Nineteen years ago, on September 21, 1993, I wrote a letter to family and friends about my upcoming return to Central Asia. I’m combining this with another letter I sent out on November 2nd of that same year. Things seemed to have been moving quickly for me and it was good to stand in place for an instant to jot my experiences down for later perusal.
“On Sunday, Sept. 26th at 2:35 p.m. I will be boarding a Delta plane to go back to Central Asia. I have more than enjoyed the past month of staying in Minnesota with family and friends. For the past four months working in Kazakhstan for Peace Corps, life was just plain hard work.
My university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan wanted me to be teaching at the start of school on September 15th. Due to a mix up of communication, I am arriving on October 1 instead. Thus, I am already starting on the wrong foot with the dean of the school. Something needs to turn this situation around since this woman, Camilla, is known to steamroll over people. To cross her is not a good idea. I have learned only too late, I am looking at ten months of working with her.
I know what I am getting myself into as I prepare to leave and there is both a feeling of dread and excitement. I look forward to getting to know the Kyrgyz people more as I will be teaching phonetics and listening comprehension at the Kyrgyz State University. Fortunately, I will not be alone but teaching with another American Fulbright Scholar from Rutgers, New Jersey. She is only in Bishkek for three months. She arrived two weeks ahead of her schedule to accommodate the university’s needs of having foreigners there in place. I am not sure if we will be sharing living quarters or not.
From the little bit of exposure I had with the Kazakh people in Almaty, I am eager to get to know the Kyrgyz people better. Once I know what my e-mail address, I will be sure to let the e-mail users know. I have a new Compaq laptop which also has fax capabilities. I need to learn about that so it can be up and running while trying to get prepared for my classes….”
The following letter was written on November 2, 1993 after I knew more about my living situation:
“There is SO much to be thankful for in the one month I have been in Bishkek. I have a really spacious apartment which looks out to the mountains from both my east and west windows. I am able to see beautiful sunsets. How nice to have this place since I plan to do a lot of entertaining. However, time spent in the kitchen is more than comical since I have been forced to make do without a lot of the necessary utensils we all take for granted.
Things like measuring cups and spoons, potholders, pie tins, Tupperware, a fridge that works as well as a stove with four gas burners and an oven. The challenge for all of us foreigners is to cook or bake as close to American food as possible with whatever materials you can find at the Osh Bazaar. Just buying meat with carcasses and heads of sheep, pig and horse hanging off hooks while birds are flying overhead is a sight to behold.
Well, to change the subject…There are six other American teachers at my university. I am looking forward to having my three different Phonetic classes come to my apartment in December for American style Christmas parties. Each class has about ten students in each room and we meet once a week. It has been a joy to teach them American pronunciation. My goal for these next nine months is to be the best teacher I can be to my 30 plus students and also to learn Russian. We (four other English teachers) have two hour language classes most every day. It is a struggle for me to be disciplined enough to study in the afternoons what I learn in the mornings with my own tutor. The grammar is so difficult but I have to say that it is easier than learning Chinese.
I’m glad to say that my relationship with Camilla has improved. She seems to be treating me well. However, she is very disorganized as a dean and has managed to get the ire up of all the other American teachers at her school. We are all trying to work out smooth communication despite the clash of teaching styles and methodologies that necessarily happen when Americans meet up with rigid Soviet-style methods.
My e-mail has been up and running and I invite any of you to send me a note by that mode of communication. My address is: ####@projec.bishkek.su. [note that back at that time of 1993, they were still using the Soviet Union as a location] It is not always reliable because of bad phone lines but it is better than the mail service which is routed through Moscow and ends up at the top of a heap of other undelivered mail. Who said this is an exciting time for the former republics? There is a lot of desperation and near panic due to the unstable economy…”