Sunday, October 4, 2009

.the beat goes on

All right.

Peace Corps has three main goals. The first is to provide trained men and women to organizations and schools in the host country who ask for it. The second is to provide a real-life example of American culture to host country nationals. The third is to teach Americans at home about the host country.

The third goal was the reason why I decided on a public blog rather than an email list. As much as I have friends and family who would like to keep tags on my misadventures, the blog was more of a message in a bottle to whomever passed by. Maybe it's a future Peace Corps Volunteer who was wondering what it was all about, like I was in the months preceeding my service. Maybe it was somebody who was interested in Kyrgyzstan or teaching English abroad. Maybe it was somebody who clicked the "random" button on and this came up. Whatever.

But unfortunately I seem to have made a bit of a target out of myself with my last post, for better or worse. I no longer feel comfortable writing here, and I think it might prove detrimental to the rest of my service if I continue to do so. It's too bad, but that's the way it is.

You usually don't have to tell me something twice. Usually.

Basically, if anybody is interested in getting occasional emails about what I'm up to and how I'm dealing with it, you can leave a message with your email in a comment, or you can get ahold of me on facebook, or you can send me an email saying you're interested.

It's my birthday. And I'll write if I want to.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

.tell me how to stay strong

I just got censured. I guess at least somewhere, somebody is reading my blog. And they thought it was too intense.

I'm going on hiatus. Thanks to the readers.

Good night, and good luck.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

.russian roulette is not the same without a gun

Housing search, the remix. (Bum-chicka-bum-chicka-uh-uh-uhhhhh.)

My counterpart texted me the other day to say that she had an apartment option for me to see. Her sister had found it. I was excited because this was actually the first option I've had that has worked out in a relatively concrete way. Not to mention, it's smack in the part of town that I wanted to live in - maybe a five minute walk from school.

The microrayons of the town I'm going to live in are actually pretty nice. Since training was there I'm very familiar with the town's center and all the "hot spots" (of which there are few, but enough to live very comfortably on), but the microrayons are much more towny. Most of them are courtyard-type clusters with broken down old Soviet-era playground equipment that is usually used to inadvertently hurt children or dry rugs on in the middle. Some even have well-tended flower gardens. The area of town I'm going to live in is populated mostly by old women living alone and children playing on the dangerous playground equipment. I rarely see people between the ages of twenty and fifty puttering around, but that's fine with me. It means that the area must be safe-ish if all these old women are living alone and the children are killing themselves on the jagged metal slides unsupervised.

Obviously, if I was looking at this through the untrained American eye, I'd think it looked like the projects. This is because Soviet-style apartment buildings are actually based off of the projects. Seriously. They're cheap and easy to build, mostly because all apartment complexes are the same. Unless the owner's done some serious remont (renovation), Kyrygz apartments have about five different styles, and the entire apartment complex has the same style of apartment. But now that I've eased into life here, I can recognize nice apartment buildings for what they are.

And the one that my counterpart had to show me was nice. It's a first-floor one-room (meaning that there's one main living room, a bathroom, and a kitchen) apartment that has a balcony opening straight onto a beautiful garden with tasteful tall grass, cornflowers, daisies, and some hollyhock. I have no idea who maintains the garden, because when I went in to see the place there was obviously a funeral party going on, and the owners said that the grandmother who lived in the apartment had died a couple months back. The garden was looking way too well pruned for that.

Another malady with most apartments in the area that I want to live is that none of them have been well-furnished. I don't know why, since in every single other area in Kyrgyzstan, even village apartments, they've come decently-equipped. One of my friends (who ultimately ended up moving to Bishkek) lived in a huge, new three-room apartment with a kitchen. His furniture count was thus: one kitchen table, two chairs, a small sofa table, a small cabinet, and a bed without legs. All of his furniture could have easily fit into one room. Half a room. My other friend has another newly-remonted apartment in the same town with two giant rooms that doesn't even have a bed. It has a kitchen table, two chairs, and one upholstered chair. She sleeps on piles of tushuks.

But the apartment that they showed me was definitely well-inhabited. There's a divan, a bed, a large table in the main room, a table in the kitchen, a clothespress, a free-standing shelving unit that takes up most of the wall, several small cabinets, and four kitchen chairs. There's two stoves: a gas and an electric. And a large refrigerator. And a washing machine. And all the plates I could shake one of my billions of forks at. (The washing machine is Kyrgyz-style, but hey. It means I can wash my sheets.) They said it came with all of the furniture. And it has hot water and a SHOWER and an INDOOR TOILET. And heat in the winter.

