The Blogging Abroad challenge has me talking about my daily routine this week. The prompt asks me to dig into the “parts of [my] day that deviate from what people back home would consider ordinary.”
Early email and Skype correspondence with friends and family back home often frustrated me; I’d ask people about news on the home front and get nothing in response. “Life in the U.S. is boring; nothing has changed. Your life is so much interesting, tell me about that!” I always want to respond, “No, my life is the boring one, tell me about the Sunday brunches, the workplace drama, the WMATA shutdown, what’s on TV this week.” Of course we dismiss the in’s and out’s of our own lives in favor of the perceived intrigue of another’s.
On Sunday evening, my friend and I brag to each other about how little we’ve done that week. Planning a week’s worth of lessons, wandering around the city for a week’s worth of lunches, a week’s worth of after-dinner chats with the host family, a week’s worth of pop-up concerts or ceremonies — all of this is forgotten in the face of hours of waiting for colleagues to show up to a meeting, hours spent sitting on the same marshrutka route, hours spent under heavy blankets waiting for an appropriate hour for sleep.
The general structure of my schedule doesn’t change much from day to day: I take a taxi downtown early in the morning, I fill my day with some combination of meetings (for lesson planning, for project planning, for catching up) with teachers and students, class, and clubs before heading back home in the early evening, where I eat dinner before retreating to my room to read, write, or watch TV until it’s time for sleep. It’s the smaller details of a particular day, though, that I’ve found worth documenting. On a semi-regular basis, I’ve shared imponderabilia of life in Kyrgyzstan (the Small Scenes of Central Asia series). While these vignettes offer insight to what living in Central Asia looks, smells, and feels like, there’s no reason I couldn’t find beauty in small moments like that in Minnesota, DC, or wherever.
Rushing from the university to the bus station, I weaved between fellow pedestrians who were taking their sweet time to get from Point A to Point B. Six university students amble down the sidewalk, arm in arm, blocking the whole sidewalk; an elderly man in a kalpak walks with the assistance of a wooden cane; an Uzbek woman leads her daughters, all of whom are wearing hijab, even the youngest one who can’t be more than 8, into a pharmacy. Getting closer to Lenin Street, I approach another clique of university students, one of whom I recognize. This girl turns her head to look at me; she elbows her friend, who not-so-subtly turns around to gawk at me. It’s not until after I pass them that I hear the students ask each other, “Is she English? Does she speak Kyrgyz? What is she doing here?”
On Saturdays, I give trainings about teaching methodology at the university. My initial idea of a training for English teachers involved many handouts, homework, a lecture about theory — in practice, though, teachers usually just want a chance to speak English and to get ideas for activities they can lead in classes back in the village. Over time, my trainings have become less theory-heavy and more focused on games; a recent lesson about games for vocabulary building was especially fun and relaxed. Teachers were pretty interested in the games I lead, but things escalated when the teachers shared their own favorite activities. In a tiny university classroom, these men and woman who an hour before sat silently while I droned on about the principles of teaching vocabulary, chased and hit one another, laughed deeply, yelled out at cheating colleagues, and clapped for the winner at the end. After everything calmed down, everyone shuffled to the next room for a coffee break. Over cups of tea and too-rich cookies, we “made a fotosessiya” to mark the occasion of a successful training.
At a meeting to discuss plans for a teacher training conference, my counterpart Gulmira was getting excited about the volunteers who would be coming from distant regions to attend the conference. She insists that we go next door to look at student housing, which is just a hallway inside the college building, where the dean has graciously offered these volunteers a bed for the night. Gulmira, who is maybe 5’2″ in heels, peeks into a cluster of rooms before choosing a door at random and banging on it. A voice calls out from inside, not exactly welcoming, but Gulmira pushes the door open anyway, gestures at the metal beds and closet, and tells the room’s occupant that some American volunteers will be coming. The boy, who clearly just woke up and whose shirt isn’t buttoned, looks confused; Gulmira points out the sturdy wardrobe before I assure him, “They won’t sleep in this room,” and we go.
Waking up one morning in a friend’s village, I walk outside to wash my face. On the way to the wash basin, I see her 5-year old host sister shuffling across the courtyard; we make eye contact before she pulls down her pants and squats on the ground to pee. I’m not sure whether to greet her, but I end up trying to wave anyway – she ignores me (rightly so, I guess).