Leaving Kazakhstan, a PCV Perspective

by Joshua Foust on 11/20/2011 · 121 comments

This is a guest post by Casey Michel, a Peace Corps Volunteer in the process of evacuating Kazakhstan.

I’m not really sure what to write. I’m not really sure I even want to write. On Wednesday afternoon, standing coat-less in a soft snowfall, I learned that I would be forced to leave Kazakhstan in but a handful of days. The voice on the other end of the line, a voice tired and scratchy from relaying the days’ news to countless volunteers sequestered in North Kazakhstan, told me that after 18 years of work, Peace Corps would no longer be serving Kazakhstan. That next week, we’re gone.

As it is, we’re departing only eight months into a 27-month commitment. Projects are still fledgling. Integration is still incomplete. Language skills are only just sticking, and our teaching impacts are only just sinking in. We’ve just finished our second round of trainings, learning how to parse grant options and further implement community projects. We’ve just finished learning how to manage both schedule and expectation as English teachers in the Kazakhstani school system. We’re only, just now, beginning to make a legitimate impact. In a sense, we’ve only just begun. And now it’s all being wrested from us, halted by a slew of suits who believe they know what’s best.

And maybe they do. They’re the ones, after all, who’ve compiled both numbers and stories. They know how many of us have been attacked and assaulted – according to our Country Director, Kazakhstan has earned the highest rate of any country in Peace Corps – and they know exactly what pressures have begun emanating from oblast- and national-level governments. Volunteers will never be privy to all of the information, but we have enough of a patchworkk network that we can piece together a picture of what serving in Kazakhstan is like. KNB agents sitting in classrooms. Upper-level ministers all but booting volunteers from numerous oblasts. Questions of espionage and revolutionary tactics. The shooting in Taraz, which saw eight Kazakhstanis die, taking place only a block from two volunteers’ houses. Brass knuckles, attempted break-ins, bizarre opium plant-and-frisks – to say nothing of the near-daily harassment, and worse, for the female volunteers – all added up to a setting those DC-based officials deemed far too dire to pursue.

And so, we leave. Eight months down, and none more going forward. BoldaFsyo. Peace Corps, finished in Kazakhstan.

*             *             *

Before arriving last March we’d read that Kazakhstan maintained a manageable and enviable stability, serving as an oasis of tranquility among its besieged neighbors. It stood out among the ‘stans for its balance of temerity and growth, for its ability to manage disparate populations and divergent neighbors. It managed, as the billboards state the country over, 20 Years of Peace and Unity.

And it did, really. The ‘90s threw it, wrung it of infrastructure and population, but the mixture of Caspian oil and capital investment – to say nothing of Nazarbayev’s magnificent handling of ethnic relations – put Kazakhstan on a path of sustained growth. Despite the imagery of Borat, the last ten years in Kazakhstan have been among the brightest of any nation.

Tengiz. Astana. The demise of irredentism, and the ascension to the OSCE chair. Staking deep oil-fields, and buffeted as it was from the subprime and Euro crises, we arrived in a Kazakhstan sated in promise, into a land as self-assured and self-reliant as it had ever been. Twenty years in, and the future was as bright as you could find in the post-Soviet world.

Then, something shifted. This summer provided a sort of hinge, a passage from a much-lauded stability to something far … less. Reality began settling of a nation post-Nazarbayev. The nation’s largest strike – and the myriad beatings  attached – revealed the sinister sides of a promising energy sector. Religious restrictions found both legal course and fatal response. Discussions of sovereignty bubbled once more, as Putin floated, and then cemented, the idea of a Eurasian Union, all while dozens of prominent Kazakhs called language allocations into question. Toss in a handful of seemingly disparate cases of terrorism, and Kazakhstan’s stability looked both farce and façade.                                                       

And amidst it all, Peace Corps volunteers turned up harassed, beaten, and raped at a rate far higher than anything one could reasonably expect. For the first time in nearly a decade, the rose-colored image Kazakhstan maintained turned a darker hue. And we, and those teachers and school-children with whom we worked, are the ones who now pay the price.

*             *             *

The Kazakhstani education minister has claimed that, due to his nation’s development, Peace Corps’ departure was a “logical step.” Christ. If you’ve worked for one week in a Kazakhstani school, if you’ve seen the faces of colleagues light up at your mere presence – and the tears that stream when you tell them you’re leaving – you know that your presence in these classes fills a marked vacuum. Part of Nazarbayev’s 2030 goal is a “Trinity of Languages,” in which every Kazakhstani has achieved fluency in Kazakh, Russian, and English. A constituent part of this goal is the presence of native-speakers. And while some volunteers are misappropriated, the majority of us are both feted and needed. Peace Corps still filled an enormous void in the Kazakhstani educational system. That’s not to paint us as some kind of ubermensch teaching corps; rather, it’s to simply show that there was no logical outgrowth of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. The minister’s line of reasoning is naught but a PR pitch, spin for an event that blackens all parties.

Likewise, while the recent surge in Islamo-inspired attacks may provide an easy excuse for both US and Kazakhstani governments, that reasoning seems far too facile. Colin Thubron once wrote that Islam rests lightly on these people. I would argue that it still does. Those members of Jund al-Khalifa have targeted neither infidels nor foreigners; rather, they’ve gone after ministers and officials, using Islam as a vehicle to express anti-government sentiments. Plus, Peace Corps countries – Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan among them – have suffered much worse, and still maintained a volunteer presence, at least in a limited capacity. There’s no reason to think Kazakhstan shouldn’t be able to do the same.

In the end, it was neither jihadist bombings nor logical progression that is forcing us to leave. It was the multi-level strains – from the KNB’s growing surveillance, to the impunity with which the drunks attacked us – that drove us from Kazakhstan. It was averaging one rape or serious sexual assault per month since June. It was school administrators allowing KNB agents to sift through both belongings and apartments. It was appointed government officials refusing to meet with Peace Corps administrators, out of either pride or contempt or grand-standing. It was these dozens of seemingly unrelated incidents – that, yes, were set amidst a backdrop of terrorist activities – that now tear us from our new homes and drop us back in a jobless line we’d thought ourselves fortunate to escape. It was a series of degrading relations, arising from both parties, that keeps us from showing this Soviet land that not all Americans are impudent, imperial assholes.

The reactions I’ve had have been diametric. I’ve thrilled at finding a new home, either in America or abroad. But I’ve also carried knowledge that I’ll likely never see my Siberian hermitage of Presnovka  again. I’ve realized that I can finally reacquaint myself with ESPN and Mexican food, but I’ve also grasped that those I’ve come to love within my village – my counterpart, my schoolchildren – are people I’ll see only now see through photo or memory. I see an opportunity to forgo the minus-40 winters set to fall, but I also no longer have an excuse – “need that winter fat!” – to gorge myself on pechenyas and barsak. I swing from waves of relief to waves of melancholy, all because of a bizarre confluence of events, a confluence threatening enough that some DC official decided it was time to close shop.

Our service is cut, and our program is shuttered. I’m leaving Kazakhstan far earlier than I ever wanted. There’ll be no Nauryz in Shymkent, no Kreshenya in Petropavlovsk, no summer camps at Balkhash. I’ll neither climb Baiterek, nor stroll the esplanade in Pavlodar, nor see the marine graveyards of the receded Aral. I, and all of my fellow Volunteers, don’t get to see any of those plans through. And I don’t get to show these nationals how much I appreciated their hospitality, and how much I’d grown to love them through the last eight months.

Since 1993, Peace Corps has served in Kazakhstan. Volunteers have helped guide small business, have aided in orphanages and special-needs homes, and have, as I did, taught young Kazakhstanis English. All work came at the specific request of President Nazarbayev, under whose reign we arrived and now depart. All work was sorely need in a still-fresh nation, among a people now opened to an entirely new way of economy and education. All work – our work – is still required. And we won’t be here to provide it.

It is, as the Kazakhs would say, maskhara. It’s a mark of shame for all parties involved, and I can only offer my thanks, and my regret. My time here was too short, and my experience in Kazakhstan far too stunted. I’m going to miss this country – this hard, wind-swept land; these genial, weathered people – for years to come. Someday, the sting will dull. Someday, I’ll be back. Someday, I’ll know what to write. But now, all I can do is leave, and wait for that day to come.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Tatyana November 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Thank you for you letter! We are going to miss you too……I can’t imagine our life at school without our PC volunteer…very sad..

Jake November 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Thanks for sharing this, and many thanks to all PCVs, especially in such a tough setting as Central Asia. Best of luck in all future endeavors.

sibrisa November 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Sorry to hear this. I am sure you will be missed.

Isaev, M. M. November 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm

You are overplaying it, Josh. Nobody is forcing you to leave Kazakhstan. You can stay for as long as you wish. It’s just from now on you need to fend for yourself, as Uncle Sam, being slightly broke himself, is no longer paying for your services. This is the moment of truth, so to speak. There are two possibilities:
1.) You are a fake. You have no useful skills and you are not capable of making a meaningful contribution to the society of Kazakhstan. You are happy to teach others guiding a small business, but you cannot run one yourself. You pretend that you are teaching useful language skills, but turns out that whatever language skills you have are utterly useless in Kazakhstan; you cannot make a living out of them. The people of Kazakhstan miss you only as long as you’re spending the green stuff falling from the sky, but they do not deem your services sufficiently valuable to provide you with a living at their own expense. In this case, I think everybody will be better off if you stop fouling up the air. Good riddance!
2.) If you do like living in Kazakhstan and feel that you can be a productive, useful member of the society, it’s time to cut the umbilical cord. You can apply for a job or start a business of your own, like normal Soviet people do these days. Kazakhstan is the second-richest member of CIS; a middle-income country where making a decent living is not beyond an average person’s ability. You may have made some good friends with whom you can team up. It is a longstanding tradition in the Steppe not to let travelers starve; if you have built up enough goodwill, I am sure you know people who will help you during the first few weeks or even months. If you do not abuse their hospitality and manage to stand on your own two feet within a reasonable time, relying on others’ help for a short period of time is nothing to be ashamed of. You will have plenty opportunities to pay back your debt.

