Saturday, November 20, 2010

Back in God's Country

I've officially been home for thirteen days now and I'm not going to lie, it still kind of feels like a dream. I can have a car? I can go to the gym? I can bathe? I can have a paying job? I can eat anything I want? No way!

It's amazing having control over my life again.

After being in Peace Corps for two years and having no control over anything, I realize how good I had it here and I've definitely learned to appreciate it. Needless to say, I'm not leaving home anytime soon.

Things I've accomplished since being home:
Got my hairs did (I'm blond again! Yay!)
Got car insurance
Got a job
Got a gym membership
Eaten delicious food-stuffs
Spent quality time with family and friends
Bought shoes (obvi most important thing on the list)

More to come :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

I suck at life

Ok, so I haven't updated this in about four months. Sorry... please reference the title of this entry if further explanation is needed.

So what has happened in my life as of late: Let's go by months...


I spent New Year's Eve by preparing an immense amount of food and then staying up late and "partying" with the family. In addition to my host mom, her preggo daughter and preggo daughter's husband, the oldest daughter, her husband and three children came, along with a friend of the family who happened to speak English. This provided me with conversation for the night, althought the conversation wasn't particularily enjoyable... I ended up passing out at around 3 am or so. The next morning I got up early to catch a train to Karaganda to see some other volunteers. Now, train rides in Kazakhstan are journeys unto themselves. The train from Almaty to Karaganda was about 18 hours long and arrived at some ungodly hour in the am. Nothing too exciting happened on the train, other than the usual "You're American?! Let's talk" lines. Luckily I was traveling with another volunteer so I wasn't forced into too much awkward conversation. We ended up spending a total of three days in Karaganda. Most of the time we were out walking around the city trying not to freeze to death. We went iceskating, karaoking, careening down huge slides made of ice... the usual. It was nice to get away from my village and spend some time with native speakers of English. The trip back from Karaganda was ridiculous. The tickets for the train back to Almaty had been sold out, so I took a train to Taraz and then had to take an overnight bus from Taraz to Almaty. I think it took me almost 24 hours to get back to my site. Now Kazakhstan is a big country, but it's not THAT big. Transportation here is just so slow it's unbearable.

After getting back to site I wasn't feeling too hot, so I went in to the Medical Officer and was diagnosed with a sinus infection. Super fun! I got a few days off work and a whole lot of medication for my troubles. Unfortunately for me, my host family must have missed the memo that I was supposed to be resting and not doing anything, because they continued to exploit me as manual labor and as a private English tutor. This situation climaxed when I told my host mom/sister that I wasn't going to anyone's house to help them with English. My host sister proceeds to freak out on me and tell me that I don't pay them enough money, and should therefore compensate by being a slave (this is more or less a direct translation). It's at this point that I think to myself: time to find another host family! I ended up sticking it out with them for the month of January, but since then I have been living with a different family (remember the sheep rape story? that's them).


Nothing too exciting happened this month. I went to the wedding of a volunteer and a local Russian girl. That was interesting and enjoyable. There were probably 20 or so volunteers that went, and we all had a good time together. We spent most of the wedding day cutting out paper hearts to tape to a caravan of vehicles that would traverse the city honking obnoxiously. There is actually a word for this little tradition is Russian, but I have no recollection of what it is, sorry. The reception lasted from about 6 pm to 4 am the next morning. Definitely one of the longest parties I've ever been to.


What a month. I spent the first two weeks counting down to the last two. March 16th - March 18th I went to a volunteerism seminar in Almaty and was reunited with some other volunteers that I hadn't seen in four months. Following the seminar we took a sleeper bus to Shymkent (the most kazakhy of the kazakh cities) and spent five days there celebrating Nauryz (the Muslim New Year). This was amazing. About 50 or so volunteers reunited and having a good time. On Sunday we got to watch some National games: kokpar (polo with a sheep carcass), wrestling on horseback, horse races, etc. After Nauryz, we returned to Almaty for our In-Service Training and a Project Development and Management Seminar. I got back to my site on March 31st and classes started again on April 2nd.


Drama at the work place. For the past month of so my counterpart had been having issues with her daughter being sick. This was obviously affecting her ability to be a reliable co-worker. In addition, she also mentioned to me that she didn't know if she would be working at the school next year or not. Well... If she left the school, I wouldn't be able to work there either, so this had become a concern for me. My counterpart also failed to come to the Project Development and Management Seminar that she had been obligated to attend, again because of her daughter's health problems. This did not make Peace Corps happy. So, at the beginning of the month my Regional Manager came to discuss the situation with my school. An agreement was made that my school and counterpart would give me full support (that I haven't been getting) or I would be transfered to another site. Since this, things at my school have definitely gotten better. In addition, my counterpart and school director are looking for apartments and houses for me so that I can (finally!) move out onto my own on May 1st.

Currently I've been keeping busy at school and reading a lot of books in my free time. I now teach 20 hours of lessons a week, with 8 hours of English Club after school. I'm basically at school from 8-4, Monday-Saturday. I also have three hours of Russian tutoring a week, which has helped my language to improve. This is ok with me, as I like to stay busy. I would rather be over-worked than bored. Before the end of the school year (May 25th) I want to finish a grant for new books that I'll be writing with my counterpart. Hopefully that works out.

So that's my life for four months in a nutshell. Not too amusing or interesting as I've left out/forgotten/repressed a lot of details. Next time I'll write something better, promise.

Monday, December 29, 2008

My life continues

Wherever I left off – December 29th

Oh, how the time has flown. I've almost been here for two months, but it definitely doesn't seem like that long. This is a good thing, since I'll be here for two years. So, what has happened recently? Well, I took a break from studying my languages. According to one of the many handbooks so generously given to my by Peace Corps, “refusal to learn the local language” is a symptom of culture shock. So I credit, what would otherwise be considered laziness, to this. But, I'm back on track now. Though, I've mostly been focusing on learning Russian. My Kazakh has gone to hell. I realized this today, when I went guesting to a friend of the family's and they wanted to speak Kazakh with me. So, I'll be brushing up on that sometime soon.

