The stereotypical Peace Corps volunteer is young, inexperienced and looking for a feel-good adventure. Then there are volunteers like Seattleite Willoughby Ann Walshe.
She's 75 and a veteran of the publishing business, having worked for three decades near Frankfurt as an editor of the magazine Made in Germany. Now she's putting her experience to use in Kyrgyzstan.Based in a small village near the capital city, Bishkek, Walshe has been teaching at a secondary school. She discovered many things about the way schools are run in her host country, a mountainous region that lies in central Asia. For one thing, corporal punishment is alive and well. She tells SW: "When students don't obey class rules, they are punished. The teacher might twist their ears, wrap them on the knuckles, or stand them in the corner with arms raised above their heads."
"Students are also expected to clean the grounds," she says. "On the appointed day of the week, they run around the halls wielding wooden rakes." If being a student in Kyrgyzstan sounds rough, consider this: Walshe says students invariably get grades that denote "outstanding" or "excellent" performance. Anything less and a teacher would lose face.
It all could make for some fascinating conversations between Kyrgyz and American people. There's only one thing: Up until now, translation has been next to impossible. Walshe discovered that no comprehensive Kyrgyz-English dictionary exists. To speak English, residents of the former Soviet Republic have relied on dictionaries that translate Russian into English.
So Walshe tracked down the author of a simple Kyrgz-English dictionary she had been given upon her arrival in the country and found that he had been working on a much bigger project. She offered her assistance and together, Walshe and Baktybek Kurmanakunov, an English teacher at Jalal-Abad State University, are getting ready to publish the first ever Kyrgz-English, English- Kyrgz dictionary.
It's set to be distributed in the spring of 2013, at which point Kyrgyz students will hopefully be empowered to use two languages to say: "Ouch, that's hurting my ear!"