The choice and the responsibility are yours. Be thankful for the opportunity to prove yourself. Good luck!

bzzzz November 20, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Wow, KNB’s dog knows English????

KZBlog November 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Of all the students I have met in Kazakhstan, not one who had had a Peace Corps volunteer as a teacher had anything bad to say about them. And as upyernoz points out, PCV get special passports with visas. Staying would be against the law of Kazakhstan.

Turgai November 21, 2011 at 4:14 am

Yes, depending on the individual personality and where he or she works, they are pretty appreciated though this is not a general rule. Also, the local students and youngsters who hang around the Americans in Kazakhstan are not ‘society’ on the whole but rather a group that wants to imitate Americans, petty intelligentsia, and/or converts to evangelism.

See, as M.M. Isaev suggest in his comment, there definitely is increasing cynicism ane wearyness towards expatriates in Kazahstan, both in (certain sectors of) government and in society. To start with, there is the feeling that Kazakhstan, in this stage of development, does no longer needs ‘third world aid’. In fact, I would rather call this a positive trend. Officials an the KNB, of course, are worried about ‘ideological contamination’ and hidden agendas that willy nilly come with aid, but this feeling is also pretty present among many ‘ordinary people’ as well.

Finally, the PC aside for a moment and speaking in general, if you look at the questionable behaviour of a certain percentage of the expats, consultants, ‘experts’ etc… over the years, many people also (and rightly) doubt about their added value.

KZBlog November 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I am surprised to learn that students who learn English in school “wants to imitate Americans, petty intelligentsia, and/or converts to evangelism.” I suppose most of society would agree then, that the idea of having native English speakers in schools is a bad one. Wasn’t it the president who said that? Isn’t it also the president who opened up Nazarbayev University as a partnership with foreigners? And made English the official language of the school? And got great acclaim for opening Kazakhstan to more and more foreign organizations?

Either Kazakhstan is suspicious of foreigners or it isn’t. But it can’t go both ways.

Perhaps there is a cultural difference here–I think if a bunch of Kazakhstani wanted to come to the US and help out, no one in the US would call it third world aid. I think society as a whole would be quite pleased and impressed.

Jon November 21, 2011 at 12:10 am

dear Isaev, M. M.

your ideas are flawed and you lack a basic understanding of what is happening in Kazakhstan. Peace Corps visas are being closed and many foreigners have been denied visa in the last 3 months. This is happening to citizens from Brazil, South Africa, and Germany just to name a few examples. How can someone return if the longest visa they can get is a 1-month tourist visa?

Isaev, M. M. November 21, 2011 at 3:36 am

You have just answered your question yourself: the easiest way to stay on is to go to Bishkek, visit the Kazakhstani consulate and get a 1-month tourist visa. 1 month should be enough for finding employment or doing the paperwork for a business. Then he can apply for permanent residency or a long-term business visa or whatever he needs. If there is a will there is a way.

Matty Matt Matt November 21, 2011 at 9:07 am

haters gon’ hate

Kevin M November 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm

As an RPCV from Kazakhstan (Kaz 11 TEFL Pavlodar 2002-2003), I want to thank you for what you’ve written, and thank you for your eight months of service to both Kazakhstan and the United States. You were eloquent and said what needed to be said. I wish you well in the future, and if you ever find yourself in LA, first round is on me.

Jerry November 20, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Kazakhstani children will remember their time with PC volunteers forever.

Angela Bernhardt November 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I was a member of Kaz 3 and a SBD trainer for Kaz 5 and it’s hard for me to imagine what has become of the Kazakhstan I knew so many years ago. Thank you for taking time to write your thoughts and know that you made a difference.

upyernoz November 20, 2011 at 9:26 pm

actually, I believe he is being forced to leave Kazakhstan. his visa is contingent on his peace corps service. if the peace corps program ends, the u.s. government is obligated to take him out of Kazakhstan and he will not have a valid visa to re-enter. if he wants to come back to teach English, he will need to find a new program to arrange the visa.

upyernoz November 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm

sorry, this was meant to be a reply to M.M. Isaev’s comment above.

Isaev, M. M. November 21, 2011 at 3:47 am

Sure, he will have to do some paperwork and may even need to technically leave Kazakhstan for a short time (i.e. a few days at most), but it’s not like he’s banned from the country.
Struggling with bureaucracy is never a pleasant experience, but it is by no means hopeless. And several organizations in Kazakhstan would actually do some of the paperwork for him.
Also, he can surely rely on his friends for arranging him an invitation.

Ryan November 21, 2011 at 4:54 am

As a PCV I can say, yes it is possible to stay once the official support is pulled, but if you are a village volunteer wedded to you site your options are nill without a Peace Corps ID, passport and official government support. My Kazak PCv colleague is a village TEFL volunteer and if he wanted to continue doing what he does where he does, he cannot simply stay. The Ministry of Education would stop him, the school director would prevent him and he would not be able to make the money necessary to pay the same rates that he did to help support his host families largess not to mention the absence of medical support that any active PCV or RPCV would know is highly necessary to combat the various intestinal disorders etc. a PCV faces in adapting to a completely different Central Asian diet. In short, he has to go home. I am serving in Kyrgyzstan and after the June events in Osh, the southern oblasts were closed and many volunteers sent home, but the ones that wanted to stay were allowed to either change sites in the north or go rogue, if you will, in the south. But none of the volunteers were able to go back to teaching without official backing. So, Casey Michel is not a fake or charlatan, but rather a PCV facing a nightmare scenario.

Isaev, M. M. November 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

Look, when a person shows up in a community, he provides certain services to this community and consumes certain resources. Depending on the quantities and qualities, s/he’s either a net asset or a net liability. I do not claim that Casey Michel is a net liability for the village, as I do not know. He may or may not be. Moreover, it may well happen that almost any person would be a net liability, because the village itself is no longer a viable community. Urbanization is an ongoing trend in Kazakhstan, may villages get de-populated as their residents move to cities.
However, if the villagers do not deem his services worth the sacrifice of keeping him fed and sheltered (for which “they cannot afford an English teacher” is an euphemism) then he should not be there in the first place.
If he is in a conflict with the school director, that’s a problem, and I admit that it might well not be his fault, but then again, it’s not the program’s end that has made his stay impossible but his conflict with an influential member of the community. Otherwise, why would the director of a school in which he was doing a good job of teaching English mind him staying on? If it is some bureaucratic problem, he could start giving private lessons for money, shelter and food. He may want to start doing other work for the community as well, if teaching English is not enough to support him.
While poverty does exist in Kazakhstan, educated, multilingual, able-bodied young men can attain reasonable living standards without relying on outside support.
Yours is a slightly different case, as Kyrgyzstan as a whole is not viable country, so it may well happen that you cannot make a living there despite having otherwise marketable skills. The economy of Kyrgyzstan is critically dependent on migrant workers’ remittances from Russia (and to a much lesser extent, Kazakhstan), making up to 1/3 of its GDP. But we’re talking about Kazakhstan here, which is a middle-income country with a healthy positive trade balance and a growing economy. If someone cannot make a living here without outside support, he should not be here. I do not claim that Casey Michel must leave; in fact I believe that if he is truly willing to stay, he can.

Keldebek November 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Your point about the abuses of expats in general is well taken, Isaev, M.M., but a point you are missing is the motives of Peace Corps volunteers are very different from the other fortune seeking expats. One of the biggest enabling factors of Uncle Sam in relation to volunteers is a deferment from repayment of federal student loans while in Peace Corps service. Take away that deferment and in order for those former volunteers to stay in Kazakhstan to work, they would require at least $300-$400 a month just to cover their student loans alone. There are no teaching jobs in the village that make that much money.

Also, you are missing the point that the goal of Peace Corps is to promote mutual understanding on the part of the people of both the US and the country of service. Volunteers are primarily there to learn and share, and once they return to the US, they are then expected to promote understanding of their country of service with people in the US. In short, unlike almost all other expats, they are not there to make money or convert people. Unfortunately, opportunities to promote mutual understanding and serving as a cultural ambassador are very limited. And again, unless a person makes enough to repay their student loans, they won’t be able to do it. And while you may not see a benefit to that type of service, there are literally thousands of Kazakh citizens who have benefited from Peace Corps volunteers’ service – from things like using their English language skills, critical thinking skills, scholarship opportunities, teacher trainings, resource donations, and on and on.

And the final point it seems you are missing is Peace Corps is only in countries that requests Peace Corps to be there. Further, volunteers only serve in schools and organizations that request them. If you have a problem with Peace Corps volunteers serving in Kazakhstan, your issue should be with the organizations that want and request them.

Isaev, M. M. November 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I think you are conflating country and government. PC is a business between government and government. What happened here is that the U.S. government pulled the plug on the program because allegedly KZ government did not provide appropriate conditions. AFAIK, the government of Kazakhstan (unlike Russia) did not officially withdraw the request. The school director thing was brought up by the grandparent, hence my reaction.

Now if someone raked up debt they have problems paying back, how is it the fault of the people of Kazakhstan or the government of Kazakhstan? It certainly does not help the image of PCVs as volunteers out to promote mutual understanding between the countries, if they are on such a short leash held by their government, does it?