But this family I visited today...good story. So it begins after I arrived home rather late from school. Today was the last day before the winter holiday, so as a result we only had two lessons. After which, we were free to go. But, after my second lesson ended, I was about to leave when I was introduced to the gym teacher's son. This guy speaks English well and lived in America for about four months, so I ended up having a two hour or so conversation with him at the school. His father, token gym teacher, had previously approached me about speaking to his son. I was paranoid that this was some kind of set up. I'm still not entirely sure it isn't. But we'll see what happens. Anyways, he offered to help me with some English Club projects, so that's good anyways.

Following this lengthy conversation, I return home. Whereupon I discover that we have guests. Normal for life here. Of course I am introduced as the American daughter and told to converse with the children, per usual. During chai time, my host mother informs me that I'll be going home with the guests and using their banya. Wait, what? I just met these people! And one of them is my student, awkward. But, I do as I'm told, and traverse to their house for the purpose of bathing. When I arrive at their home, I discover (not to my surprise), that their son needs to learn English, and I'm supposed to teach him. But of course! So, we converse via computer translator, even though I understood everything in Russian just fine, and we work out the details of my future tutoring work.

Now, one of the many chores endured as a guest in Kazakhstan, is viewing every last one of the family photos. I'm used to this by now. And these particular photos, were incredibly interesting. I basically discover that the family I'm visiting is Kazakh to the core. Like, you can't get any more Kazakh than these people. Traditionally, Kazakhs were nomadic people, similar to Mongolians. They lived in their yurts, moving from place to place, hunting with birds, dogs, horses, etc. They played their dombras (Kazakh guitars) and sang their Kazakh songs. The whole nine yards. So anyways, the son is showing me the family photos, which include a great deal of hunting snapshots. Yes, this family still hunts with birds. Eagles, to be exact. They own eagles. Badass. They also have hunting dogs and horses. And the father is a rather famous dombra player, who carves his own dombras out of trees. I could have guessed as much just by looking at the guy. He looks like the truest form of a Kazakh man you will ever see. Basically, they're awesome. So, I figure by tutoring the son, I'll get in with the fam, and get to hunt with the eagles. That's my ultimate goal. I'll keep you updated.

In the end, I got to banya alone, which is a big relief. Especially because this banya was particularly small and ridiculously hot. I honestly thought I was getting first-degree burns in my throat just by breathing in the banya air. I've never bathed so fast in my life. And my face was lobster red for like an hour afterwards.

Yesterday happened to be an eventful day as well. I was guesting, which I seem to be doing a lot of lately. Probably because the New Year is coming up. That's the big holiday here. Imagine a combination of Christmas, Halloween, and New Years. Yah. So anyways, I went guesting to one of my students homes and basically hung out with her family the whole day. This family was cool too. But they don't have eagles. They do have a ridiculous amount of chickens, a cow, and some sheep. I was present for the milking of the cow and probably one of the two funniest scenes involving a sheep that I've seen since coming to Kazakhstan.

The first scene involved a sheep falling off a bridge into a shallow stream and then kicking it's legs furiously in the air while bleating in distress. It's wool was soaked with water and it couldn't get up. Meanwhile, the man herding the sheep was screaming at it in Kazakh and beating it with his shepherd stick. Hilarious. I wish I had video footage.

Now, the second scene, which I witnessed yesterday, revolved around the feeding of the lamb. Now, I always thought that animals have a natural instinct to feed their young. Apparently, this is not always the case. After herding the sheep into the barn (which they share with the cow), my student and her sister attempt to cajole the mother sheep into feeding its lamb. When this doesn't work, they use force. You may wonder how it's possible to force a sheep to feed its young. I'll tell you. The one girl grabs the sheep by one of its feet and proceeds to drag it from one end of the barn to the other. She then pins the sheep against the wall with her body, while raising its leg in the air. Imagine a male dog taking a piss. Now the other girl grabs the lamb and forces it under the sheep so it can feed. Basically, the lamb rapes its mother of her milk. I don't really know how else to explain it. Again, I wish I had video footage. Hopefully I get invited back, in which case I'll ask to be present for the feeding of the lamb. Then I can film to my heart's content.

In conclusion, the past few days have been eventful. Probably the most interesting days I've had at site. It's good. It counteracts all the boredom I've been feeling.

The only other recent news is that my host mother's pregnant (at first I just thought she was fat) daughter moved into our house with her husband. This involved a lot of moving around. I get the impression that they will be living here for a long time, as it seems like they've brought their whole house with them. The whole situation seems like it will be both good and bad. The good is that I have more people to talk to and practice my Russian and Kazakh with. Also, since the daughter is preggers, she has to eat a lot, which means I will also get to eat a lot. This will be a change from my normal state of starvation. I might gain weight. This might be bad. Another con to this situation is the baby, when it comes, in about a month. A crying baby will in no way detract from my current stress level, which is rather high due to my living in a foreign country. And also, I just plain hate babies. I'm sure there will be plenty of complaining about this to come.

Here's some lists I've started, out of boredom. I find them amusing, perhaps my readers will as well.

Items I never considered to be technologically advanced until I came to Central Asia:

 Vegetable Peelers (I've complained about this before. Oh, and Norman, I gave my host mom the peeler you sent me and I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm crazy now. Thanks a lot.)
 Mops (No shit people. They clean their floors with dirty rags and sticks. But they do have vacuum cleaners. I don't understand this.)
 Bags (People carry their belongings in plastic shopping bags. Always. Women may also carry purses. But the idea of having a real bag, made of fabric or something, hasn't happened here yet.)
 Dental Floss (It doesn't exist here. Hence the gold grills.)

