Monday, April 18, 2011

Eco-tourism in Kyrgyzstan and how you can help!!

Hey friends!

As most of you know I’m chillen in Kyrgyzstan these days. Officially I am an English teacher (I know hilarious because I can’t spell). I’ve also been working on a ton of other projects in my village that I think have been a lot more beneficial. Along with some really awesome people I’ve met in my village we’ve brought in experts to host agricultural trainings, broke ground this week on a greenhouse we are constructing, are in the process of planning a week long leadership camp in the mountains for about 40 students, and are hopefully going to attempt to find a solution for the water problem that the village faces.

One of the other big projects I am working on is trying to help develop the eco-tourism in the region. Kyrgyzstan is beautiful, and this region in particularly breathtaking; over 90% of the land is above 4,900 feet above sea level with numerous untouched peaks over 13,000 feet stretching for over 60 miles south to the Chinese border. The region also has the world’s second largest alpine lake and a number of waterfalls, including the country’s largest waterfall.

The group I am working with to develop eco-tourism in the region is a local family operated company called Shepherds Way (see end of post for how you can help!!). Shepherds Way has worked with international tourists since 1995. Currently the company only takes clients on horse treks, but would like to expand to backpacking treks as they have had many requests from European clients for this service.

The project with Shepherds Way is twofold. First, we will hold a 3 day long guiding seminar where the companies 10 current guides will learn techniques that will give them the skills to lead backpacking treks. This will be followed by an overnight
active practicum where the guides will get a chance to practice the techniques they just learned. Second, over the summer 10 students from the village will be chosen to participate in 4 different hikes in the mountains. This will give the guides the opportunity to pass on their knowledge of and love for the mountains to the next generation of Kyrgyz youth. After successfully implementing this project this summer we have hopes of continuing the development of ec0-tourism by opening a tourist center in the village.

Tourism is the future of Kyrgyzstan and this region is an amazing place for trekking. It would really be a shame if the eco-tourism opportunities this region were developed by big companies from other countries or from Kyrgyzstan’s capital instead of local families in the village. Our goal is to help develop eco-tourism in the region that ensures the local population is an active participate and sees that economic benefit.

More information about the project can be found at Also if you could donate a few dollars to the project we would appreciate any size contributions. The project can be off the ground and running with little investment and small contributions go a long way. Shepherds Way is funding 58% of this project; we just need a little bit of help to ensure its success.

I hope all of you are doing great and I miss each of you a lot! Also, please feel free to pass this project on to anybody you think may be interested.

Below are just a few of the amazing pictures I've taken on treks in the region.

Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Long awaited short stories

I apologize for it being so long since I have updated my blog but, as most of you may know, things were a little crazy over here for a while. Although violence never did reach anywhere close to where I live, as a precaution all PCV’s were brought to a safe consolidation point while the country voted on a referendum. Thankfully, during this vote no violence was reported and all volunteers in the northern parts of the country were able to return to their sites following it.

The southern part of the country continues to be in need of aid and support following the events that took place so please continue to help that effort in any way you can. Thank you to those who wrote or called their representatives and asked for the US to send aid, as that has been done. There are US and other international aid groups now working in the south and some of them are employing former PC volunteers who have lived in this area of the country.

Despite the unrest that arose in the south I have had a great time at my site so far. It is incredibly beautiful and I will try my best to get some pictures up when possible. The school where I teach is big with about 1,500 students. It is three stories high with an indoor gym, outdoor basketball hoops, soccer field and a small playground. I have been teaching some summer school English classes and have about 60 students spread out in four classes that meet three times a week. Students range in ability from just learning our alphabet to pretty advanced 11th graders. It has been a great teaching experience as I have been teaching these classes alone and have probably been learning just as much Kyrgyz as the students have been learning English. After teaching I spend many of my afternoons at the lake relaxing on the beach and planning lessons for the next day. The lake is about a 45 min walk from my house so I’m hoping to buy a bicycle soon.

Below I’ve included a few short stories about some of my adventures—and misadventures. I seem to have mastered the weekly bath but always find a way to make my life interesting.