And it was only 3000 som a month. Usually you get reamed for apartments where I want to live. Sold, sold, and sold.

The only thing about it is that there aren't bars on the windows, and since it's first-floor apartment, Peace Corps will pay for it. I just have to get it done. The landladies said that they didn't mind if I put bars in as long as they didn't have to pay for it, so it's cool.

And I get to look out at a nice garden when it's the season for it. Quite idyllic. I'm within five minutes of both my work and a supermarket and a small bazaar. I'm a twenty-minute walk from the center of town where there's bigger supermarkets and bazaars. And there's constant transportation everywhere.

As good as my extended vacation in Bishkek has been, it'll be nice to have my own place. I don't want to impose on my host here too much longer. He's got dates to go on. And to be able to not have all my shit spread out all over the resource center will be a pleasant change.

Here's hoping that something stupid doesn't happen this winter and I end up losing it again. I've been on a semester-by-semester basis here in Kyrgyzstan: three semesters of school have eclipsed since I've been here, and I've had three sites. Very neatly divided, in my opinion. But it would be nice to break with tradition for this last year. I don't think I'm going to want to move again.

When I look back on my Peace Corps experience, at least I can say that I got a true understanding of the nomadic aspect of Kyrgyz culture. I'm more nomadic than most of them will ever be. For better or worse.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

.oh, Canada

I usually don't blog this much, but since I'm currently living in the capital and am basically surrounded by Internet constantly, might as well. Particularly when I have the brand of randomly awesome times that I had yesterday.

I was at the Peace Corps office when I ran into a Volunteer who was having mondo counterpart and site problems and was pretty down in the dumps. And by "down in the dumps," I mean, "pretty much going to Early Terminate." Part of this whole experience is being everybody else's damage control team. People have done it for me a number of times, when I was set to nuclear meltdown and other Volunteers have plyed me with entertainment, kindness, and the occasional day of substance abuse. When I'm in the position to do it for somebody else, I leap on it.

I ditched on some plans with other friends for lunch to take my woeful friend back to the apartment I'm staying at, after buying some cheeseburgers and chocolate and coffee for lunch and then having her partake in the shower facilities. Especially for Volunteers who live in the village, a chance to take a long, hot shower is the equal to going to a souped-up spa in the States and ordering the special without having to worry about cost. It's a big deal, and being properly clean without having to use buckets can be a great boost to the spirits.

Thus revitalized, my friend went back to Peace Corps to charge headfirst into more meetings about her situation, and I walked over to join my friends who I had ditched on lunch plans with.

That's when we met the Canadians.

We were at a place called Metro Pub, which is not an unusual place to meet foreigners. In fact, it's gotten rather dangerous to go there in certain respects, particularly at night. Lots of people who've walked out of there without taking a taxi have gotten followed and beaten up and robbed. It's not so notorious during the day, but it is pretty expensive, so I've only gone there maybe once or twice during the past six months or so, and never at night. Most of the time, I was living in the village anyway, which gave me a default curfew of 7pm, unless I wanted to fork out a ridiculous amount of cash for a taxi. Which I didn't.

When I walked in my two friends were playing cards at the table with these two other guys. They promptly ordered me a beer and invited me to sit down. Turns out they were playing poker - high stakes poker. 1000 som buy-in, which is about thirty bucks. In comparison, when Volunteers play poker with each other, it's usually a 50 som buy-in. Maybe 100 if it's near the beginning of the month and we've all just gotten paid. Yeah.

But the Canadians were doing all the buying. I wasn't going to play, not with that kind of a buy-in - I enjoy a spot of gambling every now and again, but not with nearly a fourth of my monthly salary. They rolled their eyes, threw a 1000 som note into the pile, and raked some chips at me.

So we played. I also met the head of the golf course in Bishkek, the owner of Metro Pub, and various other bigwig-types around town. The company was good, the beer constantly flowing. At the end of the game, I had made about 4000 som. That's like, 100 dollars. That's like, my entire monthly salary. And I didn't even have to do the buy-in. And they paid for our drinks.

As we were nearabouts falling over ourselves with gratitude, one of the guys says, "Well, next time it comes up say something nice about Canadians, eh?"


