Tuesday, September 17, 2013

§2. 28 (Okay, 23) Days Later

There are a number of similarities between the the first few weeks of law school and eking out existence in a post-apocalyptic Hellscape. Among them:

1. Food
Now that I am truly, madly, deeply in debt, the need to find and secure sources of free food has become more pressing. This is a skill I honed to a lethal degree in Kyrgyzstan, frantically jamming Otis Spunkmeyer muffins and boxes of soy milk into a backpack; one never knew where one's next (non-ovine) meal might come from. In law school, clubs and informational sessions provide the most bounteous harvests. The other night I learned about judicial clerkship, and how it can better my practice of the law and job prospects. I also learned that you can only eat about ten chicken wontons with Chinese pesto sauce before people start to stare. As in any good dystopia, I know this windfall cannot last. Once the call-outs are over, I'll have to scavenge ever farther afield for free food, or else resign myself to crying into my ramen for flavor.

2. Trust
When civilization breaks down we return to our natural, selfish states, and it takes time to rebuild the edifice on which our highest social aspirations were founded. So too in law school, where behind toothy grins and budding friendships lies the understanding that we are competing with each other, and whoever does best determines the curve for the rest. As much as we are all going through this experience together, we can't all finish in the top 10% of the class (in fact I've heard it can be as few as 10%), or go on to the types of careers people mean when they make lawyer jokes.

3. Sleep
Law students don't count sheep to fall asleep; we consider the rights of a true owner to replevy such chattels as against an adverse possessor. Or something. I mean, not really, but there is a lot of reading. This is an easy one.

If you'd like to extend this metaphor further, please do so in the comments below. I've run out of both steam and time to avoid Constitutional Law.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

§1. Grand Reopening

Whereas, pursuant to abject failure of blogger (hereinafter "Ian") to keep up any sort of regular posting schedule while sequestered in small Central Asians nations, villages, apartments, shithouses, &c., he will foolishly endeavor to do any better while staving off new and exciting existential crises in law school.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Floating in a Most Peculiar Way

Strange to think that, when last I updated this blog, in this country there'd been only one violent overthrow of the ruling government and hardly any ethnic genocides at all. But those were simpler times. For legal reasons, let's move on.

Obviously I didn't get my hoped-for post in Osh or J-bad, but that's for the best; if I had, I'd probably be in America right now with the rest of the evacuated volunteers. In all, about 20 of the 70 volunteers in my class have now left country - some because of where they were placed, some because they felt unsafe in country, some for reasons I never quite understood. I live in a village called Nurmanbet (Krasniy Vostok if you're trying to get a taxi there), about an hour southeast of Bishkek. It's hard to say how many people live here, but I'd guess a few thousand. Electricity is sporadic, and the water's off far more often than it's on. Last week I had to buy bottles of the carbonated stuff just to be able to cook. I'm far enough from both the main road and the mountains that getting to either is kind of a pain. If there are any banyas around they're very well hidden, so I go to the Peace Corps office about once a week to take a shower. I divide my free time (which is to say all of it) between books, movies, food, soccer, yoga, my precious SNES emulator, and sleep. Lots of sleep. School just started, but with the way things have been going so far it'll be at least a month before I'm actually doing substantive work of any kind. Yesterday I showed up at 9, sat around for 15 minutes, and was told that the kids would be cleaning the school grounds, and I should go home. I live with a host family, but will be moving out on the 15th into an apartment by myself.

Because I know you're on tenterhooks about my friends: Jia lives to the west in the oblast of Talas, Kyle lives in Chui nearest me, Lola and Akash are out east on the lake in Issyk-Kul.

See why updates are few and far between? Mostly I just continue to exist, which doesn't seem particularly blog-worthy. What perhaps I'll do now, dear readers, is a series of small essays on different aspects of Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz life: food, culture, gender, transportation, etc. Yes. I'll do that.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Land Where You Can’t Change Lanes

Written April 4th:

I’ve only been in Kyrgyzstan a little over a week, and it feels like longer not because life is interminable here, but because it’s all gone by so fast. We touched down in БИШКЕК around one or two AM local time, but Customs, a bus ride, checking in, unpacking, and exploring made it more like 5:30 before I got some sleep. We were up again at 10 for breakfast, the next couple of days a haze of language lessons, inoculations, soul-spilling sessions with new friends, and a slightly scary Russian man divesting himself of a rather long list of the forbidden. Our hotel, ЫСЫК-КѲЛ, shares a name with the large lake in the eastern part of the country, but volunteers who’ve been here longer than we call it the Overlook Hotel. Some criminally Soviet architecture went into building the place, but it does boast flush toilets and semi-functional showers, which seem like (almost) unnecessarily modern luxuries now. We were put into groups of about ten for language lessons – I got Kyrgyz, like most (I hear it’s very similar to Turkish, so I’m thinking of just working my way all the way back to Arabic). The eight or so groups (there are 70 of us Trainee Volunteers total) were divided among five-ish villages, at varying distances from the city of КАНТ, our so-called Hub Site. A few days ago (I have a hard time keeping track, now), we went into the capital to buy flowers for our new host families, then took buses to a small theater for a matching ceremony. I met my host АПА and her five-year-old granddaughter, АЯНА, who lives with them. My АТА works as a driver and security guard at a soccer stadium, and couldn’t be at the ceremony. Their son, АЗАМАТ (apparently a pretty common name here), is 25 and a policeman.
Now that I’ve had a few days to settle in, I think I can reasonably describe a typical day: I wake up about seven, get dressed, wash my hair in the kitchen sink and brush my teeth with water from the gravity filter each volunteer was assigned. I sit down to breakfast – a couple of fried eggs, some fried bread (НАН) with raspberry jam, and more tea (ЧАЙ) than I could ever drink – then walk down the street to where my friend Laetitia (Lola, for ease of pronunciation by Kyrgyz tongues) lives. We walk about 15 minutes to the house where our teacher, ИЗАТ, is staying. Class begins at 8, or whenever Mike (БАЙКЕ МАЙКЕ), Kevin (David, James, or Barack Obama), Hannah (Hoder), Lola, and I (АЙГЫР ЯН) all get there. We learn until 10:30, when we get a half-hour break to talk about how little we absorbed. We get back at it until 12:30, then quit for lunch. This honor rotates between the houses where each of us is staying, and seems to be something of a competition. My АПА makes very sure I’m aware our turn is coming up, and we’ve discussed what Americans eat ad nauseam. In the coming weeks we’ll have meetings on Culture and Security in the afternoons, but for now we’ve been free to wander around town as we please. Behind the village МЕКТЕП is a soccer field where we’ve been meeting up with a bunch of local kids and playing soccer, volleyball, and Red Rover (which we taught them). Whenever the kids run us ragged, the rest of the volunteers and I grab a drink from the store (everything here is ridiculously inexpensive – more on that at a later date), then disperse to our houses. I usually study, drink tea, watch Russian MTV, drink tea, talk, and drink tea at Lola’s house from about three to six, when I head home. Dinner is around seven, after which time I study, read, write, or watch more TV (it being on almost constantly in every home). I’ve yet to be able to stay awake past about 10.
Life here is not as different as I would have imagined. The big differences stand out: crapping in a hole is something I may never get totally used to, especially given that today, if all goes well, will be my first chance at a БАНЯ (although I surprise myself at how well my odor is holding up). The food can be very strange, especially in the meat department. The day I got here they slaughtered a sheep, and we’ve been eating it for days (though thankfully not the eyeballs, which were a one-time deal). It’s odd to live in a house in a country where cleanliness is taken so seriously that we have slippers for walking around inside, boots for going to the bathroom, and shoes for walking in the street, yet outdoors trash covers everything, and people litter freely. It’s an unfortunate contradiction, looking up at the pristine Tien Shan mountains to the south, and down at the affectionately-named “Trash River” I cross to get to school. My language group has decided to make it a personal project of ours to clean up the soccer field where we play, so that, for a while at least, the kids won’t have to roll around in candy wrappers and broken glass. A lot of the culture centers around food here, bread especially. If you ever travel to Kyrgyzstan, eat only a little bit anywhere you go, because anywhere you go it will be forced on you to no end – there’s no way I average fewer than 15 cups of tea a day, and five small meals. I’ll likely be called to one of them soon, so my post will end here. Stay tuned for news of my permanent assignment (I’m hoping for the warmer South, near ОШ or ДЖАЛАЛ-АБАД, and near my friends). I may have more regular internet access once I buy a cell phone, which apparently you can plug into your laptop and use as a modem.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Istanbul, Not Constantinople

Just kidding about the internet access, apparently. I thought the Istanbul layover would be more hectic, what with touring the city and all, but as it turns out travel is an hour there and back, and all the cool stuff is closed on Sundays, so most of us (including me) have elected to hang out in the airport for the five or so hours until our flight to Bishkek. It's very cosmopolitan in here, and much nicer than JFK. We got two meals and three movies on the flight here, and I caught "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and part of "The Invention of Lying" before zonking out. I'm starting to reek a little - some people went in search of a shower at the airport hotel, but in the spirit of weekly bathing I think I'll just stick to a reapplication of deodorant. Short hair was a good choice.

