Partial Transcript: Peace Corps Oral History Project interview, November 19, 2008, with Blake Stabler, volunteer in Russia.
Segment Synopsis: Stabler was born in Atlanta, Georgia and moved around a lot when he was younger. He spent the later half of his childhood in Easley, South Carolina. He went to college in Atlanta as a history major and philosophy minor and went to Peace Corps immediately after graduating. One of his influences for applying for Peace Corps was his volunteer work at a center for immigrants. He describes some of his other volunteer and work experiences as well as the process of applying for Peace Corps. He had had no previous international experience, except for traveling to the United Kingdom. He was invited to go to Western Russia with Peace Corps.
Keywords: File clerks; Law firms; Legal file clerks
Subjects: Alpha Phi Omega; Archives.; Atlanta (Ga.); Atlanta History Center; Clerks.; Easley (S.C.); Education, Higher.; Georgia Humanities Council; Greek letter societies.; History.; Immigrants.; Internship programs.; Latin language; Lawyers.; Libraries.; Malnutrition.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Russia.; Philosophy.; Russia.; Schools.; Soup kitchens; Voluntarism.; Volunteer; Volunteers.
Partial Transcript: Um--(clears throat)--so you reported for some kind of staging--
Segment Synopsis: Stabler attended a staging in Washington, D.C. for Peace Corps. The program for Russia started in the 1990s as a business development program and evolved to an English as a second language (ESL) program. The training was in a town an hour from Moscow called Zelenograd. He describes the host family he lived with. They had language training in the morning and training on teaching English, Russian culture (including how to cook foods he hadn't seen before), and self-defense in the afternoon. He describes this training and his perception of Moscow. He ended up in a rural village in the Penza Region, assigned to a specific school.
Keywords: Cereals; English as a foreign language; English as a second language; Food safety; Foodborne illnesses; Grains; Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology; Penza Region (Russia); Russian alphabet; Teaching English as a foreign language; Teaching English as a second language
Subjects: Alphabets.; Audio-lingual method (Language teaching); Education.; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers.; Food habits.; Food safety and technology; Food.; Foodborne diseases.; Grain.; Language learning and language teaching; Local transit; Moscow (Russia); Moskovskiĭ fiziko-tekhnicheskiĭ institut; Occupational training.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Russia.; Penzenskai︠a︡ oblastʹ (Russia); Russia.; Russian language.; Self-defense.; Supermarkets; Teaching.; Ticks; Training; Washington (D.C.); Zelenograd (Russia)
Partial Transcript: So go on and tell me something more about your job.
Segment Synopsis: Stabler describes his job during his time in Peace Corps. He states that at first, he was supposed to just show up at the school for the first couple of days and eventually the school would assign him work. He ended up teaching English classes by the book that was mandated. He also held English groups for students who wanted more practice. He discusses the variability of the Russian class schedule. He describes his living situation, in which he stayed in one room of a two bedroom communal apartment. He discusses the rest of the apartment and the people he lived with. Stabler continues by describing some of his culture shock, including the common practice of officials openly holding large guns, in addition to the cold weather. He describes what he did for recreation, describing his participation in baseball, reading, and parties.
Keywords: Cultural differences; English as a foreign language; English as a second language; Guns; Pay phones; Payphones; Semi-automatic firearms; Teaching English as a foreign language; Teaching English as a second language
Subjects: Baseball.; Buses; Christianity.; Cross-country skiing; Culture shock.; Education.; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers.; Firearms.; Friendship.; Heating.; Hobbies.; Holidays; Hot-water heating.; Intergroup relations.; Interpersonal relations; Islam.; Judaism.; Leisure.; Lifestyles.; Local transit; Manners and customs; Militarization.; Outdoor recreation.; Parties.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Russia.; Recreation.; Russia.; Schools.; Snow.; Social interaction.; Sports.; Teaching.; Telephone booths; Water heaters; Winter
Map Coordinates: 53.25, 44.566667
Partial Transcript: Did you travel at all?
Segment Synopsis: Stabler says he would go into Penza to meet other volunteers. He traveled during the first summer he was there, helping with a children's camp in the Ural Mountains and a camp in Siberia. He describes his interactions with the school's principal and some other employees and Russian natives, as well as some more of his daily life in regard to his teaching. He describes how Peace Corps was viewed by the community, stating it was basically a neutral presence. Russians would ask him about things they were confused about in American culture. He tells a story about an anti-Semitic experience he had on a train.
Keywords: Cultural differences; Trains; Ural Mountains
Subjects: American culture; Anti-Semitism.; Bars (Drinking establishments); Buses; Camps.; Central Asia; Cross cultural communication; Education.; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers.; Friendship.; Intercultural communication.; Intergroup relations.; Interpersonal relations; Jewish people; Jews--Russia.; Kazakhstan; Leisure.; Lifestyles.; Local transit; Manners and customs; Moscow (Russia); Novosibirsk (Russia); Olympic Winter Games (19th : 2002 : Salt Lake City, Utah); Passenger trains; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Russia.; Penza (Russia); Permʹ (Russia); Railroads--Passenger traffic; Recreation.; Russia.; Saint Petersburg (Russia); Siberia (Russia); Social interaction.; Teaching.; Travel.; Ural Mountains (Russia); Ural Mountains Region (Russia); Uzbekistan; Winter Olympics.
Map Coordinates: 60, 105
GPS: Novosibirsk (Russia)
Map Coordinates: 55.05, 82.95
GPS: Penza (Russia)
Map Coordinates: 53.2, 45
GPS: Ural Mountains (Russia)
Map Coordinates: 60, 60
GPS: Perm (Russia)
Map Coordinates: 58, 56.316667
GPS: Moscow (Russia)
Map Coordinates: 55.755833, 37.617222
GPS: Saint Petersburg (Russia)
Map Coordinates: 59.9375, 30.308611
Map Coordinates: 42, 63
Map Coordinates: 48, 68
Partial Transcript: What, uh--so your, your time was up in 2002?
Segment Synopsis: Stabler describes his experience with renewing his visa during Peace Corps. When he returned to the U.S., he moved in with his parents in Florida and felt out of place. He describes some culture shock he experienced when faced with the aisle of shampoo and all the choices in supermarkets. He describes his struggles getting a job and making friends after returning. At the time of the interview, he works at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. He is studying international development and agricultural economics. He was inspired by the business origins of the Peace Corps program in Russia as well as the rural region he was assigned to during his Peace Corps time.
Keywords: Agricultural economics; Consumerism; International commerce; International development
Subjects: Agricultural economists; Agriculture--Economic aspects.; Agriculture.; Business.; Choices; Community development.; Consumption (Economics); Culture shock.; Diplomacy.; Estonia; Florida.; Friendship.; Germany.; International commerce and arbitration; International negotiation and development; Interpersonal relations; Jūrmala (Latvia); Latvia; Lifestyles.; Lithuania.; Manners and customs; Netherlands.; Occupations.; Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Russia.; Poland.; Russia.; Self-service stores.; Supermarkets; Travel.; Work.
Map Coordinates: 56.966667, 23.75
Map Coordinates: 59, 26
Map Coordinates: 57, 25
Map Coordinates: 55, 24
Map Coordinates: 52, 20
Map Coordinates: 51, 9
Map Coordinates: 52.316667, 5.55
Map Coordinates: 28.1, -81.6
Map Coordinates: 60, 90
Partial Transcript: W--uh, so what do you think the impact of your Peace Corps service was on Russia?
Segment Synopsis: Stabler thinks the impact he made through Peace Corps heavily relied on person to person contact and affected how the villagers viewed Americans. He thinks Peace Corps had a huge impact on him in the sense that it influenced his career choice and interest in international development and agriculture. He discusses how the Peace Corps affected his perception of the world and specifically Russia. He describes the history of the Peace Corps program in Russia, including where sites were established, how the government viewed it, and what the program set out to do. He thinks the Peace Corps as an organization is valuable for trying to work on a micro level instead of trying to fix larger issues. He also thinks it's good that Peace Corps fosters people who are comfortable going to places where most people don't want to go.
Keywords: Business English; English as a foreign language; English as a second language; Teaching English as a foreign language; Teaching English as a second language; Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
Subjects: Business.; Cognition and culture.; Communication and culture.; Cross-cultural studies.; Cultural awareness.; Cultural pluralism.; English language--Business English.; English language--Study and teaching--Foreign speakers.; Intercultural communication.; Interpersonal relations.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Russia.; Russia.; Saratov (Russia); Schools.; Test of English as a Foreign Language.; Volga River (Russia); Volga River Region (Russia)
WILSON: Peace Corps Oral History Project interview November 19, 2008with Blake Stabler, volunteer in Russia. Blake, if you would, start by just telling giving us your full name, where you were born with a little something about your family and growing up.
STABLER: Okay. My full name is Blake Jackson Stabler. I was bornin Atlanta, Georgia in 1978. My mom is a teacher and my dad is an engineer and my brother is a painter, but anyway I let's see. So like when I joined Peace Corps or more?
WILSON: Well yeah where did you go to high school? When did you finish?Did you, you know study abroad or? 00:01:00
STABLER: Okay, my father used to build power plants and so we wouldmove around a lot, especially when I was younger. We lived in Georgia and Florida, Missouri, and then we moved to South Carolina, which was the headquarters of the company and I went through to I guess 5th grade through 12th grade in South Carolina, so that's where I did most of my growing up in a town called Easley. It's between Clemson and Greenville, probably 30,000 people so not a small, small town but not a large city by any means. I went to college in Atlanta; it was the most exciting place I could think of when I was 18, having grown up mainly in the south. And then after that I went to Russia with Peace Corps.
WILSON: What did you study in college?00:02:00
STABLER: In college, I was a history major and I chose as my advisornot knowing this was important at the time, a Russian historian just because I liked his class, which I had taken which had been nothing about Russia. But he happened to be and yeah I also, I minored in philosophy, so I spent a lot of time in college reading Heidegger and doing really practical things like that.
WILSON: Did you, so you graduated from college in?
STABLER: I graduated from college in 2000. My senior year was 1999-2000and that was sort of the middle of the internet boom. And I was living in Atlanta and people were getting jobs mainly writing for websites was the big thing. And there were all these companies that no longer exist, except for autotrader.com, which is still there. But there were hundreds of them and they were hiring anyone who could write a complete sentence in English to help them write their website, usually people 00:03:00right out of college because the job market was so strong at the time. And I just didn't think that sounded like something I wanted to do. I had been volunteering at a center for immigrants and we mainly had people from Somalia at the time and some older folks from Vietnam who had been in the United States a little longer, and usually had better English in one of my classes. But and I had done that and I thought that was kind of interesting if nothing else. I enjoyed it; I enjoyed working with the people and helping them with their English. And I went to an information session on Peace Corps. I had never really known anyone who had been in Peace Corps, but it sounded interesting. I went to my interview and I was they were like well you have to go do all this medical stuff, and I did all of that and you know I was 22 00:04:00I was plenty healthy so it wasn't a big deal. And I left summer after college in August.
WILSON: So was there anything else in your background that you can thinkof that might have led you to this?
