TelephonesCellphones are extremely useful here, though coverage can be spotty, even in the cities. If you have an old phone and a charger that works with 220 volts, you can bring it. The Peace Corps recommends that you not buy a new phone before you leave nor bring an expensive phone as they tend to get lost. If you do decide to bring a phone with you, make sure that it is “unlocked” so it will be compatible with a local SIM card. IPhones, Android phones, and other sophisticated phones will work, though some data services may not be available. Keep in mind that the post will provide you a cellphone with most basic functions upon your arrival to the country. You will buy minutes for the phone as you need them.
InternetVolunteers bring a laptop or tablet with them, along with other devices for external storage and backup, such as external hard drives and flash drives. Volunteers communicate by email from Internet cafes, work computers, and by connecting their laptop to the cellular network with the help of a small modem if they can get a connection.
Housing and Site LocationPeace Corps Kyrgyz Republic assigns Volunteers to the sites with the greatest need and to schools and organizations that demonstrate potential for making the best use of Volunteers’ skills. Peace Corps Kyrgyz Republic recommends homestay for the full two years of service. The reasons for this are that Volunteers that live with families have better language skills, deeper understanding of the local culture, easier integration into their communities, and fewer security incidents. Volunteers living in some towns may have the option to move to apartments after 6 months of service, while those living in villages will only have the option of living in the home of a host family or in a compound (separate housing on the grounds of the host family). Housing will have simple basic furniture such as a bed, a table and chairs, a wardrobe or bureau for clothing, and access to a stove and a refrigerator. The Peace Corps will provide you with a water filter or distiller. Because winters in the Kyrgyz Republic are cold and many heating systems are inadequate, the Peace Corps may provide you with a coal allowance depending on your living situation. Still, you will probably need long underwear and perhaps a warm sleeping bag. You need to be very flexible in your housing expectations. Indoor toilets are rare in the villages. Water may arrive by bucket from a well or public tap, and electricity is not reliable. The Kyrgyz Republic uses 220 volts, 50 cycles; if you plug a 110-volt (the U.S. standard) appliance or radio into a 220-volt socket, it will be damaged and possibly destroyed.
Living Allowance and Money ManagementThe Kyrgyz Republic is a cash-based economy. There are now ATM machines in the major cities, but there are limited opportunities to use credit cards. As a Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will live at roughly the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. You will receive a modest monthly living allowance (deposited in local currency into a bank account you will open at your site) to cover food, utilities, household supplies, hygiene products, clothing, recreation and entertainment, local transportation, telephone calls, reading materials, and other personal expenses. The amount of this allowance may not seem like a lot of money, but you will find yourself earning more than many of your colleagues and their supervisors. You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance in local currency to purchase household items when you move to your permanent site. The settling-in allowance is intended to defray part of the costs of items such as cooking utensils, dishes, towels, and blankets. Finally, you will be given a quarterly program travel allowance to support regional exchanges with other Volunteers and to travel to Bishkek to visit international organizations or meet with your program manager. This allowance is designed to encourage Volunteers to exchange knowledge, skills, and best practices about their primary and secondary projects with one another.
Food and Diet
Once a nation of nomadic herders, today’s citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic choose a diet reflective of this nomadic heritage; traditionally, herders got everything they needed to survive from their animals. Today’s diet still relies heavily on meat and a limited selection of vegetable, with much food fried or boiled. There is a wide range of fresh food for sale in markets throughout the country during the spring, summer, and fall. Selection in the winter is very limited. Most local markets have white, pinto, mung, and red beans; chickpeas and split peas; pasta, rice, peanuts, and other nuts. Cheese, eggs, and milk are available in many, but not all, markets, and potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions can be found almost everywhere. Tofu is available in larger towns. Oranges, bananas, and apples can be found in some parts of the country but are often expensive. It’s difficult to be a vegetarian in Kyrgyz Republic, but possible. The cost of purchasing fruits and vegetables out of season can be very expensive and preserving fruits and vegetables while in season requires planning, but previous Volunteers have managed. Due to the local diet and cultural importance of sharing meals with host families, Kygyz Republic would be a difficult placement for vegans. Those with gluten intolerance should be aware that bread has a role both in tradition and as a food staple.
TransportationMost Volunteers travel within the country in commercial minivans (called marshrutkas), but some choose to pay more and hire long-distance taxis. Although the vans often do not operate on a set schedule, there is regular public transportation between cities. Travel by bus among cities is also possible. Because of safety issues, Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two-or three-wheeled motorized vehicles for any reason. Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive private automobiles or tractors. There are also affordable domestic flights linking the two major cities, Bishkek and Osh. Road travel between oblasts after dark is prohibited and road travel within oblasts after dark is strongly discouraged; violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.
The Kyrgyz people are well known for their hospitality, and most social life at Volunteer sites centers on visiting friends’ homes, a custom known as “guesting.” Guesting means being invited to a home for a meal and conversation; this could last up to five or six hours, depending on the time of day. As the only American present in a community you will often be the guest of honor. Being a guest in a Kyrgyz home can be simultaneously rewarding and stressful. The local people, whether ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, are hospitable, charismatic hosts. This means that you, as the guest, will be constantly encouraged to eat and drink more and more. Although it can be difficult to convey to your hosts that you have had enough to eat or drink and would like to go home, Volunteers find that they are better able to manage such situations as their language skills develop. Alcohol is prevalent in most social situations in the Kyrgyz Republic and can cause stress for Volunteers. The pressure to drink often eases as a Volunteer becomes better known, and some Volunteers abstain from drinking at their sites.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Professional dress is required in the workplace, which means slacks, or knee- to calf-length skirts with blouses or dresses for women. Pressed chinos or dress slacks with collared shirts with jackets or sweaters are appropriate for men. Sports shoes and flip-flops are not appropriate in the workplace. Volunteers should bring work-appropriate shoes and note that clean shoes are a sign of professionalism. While the Kyrgyz Republic is a predominantly Muslim country, western styles of dress are popular for women in all but the most rural and conservative areas. While Volunteers should dress modestly, they will find that in casual settings most modest clothing considered appropriate in America is also appropriate in Kyrgyz cities. Dress is very important in the Kyrgyz Republic. People are judged by the way they dress in the Kyrgyz Republic, more so than in the United States. Your colleagues will dress as professionals and for you to do otherwise would be considered disrespectful. If you come to work inappropriately dressed, your colleagues, students, and others in the community will probably not say anything to you directly but may talk unfavorably about you to others. Following the lead of your co-workers will help you gain acceptance and respect in your community.