I'll add to this as my life continues.

On a completely different note, I love when people here want to prove their knowledge of America to me. They always want to talk about American history or politics or such. The problem with this is that I usually have no idea what they are talking about. It's not that I don't know American history. I just can't understand it when it's retold to me in Russian or Kazakh. Although, one time I did get told that the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving is because when the pilgrims were starving, the only thing they could find to eat was turkey. Or something. Who knows.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Cabinet Debacle 11/12-11/16

My journey to the Peace Corps office took much longer than expected. I left my house at around nine in the morning and didn't return home until eight at night. I only spent two and a half hours at the actual office, so I attribute the remainder of my time to public transportation. I'm going to have to figure out a way to do this so I'm not getting home at night. Dangerous times, you know. When I arrived home I found that my host mother's oldest daughter, her husband, and three children were visiting. The daughter and son-in-law are currently in the process of learning English, so they spent most of the night trying to practice with me. They also informed me that there is internet in my house. Very Interesting. Especially since I just spent almost 12 hours and 500 tenge going to Almaty to use the internet. Very interesting indeed. Unfortunately, the connection is ridiculously slow. So, I don't know how much I will be using it, or if it will even work on my laptop. We shall see.

Thursday was the start of school. However, I had no classes scheduled for that day, so I was free from obligation. After classes ended, I went to the school to meet with my counterpart. We “planned” our lessons for the next few days and then we went to the director to sort out my classroom situation. Now, the first classroom I had been given, the one I had a key to, was a nice classroom. A real classroom. With desks and chairs and cabinets and the normal classroom amenities. Unfortunately, it was not mine to be had. The director suggests a different classroom and we go to investigate. Ah yes, the former teacher's lounge. Not a classroom, so much as just a room, and a significantly smaller room at that. There are two rectangular tables, a bookshelf, and a couch. No desks or chairs. Interesting. My counterpart seems convinced that this room is big enough for an English Club of 20 children. Unlikely, but I'll take what I can get. We go to get the key from the almighty key holder, whereupon we are informed that this “classroom” is too close to the medical office of the school and that I would be better off with a classroom on the third floor. Ok. I'm not sure how this makes any sense, but whatevs. We travel upwards to the third floor to my newest prospective classroom. We open the door and it's already occupied... by the psychology department. Apparently, this doesn't matter. The key holder seems quite convinced that they would be better off in the former teacher's lounge, while I should have this room. They go to the school director to confirm. Now, this room is even smaller than the last. No couch. Just two tables, one chair, and a book shelf. More of a large closet than a room. But again, I'll take what I can get, knowing that I'm one of the few volunteers who will have a room to myself. The key holder returns and the psychology department begins to move their belongings to the first floor. The deed is done.

The next day I move a large bag o'stuff to my new room and set up shop. It's nice to have a room where I can keep all my things. This way I can plan my future lessons in between my classes. This makes minimal work for me to do at home, and more time to study Russian and Kazakh. I have two lessons on Friday and one on Saturday. All three go fairly well. I'm feeling optimistic.

Friday when I return home I help my host mother prepare dinner. I get to peel the potatoes. Fun. Now, it's important to note that there are no vegetable peelers in Kazakhstan. It seems that sort of advanced technology has yet to reach this country. So, I peel my potatoes with a knife, and a dull one at that. As I peel away, staring out the kitchen window at the half-melted snow and distant mountains, I think to myself: “I am so Soviet right now.”

Saturday is spent studying Russian and preparing manta, a staple of the Kazakhstani diet and one of the dishes I actually really like. Manta is basically a big dumpling filled with anything your heart desires. Ours were filled with pumpkin, onion, meat, and animal fat. Yummy. I was excited about making the manta, mostly because I had always watched my host family in Shemolgan make it and it looked kind of fun. Soviet fun. But since they never let me help with anything, probably because they thought I would screw it up, I never got to experience the joys of making manta. So, Saturday was my time to shine. Making manta takes a serious long time. First, you need to chop all your fillings into tiny cubes. By hand, with a dull knife. And chopping an entire raw pumpkin into tiny cubes takes a significantly long period of time. Next, you need to make the dough. Flour and water. Simple enough. Then you take a giant stick and roll the dough into thin pieces. These thin pieces are then cut into squares, stuffed with filling and then folded closed to be steamed. I'm going to say the entire process takes about 2-3 hours depending on how many people are helping. On top of that, the manta take 45 minutes to steam. Considering that I'm used to making Easy Mac in 15 minutes, the manta was a chore.

Following our manta feast, we had banya time. Glory glory. This was by far the most authentic banya experience I've had so far in Kazakhstan. Mostly because my host mother insisted that we banya together. This provided me with the opportunity to watch her and see how it's actually supposed to be done. The banya here is a bit different than the one I had in Shemolgan. The one in Shemolgan was a network of four rooms, one for preparing the banya, one for changing, one for bathing, and one for drenching yourself in humidity. My new banya is three rooms, one for changing, one for bathing, and one for getting beaten with birch leaves. Even though it has less rooms, the new banya is much bigger and nicer than the old one. I like it.

Now, after bathing we go into “the room”. Since being in Kazakhstan, I've heard a lot of banya terminology thrown around by other volunteers: the difference between Russian banyas and Finnish banyas, dry heat and wet heat, etc. Personally, I don't have a clue. All I know is that my host mother poured some boiling water on a pile of hot rocks, the resulting steam almost killed me, and then she beat me with birch leaves. As I stand there, in the intense humidity of the banya, my contacts practically shriveling while still in my eyes, getting beaten with the birch branch, I think to myself: “I am so Soviet right now.”

I seem to be having a lot of these moments lately.

Now, I want to point out my favorite part of the banya. It happens after you leave the banya, when you've had all the bathing and beating your heart desires. When you are so ridiculously hot from being in a steaming room for over an hour... and then you go outside, and just stand there in the snow and feel the air. It's amazing.

