It's official...I'm a volunteer!!

Trip Start Jan 16, 2005
Trip End Apr 17, 2007

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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Thursday, April 7, 2005

Well, it's official now. I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer...yep, that's right I've gadiated' from PC training and Uzbekistan better watch out now! Hehe. The swearing-in ceremony took place on Tuesday, April 6, 2005 at a beautiful theatre in Tashkent. We were all dressed up in our nicest and most ethnic clothes...some even had dresses made for the occasion. Our host families were in attendance, along with our counterparts (for each volunteer this is the person who will be responsible for helping you throughout your service and who lives at your site...usually someone who is part of your school or organization). The US Ambassador, Jon Purnell was in attendance and gave a wonderful speech, along with 2 Uzbek foreign ministers, the PC Country Director, and our Training Director. It was wonderful...we sat on stage...all 64 of us and one of the foreign ministers came up to us before the ceremony to let us know that our Visa's had been approved and were now processing. For those of you who don't know...we have had visa issues since we have arrived and getting them extended and/or renewed is a consistent 24/7 effort for the PC staff. Our biggest concern about getting to our sites has been the question of whether the visa issues will be solved in time. So, the verbal promise is that it has been taken' care of and we are approved. That's the short story, but still this is wonderful news. So, anyway...from that point they played both national anthems...and hearing the US national anthem overwhelmed me with so much emotion that I usually only feel when I hear it played during the opening ceremony for the Olympics. It was very touching and great to hear yesterday...I closed my eyes, held my right hand over my heart and was home. Talk about holding back the tears! The speeches were very touching and some of the volunteers even made speeches in Uzbek and in Russian which the crowd responded fabulously to. When the ambassador made his speech he referenced his 20+ year in government and frequently referenced how many diplomats he has met in his life that work for our government, the UN, USAID, etc who are also former PC volunteers. This is something I already knew but hearing him say it and commenting on the type of people they are felt great to hear as it is inspiring and encouraging to many of us. Okay, so after the ceremony there were lots of pictures being taken by everyone! Don't forget to check out the pictures associated with this posting. We all scrunched into a charter bus after that and were hearded...I mean a wonderful restaurant in Tashkent with some funny name like Little Tiko...and had a great (almost American) meal. It was grilled chicken (no, not skinless or trimmed of the fat...come on now, I am in Uzbekistan) and steamed new potatoes (awesome) 2 or 3 different salads that were super scrumptious and get this...Tomato Soup!! OMG. Even this soup...that tasted very similar to campbells-in-a-can soup w/ just a few more spices tasted so devine that I asked the wait staff for a second bowl...yes, in Russian, and that apparently impressed them and they obliged! See, people are not usually customer service trained around here, so you really have to work to get what you want sometimes. I can tell you some horror stories (well, financially they were horror stories) about a few of my not so great experiences trying to get what I want in cafes in this country. By the way, you don't special order here...just in case you were wondering since you know how often I do that in the states. You eat what you are given, even if it's not what you thought you asked for! Anyway, I digress. The dinner was wonderful and they had live entertainment (a Sax player) and then the PC staff presented the training staff and us with our official certificates and one of the volunteers gave a little performance. The day was just so touching and filled with wonderful emotion that when the main events were over I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I went back to the hotel and took a nap! Okay, yes, I know I'm getting old. Most of the volunteers went out that night but my close buddy Mary and I stayed in and just had a pleasant, quiet evening. We had all stayed up late the night before dancing and playing/watching many beer-pong games. However, I was eliminated in the first round of beer-pong, lucky for me and my desire to stay sober! My counterpart showed up during my round, when I was having to down some beer (since we were losing) and luckily she didn't think less of me for it! We (my counterpart, Nasiba included) spent many hours that night dancing and singing along to any song we recognized...even if it was a ridiculously out-of-date pathetic song! Familiarity is a big thing around here...quality is lower on the totem pole of importance. Oh, I guess I should mention that the PC staff set us up to stay at a hotel during the Counterpart-conference/swearing-in ceremony...which was Monday - Tuesday. It was so nice to stay in a hotel and have a shower. It doesn't matter that it was in no way close to even a Day's Inn standard...all I cared about was that I had a door that locked, a somewhat soft bed and a hot shower!! Back to the conference I've mentioned we met our counterparts on Monday and mine is Nasiba and she is and will be a wonderful counterpart. She speaks English, Russian, Tatar, and Uzbek. Wow, huh?. She is very friendly and I can already tell a very action-oriented girl who when she wants something she goes after it...remind you of anyone? I think we will make a very dynamic duo in Navoi (By the way it's pronounced Nah-vi-e with the "i" and the "e" in this phonetic spelling being hard vowels). Anyway, she has lived there all her life and started working with my organization in the past year. She is studying English at the local University and is in her 2nd year. I'm impressed by her English and we have agreed to mentor each other in language...Russian for me (Uzbek and Tatar lang. will have to come later) and English practice for her. I'm very devoted to becoming as conversant in Russian as I possibly can while here. PC will pay for me to have a language tutor once I get to site and I definitely want to take advantage of that. Have I told you that I passed my Russian Language Proficiency Interview at a Novice-High level? That was the passing level for being asked to become a volunteer and after only 2 months of language training I'm thrilled by this. This 20 minute interview conducted completely in Russian was recorded and sent to the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in the US and will be kept on file for future use when I start applying for jobs in the future when I can use this skill! I really want to leave Uzbekistan in 2 years and speak at an Advanced level. The ratings go from Novice (Low, Mid, High), Intermediate (Low, Mid, High), Advanced (Advanced, Advanced Plus), and Superior. Right now I can speak some basic Uzbek-cha which is only useful in greeting and meeting new people. Uzbek is a beautiful language and is definitely easier to learn then Russian. I hear Tatar is also beautiful and since my counterpart and my host mom at my new host family in Nah-vi-e are Tatar I will be able to maybe learn a little from them about this language.
Okay, so I realize this post is getting very long and for those of you not asleep yet and still reading waiting for the real dirt on my life here...keep waiting. Hah! So, I have to tell you that you will also see some pictures in this posting of the mountains close by. I went hiking twice last week since we have a little spare time now, and between 6-7 of us went each time. It was such a physical challenge to do this as we went far and high the second time and I'm encouraged to keep going and challenging myself more every chance I get. Of course, I will soon be living in the desert so I will have to travel more than 15 minutes to get there unfortunately! Anyway, we had a marvelous time I tried to get some great pictures to share. I hope you enjoy them. I will say "Paca!" for now and meet up with you again when I get to Nah-vi-e next week and can send you a post from this place I will call home for the next 2 years.

Much love to all!

(I send my deepest sympathies out to all my catholic friends and any others who have been deeply touched regarding the news of the Pope's passing. He was a wonderful man and I know there is much mourning going on regarding him.)
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