Duty thus filled to my gracious partner Canada, we get back to the business of being homeless. And being motherfucking LOADED at the same time. Life is good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

.she's got an appetite for lighting dynamite

I always have a hard time explaining to locals the logic behind a middle name.

I was at the bank today, picking up my money, when the lady who hands me the cash pointed to my ID card and frowned. “Laura?” she asked. “Or Elizabeth?”

I’ve had this conversation a few times in country. I told her that both were, indeed, my name, but usually I just go by the first one. I always say that the second one is only used when my mother wants to scold me, which usually gets a laugh and neatly diverts the conversation away from the subject. Not that I don’t like talking about names, but it’s kind of hard for me to explain why I’m stuck with a seemingly superfluous name that nobody ever really uses.

I suppose that in most respects, it is excessive to have two names. Practically speaking, it can be useful to have a middle name because it differentiates you from all the other people in the world that might happen to have the same first and last name. And I know that some people get middle names for religious purposes, but to me it just seems like a nice way to compromise between families when both sectors want to name the baby different things. You can name the baby both! Problem solved, and family dinners won’t be any more awkward than usual.

Also of interest is surnames. Russians have patronymic surnames, meaning that the child’s last name is derived from the father’s first name. Ivan to Ivonovich and so forth. In traditional Kyrgyz style, the child’s name would be (father’s name) uluu/kyzy (given name). Uluu means “son” and kyzy means “daughter,” so traditional Kyrgyz names are “so-and-so’s son/daughter so-and-so.” Though in the more Russified areas ethnically Kyrgyz people are likely to have the Russian-style last names. I always get a kick out of trying to explain my last name, which has no conceivable connection to a first name. I got into a conversation with a taxi driver about the practice of passing down names through the father’s side, as well as the more recent tradition of hyphenating names, married women keeping their maiden names, a husband taking the wife’s name, or even husband and wife taking on an entirely new name.

The taxi driver said it was confusing and I said that yeah, America can be pretty confusing sometimes. Whachagonnado.

So, more on the homelessness front, since I am now officially that way.

Last week was, to put it succinctly, a clusterfuck. My original move-out date was last Thursday, but on Wednesday my ex-director told my program manager that she was going to call my host family and ask for a couple more days to do the housing search. I get home Wednesday night to find that she hasn’t called. I tried to call my program manager back but she wouldn’t answer, so I just tidied up the house, woke up early on Thursday morning, and called my program manager to ask what the hell was going on.

My program manager said that she didn’t know. I would have asked my host family, but they had left the house for work at that point.

So I just said the hell with it and went to go stay with a friend for a couple of days. I needed a drink. And not to mention my entire kitchen had been packed away and I hadn’t actually been able to cook a semi-decent meal since I had gotten back to Kyrgyzstan - not even fried eggs. And while eating grapes out of a bag for a week is what all the cool kids are doing, it gets old pretty fast. And I needed a drink. Drinks. And I got them. There’s nothing classier than drinking Moldovan Merlot straight from the bottle and caterwauling along with Piano Man. Classy, and quite stress-relieving. We even had a plastic corkscrew, so I didn’t have to push the cork into the bottle and drink floaty bits along with it. It was a good night.

On Saturday my program manager called me again, and said that my ex-director had located a possible compound housing situation for me within the village. I said that I wasn’t going to live in a compound if it was the last standing building in Kyrgyzstan. She told me to humor the director and just go to the school to talk to her about it.

Fine. I went to the school... and the director wasn’t there. I was able to locate my counterpart, who said that the director was in the rayon center for paperwork reasons, and that she had no idea what was going on as much as I did. I had some nice conversation with her and a few other teachers who stopped by to say hello, before going outside, calling my program manager, and saying that if this shit kept on happening, they could book my flight.

To which my program manager said that she had another site to show me.

This second site was about thirty minutes north of Bishkek, in a village that is actually called “Grape Village.” They grow grapes. Obviously.

Grape village was actually quite nice. It was mostly Kyrgyz, but the director there spoke flawless Russian and seemed very motivated to work with a Volunteer. They even had an apartment to offer me. The only problem was that the apartment was actually in the school.