Let me make myself clear: if you think about teaching English, or entrepreneurship or whatever as a people-to-people business, the relationship is tainted by such a strong involvement by the U. S. government.

The stronger you argue about how important U. S. government support is for these volunteers, the less credible all your other arguments about their motives become.

Just try to understand how this whole affair looks from the side: a few months ago everything is normal, then suddenly, as the gov’t of Kazakhstan does a few things that USG does not approve of, all the US-supported NGO’s in Central Asia go into overdrive complaining, terrorism rears its ugly head, and PC is suspending operations abruptly. In short, all hell breaks loose at the same time. Now, this may be pure coincidence, but many don’t buy it.

I do not doubt the individual motives of PCV’s. I personally know many people in KZ who greatly benefited from their presence and work. But making it look as if Kazakhstan was kicking them out is a gross misrepresentation of the situation. If any of them cannot stay despite their desire to do so, they have only themselves and their government to blame.

See also Sandy Costello below.

C Wagner November 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Hi everyone – Kaz 4 RPCVolunteer here in Boston. Those were tough and great times when I was there in Pavlodar. The country was recovering from the KGB and looks like it’s slipping under the thumb of the knb now again. Nazarbaev failed to understand you can’t be Turkmenbashi and expect to build a modern society, ultimately it starts falling apart. PC wasn’t political and we weren’t spies, despite what knb thinks, but I’m sure that the good honest people volunteering and those being taught by them and working with them eventually rubbed Nursultan’s cronies the wrong way.

Shame, really, as it was a very idealistic time in some ways. Sure, like Isaev up above says, Kazakstan doesn’t need PC anymore — except it builds social ties between the hemispheres, but on the other hand where’s the hospitality in attacking a guest and spitting him or her out?

Turgai November 21, 2011 at 3:50 am

“PC wasn’t political and we weren’t spies”

Hmmm, C. Wagner, that is not the case. To start with, ALL aid, wherever it’s from, is political. I won’t say anything about the personalities and motivations of the individual PCV (I prefer to look case by case) but as a structure and strategy, PC definitely IS political, no matter what. Its core purpose is to improve the image of Americans and the US, to have vectors of American values and eyes and ears at the so-called grassroots level.

The latter doesn’t make PCV spies per se. But let’s not be naïve about who’s also benefiting from the debriefings…

Another purpose is also to have young Americans with an overseas experience and language skills (which are a problem in Anglo-Saxon societies) who can form a recruitment pool for the State Department, Defence, FBI etc…

In fact, it’s a very smart modus operandi. If the EU and Russia are clever and far-sighted, they start something similar and jump into the gap left by the USPC.

Ryan November 21, 2011 at 4:56 am

PCVs are blocked from official government employment involving the countries they served in for a minimum of 5 years.

Turgai November 21, 2011 at 5:21 am

Yes I know that. Which does not excludes govt. employment per se, doesn’t it? Also, many govt. support services are outsourced in the US.

Ryan November 21, 2011 at 5:30 am

True, and many PCVs do at least take the Foreign Service Officer exam at some point and are offered the nebulous ’1 year non-competitive status for Federal employment’ upon returning home, but anecdotally I can say I do not know a single RPCV among my friends who has gone on post-service to work for State, an intelligence agency, a gov’t sub-contractor or federal job, not to say it doesn’t happen, but most never return to gov’t service after COS. Most go to work for NGOs, return to ‘normal’ life back home or go to grad school.

Nathan Hamm November 21, 2011 at 7:05 am

For what it’s worth, I know a ton who’ve gone on to government service in some form or another.

Dilshod November 21, 2011 at 5:27 am

I wish you were as smart as you are now while commenting on others too ;)

Turgai November 21, 2011 at 5:38 am

:D I’ll do my best.

Metin November 21, 2011 at 8:26 am

Older generation of people brought up with the cold war mentality (anywhere in former Soviet Union) are usually suspicious about foreigners and regard them as potential spies.
I wonder if the same is true for Russians/foreigners in the USA.

Turgai November 21, 2011 at 8:58 am

Metin-jan, the suspicion about foreigners is certainly not limited to old(er) people with a cold war mindset, but again, for reasons I gave elsewhere in this discussion, this suspicion is at times understandable or can at least be put in context.

“I wonder if the same is true for Russians/foreigners in the USA.”

It’s certainly true for Muslims in Europe, who are perceived in a not uninfluential political parlance and indeed a sizeable part of popular perception as vectors of a ‘Eurabisation’ scheme.

Russians and other Sovki and most Eastern Europeans are not as vilified as Muslims are, yet their image is not brilliant as well: a) criminals; b) prostitutes (the women); c) welfare profiteers (in overall pereception, a) and c) also apply to Muslims). Well, let’s say it that some Sovki and Eastern Europeans went to great lengths to get stuck with the image.

Metin November 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

you are right, not only people of cold war mindset share suspicion about foreigners. It is usually conservative minded folks, who do not like people from different origin, language, culture, and religion. That seems to work both way. However, the US is more open society with much more tolerance for diversity. That is something worth learning.
I personally would not care if some PCW lived in my country (provided they respect local law and norms) and help those in need.

Joshua Foust November 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

I believe it is against the law to work for the defense department or any intelligence agency for a period of five years after leaving the Peace Corps, and you cannot join the Peace Corps until your clearance has been expired for five years. If I recall correctly the periods of time are even longer for the CIA.

That doesn’t mean that never happens, but it’s not supposed to happen. Working for the State Department is pretty innocent in comparison, and frankly wouldn’t we all rather have people with some sort of experience overseas in those jobs anyway?

Turgai November 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

“frankly wouldn’t we all rather have people with some sort of experience overseas in those jobs anyway?”

Well of course. That’s why I said that something like PC, from the point of view of expanding soft power, is a smart modus operandi. But it does serves (geo)political interests.

Aydin, from Almaty November 21, 2011 at 10:50 am

So what was the point to dismiss them? It serves US interest to have PCVs here but it has a positive impact on KZ as well. It is supposed to be a sustainable arrangement if both parties act rationally. If our officials have unfounded fears of a revolution, they should rather cut ties with such human right abusers as US DOD and NATO :) ))

Raman November 21, 2011 at 2:13 am

I think Kazakhstan would be better of without PCVs. I really don’t understand the purpose of this PCV. Development is a matter of internal development dynamics and it will or will not happen with or without PCVs. Therefore, this is not a tragedy. It is just I think PCV running out of money to finance PCVs in expensive countries such as Kazakhstan. I think Azerbaijan is the next. Not sure if PCvs do exist in Russia. But it is also expensive place to keep PCVs. So wouldn’t wonder if they don’t in Russia as well. Therefore, I would say that while I definately understand your frustration Joshua, but this is more of US business / decision thatn anyone elses. See if you can be relocated to Tajikistan.

Ryan November 21, 2011 at 5:19 am

Globally the budget for the Peace Corps is about 500 million dollars, therefor the funding is not an issue. With 70 some countries served for 500 million a year, Peace Corps is not a large investment financially.

The role of the PCV vis a vis development is mainly skills transfer which allow local actors to become more effective.

PS: russia closed as soon as Putin came to power because we were ‘spies’ and an afront to Russian pride…. same ole BS as always.

Christine November 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Actually the PC’s annual budget was $374 million, and will likely be around the same for FY2012 (although President Obama and Peace Corps asked for me). So we’re truly doing more with much less!

Don November 21, 2011 at 3:16 am

Thank you for sharing this. Clearly some of your readers do not realize that Peace Corps costs practically nothing for the USA and that there are other issues at play. I am sorry to hear that the security situation is worsening for everyone, whether local or volunteers. I hope that you may have an opportunity for a great new country assignment, and that the situation will show as much positive trend as the economy, for sake of the locals that remain.

Don, Kaz 6 (Arkalyk)

Marat November 21, 2011 at 3:57 am

The situation in Kazakhstan just shows that PCV failed to make a difference. In fact, PCVs just need a line in their resumes…

Ryan November 21, 2011 at 5:16 am

Most programs are closed not do to volunteer efficacy or lack thereof but due to obstructionism on the part of self-important chinovniki… PCVs aren’t supposed to do large building projects, but rather small grassroots projects that help locals help themsevles. These projects are harder to see, harder to appreciate but in the long run much more effective than a million dollar USAID grant.

I know alot of KZ RPCVs and I can safely say they were doing great work especially at the village level.

Uzbek November 21, 2011 at 8:43 am


I wouldn’t dismiss the entire The Peace Corps and their mission just because there are few volunteers who care only about that line in their resume you are talking about or who cannot get a girlfriend in the US and go to developing countries to use their citizenship to get a girlfriend. But let’s not forget that Peace Corps has a noble mission and it intends to make a difference a few volunteers that you might have met should not define The Peace Corps.

R.Duke November 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

Most Peace Corps men do not marry local girls. Marriages between locals and PCVs in Central Asia is low compared to world wide and averages at one couple per group. Peace Corps volunteers are in the country long enough to understand how cultural barriers demanding local customs can destroy or prevent a marriage from happening.

Uzbek November 21, 2011 at 10:18 am

R. Duke,
OK, the volunteers go to developing countries to get laid…not necessarily to get married…. There you go, you made me call it what it really is…

True, most Peace Corps men do not marry local girls but when they do they marry a girl half their age. Not that I have any problems with that but what I have problems is that if they did that in the US those men would be called “cradle-robbers”, wouldn’t they? So in my eyes those men are playing a double game and praying on the poverty of the local girls. That’s what I have problems with.