STABLER: I, in college I was very active with volunteering. I wasin a service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, and I let's see we were really active in sort of soup kitchen type work and this. I was very concerned with hunger at the time for I'm not sure where the interest came from but with combating hunger and malnutrition in this country. And yeah I don't know exactly. I remember having to write an essay and for Peace Corps and being like well why are you doing this. And 00:05:00I'm like well because I don't have another job is what you want to write to some extent. Like well you know I don't want to go write internet websites and try to sell gifts on gifts.com or whatever the, whoever was hiring on campus. So I--
STABLER: It just wasn't appealing. I, let's see I had done a coupleinternships in college. I had worked for a non-profit, for the Georgia Humanities Council, which I kind of enjoyed and it was working with libraries in schools mainly on they were calling it character education at the time. I'm sure that term has fallen out of use, but yeah and that was okay. And I had worked some really, really awful jobs. I did, as a history major I did an internship in an archive at the Atlanta History Center, which was awful. I didn't want to sit there 00:06:00and where the little white gloves and categorize the photographs one by one of what they are. And let's see what else. I'm trying to think of what else I had done that made me not want to go work in an office. I don't know, I just didn't want to for some reason.
WILSON: Well so you say you went to this kind of information conference.Was it a Peace Corps recruiter on campus as part of a career thing or what?
STABLER: It was a Peace Corps recruiter at the Peace Corps recruitingoffice there in Atlanta.
WILSON: So you had to take the initiative?
STABLER: So I had to go downtown and go to the federal building and itwasn't, security in the federal building wasn't quite what it is now so I can't imagine what it would be like now. But you know you walk through a metal detector and they question you.
WILSON: So what happened that made you even think about going to do that?
STABLER: Well at the time I thought the one thing I really lacked was aforeign language for one thing. I had taken, in a misguided effort to 00:07:00become a medieval historian, I had taken a lot of Latin, which turns out not to be very practical unless you're going to join the Catholic Church. So I needed, I wanted a living language. I don't know if I needed it or if it's just something I was interested in. And this sounded like a good way to go somewhere and learn a language and learn some new things and not have to go to an office every day.
WILSON: Okay, tell me a little something about the process of joining.
STABLER: I've, since I've joined I've heard all kinds of horrorstories about the process and people whose medical clearances took two years and who went to the office 100 times. And I remember doing an application and-- 00:08:00
WILSON: Online or--?
STABLER: No, no I was still typing applications in 2000. I may havebeen a little backwards but I believe it was all on paper and it was all in forms, and so there was an electric typewriter in the student center I would use and go borrow it and type things up. And then there had been, let's see who was it, Paul. What's his last name? The registrar of the school actually had been a Peace Corps volunteer and I, when I started thinking about it I went to him and I went, "You were in Peace Corps, weren't you?" and talked to him about it and it sounded interesting. I think he'd been in the Philippines, don't quote me on that one. I forget, somewhere in Asia, an island somewhere--it could have been another country.
STABLER: But the recruiting process was smooth. I did the application,00:09:00I, I mean I lived in Atlanta and the recruiting office was there so I guess that simplified things. I had to go downtown one day for an interview where I had that fateful question, "Do you want to learn French?" And I said, "No, I didn't like French in high school." And they said, "What about Russian?" And I'm like, "Well Russian sounds interesting, sure."
WILSON: And is that how you indicated the country? Did you have anoption to request certain parts of the world or--?
STABLER: There was an option and I said I was open to anywherebasically. I don't think I had any preference, but they I guess saw something that said Russia. I don't know.
STABLER: It's actually interesting. A lot of the people I was inPeace Corps with had backgrounds ironically in classical languages and 00:10:00Latin and Greek and Hebrew and the sort of dead languages for whatever reason seemed to be kind of common I guess because the idea was you had studied a lot more grammar than most people. And since Russian grammar was going to be the bane of your existence for two and a half years.
WILSON: And you had had no previous international experience?
STABLER: Not really. I had traveled to the United Kingdom before andthat was really it. And I mean London feels kind of like you flew to a different part of the US and people just talk a little different. It's not, it wasn't the same kind of culture shock I guess.
WILSON: Okay so you applied, things went fairly smoothly. How quickly00:11:00did you get your invitation and for where? You did this while you were still in senior year?
STABLER: I did this in the fall I guess of my senior year and so Iinterviewed probably October, November or something. And by mid-winter I was done with the medical part and I guess I didn't get. I had said I wanted to go at some point in the summer, and I think the recruiter had said that should be doable. And I don't think I got the application, the invitation though until it was probably May or so, May or June before and August departure so.
WILSON: And what did you do between graduation and departure?00:12:00
STABLER: I, unfortunately one of the people I was, well I wasvolunteering at this immigrant center. And the sort of head English teacher came down with prostate cancer, and so I was able to fill in for him for the summer at night. And then I had really awful job at a law firm where I put papers in reverse chronological order all day, and it made me never, ever want to go to law school. And it was a really, it was an awful place to work. People were not nice to each other. It was everyone wanted everything now. There was a backlog for I don't know of months and months of unfiled papers, yet if one of them wasn't where it was supposed to be, people freaked out. Yet they only brought me on for like 20 hours a week or something.
WILSON: So you got your invitation for?00:13:00
STABLER: For Western Russia they called it. Russia was divided intotwo countries by Peace Corps at the time. There was Western Russia and Eastern Russia, with two sort of headquarters and two entirely different programs. And I said sure and I sent in lots and lots of paperwork for a visa, and I started I tried to learn some Russian before I left. I had a friend from college who was a philosophy major friend, who brought me this little book from when she had been a child and fled the Soviet Union. They were from Ukraine I believe and they left at some point I guess in the mid-80s or so. And so she'd been born in what's now Ukraine and grew up in New York City and then they moved down to Atlanta at some point. But anyway she went through the alphabet with me and some very, very basic phrases. Like I could find the bathroom 00:14:00and I could like, nothing too complex. And the book was really funny because it was Soviet era so there was a wonderful thing about Lenin as the father of all children on the back. And I mean it was typical alphabet stuff except the words are like concrete is one of them and steel and there are lots of big industrial words that I never used at my site and never really saw. But that's how I learned the alphabet.
WILSON: So you reported for some kind of staging or something?
STABLER: Yes we had a pre, oh god, staging was in Washington D.C., and--
WILSON: This was August of--?
STABLER: August of 2000.
WILSON: Of 2000, okay.
STABLER: August of 2000, yeah staging was in Washington D.C. I leftfrom my parents' house; my parents had moved to Florida while I was in 00:15:00college. And we left from there that morning and had, I don't know I guess we had two days maybe of staging and got on a plane and flew into Moscow. And we connected, where did we connect, I guess in Frankfurt.
STABLER: And the staging was a little unusual. I didn't know it wasunusual at the time. We had someone who had been a volunteer in Russia come and speak to us, because I guess it was in D.C. it was easy to find returned Peace Corps people. And the at the time director of Peace Corps Mark Schneider, is that his name?
STABLER: Okay, I actually met him a couple times. He came to ourstaging, which I thought he just went to every staging you know to say hi and wish everyone well. And I guess that was because Russia was 00:16:00sort of a different situation and people were like no, no you have to pay attention to this group, you have to go to their staging today.
WILSON: And the program had begun in Russia in the mid-90s?
STABLER: Yes, in the early to mid-90s and it started as a businessdevelopment program, and there was still some business English and business development work, but it had really moved into a teaching English as a foreign language program. And we were in Russia at the invitation of the minister of education.
WILSON: So from Moscow you went where and where did you train and whatwas that like?
STABLER: We flew into Moscow and we trained in a town, it's actuallyit's technically a ward of Moscow, but it's about an hour north called Zelinigrad, and it's the home. Its claim to fame, it's the home of the Moscow Institute of Electronic Physics, and so in Soviet times 00:17:00it had been sort of a closed scientific research community that was close enough to Moscow so you could still go in to go to the opera or whatever you needed to do in town. And it was, it's really unlike most of Russia being that it had been closed and it was built, and it was built fairly late. I guess it was built probably in the '70s so it was newer than a lot of Russian cities, and nicer and better laid out because I mean it was a planned development.
WILSON: And what was your training like?
STABLER: Let's see, we lived in host families. I lived with a womanand her daughter in a one bedroom apartment, which was pretty typical. They both slept in the living room and I had the bedroom. I think 00:18:00Peace Corps required rooms to have a door that would close. They had a beautiful balcony off the apartment and my host mother kept these beautiful plants. She was growing little tiny cherry tomatoes in a pot and then she had all these flowers and it was really, it was really nice. It was an enclosed balcony; I guess she moved all the plants indoors in the winter. I'm not quite sure how that worked; I don't ever remember being there in the winter.
WILSON: And the purpose?
STABLER: So I did that and yeah and the training we had languagetraining all morning if I recall. And then in the afternoons we had some stuff on teaching English. There were some sessions on Russian culture. There were lots of sort of almost self-defense like classes, what to do if gypsy children come up and grab both your legs, what to do if someone throws you against the wall on a train, what to do. You 00:19:00just because I mean at the time Russia was a more violent place than it is now I'd say just because the economy wasn't doing quite as well.
WILSON: So this was sort of security?
STABLER: A lot of security and a lot of safety, who to buy food from,who not to buy food from, how to recognize who these people are. And you know how to, even there was a session on how to cook some of these things that you'd never seen. There were all these grains when you go to the market. There's kruply, which I guess is I don't know if it translates as grains of cereals or something like that, and you just buy them by the kilogram. And someone takes a big scoop into this giant burlap bag and pull out whatever it was. And most of these aren't things, as an American I would have recognized like buckwheat 00:20:00and millet and I guess you'd call them wheat berries and various things that Russians eat mainly sort of like cereal or porridge. And just there was a I remember there was a day the nurse came in and she was like, "Were going to talk about grains and you need fiber in your diet and here's how long you cook each of these and here's what you do with them. And this one you have to wash and this one you don't have to wash, and don't wash the rice it will take the vitamins off but do wash this because it's dirty. And be sure to pick the rocks out of this, but this stuff is fine."
WILSON: So that was sort of part of your health training?
STABLER: It was part of the health training, and there was a lot of that.
WILSON: What other things as part of health training? Diseases, I mean00:21:00in tropical areas very obviously there's a lot of stuff about worms and malaria and those things.
STABLER: Yeah, there was some stuff on ticks. Everyone got immunizedfor Siberian borne encephalitus, was the scariest of the diseases. And if you got bit by a tick you were always supposed to save it and go to a poly clinic they called them, a public health clinic somewhere, anywhere in Russia just walk in with your tick and say, "Go check this one and make sure it doesn't have any and come back."
STABLER: But yeah there were ticks. There really weren't, I mean therewas some stuff on water. We had electric distillers actually, and so you were supposed to always distill your water. And then there were sort of, there were clear things you weren't supposed to do regarding water. And then there was a lot of in between like if I'm at someone's 00:22:00house and they're making tea, I'm allowed to drink the tea right. And it's like well probably if it's boiled you're allowed to drink it. And it's like well how do you know if it's boiled. You've got all these debates on soups and how long the soup's been sitting out and is it safe, but that was sort of on the margins of health. It was I mean the main health risk were sort of food borne illness and not knowing how to shop for food, because there was a lot of sort of pirated goods in the market that might not necessarily be food. And since it's something you're not already super familiar with, the idea is you'd have a harder time recognizing it than a Russian to be like, "No, those aren't champion mushrooms. Those are poisonous mushrooms and those aren't." Yeah and you weren't supposed to pick mushrooms in the woods and berries and all of that, or eat ones that other people would pick, which was commonly violated so. 00:23:00
WILSON: And tell me something more about the language training. Wasthat associated with the home stays or were the home stays mostly for cultural purposes?