My married friends actually live at a school also, but it’s an orphanage and therefore more like a campus. This was actually a living unit in the school. It was a decent setup, though: a big main room, a kitchen, and a bathroom with a squat flusher and running water. It shared the school’s heat, which is electric and therefore susceptible to outages, but it also had a petchka in it for coal. There was little or no furniture in it when we looked at it, but the director assured me that the school could provide everything that was necessary for a comfortable living space.

To be honest, I felt kind of bad about saying no. But... I just didn’t want to live in the school. I would never be able to get away from where I worked. Not to mention, I don’t work on Saturdays but the kids are still in school, so even when I wasn’t working I’d be overrun with students. Also, it was a first-storey apartment and I’d have no place to hang my laundry.

In addition, the director said that it would probably be better if the school’s Volunteer spoke Kyrgyz, which, well, I don’t. I do think it would be a nice site for somebody, though, like a brand-new starry-eyed Volunteer who has the energy to be really thrown in with the culture of the school.

I hate to sound like a total curmudgeon, but I mostly just want to be left alone at this point. I want to do good work at my school and with my secondary projects, and then I just want to go home to an apartment and lock the door and decompress. I would also like to be more within a town center, so I can do things like walk to a bazaar. I don’t hate village life: the things that were uncomfortable about it for me weren’t bad enough to really be worth raising a stink about. I mean, water goes out sometimes, I had to travel an hour for groceries, there was nothing to do. None of those things were horrible.

But since I’m being thrust out into the world again, if I’ve got the choice, it would be nice to live in a place that has cafes, lots of reliable transportation, internet, and a bazaar.

When we were coming back from Grape Village, my program manager asked what we were going to do now, and I said I had no idea.

This was resolved when I walked into the resource center. Everybody here knows that I’m homeless by this point. Word travels fast. One of my friends who lives in a town in my oblast said that she knew a teacher in her apartment building that had wanted to work with a Volunteer but didn’t get one this year for some reason. The teacher spoke fluent English, and was very motivated. I got in contact with her immediately, and we met up this past Saturday.

And she seems like she’d be a dream to work with. Whatever my shitty luck with housing has been, my counterparts have all been a definite cut above the norm. Also, funnily enough, the school that my counterpart works at is right behind the place where we had our training last year. Haha.

But it’s nice because I’m already familiar with the area, it’s not too far outside of Bishkek, and there’s even other Volunteers in the direct area, which will be a nice change from my usual status of isolation.

Now the issue is finding an apartment. I’m actually heading out there today to do some cold-calls... basically knocking on people’s doors, seeing if they’re home, and asking about their landlord. Sometimes, if you want something done right, you’ve got to get to the source of it, I suppose.

And in the meantime, I’m living in Bishkek with my Volunteer-cum-expat friend who now works for American Councils as a recruiter for the FLEX program (that student-exchange program with the US that I did the pre-departure orientation program for this summer).

So there are two ways to look at this. The wrong way is that I got jacked around again and lost my house and had to move and it’s September and I don’t really have a job or a place of my own and all my belongings are in a heap in the Resource Center.

The right way is that I’m essentially on extended vacation at the moment, I don’t have to answer to anybody, and I get to live in Bishkek for free in a nice apartment. It’s been kind of surreal, actually. The past few days have been filled with delicious restaurant dinners, beer garden-sampling, and being able to leave the apartment at 10pm to go to the 24-hour grocery store on the corner for yogurt. The apartment also has a washing machine, Internet, and unlimited hot water. It’s also very well-located, so I can walk basically anywhere I’d want to go in the city. And my friend gave me a set of keys, so I can come and go at my leisure. And since he’s out around the country for at least four days of the week doing testing, I even get the run of the place to myself for a while. When he’s in, he’s a very nice roommate who offers good company and also happens to know a lot of good places to go in Bishkek for a drink or a dinner.

In addition, I was helping a K-15 go through her Close of Service measures (actually, I was helping her get all the papers she needed to get her cat back to America), and since she was leaving she went out in a bonanza of good food and beer and taxi rides, and I got to ride the coattails of that.

My routine right now consists of getting up at around eightish when my friend does, talking with him for a while over a cup of coffee, and then heading out later to pick up some more coffee and go to the Peace Corps office to hang out with who’s there, check in with the staff, and pick up some gossip. Then I go run my errands: I’ve been back to my old village to do an official goodbye, and networking with people to try and find housing in my new site. Then I usually go out to a meal with friends at some point, and my last few evenings have been spent carousing pleasantly around the city, checking out restaurants and bars that I haven’t had the chance to yet and hobnobbing with the city’s expats.

