled at him (I did try to give him a high five, but he wasn’t feeling it this morning). Passing him I had nothing on my mind but the toilet. Obviously, we had too many animals here to make anything a simple task. A few seconds after being shut down by the turkey I was startled by our new donkey. Apparently, my host brother traded his bicycle and some flour for a baby donkey (kind of makes pogs or baseball cards seem like chump-change). We have had our new donkey for only a few days now, so I am not used to him chomping away in our yard.

For some reason he loves the grass leading up the outhouse (don’t ask). This is fine, except for the fact that he scares the bowk out of me every time I go to the bathroom. It is worse in the evenings or early mornings. Naturally, being a donkey, his fur is a sexy shade of old-asphalt-grey (new color coming to Crayola soon). With this camouflage, he waits hidden among the weeds pretending to be a blob. Then, as I come walking by, he pops his head up to say “Boo!” (Donkey ‘Boos’ sound kind of like a deafening scream of HEHAWHEHAWHEHAW!) He sucks; he should just stick to mowing our lawn and let me go to the bathroom in peace. I hissed at the donkey this morning and made some snide remark about him being a herbivore.

After completing my morning outhouse trip I took another look to the heavens. From the sky in the north as shooting star dropped behind the mountains (and crashed into Almaty, adding more lights to the already overly lit city). I had to smile. The sky was overwhelmingly beautiful and there was not a noise to be heard. I took a last glance to the sky before heading inside. I decided on a play I was going to write once I got inside: The Greeks and Romans - “They Were Always This Stiff.”

Now, onto our new cat; we have a cat and she is no regular cat. She is a Kyrgyz cat, which inherently means she loves bread and has the waking hours of a bartender. I’ve seen her do nothing for an entire day but sit in the kitchen staring at me (I once spent an entire day in the kitchen just to have a starring contest with her; she won). Usually in the mornings I rise to see remnants of mice she captured in the night. Which is a good thing, since that was precisely why we grabbed her from Apa’s (the grandmother of the family) house. Apa can’t hear or see much anymore, let alone mice, so I believe it is justified that we stole her cat.

Since the winter has been increasingly approaching, so have the mice. I have a few new friends in my room. I call them friends, but they really aren’t friendly at all. (I am trying to nice when describing my enemies, part of my reconciliation project with rodents.) I’ve tried to make peace (leaving cookie crumbs out or a mousetrap with wonderful bread), but they seem to prefer sneaking over talking with me. I’ve tried a civil approach to our Chavez vs. Spain style friendship: I put some cookies in a box and laid the box down. The hope was they would appreciate the gifts of the cookies and not worry that I was going to try and catch them in the box and then give the box to the cat.

Suffice to say, my box trick didn’t work. My most recent attempt at making our friendship work was putting a mousetrap in the corner of the room. Taking a note from US diplomacy, I decided snapping their necks would be easier than talking to them. I tried briefly talking to them (I even brought in an unbiased third party: the Blair Witch Cat), but they were just not willing to talk. (Read: Our brief talks consisted of me threatening sanctions such as turning off my room heater or sweeping the floor daily so as to give them no crumbs to pick up in the night.) I have no time to study the facts about these little creatures. I’ve got more pressing issues in my life. They are all the same anyways. When our peace talks failed, I moved into action.

With my Freedom Alliance in tact (the Cat and I), the hope is in due time we will be able to liberate these mice from the pains of being alive. Life is better on the other side anyways (over there they know difference between piety and heathenism). In the mean time (before my proselytizing has an effect on them), I will just have to deal with the reality that these creatures share my living space. Maybe I’ll build a wall along the borders of my bedroom; that will teach those mice from trying to find food in a cold and hungry world.

Oh, yeah, my epiphany. I realized this morning that my emotional instability is now my ally against all the evils in the world (evils = mice, uncooked lentils beans, and inconsistent cell phone service in the mountains of a developing nation). I am beginning to embrace it; soon we (my emotional instability and I) will be very good friends; a force to be reckoned with. When that happens, the voices in my head will inform you all.

November 19, 2007

6:15 PM

My two hour break today between English classes and English club became an “only in Kyrgyzstan” lunch. On the walk home from school the desire to have scrambled eggs and potatoes hit me. Knowing I had six eggs left in the fridge and a ton of potatoes, this desire became a real possibility for my afternoon meal.

Some where in the thought process of deciding if I needed the eggs for anything coming up (if I need more eggs for anything, it is a near impossibility to get them in the village). The thought crossed my mind that I really wanted to have some fruit breads available for my breakfast meals, and I need eggs for those (I have run out of peanuts—and all else that could be considered breakfast food). Preferring to eat in the mornings, I decided that I kind of had to make bread.

