I’m back in my room, with its windows looking out over Issyk Kul, after more than two weeks in Bishkek. I was there mostly for “business,” but with a per diem and a consistent string of friends coming in and out of the city, business naturally mixed with leisure.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Peace Corps’ director, visited Kyrgyzstan a few weeks back to talk with staff, see what volunteers do, and meet relevant government officials to talk about the role of Peace Corps in this country. I was thrilled to be one of a handful of volunteers invited to a reception held at the ambassador’s home in her honor. The highlight of the night was eating brownies while volunteers, embassy staff, the ambassador, and the director introduced themselves and shared stories from their Peace Corps service. It was a great reminder of the company I share as a Peace Corps volunteer 🙂
The reception was close enough to the start of a 10-day training that I opted to stay in the city instead of going back to Cholpon Ata for the weekend. What could have just been a weekend of lounging turned into a good bit of work (don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty of lounging). The thing I’m most excited about was my tea and brainstorming meeting with the leadership of the FORUM English Language Teachers Association; we’ve got a great project in the works, which will hopefully improve professional development opportunities for village teachers around the country.
I had to get used to a 9 to 5 schedule once the training started; what a strange routine for volunteers who’ve been working without much consistent structure for the past year! This training was for all staff and volunteers who are responsible for training the new cohort of trainees, who all arrived Monday. In addition to putting the finishing touches on the training schedule, I got to learn more about coaching, giving feedback, and facilitating meetings. The days were long and busy, and while it was sometimes frustrating to come into work knowing that the calendar was going to change again, there was something about the “go-go-go” atmosphere that’s got me fired up and ready to get to business.
Like I said at the beginning of the post, this trip wasn’t all business. There was plenty of lounging – sitting in parks, playing cards on the balcony, shooting the breeze for hours and hours. Most importantly, I ate well (Chinese hot pot, Indian, regular trips to a nearby Turkish cafe, an all-you-can-eat buffet at the chic Korean chicken place, the full sweep of Bishkek burgers) and watched people eat well (a handful of volunteers competed in a hot dog eating contest). It’s not that I eat poorly at site, but 1) a person can only do noodles and potatoes so many times and 2) there’s something about eating in nice cafes every day that made me feel like I was back home.
It’s funny how much my impressions of the city have changed since I first visited a year and a half ago. During that trip, when I was frustrated with the transition from university to “real life,” Bishkek was certainly a fascinating place, but I don’t think I would have described it as beautiful or fancy. Now that I live in a town without stoplights and where cafes are only open during tourist season, though, Bishkek is the City of Dreams.