Routine 11/16-11/30

Ah, yes. Routine. It has set in. These past few weeks have been nothing special, which gives me a sad glimpse into the remainder of my service. I have a permanent teaching schedule of 18 hours a week, teaching classes from 6th grade to 9th grade. I have between two and four classes a day, which really isn't all that much. I always have plenty of time to plan my lessons during the day when I'm not teaching, which is nice, because when I go home I really don't want to do work. My days are depressing enough that all I want is to drown myself in Russian vocabulary when I get home.

Oh, Russian. I have practically stopped studying my Kazakh. Which is rather sad. I do really want to learn Kazakh, and I really like the language. But everyone always talks to me in Russian, it's just more practical for me to spend my time studying that. Also, my Kazakh tutor abandoned me after our first lesson. He told my counterpart that I couldn't understand him, and he couldn't understand me. Well, obviously. The funny thing about my lesson was that he spent the whole time teaching me things I already knew, like colors. I know colors. He barely let me talk, which is why I find the claim that he couldn't understand me slightly hilarious. Oh well. The thing about people here is that they have no idea how to talk to a person who doesn't speak their language. Why? Because no one from non-Russian speaking countries ever comes here. Except Germany. I get asked all the time if I'm German. Apparently, German and English must sound very similar to foreigners. Who knows.

My Russian tutoring isn't going too well either. We seem to be focusing on pronunciation and reading. Not a whole lot of conversation, which is what I need to practice. At one point, I asked her to explain to me a certain grammar construction to me and she had no idea what I was talking about. I assume that most Russian speakers, as is the case with most English speakers, have no idea how to explain grammar. They just know that it's right or wrong, but they don't know why. Alas, I find that I will need to rely on my own studies in order to grasp Russian grammar concepts. There is no hope. My tutor also likes to make fun of me for not being able to spell words correctly. Of course, this is very encouraging. I also find this amusing, since as badly as I speak/spell/understand/whatever Russian, I'm still better than every other volunteer here, since I've been studying the language for more than three months.

This past Sunday I had another eventful trip to Almaty. My goal for the journey was to get home before dark. Things get sketchy after dark. So, I decided to take a taxi, as the cost is only 50 tenge more than the bus, which takes about two hours more to get to the city. So, I get to the taxi stop in Esik and I'm asking around for a taxi to Almaty. I find one, but of course he wants me to 500 tenge. Uhm. What. No. I love how people think that because I'm foreign I must be easy to rip off. Except that I live here. So I know how much things cost. This will be the bane of my existence for two years. I end up taking a smaller bus to the city, which I thought was a marshrutka. My host mother told me that the marshrtukas go straight to the city without stopping. I was wrong. The bus goes to Talgar, an entirely different town, and then to Almaty. After leaving Talgar, the bus breaks down. Fabulous. Nothing better than being on a broken down bus without the language skills to ask what is going on, or to understand the answer. Luckily, another bus stops and everyone piles on to that one. We get to Almaty after some two/three hours. My time at the PC office is short because it took me so long to get there. I leave around 3:30 and get back to the bus stop, set on taking a taxi even if I get ripped off. Lo and behold, there are no taxis. But I do find the magical marshrutka that will take me to Esik without stopping. The down side to the marshrutka is that I have to wait about 30 minutes for the damn thing to fill up. I finally get back to Esik and have a single stroke of luck when I find the gym teacher of my school, who apparently moonlights as a taxi driver, at the bus stop. He drives me to Koktobe and doesn't rip me off. Yay!

Another week at school. For the most part I like all my classes. Except for the 9th grade class. They are poopers. I think it's because they are older. And by older, I mean 15. They think they are cool and don't pay attention, etc, etc. The boys especially annoy me. They have this strange fascination with saying my name. Everyday I leave school I hear disembodied voices, calling “Megan, Megan”. They don't actually want to talk to me, they just want to annoy me. Oh, boys. The one good thing about being here for two years, is that eventually my novelty will wear off. In theory.

I can't believe it's been a month... 12/1-12/13

So, I've officially been here for over a month. Crazy. It doesn't seem like I've been alone for an entire month, yet at the same time it feels like so much longer. Conflict. The hardest part is realizing that Christmas is only 12 days away. It will come and go, and I have no real way to acknowledge it's existence. Although, there has been talk of volunteers celebrating Christmas or New Year's somewhere. I might hop on that bandwagon.

Last weekend I went to Almaty for an overnight fun fest with some fellow 20s and some 19s. We did the usual volunteer routine, rent an apartment, lie about how many people are staying there, and then traverse the city during the wee hours of the night/morning. It was good for me, to get out of my village. Sometimes I feel like banging my head against a wall here.

In the week that followed, I had the good fortune to make a friend. Gasp. I know. I actually found someone who speaks English. Not fluently of course, but we can converse. It's amazing. She actually came to me at school and approached me about helping her practice her English for her job. We had conversation practice for a few days and now we are officially friends. Really. She felt the need to tell me: “We will be friends”. But it was good. I'm excited to have a friend. She helped me buy nail polish. I also met some of her family and friends, all about my age. They also declared that we would be friends, although they don't really speak any English. But I see this as a future opportunity to practice my Russian.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Snow

The End of the Beginning 10/25-11/8

After returning from site visit there was little work left to be done in order to complete training. Tuesday and Wednesday we had our teacher trainers. This consisted of two, four hour long seminars, during which we (the trainees) discussed and demonstrated various aspects of the PC teaching methodology. This was basically practice for when we are asked to do such things later during our service. The seminars went fairly well. The first day was a bit of a struggle, since parts of our seminars were based off of feedback from the local teachers, and let's just say local teachers aren't used to giving feedback. Imagine yourself asking a fairly simple question to a group of individuals and hearing only the sounds of crickets chirping...yah. The second day was much better. They obviously just needed a warm-up.

