Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I can hear the next-door neighbor's rooster cock-a-doodle-doing and it
is nine o'clock at night, pitch dark and definitely not dawn. Isn't a
rooster supposed to send out a morning wake up call? This rooster
definitely has a different understanding of what his job description
is. Usually I can hear him in the morning too, but not always.
Though every evening he incessantly makes the world know that he is
ready for nightfall. Maybe he got tired of waking up early and
decided to change his post. Or maybe he is confused. Or maybe
roosters don't actually cock-a-doodle-do at sunrise, but that it is
just a nicety written in children's books. Or maybe roosters in
Turkmenistan are different from America. No matter his reason, it
strikes me that I am like that rooster, slightly confused and
anomalous in my life here.

If I begin to feel like things are normalizing, there is always
something that reminds me that I still have a long way to go until my
life settles here. My routine helps me feel like I have some
direction, but what is written out on my schedule doesn't necessarily
make it happen. I never find out schedule changes until after the
fact, so inevitably my classes get switched without me knowing and I
wander the halls in search of my students when everyone else knows
what is going on (except for me of course). Then last week I found
out that I had mice in my room and although I was grossed out that I
had a rodent infestation, it was the panic at 2 a.m. when I realized I
had no idea how to solve the situation that made me feel helpless.
Being outsmarted by the Turkmen vermin really put me at a low-point
and I just kept thinking to myself, I would know exactly what to do at
home, go get a trap and put a piece of cheese in it, but here I just
don't know what to do. In tears I moved out to the living room where
I slept until my host-mom found me curled in a ball on the floor.
With-in minutes after stammering through my story, she had thrown the
cat in my room and with-in an hour the cat walked out with breakfast.
Usually I despise cats, but I have been sleeping with Kesha in my room
every night since. Even a perfectly solvable situation can feel like
a conundrum because the solution that I know is not possible. Or
there are little things, like the stove that I constantly have
problems with. I light a match and set it on the burner and since
there is no handle on the knob that controls the gas, I have to use
the end of a spoon or fork to turn it. About two-thirds of the time I
nearly burn my eyebrows off by turning it too high or accidentally
turn it off when I try to turn it down a bit. My host-mom or
host-sisters will see me struggling and try to help, but that almost
makes it worse because I feel like I can't even manage something
simple by myself. I want to find my independence here but since a
first grader is probably more adept than I am in Turkmen ways, I still
often rely on my host-family to hold my hand. It is okay that I am
still unsettled because I am learning and observing how Turkmen handle

On the other hand, even if the Turkmen way is not my first instinct, I
can teach my host-family and friends about how I do things in America.
I peel bananas from the top and they peel bananas from the bottom,
and although it may not seem like a big deal, I always get comments
about my banana peeling technique. I am often told that my way is not
the correct way to peel bananas, but I shrug it off and say that there
is often more than one way to do things. So many of the simple things
that I do raise alarm because they are not the Turkmen way and the
questions never stop. I have been fortunate enough to travel and see
other cultures and traditions, and I consider myself accepting of
things foreign to me. For many of the people in my town, I am the
only foreigner they have ever met and I am so unusual and interesting
for them. My glasses are strange (I have been told that Turkmen all
have perfect vision). My shoes are different (but I had a lady offer
to buy them off my feet). The way I walk is weird (my steps are too
big I have been told). I smile too much and I carry a water bottle
full of water (not tea). I am constantly stared at and watched no
matter where I go. Sometimes I forget how much of an anomaly I am
until I pass someone who openly gawks at me. It is nice to escape into
the city where there are enough Russians so that I can go unnoticed.
I miss anonymity. I miss being able to escape into a crowd of
people—black, white, tall, short, blonde, brunette—and being

Every volunteer is different, and every site gets to experience a
different type of America. And that is exactly what makes America so
fascinating—the diversity of its people. A student came up to me the
other day and asked me if it was true that America now has a black
president. She asked me how that could happen since Americans are not
black. There is not one face that can represent America because it is
a melting pot of all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs. My
America is totally different from that of Jessie's or Tess' or
Megan's. But when we all come here, we all unite in the one big thing
we have in common—The America! Among each other we melt back into our
American selves and we speak freely in our common language. We can
understand each other's frustrations and problems, sacrifices and

There goes the rooster again. Cock-a-doodle-do. Still not morning.
Yes, I am like the rooster that doesn't know sunrise from sunset, but
he goes about his business day after day without fail and so will I.
He doesn't seem to care that all the rest of the roosters announce the
sunrise, he sings whenever he feels like it, and so will I!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Road To Pedagogy

My life has fallen into somewhat of a routine now that my schedule has
been finalized. My teaching schedule has changed dramatically since
my counterpart left after New Years holiday and I have been working
hard with the other teachers at my school to set up new clubs. Peace
Corps says we have a mandatory 18-20 hours a week at our primary job
site. As of right now I have about 25 hours per week and I feel like
it is a good amount for me. Not close to the regular forty hour work
week in America, but I come home twice as exhausted as I did back in
the states.