STABLER: My home stay was really only Russian speaking. I mean Svyeta,who was a I guess she was a high school student at the time was taking English at school but she didn't speak very much, and she hadn't heard spoken English very much. They from Soviet times they studied English as if it was almost a dead language. And it's just you'd learn how to read through something and translate it into Russian, which is useful for a dead language if you want to read something that's written in it, but not useful for a living language. And so she didn't really speak. The language classes were all taught by Russians, and I guess that is probably why we were located in Zelinigrad, most of them came 00:24:00from, there was an institute in Moscow. I don't even know what it's called, but it's where people, where Russians studied who wanted to teach Russian as a foreign language abroad or within I mean I guess in Soviet times it would have been within the Soviet Union. Like if you wanted to go off to Tajikistan and teach Russian, this is the institute you went to. It's the best university in the country that does this, and so most of them had come from that school and they probably wanted to be near that school, and that's probably why we were in Zelinigrad.
STABLER: It was a really good training. I learned and I guess we hadsix weeks of training, and in six weeks I learned, I don't know, I think you were supposed to have a 1,000 word vocabulary by the end of six weeks. And it was fairly intensive. The teaching style was not 00:25:00very Russian I learned later on. It was fairly, I guess the audio lingual method, you hear something and then you repeat it back and you learn entire phrases. You don't worry too much about the grammar you know. But I mean there was a basic grammar component and there was, they were having to teach people who hadn't learned the alphabet yet. And so I was in a class where people had learned the alphabet but knew nothing else, and they had different grades of classes that they separated people into fairly early.
WILSON: But you were fairly quickly able to communicate with your hostfamily and stuff?
STABLER: Well there wasn't any--
WILSON: No other choice?
STABLER: There was no other choice. I'm sure I pointed a lot and it'sand now things I wouldn't say I would just string together words and 00:26:00hope that that meant something. But I don't recall with my host family and my host mother and her daughter ever being really an issue of any sort. I mean I remember my first big language frustration was before I knew how to ask directions, and I'd be somewhere and I could do some things. Like I could count and I could identify a lot of things but I couldn't really say much, and it was just really frustrating being like saying some word and not having someone just point you oh right there. Right there you're a block away from your school, go there. Like if I had gotten on the wrong bus in the morning or something and ended up somewhere where I kind of knew where I was and I knew I was close to where I was supposed to be, I just wasn't exactly there. I remember that was frustrating. I actually somehow on the first day of school even or the first day of training, I guess we got there and 00:27:00had a weekend to sleep and get rid of the jetlag and enjoy the Russian family. But I had gotten on, I had gotten on the right bus but I had gotten off at the wrong stop. And I can't believe that I convinced my host mother somehow that I was going to be able to do this alone, because I remember being offered somehow like, "No, no, I'm going to go with you," and being like, "No, I can do it. I'm here. I'm stuck here now. I'm going to make it." And then immediately you know getting off. And as soon as I got off at the bus stop I went this isn't the right one and the bus pulls away, and I'm like I'm not at the right place now. It must have been the bus stop before this, how do I get back there you know. And I eventually found my way. There's a little, it was briefly disconcerting.
WILSON: And when did you find out where you would be assigned and didyou have any choice in that or--? 00:28:00
STABLER: We had interviews with I guess the regional directors.
WILSON: Peace Corps directors?
STABLER: Peace Corps directors who were all locals, well actually mostof them had been pulled up from a town in the south of Russia, Seratov, because that's where Peace Corps had originally put their headquarters for Western Russia because most of the sites were in the Volga Valley and so they picked a spot right in the middle of the Volga Valley, and the Russians didn't really like that.
WILSON: So these were Russians?
STABLER: These were Russians but not necessarily Muscovites.
WILSON: Yeah okay.
STABLER: And there were lots of things like would you prefer to be in arural or urban area, and that was really the only. I don't know that that was even a choice, it was just they talked to you about what you wanted to do and where you wanted to be and I guess I answered all those questions wrong or something. 00:29:00
STABLER: No, no just that I thought well I'm in Peace Corps, thisshould be, because especially Zelinigrad is a very, very modern part of Moscow. It's newer, people shop in what's basically a supermarket. There's only one outdoor market in the town of I don't know a couple hundred thousand people, which would be very unusual for Russia not to have lots of small little markets and not much retail infrastructure, or at the time. That's all been, I mean people are investing heavily in retail now in Russia. So it was very different and I didn't particularly like Moscow. We'd go in on the weekends and go to things and I'm like no, and I didn't realize that other cities in Russia weren't at all like that. But I know that it wasn't appealing and I 00:30:00found it, I mean the worst stereotypes about New York like it's rude and even if you ask directions people won't tell you, and I mean part of these things were language barriers probably. I asked directions and I probably pronounced some word wrong, and people had no idea what I was saying. I just wanted to know the way to get back to the metro or something like that. And so I said, "No, no, let's go for a rural area. How small can I get?" And they're like well we're not doing really small because you know the ministry of education isn't interested in this and that and the other, but we'll send you somewhere.
WILSON: And so you ended up?
STABLER: I ended up in I mean in Peace Corps circles I usually call ita village. The Russian word is posyolok, which the best translation I've seen is a housing settlement. It's a cross between a village and a suburb of some sort. So it's not right on the edge of town, like 00:31:00there's a lot of housing usually on the edge of Russian cities and it just expands out and out and out. And it's beyond that but it's sort of within the range of a city bus. So you could get into the city if you needed to, but it wouldn't be particularly convenient.
WILSON: So this was a part of a larger?
STABLER: This was in the a Penza region, which is in the mid-southof Russia. So it was a, it was sort of a far-flung suburb of Penza, called Posyolok Montazhni.
WILSON: Okay do me a favor and spell all three of those.
STABLER: In which alphabet?
WILSON: The best in our alphabet.
STABLER: Okay in Latin alphabet Penza would be P-E-N-Z-A. And Penzais probably one of the I don't know 30 or 40 largest cities in Russia. 00:32:00It's a fairly, a fairly well known place within Russia. And then I lived in posyolok montazhni, which is two words. The first word is I don't know that I've ever seen it in Latin, P-O-S-Y-O-L-O-K, and the second word montazhni is M-O-N-T-A-Z-H-N-I, though most people live there would use diminutive and sort of say little montazhni, which would be M-O-N-T-A-Z-H-K-I and oh the root montage is I think like scaffolding you use to build something, so it's like the builders' settlement roughly.
WILSON: Well I didn't--00:33:00
STABLER: Which is a very, it's a very, very Soviet name.
WILSON: And you were assigned to a particular school there or what?
STABLER: Yes, I was assigned to school number 45 for that schooldistrict, which was sort of the provincial capital Penza and the immediate surrounding areas, I don't know probably 50, 60, maybe even 100 kilometers out from the city would still be the same area.
STABLER: And I think there were, I used to know a lot of facts about myschool district. I think there were 70 or 80 schools.
WILSON: What was it like arriving there or for that matter just arrivingin Russia?
STABLER: Well arriving there was a little disconcerting. Arriving in00:34:00Russia, hmmm let's do Russia first. Arriving in Russia was sort of the first bad culture shock I had going because you get into the airport and everything's written in Russian. And I could do the alphabet so I could sound out you know telephone on the telephone booth and I mean I didn't know any of the complicated words for customs and border control. All of this and everyone standing there is a really young Russian man carrying an AK-47 just standing in the airport keeping things under control. And it's really quiet; there aren't that, or at the time there weren't that many flights into the international airport. They hadn't expanded the runway, so only certain kinds of planes could land. So it's a really, really quiet airport full of these guys with big machine guns. And then you walk through and it's pretty western. You 00:35:00handover your passport, they stamp some things. They yell at someone behind them to come check and look at something and then they say oh that's okay. You know it's not, there was no harassment of people. It's just the guys standing there with machine guns everywhere was a little disconcerting coming from a slightly less visibly militarized part of the world. Yeah, and then we got on a bus and went off to, we went to our, I guess the university where we did our training, which was the Moscow Institute of Business Administration, which was in Zelinigrad in this area were north of Moscow. And then took a white Land Rover like all Peace Corps countries to the house you'd be staying in, or rather the apartment building. They're all apartment 00:36:00buildings for the most part. And then going to site, most sites sent a counterpart or the school's principal or someone up to Moscow to pick you up. And mine said, "Well, there are other people coming to this province right, just send them with one of them." And so that was a little disconcerting at first because everyone else had met their person and you know you're talking afterwards to other volunteers and they're like, "Oh how's your counterpart?" and, "Oh I really like her, she's really nice." And, "Oh my principal has really good English or really bad English," or, "Oh he's really, he's already corrected my Russian 100 times," or, "No, no, he's ignoring the mistakes." And I'm like oh I don't have anyone yet, they're not going to send me one. And I later learned that's just because we were kind of understaffed as a school, so they're simply if someone had come to Moscow to pick 00:37:00me up there would have been classes not taught and things. There was no way around it really if you wanted to continue to operate. And the principal of my school Serge Anatoliy, or Anatoliy Sergeivitch, sorry, was really nice guy, a very serious man and a great administrator, which I won't say about a lot of people I dealt with in Russia. He was really great and he thought class was the most important thing and if nothing else, everyone realized all of our classes are going to get taught at this school when we say they are, and that's going to happen.
WILSON: So go on and tell me something more about your job.
STABLER: My job, it varied week. I got to site I guess sometime inOctober and I went to school for the first couple days. Some of the 00:38:00advice of Peace Corps was to show up at school at the teachers' lounge and then eventually you'll have something to do, like eventually then you'll get classes if you just hang out long enough was the idea, that you have to remind them that you're there almost. Not that people, not that the principal had forgotten or not that your counterpart had forgotten, but maybe the person who makes the schedules forgot or maybe the person who organizes something else, and by just being awkwardly in the teachers' lounge all the time, they would realize you needed something to do. And so I did that for a couple days, and then they took a--I don't know that they take these holidays anymore, the great October holidays celebrating the revolution, and they take a week off because there's a day for I don't know. Each day is for some different event in the October revolution, so there's a whole week off 00:39:00from school, which I didn't really realize. And I kept on going each day, and the--I mean he's not really a security guard but the guy who keeps the keys and runs the school when people aren't there, sort of a janitor/security guard type would come out. I'd look on the door and I'm like why is it looked and he'd come out and he's like, "No, no, there's no school today." And I'm like really, and then I'd come back the next day. And I did this for a whole week not knowing when this holiday was going to end.
WILSON: And nobody told you and you didn't ask?