Friday we held a pseudo-Halloween party at one of the local schools. This was an epic failure. About 50 or so kids showed up, but only one of the kids wore a costume. I got this overwhelming feeling that this “party” was just an excuse for them to get away from their families. They basically sat around and talked to each other or on their phones. Ah well. They'll never know what they missed.

After the week was over, all that remained was for us to practice for our language exams. Oh, language exams. We had ours on Monday. It was basically a 20 minute conversation/interview with a native speaker that allows them to judge your language competency. Completely stress-free, I assure you. My interview went fairly well. I figure either one of two things happened: I did really well answering her questions, or my answers had nothing to do with her questions. Who knows. We still don't have our results.

Prior to the language exam, I spent another fun filled weekend in Almaty with about 25-30 other trainees. We rented two apartments this time in order to accommodate our numbers. Over all I had a really good time. At one point, some drama broke out. My readers will interested to know that in the end, Peace Corps can be just like high school. Although, this is probably true of every job in life.

Tuesday was Hub Day. Meetings, etc. Nothing too exciting. Wednesday some of us went to Almaty early in the morning to watch the results of the election. We were not disappointed. Yay Obama! I'd like to think my vote contributed to his success, but to be honest, knowing how the electoral process works in Florida and with me being a million miles away, I doubt my vote was counted. Regardless, I'm still happy with the outcome of the election. Now for the doubling of the Peace Corps budget...

Thursday was my last day with my host family. I hung out. Read. Slept. Exciting stuff. Friday we left around 7 am for the swearing-in ceremony. Now, two people from our host families are allowed to attend this ceremony. My family decided the lucky two would be one of my older host sisters and my brother's fiance. Ok. Interesting choices. Moving on. The ceremony consisted of a lot of speeches in various languages, one of which was my own, given in Kazakh. A nerve-racking experience for me personally. I'm pretty sure I said some words, that weren't really words, mere gobbledygook, out of nervousness. Oh well. After my speech we sang some songs. It was good times. And then the realization: Holy crap! I'm actually a volunteer now! Which is funny, because honestly, I've felt like a volunteer this whole time. I know that I wasn't. I was only a mere trainee. But still. PST was hard. And I feel that my actual service will be much easier than PST was. We'll see. Now for the best part of the ceremony: the food. Oh yes. I didn't eat much. I figure this is due to the fact that my stomach has shrunk to the size of a golf ball since my normal food intake consists of only bread and potatoes. Regardless. The food was delicious. I focused on the semi-spicy chicken kabobs and the cinnamon rolls. I was not disappointed.

Following the ceremony I hitched a ride to Esik (the closest town to Koktebe) with the Peace Corps bus. There was a mishap with some rice bags being switched and put on the wrong buses. Of course the two bags in question belonged to both the Megan Ls. Go figure. Fortunately, Peace Corps was nice enough to send a driver to sort out this issue. I ended up hanging out in a fellow volunteer's apartment for an hour of so. This being due to the fact that I couldn't get a hold of anyone living nearby who was supposed to claim responsibility over me. In the end, after numerous phone calls, I find out my address and take a taxi there. This was my first time in a gypsy cab alone. I was a little terrified. Not going to lie. But I didn't end up dead in a gutter somewhere, so it's all good.

Since arriving at my home yesterday things have been, interesting. My host mother is in Almaty and for some reason insists on using my Regional Manager (RM) as a way of communicating between the two of us. I guess she thinks my language skills are too poor to use the phone. Well. Maybe they are. So what. Anyways, I'm told people will be coming to check on me, maybe someone will spend the night. Who knows. I settle down to drink some tea and read. Some people come by and offer to have their daughter, one of my students, spend the night with me. I find this slightly awkward, so I say no thanks.

Now, as a side note, I would like to point out what I find the hardest part of this whole experience to be. People treat me like a kid. It's like, because I can't speak the language, I'm now 5 years old. It's ridiculous. My host mother in Shemolgan was especially guilty of this. I love that woman to death, but she would put napkins on my lap, tuck them around me, and then cut my food for me. JC, I can cut my own food!

Back to the story. I go to bed around 10pm looking forward to a long night's sleep and no alarm in the morning. I am awakened at midnight by someone pounding on my window. I have no clue what the hell is going on. Obviously, I ignore the pounding and strange male voice and pretend I'm not there. A few minutes later I get a phone call from my RM. She tells me that my host mother's daughter and son in law are at the house and need to get in. WTF. Ok. I go get the keys, unlock the door, give a hello and an I'm sorry, and then crankily go back to bed. Srsly. Who does that.

The next morning is sufficiently awkward. I make tea at some point and ask the daughter if she wants some. She says no and continues to watch bad music videos on TV. I proceed to unpack my stuff and organize my room. Eventually she leaves. After I while, with nothing to do, I decide to go for a walk to explore my town. I've been told that Koktebe actually contains three individual villages, so I'm a bit curious.

I wander around for a while and walk down some different streets. I'm surprisingly pleased with my village. Despite it being muddy due to some earlier rain, it's really nice. Very pretty. Lots of trees, right next to the mountains and hills, a stream flows through the village. Nice set-up. As I continue my exploration I come across one my future students. He's outside, what I assume to be his house, with who I assume to be his father. An attempt at a conversation takes place. Apparently it's strange that I should just be walking around, not going anywhere, just walking. Crazy American. The conversation ends with the father saying some things I can't understand and me just smiling and nodding. I should have realized by now, given my time in this country, smiling and nodding when you don't know what's going on is never a good idea.

