Carol Bontekoe

This blog has been keeping track of my adventures since 2004. The stories and the adventures have come from my college dorm room to Uganda, Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan, learning Dutch in the Netherlands to living in the wilds of Homer, Alaska. I went back to school in Amsterdam to study Theaterwetenschap (Theatre Science) at University of Amsterdam. And now my adventures as a Fruit Fly, a Sexy Unicorn, and creating a movement with Team Sparkle in Chicago.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Becoming Aware

I have come to realize that you are never more aware of how many cars drive down the street than when they keep interupting your soccer game.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Culturally Sensitive

The words for welding and Swastika in Russian sound suprisingly similiar. They are even next to each other in the Russian-English Dictionary. So if you live with a German family, in a German community, that has lets say a past. Do not shrivel up in Terror because you think your brother said he has a Swastika Exam the next day. If there is one thing they taught me in Training it is to be culturally senstive, no matter what. And I have to admit I might not have been when I thought my brother had a Swastika Exam, the horror on my face was evident and he had to reshow me in the dictionary. Oh, Welding... well welding is fine.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

so That's where I could get married

Recently, a lurking question that had been running through my mind had been answered for me. On my permenant site visit everyone kept telling me about when I get married in my village, and then when me and my LCF went to my village she also showed me where I could get married in the village. I didn't understand this obsession with me getting married. My permant site had a volunteer there a loooong time ago and she well.... you guessed it... Got married there! So of course me being an American volunteer would do the same thing! I went to a wedding there last night so now I know how it would role if I married a local. I would walk into the school holding a clothe with the best man and groom. Than We would be married in the auditorium. Some stuff is said we would sign the papers. Than our parents come up and give us advice and than the grandparents. Instead of jamming cake in each others mouths we would dip a piece of bread into some salt and feed it to each other. Then the food part is in the cfeteria of the school. It was pretty interesting. I kept trying to make it clear I ahve no intentions of getting married there. They said if I had a boyfriend back home that I needed to come here to get married that was still fine. I kept saying no.At the wedding I sat with the other staff memebers form the school. My favorite teacher was there. I am determined to make her my friend even though she has shown no interest in being my friend. She looks and acts just like Phylis Diller. Her voice is the same even!!! Just ya know speakin' Russian. She used to have the hair but she just got a haircut, still.... SHE WILL BE MY FRIEND! I like rollin' with the senior citizens. One of the teachers husbands is a former Soviet thrower. He kept trying to get me to do shots to join the throwing family together. Everyone was refusing to let me have wine in my shot class and sip it. They said it makes you loopy. Some how my sipping wine would be more damaging than doing full vodka shots! My director, aka my BOSS, was the one who had to talk them into excepting that sipping wine might be better. Overall it was alot of fun and good to socialize with the other teachers. I don't ahve other volunteers in my area so these are the people I need to mke friends with. And ya know it was good to see where I'll get married.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

I'm a Real Volunteer

Well the day that seemed like it would never come, finally came. I and 58 other rag-tag Americans got sworn as Peace Corps Volunteers. I'm officially a PCV. Just thought I'd let you know. It's for real now. I'm out on my own and I gotta start doing some serious work.

Remember that one time we spent two hours chopping sheep butt fat?