I’m starting to have the same trouble in KG when it rains that I had in Kenya as I am unable to walk anywhere without both of my pant legs becoming covered in mud. Just as in Kenya, locals are able to navigate rain puddles and mud with ease and come out without a spot of dirt on their clothing. I, however, do not possess that skill.

A couple of weeks ago this lack of cleanliness skill was really highlighted. While walking in the rain to and from school I—like always--covered my pant legs in mud even though I had rolled them halfway up my calf; still muddy. We were moving to consolidation the following morning so I really needed all of my clothes to be clean. When I got home from school I washed my pants in a bucket in my kitchen--easy enough. However, as I ran outside in the rain to throw the water out after finishing up I apparently decided it would be a brilliant idea to dive head first in the mud covering myself from head to toe and spilling the dirty bucket of water all over me. Needless to say I had a little more laundry to do.

I spent the 4th of July in 2009 supplying the best and the brightest of
America’s mid-20ers (and those who thought they were still in their mid-20’s) with massive amounts of alcohol at the world’s longest bar. This year was a little bit different. In the morning my host sister- who is 11- and I attempted to make black bean burgers- which really ended up being lentil burgers but were pretty tasty still. We also made an apple, walnut, and raisin parfait salad and of course we had watermelon. My host family was super sweet and sent the needed ingredients by mashuka (bus) to the house from the closest city on their way to Bishkek the day before and then called to wish me a happy holiday. My site-mate who lives about a 30 min drive followed by a 30 min walk away came over for lunch and then we all walked to the beach where we sat for about 10 minutes playing Uno before the rain chased us back to the house.

Although this year’s celebration was a little different from last year’s, it was still fun—and unlike any I’ve had before. I hope everyone back home had a great 4th!

Most of you have been acquainted with my very annoying attention whistle. You know, that high-pitched sound that I tend to make when I’m bored because nobody is talking to me? Since I know you are all missing it back home I think you will be happy to know that it has made a short appearance in Kyrgyzstan--an extremely short appearance. While finishing up tea a couple of days ago I started whistling without thinking and my host sister informed me that I must stop because my whistle will attract snakes, who will then kill us. She was very insistent about this and for all I know she’s right so now I must spend my next two years whistle free, I’m not gonna lie this may be the hardest cultural adjustment that I have to make. I deal fine with squat toilets; I’m pretty used to showering once a week; and I actually enjoy only understanding half of the conversations I have. But no attention whistle for two years? I now understand culture shock.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Violence in Kyrgyzstan...but I am safe

Hey everyone,

Well the little country that I moved to has made the news again. I just wanted to write a quick note saying that I am indeed safe and am not near any of the fighting. The Peace Corps did have volunteers who were living in the cities and villages involved with these conflicts and evacuations are either completed or in progress. Some of these PC volunteers have already posted blogs about their experiences and I believe if you Google effectively you would be able to read about their stories.

Although the fighting in the South is bad, please believe that I am nowhere near any of it. I live in the North East corner of the country, nowhere near the Uzbek boarder. I am not currently in my village because I was visiting other PC volunteers when the fighting broke out and have been asked to stay put for the time being. The city I am has seen no incidents at all related to these event and does not have the tension that exists in the Southern portion of the country. If not for access to internet and updates from other PC volunteers and staff I would have no idea this was happening (just like the revolution a couple months ago, which I slept through).

According to the news I am seeing now (you all probably have access to much more up to date news) over a 100 Kyrgyzstan citizens have already been killed and the numbers seem to only be increasing. The numbers are even more horrendous in the light that Kyrgyzstan is a small country of just 5 million people. Although I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and well wishes during this time, know that I will be safe along with the rest of the PC volunteers. Please also keep your thoughts with the Kyrgyzstan people -which includes people who are both ethnically Kygryz and Uzbek. The Kyrgyzstan people are affected by this situation much more than any of the PC volunteers are and will be affected long after our PC service is over. So please keep them in your thoughts.