In meeting everyone, I've started to notice that I'm among the youngest. Applying to the Peace Corps requires a college degree, but I figured most people would be newly graduated, like me. Instead, the average age seems to be about 26 or 27, with some people doing the Peace Corps as part of a graduate program, some already out of grad school, some a few years into a career. There are two married couples, both (I'm guessing) about 30 or so, and one guy who looks to be in his 50s. After the basics (age, hometown, degree, PC program), popular questions include what you packed and how much you've studied the language. Generally, people seem not to have done much, either because they didn't feel like it or out of a fear of learning something wrong and having to be retaught.

I'm surprisingly awake and surprisingly hungry considering my sleep schedule and the amount of sitting I've been doing lately, respectively, and I expect there is a crash coming. I think we're meant to arrive in Bishkek about 1:30 AM local time (which, by the way, is 10 hours ahead of EST, 12 ahead of Mountain), but no one seems to know if we get to sleep or if we have to start in on training and such right away. I'm hoping for the former.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Before You Hang A Right

I got up this morning about 3:30, and was in enough of a hurry not to think about lasts (plenty of time for reflection now, unfortunately). I caught a 6:40 flight to Philadelphia, where it is in fact cloudy and raining - not at all as advertised. The hotel has Wifi, so I'm able to post this last post before tomorrow. They trickled in somewhat slowly, but now there are about 70 of us Peace Corps Trainees. The people who had to come from the west coast got to arrive the day before, while others showed up by car with families in tow. Sign-in was at noon, the process much ameliorated by my having filled out all the paperwork beforehand. Apparently there will be more inoculations in Bishkek, but for today all I got was this lousy H1N1 shot. Vaccines were followed by hours and hours of expectations, advice, logistics, etc. I admit I dozed occasionally - not wandering the town wasted on vodka was something I'd decided against before today. People all seem very nice, and very diverse. I met a guy from Bloomington, but there are people from all over, and of all ethnicities. For some reason, I think I was just expecting white people. Everyone also seems to have made friends with everyone. I have no idea how that works, but I always feel a little left out.

There was a lot of talk about dedication, and commitment to service: things we're meant to ponder before getting on the bus in the morning. For some people, I suppose this means ending relationships, selling houses, choosing one career over another. Five months ago, a group like mine came to this hotel, expecting to leave for Turkmenistan the following day. Instead, they were told the Peace Corps was pulling out of the country, and sent home. Some of those people are here now, having had to move in with friends or parents in the interstices. It sort of feels like that could happen again - am I really going to Kyrgyzstan? I'm still in America, so it kind of feels like just a vacation. I'm realizing that I really like living in this country, and I'm not sure if I want to leave it for two years in the prime of my life. I think my worries are based on a couple of misconceptions - that two years is a huge amount of time that will pass very slowly, and that Kyrgyzstan is a cold, dark, bleak place where hairy people drink vodka and write depressing books. The latter, at least, will (I hope) be dispelled quickly and soon, and I think the knowledge that if I really do hate it there I can, in fact, leave, will actually make it easier to stay. The first three months will be a good barometer, so I will stick them out and see how it goes.

Tomorrow's trip will take about two days and won't include internet access, and I have no way of knowing how soon I'll be able to get online in Bishkek. So until then, wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Drinking Milkshakes Cold and Long

Tomorrow, technically, I'll fly to Philadelphia, where I'll get shots and learn about the Peace Corps. I'll fly to New York, then Istanbul, then Bishkek, where I'll take shots and learn about the Peace Corps (and spend three months learning the language and the culture of Kyrgyzstan). I'll go to my post, and I'll teach kids of approximately high school age how to speak and write English. My family, maybe some of my friends, will visit me occasionally. I might even get to come home for a week or two. I'll probably make lifelong friends. Maybe I'll meet my wife. It'll suck sometimes; others, I'll have a lot of fun. I'll post to this blog. I'll do good things, and I'll feel good about them. After two years, I'll come home. I might move to California and go to law school while working as a Peace Corps Recruiter. I might not do that.

It's strange, knowing with relative certainty the way the next two years of my life will play out. Not the day-to-day things, of course, but the big picture. It's supposed to be very exciting, but it feels more like watching a movie I saw a few years ago and still remember the major plot points of. I almost want to have served in the Peace Corps rather than actually serve.

I'd been in a sort of holding pattern since January, when I got my assignment, waiting for the end of March to come. Now that it's here, every time I do something, I suppose it will be the last time for a long time, maybe ever. I want some Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, but I think I'd feel too much like McVeigh. This must be what going away to college feels like, too. I like Lafayette, and I liked growing up here. It will be hard to leave, but I realize that while home is a place, it is also a time and a group of people, and those latter two are almost all gone now.

Enough melancholy. This will be fun. I hope you'll enjoy reading about it.