Also, they’re installing a shower in the Peace Corps office for Volunteers, which will be a nice upgrade to my life after I move out of the Bishkek apartment which has unlimited hot water.

So all and all, I’m sitting pretty right now. It’s not a bad life. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to sustain it for, as I don’t think that Peace Corps really wants me to be living in a friend’s apartment indefinitely and it’s not a cheap way to live, but I think I’m good for at least another week. Especially because, you know, I actually am trying to find an apartment.

Knock on wood. Knock, knock, knock on wood.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

.it ain't no fun unless we all get some

The journey back to Kyrgyzstan was fairly uneventful, just long. I had a nine-hour layover in Istanbul that was perfectly primed for me to go out and do some exploring, but I let exhaustion win over the adventuring spirit. I had to buy a visa to go and get my luggage, which was annoyance enough, but at least the airport staff were nice to me. After I grudgingly forked out the 20 dollars for the visa and went to fetch my bags, I was on my way to get one of those airport carts.

I took an obscene amount of luggage back with me – much more than I brought originally. Of course, it’s all full of food and supplies and the like, things that I either can’t get in Kyrgyzstan, like vanilla extract, or are just too expensive for me to buy, like olive oil. And, I mean, I definitely packed to the extreme. One of my bags was overweight, and the other one was pushing it.

But in order to rent the little airport carts in Istanbul, you need Euro coins. I managed to locate some staff that spoke reasonable English to ask what I should do. At first they were telling me that all I had to do was go to a change machine for coins, and I had to spend about five minutes patiently convincing them that even if I did put a dollar bill into a coin machine it would not give me euro coins. And if it did, I would put all my dollars into it, because that would increase my spending money by about twenty-five percent. Exchange rates and all that nonsense.

Eventually, I think they got tired of dealing with me. Or that or they saw the despair well in my eyes when I realized that I’d have to drag all 130 pounds of my luggage to an exchange booth to trade a large-ish denomination dollar bill in for some euro just so I could get one lousy euro to get the cart, and then I’d be stuck with all this euro that has no use in the foreseeable future. I’d have to change it back to dollars or into som, and then I’d lose a ridiculous amount of money in the transaction. They eventually just waved over some dude to unlock a cart for me for free. Score.

And then when I went to check my luggage through again, the check-in lady was unbelievably generous and didn’t charge me overages on my luggage again, even though I was nearly ten kilo over it. Whatever. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, is what I say. Or rather, when somebody cuts you a break you smile and thank them politely, then run as fast as you can in the other direction so they don’t have time to change their minds about it.

After all that, I was standing in front of another currency exchange booth, wondering if I actually wanted to exchange for lira to go out into Istanbul. I really do like Istanbul: I had a blast the few hours I was there when I came to Kyrgyzstan initially. But this time around I was by myself and not with a group of Peace Corps Volunteers, some of whom were bewilderingly well-informed about Istanbul, and others who spoke Turkish. Not to mention, I was exhausted and kept on leaning up against poles to keep myself upright. Not exactly prime shape to be in to go around exploring a city I’m unfamiliar with that speaks a language I don’t know.

While I was debating, this guy comes up and asks if I want to go to the city. He’s got some official airport decals on, but I figure he’s attached to a taxi company somehow. I have an automatic bias about anybody associated with a taxi in any way, shape, or form these days, but I just got my luggage checked through for free and was feeling charitable, so I struck up a conversation with the guy.

I said I wasn’t going to the city yet, and made up something about meeting a friend just so we could evade the whole pressure-sales schtick. He asked how long I was staying in Istanbul, and when my reply was “nine hours,” that got a raised eyebrow and we got into the whole American-working-in-Kyrgyzstan thing. He told me that it was, “quite unusual.”

I said that somebody had to do it.

After that, I decided to hell with it and just went back into the airport where I ate overpriced cheesecake and surfed the free wi-fi for a while. I even fell asleep in one of the large chairs they had at the cafĂ© I was sitting at. Jet lag for me is a weird thing. I think I do worse when the change is between 6-9 hours, like in Istanbu, rather than when it’s 10-12, like Kyrgyzstan. It’s easier for me to change my internal clock, somehow, if day and night are flipped completely rather than shifted a few hours. Dunno why. At least none of my shit got stolen, but I was kind of sleeping on top of it.

