Makal Monday

Fear the chupacabra

“Makal” in the Kyrgyz language means “proverb.” Kyrgyz is full of wonderful and puzzling little proverbs – some that match common proverbs often heard in English and some that are real head scratchers. Most Mondays I’ll post one of the more fun ones for you. Let’s see if we can’t make some of these commonplace in America by the time I get back!

Saktykta korduk jok

Сактыкта көрдүк жок

“With care and precaution, there’s no asking around”

I’m still a little fuzzy on the translation of this one. For some reason it takes about 30 words to explain a Kyrgyz proverb in Kyrgyz and even more in English. But it goes something like this: when care and precaution is taken, one doesn’t need to go beg for things lost through folly.

I’ve been getting a steady stream of Kyrgyz from my new host dad, and lucky for me I have someone so willing to explain. He’s the master of quoting proverbs, always pulling me aside to say, “Baatyrbek—(my Kyrgyz name)—in Kyrgyz we have this proverb…” My ata is 66 years old this year and still works as an ear/nose/throat doctor at the local hospital as well as working several hours a day in his garden. We have rose bushes, garlic, carrots, cabbage, and rows upon rows of potatoes. He keeps a small chicken coop that provides our eggs and six sheep—wait, only five after this evening’s party—and checks the upkeep on the property. He’s a man who has saved all his life and built a household on those savings.

The number of sheep in our yard dwindles as we host parties. But those losses are of our own volition. What ata doesn’t want is to lose one of his sheep to the chupacabra.

Yes world, our little slice of Kyrgyzstan has a chupacabra. “Imported from Mexico,” some say. “Planted by the Americans,” say others. “A half wolf—half dog turned vampire,” say the more outrageous of the bunch. Pictures and video of sheep, dead as a doorknob and white as a sheet, have been featured on the national news. And animals continue to die.

IMG_5331Taxidermic finds in a local museum in Kochkor—my chupacabra vote is for the guy on the bottom right

It’s not the fact that farm animals are getting picked off. That’s an expected part of a life lived on the edge of the wild. It’s the manner of their deaths that’s so strange. Whatever is killing them only sucks the blood. The meat is left on the animal, ashen grey from the absence of the red stuff pumping through its veins.

What it could be is anyone’s guess—or tall tale. Like any good mythological beast, no one can manage to snap a photo. It’s always too fast. Some have claimed to have seen it: a grey/brown, fury/hairy, dog/cat like animal disappearing through a doorway, around a bend, and into thin air.

It’s 11:00pm. Our guests have just left for the night. My ata grabs a flash light, slips into a pair of flip-flops and shuffles outside. He’s a man who has saved, reared, worked and invested. His home is well maintained and his family is well cared for. “Out to lock up the sheep for the night,” he says, “The chupacabra is on the prowl.” Suddenly he pauses, puts a hand on my arm and pulls me close: “In Kyrgyz we have this proverb…” The way ata works, he won’t be asking around any time soon.

Makal Monday: A horse that says ‘I won’t walk’

“Makal” in the Kyrgyz language means “proverb.” Kyrgyz is full of wonderful and puzzling little proverbs – some that match common proverbs often heard in English and some that are real head scratchers. Most Mondays I’ll post one of the more fun ones for you. Let’s see if we can’t make some of these commonplace in America by the time I get back!

At baspaim degen jerin ming basat

Ат басрайм деген жерин миң басат

“A horse that says, ‘I won’t walk,’ will walk that route a thousand times”

Two months after graduating college I found myself alone in a small, tatami mat room sleeping on the floor. I had travelled 6,000 kilometers to teach English in Japan, and wondered as I drenched my sleeping pad with the sweat of a Shizuoka summer what teaching would be like.

I had been a camp counselor on occasion and loved it. I had worked with youth in a number of capacities and had even taken a TEFL class to gain a few skills for potentially teaching abroad. But I had no formal classroom experience and wasn’t sure how teaching English to classrooms full of kids who didn’t really need it would go. It turned out to be similar to teaching math to kids in America; most were there only because it was a required course, weren’t going to be using the subject at any point in their life, and frankly didn’t like it.

There were a few students who made some of the days worth it and of course life outside of school certainly made up for the time with its share of excitement and so I stayed two years. After returning home I knew I wanted to live abroad again. I just wasn’t going to be doing any more of that teaching English business.

Here I am, four years of teaching English under my belt and another on its way. This horse is being spurred on over ground it said it would never travel.

Never say never.


Continuing in the vein of full disclosure, I was disappointed when I received my Peace Corps assignment as a TEFL trainer. Why couldn’t I have gotten something more exciting, like digging wells or something? Ah—because other than teaching, I have no skills.

(If you’re a future potential job employer reading these words, please go back and forget that last sentence. Also, please stop reading.)

I really don’t. I’ve never dug a well, I barely eat any green plant life grown from the ground much less know how to grow it, my only quasi-entrepreneurial experience ended in a sad summer climbing ladders for CollegePro Painters and the sight of blood outside of someone’s body or any medical abnormality for that matter makes me pass out. So teaching English it was.

