Stop Telling Women to Smile is an art series by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. The work attempts to address gender based street harassment by placing drawn portraits of women, composed with captions that speak directly to offenders, outside in public spaces.
A necessary message…
May Peace Be With You!
"Photo was taken in Kyrgyzstan on August 9th, 2012. We had a 2 week summer camp that taught our kids about leadership and creativity. Each day at camp was a dress up day and the day this photo was taken was Hippie Day!" - Peace Corps Education Volunteer Casey Palmer
Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan spreading the love!
Nice day for a bike ride down to the lake :) (at pristine beach)
A couple weeks ago, there were large protests against Kumtor Mine taking place all along the south shore.
This also happened to be the day I moved to Karakol so it proved to be quite the adventure. The day started off normal enough. I had arranged for a taxi to drive me and my things to Karakol, but upon arriving the taxi driver decided that I had too much stuff and he couldn’t fit it in his car… Thankfully, one of the amazing English teachers at the school, Kushtar, was helping me and her husband just happens to be a marshrutka driver. Five minutes later, a marshrutka was at my house and everyone was helping me cram my things into the back.
I hadn’t really heard much about what was happening until the morning of my move, as I was literally loading my things into the marshrutka. My program manager called to ask how things were in Barskoon and to warn me that there had been protesting in past days and to keep my eye out for anything strange. Everything seemed normal in town, so I didn’t really think much of it.
Not even 20 minutes down the road from Barskoon we ran into the first signs of trouble. I started noticing large groups of men gathering on the sides of the roads outside one of the towns near Barskoon. We continued on down the road only to be stopped 5 minutes later. This time the protesters had blocked the road with cars and themselves. Everything seemed surprisingly calm, despite the hundreds of people milling about. Our marshrutka driver got out to see about getting through. 30 minutes later he reported that nobody was getting through and we’d have to turn around. I did my best to urge him to try again and convince the protesters to let us through but to no avail. We were stuck.
Defeated, we turned around and began heading back to Barskoon. Not even 10 minutes into the trip back we were stopped again, outside of the next town. These protesters had placed large rocks in the road to prevent people from getting through. Now we were stuck on the highway in between 2 large groups of protesters…unable to go to Karakol, but unable to get back to Barskoon.
Thankfully, there was a way around this particular road block and after a bumpy ride along a dirt road we were back on our way and this time we actually made it into town. I returned home, unloaded my things, grabbed some food and was getting ready to hang out for another day when I heard a knock on my door. “The roads are open! You can go now!” The marshrutka driver was back!
So, once again we loaded up all my things and headed out of town. This time we actually made it all the way to Karakol and I was able to move into my new apartment. Later when I checked the news and saw what was going on I was grateful I left when I did, and that the protesters moved down the road closer to the mine.
It was incredibly frustrating being in the middle of all the protesting but it did get me thinking about what was going on. The protests focused on a wide variety of issues surrounding the mine site. Apparently this was all sparked by the renegotiation of Kumtor’s contract with the Kyrgyz government. Many people would like to see the mine nationalized in the hope that this would bring more money into the economy. Others would like Kumtor to contribute more to the local communities through building health centers and hospitals. There are also concerns about the environmental impact of the mine itself.
Regardless of my opinions about these protests, it was impressive to see so many people mobilized and working towards something. From talking to locals, I know the mine is the cause for a lot of various concerns in the region. It is very unfortunate that the protests turned violent and that some were throwing rocks and apparently burning vehicles because it distracts from the purpose of these gatherings, which was to bring awareness to public concerns. Yes, the protests were inconvenient but I don’t think they were completely negative.
It’s hard to get politicians in Bishkek to notice a small town like Barskoon, or all the other small towns along the south shore of Issky-Kul. These people are very concerned about the well-being of their communities and felt there was no other way to go about getting Bishkek’s attention. They were simply taking advantage of their right to express themselves freely and share their needs with their government. Democracy isn’t always a nice clean process. The Kyrgyz people are still trying to find their voice and take control of their own future.
And…I’m back! Sorry for the long silence (anyone out there who actually reads my blog). I have had a crazy couple of months!
First, I was out of site for about a month in order to be a Volunteer Trainer for PST (Pre-Service Training) for our new group of volunteers! It was really great getting to meet everyone and hopefully help them get acquainted with Kyrgyzstan a little bit. Unfortunately, I was also dealing with a lot of other things during that time and I feel like I wasn’t able to give PST 100%. Everything always seems to happen at once here – so I’m either dealing with too many things or nothing at all.
While I was at PST, my site mates decided to leave Kyrgyzstan. Without going into too much detail, there were some safety issues and harassment problems which left all of us feeling a little uneasy at site. Losing my site mates was really hard. It was nice knowing that when something went wrong I had another English-speaking American around to help me out. Plus they were two of my closest friends in country and with all the K-19s leaving this was another big loss. However, they are very happy back in America and I know it was the right decision for them. ☺
Thankfully, Peace Corps decided that with all the issues happening at my site it wasn’t a good idea to leave me there alone. So, I have moved!
I am now living in Karakol – the 4th largest city in Kyrgyzstan! It is about an hour and a half from Barskoon. I have an apartment to myself now which has been so amazing! Readjusting to solo-living (and not having to wear pants) has been shockingly easy. I have officially started to study Russian now, and it’s kicking my butt! It is so great to learn another language though and I’m hoping to speak passable Russian by the time I leave country.
My new work site is called EcoTrek. It is another tourist organization that specializes in guiding longer treks (without horses) around the Issyk-Kul region. I am hoping to have the opportunity to tag along on a few hikes later this summer! My new counterpart is amazing and everyone has been so nice since I’ve started. I think this is going to be a great move for me and I’m looking forward to all the new work I’ll have in the coming year.
So, while the last few months were insane and I had some of the hardest days in country yet, everything seems to have worked out for the better in the end. More updates soon!
We’re proud to announce that we will begin accepting applications from same-sex domestic partners who want to serve together as Volunteers overseas!
Same-sex couples may begin the application process starting Monday, June 3.
Shortly after writing my last post, I was told that my family was going guesting a few doors down for a birthday party and that I should come. It was already 8 and I was about to start getting ready for bed, but what the hell – I went.
I was the only woman seated at the head of the table, next to a familiar drunk man who is at my house quite often (still not sure of his name). He made sure I had plenty of food in front of me at all times, and harassed me any second he caught me not eating.
At first, I was enjoying the Kyrgyz form of entertainment – random outbursts of singing Kyrgyz songs– which is something you’d rarely see in America. It’s actually kind of a nice way to keep their culture alive. However, this moment of admiration was cut short when the vodka came out.
This was apparently a birthday party for a 5-year old, but I only saw him once. The rest of the evening, the adults sat in a different room toasting and taking shots “for the boy’s birthday”, “for Nooruz”, “because the children came and sang”, “because you gave a toast”. The number of reasons we had to take shots is ridiculous. I did my best to not take whole shots, but apparently when toasting for children and Nooruz, this is unacceptable.
I managed to maintain my composure, despite the excessive amounts of vodka and beet salad. At some point in the night, I saw a man open a bottle of wine with a 2L bottle of Sprite…and after that things get a bit hazy. Probably my most authentic guesting experience to date, but definitely something I’d like to keep to a minimum.