STABLER: Well, I didn't know I was supposed to ask and nobody toldme. So I went for a whole week and that was a little confusing and I'm like you're never going to teach classes. And as soon as those holidays ended they gave me a group of classes and I taught some classes that were just regular English classes. I taught, I wish I had my close of service statement, it's either the 5th or the 6th grade 00:40:00my first year, and I taught their regular English class from the book in the order. You got these sort of lesson plans from Moscow that you were supposed to follow, and today where everyone in the entire country is doing chapter one of this book and then tomorrow we're going to do the irregular verb to be, and then the next day we're going to--And it was a really, it's pretty specifically laid it. It was pretty easy to follow in a way, though the students were never aware except they should be aware of this lesson plan that you know they've been following for many years. And so I did that was the only sort of regular during the day English class I had during that first year. And then I did some English groups for students who wanted to work more on their English, so and they were divided by the grades they were in.
WILSON: And was that something organized by the principal or you justtook the initiative on?
STABLER: Most of them were organized by the school, and I think they had00:41:00existed, kind of existed before when they used to have enough English teachers. I think there had been additional English or German classes. Students in my school would take either English or German, and I never understood how they were divided into the two groups, who took English and who took German and who made that decision.
WILSON: But it wasn't as structured from Moscow?
STABLER: No, that was not sort of a regular Russian curriculumstructure. I guess it was probably the initiative of Anatoliy Sergeivitch, the principal. But the actual organization what is, I can remember her name, what's her title? I guess she's like the assistant principal or the vice principal. Someone else is in charge of the 00:42:00schedule for the school, which is I still to this day do not understand how a Russian schedule works exactly and why classes are when they are. But they occur often enough it just changes not every week but almost every week for some reason. Well I guess and it's kind of like here, there's something special that they have to do. You know today is I don't know the memorial day for some Russian writer, everyone has to go to an extra section of literature today and learn about that. And so things moved around a lot, but and I'm glad there was someone who was in charge of this schedule and made it almost like a fulltime job was just doing this schedule on this giant piece of graph paper that was in the teacher's lounge, and then there was a giant sort of poster board version in the hall. And there would always be poor, confused children in the hall looking at this giant matrix of classes and lessons. 00:43:00
WILSON: Trying to figure out where they were supposed to be?
STABLER: Well, they all go as a group though, so the entire if you're3rd grade group A, you're always 3rd grade group A. But they may not know are we supposed to be going to geometry right now or are we supposed to be going to physics or are we supposed to be going to German; they wouldn't necessarily know that.
WILSON: So what was your living situation?
STABLER: It's, the sites in Russia were supposed to secure housing. AndI had a room in a communal apartment. And the communal apartment was owned by two different sets of people, neither of whom were living in it anymore. They had all moved on to non-communal housing for obvious reasons, well for wanting to have their own kitchens say. But it wasn't too bad. My building had been renovated I guess, and it was a 00:44:00typical five story just after World War II Russian apartment building. They're concrete, some of the ones later are called Khruschyobiy, after Khrushchev, it's kind of a derogatory term, sort of like ghetto housing or something. But the one I was in was a little older than that, but it had been renovated at some point so it was only a two bedroom communal apartment. And it wasn't, I mean they get huge; they get to like ten bedrooms at some point.
WILSON: So you were just sharing with two other people or--?
STABLER: There were two people in the other room, and I had my own room,which would lock. And there would be a front door from the stairwell, and we were on the fifth floor. And the rule in Russia is that any 00:45:00building over five floors has an elevator, so of course all buildings are five floors.
WILSON: Okay we're going to have to switch here. Side two of interviewwith Blake Stabler on November 19, 2008. Blake, you were talking about your living situation and the communal apartment. I think you said--
STABLER: Yeah so we were on the fifth floor and there's no elevator,unlike taller buildings in Russia. There would be an elevator, whether it worked or not it would be there. And you'd walk into the door and there'd be the place, I don't even remember the Russian word. There's a specific piece of furniture where you store your boots and coats and hats and all of these, being that it's a rather cold country occasionally. And there'd be the room with the sink and the bathtub, 00:46:00and a shower if you had a shower. And then there'd be the room with the toilet on the left. And those are always separate rooms in almost all of these apartments. And then behind that was the kitchen, and straight ahead with the balcony attached was, and I mean the balcony was just a little, was not like the one in Zelinigrad I was talking about where they were growing little cherry tomatoes and had flowers and all of this. It was a slab on concrete with, I mean you, it was hard for a person to stand on it. It was good for storing cabbage in the winter or you know throwing something out to let get cold, but it wasn't--You could walk outside and smoke a cigarette, I guess. It wasn't a very large space, and the room that the other people rented, and then there was the room that my school rented, which had all of my landlady's stuff that she didn't want in it. She had done well with 00:47:00the privatization of apartments, and I guess she and her children used to live in this one bedroom of a communal apartment, and they had--She owned several properties I think, several apartments communal or not in the area. I'm not exactly, she didn't live in Penza proper; I don't remember the name of the town she lived in. But she had a piano, some bookshelves, a couch, and a tiny bed. It was I almost want to say it's a cot, but it was a real piece of furniture with wood and drawers under it, but not much of a mattress, just a little bit of fabric really.
WILSON: So you weren't really sharing?
STABLER: I wasn't really sharing my room; the facilities and the kitchen00:48:00are what makes it a communal apartment.
WILSON: Right, okay so you were sharing that with a couple of otherpeople?
STABLER: Yeah, yes, with a couple of other people.
WILSON: And so how did that work in terms of cooking and so forth?
STABLER: It's again the people who owned these units were no longerpresent, they had moved onto bigger and better things. So some students from, I was going to say a village, a town called Pachelma is within the sort of Penza state but not directly around Penza. Not in sort of the county area, but is in the larger division. And so they went to the, one went to the teacher's college and the other went to the, I don't know, the technical college, the like engineering school 00:49:00in Penza proper. And this was I guess it was the cheapest housing they could find. It was cheaper than living in the dorms and so they rented this place and so they were gone because they had to take the bus into town and then take another bus to their universities, so it took them a while to get places so they were usually gone until 8:00 or 9:00 at night. At which time I had already come home and fixed dinner and taken a shower and all that. So we worked different schedules, so it wasn't too bad of a sharing situation. Occasionally it was annoying but--
WILSON: But you got to know these people fairly well?
STABLER: Yes, Zhorna and Zhenya. Zhorna took English at the technicaluniversity and so he knew a tiny bit of English. And at first that was 00:50:00very helpful because I could point at things and ask what's that and he could tell me what it was, and I could learn lots of words that way. And Jena didn't know any English, and so we communicated in Russian and he was studying to be they call it physical culture; we would call it physical education, but a physical culture at the teacher's college.
WILSON: What was the most difficult adjustment for you?
STABLER: I think I had kind of freaked out when I first got to Russia.You know the guys with machine guns right there in the airport is a little disconcerting, and in Moscow you get asked for your documents a lot if you're just on the street or taking out the trash or something and you have to show your documents that you're allowed to be where you are. It's an effort to keep out illegal immigrants from around Russia 00:51:00basically, to make sure that everyone is documented. And once I got to the provinces I kind of liked it. My village was really friendly. The first day I got there, again the militarization is kind of a hard, there are lots of people who have very large guns in Russia and they're usually, they're officials. It's not people going hunting or I mean there are people who do that, but they don't have large guns. It's more like here. But I remember going with my principal into the police station to meet all the policemen for the housing settlement. And I got to know them; they were nice people. And they're like, "If you ever have any problems, just walk on right down. We're just a block away from where you live," you know. But at the same time they're standing there with these big guns because that's just kind of how the 00:52:00police work there. They carry big guns and then they never have to use them I think is the concept. And even like a traffic policeman sometimes will have this giant semi-automatic weapon of some sort. And they're perfectly nice. They're not scary. And eventually when you're in a car and you get pulled over and they're checking everyone's documents and you're just chatting with them. It's not, it would be no different than a sort of license check here. It's rather chatty, it's rather friendly, it's just always disconcerting to see the guns to me, and so that was an adjustment. The cold in the winter, because we got there right before it got cold and probably what's the nicest fall weather of the year. And you get this whole week where I've been going to school and then not having anything to do, so I'm going into the town to the central market or going to check my--I didn't have a phone 00:53:00or cell phone in my apartment and so but you could buy a calling card I guess at the post office and use a pay phone, and it was for local calls. I guess you could make longer distance calls; I never tried. But anyway you could do that and so I'd call other volunteers in the region and be like, "Do you have school today?" And they're like, "No, no, I went again today and there's still no school." So other volunteers tended to have phones. It was kind of unusual but I don't, in the, in my stairwell, which I don't know is 15, 20 apartments. I think there was maybe one person who had a phone; it wasn't very common where I was to have a phone. So yeah I went into town in this nice fall weather, and then it gets really cold. But people don't stop going to school and they don't stop doing any of the things they 00:54:00normally do. The outdoor market is still the outdoor market. People are still selling bread in the little kiosk. People are still going to work and driving around and waiting on the bus and doing all the things they normally do, it's just much, much colder.
STABLER: Yeah, it would snow late October and then melt. And then bymid-November there'd be a couple feet of snow. And it's just at least in my region in the village of course there's only one road and it's just the bus, so there was no point in clearing it because they'd just the bus stop would move as the snow built up like further away from the village and you'd walk to it. So instead of clearing the road so the bus would get through, they'd just sort of be like no, the bus stop's moved. So that's sort of how that works, so it just kind of 00:55:00builds up and so yeah. And when it gets, when it first snows it's beautiful because it's gone from being sort of a lot of sort of dead trees and there's lots of litter. At least in my village there was lots of litter. I don't know about all of Russia. And then it snows and everything's white for about a week, and then the snow starts getting dirty from all sorts of things, people walking their dogs and there were a good many livestock sort of wandering around in and near the street. And so that yeah, and the snow doesn't stay clean very long. But for the first week it snows you're like, "Oh it's so clean, it's so beautiful." Everything's covered up in this nice layer of snow and then it all gets packed down and dirty and slippery and it stays 00:56:00there until April usually, yeah. And then it will snow again in May sometimes, but not always.
WILSON: Did you, do you have central heat in the school or yourapartment?
STABLER: The buildings in Russia I like to compare it to airconditioning in south the way they use heat in Russia. While it may be I don't know negative ten degrees on the street today, inside it's going to be 80 degrees.
WILSON: Oh so they overheat?
STABLER: They overheat everything, and it's all these, the heating. atleast for sort of all the, there are two clumps of apartment buildings basically that make up this settlement and some wooden housing and some little farm plots around them, and some jet fuel tankers, but anyway. So that's what it looks like, and all the apartment buildings would be centrally heated from one sort of boiler unit. And I think originally 00:57:00these were all again there were these giant storage tankers that at one point it was sort of a jet fuel storage facility that people worked at. I think at some point whatever they were using in chemical processes and all of that was used to produce the heat for these apartments; that has since shut down. And so they had one central boiler and so you had one knob to control the heat on your sort of hot water unit by the window. And that's how you controlled the heat, and so there wasn't much adjustment to it. You could when it stopped working and the water stopped flowing you could turn it on and get all the dirty water out and flush it down the toilet, and then the hot water would start flowing again. Like something would get stuck and you'd have this little hose on it that you'd have to get it out. But you didn't have much control, so whatever the heat was the heat was. 00:58:00
WILSON: Sort of like the--?
STABLER: It tended to be overheated.
WILSON: Like the university buildings here?