I’m not sure when I be going back to my village or if I will be moved again to an ‘undisclosed’ location. I’ll try to keep you updated whenever I get internet access…but I am safe.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paradise found!

I just received my permanent placement site and I am officially moving to Paradise! I will be on the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul located between the lake and mountains. My site is on hills overlooking the lake, and the beaches are about a 30 min walk away. There are apparently tons of trails taking off from my village and the biggest gold mining site is located straight south of my village, so it's like I’m back in Elko, NV. I am right at the southern tip of the lake halfway between two largish (both are about an hour away). I am also pretty close to a ski resort!

My school has 1500 students and 12 English teachers. My village has about 8,000 people, which is relatively big, but there is no internet….so blog entries maybe sporadic. My Kyrgyz counterpart has worked with a PC volunteer who left last year and apparently she is great. Even though I'll be the only PC volunteer in my village, my site also has a Habitat for Humanity office and international volunteers come in every summer to build houses. Therefore, I will probably meet up with HFH volunteers and help out building houses during the summer.

Anyways, I am extremely excited I have been told by a number of people that the southern part of the lake is one of the best locations in the country. Apparently the Japanese version of the PC does a lot of community tourism work around my village and often includes PC volunteers on there trips-- including ice climbing.... very cool. In fact my village has so many hiking and trekking trails that it is trying to get a community tourism business started… which means I'll have a lot of opportunity for cool side projects!!

Now you all have a reason to come visit me!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

More pictures!

Hey all,
Below are some pictures from a hike in Kyrgyzstan...isn't it pretty? There is also one from the school I teach at. Also I uploaded a bunch more pictures from Kyrgyzstan and from my time in Turkey to my picasa account

Saturday, April 24, 2010

First picture from K-stan

Hey everyone, I finally got a chance to take a few pictures of my village. Unfortunately, I could only upload one to the blog...I am going to try to get more online soon!

Below is a picture I took on my way to school in the morning. On clear days this is the view I see out my bedroom window when I wake up to each morning. See there really are mountains in Kyrgyzstan!NOTE: The postal code for Kant city has changed...I updated the address in the previous blog post, so make sure you use the updated version.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Maybe I'm not meant to be clean

I want to prefix this blog post by saying that it was never my intention to have a blog about showering and to my knowledge no other volunteer in my village is having any problems or confusion with their Banyas. Apparently I’m just no good at bathing. Week three in my village and second Sunday of the adventure (technically third but I spent the second one at an “undisclosed location” so no stories about showering there. Sorry), that means it’s Banya time! I was super excited for my warm Sunday Banya as we have had cold, rainy weather for about a week now. I know I explained last time that a Banya is basically a sauna room where you shower.

This room is heated, of course, by fire. There is an old metal stove/oven in the Banya with a thick metal chimney that takes the smoke out of the room. I hope you all are following so far. I decided that I wanted my clothes to be warm post banya so I laid them out nicely on top of the metal fire pit/ stove/ oven thingy. My glasses were fogged up so it took me a minute to realize that I had actually managed to lay my synthetic-spandex-type-
material Under Armor shirt on the chimney portion of the stove, and it was now engulfed in flames. Acting fast I moved it to the floor and threw cold water on it. The black shirt then proceeded to turn green and then melt back together a couple sizes smaller and missing the majority of a left arm. Oops.

Besides my lack in Banya ability things are going great. I spend the majority of my days in Kyrgyz class and will have the opportunity to start teaching at the local school once a week. For my first lesson I have been instructed to teach the concept and vocabulary associated with Halloween to a room full of 9th graders. We’ll see how that goes. I’m guessing it will involve a lot of practice screaming---and candy of course. As all classes should.

Below is my address in case you want to send me an awesome care-package. It’s best to copy it from here so it’s in both English and Kyrgyz.

725000, Kant city
97 Lenina Street, RUPS
Mailbox # 22
Joanna Ison

ин. 725000, г. Кант
ул. Ленина 97, РУПС
аб. ящик № 22
Joanna Ison