By the time I had completed the ten minute walk from school to my house, I had decided that in the two hour break before club I was going to make eggs, scalloped potatoes, and an apple bread. I had two hours; this seemed like plenty of time.

About an hour into my cooking session, my host father came over to the kitchen to say hi and shoot the shit. I love this guy. Usually he comes over to rag on me about being skinny or asks me about what news I have from America. Now that Amy is gone he likes to joke about my lack ability to live without my love. Whatever we talks about, he always makes me smile and I welcome his random jaunts over to my part of the house.

At the time he had come over to talk, the potatoes were finished and I was putting the eggs onto my plate. While talking to him I slid the apple bread into the oven and walked over to the table to eat. After he was done making fun of me for eating on a plastic plate (Kyrgyz people, according to him, only eat on porcelain plates) I asked him if he had seen Kanopka lately. I usually call her in the house for food every other day (I am trying to train her to become a Kyrgyz dog and fend for her own food on the days in between food from me). I called her when I got back from school, but she was no where to be found.

My host father got really worried that I had not seen her (he honestly cares about the things I care about and will go out of his way to take care of them for me). He was worried that either 1) she had been run over in the road by the crazy drivers of our village or 2) she was having her babies (oh, did I forget to mention that Kanopka is pregnant?). He promptly called my host brother and the two of them scoured the yard and street for any sign of my cute little wannabe cat of a dog. I wasn’t worried much, she is a tough dog; I was sure she was somewhere just cheering on the big dogs of our house while they protected her from every encroaching animal.

Approximately seventeen seconds after I had finished my lunch (and was about to go get ready to leave for club, which started in twenty minutes), my host brother came barging in the kitchen with the statement, “I found her, she is hiding under the wood. She gave birth to her puppies!”

Some where deep inside of me my motherly instincts kicked in when I heard this. I quickly moved to the door, slipped on my clogs, and ran after my host brother to the wood pile in our back yard. When we got the pile he just pointed to a deep hole in the pile and said, “There. She is there.”

I folded myself into the best yoga pose I could manage and dipped my head under the wood. There she was, as he said. Deep under the pile I could see Kanopka curled up in a ball. Her tail wagged when she saw me. She shifted a little bit to look at me better and that is when I saw them, her puppies!

By now the entire host family was outside to check on Jason and his Americanized puppy (well, I guess if she has puppies now I have to officially call her a dog; she grew up so fast). After a brief discussion with my host father and mother, we decided that leaving them outside under the wood pile would probably kill either the puppies or Kanopka; or worse, all of them. It is fairly warm here during the daytime; but once that sun sets, shit freezes here faster than an international bank account from North Korea.

After a collective decision that all must be moved, I quickly realized that I was going to have to be doing the duties of retrieving Kanopka and her puppies from the abyss they were snuggled in. After a few dozen failed attempts at getting Kanopka to either walk out or allow herself to be dragged out, my host brother suggested another strategy: if we can grab the puppies out, she would obviously follow them out; especially if she heard their crying. Mean and twisted as it sounded, it was a brilliant plan.

So reached carefully under Kanopka’s belly and slowly grabbed the first puppy and handed it to my host brother who was holding a towel. I then reached for the second puppy and as I was slowly lifting it out of the hole my hand bumped into the third and final puppy. The response from the third puppy was unsettled. I quickly realized the I had fear coming over to the wood pile was realized: the third puppy was dead. I successfully retrieved the second puppy and then told my host brother to go stand a good distance away so as to draw Kanopka out of the hole. He looked at me with a “what about the other puppy” look. Without saying anything to him, he understood.

The next scene was one of the saddest things I have ever seen in my life. Kanopka was listening to her crying puppies on the other side of the yard but she couldn’t go to them. She refused to leave the last puppy. I tried to nudge her out and she refused. I slowly tried to grab the last puppy and she very patiently grabbed the puppy’s neck and dragged it back down into the hole. I had tears beginning to swell up. The decision to me seems obvious now; who needs her more, her two living puppies or her dead puppy? But that is just not life; no matter what the obvious may be, the obvious decisions aren’t always the easiest to make. I had visions of so many bad things while watching this scene. After few minutes passed, Kanopka made the tough decision to part with her final puppy and head off to attend to her two healthy ones.

Most host brother carried the puppies into the garage and Kanopka followed him. He placed the puppies on a little stack of old clothes and Kanopka went right to them. After he had put all the dogs in the garage, my host brother came back to where the last puppy was. Without talking, he grabbed a shovel and I placed the puppy wrapped up in sheet on to the shovel. He then carried the puppy to the back yard and set it into a resting place in the backyard weeds. It just crossed my mind as to whether or not I should bury the puppy. If it is still in the back of the yard tomorrow, I will bury it.

