[Nfbc-info] {Disarmed} Fwd: At the Intersection of Death & Disability

Joy Stigile joystigile at gmail.com
Wed Jun 3 00:38:11 UTC 2015

Hi Lisa Maria,
Thanks so much for passing along Serena's post!  I had emailed her last year and I am anxiously awaiting to find her at convention to talk to her more about her experiences.
Warmly, Joy

-----Original Message-----
From: Nfbc-info [mailto:nfbc-info-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Lisamaria Martinez, NOMC via Nfbc-info
Sent: Tuesday, June 02, 2015 4:42 PM
To: NFB of California List; 1All
Cc: Lisamaria Martinez, NOMC
Subject: [Nfbc-info] {Disarmed} Fwd: At the Intersection of Death & Disability

Some of you may know Serena Olsen, and some of you may not. Either way, this is a great little piece that I thought I would share. It demonstrates what good training can inspire--and what blind people can do with training. 

Sent from my iPhone

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> From: Blind Broad Abroad <comment-reply at wordpress.com>
> Date: June 2, 2015 at 10:06:45 AM PDT
> To: lmartinez217 at gmail.com
> Subject: [New post] At the Intersection of Death & Disability
> Reply-To: "Blind Broad Abroad" 
> <comment+_3bu2wbo7pt60rdxd4v77 at comment.wordpress.com>
> Respond to this post by replying above this line New post on Blind 
> Broad Abroad
> At the Intersection of Death & Disability by Blind Broad
> The initial draft of the following post came sometime not long after I finished my pre-service training, and I have updated it and used it a time or two in the past year before finally getting it up here in its current form.  More than a year after arriving in country, I find it still captures well my early experience here, despite all that has transpired since but not written about here.  Moving forward, I hope to present both pieces reflective of the array of experiences I've had in my first year as a PCV in the Kyrgyz Republic and pieces that keep you better updated on my current goings-on.  Enjoy!
> As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, I find it delightfully poetic that both in my training village of Kraznaya Rechka and with my host family in Bishkek, I have lived on the Silk Road. Jibek Jolu (Silk road) is a major artery that runs east-west through the northern part of Bishkek, out of town to the east towards the Pearl of Kyrgyzstan, Lake Issyk-Kul. Kraznaya Rechka lies along the same highway about 45 minutes east of Bishkek. These days, of course, the road is not dominated by caravans of traders, their camels and carts laden with spices, silks, and other finery. Like so many places around the world moving towards developed status, this highway is a steady stream of fast, and large, vehicles with little or nothing in the way of controlled intersections or designated crossing zones. I very quickly dubbed this road the Highway of Death. I disliked having to cross it and quickly realized, in Kraznaya Rechka for the first seven weeks of pre-service training, my house was on the opposite side of the highway from just about everything I needed—my language classes, the hub site where all trainees convened for Peace Corps training, shopping, the community center and athletic field (at the local school), lunchtime guesting sites, and 8 of the ten of us volunteers in this village. I had to cross the Highway of Death at least twice a day just to leave home in the morning and return in the evening.
> Of course, lots of people were really freaked out by this—Peace Corps staff, my host family—insisting on escorting me beyond the extent to which other volunteers were escorted. Most volunteers received an escort from a host family member the first time they went to and from their language classes and the hub site, then they were left to their own devices. As much as a week or two into training, , despite my protestations, I found myself with a family or Peace Corps escort or being offered rides in the Peace Corps staff van. I was pleasantly surprised that my fellow volunteers responded all along with indifference or healthy curiosity, making my situation feel wonderfully normal and validating that I was in my element. It was then that I realized that just because I had finally fought my way through a long and difficult application process, secured an assignment, and made the long journey to begin that assignment, my work at winning hearts and minds was not over within the universe of the Peace Corps in tandem with my new task of changing what it means to be blind in Kyrgyzstan. I doubt it was a coincidence that I was placed in the hub village (other volunteers commuted up to an hour from surrounding villages for Peace Corps training), nor that my language group numbered only four, while others were 5 or 6. Expectations were low.
> I leveraged moments to demonstrate my capacity for competent, independent travel and actually had some good conversation with my Kyrgyz language instructor all those times she insisted on escorting me home, allowing me to explain my process, methodology, and philosophy about crossing the Highway of Death and beyond. I was smugly satisfied one afternoon after waiting patiently for a safe opening in traffic and thankfully not falling on the radar of concerned neighbors, to cross the highway and immediately encounter my 10-year-old host sister, who had been sent out to retrieve me. She had seen me cross the highway independently—a witness! I also happened to see the only volunteer that lived on the same side of the highway as me leaving site one afternoon and jumped on the opportunity to be seen leaving site with him to avoid a concerned check-in as I left—I was working any strategy I could think of. As the days & weeks passed, the shadows and over-custodial queries dropped off and my comfort and confidence in crossing the highway increased—it was definitely a new environment to adjust to and not one to fool around with. Let’s be clear—I don’t like it, but I can and will do it, because it is an expected part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. My language teacher was perhaps the last to be truly convinced, but about a month into pre-service training, our language group was treated to an evening at the philharmonic in Bishkek. It was dark when we returned to Kraznaya Rechka and the marshrutka (local transportation in these parts) would drop me on the side of the highway across from my home. Concerned, my language teacher offered to call ahead and have my host mother meet me to help me across the dark highway. I politely