Got back to Bishkek without incident, and I even managed to find a taxi driver that wasn’t a total jerk. He said he’d take me back for 500 som, and I said I’d pay him 400 and he said okay. Done, and done. (Technically, the fair price is 300, but it was four in the morning and raining and I was exhausted and 100 som is about two dollars and fifty cents. Usually I don’t think of som that way because comparing it to dollars is an excellent way to get poor real fast, but to hell with it.)

I got to the Peace Corps office at about 5:30, and then promptly passed out on the resource center couch for approximately four hours before some of my friends burst in to the room with intentions to use the internet and found me instead. Not that I particularly minded. I could have used more sleep, but it was nice to see my fellow batshit crazy Volunteers again.

At any rate, the most interesting thing going on is probably the homeless situation, which is getting more and more ridiculous as it goes. Like most things ‘round these parts.

After I had gone out to buy some minutes for my phone, I called my program manager. I felt a little bad since it’s Saturday, but since I had sent her two emails over my vacation asking questions and had received no answers my qualms with disturbing her weekend weren’t too severe.

When I got a hold of her, I got the surprising news that I didn’t have to move. According to her, she had called my counterpart, who talked to the director. They did a cursory search for some apartments but had come up empty-handed. When that happened, they talked to my host family and convinced them to let me stay until next August.

I greeted this statement with mixed feelings, really. It was nice that I wouldn’t have to move at all, not even within the village, but I didn’t know how I felt about my current host family being guilt tripped. I can only imagine the conversation about if-you-don’t-keep-her-we’re-gonna-lose-her. And while it’s to some extent true, especially if they couldn’t find me an apartment, still. I didn’t know if I wanted to live in a place where I was only there because of outside pressure. It wouldn’t be a comfortable living environment for any of us.

But, whatever. Again, the whole thing about gift horses and such. I figured I would talk to Peace Corps and see about throwing on another 500 som to my rent check, since I’m well under the housing allowance limit for where I live and it might make my host family happier about keeping me. Thus resolved, I went out to lunch with friends in an attempt to stave off the jet lag.

When I got back, I was dragging a heavy rice bag with me. I figured that instead of shelling out a crapton of money on a cab to bring back all of my goodies, I’d just bring them back a trip at a time, which is cheaper. I was struggling with the bag when one of the neighborhood kids walked up and took one end of it, which made it a lot easier to carry and was quite sweet of him.

When we got to my house, my host father came out and laughed at the sight of me and this kid dragging an enormous bag down the road, and then came out and carried the back the rest of the way into my house.

After some cursory talk about how was America and all that, I brought up the fact that my program manager told me that I could live in his house for another year. I wanted to make sure that he was really okay with it… I mean, it is his house. I’ve dealt with a myriad of unreasonable people in country, and my current host family is not one of their number. From what my host father told me when he said I had to move out they merely wanted their space back, which, I mean, is not an unreasonable request. I didn’t want them to be unhappy, both for their sake and mine.

But my host father frowned, and said, “You can stay here until the tenth, remember?”

To which I blinked, and relayed what my program manager had said to me (in likely extremely atrocious Russian; I’m tired and pretty rusty after not having spoken Russian for a month) and he was all like, uh, no.

And I figured that this was just a delightful pickle, that both my sponsoring agency and my school think that I’ve got a place to live when I don’t, so I called my program manager back again. She asked me to put my host father on the phone, which I did.

I understood the gist of the conversation, a part of which seemed to be my program manager saying, “If she moves out, where will she live?” And my host father was all like, “Uh, not really my problem.”

Which… it isn’t. I’ve had people pull that on me before, and I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing specific to here or not, but I really do hate it when you say you want to have nothing to do with something that isn’t your responsibility, and then the other person gets all upset about it. My old landlady at the house I got kicked out of did the same thing with the monster dog on the premises of the house. She told me she’d get rid of it if I moved in, and then when I moved in she asked where the dog would go if it wasn’t at the house. Um… maybe you should have thought of that before you told me you’d move it?

But I also heard my host father say that the problem has nothing to do with me, which is major points in my favor, considering how the last two places I lived ended less than amicably. At least this way it’s going to be nearly impossible for Peace Corps to claim that there’s something wrong with my attitude, behavior, or lifestyle. The people just want their damn guesthouse back, and that’s all. Wouldn’t matter if I were the world’s gentlest soul or the antichrist.