Anyway, this does not diminish in any way what the Peace Corps is all about. Yes there are few bad apples but let’s not judge the entire Peace Corps by the deeds of those few.

R.Duke November 21, 2011 at 11:57 am

@ Uzbek

Your really talking in broad strokes about sexual appetites of Peace Corps volunteers which I guarantee i know more about than you. In my group if you actually bedded a local girl it was a rarity since most were too conservative or blatantly out for money.

You also talk about the double standard of considered cradle robbing when 15 years age difference in very common your part of the world so I think your judgement is little skewed. I also don’t think its “exploiting poor local girls” since the American guy will have a job, wont beat her, drink excessively, or sleep with prostitutes on the side all of which is common place in rural areas.

Uzbek November 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

R. Duke,

Well, now painting in broad strokes by saying that wife-beating, drinking excessively and sleeping with prostitutes is all common place in rural Central Asia. There are people here who may not know the region all that well and they get a skewed picture from statements like this, especially when you generalize comparing an American guy to a local guy. I am a local guy, a 100% product of a village in Central Asia (Uzbekistan). If we follow your logic, growing up in a place like you described, I would be lost, right? Well, I won a scholarship that has only 1% acceptance rate to study MBA, I am fluent in 5 languages, my credit score is better than 90% of American guys that you are talking about and I have a steady job and earn more than 80% of American guys. This is all due to the values that I learned in rural Central Asia: being resourceful and working hard. I am that local rural guy you are talking about and look how far I have come while being out of my element. Let’s see you, an American guy with a job, how far you can go when you are out of your element…Not far, I bet. So let’s not generalize, what you described is NOT common place in rural Central Asia. Wife-beating, drinking and prostitution may happen just like it happens everywhere else but it doesn’t define rural Central Asia just like excessive drinking, meth use and incest while it happens, doesn’t define rural America.

R.Duke November 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Please shut up about your accomplishments and how awesome you are ONE man does not disprove what I’m saying.

The fact that you have a job and don’t beat your wife doesn’t mean that alcoholism and spousal abuse are not a problem in rural Central Asia…ok just wanted to confirm that, because statistically and anecdotally you’re wrong.

Uzbek November 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm

R. Duke,

Oh, did I touch a raw nerve there. I guess you haven’t come long was as I have so you cannot hear comparisons or maybe are you too familiar with the same problems in rural America? Which one is it, meth, drinking or incest?

The problems you described are as much of a part of daily life in Central Asia as anywhere else in the world. Neither did Central Asia invent wife-beating, alcohol and spousal abuse not does it have a seal on that. It is unfortunate that happens to this day but that’s beyond my point. My point is that your generalizations are overly exaggerated.

R.Duke November 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm

@ Uzbek
I would gladly put my bank statement up against yours so please stop with the macho B.S. your embarrassing yourself thinking anyone cares about your accomplishments when we’re debating about issues of domestic abuse.

Clearly logic is not getting through to you but I’m going to repeat myself for the third time: domestic violence, infidelity, and alcoholism are common place in villages in Central Asia.


Do you really want me to keep going do you get the point yet, it is common place like I said in my very first post

Uzbek November 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm

R. Duke,

It is not like you said in your very first or very last post.

Believe me, I had already read the links you have posted, these are nothing new, some are true some are not, some overly generalized and exaggerated. I was born and raised in that region, why should I trust a journalist who doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t understand the culture more than I trust my own experience, the experience of my friends there and what I see and hear every day?

Maybe you have spent some time in rural Central Asia, maybe you haven’t, but by insisting that those problems define the region you are showing that you don’t have any respect for the people and makes it sound like all what people in rural Central Asia do is drink, beat their spouses and don’t work. Why don’t you say anything about the fact the rural Central Asia has the same literacy rate as any developed country? The fact that most teenagers in the same rural areas speak more languages than you can imagine doing in your lifetime. You don’t do this because such comparisons make you look like a small man, not a holier-than-thou man who says “I am American, I have a job, I don’t beat my spouse but rural Central Asians do!”

Unfortunately, some people in Central Asia do drink, some do physically abuse their partners and some are unemployed. But again, it is not everybody, you never can say that something applies to everybody. When you mention that you conveniently omid to mention that almost everybody in those rural areas speak more than one language, they have a 99% literacy rate and they are as smart as you are if not more. They maybe smarter because their daily lives force them to be so – they have to be more resourceful than you. Things you take for granted in the US, they have to work to get. If we start comparing – as I told in my very first post – you will lose. I bet you cannot speak fluently any other language than English, those rural Central Asian you are talking about, they do speak more than one language. I bet you cannot survive for long out of your element – those rural Central Asian you are talking about – they do. Do you really want me to keep going or did you get the point? You are not better than them so don’t take that attitude.

Metin November 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm


I have to agree with you on this. There is nothing wrong if american guy marries local girl. There is nothing wrong if american girl gets married with local guy.

The reaction of ‘Uzbek’ is quite representative for local guys brought up under traditional values. It’s human jealousy and instinctive attitude.

Uzbek November 21, 2011 at 2:12 pm


You should read the post before commenting. I never said that I have a problem with the fact that American PCV’s dating or marrying local girls, it is when they pray on their poverty, that’s what I do not support. I guess you cannot understand things on that deep level which is why you don’t see that.

RPCV November 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Uzbek and Duke,

I agree that those are problems in rural Kazakhstan and parts of Central Asia but also disagree with it being presented as representing the majority of people even in that area. However, it hasn’t been my experience that PCVs prey on the poverty of defenseless Central Asian women. The men I knew who dated local women (there weren’t that many) dated well educated, relatively affluent locals from the city. Not that there was anything wrong with women from rural backgrounds but often people from the background I described already knew English and the cultural gap was less distinct.

Uzbek, I understand your frustration at what Duke presented but braggadocio ruins your credibility (you bring up your credit score? really?) and I don’t know a single person who joined Peace Corps “to get laid”. For all your accomplishment and exposure to other cultures you probably know that you are offering a gross misrepresentation of the people who served as volunteers.

Uzbek November 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm


I have to admit I may have I given out too much personal info but that was a personal damage I was ready to take to counter broad generalizations about rural Central Asia.

RPCV November 21, 2011 at 8:57 pm

I can appreciate that. I would agree unequivocally that my students and friends in Central Asia are every bit as emotionally strong and smart as any American. The fact that they are multilingual while impressive, really is more a result of history than anything else. While it is economically advantageous for Americans to know other languages and I would argue great for expanding people’s world view, there isn’t nearly the same incentive or benefit as it is the lingua franca of international business, education, etc.

I was in a midsized coal mining town but spent time in a lot different places in Kazakhstan. Part of what I loved about Peace Corps was being a resource for my hardworking, resourceful students who already knew Russian or maybe Russian/Kazakh to learn and practice English. I am not sure about Uzbekistan but Kazakhstan ranked last out of forty countries in English language knowledge according to a study by the nonprofit Education First. This isn’t because they weren’t educated people but because of a lack of exposure to the language. I tried to push my students to excel in my lessons, always working with a local teacher to share their expertise, but I also found that my students had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and I ended up holding English clubs almost nonstop. Kazakhstan taught me a great deal and why I loved the program was that (when it worked well) it ended up being a two way street where both parties benefited.

I think Ryan could do a better job of bringing up these issues without condescension or generalizing as much.

Turgai November 22, 2011 at 4:18 am

“True, most Peace Corps men do not marry local girls but when they do they marry a girl half their age.”

There are probaly are cases like that. Yet imho and exp, that phenomenon of foreign (i.e. not necessarily Western) men going after local women (or girls) half their age, preying on their poverty and silly illusions of easy luxury, seems more something for the consultant crowd, diplomats and dodgy business expats in CA’s capitals rather than st. among PCV really.

Like Uzbek, I’m also weary that CAsian men are being uniformly depicted as alcoholic, wife-beating and whore-hopping degenerates. True, sadly, these situations do exist. Yet much is also blown out of all proportions and over-dramatised by local, foreign-funded women NGOs out for donor money.

Yet again, it does exist and the only way to improve the situation is Islamic liberation.

Понимание роли мусульманских женщин

Роль семьи в Исламе

Metin November 22, 2011 at 5:50 am


there is nothing wrong if wealthy man marries a girl of his age, as long as marriage is consensual. Islamic tradition does not prohibit such marriages as well, there are many instances for that, including prophet Mohammed.
If you have to criticize aid workers, you are better to come up with more valid arguments (e.g. questioning efficacy of their work etc.)

‘Uzbek’ as he positions himself is ‘rural guy’. Rural people tend to be sincere, but overly emotional. As far as I know they are very jealous and do not like their girls taken by anyone else but their villagers. There are even satirical depiction of a village boy (like ‘Uzbek’) in a movie popular in Uzbekistan – American Groom (Amerikalik kuyov). Recommend to watch this movie.

Uzbek November 22, 2011 at 8:55 am

As I mentioned above there is no reason for me to be against PVC’s dating local girls, it is when poverty becomes a factor in this relationship, that’s what I don’t like. But I do see Ryan’s point below, maybe these cases are isolated.

Patricia November 22, 2011 at 11:22 am

To be honest, I read your original comment as: 1. Supporting the Peace Corps (thank you). 2. A little tongue-in-cheek regarding American men going after Central Asian gals. While I was a PCV in Kazakhstan, I worked under the Women in Development initiative and was torn about my view of American men dating lots of local girls. Some local women were conflicted about their view of it as well: They didn’t want to be seen as girls only going after Americans for their “status”, but it was difficult for them to find local guys who shared their values. I didn’t want to see some of these gals stuck in traditional female roles with local guys, but I didn’t want them to have their heart set on an American guys who might treat them “better”, but who were ultimately not going to stick around. Feeling stuck for these ladies, I often wished that male PCVs would start up Men’s Clubs to work with the development of local men. I think there were some attempts at that, but I don’t know what the results were.

