Another Cup of Coffee

Within the delicate ecosystems that are modern life schedules act as the instruments by which we keep ourselves balanced, and on time. Of course when you find yourself halfway around the word and without a steady schedule your idea of balanced tends to tip over. The Peace Corps is big on using “flexibility” as a buzzword. Saying something along the lines of, “come join the Peace Corps and experience the unexpected excitement of work that matters.” This blanket statement is true to a large extent. The Peace Corps really does give opportunities to people looking to do good work in an out of the way place.[1] However, the boots, sandals, or tennis shoes on the ground experience is always going to be a bit more complex than a couple of sentences can hope to encompass. What scheduling means for volunteers serving at various sites around the world is excitement mixed with [at times] headache inducing stress.

Sometimes you just want to laugh, cry, and follow all that up by slamming your head into the wall.[2] I talked a lot in my last post about how I love life in Toktagul, which is true. However, there are moments where the only thing between a productive and an unproductive day is a good cup of coffee, and that’s not all. There are moments of progress, static, understanding, laughter, stubbornness,[3] elation, stuckness[4], and flexibility. Just this morning I taught two English classes and then not much else. For the space of two hours I was productive, and a schedule is what prompted that productivity. Since that time, however, I have watched an episode of The West Wing, made some rice for lunch, and periodically stared at one of my Kyrgyz textbooks. I have had two cups of coffee today, which makes today twice as productive as most days. Then again most days involve spending more than two hours at school.

Most days I find myself traveling from classroom-to-classroom working on a mixture of classes and clubs with a smattering of other things coming into play as well. Just this past week Toktagul had it’s Rayono[5] wide academic Olympiad[6]. Without getting too far into the nitty gritty let me just say that the Olympiad is an extremely big deal for the schools and students competing. For this reason I was pulled away from my normally scheduled classes, and instructed to focus on teaching those students, and only those students, who were to take part in the English Olympiad. In order to focus on this admittedly extraordinary group of students my counterpart and I had to put a hold on our regular lesson planning, nor was I able to devote much time to any of our side projects. Everything was pushed back a week, and that’s just the way it had to be.

During times like this I am not at the school to be a fountain of ideas or advice. I am there to serve as purely a resource. A sort of interactive English textbook if you will. Teaching five students about test taking strategies, interview techniques, very specific English grammar points, as well as how to engage in active listening was not on my schedule when last week began, nor is it on this week’s schedule. I never wrote it down or had any sort of discussion with anyone at the school about it, yet there it was, last week, just waiting for me to show up. Sometimes my responsibilities are on a schedule, and sometimes I just have to make it up as I go along.

The way it turned out was actually kind of nice as it gave me a more solid schedule than usual. Meaning I had a full day without having to run around trying to gather momentum and will power. Ultimately is was exactly the sort of activity that the Peace Corps tells perspective volunteers about. They also like to follow up that first chestnut with a second. When you get to your country of service the Peace Corps has a second line that they like to say to new volunteers, which goes something like this: “Your service is what you make it.” Every morning I get up and I ask myself, “What am I doing today?” If the answer to the question displeases me then I ask myself a second question: “What do I get to do today?” My service is about trying to make myself available to those who have an interest in learning about a skill that I have knowledge of, or can track down knowledge of. Sometimes that goal takes more than just a cup of coffee.


[1] In my opinion.

[2] When I first tried typing “laugh” my hands decided that I actually meant “live”, which also works.

[3] Of course

[4] It’s a word if I say it is.

[5] Kyrgyz equivalent of a school district

[6] An academic quiz of sorts that is held throughout Kyrgyzstan, and seek to promote learning through a healthy sense of competition.


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