STABLER: A lot like university buildings here, so it's not. People makefun of this kind of engineering but I'm kind of like for a building from the '50s or the '40s this is pretty typical of how it works. It's too hot, and just like here it was always a real sort of debate and talking point when do we want to turn on the heat because I don't think you could turn it entirely off once you turned it on. And so when to turn it on and off became very sort of sticking points that people would talk about. You'd see people, because it would snow in October and they'd usually turn the heat on, and then it melts. Kind of like here, it'd melt and there'd be a week of nice weather, and so you see everyone hanging out in the stairwell during the nice weather with the windows way open from the stairwell being like we can't be in our apartments, it's too hot.
WILSON: What did you do for recreation?00:59:00
STABLER: There was, now in the summer I played baseball actually withthe children. There had been a volunteer at my site previously and apparently in the I don't know mid-90s when he was there, there was some program by one of the major US sports good manufacturers. I want to say it's Russell Athletic, it may have been Champion, one of the big sports goods manufacturers donated lots of baseball equipment to Russia to schools. And I'm not sure why and I'm not sure how many schools took it, though a good many seemed to have it around, or at least a good many where volunteers were located and ended up on this list. And so we had all this equipment and the kids liked to play baseball. And they were confusing things about who runs and who doesn't run and things like that, but not much more so than children the same age here I imagine. They had seen it before I guess from when they were 01:00:00smaller and the previous volunteer had been there. So I did that in the summers a lot and then the spring when the weather was nice and the fall when the weather was nice. And in the winter there was not a lot to do because I mean the village is--In the summer there's a lot to do because the village is surrounded by birch forest, and there are little trails through the forest have been beaten down over the years. I mean some volunteers would do like cross-country skiing through their towns and stuff. I tried cross-country skiing once and it didn't really. I had been resistant. Someone at school was asking me to go, he was taking a group of actually the physical culture, the physical education students. He's like we have a you know cross-country skiing club, don't you want to come? And I'm like, "Well but I'd love to but I don't know how to ski." And he's like, "You put on the boots and you go," and 01:01:00I'm like, "Great! I can do that!" I was all convinced. It was a very good argument for whatever unknown reason, so I put on the boots and everyone else goes. I'm kind of there moving around and you know after about an hour of that I'm like, "I'm glad people enjoy this, I'm sure it's great exercise but this is just not for me," and the wind with the snow like coming up against you going through the woods in the dark, because it gets dark really early too in the winter. It'd be dark all except for like 10:00 to 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, so you'd go to school and leave school in the dark, which is disconcerting sometimes. But in the winter you read a lot. People throw a lot of parties and there are a lot of holidays, both religious and non-religious holidays. And the village was fairly diverse so we would, the whole village 01:02:00would celebrate Jewish and Muslim and Christian holidays. So that was, you get a lot of holidays at that point, which means people usually throw basically big dinner parties in their apartments. And they have these tiny, tiny kitchens with these tiny tables and then you fit you know 15 of your closest friends around a little I don't know three foot by three foot table and eat a lot and drink a lot, and that tends to be what people do in the winter because there's not--You don't really want to be outdoors and there's not. And I mean with employment at the time there wasn't, there weren't a lot of employed people let's say. Not that they were completely unemployed; there were a lot of marginally employed people in my village, who in the summers they might have a little bit of land somewhere and they go pick apples and they also hire themselves out to pick apples. And then they take all their apples 01:03:00home and make apple pies with them and go sell them in the central market one day. But in the winter there's a lot less sort of temporary labor to do.
WILSON: Did you travel at all either?
STABLER: I traveled a little bit. I didn't travel much my first year.I mean I'd go into Penza, the provincial capital, and meet other volunteers from around this area there. And there was one volunteer who lives close to the center of town, so that was always convenient. You could always go to her tiny little apartment, and she lived alone, which was nice, except she had the world's worst stove I've ever seen. It was so scary because you'd like stand on the other side. You'd turn on the gas for the oven and stand on the other side of the room and like throw a match at it. It was really, which I mean my stove you lit with a match. And it was old looking and ugly and rusty, but you 01:04:00didn't have to stand across the room for fear that it may blow up. It was just a little flame at the bottom of the stove you know or at the bottom of the oven. Yeah it was different, so I did that. So the first year, the summer--The first summer I was there I traveled a good bit. I went out to Ural Mountains and did a children's' camp in the Perm region, P-E-R-M, and I also went to Siberia once and did a camp there, which was in I guess it's the Siber region near Novosibersk, which is a fairly major city in central Siberia about I don't know Novosibersk was probably about three or four million people. They have a metro and development, and that's where a lot of the computer industry in 01:05:00Russia is because they all got moved behind the Urals I guess to hide them from the Germans at some point. Yeah and then the second year I remember I wanted, because school runs six days a week but Saturday is only like a half day, which is probably why the scheduling is so complicated because the days aren't even all of this. And I'm like well I want either, and all teachers only work five days of that, again complicating this whole scheduling thing. No wonder they have some problems. But I'm like well I really would like my day off to either be Saturday or Monday so it's against Sunday and then I can leave town, you know I can be at the train station at Penza within an hour or two depending upon when the bus is running from the village. And I could be in like I could leave after school one day and be in Kazan by the next morning and go see some volunteers there and go check out the 01:06:00mosque in Kazan and things like that, but it didn't work out that way, the schedule so. And I had extra groups that the school would do for pay that were for college students that they did to raise money, so and those would always end up being--It's actually that I got the Saturday off but then I ended up having one class on Sunday I had to be there for. After you know begging and begging the scheduler like no we've kind of got it to be Saturday, and then the principal's like well I've scheduled this group for Sunday. I'm like Sunday, can't we do it on Monday? Monday sounds great. So I didn't travel as much as I would have liked, but I got around a good bit. Spring break my second year I went up to Petersburg, which was a lot of fun. The first summer I was there my parents actually came and visited me and we went to Moscow and 01:07:00to my village and to Petersburg, and spent a lot of time of the train.
WILSON: What were your interactions like with your counterparts or otherhost nationals?
STABLER: It's, well at school I really liked the principal and I didn'treally socialize with him I would say, but that was a really positive working relationship. I think he was, I realize now, at the time I thought ever Russian principal was like this, but he was actually a really good person at managing people and managing processes and getting along with other parts of the government. And he was just a, he was a really good principal. And like finding these groups and figuring out how the school could charge money and use it to buy extra books and 01:08:00figuring, he was despite having been a sort of classic come-up-through the administrative system and being risk averse, he wasn't that risk averse but he wasn't too risky, so it was really--He was a--I enjoyed working for him. We, well, I wrote them I guess because he didn't speak any English, but we did some grant applications together for the school, none of which I got but like through that process I really respected what stance he took on the school and what he wanted to do with it. He had a vision of moving this school to really help people find jobs when they left was his goal, and so that's admirable I'd say.
WILSON: Where were the grants have been from, financed?
STABLER: We did a grant from the, oh it's an AOL foundation for some01:09:00computers.
WILSON: Okay so this would have been American monies?
STABLER: That would have been American money. There was also somestuff from the Eurasia Foundation that we applied for, which Eurasia is still mostly American money. They have a couple local sources. One of the, was it Alpha Bank? One of the banks ran a competition and their, I don't think their bank even had a branch in our region but it was something. Peace Corps would send information like that in the mail or by telegram was how I got most of my information from Peace Corps, so.
WILSON: When you were talking about your classes, how many studentswould you have in a class?
STABLER: It's in a sort of regular Russian school day class it's about01:10:00somewhere between 15 and 20, and then in a group it depends on how many are interested. All 15 or 20 might be interested from that particular grade or it might be eight or nine.
WILSON: Oh so they got to sort of choose?
STABLER: I'm not sure who chose, if they chose or if their parents choseor if the vice principal decided.
WILSON: I see.
STABLER: I'm not sure who chose; I think their parents chose reallywhether they wanted to do it or not. Because it would involve, the school served our village and there were three military bases actually that bussed kids in. And so sometimes there'd be a scheduling issue well with the bus and sort of after school things that you'd have to get around for a child.
WILSON: In the facilities themselves, what did you have to work with?You mentioned there were textbooks or something.
STABLER: There were textbooks, and the students took the textbooks home01:11:00at night. There were chalkboards. There wasn't much chalk but I just bought chalk at the market, which I don't know was the best solution but it, there tended not to be chalk in teachers, but teachers would have chalk in their purse or in their bag or somewhere. I don't think it was that much trouble to get chalk, it just wasn't if you walked into a classroom you might not find it. Yeah there weren't, I mean there were heaters and windows in all the rooms. It was a two story concrete building, the school. And then it had a rather large gym for basketball and indoor stuff during the winter, and then the back of the gym the room where they store all the cross country stuff to go skiing. 01:12:00
WILSON: Were there any other particularly meaningful relationshipseither with host nationals or other Peace Corps volunteers?
STABLER: Well, my counterpart and I didn't really work that welltogether I'd say, unlike the principal and I. And there were two other English teachers at the school, one my counterpart and then another woman. And I worked better with her and not my counterpart, but the older woman and I were kind of friends so I would go to her apartment for lunch on the weekends or I would you know do things with her. And then I mean I spent a lot of time with the other two guys in the communal apartment. There was a college student from one of these paid 01:13:00classes I became friends with, Katja, who lived in the next apartment building over from mine with her parents and was going to, oh god I can't remember the name of the university. It's like the equivalent of Penza State, but it had a different name at the time, but it was the main central university in the region. And other meaningful people, I got along with both of these sort of security guard people at school and actually the second year I became, I made one of them my tutor kind of for Russian.
WILSON: Oh for Russian?
STABLER: Yes, and so after school she, her job was to sit there with allthe keys in case something went wrong, and so I would sit there in this little sort of cage unit in front of the school where you would hang your coat I guess during the school day. And we would talk and work on my Russian. And I'd say that was the most meaningful relationship. 01:14:00Margarita Mikhailev has really been a victim of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She was an engineer. She had, I forget where she grew up, somewhere in the quote unquote northwest in central Russia between Moscow and Petersburg, the quote unquote civilized areas. And she had been to a university in Petersburg, and to support everything in Soviet time she had gone off to central Asia and she had spent her entire adult life and raised her, she had three daughters I think there. And unfortunately her husband was dead and her daughters had gone off and gotten jobs in other parts of the Soviet Union. There was one in Ukraine and there was one that was in the far east over by Japan, and there was one that was in Kazakhstan. And then she was living in 01:15:00Uzbekistan at the time and they're like, "You're a Russian, you have to leave." And she's like, "I've lived in Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan my whole life," like at this point she's like, "all my friends are here. You know my daughters are all over." And she got, there was actually a building they built in and I'm sure there are buildings like this all over for Russians who had to move back from the other republics. And the vice principal at the school had the same situation. She actually lived on an island that Russia gave back to Japan, and she had to find somewhere else to go even though she and her husband and children had lived there their whole life. And I think and I saw these pictures and they're hanging out you know in these hot springs, and then I'm like and then they assigned you to a school outside of Penza. Like who did you annoy to do that. But apparently she was still somewhat well 01:16:00connected because she had a son who went to Moscow State University, so which is fairly elite. But yeah Margarita Mikhailovna and I, the woman who kept the keys for the afternoon/night shift was probably my closest friend while I was there. Just I think she understood being a foreigner more from her experience in central Asia and having to learn a language, which was helpful as a tutor. And we just got along well; we both liked to eat, liked to cook, and had a good time.