Uzbek November 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Exposure to other cultures allows a person to to synthesize and internalize some values of that culture. It is especially true for those of us who come in contact with American culture given the dominance of this culture around the world. The women who you met belong to this type of people. I am pretty sure there are a lot of Kazakh guys who have the same value system as your female friends and also could treat them as good as any American guy treats them.

I wouldn’t agree necessarily with your statement that PCV’s needed set up a Men’s Club to work with the development of local men. There are good local men and there are bad local men in Kazakhstan just like everywhere else, including the US.

I have traveled extensively in the US and sometimes I also had a wish that I could set up a Men’s Club and work with the development of American men to show them how treat women. But I know that I cannot be saying that all men in that area need development. I know better than that. I believe the same concept applies in Kazakhstan, some men may treat their partners better than others. And you can’t say all men in Kazakhstan need development.

Patricia November 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm

That’s entirely fair, and I am writing this from my home of Baltimore, which is one of the places in the US where Men’s Clubs would be incredibly useful. I think the point of having Women’s Clubs or Men’s Clubs is not necessarily to rehabilitate the participants who show up, but rather to consolidate the “good ones” and empower them. Then, they go into their communities and feel confident to lead by example… and so goes the slow-moving development process.

On a general matter, I wanted to express some sort of apology (maybe just clarification) for how it seems Kazakhstan is being portrayed in all of this. I come from a city that is known by violent stereotypes, which I occasionaly become defensive about. I get that way about Kazakhstan, too. When I have talked about PC leaving Kazakhstan with “regular Americans”, I get stuck and frustrated when they assume it’s because Kazakhstan is so “unsafe”– you know those -stan countries. While I, and other people who have lived in Central Asia, recognize that the area is not as tranquil as it appears superficially, I don’t want others to get the impression that it is some terrifying, totally uncivilized place or for them to assume that everyone is drunk and beating their wives or whatever.

In any case, I do know a lot of amazing people from Kazakhstan– male and female, and I am hopeful that they will continue developing the country.

Turgai November 23, 2011 at 4:01 am

“which is one of the places in the US where Men’s Clubs would be incredibly useful”

Nothing personal Patricia, but when I see American women, I wonder whether it wouldn’t be more fair to say that it are the *men* who are in the defensive and oppressed in American society these days (same for Nordic Europe btw)? Believe me, they can have it. I all but envy them. :/

Turgai November 23, 2011 at 4:23 am

@Uzbek e.a.

reg. “that PCV’s needed set up a Men’s Club to work with the development of local men.”

Hm, in any case, it wouldn’t work no matter whether coming from the PC, UNV, MSF or others. Look, even in Kyrgyzstan with its long-time gullibility and receptivity towards aid, Central Asians, men as well as women, are getting seriously cynical and fed up with being lectured by internationals and their co-opted local secular women’s organisations on how to live (even if the lecturing happens in disguise of ‘cultural sensitivity’, ‘community mobilisation’ and what else).

Uzbek November 23, 2011 at 11:41 am

Agreed – very time you tell somebody how to live you will meet resistance. All in all though I would say that Central Asians are pretty receptive to American culture and ideals because it is seen as the dominant culture and ideas in the world. Central Asian want to be a part of that in general which is why there is no anti-American feeling in Central Asia. Some readers commented that the authorities may not like some of the activities Americans are doing there. That’s true but an average person on the street likes America and what it stands for. But as you said, sustained pressure some non-profits might put on the locals telling them how to live can be counterproductive in the long run. Not that people don’t want what those NGO’s are preaching, it is just they can take in so much of it. The next generation might be even more receptive to American/global ideas because they will have grown up even more connected to the outside world. Before anti-globalism people start bashing this statement, I would like to say, there will be anti-globalism because some people will feel they are loosing their identity. But that will be a minority. Majority of us pretty much fine mixing with others.

Turgai November 24, 2011 at 5:29 am

“are pretty receptive to American culture and ideals because it is seen as the dominant culture and ideas in the world. Central Asian want to be a part of that in general which is why there is no anti-American feeling in Central Asia.”

Hmm here I strongly disagree. Many Central Asians have some kind of attraction or fascination towards *European* culture, or at least what they see as such (i.e. ‘European’ being mostly ‘Russian’ or ‘russianized European’). Those who really identify with and assimilate into American attitudes, values etc… are a minority, moslty liberal youth or intelligentsia. A much larger group copies, often caricaturally, some of the material aspects of American culture (cf. the quasi omnipresent idiotic baseball cap :) ).

But does that tells the whole story?

Central Asian attitudes towards ‘America’ are more mixed and scizophrenic than that. In fact, while there may indeed not be rabid anti-Americanism in the region, there do is a lot of cynicism and scepticism, much more so than there was in the 1990s.

R.Duke November 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

There is no way that someone who stays for two years in substandard living conditions, is doing it just for a line on the resume (Which isn’t that helpful outside of select fields of work). I can’t believe your going to say that the whole incident is Peace Corps fault and that the KNB did nothing to exacerbate it.

Ryan November 22, 2011 at 2:07 am

RPCV, I was reading to the end in order to answer to Uzbek and Marat, so i’ll be happy to… As a PCV in Central Asia, I can assure Uzbek that the previously stated anecdotal statistic of roughly one PCV-local marriage per group is, according to what I have seen fairly accurate. I can safely say, often times PCVS are really nervous about dating local girls and typically always stick to the PCV or expat community, because in dating local girls you often run face first into some very serious social norms, such as what is considered ‘uyat (shame)’ here in Kg. Dating here is mainly the precursor to marriage, as opposed to the American custom of dating for dating’s sake (often times) and seeing where it goes after a long period of time. Therefore, most PCVs I know stick to a hard and fast rule of not dating girls in the village they serve, so the only PCVs here in Kg that actually do date locals are the city volunteers and their girlfriends are college students or college educated and all incredibly bright, hard-working members of local NGOs. And as for dating just for sex? If it was just for sex, PCVs would hesitate to target locals, because culturally, at least in Central Asia sexual mores are much more conservative that in the West so that is like barking up the wrong tree. I cannot say anything about an organization with 100% accuracy, so I won’t try, but the people I know who have dated local girls haven’t done it for sick or less-than-noble reasons here in kg. They often do it because, well, they like the person and cultural impediments aside they want to see where it goes. And as for age? Often the local girlfriends (and boyfriends) are a bit younger, but not for disturbing reasons, but simply because here in Kg, people in their mid-late 20s are often married with children. Unfortunately American stereotypes have a long reach and often male PCVs are considered lecherous and female PCVs whores based on what the media shows of American youth culture (thanks hip-hop and Hollywood).

R. Duke, domestic violence linked to alcoholism is a problem throughout the world, more so in the developing world, and yes, Uzbek, not every Central Asian male is a wife-beating drunk. Both positions were extreme but in the middle is the truth. Do I know some drunken wife beaters here? At the rural level domestic violence and alcoholism are incredibly serious problems due to high levels of male unemployment. But I also know some caring, loving husbands and boyfriends among the population of the Kyrgyz jigitter and baikelar.

Marat, as for the resume line. Does Peace Corps look good? Sure. Is that a factor in joining? Of course. Is a single line on the resume worth selling your possessions, getting rid of your pet, saying goodbye to your family, putting your life on hold to live in a remote village you struggle to pronounce, teaching English or grant writing with little to no resources outside of the combined passion and ingenuity of your local counterpart and yourself, all the while struggling with isolation, sickness, culture shock and a climate you and your southern Californian blood are unaccustomed to for two years only to be sent home with a “thanks” and a check that is less than you once earned in a few months as the only thing to show for it? Doubtful.
PCVs all join for various reasons but a common theme is a combination of philanthropy and adventure. In fact I have two friends who tried to join the Peace Corps, but failed due to medical reasons and they went on to join TFA (Teach for America). What my friends and I here do in village schools, they do in American schools in poorer neighborhoods. These are not the type of people who only care about resumes and sexual predation. They are people who are, mostly, young and want to do something of consequence before the humdrum of American life begins. They could backpack across Europe, or move to Hawaii for a year, or even just veg out in front of a TV playing Call of Duty 3, but no instead they volunteer to be sent to Kyrgyzstan, or Namibia, or Fiji, or Nicaragua, or (until recently) Kazakhstan in an attempt to ‘give back’. We PCVs are not supermen, but we are also not nearly as cynical as many would have you believe… No organization is perfect but we do our best.

Uzbek November 22, 2011 at 9:26 am

It is a common sense – nobody has any problem for PCV’s trying to make their resumes attractive if they want. By all means, it would be ridiculous to object that. But what Marat was trying to point out I think is that when everything else becomes secondary and resume and earning bragging rights becomes something of paramount importance.

Some PCV’s, even after spending a year or so in their location will not learn to respect the culture, they look down on locals. It is this type of pseudo-volunteers who are after only making their resume attractive or earning bragging rights at parties back home when they return to their towns and villages. But I think this type of volunteers are very few and as you noted in your post, no organization is perfect and PCV’s do their best. And I believe majority are like that, the ones who are there to promote the Peace Corps mission.

It is sad to see the Peace Corps to wrap up activities in Kazakhstan. But for PCV’s not everything is lost – if you or any other PCV feel like they would like to do more cultural exchange and teaching English, check out opportunities in Georgia. The Georgian president Sakhashvili is leading an effort to put at least one native speaker of English in each school in Georgia. You can put your skills to a good use in Georgia now that you are leaving Kazakhstan.