I proceed with my walk. I start to walk up into the hills and after a while I notice that my student is following me. I wait, we walk together and talk a bit. He's a nice kid. After a while I notice that someone is following us. It's his father. Ok. He's carrying an ax. Not ok. Ax-man approaches and says that he needs to find a new handle for his ax. He asks me if I want to go. At this point, I'm a little sketched out. Srsly, a handle for his ax? He could have come up with something better than that. Anyways, I say ok, only because I had been having this nice walk with his son and I honestly did want to keep climbing up into the hills. We walk and he attempts to make some conversation with me. I'm trying to be polite because I'm his kid's teacher, but the ax is making me a little nervous. At some point he hands the ax to his kid and tells him to go look for some wood. Or something. I don't really know what's going on, because my language skills are just not there, so this is just my ignorant interpretation of events. At this point, ax-man takes off his jacket, puts it on the ground, sits on it, and then tells me to come sit next to him. Uhm, no. I politely say no thanks and proceed to wander around the area. Son comes back. Ax-man wants to keep going, but son and I are a little over this excursion. At this point, I figure that I need to escape from the situation. I say that I need to go home, repeatedly, and then just start walking. The son comes with me, as he's obviously as fed up with the situation as I am. Once out of his father's range of sight/hearing, he looks at me, puts his index finger to his head, and makes the universal sign for crazy. Things become clear. We walk down through the hills and back to the village. He goes to his home, I go to mine.

I must remind myself to stop smiling and nodding so much.

Baking in Kazakhstan 11/9-11

Sunday I awake to a few surprises. My host mother is still in Almaty and IT'S SNOWING. My first snow in Kazakhstan! Kind of exciting, really. One of the strangest things about this country to me is the continental weather. I'm from Florida, so I'm not used to things like: the temperature dropping ten or so degrees when it rains, and it being warm enough for me to go for a walk without a coat one day and then snowing that night. These things just don't make sense. Regardless, due to the snowy weather I stayed inside all day. In the past few days, I've watched a lot of movies.

Monday I went to the school to meet with my counterpart and sort out a couple of things. This was actually a really productive meeting. I sorted out part of my schedule and got a key to my own classroom! Yay!

When I came home I settled down to watch a movie and to figure out the best way to bake brownies. Now, in America, baking brownies is probably one of the easiest things to do. Let's take a look at what you need: brownie mix (check), water (check), eggs (check), vegetable oil (...), mixing bowl (check), measuring cups (...), baking pan (...), oven (check, kind of). Ok, so my first problem is no vegetable oil. I remedy this by using sunflower oil, the all purpose oil found in the home of every citizen of Kazakhstan. Luckily, the result is the same. Next problem: no measuring cups. I'm way too Type A to just guess what 1/3 and 2/3 of a cup looks like. So, I search through the kitchen until I find a stack of plastic cups labeled as 0.2 liters. Now, using the conversion chart from my planner and the calculator on my phone, I figure out my measurements. I make my brownie batter and eat a little. It tastes fairly normal. Now on to the baking. My biggest problem now is that I have no baking pan. I also don't know how the oven works, but I know that it works (which is an improvement from my last host family, who just used the oven to store bars of soap), so I think I can figure it out. In the oven I find... actually I don't really know what category of cookware it would fall into. And I have no idea when or where it was manufactured. In short, it looks like an artifact that dates back to the Stone Age. No exaggeration. It has chisel marks. We'll call it: the bowl. So, I butter the bowl and then proceed to pour in my brownie mixture. After toying with the oven for about 20 minutes and converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, I put the bowl in the oven. Needless to say, my brownies were a little unevenly cooked. Nevertheless, they tasted good enough for me and my host mother (who arrived at home about 30 minutes after they finished cooking) to eat.

Now, with the arrival of my host mother comes the news that we are having guests for dinner, six of them. Thus, preparation begins. At my home in Shemolgan, we always had guests, but I was never allowed to help with anything there. I guess I had enough host siblings that I could just sit around like a bump on a pickle. But here, it's just me and Mama. So, we get to work. It was actually a lot of fun preparing for guests. It was nice to feel useful for once. And I can tell that my new host mother really likes me and we get along really well. Which is good, considering I'll be living with her for two years.

Now, since this week is fall vacation for schools in Kazakhstan, I'll basically be doing nothing until Friday, which is when I have my classes. And by doing nothing, I mean watching as many movies as humanly possible to keep me from going insane. Cheers!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A glimpse into my future...

Michael Jackson Fox
October 14-23

These past two weeks have been fun-filled to say the least. After returning from Hub Day on the 13th, the Shamalgan trainees had a few days time before the beginning of counterpart conference. To be honest, I can't remember what we did to fill this void, but it may or may not involved the Kazakh language and more than one movie night.

In other news, my host brother is getting married. He actually bride-napped his fiance, which is a fabulous Kazakh tradition, and brought her to our home in Shamalgan. Now, bride-napping isn't as terrifying as it sounds. The bride actually consents to being “napped” before she is taken to her future husband's home, where wedding festivities ensue. One of my favorite moments of the evening involved the tradition of throwing candy. Now, in America when people get married we throw rice, flowers, release doves, whatev. In Kazakhstan, when a girl gets engaged, it gives any older person permission to chuck hard candy at her. It's hilarious. Every time my brother's fiance got candy thrown at her, she looked like she wanted to cry. Their wedding is supposedly soon, so I'll be sure to report on what is sure to be a very interesting ceremony/celebration.

Now, onto counterpart conference. The morning started out about as badly as it possibly could. We were forced to be ready and waiting for our transportation at 7am. Now, that doesn't sound too bad, but it did mean that I had to wake up at 5:30 to be ready in time. It's also important to note that it was freezing cold because it had rained all night. And the bus was 2 hours late. And by the time it came there was no room for our luggage. So, we sat with our gigantic bags on an overcrowded bus (with no heat) for almost three hours. It was so much fun. On a side note, it's amazing how even two weeks after this incident I can write about it with so much bitterness. Hmm...

Moving on. I met my counter-part about 30 minutes after our arrival in Almaty. Her name is Sazhida and we had a lovely first chat over tea and biscuits. She has never been a counterpart before, so I know already that things are going to be a bit difficult. Mostly due to the fact that I'm coming in to a new site as an outsider and basically asking the English department of my school to change it's evil ways. Not that they have evil ways, I just felt like making an allusion to a famous song. The conference was basically a series of seminars taught by various individuals, mostly designed to help the counterparts. Overall, it went well, with the exception of the concussion incident (details to be given upon request).

Friday, I left with my counterpart for my future home, kind of. My counterpart actually lives in a bigger town nearby the village that we'll be teaching in. I ended up staying with her for the first few days of site visit. We hung out, I helped her kids with some English, it was good times. She has two daughters, one is twelve years old and the other is four. The older girl is awesome, I love her. And she is an amazing dancer. She did some sweet dances for me one of the days I was there. She reminds me of a young, Kazakh Andrea Costa.

On Monday I moved in with my future host mother. I'm really excited about my new living conditions, just me and Mama. This guarantees I'll get all the attention I need and deserve. Besides that, the house is really nice, brand new, and with many convenient amenities, such as a toilet. There is also a shower, but no hot water... so, I'm not quite sure I'll be using that... but, the house also comes with a washing machine (with a rinse and spin dry cycle :D) and a microwave. Basically, I'm set for life. My host mother also speaks Russian and Kazakh, so I get to practice both languages. My host mother in Shamalgan claimed to speak Russian, and I swear that the rest of my family knows Russian also, but they only ever spoke Kazakh to me. I think there was something shady going on there, not quite sure. Anyways, in my new village it seems like most people speak Russian. We'll see.

The week of site visit I basically hung out at the school and at home. Didn't do a whole lot. Tried to teach some classes. Tried being the key word. Remember when I mentioned that working at a new site would be difficult? Yah... communication is everything. Interpret that as you will. My new kids at the school seem like they are going to be a bit more challenging than my kids in Shamalgan. Every school is different, and I get the feeling that the kids here may be able to get away with more as far as bad behavior goes. It's hard to tell. I've been formulating some theories about Kazakh schools versus mixed schools. I'll be glad to share sometime. Ask me about it when you're bored. It's fascinating stuff, I assure you.

In other news, I got asked on a date by one of my eleventh grade students. Here, a date consists of gulating (walking) around the village. Although, one of my language trainers was quick to point out that if a boy just wants to gulat with you, he's only interested in one thing... and we all know what that is. And in case you're wondering, I said no to the date. I don't think my standards have fallen quite that low yet, but in time who knows. The winters are long here...

I'm kidding, of course...

Well, today is actually my last day of site visit. I'm heading back to good ol' Shamalgan tomorrow. Only two weeks left of training!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Time to play catch up...

Almaty Entry 9/6-9

Ladies and Gents, it has been a while...

Saturday the 6th was Almaty Entry. This marked our first official trip outside of our village and the 25% point of PST. Before leaving for the city we had Russian language lesson for an hour or so. We reviewed basic greetings and introductory information. A thrilling moment for me, personally.

It took about an hour or so to commute to the city. We had to endure several bus transfers, which was a little more than confusing. Note: this trip was supposed to leave us feeling comfortable enough to use public transportation in Kazakhstan by ourselves. This was not accomplished. If anything, I'm more scared to travel alone. Once we got to Almaty, our sightseeing began. We started at one of the city mosques. I've been inside a mosque before, but not one this fancy. It was a gorgeous building. We took off our shoes, covered our heads (the girls), had a little tour and were even allowed to pray with one of the men who worked there. After the mosque we made our way through the city to a cafe/hookah bar. Unfortunately, there was no hookah to be had. But the waiters did turn on some old school Britney Spears for us. I don't think I've ever been so happy to hear “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. It was like a little slice of America. We also got to buy some real coffee from a shop run by an American. It was amazing. After this we walked to one of the famous parks of Almaty (so famous I can't remember the name) to see an orthodox church and a memorial to the Kazakhstani soldiers of World War II. We also saw about five or so wedding parties all getting photographed around the memorial. This is an interesting tradition that I initially thought was specific only to Russia, but apparently they do it in Kazakhstan as well; newlywed couples traverse the city on their wedding day getting their pictures taken at all the important monuments. After the park we went to the Green Bazaar. I bought some vanilla covered peanuts as a gift for my family and saved some kid's hat from being trampled. That was my good deed for the day. We didn't spend too long at the bazaar since we needed to go to the Peace Corps office. Yay for free internet! I also go to check some books out of the PC library in case I get bored (not likely to happen during PST). Following this we began our journey back to our village. A man from our village tried to talk to us on the bus (he only spoke Russian even though he was Kazakh). We sang the Kazakh national anthem with him. It was good times.

Sunday we had a meeting about our community project. I did laundry. Nothing too special.

Monday was our first English club meeting! This was interesting. The kids that showed up were from grades 6-11. We split them up between the six of us (volunteers) and played some different games with them. There wasn't a whole lot of English involved, mostly because this was our first meeting and we had no idea who would show up or what their language abilities would be like. For the younger kids we tried playing games like Simon Says and Red Rover, but tag seemed to be the only thing they really liked. No language skills required for tag... The older kids were a little harder to entertain. We eventually played hangman using American celebrities (the trashier the better). They seemed to like that. We have another meeting on Thursday, which I'm feeling more optimistic about now that we know what to expect.

Today we had language lessons in the morning and then English class observation in the afternoon. The observation went really well and I'm legitimately excited about starting to teach next week. We also got our textbooks for our class and our lessons plans today. After that we had another meeting about our community project. These days are so long! I usually wake up around 6:45am and sometimes (like today) don't get home until 8:30pm. It's very tiring. We also have classes or trips on Saturdays, so Sunday is our only day to relax. And then usually we schedule our meetings for then! I would love to just sleep in one morning. Maybe this weekend.