There really couldn’t be a more tame profession. But add Peace Corps to the mix and the seemingly benign is suddenly pushed smack against the threshold of survival. Every day poses fascinating challenges to overcome: schedule changes, freezing temperatures in classrooms, teachers eating the chalk and kids out harvesting potatoes. Even the Peace Corps Volunteer teachers find themselves in incredibly exciting, albeit harrowing, situations.

And there are kids here who want to learn, even if it’s a smallish handful. Not every single person is going to appreciate having you around, but even so, you’ll reach celebrity status with at least a few of them. And how could you not love the groupies? The ones who, for a single club lesson will chatter at their parents for a week, so excited to have learned a phrase of English from a real live American! (Ok, so maybe it is just the celebrity that keeps me going.)

After saying I’d never do it again, in the end I come back because I love it. I really can’t think of anything easier to do and I suppose that should be a sign that I’m meant to do it. Being in front of a classroom of kids is fun and simple. Or maybe I shouldn’t say simple—I’ve had to learn a lot, read a bunch, practice a ton and train others to figure out what I’m doing. But in the midst of it all, there’s a relaxing ease which makes it enjoyable, interesting and rewarding.

That’s the great thing about teaching English in the Peace Corps. TEFLers do get to see more immediate results and benefits of their work: kids winning spots in international exchange programs, going on to compete in national competitions, getting into good programs at universities and simply progressing on to conversational fluency. And the skills kids gain from having a mentor and teacher who invests his or her life are immeasurable and beyond the scope of quantifying. Being an English Education volunteer is a lucky post.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing in the future. I’m not sure I will go into education once I’m back in the states. Based on experience though, this horse of course, better not say never.

Makal Monday: “Maybe a crow will poop on my hand too”

“Makal” in the Kyrgyz language means “proverb.” Kyrgyz is full of wonderful and puzzling little proverbs – some that match common proverbs often heard in English and some that are real head scratchers. Most Mondays I’ll post one of the more fun ones for you. Let’s see if we can’t make some of these commonplace in America by the time I get back!

Menin Koluma da karga chychaar

Менин колума да карга чычаар

“Maybe a crow will poop on my hand too”

You know that moment. That moment where you’re standing under a tree or maybe a power-line somewhere and something wet hits your head. You’d say it’s rain, but there’s not a cloud in the sky. What is in the sky, however, is a pair of wings and a little feathery body. “Direct hit!” he radios back to command center as he makes his aerial escape.

Of course you don’t have a towel with you. You’re dressed and pressed and on your way to work. You even shampooed your hair that morning to look good for the cute girl in sales. Which is why it’s so fortunate that a bird pooped on you—it’s a sign of good luck—and maybe, just maybe, this is the day she’ll return one of your internal instant messages that you send with all the emoticons.

Being pooped on by a bird is good luck in Kyrgyzstan. I’m not sure if that carries over to other animals, but as I’ve also had the honor of being graced by other varieties I’m going to pretend yes.

That’s the context for this Kyrgyz proverb. The literal translation is “maybe a crow will poop on my hand too” but what it means is “maybe I also will be so lucky.” When good fortune comes to the people around you, you hope that luck will also someday come your way.

As our two year contract is coming to an end this week, the volunteers in my group are looking back over two years of service. The weekend has been filled with goodbyes of so many kinds—toasts, hugs, memories and last shared moments.

Our group ordered T-shirts as a memento to be carried back with us beyond the final days of service and back to the states, something to both honor Kyrgyzstan and to remind us of the connection we will always have. On the front is our Kyrgyz proverb but slightly altered. It says, “A crow did poop on my hand too.”

At times throughout service, being a Peace Corps Volunteer has felt pretty much just like that—getting shat on that is.

And yes, just like the proverb, we’ve been so lucky to serve here in Kyrgyzstan, a country of great wonder, incredible potential, people generous beyond words and an experience that has taught us so much.

Good-bye to all my friends who are leaving! I’ll see you in a year!


It’s easy to criticize the guy who’s doing something

There are numerous empty carcasses caught in the interwebs about Peace Corps being little more than a way for over-privileged college grads to pad a resume or drink cheap beer on a two year adventure. People moan and complain about everything under the sun that is wrong with the system, wrong with staff, wrong with policy, wrong with vision. But in the end it comes down to just one thing: the volunteer himself. What are you, given an all-expenses-paid two year stint in a foreign country, going to do? The options for abuse and ineffectiveness are wide and easily available. But the opportunities to do something great are as tall as the stars and as deep as the hearts of the people you live among.

What I’m doing may not jibe with those in the comfy academic or political swivel chairs. And I admit that I’m not saving the world; no development or friendship program can. But at least I’m doing something. I am sharing my skills and knowledge in order to do my part to try and make my little sphere a better place.

It’s easy to criticize the guy who’s doing something, because there’s something there to criticize. The Peace Corps is that guy – is filled with those people. People who stop gaping at the problem and put their hand to the plow.

There’s a proverb in Kyrgyz that reads: Koz Korkok – Kol Batyr. It means, “The eye is a coward but the hand is a hero.” If you merely look upon all that must be done to make the world a better place, the coward emerges to stomp with his boots of judgment and despair upon what little spark of inspiration had flamed. But put your head down and get to work, and the hand will fan that flame into a vibrant energy that can effect a great change.