I was standing there chopping sheep butt fat, listening to Lydia exclaim, "I'm such a carnivor. I love the smell of meat!", looking out this little rectangular window watching some men take out the guts of a freshly killed sheep. The blood still dripping, the hide just had been taken off, and the head head just been cut off. I was in the kitchen area with the women. A part of Muslim culture(or at least Balkar... I guess it is different by what kind of muslim and where your from etc. etc.) to have a feast and celebrate/morn the loss of a life 52 days after they have passed. Layla's farther-in-law had passed away 52 days ago. Layla is like a second mother to Lydia and I here. We study in her house and when we want to practice our Russian we go and have Chia with her. We offered to help with the preperations with the feast to show some kind of appreciation for her. We aren't actually helpful since we have no idea what should be happening so they gave us the most out of the way task they could. Chopping Sheep butt fat for the Monty. Monty is a really tasty dish here, they are steam dumplings, We chopped up about two sheeps butts worth. We both are pretty tall so our backs were killing both of us because all the counters here are very low. I loved being a part of it, even if I did just chop up butt fat, because I love the sisterhood of working in the kitchen. There were so many women running around taking care of business I got so caught up in my job. When I was done I went to the door and looked out on how the men were preparing. It all looked too much like National Geographic Photos, not my real life. It was cloudy, muddy, and cold. I asked the men if I could come out to their area and observe more closely when curiousity got the best of me. I got to look at the sheep that had just been gutted more closely, and examine the heart, lungs, stomach... all of it. I got to go and sit with two men as they carefully cut the intestines and scraped out the poo(I never would have even thought that that would need to be done). Then I went over and watched as the younger guys took a blow torch and burnt the faces of the sheeps and goat. They also did this too the legs. Then an even younger boy would scrape off the hair. Every part of the animals was being used.Later I got to go to a back room and help prepare monty with a few women. We were eventually told to go out and enjoy the food. It was so weird sitting in a huge room full of women singing muslim prayers in Balkar. The older women sang them from the heart, the younger women had books to refer too. This was the stuff I wanted to see and be apart of. Ten thousand miles from home I could find a community and a place, with barely any language skills and barely being able to chop the butt fat as small as they wanted.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Overcoming Myself

Let me tell you about a girl. A tall girl, from the midwest, who wanted to do some good in the world. She showed up at the airport in Philadelphia on a hot and steamy morning. She hadn't slept for about a week and had just said good-bye to all of her friends and family. She had more bags than the airlines allow, but after years of traveling(mostly on her own) she has figured out how to work the system to get more stuff on the plane. The girl thinks to herself do I really want to move 10,000 miles away from everything I'm used to. The more tired she became the less of a good idea this whole, "Peace Corps" thing started to sound.She has been instructed to go to the University Sheraton. She has no idea where the shuttle she is suppose to catch is. She goes out to the shuttle area. Her arms are tired from carrying her hundreds of bags(okay maybe about four) and her back hurts from here giant North Face Bag being stuffed to the brim. There is only one other person out in the shuttle area. He is 6' foot has glasses on, generally average looking except... the except is the key part... he looks completely dishevaled. His bags are all marked with a Heavy stickers. She suspects that he is also a part of her new life. The boy and the girl look at each other ackwardly. Both suspecting, but neither one saying anything. They nod. They girl decides she'll ask, after all he is at the Sheraton Shuttle port. But, wait... what if he is just going to a Sheraton, not her Sheraton. "Ya, Going to the University Sheraton?" she asks. "yeah."Hmmmmm... same hotel but I don't want to look weird asking if he is Peace Corps if he isn't she thinks. They stand there silently. A Sheraton Shuttle comes up. The boy runs up to the shuttle asking if it goes to the University Sheraton. It doesn't. The shuttle that the boy and girl need is on the other side of the airport. The girl too exhausted to go on, realizes that she needs to do something she has never done. She needs one of those Granny Carts to put her luggage on. She asks the boy, still not knowing his name or if he is with Peace Corps to wait with her luggage, she has to get a cart. He patiently waits, clearly tired himself. When he sees her come up with a cart he grows envouis. He thinks of how he wants a cart. The boy then decideds that since he had to wait with this mystery girl's luggage she could wait with his luggage.They roll off together to the other side of the airport desperately trying to figure out where their desired mode of transportation is waiting for them. Still, no names. Minimal communication as to who they are and what they are doing. They eventually find their shuttle they put their bags into the back of the shuttle and partways. The boy going to the very front seat, while the girl takes the very back seat. Age, name, where they are from, what their purpose of going to the University Sheraton has never been disscussed. The shuttle takes off when a cool hipster girl comes out pleading for it to stop. It does, she is that cool. The girl in the back seat turns and looks at the hipster girl whose luggage is being put in right behind her. She thinks maybe she is with me. The hipster smiles at the ackward girl in the back seat. The hipster recognizes her the girl. The hipster gets in the shuttle moves to the very back seat and sits next to the girl. "Your the whoopie cushion. I'm so excited to meet you. I saw those pics and thought that is a cool girl. I'm Chris." She extends her hand out."Hi, yeah, I'm the whoopie Cushion, my name is Carol. And to be fair I thought other people would put pics up." Carol is refering to a chat site that was set up for the K-14s, where she thinking other people might follow suit put up pictures of herself. One of the pictures of her in a whoopie cushion costume. They shake hands.Carol and her new hipster friend Chris sit in the back talking about the stress of moving everything where they went to college, where they are from, how excited they were. All the "need to know stuff". The boy sits in the front, silent. The shuttle stops at many different Sheratons. Each time the three of them try to get out and the driver has to tell them to get back in, they stopped to drop off someone else. Eventually, when it is just the three of them left he stops at one last Sheraton, their Sheraton. They grab all their luggage and go in they all say they are checking in for the Peace Corps, even the boy. He says his name is Brandon, Carol remembers it wanting to be able to greet him by name later. They all go up to their respected rooms to relax and unwind before having to meet 60 more new people. Later Brandon and Hipster Chris get in the elevator together. They stand ackwardly in silence. The boy decides to make conversation, "There sure are a lot of Sheratons in this town." That was it, that was his big line. It didn't get a response. He was done. Carol didn't speak to anyone til she got in line in the Sheraton's basement later and heard an accent she recognized. The boy in front of her was from Detroit. They were able to talk Tigers Baseball for the next twenty minutes. Her nerves were relaxed, she knew she had at least one person she could talk to for the next couple of years.This story if you haven't figured out was my intro into the Peace Corps. Ackward, shy, confused and in general questioning my every decision. I get sworn in in two days. I will be a real volunteer and another leg of my story starts. I will be moving to a village where no one speaks English, and my job is to teach them. Now when I yell out, "The Twins Suck!" I have no one to turn around and say, "Hey, they are gaining on the Tigers!" and for someone else to nod at me and give me an approving wink. I have already spent months trying to over come my own weirdness, or as Brandon says(we did eventually talk and become friends) "Quirkiness". I don't have the benefit of my native language this time, to talk my way out of the hole I almost always dig when I first meet someone. Now is when why I came is really going to happen. The challenge, the work, the survival... all of it is truely begining now. But, I still have the memories of standing there not talking to Brandon to remind me that I got alot to over come... mainly overcoming myself and the barriers I create in my mind.

