Life in Tokmok has been an adventure. Just crossing the street to go to the store is sometimes the most adrenaline-inducing part of my day! One day, I saw a young boy running with his cow down the street, just as naturally as though the cow was a pet dog. The season is changing into autumn, and the mountains and forests are more similar to Canada than I imagined they would be. Tokmok had its first snowfall, but the weather has otherwise been warm and sunny on most days.
Teaching has been both very rewarding and challenging. The very first class I taught was a third grade group with more energy than I thought was possible. The culture of discipline and the organization used in the school involves an approach I am not used to. Adjusting to the culture, teaching in Russian, and receiving spontaneous class schedules have been teaching me to be flexible in both my expectations and abilities. My students are very loving and it is a joy for me to experience working with them; they inspire me to strive to improve all the time. One of my students dreams to go attend Loma Linda to study pediatrics, while others hold high goals and dream of seeing the world. The staff here is a blessing to work with and I am thankful that the teachers begin each morning with a staff worship and prayer for their students. God’s presence in this school is definitely evident.
I was fortunate to experience Teacher’s Day, during which students became teachers for the day while the teachers were given time to fellowship, to enjoy class presentations, and to have a meal in a restaurant in Tokmok. While at the restaurant I discovered that it is culturally acceptable to fill grocery-store bags with leftover food to bring home! The food involved many different soups, Russian-style salads and the tradition Kyrgyz plov and mantu (dumplings filled with vegetables). Other favourite foods of mine here include lipushka (bread that is similar to nan) and shagman (a noodle dish with spicy stew). Another celebration held during autumn includes a fall festival similar to Thanksgiving. Each class put together creative decoration displays using fruits and vegetables, and a food fair with delicious baked goods. The money raised from the fair will be used to buy food to feed the community.
The church community in Kyrgyzstan is inclusive and welcoming. I attend two different SDA churches here in Tokmok. The first is a Russian church in which the service is very similar to that of a Western church, with a song service, children’s’ story and sermon. The second church is the Kyrgyz National Church, which offers an intimate and unique fellowship experience. The main sanctuary room has no furniture, only carpets and pillows. Shoes are removed at the entrance, and it is customary for women to cover their legs and feet. The congregation sits on the floor around the perimeter of the room, and the service is held in the Kyrgyz language. Sabbath school involves the congregation breaking into smaller groups; we sit in circles and discuss the lesson in a mix of Russian and Kyrgyz languages. The songs are in Kyrgyz, and I am quickly learning to read the language, as the majority of its alphabet is similar to Russian. During prayers, Adventist Kyrgyz people have adopted the Muslim method of cupping the hands in the lap, and bringing them to the face after saying “amen.” The gesture is an indication of God filling the hands with His blessings, which are
symbolically brought onto the person when the hands are brought to the face. When Muslim people see Adventists praying this way, they are often amazed at the similarity they share and feel more connected to the Adventists that they meet.
I had the privilege of attending the much-anticipated baptism of a young woman and student in our Spanish and English clubs who was previously Muslim. The baptism was a very joyous occasion. The main goal of the volunteer team here in Tokmok is to build a long-term connection between the students and community of Nasledie SDA School and the local Adventist Church. To do so, we are implementing several strategies this year and involving as many local people as possible in order for the projects to survive and grow in the long-term. One of the challenges I faced upon coming to Tokmok was that there were very few established projects; other than knowing I would be teaching English, there was no structure, curriculum or clear work expectations given to me. We hope that when volunteers arrive in upcoming years, there will be clear projects for them, which they will be aware of before they arrive. One of the projects includes a soccer school, open to children both inside and outside of Nasledie School. As is the case with all of our projects, the purpose of the soccer school is to foster friendships between Adventist and local children. One of the inherent problems in forming such friendships, however, is the ethnic difference between Russian and Kyrgyz children. The two ethnicities do not interact outside of formal group settings, and children grow up learning and accepting such an attitude. The discrimination is an issue that needs to be addressed primarily through prayer, and gentle correction of a mind-set that has been built generation after
The other projects we are implementing here in Tokmok, outside regular English and Spanish classes in Nasledie School, are English and Spanish clubs. These clubs are designed for fellowship in the community while in the pursuit of learning languages that
open opportunities to many local people. The interest to learn languages like English and Spanish is very high here. This year will be the first year that an English Club is held in Tokmok, and I have the privilege to run and teach the club. We hold a beginners and
advanced level English class for adults in the community, and the meetings are very enjoyable. We hope and pray that more people from outside the Adventist community will attend our clubs.
We are thankful that the presidential elections held in Kyrgyzstan on October 15 were peaceful. The construction of the Multi-Purpose building is also progressing at Nasledie School with hopes to offer community children a facility to play soccer during the winter months. Please keep the building in your prayers; we hope to raise the remaining funds as soon as possible in order to complete construction before winter.
I am thankful to have been here in Kyrgyzstan for two months. My body is still adjusting to living in another country, but I am getting used to being here little by little.
Nadia Ajdari is serving as a volunteer ESL teacher in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan.