My Summer of 1993 Reflections on Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

I came across some 1993 correspondence (and photos) that I had written to family and friends back home in the U.S. I shared about my stay in Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps trainer to 30 trainees in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Seems some of the complexities of living in Central Asia never change.  However, this had more to do with my working within an American Peace Corps framework in a culture that had other intricate nuances with resulting snafus that we were completely unaware of.  I wrote the following on August 2, 1993:

“Last week I took a rest.  Okay, for a Type-A personality, I’m willing to admit I needed a rest.  I don’t like being driven but being involved with ‘training” compelled me into the center of the ring.  I do not like to give up on challenges very easily and this one was my match.

I have a second assistant working for me and it is so fun to get to know her.  I met Damira, a Kyrgyz woman, on the 4th of July and knew I wanted her to join me since she has computer skills.  She has been such a blessing in getting the Cyrillic script typed out and also she knows Kazakh.  Along with my Kazakhstani friend Tatyana [Kazanina], I have a wonderful team to work with. It counters some of the other bad elements I have to deal with in the Peace Corps office.

The most difficult part of any new post is that we are up in front of very tired and worn out Peace Corps trainees who demand to know all the answers.  But if we have never been in this country before, we don’t know and we don’t even know people who might know the answers.  That’s why I was thankful to meet an American woman named Sandy.  She had been teaching and lecturing in Russia for the past five months.  I had her give a lecture on her experiences to the volunteer group.

This past week while the trainees were out on their site visits, I took a little one of my own.  I went to my future home of Kyrgyzstan and I really DO love the country and the people.  I had a chance to visit my friend Elizabeth who is doing the same job I am doing with 20 trainees.  Elizabeth has been a wonderful resource to me from the first time I met her in Washington, D.C.  We traveled together to Almaty and she will be leaving one week earlier than me.  That is, if I can get my plane ticket changed from Sept. 4 to August 28.  I really don’t want to stay here (Almaty) any longer that I have to.  I am burned out from this city, the PCV trainees, the dorm and Almaty.

That is why I took my “rest” at a lake called Issy-kul and read “The New Russians.”  I did nothing that was work-related for about 5-6 days.  The lake is beautiful with mountains rising up all around it.  It is 60 miles long and a mile or two wide.  There are white caps and the water is cold due to mountain runoff.  I was thankful that the PC authorities permitted me to go there. I really felt homesick though as I was returning to Almaty and I saw the rolling hills just harvested which reminded me so much of North Dakota.  I never thought I would get teary-eyed over my memories of that state.  Right now, I really want to be where I am in control of my meals, my sleeping hours, my working hours, etc.  I felt I have had much of my independence stripped from me.  I can relate well with what the trainees are feeling and they are committing to two years here!!!

Anyway, it is an honor to have the Fulbright grant to look forward to when I will be living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a year.  Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country…”

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