Pizza Party

Last night I hosted a Pizza Party. Alctually I didn't do too much hosting I was slaving away outside in the summer kitchen. Last night we did our big thank you party for our host parents. We decided making them an American Meal would be good. So, Pizza and soda is what we went with. We ended up having to by vodka for the party too, it is after all Kyrgyzstan. They ended up also making plov(the national dish, which is rice and carrots and some meat)Our parents dove into the plov and were ignoring my Pizzas that I made until one of the other trainees showed how to pick it up and go about eating it. These weren't traditional Pizzas but if you ever visit me here I will make ya one. We went to the Bazar and got Nan bread. After that I did everything, I don't like sharing my cooking space if I have to explain what to do. I grated up Goat milk. Then I sliced up peppers and onions and sauteed them in Congac(can't remember how to spell it in English!) I sliced up tomatoes and put the tomatoes on then cheese the peppers and topped it off with fresh dill. They were very tasty and Lydia was working the oven and had perfect timing down on them. They weren't exactly what you would get in America, but last night watching people enjoy my pizzas, I have to say I was pretty proud of them.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I have never been fully immerised in learning a new language. I have never NEEDED to learn a language. I have traveled quite a bit and always picked up a few words from where I travel for fun, not for survival. I go to my permant site on Friday after being sworn in on Thursday. I'm pretty excited but I have to prepare myself, because NO ONE speaks English in my village. Not even my counterpart who is an English Teacher. They speak German and Russian. I got frustrated when I visited there before because I have a hard enough time understanding anything anyone says and when I was out there if they realized that I understood what they were saying about me they switched to German. No that isn't really fair! I'm working my ass(sorry mom) off to understand basic Russian and if I understand they switch it on me. We just finished our language tests. The other girl in ym village scored the highest of anyone ever has and I did, alright. If she hadn't set the bar so high I would have said I did well even. With all of our work we still make mistakes. It is this willingness to laugh at the mistakes that has made it so Lydia and I ahve gotten better than some other people. For instance: Just the other day Lydia looked terrified at her host father thinking he said that he was going to cook the dogs. When in reality he said he was cooking FOR the dogs. Lydia's family is still laughing about that one.Here you ahve to get creative when refusing booze, so when a woman asked me the other day if I would like a beer I said, "No, I don't like to drink when I shower." I was trying to say when it "rains". Rain and shower are very similiar words.The one I still get picked on happened a while ago. I was trying to use my new word of the day "always". I tried to tell Mama Saltanat that "The food she cooks is always delicous." The problem is I didn't think the sentence out before I started to say it, so I said, "Mama Saltanat is always Delicous." I knew what I said Lydia knew what I said and Mama Saltanat knew what I said. I hoped that if I didn't move or breathe no one would notice, but it was too late. So, I stuck with what I said and repeated it, "yes, Mama Salatanat is always Delicous."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Getting the unexpected