Aydin, from Almaty November 21, 2011 at 4:01 am

This is sad. I think that intercultural exchanges are important for both sides. There is a big gap between the level of development in the big cities and in the small villages in Kazakhstan. PCVs have been doing a great job as far as I can see and read from the blogs. Your work should not be forgotten or misinterpreted and it is highly appreciated.

In my opinion, the reason for the PC closure is unbearable stupidity and arrogance of our ministry of education and oblast level governments. However, the response of PC administration seems to be tit-for-tat. There are no new security concerns in KZ and our regime is not getting worse. It is as repressive as it has always been. In terms of the crime rates our major cities are safer than most of the US cities. I seriously doubt the statistic about the rate of assaults and rapes of PCVs. The attempt to pile together several unconnected events that happened in KZ and interpret them as a sign of instability is not convincing.

Courtney H November 21, 2011 at 4:05 am

Hey buddy,

Very precise and well written! I agree with everything you said and what is going on is something bigger than many people understand. Thank you for sharing your blog. See you soon. ;)


Ryan November 21, 2011 at 5:13 am

Man, I can’t say how sorry I am to hear about what is happening in Kazakhstan. The PCVs here in Kyrgyzstan heard about the closing of Kazakhstan, we were thunderstruck and all asked, “why?” My group came to Kg 10 days before the revolution and weathered everything after and somehow we remain, so our reaction to what is happening in the north is, well, we are dumbfounded. Our PCVs up until this news would go to Almaty on long-weekends to enjoy the city. Kazakhstan in many ways represents what we hope can be done with Kyrgyzstan, so to hear about the closure of such a sure fire program is unbelievable. Even now, my friends and I can’t seem to wrap our heads around it. And with Turkmenistan wavering as of late, it looks like a dark time for the PC and PCVs in Central Asia:/

I am so sorry to hear what happened and can only hope you land on your feet…

Isaev, M. M. November 21, 2011 at 11:59 am

You can still go to Almaty on long-weekends to enjoy the city.

Turgai November 21, 2011 at 5:31 am

“Colin Thubron once wrote that Islam rests lightly on these people. I would argue that it still does.”

Yes to some degree that is still true, but fortunately less and less so. Slowly, more and more Kazakhs are realizing that libertine rot and slavishly imitating something that they are not brings them nowhere.

For the rest, I always found this Thubron to be an utterly arrogant, condescending ego.

Sandy Costello November 21, 2011 at 7:53 am

Sorry to hear about experiences. If true representation of what happened with PCV – that is sad and I can understand your frustration. However, from my experience what you experienced is likely not the same in other parts of the country and is possibly isolated to a region, oblast, village? All I can say is I can’t wait to go back to Kazakhstan. I worked with WinRock, International as a volunteer to assist dairy farmers in other parts of the country. It was the best experience of my life and the friendships are as you described and were genuine. I was there as a colleague and advisor (not as a superior from the great USA, not). There is still much work to be done and money does not appear to be distributed equally among farmers and others. However that is no different than other countries – ‘developing’ or ‘developed’. I have found the discussion of ways to get a visa for work of great interest. Thank you all.

Isaev, M. M. November 21, 2011 at 11:56 am

Thank you, Sandy!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the attitude I was talking about. If there is a will, there is a way. I am sure that Sandy will receive a warm welcome from the community in which she intends to work. Even if there will be some bureaucratic hurdles, which are an unfortunate fact of life in Kazakhstan, she will overcome them. I wish Sandy good luck and great success in all her endeavors!

Keldebek November 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Hate to burst your bubble, but this is from the Winrock International website: “Most of Winrock’s volunteer programs are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)…As a Winrock volunteer, you will be representing both Winrock and the United States…Volunteer assignments typically last two to three weeks, including travel time.” There was a will, but the way was still gov’t funded.

While I, too, applaud Sandy for her willingness to volunteer, please don’t hold this up as a superior program than Peace Corps. If anything, the Winrock three week experience is more superficial than Peace Corps from a cultural learning perspective, and much more conducive to a condescending attitude that signifies “I am from the USA and I am here to help you people.” Peace Corps volunteers serve at the pleasure of the host country government and the local organization that hires them. While it is true that the US govt does provide minimal support, it does not require nor suggest that its volunteers push any kind of agenda or ideology.

Isaev, M. M. November 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Well, maybe Sandy will enlighten us, but I take this literally:
“All I can say is I can’t wait to go back to Kazakhstan.”

Furthermore, I think that Sandy will take whatever opportunity presents itself, whether government-funded or not. If Casey Michel really wants to stay in Kazakhstan or return to Kazakhstan after a short break, he will find a way, unless he himself created conditions that make this impossible (such as raking up a huge debt).

As for the cultural learning part, PC is also a bit strange. Take the example of language preparation. Some PCVs go to Kazakhstan learning ONLY Kazakh. Now, I love and admire the Kazakh language, but in Kazakhstan about 2/3 of the population actually uses it, whereas Russian is universally understood and spoken. Even in Kazakh-speaking communities, Russian is both spoken and understood, while it is quite likely that the person who does not speak any Russian will have problems in communication other than speaking to locals, as evidenced by a multitude of PCV blogs (my favorite is this one: https://pckazakastan.wordpress.com ). Being Kazakh-Russian bilingual is great. But how does teaching only Kazakh make sense if the purpose is to give PCVs a tool to understand what is going on around them and to be understood?

keldebek November 21, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I would assume that the vast majority of Kazakhstan PCVs would echo Sandy’s sentiments.

Also, I assume that the volunteers who learn Kazakh are the ones who are sent to predominantly ethnic Kazakh villages. And you cannot tell me that a volunteer in a predominantly Kazakh place who learns/speaks Russian will be appreciated and accepted better than a volunteer who is learning their language. From my experience as a volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, learning and speaking Kyrgyz made all the difference in the world as to how well I respected in the village I lived in. I know Kazakhstan is different than Kyrgystan, and that learning Russian is more utilitarian, but to me teaching Kazakh to some volunteers further demonstrates how respectful Peace Corps is of national cultures.

keldebek November 21, 2011 at 8:47 pm

And I would also add that in my travels to Astana, Almaty, and Taraz, I was received much better by the Kazakh people there while trying to speak Kazakh than my friends who spoke Russian.

keldebek November 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm

My last post on this –
Isaev, M.M. – did you even read the blog you referenced? Please read this article (from the blog you referenced), as it perfectly exemplifies my point about how a foreigner learning Kazakh opens the hearts and minds of both the the American and the local:

Isaev, M. M. November 22, 2011 at 3:13 am

Of course I read that one. Moreover, I know about Laura from the same TV show; that’s how I started reading her blog.
In Kazakhstan, both languages are part of the national culture and the inability to speak Russian will cut you off from large parts of culture and society. To the point of making self-sufficient integration near-impossible.
Kyrgyzstan is different, because in the south there are many people who do not speak Russian. Also, unlike Kazakhstan, it is perfectly possible that someone with otherwise marketable skills cannot make a living in Kyrgyzstan; many locals cannot make a living in Kyrgyzstan either. The country is not economically viable. Kyrgyzstan is critically dependent on remittances of migrant workers and aid, but Kazakhstan is not; it actually has a net positive trade balance. And that is why crying rivers about the end of something that is fundamentally an aid program is disingenuous.

Isaev, M. M. November 22, 2011 at 3:20 am

Going to Kazakhstan speaking only Kazakh is somewhat like going to Arizona speaking only Spanish. It will no doubt light up many faces, but I guess I don’t have to explain how it will impair your ability to make a meaningful contribution.

Ryan November 22, 2011 at 2:17 am

Indeed! I knew Russian before coming to Kg so was placed in the Bishkek area after going through Kyrgyzcha PST, but whenever i do speak Kyrgyz people’s faces light up. My Russian fluency is appreciated but my faltering Kyrgyz is adored. When I went to Naryn last summer on vacation, it didn’t matter that my grammar was horrible, the people were instantly more willing to sit and chat and pour a cup of tea because this strange foreigner in an LA Dodger’s cap was babbling in Kyrgyz.

Isaev, M. M. November 22, 2011 at 2:55 am

Of course! That’s precisely what I was talking about (read it again). The mix of fluency in Russian and a passable proficiency in the local language is a great way to integrate into society.
The problematic case are the PCVs that are fluent in the local language and are not able to communicate in Russian at all. They will no doubt also light up many people’s faces but they will have huge problems integrating to the point of being able to fend for themselves once the umbilical cord is cut, which I believe to be the ultimate standard against which integration is to be measured. It’s nice to be able to light up people’s faces, but being able to earn a living is no less important.

