peace corps

I’m in my room laying scotch tape over a flipchart sheet of white paper to try and make a white board for class, while my 15-year-old host brother is in the other room playing Assassin’s Creed on his computer and lamenting the temporary outage of 3G internet. Somewhere there’s a disconnect here…

Work is not a wolf

“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!

Жумуш карышкыр эмес

Jumush karyshkyr emes

“Work is not a wolf”

True to itself and unfortunately quite wholly precedential, there was school today. We were supposed to have the day off. It was planned a week ago or more that all the teachers would use this day to have their required medical check-ups. Well, the hospital in town called last night at 9:00pm to say, “It’s impossible.”

For what reason and how it happened at the last minute I have no idea. I didn’t find out until I woke up at 7:00 and was having breakfast with my host mother who was rushing about getting ready for her first class at 7:30. A bit later I called my counterpart and she was getting ready to head to school as well but added that many teachers didn’t know yet that they had to go to school today and since all the kids were expecting the day off, probably almost none of them would show up. The teachers needed to work on curriculum planning anyway, she said, so it was ok.

I needed to be at home. Not only do I like being at home and lazing about, and especially when I’m told to and have been expecting to do just that for the previous week, but I had promised my host father I would help some with “buckin’ hay.”

I found quickly that I should have gone to school.

These bales of hay were friggin’ heavy. Like, I don’t know, around a million pounds. It didn’t help that the head of the pitchfork kept falling off when I tried to lift the bale up over my head to toss it on the roof of the sheep shack where my host dad was stacking them in neat rows. I couldn’t exactly lift them over my head anyway, and so I would use my knee as a fulcrum, sink the pitchfork handle in the ground, then kind of lift with my shoulder and half hoist half shove the bale onto the low roof.

IMG_1191Upwards is the least fun direction to move stuff

My host dad, always quick with a proverb, must have seen me teetering on the edge of giving up and said in that 66-year-old buckin’ hay voice, “Work is not a wolf. It’s not something to run away from.” My head, already bent from lifting million pound bales of hay with my neck sunk a little lower. How was I going to survive this? We were maybe 8 or 9 bales in on a 100 bale stack.

Work smarter, not harder, Luther. That’s right, I can come up with idioms too, you know.

I built a little series of steps up to the roof out of bales of hay. Then I went and got my host brother.

With the three of us, one carrying a bale, one lifting it on the roof and one stacking it, the work was finished in a little over an hour. The work didn’t turn out to be too much of a wolf, though my hands and arms did look like I’d been mauled by one. Next time I’ll face that wolf with gloves and hopefully, a little more courage and grit.


Edit: Later in the afternoon as I was headed to school I learned that the hospital had changed its mind and so the teachers all left to go get their health screenings. This led to more yard work and further blistered hands. My host father did give me an “atta-boy” though so I suppose the wolf has been scared off, hopefully for good.

Without difficulties, there’s no reason to live

“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!

Жизнь без трудности проживать не стоит

Кыйынчылыксыз жашоону жашап кереги жок

Without difficulties, there’s no reason to live

In this version of Makal Monday, we find ourselves in the middle of a Russian idiomatic saying. Russian culture has had indelible influence on present day Kyrgyzstan, and many of the truisms uttered in Kyrgyz have their origin in the Russian language.

My friend Maksat is yet another king of the proverbial turn and can match almost any circumstance to an image rich phrase. After spending 4 days and 5 nights with him up by the mountain lake Song Kol selling our souvenir Chuko Bones, I too found myself waxing poetic.

Our sales trip didn’t turn out to be the raging success Maksat had hoped. Dreaming of being able to pay off his car with a few short days of selling out of a tent, our long stretches of waiting in between customers gave him plenty of opportunity to reflect on life and just what it means to be going through it. What does it mean to struggle? What is resiliency? What have I learned? What did my father used to say? Where is it all going?

IMG_9655Standing over it all

Maksat’s had his share of difficulties. He lost his father while an undergrad and had to quit school to come home and take care of his mother and household. Shortly after his brother-in-law passed away and so he took on the added stress of helping support his sister who had two children and a third on the way. Because of the cultural duties of the funeral, they had to slaughter many of their animals further adding financial stress. In honor of his father, who had been a math teacher, Maksat enrolled in a long-distance learning program to obtain his teaching certificate and step into his father’s old position. But a teacher’s pay is meager and so Maksat’s been diligently searching for other forms of income.

“The hardship is good in some ways,” Maksat says, “You’ve got something to fight against, a problem to solve, a reason to keep on living.”

Maksat is torn in so many directions—should he try to find work abroad? If yes, where? How much does he want to push against the grueling application processes? How about getting set up with some credit and a new herd of animals? After all, he had scratched out a year and a half long plan of buying and selling cows. Would it be worth it? Or he could go back to school to pursue a PhD in mathematics and work at a university. And what about this Chuko Bones company? Could he make a go of it? Start exporting? Expand into other products?

Maybe it’s his mathematical mind that causes him to search for the proof that life is good and life has meaning. Or maybe he’s just trying to find the most logical path through it all.

During our conversations I chided him a bit on a few of his kemchilikter, or shortcomings. Why didn’t he just choose a path? He had “too many irons in the fire” (he liked that one), was putting “all of his eggs in one basket” (that one not so much), and somehow simultaneously.

IMG_9642Keeping us alive through the protestations of our gasoline heater was certainly one of Maksat’s good traits

We talked about “knocking on doors” and seeing which would open. I told him that sometimes though you just have to put your shoulder to one and push until it gives.

Maybe it’s that I see myself in that place of decision. Here Maksat had an especially good thought: “When you have a difficult decision to make, it’s not the decision that’s problematic. It’s the problem. Your difficulties stem from the problem you’ve found yourself in and making a decision is the way out.” Yet for me, I’m choosing between so many good options rather than trying to figure out how to get out. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to make it easier or harder.

Maybe it’s that we’re blessed by our difficulties. That the lessons we learn by going through them and emerging on the other side enrich our lives in ways we never could have imagined. Maybe it’s the fight that cures us, refining us as in a fire. Maybe that’s the answer, that through it all we find our purpose.