I have gotten many of something that I wasn't expecting to get here. With the weather getting colder they are all gone but I have gotten many a hot Dueche. WHOA WHOA!!!! Mind out of the gutter, not in front of my Mom. No a Dueche is Russian for shower. Don't worry it never stops being funny having my host mama chase me artound yelling at me that I need a Dueche.See here there are summer showers. What that is, is a bucket with a hole in it hooked up to some tubing. At the end of the tubing is a on off knob and a plastic shower head. The bucket sits on top of the barn and I take a shower right behind it. There are blankets seperating me from the back end of the cows and the chicken coupe on the other side. My family will put watewr in the bucket in the morning and it heats up through out the scolding hot days. So, normally I ahve to take a shower right at sunset to get the optimal amount of heat to really feel free of the dirt and livestock poo that has gotten all over me. Taking a hot shower has new joy for me hear. And it is extra nice taking it at sunset to one side I can see the sun going down and to the other side I can look and see the snow-capped mountains reflecting the red, orange, and yellows of the sunset. It is very relaxing having that view being naked and hearing the donkey going crazy just a blanket away from me.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Lowering your standars

The K-12s and K-13s keep telling us, that while we live here our standards will go down. My idea of fun defiantly have. I live in one of the training villages that is not a party village. We do however have a river. The other girl in the village and I like to stand in the river and drink cold coca-cola. This might not sound like fun but for us this is a ridiculously good time, and a good way to beat the heat. Dogs are attacking us all the time, here so Lydia and I like to take rocks and throw them at other rocks, target practice for the dogs. I don't have time to write anymore since no one is writing me letters, or emails or anything... other than my mom.... so I gotta go find some rocks to throw. I'm defiantly living it up here.

Monday, September 4, 2006

where is the weirdest place you have taken a shot of vodka?

Looking out over the snow capped mountains, holding a tomato in one hand and a vodka shot in the other I thought is this really what my life has come to? Oh, did I mention I was standing in a Russian Orthodox Cementary?We went on our permnant site visits this past week, and my first day I met a German Girl who was guesting at our house. Because my language skills aren't the best I was in the middle of cooking and then abruptly put into a car. I'm sure someone said we were getting in the car and going to the cemetary. The German girl was visiting because her sister had recently passed away and she wanted to see where she was buried.The cememtary is full of little tables, and I'm assuming it is a Russian thing to take shots in a cemetary. They pulled out a brand new bottle of vodka, tomatoes, and bread. See Russians don't do the Coca-Cola and juice chasers. It is normally some kind of vegtable, that day it was a tomato. Peace Corps trains us in all different types of situations where you will be forced to drink, the cemetary was never one of them. I couldn't turn it down being afraid that it would dishonor the dead. They first poured out the first shot poured it over her grave. Then we all took one, said a little prayer and took the shot. I have never been a shot taker myself so I didn't know if making a face would be bad so when I took it I popped my tomato into my mouth as fast as I could looked out over the sun setting behind the mountains and said another prayer.