My students are honestly the joy of my life here. I work with about
100 students in my clubs and several hundred more in all the classes
that I help team-teach. I started with clubs for the 7th through 10th
grade students and now I have expanded to include all grades and
teachers. I have an "Art and English" club with my adorable 1st-3rd
grade students. For my first club, one of the mothers who had brought
her son had lined up all of the students outside my door in a line
that curved all the way around the corner, and I panicked a little
when I saw more than twenty eager little faces staring up at me. How
could I manage twenty tiny ones with my Turkmen skills? These kids
are amazing. They listened attentively, hands on the desks, minds
alert as we recited the alphabet song and worked on the first page of
our illustrated ABC books. "A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat, D for
Dog." I have never seen young students that respectful in America!
They are so cute and I am so happy to work with all of them. Their
energy and eagerness just light up my day and restore my faith in what
I am doing here.

Last Sunday was the Garashsyzlyk Etrap Olympiad and three of my
advanced students won first place in their grade and will move onto
the Lebap Welayat Olympiad. Every school has a preliminary Olympiad
and the 1st and 2nd place students in each subject then compete at the
Etrap level. For English, they take a grammar and vocabulary test and
are then given a topic to write a short composition about and then
speak about in front of the judges. I am so proud of my students.
Jennet and I have been spending free class periods with them reviewing
advanced grammar topics like passive and active voice, which to be
honest, I am still unsure of how to explain clearly. Although they
need to know these really difficult grammar topics for the Olympiad,
they breezed through the basics so fast that they still need review,
and I basically started back at the beginning with them. We began
with greetings, but I wanted to expand on the "Hello. How are you? I
am fine." dialogue that they know, and I gave them new greetings like
"What's up?" and "How's it going?" and many adjectives of mood so that
they can actually express how they really feel (you don't always have
to be just "fine"). We are now onto the present continuous tense with
the question "What are you doing?" An example of one of my lessons is
as follows:
1.) Warm-Up: Greet each student. Collect homework. Play around the
world with the previously learned vocabulary.
2.) Presentation: Present Continuous Tense
- Teach these eight verbs: okamak=to read, oynamak=to play, yatmak=to
sleep, gitmek=to go, yazmak=to write, dinlemek=to listen, okatmak=to
teach, owrenmek=to learn
-Review the verb 'to be'
*I am
*He, She, It is
*You, We, They are
-Explain in Turkmen that this tense is simple and the verb 'to be' is
used as a helper verb and that the subject of the sentence must always
be said first
-You must first take the 'to' off of the verb and add the suffix -ing
-Write on the board: Subject + 'to be' + main verb + ING
-Write on the board some examples: Men okayaryn= I am reading, Ol
(oglan) oynayar= He is playing
3.)Practice: I give them a subject (I, You, He etc.) and I act out the
verb. Tell the students to make a sentence in the present continuous
tense using the verb that I am acting out.
-Repeat this until all the students are translating well
4.)Application: Charades
-Divide the class into two teams. One student must act out a verb and
their team must make a sentence using the subject that I give them.
If they make a sentence, they get a point. If they can't, ask the
other team.
5.)Homework: Write seven present continuous sentences, one for each
subject, using the new verbs.

My lessons all include interactive games and activities that get the
kids speaking as much as possible. Most lessons here are teacher
centered, and my goal is to have my kids speaking more than me in

Apart from these two clubs, I have a Beginner 7th-10th grade club, an
Intermediate 7th-10th grade club, a Beginner 4th-6th grade club, an
English Teachers club and a non-English teachers club. I have more
than enough kids in each club and I have had to start turning kids
away because I can't take anymore. For my first 4th-6th grade club I
wrote on the poster, and told all the kids that they couldn't be late
to the club. I had a full room at 2pm and I locked the door. I still
had kids knocking, but all I said to them was, "I told you not to be
late!" I know it seems harsh, but if they had really wanted to be
there, they would have been there. There are 1,400 students and I
have to set my limits on numbers or else the effectiveness of my
teaching decreases by so much. I arrive at school around 9am and I am
usually there until 4 or 5pm. I eat lunch when I can at the school
cafeteria where my host-mom and host-sisters work. I get soup and hot
pumpkin filled pastries almost everyday. When I have free periods I
prep for classes or go drink tea with the other teachers. Now that my
days have a routine, I am beginning to feel settled in (to a certain
extent). We joke among the PCVs that some days all you can manage is
showing up to work—that's the hard part. Once I get to my classroom,
all decorated with the various school supplies I have been sent, maps
and pictures from home, I can pick up the chalk and write out the new
words on the blackboard. Then when the kids come bounding into my
room, they bring all the energy that I was missing that morning when I
woke up, and suddenly I am ready to teach.