Once my program manager got off the phone with him, she said she’d call my counterpart again and encouraged me to get in contact with her as well, since I “know the community better.” Well, that may be so, but it’s not going to change the fact that there don’t appear to be apartments available and I’m not going to live with a host family anymore.

Which means one of two things: site change or early termination. I’m not quite in the mood to make that long plane ride back yet, so it’ll likely be site change over ET, provided that Peace Corps doesn’t get their knickers in a twist over it. Not that I can blame Peace Corps for being a little bit exasperated with my tenure as a volunteer thus far, moving-wise. If I change sites it’ll be my third one, which is virtually unheard of. And by “virtually” I mean, “I’ve actually never heard of anybody getting three sites before.” So it would be quite unusual. But, as I said before, I don’t consider myself an unreasonable person, and wanting to live in my own apartment after living four other places closely connected with a host family that ended on terms not of my own volition is not an unreasonable request.

Not that I can fault my program manager for trying to make me feel more empowered about the situation by doing an independent housing search, I suppose. To be honest, I don’t care much either way about it. I need to find a new place to live, and I’ve got a list of demands. I’m definitely empowered about the list of demands. Whether I find the apartment under my own power is moot. I just have to have one. And it’s not really my job to be house-hunting.

But I’ll have to call my counterpart anyway, so I’ll likely bring it up then. As it stands, I’m still not going to work on Monday, since I’ll need to be packing on Monday.

I’m just perplexed as to how my program manager came to believe that I could stay in my house when it’s not the case. Obviously it didn’t have anything to do with her (I’m somewhat jaded with Peace Corps as an organization to be sure, but I can’t believe that my program manager would misle me like that on purpose because it makes no sense), so the confusion must have happened somewhere between my director, my host family, and my counterpart. But… I also have a difficult time believing that, assuming that my host family said that I definitely couldn’t live with them after September 10th, my counterpart/director interpreted that as “Laura can live with them until August!” Maybe there was some sort of ridiculous misunderstanding, but that just seems so unlikely since they were talking about such a simple subject with a yes or no answer attached to it. (“Can Laura still live with you?” “No.” Hell, I could probably still have that conversation in Japanese if I had to.) Either that that my counterpart/director lied to Peace Corps. Which to me is… well, dumb, when you take into consideration that it would all be unmasked after September 10th, when I was still living in the house that my host family expected me to be vacating.

The only other thing I can think of was that my director/counterpart lied to Peace Corps just to smooth things over, but if that's the case then there's a serious lack of forward-thinking. Things would have been all hunky-dory until, well, next Friday.

Wonders never cease. I’m just glad I asked, I guess. And that I didn’t end up spending a crapton of money on a taxi to take all my goodies from America back to a house that I have to be out of by this Friday.

My program manager told me that I shouldn’t think about it right now, in favor of some rest. Which, really, isn’t bad advice if taken as is, but the fact that I don’t know where I’m going to be living come next Friday makes it a little more difficult to take entirely seriously. I’m just glad I’ve never been a highly-strung person. I’d’ve gone bonkers by now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

.there once was a note, listen

There are two major events in my immediate future, one which is unquestionably good, the other which is more of a bummer.

The good: I am leaving tonight for a month's vacation in America. Yesss.

The bummer: I got kicked out of my house again. Noooo.

The housing thing just blows. I mean, seriously, how can my luck be so rotten with housing here? The good part, I guess, is that this time they said it had nothing to do with me. How true this is I can't fathom, but at least they're not going to rail at Peace Corps over it.

The host father came in to collect on the electric bill last night, and then told me that I had to be out of the house by September 10th. The official reason is that they just want the house back, and I think I heard something about the son (who is older, married, and lives in Bishkek) is coming back to live in the house for a while. Believable, but I also think I remember my program manager saying something about how the family I'm with didn't originally want another Volunteer. Understandable, I suppose, since they already hosted a Volunteer for two full years. I'm pretty sure that they mostly signed on for the extra income that was promised them, but they're probably just tired of sharing their living quarters.

Part of it is likely because I basically inhabit about half of their indoor living space. The compound house I'm in is bomb, and the main house isn't that much bigger. It's better equipped with an indoor toilet and a washing machine and television, but it's maybe about the size of my house plus half. Most compounds in this country have the guesthouse comprised of maybe a room and a half; my house has four, five if you count the banya. Maybe my house is smaller, but I definitely have more personal living space than the people living in the main house do. Particularly since it's summer and the younger daughter is living their over the school holiday.

I'm just kind of irritated at the prospect of having to move again. At least this time it's on reasonably good terms and they gave me about a month's notice, but it's too bad that that month I'm going to be out of the country. I called my program manager yesterday and told her about it, but she's also on vacation. (Normally I'd feel bad contacting somebody on vacation, but I figured the situation was important enough.)

This time around, though, I'm insisting on an apartment. I'm tired of living with host families: I've already lived with three. I'm done with being in somebody else's house. There actually are apartments in my village, but I know nothing about them, other than there's a block of 'em in front of the school. I don't know if any are vacant, and I don't know if they're up to Peace Corps' standards. The standards Peace Corps has aren't that ridiculous, but I don't even know if the apartments in my village have running water. This wouldn't be such a big deal, but one of the stipulations is that I at least have a private outhouse, which I don't know if the apartments do or not.

If I can't get an apartment in my village, there are a couple of options. One is that the adjacent village has apartments, lots more than my village has. However, there's a Peace Corps rule where you're not supposed to live outside of your community. I know of a couple of instances where Volunteers have lived separately, so I might be able to make a case for it if I fuss. Another option is just to change site completely, and move to a bigger town where there are more apartments.

I'm not wholly against the idea of changing sites again, mostly because my counterpart is planning on leaving after December, which puts second semester next year rather up for grabs. I'm worried that the school is going to want me to teach alone, which I'm not going to do. I would rather not have that fight if possible. Plus, in the unlucky event that I get booted yet again, I can find another apartment much easier in a town than I can in a village.

But I'd definitely rather move than live with another family. I just don't want to go through the whole process of getting used to a new family and their routines and quirks yet again. Not to mention, the compound that I'm living in now is by far the nicest compound I've seen in country. Unless there's some miracle hidden gem out there and I strike it lucky again, anything I get from a compound is going to be a step down in living conditions. At this point, I'm only willing to take a cut in luxury if I get complete freedom along with it. Not to mention, my current family was great to live with in the sense that they never bothered me. Ever. I would only tell them I was going somewhere if it was more than two nights. If I was just going out for the evening, I never said anything to them about it. I appreciated the freedom, and I don't want to have to deal with another overbearing host mother. I had one of those at my first site. Not again.

Reading all of this over makes me sound demanding, but let's face it. I've moved sites once and houses four times while in country. This will be my fifth, and in none of them was I at fault. I am demanding. I've been bounced around this country like a well-worn basketball by this point, and I'm tired of it. Really tired.

If all else fails, I can always threaten to quit. And actually quit if Peace Corps gets too stubborn. I don't think it will come to that, though. Peace Corps is more likely to capitalize on my stubbornness and move me before they hand me the final plane ticket home. I know they're worried about the early termination rate here, and they'll probably attempt to appease me first. Secondly, they know me and how I've gotten the brunt end on housing pretty much my entire service, and I think they appreciate the fact that I haven't come storming in demanding my plane ticket. I'm also not a bad Volunteer. I've never been in trouble with the administration, I don't think I've ever gotten a complaint registered against me from either of the schools I've worked with, and I've done a lot of projects in many areas of the country with a lot of partnership organizations. I've put up with a lot. And I haven't given up yet. Hopefully, this gets rewarded.

There are a few good things that have come out of this, though. First, I'm very likely to get an apartment. Hopefully. Second, it's possible that this apartment may have amenities like a toilet, running water, and (if I strike gold) maybe even a hot water heater. The last is really only likely if I end up changing sites, since I don't think anybody in my village has a water heater, unless they're very rich. But hell, I'd just be happy with the toilet and sink. I haven't had either of these things, really, since I got to country.

Not to mention, moving means that I don't have to live with those stupid yappy dogs anymore. I'll definitely appreciate that, and my guests will too. Nobody likes my dogs.

I guess we'll see. For now, I'm just going to go home, and enjoy my vacation. There's not much I can do about it now, at any rate. I'll come back, and have six days to pack my things, and by that point some options will probably have come up, and I'll just have to see what I'm working with.

As per usual.