WILSON: So how is Peace Corps looked upon by people in Russia?
STABLER: Well it was new for Russia, even though we'd been there severalyears when I got there. It wasn't as established as it is in some 01:17:00countries. And being a volunteer didn't make much sense to Russians. Like that was just a very foreign concept. Why would you not get paid and then you'd explain well I do you know I get a little stipend from Peace Corps? I do have enough money to eat, everything's fine you know because people are like, "Oh you're a volunteer, we're going to bring you all this food." And I'm like no keep your food, though people would still bring you food obviously. But so and in my village I guess because there had been one other volunteer and one other American, and it was from the people relocating from other parts of the Soviet Union for this one new apartment building I'd say it was a little more cosmopolitan than one would expect a village on the very, very edge of this industrial area to be like. And so it was strange that I was 01:18:00there, but it was neither positive nor negative, it was just kind of oh he's here. He's teaching English, and they really supported anything about the school partly because I think the principal was such a leader in the community, but partly because they wanted their kids to get jobs and learn something that would be applicable. And English seemed like a good thing to learn, and even not really having any ideas about exactly what one would use your English for, just that it's on a lot of the exams for the good universities and things like that, I'm glad that someone's here to improve our program at this school. And he goes to school every day and that's great. And outside the village, like if I went to the central market, I'd always play this game they're like you're a foreigner and I'm like but what kind. And see how good my 01:19:00Russian was that day. Like on a really good day they'd be like, "Oh you're from Belarus," which meant, which is how to describe it. It's almost like Polack jokes are here, there are Belarusian jokes, and so it's like you're mentally disabled maybe is the idea. Oh you're from Belarus, it's like you're just really dumb. We know what's going on, it's fine. And that was, those were really good days. Most of the time I'd get like, "Oh you're from Finland," or there's just there wouldn't be any reason an American would be in this part of the world really, and so when they found out I was an American it was always sort of it was unexpected I guess is the best way to put it. And people had a real curiosity and had lots of questions about things they had seen on movies because Russian television shows a lot of movies from the 01:20:00US, from Germany, from all over the world over-dubbed in Russian poorly translated. And they had lots of questions like do people really have you know doors that have glass in them, and I'm like well yes, yes people do really do that. And they're like but someone could break in, and I'm like well you lock it. They'd have to break the glass and then you'd know someone had gotten in. And that was always something from the movies I guess from watching like Miami Vice and all these sort of Florida based things, all the glass was a disconcerting thing because in Russia you would cover it with bars or something to protect yourself. Like we had a steel door for my apartment, even though there was nothing inside to steal of any value, but you still had a steel door because I mean I think that was partly a reaction to sort of the uptick in crime after the collapse and people were really scared. And they were like in America you just walk around like this with these glass doors and anyone's allowed to carry a gun, and this sort of 01:21:00stereotype. But there weren't really anti-American feelings at all. I remember once it was during the winter Olympics and I had met some other volunteers, I had made some bad choices and I had met some other volunteers in town. And somehow we ended up at this bar cum casino in the middle of Penza. There was oh what was it called? Iskra, which is like wish I guess or hope or something like that. And it was during the US/Russia Olympic hockey game. And when the Americans started to win, we left luckily, but that could have been ugly. But other than pride in the hockey team, there was nothing particularly anti-American 01:22:00that I encountered in my village or in my province. In Moscow it would be a little like if I had to go up to Peace Corps headquarters for something for a day and you'd take these overnight trains and so you sleep on the train all night, and you get up and the metro just opened and you're there with all the early workers and you're waiting for the Peace Corps office to open and actually waiting for McDonald's to open would be the big exciting thing. And you'd go there and maybe you got off at the wrong metro stop and you have to ask someone well how do I get back to the metro, and you could run into things there. And other volunteers had some sort of security problems sometimes once people found out they were Americans, but I never personally encountered much like that, though I did once on a train I was accused of being Jewish actually. Which coming from a village that had, and from an area of 01:23:00Russia that has lots of Jewish people, I'm like yes, what? And I'm like, "No, no, I'm an American. Look at my passport, I'm an American." And I had insulted their women who sort of run every wagon of a train and take the tickets and seat people and come bring you tea and run the train, make sure everyone gets off at the right stop and gets on at the right stop and all of that. But this woman was wearing pink pajamas and asking me all these questions when I got on, so I didn't think she was the one in charge. I thought she was just annoying, and so I yeah so I probably said things I shouldn't and then she's like, "You're a Jew! I can't have any Jews in my wagon!" And I'm like, "What country are you in? Like one out of every ten people here is a Jew." Yeah I don't think it's quite that high, but it's something like that, which I had never encountered. I had heard other volunteers who were Jewish who had problems like this, but I had never encountered that. I guess 01:24:00it was something about the way I pronounced my name, it had indicated to her that I was Jewish. And she didn't like me any better when she found out I was an American. That was an awful train ride, but anyway.
WILSON: What, so your time was up in 2002?
STABLER: Two, yes.
WILSON: What was it like coming home or how did you, did you travelcoming home?
STABLER: I traveled coming home. The first summer, we had to renew ourvisas for the second year. And you can't, which I found out later the US does too sometimes. You can't renew the visa in country; you have to leave the country to renew your visa and do it at a consulate. So we went to Latvia for that, and I had gotten a taste of traveling.
WILSON: Peace Corps didn't do that for you?
STABLER: Peace Corps did that, yes.
WILSON: Oh okay.
STABLER: But I mean Peace Corps put you on a train and said show up atthe consulate at 10:00 tomorrow and pick up your visa.
WILSON: Oh okay.01:25:00
STABLER: And I mean they sent someone with us. It was more like avacation almost. They booked one night at a, oh god, it's a little resort town. Here with all the oil money in Russia it's gotten big. Jurmala, which is outside of Riga on the Baltic Coast, and this little hotel there overlooking the beach, it was a change from Russia for sure. And that was a lot of culture shock actually just then going and going to somewhere where people wanted to take your money and wanted to sell you things, would give you directions even if they didn't quite understand the language. But yeah a little different, but yeah I traveled on the way back. I went through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, and Holland. And I had some friends who were working in Germany at the time from college, so I went and stayed with them and sort of based myself out of there, but with a good friend from Peace 01:26:00Corps. She went with my in the Baltic states and Poland, and we had a great time, stayed at youth hostels, even though I had everything I owned with me at that point in time, which was a bag of clothes and a backpack with a 1999 laptop. But I took that with me everywhere. I had this big green luggage cart that I had bought at some market that apparently made me look Russian everywhere else I went. So yeah.
WILSON: So what was it like actually coming back to the States?
STABLER: It was kind of confusing because I had, I mean I had stayedwith my parents for a week or two right before I left for Russia, but I had never lived in Florida. And so I moved into my parents, well it's not a basement, but the first floor of their house in Florida, and I had never lived there before so I didn't know a lot of people there. 01:27:00Well I didn't know anyone other than my parents who lived in this place, and so you know my brother lived off elsewhere at that point, and so it was--It had been many years since I lived at home, and so that wasn't very much fun at first. And I remember I came back for a wedding just in time, and I was actually the best man. It was my roommate from college and so I was staying with his fiance's parents when I first got back, and I remember them being like, "Do you need anything?" And I'm like, "Well actually I'm out of shampoo," and we went to I don't know a supermarket or something to pick up a couple of things and there's like here's the aisle of shampoo. And there was a whole aisle of shampoo. I remember after having shopped at my little outdoor market for two years, and even after being in Europe for I 01:28:00don't know a month or two at that point, I was still just overwhelmed and I was like, "Well how do I choose a shampoo?" I'm like in Russia I get the headsy-shouldersy because I know how to pronounce it and they know what I'm saying. There was no real choice that I preferred that over the other brands, I just could read it from the back and be like oh that one, sure, sure. Like I had become very unpicky, and there weren't things, I mean and there are actually a lot of western brand consumer goods in Russia like all the detergent--And I don't know if it was really Tide or not but it all said Tide. And then there was a, yeah so that kind of thing, and going shopping in the US was very hard at first because I was like well I don't know how to make a decision about this. Like what would I base it on? Before I had no choices, people just would hand me something and I'd say how much it was and give them money. It was very straightforward; I'd go to the bread 01:29:00kiosk and your choice was do you want white bread or do you want brown bread. And then I found a better bread kiosk later on, and so that was really I remember going to Wal-Mart once with my parents and I didn't have a job yet and I didn't know anyone. And I don't know what it is that I wanted or needed, but I just couldn't do it and I like I didn't break out in hives but I think I started crying and I'm like I just don't know how to do this. Like I don't know what it is I want; I had an extreme lack of choices for a while. I don't know what, I don't know how to make a decision like this. Because in Russia I would just ask someone else and they would make the decision for me as the foreigner, which was very comforting in a way. I didn't really, you avoided all these sort of food safety worries that we talked about in the health lecture by being asking the person behind you in line well what would you get and then they went I get this bread, that's fine. 01:30:00Yeah so that was disconcerting. Finding a job was really hard when I got back. It was a, it would have been the fall of 2002. I don't know when exactly I got back; it's all a little fuzzy. I guess September probably and yeah it was, I didn't work until January or so that year and that just being at home and not knowing anyone was really hard.
WILSON: Okay, we're going to go to another tape.
WILSON: Tape two side one of interview on November 19, 2008 with BlakeStabler for the Peace Corps Oral History Project. Blake, you were 01:31:00talking about some of your difficulties coming home and then getting a job and then sort of readjusting. Go ahead and tell me some more about that.
STABLER: Well I felt very out of place at my parents' place in Floridabecause I didn't know anyone there and my brother lived elsewhere. Everyone I had gone to high school with or gone to college with lived elsewhere. And I tried to apply to jobs from there for a while. I got a temporary position in D.C. for January, and I went up and I stayed on different people I knew or I had been in Peace Corps with couches for like three months I want to say, and it was like a two month job and I stayed for another month keeping on thinking that I was going to have a job within the next day or two and it wasn't a big deal. And that didn't happen so I came home again, which was really demoralizing 01:32:00after having left. And I did some temporary work. I remember once I got hired to pick up cans off this golf course, which was really just because I had gone to this temp firm and been like well I can, just throw it at me, I'll tell you if I can do it. Let me make that decision you know like I can handle whatever. I've been in Peace Corps, I feel like I've accomplished a lot. I can, I'm very flexible, I'm very adjustable after this experience, and though I can't choose my own shampoo without freaking out, surely I can handle whatever it is you're going to make me do in some office. And I don't know that that made sense to the people at the thing, and it's actually every job I've gotten since Peace Corps has been that little last line of the resume, the Peace Corps description that I organized a baseball program at school number 45, that just for some reason people are like, "You did 01:33:00what?" And that's what people want to talk about, and it's like well you know I taught x many lessons and I did this and I had 25 different groups. But no one ever wants to talk about that, they always want to talk baseball. And I think just that for some reason that idea is intriguing enough playing baseball all summer in Russia is intriguing enough that people want to talk to you about it. So yeah eventually I got a better temp job with Merrill Lynch in Florida and I didn't like living with my parents, and there was some sort of conflict there. And I didn't, I wasn't making friends very well temping because everyone else went home to their families at night and I had nothing to do. And it was a really long commute from where my parents lived and it 01:34:00wasn't working, and I didn't like the work for the most part. So that summer I had saved up enough money from these sort of odds and ends jobs that I went to Indiana University to work on my Russian because I'm like well I want to do this in a classroom. I've done this, I had made a lot of progress my second year once I started working with Margarita Mikhailovna, the woman who keeps the keys at night at school. I had made a lot of progress and a lot of people were like, "You're really good at this," and I'm like, "No, no, I just have a really good teacher right now compared to last year where I wasn't making the same progress." And so I did that for the summer and then jobs things started falling in place by chance or I had annoyed enough people by that point in Washington on development stuff where things started happening there, and I went from Indiana straight to Washington I think 01:35:00and started working, and had some odds and ends before I fell into a good job there, but it took a while.