declined, but heard her make the phone call anyway. “You know,” I offered, “the cars sound the same at night as they do during the day.” Of course, if you are blind or a trained travel instructor, this is debatable, but my point was made, and other than concerned strangers on the street, I was thereafter left to my own devices to get around, just like my peers. Yes, the Highway of Death is dangerous—my expectation is that it is to be considered no more or les dangerous for me than for my sighted peers, and I think the message finally got through. It may have even been a teachable moment for my host mom that night, who was in front of the house when the marshrutka dropped me off, but not on my side of the highway to escort me across. Waiting patiently for an opening that felt right for me, I heard her shouting at me from across the street in a brief lull in traffic. Standing fast and waiting for an opening appropriate for my needs, I ignored her. I WILL NOT cross a street because someone is on the other side shouting at me to do so, much less a dangerous Kyrgyz highway, in the dark, wearing black from head to toe, where even locals are scared of the way people drive—in this context, it was little consolation that my cane is reflective.
> Of course, winning hearts & minds within the Peace Corps or elsewhere was not at the forefront of my consciousness those first few weeks—Highway of Death or no, this was a new environment I was adjusting to and all the same skills I learned at the Louisiana Center for the Blind were being applied in new ways. I adjusted my cane technique to better track the dirt, gravel, rocks, debris, and potholes that are sidewalks and most streets in this village of about 8,000 people. Houses are set back from the Highway of Death, the main artery running through the village, and a walking path of sorts hugs the length of tall gates that seclude each home. Knowing that I will need to cross the highway, I head straight for the strip of dirt alongside it to better monitor traffic and be ready to cross when an adequate opening presents itself. Standing alongside the highway, it stretches far ahead and behind me into the distance. There are no tall buildings, the cars are travelling fast and the space is huge and wide open, so cars can be heard at a great distance and I spent a lot of time evaluating the new characteristics of this environment to refine my sense of how big of an opening I truly needed to cross safely. Getting to the house where I had my language lessons followed a small irrigation canal and it was easy enough to take a left at the first paved road and find the only paved driveway on the right side of the street. Precisely locating the abundant cow poop lurking like little land mines is another matter altogether.
> Llearning to navigate the decaying, poorly maintained, Soviet infrastructure of the capital, Bishkek, where I live permanently was another task altogether and continued to evolve and present new and different challenges as the seasons changed. First learning where sidewalks are more and less walkable (and I use the term “sidewalk” very loosely), or where they do and don’t exist, and where traffic is more and less controlled. Building the mental map of my new city and all of the places I come and go from—home and office, of course, the house where our trainees live, shopping, cafes, Peace Corps office, the bazaar, and so on. As the sweltering summer turned to a cool, rainy fall, I began to rediscover those same environments in terms of where puddles are smaller and larger and more and less abundant and began familiarizing myself more with the trolleybus system to get around a little more efficiently and stay a little drier. Fall gave way to crisper temperatures,the snow started falling and my LCB skills continued to serve me as I adjusted to the changes in textures, acoustics, edges, and other information around me as I learned to get through my first snowy winter.
> Winter finally thawed, spring came and I passingly observed my one-year anniversary of being here in Kyrgyzstan. Anyone who follows me on Facebook, where I have taken to more microblogging, knows that much has transpired here in a year and neither frequent microblogging nor my sparse yet lenthy blog posts here truly capture the experience I’ve had in the last year. A very busy organization hungry for growth, a myriad of housing hurdles, and all the complexity of settling and integrating into a place where you barely speak the two local languages and things often work in different ways than one is used to, not to mention developing strategies for accessing all kinds of new situations has kept me beyond busy this last year, and alas, blogging has been a sacrifice.
> My housing roller coaster has landed me in a charming little apartment on the south edge of town in a great neighborhood. It, too, has had its challenges, though I enjoy my indulgence of expensive instant coffee every morning from a south-facing balcony that overlooks a peaceful courtyard so full of trees, I hardly know the other neighbors are there. I am across the street from a great bazaar and can quickly grab a great variety of public transportation from which I don’t ever really need to transfer to get where I need to go. More than a year into my service, I am finally feeling pretty settled and in a place where blogging will be more feasible.
> The staff at the bank called me by name a long time ago, vendors at the bazaar shout my name as I pass, greeting me and enticing me to check their newest wares, and I now regularly cross paths around town and my neighborhood with friends and colleagues. I have seen 17 students graduate from my organization’s training program and a new community growing in Kyrgyzstan around what it means to be blind, one that includes friendships, marriages, babies, and new leaders and instructors stepping up to higher expectations in this new community and beyond. I live and work in Bishkek with a growing organization called Empower Blind People. I speak pretty good Kyrgyz and quite a bit of Russian. I really like the array of fermented beverages unique to Kyrgyzstan and make my own kefir at home to drink everyday. I have also learned to perform a small, powerful portion of the Manas epic, a Kyrgyz cultural tradition and source of national pride. I am a United States Peace Corps Volunteer, and I happen to be blind.
> Blind Broad | June 2, 2015 at 17:06 | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/p2SKQi-1a
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