I reached this country (kyrgyzstan) about a day ago, some odd time in the morning. Landed in Bishkek and spent a night at UCA (university of central asia) building where the offices are. I was staying in a great apt, 10 times bigger than my geneva one…and nicer. It was good to catch up on sleep, despite the fact that is was Victory Day, celebrated with sirens and fireworks. Bishkek is the capital for those of you who are unfamiliar with this area. Early this morning I caught another flight to Osh and the day has passed with meetings and discussions on the work that i will be doing here for the next 2 weeks. We passed over snow-covered mountains on the way here, just stunning to be so close and are surrounded by views as we drive through osh. The office seems organized and believe it or not, there is an online taxi service in this small town. And unlike Pakistan, the lunch is brief and therefore I do not have to sit through Russian and Krygz convos for an hour. Oromo, some type of pastry with potatoes, onions and meat is quite yummy.
Kyrgyzstan, in central asia used to be part of the Soviet Union. Life seemed easier and better during Soviet times. The level of culture was higher and provision was comprehensive and reliable, whether for job availability, books or fruit prices. The challenges of democratic transition, especially in the context of the country’s ethnic diversity and accompanying tensions, have given rise to considerable unrest in the years following independence. Even in the more secure Soviet times, Kyrgyzstan was among the poorest states in central asia, and almost a third of the population lived below the Soviet poverty line.After the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the economy fell into crisis and the standard of living dropped dramatically. Many facilities closed down across the country – factories, schools, theatres, hospitals – Kyrgyzstan became poor even in global terms. Although an education system remained in place after independence, many of its elements deteriorated. A reduced national budget made it difficult to invest in infrastructure and provide adequate training or pay for teachers or to allow for the changes. Enrollment in schools dropped amongst both girls and boys as well as the literacy rates. Scores on international tests are some of the lowest amongst developing countries. There is therefore a great need for solid and sustainable programmes that meet the needs of the communities. Being a farming population, many migrate to different areas through the summer, disrupting their children’s education. Satellite kindergartens and jailoos – large tents that move around with the families to meet some of these challenges have been initiated. Anyway, that was just a bit of history and background. I am here to follow-up on the RfC, reading for children programme, which is one of the programmes that has implemented in the region, to conduct an impact assessment since initiation -more qualitative rather than quantitative.
So it has been about a week since I landed in Krygyzstan. I have been in Osh for the last 5 days and have been heading out for field visits in the Alai district. The drive is about 2.5 to 3 hours each way and it is the same drive each day. But it is so beautiful on that side, that you look at the mountains and nature in a different light each day.
I have been visiting the mini libraries and the reading for children programme in different villages. Of course, everyone is happy with the books and the work that is being done for them. It is very difficult to assess the overall impact a programme has had by just speaking to, and observing people in their homes for a short while. Of course, if an outsider is coming, behaviours will change automatically. Think about it, if your boss or an external evaluator was coming to do an assessment on your work, would you not slightly change the way that you do things, perhaps even unknowingly?
Today we had a great family visit. Most of the grandparents take care of the children as parents are in russia for work. These grandparents were amazing, doing role plays with their grandchildren. At one point the grandpa pulled out his accordion and they all sang together! Being poor here is very different from being poor in other parts of the world. The poor here have tvs and satellite dishes and proper houses and food. Some even have cars.
On a personal level, it has been somewhat interesting and at times tough. The kitchen at the guest house in undergoing renovation, so no meals, and the food we get in the day consists of bread and lard. No joke, pure lard.We eat at the family homes, which they insist on. So first, we are putting them out and secondly, you know it is not hygienic and the tummy suffers hours later. So poor eating habits, but I have been trying to exercise a bit, taking walks etc.
In addition to that, I have been attacked by bed bugs and though the room has been disinfected the last 2 days, I woke up again today with big, red spots. I wonder why I am okay with this? There is no way in the developed world that I would be alright with this. So why here? I finally moved rooms today. Yes, i have experienced all of this before at some point in my life, but been there, done that! And of course, they say this is the first time this has happened to anyone in the guest house! Not surprised.
Travelling on your own in such places can be tough. Especially when you do not speak the language. there is no one to laugh about such things with or just vent – someone to just listen. This morning, I had a small crying session and I wondered at what point does it make sense to say something. You do not want to seem high maintenance but at the same time, when is it considered ok to make a big deal out of something? I know some of my gal pals would’ve walked out of this guest house on the first day and then you have my sister and mom, and they prob think that none of this is a big deal. While I have grown up climbing trees, playing ball, getting beaten up by boys and yes, falling off of washing machines, i can only be ‘tough’ to a certain degree. But my upbringing has def. given me the strength that i need! but i am definitely not that thick skinned! this is something that i will need to figure out as I will be traveling and encountering these type of experiences often…and those that i did in pakistan.
I did go out yesterday with someone who I met, another expat, for a meal and some chat. it was nice and needed. I am meeting a lady by the name of gulzar tomorrow who is who experienced in writing children’s stories. will be great to meet her and learn about all her experiences! then we head out to Alai as she would like to see some of the sites. another day in the field!
i do not think i have eaten as much bread in my life than i did for 7 days straight.
Bride kidnapping – basically if a man sees you and he wants to get married to you, he and is friends kidnap you. They take you to his family home and then his whole family convinces you to stay or they will curse you and put your family to shame. If you insist on leaving, the grandmother is known to throw herself on the ground and say go ahead and disrespect me…climb over me.
Vodka and cigarettes are cheaper here than a meal. It is no wonder everyone smokes and drinks. There is a joke amongst friends in kenya…there should be beer being sold on the roadside or drinks…well it is no joke here. for less than fifty cents you can purchase vodka on the roadside in a container that looks like a jello pudding one, sealed, and have yourself a drink.
Horse milk – i passed on that one but it is their traditional drink
I shared a pee with 2 other grown women in a washroom, like 3 men in a urinal would do. That was interesting.
A cute child peed on me today. Not so cute after that.
All the women have a row of gold teeth, either the top or bottom. In Russia they say it is a sign of wealth. I think here that was the only affordable option.