WILSON: And then you at some point decided to come to Kentucky?
STABLER: I had kind of hit my promotion level at USDA and I wanted todo grad school and I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible. And I had worked with Kentucky through I worked with a lot of land grant universities while at the Department of Agriculture. And I had positive feelings towards Kentucky, and I applied and it ended up being a deal so here I am.
WILSON: And I know but listeners don't know, what are you doing here?
STABLER: I am at the Patterson School of Diplomacy in internationalcommerce. I am studying international development and agricultural economics, and my interest in agriculture though, it doesn't sound like 01:36:00it from the previous interview actually comes out of the Peace Corps experience. I think I mentioned it at the beginning Peace Corps came to Russia as a business development organization, and that was their first--They ran business centers and they were horribly unsuccessful, and I have no idea who advised them to do this or where they got the idea, but it never took off. But at the same time from that, like all organizations, it just kind of gets pushed onto other people's job descriptions. And as a secondary project my school had a computer lab and it was a, I don't know how open to the public it was, but it was somewhat open to the public after school sometimes like 5:00 or 6:00. It would be open if you needed something that required a computer, and so there were a lot of entrepreneurial types I'd say. Well, people with crazy ideas, that's the way to put it, who would come in and they 01:37:00were doing research on something. And I was friends with the well they call it informatics, I guess that means computer science teacher who ran the lab and she's like you should come in and help me. She's like you understand business, and I'm like I've never run a business, and she's like, "You're an American, you understand business. Come on." And so I'd go and it would be really, really easy stuff. They were like well you know such and such factory in some other village has sold off all their plastic injection equipment. We're going to buy it, we're going to do this. And the question would always be, because everything in Russia like everything in the US was made in China. And I'm like is it going to be cheaper than the stuff you can buy at the market that's made in China? And then they'd be like, "Oh I haven't thought about that." And I'm like, well, if this is all you need help business wise, I can help you with this. And it was just always a question with these people like well what can we possibly do that's going to make any money here. And it would always come back to 01:38:00this is in the Volga Valley and so the soil is nice. It's black, it's, you wouldn't have to till it, you don't have to do anything. Like if you accidentally drop seeds, something grows. It's quite fertile land and I'm like, "I think that's going to have to be what you do," which is totally different from the Soviets speaking. The Penza region was part of sort of the industrial heartland, so they built missiles and the built rocket launchers and they built. I mean they still had a medicine factory where they made like aspirin and some cold medicines, and some basic over the counter medication. But other than that there wasn't much going on in the whole region economically, and I was like but you have land. I don't see what else you have, I mean anyone can, you can locate a factory anywhere in the world at this point, why 01:39:00would you locate it in Penza? I mean there are people who have worked in factories who are used to working 20 hour weeks and who only show up half the time and all of this that's not going to give you much advantage. And again the people who were marginally employed but were making money were almost always doing it through something agriculture related. They had a garden plot basically that they were growing something on, or they had even rented, people were starting to rent out other people's plots. I'm like this is happening, we just need to think you commercializing your country this way, not jet fuel and--
WILSON: So that got you interested in agricultural--
STABLER: That got me interested in agriculture as a way out of reallydepressing rural, semi-rural poverty is the people who are doing things 01:40:00were making food products because everyone buys food. And they were, they might be selling it different ways. There were all these crazy trading schemes like everywhere that I'm going to sell my apples for this and buy oranges, and then I'm going to sell the oranges to so and so and buy ginger. And then I'm going to ship that off to somewhere else, and I'm like well if you can do that, do it. If you're making money it's--I mean I wanted to see people in my village be engaged with something and not sitting around the stairwells and smoking, which seemed to be--Especially men, women seemed to adapt better to the changes at the end of the Soviet Union, and I mean the sort of quote unquote traditional female professions in Russia, being a doctor or a nurse or working in a school or working in retail, those sort of things kind of still existed, whereas all the industrial base that the men had worked in just wasn't, it wasn't there anymore. 01:41:00
WILSON: So what do you think the impact of your Peace Corps service wason Russia?
STABLER: Russia is a really big place and I'd say it's still remarkablysimilar to the impact a lot of volunteers have especially in smaller areas and settlements. I think it's that person to person contact. There are people who weren't, weren't necessarily anti-American but weren't necessarily pro-American who decided after Peace Corps that they really liked Americans, based on you and the one volunteer who came to visit you once and your parents who were there for two days in the summer. Like they just liked all these people; they like Americans now. And I mean is that worth two years of someone's time? There are 01:42:00lots of questions about that. But I think that impact, especially for the children, I mean they're at school, their impression of Americans are Americans like to play baseball and they are teachers like everyone else and we do puzzle games in their classes to match the Russian word with the English word. I mean that's and that was always in such a contrast to the ideas people had had previously from I mean complete distrust of America as the enemy during Soviet times, and then afterwards just not knowing what to think. And your only impression of anyone in the world are these awful movies that are overdubbed in Russian on television, like this is your only window into outside the village. I mean none of my students have been to Moscow. None of them have been to even other cities in the Volga probably, like Seratov and Samara. I mean they've been into Penza, they may have been further 01:43:00out in the province a little bit, but it's not like they have a lot of exposure to how the rest of the world is and to be sort of a window into that, that the rest of the world isn't that different but there are some really different interesting places out there, too.
WILSON: What about impact on you?
STABLER: On me it's been a huge impact I'd say. The entire idea that I'dwork in international agricultural development is kind of weird or that I'd be interested in agriculture as a way to make money for, especially for marginalized rural people. I mean I wasn't on that track by any means when I joined the Peace Corps, but sort of all my thinking from working with these people and their crazy ideas about making toys and 01:44:00we're going to revive the rocket part factory, and I'm like no you're not. There are many things you're going to do in this village; that's not one of them. And I'm like but the grist mill is still working because that was the other business. There was this huge, the jet fuel storage place. And then there was a grist mill, which still ran, still made flour, which I always at first I thought was a mistake because all my students when I asked what did you have for breakfast it's always like we had rolls. And I'm like Russians don't eat that many rolls in generally, like rolls are not a hugely prominent part of the Russian diet. Everyone buys bread, it's really cheap, and then I realize it's because a lot of their parents were getting paid in flour, and so they were eating a lot of bread products, homemade baked, because they were getting paid in flour because that's something we produce locally. And if they didn't have enough cash on hand I guess everyone just took home the flour that they made from the factory and ate it.
WILSON: What kind of impact do you think it had on your sort of view of01:45:00the world?
STABLER: I'm thinking I, and from other volunteers there's sometimeslike oh Russia that must be so easy, you have electricity, you have running water, and you go like, "Well, you have electricity sometimes, and you have running water every other day maybe, and then occasionally you're in a concrete building and you have to walk down the five flights of stairs and go to a well in a neighbor's yard and ask them to use the well you know and fight your way through the cattle." It's not as, despite being an industrialized country for sure, it's not as industrialized as people think they were. The joke is always, the Marxist idea was that the city and the countryside would meet. And the joke is always that they both passed each other and now we're stuck somewhere else. And there's a good bit of truth to that, but it's 01:46:00made me very interested in how to solve problems of rural poverty and how sort of neglected rural areas are even in this country compared to urban areas, how their problems tend to get ignored because no one goes to these areas. I mean even like I'm in this program now with someone from Belarus of all places, she's in my program at school at University of Kentucky. And I told her where I did Peace Corps and her jaw just drops like, "I would never go to Penza," like it's just this the idea is like you're living in I don't know it's a wasteland. So many of these areas have been written off, and then my experience with the people is these are great people like everywhere else in the world. They can do anything they're put up to, they're just at great sort of geographic disadvantages by where they're located. Like they don't 01:47:00have access to world markets, which in Russia isn't quite the case. They do have access to markets to some extent because Russia hasn't allowed the train system to disintegrate that much, so there's rail access to crazy small places.
WILSON: So do you look forward to more international travel experience?
STABLER: I do. Since I've been in Russia I've worked a lot in the southCaucasuses, which are like Russia but different.
WILSON: You mean you've traveled there?
STABLER: I've traveled there and done work with people from that partof the world. And I would like to travel more. I really like going out to farms in these remote places and talking to people about what it is they actually want to do with their enterprises and how they want to grow and what they see as the future and trying to see what I can 01:48:00do to help out with that, which is fairly limited the amount of help you can give. But it's, I don't know I think it's still very useful and I think it's always good to get the cross cultural contact. I think it really opens, it opens up people to the idea that they can do things, which I think is the real advantage of Peace Corps is you have someone sitting there standing and saying in very broken versions of your language, "No, you can do it. It's fine, you can do it." In the computer lab occasionally being like, "No, no, you're not going to make plastic toys here in the village probably, but there are things you can do. You can make money, you can grow. This is an achievable goal; you can change the way things are done here if you really want to." And I think a lot of people want to and they're perfectly capable of it, they just need a little cheerleading occasionally. I think that's really 01:49:00the lesson of Peace Corps because people were just so demoralized after, I mean after the fall of the Soviet Union and all of the factory closings. I mean unemployment in the village when I started, I want to say it was 80% was the figure, which is official employment. So that's you know librarians and doctors and nurses and schoolteachers and the postmaster and people who work in the market, and anyone who couldn't hide from taxes is officially employed. You're like okay 20% that makes sense, and other people do some work but not all the time and it tends not to be regular if it's not factory work. So I'm trying to find out what can they do to have something to do all day.
WILSON: Before we actually started the interview we were talking alittle bit about the Peace Corps program in Russia itself, and I'm 01:50:00wondering if you can tell me a little bit about that. As I understand it began in the early '90s but is no longer functioning and why that is and kind of what the evolution was to the extent that you know it.
