A Day in the Life of Christian Deitch in the Kyrgyz Republic
- Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Kyrgyz Republic
In America, I always woke up to the electronic beep of my alarm clock. But in my community in the Kyrgyz Republic, I wake up every morning to a very different sound. At sunrise, all my neighbors let their cows out to pasture. The local cowboy will ride down the street on his horse, cracking his whip to move them along. Unfortunately, cows—much like myself—aren't morning creatures. Inevitably, an ornery bovine will halt in front of my house and, right by my window, let out a long, low moo. Although cows are gentle animals, their moos can sometimes sound as irritating as the incessant beep on an alarm clock. It's hard to go back to sleep after a cow moos next to your window.
That's how my day starts. I get up, fiddle with my propane stove for a few minutes until I'm able to get a steady flame, and then cook myself a quick breakfast of three eggs. In America I ate eggs only occasionally, but here they are cheap and plentiful. Next, I dress, give my dog some milk, and let him out for the day. Then I walk to my school, where class begins at 8:30.
My school looks like every other school in the country. It is built in the shape of an H, with a gymnasium and offices on one end of the H, and three stories of classrooms on the other. My classroom is on the third floor. By the time I climb up the unevenly built stairs, my students are waiting outside the classroom door. I open the door and all the students enter. The boys all shake my hand before they enter the classroom, although lately they've been giving me "high-fives."
I teach until one o'clock in the afternoon. At that time, the older students finish their day and the school becomes an elementary school for the younger students. I take a break for lunch and walk to the center of my town where women sell small round loaves of bread, called lepyoshki, from baby strollers. I buy one, go home, and make myself lunch: a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. In America, I ate peanut butter nearly every day. But you can't find peanut butter in the Kyrgyz Republic, so I've asked everyone I know in America to send me a jar.
At two o'clock I head back to school to teach two English clubs. Three 17-year-old students are nearly fluent, so we usually read English poems or short stories together for 90 minutes. At 3:30 p.m. the second club arrives. This club is made up of my best students from the younger classes. During our meeting, we work on grammar and vocabulary activities. Thursdays are American "movie days." The younger kids don't understand very much of the language, but they all appreciate the chance to see a movie and listen to me explain it.
My schedule makes life in Kyrgyzstan sound relatively easy, but in truth it's not. It took a lot of getting used to. First of all, I have electricity only in the early mornings and after six o'clock in the evening. I teach my classes without electric lights; only two classrooms in the school have regular power. It doesn't affect my classes because the students are all accustomed to having no power in the school; now I am, too. At home, however, I have a harder time, since I have a few things that need electricity—a radio, a toaster, and a small pitcher that boils water.
The availability of water and electricity shape the day for everyone in my village. We plan our schedules around the times when we will have electricity. Potatoes for dinner are cut and peeled before the power comes on—that's usually the most preparation that can be done until the electricity returns. Dinner starts an hour after all the lights come on. Breakfast and lunch usually consist of tea and bread. During the day, people boil small amounts of water—enough for tea—in a samovar, which is a large urn shaped like a teapot. The bread is cooked in the evenings in a pan.
Thankfully, water is plentiful. The Kyrgyz Republic is a mountainous country, and mountain streams provide water for most of the country. There are deep wells in my village, and most blocks have metal spouts in the street where the water flows freely. When the water level drops, there are deep wells in a few backyards. But having a bucket with water isn't the same as having running water in your house. Doing dishes, washing clothes, and bathing all take extra time, so I have to plan ahead.
In winter, things get difficult. My school isn't heated, so from November to March I teach in a hat and gloves, and the students wear their jackets in class. I don't wear my jacket when I teach, but whenever I have a free moment I put it on. Because the temperature can get down to ten degrees below zero at night, and doesn't rise above freezing during the day, many students don't come to school in December. This is primarily due to the fact that many students don't have the proper clothing to go outside on especially cold days. And since January is so cold, school is cancelled for the entire month.
The people in my village all depend on their crops. When the spring rains come, my students miss days of classes in order to help plant crops in the fields. And when the ground gets dry and the leaves start falling from the trees in October, they harvest the crops. A good harvest means they will eat well for the rest of the year, so missing a few weeks of school seems less important in comparison.