By the time all of this was over, I had two minutes to get to school for club. I ran and grabbed my stuff and hurried to school. Awaiting me at school were my girls. They would undoubtedly rag on me for breaking the only rule we have for club, which is to not be late. Nonetheless, on my hurried walk to school I wasn’t thinking about being late; I had a very really sense of pride and happiness hovering over me. My dog had puppies! She was sitting quietly in the garage with her newborns. I felt like a proud father who’s daughter just had a kid.

Club went well. (Mondays are our Discussion Club. The theme today, as a suggestion from Amy, was a talk about the best and worst thing to ever happen to us in each our lives—this Discussion Club is done in a mix of Kyrgyz and English). After a really good hour and half session, we all parted and I made my way home to my awaiting dog and her new puppies.

Once I returned home, I helped my host brother clean up the very messy garage and then I decided that I couldn’t just leave Kanopka and her puppies on a pile of clothes. So naturally, I made her a doghouse in the garage. I grabbed an extra pillow from my room and a few sheets that doubled as rags. I cushioned up the bed and then made a wall of clothes and sheets around the bed to warm it up at bit. I then built a wall around the bed with a bunch of extra bricks we have all over the yard. Across the top of the wall I placed to wood planks, and on top of those I placed some left over carpet from the garage and then a blanket I had stolen from Lufthansa (thank you Lufthansa; you are aiding in the process of keeping my puppy warm). With that the doghouse was finished. This was obviously was going to be much warmer than the hole under the wood pile; my host parents were right.

After everything was completed my host father came over to check it out and approved. Anything I do to take care of Kanopka is an act of sheer amusement to him. He loves watching the care I put into taking car of my dog. After checking the doghouse’s structure and nodding with approval, he then turned and looked at me with a smirk. “So, who’s the father?” slid out of his mouth. I smiled at him and responded on cue with, “I will find him. And he owes my dog child support.”

So goes an “only in Kyrgyzstan” day.

(See photo site for shots of all of this.)

November 21, 2007

3:30 PM

Based on twenty-four and a half years of observation, I’ve come to following conclusions:

A) We all need to take a deep breath.
B) Kids know more about bliss than adults ever will.
C) We are all wrong.
D) Coffee is a food group.
E) Faith is.
F) Love will always be.

David Sedaris’ description of American life:

“Insane optimism coupled with [the] naive popular belief that a few hours of therapy can cure everything from chronic obesity to a lifetime of poverty.”

November 23, 2007

6:15 AM

“While mortals slept the angels came.”

Lord Krishna Speaks:

Contacts with matter make us feel
heat and cold, pleasure and pain.
Arjuna, you must learn to endure
fleeting things—they come and go!

When these cannot torment a man,
when suffering and joy are equal
for him and he has courage,
he is fit for immortality.

Nothing of nonbeing comes to be.
nor does being cease to exist;
the boundary between these two
is seen by men who see reality.

November 28, 2007


“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
- Moulin Rouge

November 30, 2007

8:55 AM

Yesterday I observed one of the most inspiring aspects to my village, combined with a large dose of reality. While wandering the halls in between classes, I was very unexpectedly invited to attend a seminar happening at my school. I had not heard there was a seminar happening; so it is safe to also say I had no idea what I was being invited to.

One of the teachers saw me in the hallway and simply asked, in a very Kyrgyz manner, “Are you not going to the seminar.” I smiled and in my head thought, “Well, I guess if knew there was a seminar I would consider going.” I replied as I do for most of these questions, “Yeah, I am going there now!”

Walking into the activity room I was greeted to a full room. Most of the teachers were in there along with a few of the older classes (10th and 11th grades). Along with the regular school audience, most of the village elders and government officials were there. On the wall were a bunch of posters, charts, and pictures discussing health. I found the main poster in the middle of the madness and realized that this was going to be a seminar presented by the A.D.K. (Ayildyk Den Solook Komitey) or the Village Health Committee.

This committee is one of the aspects to my life here that gives me hope for my village and the people of Kyrgyzstan. The committee is a group (95% women) who meet once a week to discuss the problems of the village, usually sticking to the topic of health. But since the health of villagers usually ties into many other problems in the village, they are forced to branch out and discuss many of the larger issues. (For example, if clean and safe drinking water affects the health of the village, then the source of the water—canals, streams, water pumps—are issues they discuss). This group works both with the local government of my village along with similar groups in villages throughout the oblast (state). The best part about this group: they are all volunteers and work for free. They work because they know things need to change and someone has to act for changes to occur.