STABLER: Well to the extent I know it, it started out in western Russiain the Volga Valley and they put Peace Corps headquarters in Saratov, which is a major town on the--It's a beautiful place; if anyone is ever in the region I recommend you visit Saratov. It's on the Volga River, its sister city of Engels is right across the river. There are all these big, beautiful bridges. It's a really nice place to go anyway, so that's where they started and did training because they figured that was central to this region of the country and this sort of the industrial heartland is what has failed the most. That's where Peace Corps should be, and that was really counterintuitive to 01:51:00the Russians I think, that you were going to pick the worst area, not the best area, that you were going to focus on this backwards former industrial area. That and people, some Russians claimed that people from this area where I was have an accent that's sort of I don't know country bumpkin-ish. They did this thing called yekatting, where they pronounce a letter as it is written but not as it is pronounced in most standard forms of Russian. Yeah and so Peace Corps chose that and that must have been confounding to them, and they also chose to open these business centers. And I don't know, the first group apparently they flew in all these people from Wall Street you know who had lots of what we need is good solid business and finance experience, and I don't know that that's what was developmentally appropriate for this part 01:52:00of the country or for Peace Corps or for Russia if that's what people wanted to do. And they had moved to Moscow at the insistence of the central government. You're an international organization; you're going to be in Moscow along with all the other international organizations, was sort of the idea. So Peace Corps had acquiesced and done that. They had I guess at first their sponsor was the ministry of economic development or someone and it became the ministry of education so it became much more focused on education of TEFL and business English, but almost all volunteers still did some business development or some other sort of maybe a project with a youth group or with an orphanage or something of that sort, maybe a youth focused project seemed to be things people would get involved with. Some people did environmental site projects but it was overall teaching English was sort of the main 01:53:00function by the time I was there. I think people at the sites for the most part liked having Peace Corps volunteers, and the more quote unquote remote the site, I mean by Peace Corps standards I don't want to say my site was remote. You could get on a bus and in 50 minutes be in the provincial capital. I don't consider that that remote. You could be in no less than two hours I could get to the central market for the whole region, that's like the central market for the whole state. So it's not that remote. By a country that's highly urbanized I guess it's a little more remote, but the volunteers in the remote areas like myself tended to do well. The schools tended to like having you there. They liked all the sort of surrounding stuff, whether it's playing baseball or going to the orphanage or walking to the next village to teach a class or whatever, that seemed not to be a problem. 01:54:00They didn't, my principal didn't not want to share me. I know some principals get their volunteers and don't want to share them with other places. And I went off and I did talks for various things at, there are a bunch of affiliates of oh god what was the--The Moscow Modern Humanitarian University in Penza, which was a law school but they had a bunch of branches, basically community colleges out throughout the region through the state. And so I would go to some of them, it's I had met the principal there at a function when I first got to town because well my school hadn't come to pick me up.
WILSON: Well, so was Peace Corps viewed as successful or not successfulby the government?
STABLER: I think by the central government Peace Corps was viewed as not01:55:00successful, but I had been to things at our sort of local school board that people were very positive about Peace Corps and people wanted more volunteers and they wanted them outside of the provincial capital. The school board was all about sites that were more like mine on the outskirts of these areas that were not able to get their kids into the universities that needed a little extra help and might be able to overcome this with a little push.
WILSON: So why did the central government decide, and I assume theydecided that Peace Corps should leave, not the Peace Corps?
STABLER: The summer when we went to Latvia not everyone got a visa whenthey showed up at the consulate. Like we were sort of selectively picked through I guess we started with 70 some odd volunteers. We probably had 60 something by the summer. We didn't have that high of 01:56:00an attrition rate, and five or six people just didn't have visas for their second year.
WILSON: They just refused to--?
STABLER: They just didn't issue them.
WILSON: No reason given?
STABLER: No, no. And then the group that came in after me, the wholegroup didn't get their visas for--No, they got visas for the second year, but instead of giving them yearlong visas, they gave them six month visas. And you know when you back to the front of the line you're like, "This is only for six months, it's supposed to be for a year. It's supposed to be you know multi-entry come and go as you please, even though you're not supposed to come and go as you please. But and it was like single entry one time in, one time out six months, and they're like the school year doesn't even end until I mean early June usually, through most of May you work so that was unfortunate. 01:57:00There were accusations of this of spying of --what's really interesting about these especially the remote sites. Like my site we were near a closed city that was still closed for not, I mean there were--I was teaching kids from three military bases and they're like, "You're just trying to get to the kids from the military base." And it's like well the kids from the military base, it's their parents who want to volunteer. But it's not that kind of communication in Russia and I mean I met with plenty of military parents while I was there who'd come in in big uniforms with their big guns and sit down and talk. And they had nothing against Americans, they had nothing, but it was I think it was a central government decision and also the idea that Russia wasn't a developing country, which to some extent is true in parts of Russia. But I think for most places, with exceptions, but 01:58:00for most places Peace Corps was. I don't think I mean most Russians are horrified at the mention of the names of these places like the Penza Oblast and Izhevsk where they make the AK-47s and Cheboksari in Chuvashia is considered really backwards, and Russians would never go to these places, so why not have Americans?
WILSON: So the program was then phased out in 2003?
STABLER: In 2003. They were pulled out I guess a couple months earlyand they haven't been back since then. There have been some attempts to start a different volunteer program more appropriate to Russia by various people in the US. IREX had a contract from state department for a while, which IREX is what the International Research and 01:59:00Exchanges board I think is what the acronym is. But they had a project where they sent people to Russia for three months and they were trying to rectify all the complaints that Russia had about Peace Corps, one of which was that you're sending us volunteers without the proper language expertise. And the Russian response is always, "Well you're one of like five Russian speaking countries we're in, and we don't have enough volunteers who speak Russian starting out." To do that and then we give them great training before they start working.
WILSON: What do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps is/has beenand sort of where do you see it going?
STABLER: I think Peace Corps is such a great person to person program.And where you're not trying to change the way things are done on a 02:00:00macro scale necessarily, which a lot of government development programs are really about macro issues. We're going to reform the banking system or we're going to help people setup a foreign credit system or we're going to I don't know we're going to work with the central government to reform the way they issue visas or guard the border or something like that. Whereas Peace Corps is much more personalized and I like that it's kind of about whatever the volunteers make it about. I think that's really important because then the volunteer can listen to the people around them and make it about what they want to make it about. It's not a set in stone program with sort of pre-set targets that have to be met, and I think that's a real strength and in introducing people to Americans and how Americans think and act a little bit differently and exposing them to that and also helping 02:01:00people think through their own problems and come up with great solutions just having an outsider to bounce things off of.
WILSON: Why is it a good use of US taxpayers' money?
STABLER: That's going to be a little harder to defend, but it's I thinkit's very valuable to have this set of people in the United States who are comfortable in areas where most Americans and areas where a lot of people even from these host countries are not comfortable going to. The central government of Russia is clearly uncomfortable with these country hicks in the Volga Valley and doesn't want to deal with them almost is the idea, and I think having a comfort level with that is such a valuable skill for our country because there are 02:02:00opportunities in these parts of the world and they are I mean growth in the developing world where a lot of international business expansion is going to have to be. The developed world is plenty full. There are plenty of underemployed people in these parts of the world. This is where business will grow. This is where opportunities to interact with people will be, and also this is a program that's so uniquely American I think. Like the British have a volunteer thing and at least in Russia they were always at the really nice universities. Here I am at school number 45, which granted has a superb principal and there are lots of great things about school 45, but if you picked all the schools in Russia, you weren't going to pick school 45 if you were like well we want to put this in the best school in the country, that school 45 02:03:00frankly would not have been it. And I think taking that, taking a very grassroots approach to things just brings so many benefits to people who come back with that experience because there aren't many other ways you could do that. Peace Corps really goes to places where other people don't spend a lot of time.
WILSON: Does that have any kind of impact in the US?
STABLER: I think so because volunteers come back with their stories,and as sick as some people get of hearing them, they are sort of an exposure to the rest of the world from the US. But I think it's almost more valuable the exposure the country gets to the US and to us because that helps them in all kinds of ways, but yeah I think there 02:04:00are benefits to having the volunteers back. I mean it's really hard to quantify. It's really hard to say this is what the impact of the Peace Corps is, but I know very few volunteers whose careers and whose experience hasn't had a huge impact on them.
WILSON: Okay, that's sort of most of the structured questions I have.Do you, is there a question I haven't asked that you'd like to answer or is there a story you can think of?
STABLER: I have lots of stories.
WILSON: Well, share one.
STABLER: Let's see what's a good story? Okay I've told going to schoolfor a week and not getting in, which is interesting. Well, I have lots of really bad language mistake stories because I became a much better language learner by the second year, but especially the first year. 02:05:00I remember I taught this one class and it was when it was dark, so it could have been 4:00 in the afternoon. I have a feeling it was at night. It was probably one of these paid classes and people, it was on the first floor and I hated being on the first floor because I mean first of all kids are distracted because there are goats running around on the street and you know there's stuff going on outside sometimes. And other times especially if some kids are already out of class, they'll come up and bang on the window. And they'd do this and I had just learned how to say come here and go away, and I thought I said go away, but I said come here. The kids are banging on the window, I'm teaching class, I turn around and they are children that I've seen, "Go away please." And usually they do, they are fairly well behaved children, the ones in the school at least. And but I said the wrong thing, I said come here please. So you know they walk around the 02:06:00street, lets them in, they come and I'm like I don't know. It's a class of older kids, I don't know if they were 11th or 12th grade or college or whatever, and then I got ten 3rd graders who are like, "Do you want to come out and play?" And I'm like, "Yeah this is inappropriate for right now," but I'm like, "Oh did I say come here? I meant go away." Yeah so there was that and the worst was I always got the word for church and circus confused, because depending on how you do the endings and how it's used they sound the same to me and Russians claim they don't. And there's a holiday called teacher's day and everyone comes to the school, and all the students bring like flowers and cookies and jam and stuff for the teachers, which is really fun and cool. And then the teachers all go on a field trip and the students all leave. It's 02:07:00kind of bizarre in a way to celebrate teacher's day, and I don't know if it's an old religious holiday that the Soviets adapted or if it's a Soviet holiday, but yeah teacher's day I thought we were going to the circus. I was very excited because I like to go to the circus, and Penza the region despite all these accusations of being country bumpkin has a very nice circus in the middle of town in the provincial capital and it's one of the best, and they train so many acrobats for cirque du soleil every year, and they're--It's a really fun thing to do, so I thought we were going to the circus, the perfect thing to do on teacher's day you know on the middle of the afternoon once all the kids have left. But we're going to some monastery like way out in the--See I'm picturing this little like 40 minute bus ride into town, everybody goes to the circus, I'm going to be home by dark. But no, it's way out to this place and then there's the whole thing well you've got to drink the holy water from the well, and I'm like I really don't want to drink the water from the well, but we're in the woods so maybe it's 02:08:00okay. And I didn't know what to do and I didn't have a handkerchief to collect the you know holy sands and I'm like do I cross myself, and then I'm like oh I understand why my counterpart and another teacher I was friends with Dmitri, I'm like why aren't they here. I'm like it's teacher's day, everyone was at teacher's day a mere hour ago. And then I go oh because it's church and they're not Christian so they're not going to go to church, and so that was yeah and it was disconcerting to me after that though. But I'm like we're going to church in a school van when we live in a quite you know multi-ethnic, multi-religious village. Our children do not all go to church by any means, but it was okay to go on teacher's day. And it was I mean it was interesting. I enjoyed it; we had a picnic out in the woods at the monastery. 02:09:00
STABLER: Went into the church, saw the remains. That was my worstlanguage mistake because I really was prepared to go to the circus, and excited. I loved the circus.
WILSON: Okay, well.
[End of interview.]