Ryan November 22, 2011 at 8:40 am

It is not a matter of a cost-benefit benefit analysis to decide on what language the volunteer will speak but a matter of acquiescing to host country requests and the limits of a human’s ability to learn a language from scratch in a short period of time. Pre-service language training typically lasts for 2-3 months and is a grueling series of daily classes, 3-4 times a day for an hour each class with technical practicuums thrown in to make sure the volunteer is capable of doing their job. Very few volunteers in central asia come to their post with knowledge of a language (in my group I was one of the 3 volunteers who could speak russian out of 70), so expecting a person to learn two completely new languages in 3 months is impossible to ask, especially when Russian is considered one of the hardest languages for native English speakers to learn. And fact is, here in kyrgyzstan the volunteers who learn kyrgyz, quickly learn survival russian and vice versa, but that is largely dependent on the will of the volunteer. They do encourage the finding of a tutor, and there is regular language testing to make sure benchmarks are met through the course of service and volunteers are encouraged to pick up the second language. A delicate tight rope must be walked when it comes to language training. Teach them all kazakh or kyrgyz, and you will be missing out on a lot of opportunities the Russian language can provide, especially in professional development and grant writing. Teach everybody russian, and you ostracize a large segment of the population struggling to find a national identity and voice displaying an accidental chauvinism.
I know many Kyrgyz-language volunteers that are disappointed they were not tapped for Russian-language training, but at te end of the day, the vast majority of the volunteers are in villages and kyrgyz is much more useful when it comes to communication and community integration. When I lived in a Chui village last year, locals defaulted to Russian with me, and while I was welcomed, I was never able to go as local as other volunteers, because opening my mouth would display the differences between myself and my 100% kyrgyz village. Therefor, I was never really as successful at community development as I could have been had I spoken only kyrgyz. Learning Kazakh and Kyrgyz, while not useful in Almaty or Bishkek, is incredibly useful in At-Bashy, Naryn; Manas Aily, Talas; and Bokonbaeva, Issyk-kul because it is a very important acknowledgment of local traditions, mores and customs and shows the volunteer to be open to the local way of life and that is important not only for volunter efficacy but also for safety & security of the PCV and overall mental well-being.

RPCV November 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Isaev M. M.,

I think you are underestimating how many of the transaction costs Peace Corps eliminates by placing a PCV at a school or college. Most schools and colleges loved having a PCV and didn’t get a lot or any “green falling from the sky”, they had a great English language resource and a productive member of the staff. They couldn’t pay a salary, or maybe they could supply enough for shelter/food, but dealing with the bureaucratic paper work, flights, recruiting, etc., of course that wouldn’t be economically feasible for these schools. A PCV could definitely find their way back to Central Asia and make good money (I had people constantly asking for private tutoring but as per PC regulations I never did this) or they could work for a private language school (plenty of people do) but PC allowed people to work with groups of students that wouldn’t have exposure to native English speakers. Markets don’t always operate officially, and while I as much as anyone admire pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps, sometimes governments can provide services and incentives that have positive externalities not incorporated into the market price.

Also, I agree that Peace Corps does bolster people’s resumes but there is nothing sinister about that, and it is hardly enough to convince someone to dedicate two years of their life if they didn’t also have a strong altruistic streak. PCVs do have marketable skills and developed nations such as Korea and Japan pay people sometimes less qualified far more to do comparable work in perhaps an “easier” setting.

However, I will agree that I noticed an uptick in hiring English teachers privately and in the Presidents Academies etc. So I think that it was a natural progression that Peace Corps would leave Kazakhstan sometime soon.

As to the Kazakh language requirement, as I understood it the government of Kazakhstan (who you seem to forget was the client in all this, governments need to ask for and invite Peace Corps) asked that we increase the percentage of volunteers focusing on Kazakh. Traditionally everyone learned both languages but thos focusing specifically on Kazakh were a fraction of the program. They actually did learn some Russian but because they were being placed predominately in the South and in heavily Kazakh speaking areas, I believe they would rather have them attain a higher proficiency in their working language rather than a basic knowledge of both languages. I know some volunteers that worked in villages where they found Uzbek to be a useful language, and adapted to the needs of their community also taking on this language.

Regardless of the debate about development and whether or not one thinks the program should go on, in the time it existed it developed a lot of close personal friendships between people in both countries. I look forward to visiting KZ in the future and hope the country continues down a path of strong economic development.

RPCV November 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm

of their staff.* Sorry for typos. I am tired.

Isaev, M. M. November 22, 2011 at 2:44 am

I am not saying that PC was not useful for either the communities or the PCVs. I have issue with the attitude of certain PCVs who blame Kazakhstan for kicking them out whereas in reality they are not being kicked out by “Kazakhstan”. It’s just that the U.S. government and KZ government appear to have some obscure disagreement (which neither seems to be willing to make explicit) because of which the former(!) pulled the plug on the program.
All am I saying is that if someone feels that they are genuinely contributing to the society (i.e. providing more than consuming), they can make a bit of effort and stay on, if they really want to.

Sarah November 21, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Isaev, M.M., as a volunteer who learned Kazakh, I feel like I can respond easily to this comment. When a school or organization fills out the paperwork to apply for a volunteer, they check a box that says whether or not they want their volunteer to speak Kazakh or Russian. My school checked the Kazakh language box, so that’s why I went to that school. And I have to say, even though a lot of people spoke Russian, most of the students were learning in Kazakh, so it was very helpful for me to be learning that language. Also, helping Kazakh really helped me integrate into my community, since it was quite obvious in my village of 1,500 people that I was a foreigner. People took it as a sign of good faith that I was taking the time to learn their language, and it really helped me make a lot of friends.

Also since I’m taking the time to write out this response, I might as well go on the record as saying that I am not working for the government, nor do I plan to do so at any point in the future. :-)

Alina November 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

Thanks for the article! I have seen PC volunteers doing an amazing job in my hometown and I regret very much that the program had to be closed.

I wonder if the aritcle is permitted to be translated into Russian? If this is possible, I would love to volunteer!

R.Duke November 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

RPCV Kyrgyzstan here, it truly is sad that they’re leaving, despite what we here about Kazakhstan’s progress many of the rural areas have been left behind and like the author said PC is desperately needed in extremely poor areas where no local english teacher worth their salt will venture.

Just wanted to chime, mild factual error in that Peace Corps does not still have a presence in Uzbekistan and we evacuated shortly after the Andijan massacre.

Also, PCVs are not spies, I was never debriefed by the CIA and I’m banned from working in intelligence for at least 5 years from my end of service.

Nina November 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm

It is true that PCVs are not actually spies, but the Russians thought so, therefore the PC had to leave.

Mate November 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

I just wanted to thank you for your service. I think you guys do your best to help people in Central Asia develop. Please know that MANY people appreciate that (despite some people here have stated the contrary).

Good luck!

jim cook November 21, 2011 at 9:50 am


Maggie November 21, 2011 at 9:51 am

A lot of these comments and their hostile sentiment point to one of the the reasons of PCKZ’s closing. I worry about local citizens getting too comfortable in their claims about the development of KZ. While the country has made great strides in 20 years and should be proud of them, I lived in a village 20 minutes outside of Astana and didn’t have running water. The disparity of development from urban to rural areas is astounding and PCKZ had a very important role in trying to keep rural areas of KZ from being left behind. KZ may have the money to pay native English speakers and put them in Presidential Schools in the big cities but I think it will be much harder to locate them in villages, not counting the fact that village school don’t have the money. Also, to claim that PCVs are working for the lineon their resume or because they have been gunning for a job with the state department is to grossly misunderstand the organization as a whole as well as the interests of the average PCV.

Maggie, Kaz23 (2011)

Will November 21, 2011 at 11:18 am

No offence, but can you name some of the activities PCVs did to “keep rural areas of KZ from being left behind”, other than helping teach English? I have read some PCV experience in Uzbekistan online and some of them were highly derogatory. I mean, they knew where they were going or should have known, so why the negative publicity? In my opinion, some of them did more harm than benefit to the country they came to help.

Gina November 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

Wow! Lots of haters on here! I believe that Kazakhstan was DAMNED lucky to have our wonderful volunteers there. I, for one, am relieved that they will be leaving that god-forsaken place, and will get back to USA where freedom and opportunities exist. Good luck PCVs!!!

Lou November 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm

This is the kind of comment that proves some of the “haters” on here might have a point.

Michael Hancock November 22, 2011 at 10:54 am

Lots of other things I have opinions on, but I’ll reply to this comment first and foremost. Gina does not speak for me, and I know several other RPCVs that would be made very uncomfortable by these remarks. I was Lucky to be in Kazakhstan, and I received much more than I gave. What more can you expect from sending groups of young college graduates (peppered with a few 30- and 40- somethings, perhaps a retired couple or two)? I think there is much to be said for Peace Corps, but in the end it is not a monolith. There are frighteningly awful Volunteers and frighteningly good Volunteers, and Volunteers that really help their community and those that may actually do harm. I don’t think there is much of a correlation between quality of Volunteer and quality of service, either – too much room for random chance.

In the end, I will simply say that if Gina thinks Freedom and Opportunity exists in such abundance in the old USA, perhaps she’s not reading the news. Kazakhstan is similarly home to many freedoms and opportunities – though, like the USA, they have a lot of problems.

Patricia November 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

Not to overstate things too much, but I thank Peace Corps Kazakhstan for my life. It gave me a second chance on making myself a productive and compassionate human being. I also wouldn’t have a job that I love and is opening up my world even more without my experience in Kazakhstan (since I work with programs in Central Asia). I’m sorry if you might have had an unfortunate experience with Kazakhstan, but you referring to it as “god-forsaken” is personally upsetting.

Jim Callahan November 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

You’ve written well.

Sidd, Kaz 21 PCV November 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

There’s a point worth mentioning about development. Although Kazakhstan’s economic development is visible, its social development lags quite far behind. This is one of the major contributing factors to the problems faced by PCVs and is also evident by some of the comments to this article.

This lack of developed conscientiousness is evident in the state of the educational system in Kazakhstan. As PCVs taught English in Kazakhstan, I will use this as an example. Although there are Kazakhstani teachers who know their subject and care for their children, they are far outnumbered by those who speak no or incoherent English and whose are for more interested in pocketing a routine paycheck than in the success of their students. The children who are assigned to these teachers are doomed to stagnation. What a PCV brings to the classroom is someone who cares and wants children to succeed. They introduce methods and techniques which go beyond the standard, textbook-only approach which requires no effort and yields no results.