The seminar they were presenting yesterday was to attack three major things: 1) The cigarette and vodka problem in the village, 2) Safety against the flu, and 3) Safe drinking water issues. By and large, the best part of the seminar (for me) was the discussion about cigarettes and vodka. A.D.K. had invited oblast health officials along with A.D.K. members from our two neighboring villages to this seminar to drum up support for everything they were going to discuss. The cigarettes and vodka discussion was surely one that needed their support.

Cigarettes (for men) and vodka have become very intertwined in the Kyrgyz culture. Most Kyrgyz men smoke, even some of the most pious men. Cigarettes are cheap here, and there is little, if no, rules against who can and cannot buy them. Cigarettes are pretty much only smoked by men in the village (the cities are a different story). Smoking is a sign of age, respect, and manhood in Kyrgyzstan. If you are a man, you smoke (kind of like how the American Cowboy was cleverly transformed into the symbol for smoking. Cowboys are traditional viewed as the most rugged and manly of men—which is why ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was such a great movie, questioning the American image of the “man;” but that is a different discussion).

The women of this seminar came right out and questioned the purpose behind smoking. Their approach was first asking if all of the men in the room knew the negative effects of smoking. Most of the men in the room nodded yes. They then asked why, if they knew they were bad for health, why they were teaching their children to smoke. Genius. They knew they were going to have a difficult time trying to convince men to stop smoking, so they then went after their pride (having children is a source of pride and joy for anyone of any culture or country). They basically asked the men then why are you teaching your children how to die. (One woman actually asked them, “Do you want your children do die early?”)

After filling their minds with thoughts of protecting the futures of their children, they then went after the giant: Vodka. They took the same approach, but this time directed their message to every adult in the room. Now it must be stated here how integrated vodka is with the Kyrgyz culture. Sure, people drink alcohol all over the world; but vodka here is literally an integral part of the culture. It is how you treat your guests and is part of the very traditional Kyrgyz toast. Vodka is a means to celebrate, a means to pay respect, and sadly, the least recognized, the path to alcoholism for many people in this country. (I am very grateful that “alcoholism” is a cognate, it made understanding what was happening yesterday much easier.)

A.D.K. went right after the cultural aspect to vodka and questioned whether it was even Kyrgyz. They asked the adults in the room if vodka was the only way to show respect to guests. Most people nodded no. This lead to a discussion about how vodka is rarely taken in moderation at celebrations, often times leading to alcoholism (there are a lot of celebrations in the Kyrgyz culture). They then asked if toasts must always be given with vodka. Most people didn’t know how to respond to this. How do you do a toast without vodka to toast with? This question would be turned against the committee once the seminar was completed.

The seminar completed and I was able to meet some of the guests who had come from around the oblast. Most of them had heard of or worked with Peace Corps and were very interested to talk with me about my village. We even made plans to see about the possibility of getting a health volunteer for my village. After talking for a little while, we then were all ushered to a house where lunch would commence (Free Lunch!).

We stuffed forty-plus people into a room and then went through the traditional process of tea, salads, and bread and then moving on to the main course of plov (rice, carrots, and beef or chicken). Usually around the time plov is finishing up, the traditional vodka toasts begin. To my surprise and delight, vodka was no where to be found. There was plenty of great discussion about our village’s problems that then moved into some of the major national issues for Kyrgyzstan. I was sitting there and kept thinking how great this was to finally see; very open and straight-forward dialogue. They discussed corruption, the economy, the fading of cultural elements (the horse!), and voting discrepancies. All of the guests were talking freely with many of the locals I have become friends with. It was wonderful so see such free movement of dialogue. From dialogue comes action, and I was glad to see the roots of action and change being sprouted.

Eventually, all the guests rose to head back to their respective homes. All of the local villagers and I walked them out to their cars to see them off. We then returned to the house for a few more glasses of tea and to discuss future plans for meetings (they invited me to a few of the upcoming meeting). I was also able to make plans with the director of A.D.K in our village to discuss the possibility of getting a future volunteer. After about five minutes of tea, not unexpectedly, but to my surprise, a few bottles of vodka appeared on the table. I politely refused a glass while making eye contact with the director. After overhearing her tell the some of the remaining locals they had to wait until their guests left before they brought the vodka out, she turned to me.

She looked at me and said, “We can’t help it; it’s part of our culture. We know it’s not good, but how can you toast a successful seminar without vodka to toast with? We can call these toast our experiment for the negative effect of vodka.” From there she led into the first toast of four given.

I sat back and smiled. That was all I could really do. Fixing problems and discussing ways to solve others is the easy beginning. Questioning and altering a cultural element is an entirely different story. Welcome to every problem from the East to the West, North to South; from AIDS to corruption, genocide to human trafficking. Culture can be a very powerful enhancer, but also an overwhelming inhibitor.

Thus is life.