More importantly, they bring the concept of volunteerism to their communities. Part of a PCV’s role is to show the value of helping others without expecting anything in return. This cannot be overestimated in Kazakhstan, where the homeless are all but ignored, handicapped people are concealed from the public and women’s and minorities’ rights exist only on paper. PCVs show an example of motivation and the ability to initiate something that helps purely for the sake of helping.

In Kazakhstani society, such motivation is often viewed with suspicion, largely due to historical and cultural influences. This is reflected in some of the comments to this article, which question PCVs’ true intentions and criticize them for making an insignificant impact on their communities. However, I challenge the posters of those comments to ask themselves: Even if the PCVs made a small impact in their communities, what have you, personally, done to positively change your own community?

Schwartz November 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Three cheers, Sidd!

Ryan November 22, 2011 at 8:50 am


KBW November 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm

As the parent of a Kaz PCV, I’ve been following these blog comments with great interest and finally decided to share my thoughts. These kinds of issues and problems are caused by governments and a small number of narrow thinking, radicalized individuals. Bureaucrats never think about what their self-serving, power hungry moves do to the people they control. Most of the host families, students and individuals who have direct contact with PCV’s in Kazakhstan appreciate their presence and are sad to see them go. In most cases, if you put individuals of any country, ethnic background, religion or race in a room together they will find more in common than different. All human beings share the same basic wants and needs; freedom, the ability to worship in their chosen way, dignity, safety, food, and shelter for themselves and their families. Individuals can and do make a difference. Oversimplified? Probably. Naive? Possibly. Hopeful? Absolutely. These things are achieved with small steps and the Peace Corps makes these small steps every single day.

Deb Cesario, PC Uzbekistan November 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Could we all stop talking politics and development for a minute and acknowledge the human aspect here? Ok, so PC is closing for whatever reason and that is very sad. Maybe PCVs were helpful to the country, maybe not. But this PCV (like me and those I served with in Uzbekistan) developed meaningful relationships over the last 8 months – with counterparts, students, host families, and neighbors. My service was also cut short (13 months in), but over the last decade I’ve maintained contact with my host family and counterpart….less so with students in the last few years because they get married, move, etc. These relationships are important to volunteers, and it is very hard to have them cut short abruptly.
OK, so PC has a variety of purposes, state and unstated, intentional and unintentional, but because it involves PEOPLE, there are relationships and emotions, some quite strong and those should be respected.

Aydin, from Almaty November 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Very good point. I do not understand why PC is pulling out of the country as if some kind of disaster happened here. Why not to acknowledge the pressure form the local or state government or KNB if it exists? Why they end it so abruptly? Why not to cut the number of new PCVs to KZ and offer the remaining people some alternative options? This is strange and their explanations are not convincing. I suspect that there was some personal conflict between people on the top and we, ordinary people from US and KZ, have to carry the burden of their relationship. And there is no respect for the emotions of ordinary people.

Ryan November 22, 2011 at 2:24 am

Hear hear! My favorite part of service is not the teaching or grants or VRFs or whatnot, but rather the cup of tea/coffee, a samsy and an enjoyable conversation with a person I would never have met if not for the Peace Corps. That feeling I got when I heard myself the word ‘home’ to refer to my site says it all. Plus, my mom meeting my host mom last summer was priceless (except for the bilingual badgering for grandchildren…)
Many PCVs become very attached to their countries of service so an abrupt end can seem to the PCV much more traumatic than a simple “here’s a plane ticket, good bye!”

Christine November 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I don’t think anybody’s favorite part of service is the VRF :P

Z November 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm

casey, well written.

isaev, you’re an insensitive jerk.

Jangak November 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Some impressive trolling in here

Lived in Kaz a long time November 21, 2011 at 10:32 pm

From the comments I’ve read I think you are all missing the greatest reason for allowing foreigners. Allowing foreigners into your homes and lives breaks down misconceptions, stereotypes, and misunderstandings and shows that behind the governments of every nation there are a lot of very ordinary people that have the same dreams and desires no matter what ethnicity they are. We really are all human. I am not Peace Corps but I’ve lived in Kazakhstan a long time. I grieve the loss of PCV because I realize the suspicions and misconceptions about Americans will just grow rather than break down and go away.

The fact is that every country benefits from allowing foreigners because it breaks down the walls between countries and breaks through the propaganda we have all been taught. Those that fear foreigners and the ideas they bring, fear honest, open thinking. Also, the fact is that most every foreigner who travels and lives and works in a new country has no desire to influence or change the political system. They do it because they love the people and love the culture and love to learn new things that break down their own misconceptions and lead to a real understanding of truth.

I’ve grown to love Kazakhstan. My kids consider it home here. I root for “Team Astana” when I see them race and I’m as proud seeing Kazakhstan get gold medals in the Olympics as when the US gets gold medals. Honestly, I’m saddened by the growing fear of foreigners in the government as I know it will chase out far more loving, peaceful foreigners who are a positive influence than it will those with negative, disruptive intentions. And in the end I think it is Kazakhstan that loses when that happens.

Althea Hyde November 22, 2011 at 11:43 am

I’m so distressed that you are not getting the opportunity to complete your service, as I did from 2007-2009. I fell in love with Kazakhstan and its people, have returned for my host family daughter’s wedding(s), and will return again to meet my “on the way” grandchildren. As an older volunteer in Almaty I too saw the appreciation of locals wanting to practice their English with a native speaker. You will obviously be a blessing to whatever nation you are now sent to, but I wish you had been able to serve in my beloved Kazakhstan. Keep your connections intact via internet and travel since you know the importance of the relations you developed, even if it was only 8 months.

Gina November 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm

I just want to apologize for calling Kazakhstan a “god-forsaken place”. I was venting at some of the comments made by those suspicious of Americans and PCVs. My daughter happens to be leaving Kazakhstan along with Casey. I know that she has made many good friends there and is sad to leave so soon. I believe all the sexual assaults and other assaults that have happened are the primary reason the PC is pulling out of Kazakhstan. Also, I understand that the USA is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But I also know that most of the time, if someone is being assaulted and is screaming for help, other people will step in and help. This was not the case in Kazakhstan for the PCVs, according to my daughter. I am relieved she is coming home for this reason, although I’m sad that she didn’t get the chance to complete her mission.

David Lassiter November 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Wow! This is very, very sad. The current and former PCV’s in K-stan can be fortified that their work was worthwhile and appreciated by those they touched in their towns and villages, though they may not fully realize this for years to come. The PC/Korea program, in which I served, was teminated after 15 years due to budget cuts by Congress. Those of us who served there can be thankful for a nation that treated us well and has been thankful for our service. For me, reading Joshua’s account of the end of PC service in K-stan only humbles my own rich and rewarding experience in Korea. God knows there were the hard and difficult times, but overall, it was an experience that gave positive direction to my future. I can only hope it does likewise for Joshua and his fellow PCV’s.

Kazakhnomad November 22, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Casey, thanks for sharing your pain of leaving KZ. I have felt the same several times over. Sad to say, there will be much more heartbreak to follow…

Kazbek Aubakirov November 23, 2011 at 3:23 am

As one of many Kazakhstan people whose lives changed because of the Peace Corps, I want to thank Volunteers for their work.

Dinara November 27, 2011 at 12:34 am

I’m totally agree. Thanks every PCV who changed our lives. I’ll really miss them!!!

Jonathan December 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Well written Casey!

Eric Radich January 4, 2012 at 9:00 am

I understand that I leave here absolutely no appeal to the place, but most do not apply to anyone. You, as a civilized man, was in Kazakhstan, and know the problems of people who “helps” power to live.
I am disabled wheelchair. The state does not give me a job and the economy is so bad that I can no longer find it myself. Allowance from the state $ 150 a month. And if two years ago, it lacked even the food, but now after all the price increases by almost 3 times, it is impossible to live on.
Treatment of public bodies, the head of government and the president of the International Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities – did not yield any results.
If you can find me a job with your help through the Internet – I speak in part, CorelDRAW and Adobe Photoshop – I beg you to write.
I apologize for my country, the regime tolerates power. And here my ineptitude treatment.
Sincerely Eric Radich

Bob January 4, 2012 at 10:22 am

“Also, unlike Kazakhstan, it is perfectly possible that someone with otherwise marketable skills cannot make a living in Kyrgyzstan; many locals cannot make a living in Kyrgyzstan either. The country is not economically viable. Kyrgyzstan is critically dependent on remittances of migrant workers and aid, but Kazakhstan is not; it actually has a net positive trade balance. And that is why crying rivers about the end of something that is fundamentally an aid program is disingenuous.” … Isaev, M. M.

Kazakhstan is still a developing country. While it is rich in resources, it follows that it also has the resource curse. Poverty and illiteracy will continue to be the norm through most of the country for some time. Highly skewed income distributions with no middle class will get worse without the contribution from international development organizations. The potential growth of terrorist groups that we have seen of late may result in strengthening the hand of repression. An economic union with Russian and Belarus only serves to cement its subservient position to Moscow. To argue that its time for Peace Corps to leave because it enjoys a net inflow on its current account is a failure to understand how deep the problems are that Kazakhstan faces. Looking at the record of resource cursed countries in the mid east and central Asia, its quite possible that 20 years from now Kyrgyzstan will really be the Switzerland of Central Asia, not just for its geographic features, but for its democratic, market, and financial institutions. Will Peace Corps have played an important role in that process and will Kazakhstan come to regret not doing more to welcome and support Peace Corps?

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