I also have some exciting news about Kazakhstani cultural affairs. There are two concerts and a ballet coming up in the next few weeks that I believe we will be going to. AND, one of these concerts happens to be for the fabulous Dima Bilan. (Courtney, I can feel your jealousy, even across ten time zones) For those of you who don't know, Dima Bilan is the Russian Justin Timberlake. Pimp status.

In other news, the Turkish soap opera I've been watching with my family ended last night after the main character survived a liver transplant following a two episode long coma. I'm devastated, of course. Now I'll have to entertain myself for at least the rest of the week until a new soap opera begins. Bothersome.

Almaty Again... and Again 9/10-20

Things are starting to get even busier. Our community project on traffic safety looks like it's going to be a success. We are going to be able to teach a seminar to the teachers at all three schools in Shamalgan in order for them to pass the lesson along to their students. We are also planning a field day type activity to make it more fun for the kids. Because let's face it, traffic safety is a bit of a snore. If that doesn't keep us busy we also start teaching English classes next week, Thursday and Friday. And we still have English club Monday. Our second English club meeting was yesterday and it went about a million times better than the first one. Mostly because we only had 15 kids in our group this time, as opposed to 30+. Next Tuesday is also Hub Day. Not entirely sure what the point of this is, other than to just gather all the trainees to a central location in order to force more seminars on us.

The weekend of 9/12 we went to Almaty for a concert on Saturday night. We saw the Kazakh Symphony Orchestra perform three pieces. The first one I had no idea what it was, the second was a Dvorjak cello concerto and the last was Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I was really excited about the last piece because it's one of my personal faves. Anyways, they did a great job and everyone really enjoyed it. We also got to rent an apartment for the night so that we didn't have to try to find a gypsy cab back to Shamalgan. For those unfamiliar with the way gypsy cabs work here's a debrief: if you need a ride, hold out your hand and a car will stop and pick you up. Sounds like a normal cab, but no. These cars are unmarked, can be any make and model and can be operated by any type of individual. And they don't have meters so you have to negotiate a price. Sketchy is probably the best word to describe this mode of transportation. To avoid this situation we got an apartment (apparently cheaper than a hotel for a large group of people) and crashed in Almaty for the night. It was a good time had by all.

Monday marked our third English club meeting. Not quite the success we had wished for. This time we got the older kids. Thinking that American music might peak their interest we organized some games on their behalf. This was an utter failure. They didn't really seem to be enjoying the games, maybe because their language skills weren't quite up to par. However, I would like to point out that their English was sufficient enough to state their dislike of our game choices... we were literally told “We don't want to play this game anymore.” Uhm. Wtf. After an hour and a half of struggle we told them to go home. Really.

Tuesday was Hub Day. Back to Almaty. A fun filled day of seminars ensued. Not much exciting to tell about this. We spent our lunch hour enjoying the book on health assigned to us, entitled: “Where There is No Doctor”. Allow me to share an excerpt:

Chapter 12: Prevention... Cleanliness and problems that come from lack of cleanliness. (This chapter discusses at length how to avoid many sicknesses and the scenarios in which we may find ourselves) “For example: A child who has worms and who forgot to wash his hands after his last bowel movement, offers his friend a cracker. His fingers, still dirty with his own stool, are covered with hundreds of tiny worm eggs (so small they cannot be seen). Some of these worm eggs stick to the cracker! When his friend eats the cracker he swallows the worm eggs, too. Soon the friend will also have worms. His mother may say this is because he ate sweets. But no, it is because he ate shit!” (Note: this is verbatim)

The picture (oh yes, there is a picture) depicts a boy with no pants on. The fingers of his right hand are in his butt. His left hand is extending a cracker to a second boy. Note to self: while in a lesser developed country, do not accept crackers from boys whose fingers are in their butts. In America, this is okay.

Some other friendly tips the book offers also include: do not rub cow feces on your head to cure ringworm. If you contract goiter (I don't even know what this is), do not tie a crab to the goiter, rub the goiter with the hand of a dead child, smear the brains of a vulture on the goiter, or smear human feces on the goiter. What terrifies me the most about this entire book is that it must be based on actual situations that have occurred in the past. OMG.

Thursday and Friday were our first real English lessons, teaching! Thursday we taught alone and Friday with our “counterpart”. Both of the lessons went surprisingly well. I mean, srsly, I've never taught a class before in my life. I'm also really excited because the class I have, 6th grade, is particularly awesome. They are just a great group of kids, super cute and very enthusiastic about learning. I <3 them.

This weekend I need some serious cleaning time. My room is not looking too hot and I fear for my host family's sanity. Kazakh people are VERY clean and I can only imagine the look of horror that would appear on their face if they knew what a messy person I was. I also need to do some massive amounts of laundry. Since coming to this wonderful country I have had the joyful task of hand washing all my clothes, even though my family has a washing machine. Why? Well, first of all, the washing machine is only semi-automatic. No, it's not a weapon. But it does need to be “loaded” with water. Even then it only soaps your clothes and doesn't rinse them. So it's not all that useful and confusing to operate. But I might be employing it this weekend simply due to the copious amounts of laundry I have in store to do. Wish me luck.

Oh, and sad news about Dima Bilan. I might not be attending the concert after all. And I was so hoping to catch a glimpse of his infamous stage antics, ripping off his shirt, his euro-mullet all sweaty and sticking to the back of his neck... sigh.

The handle on the outhouse door breaks 9/22-27

This week was particularly cold in K-stan. I even had to bust out the socks! Considering it's only September, I am in the South, and it's already about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the concept of winter terrifies me. However, yesterday and today we experienced a return to warm weather, thus (as my magic 8 ball would say) the future appears uncertain.

I taught my sixth grade class again on Tuesday and Friday, and also taught an eighth grade class on Thursday. All my lessons went well, and we actually only have two more weeks of teaching left before we finish our lessons requirements. The completion of PST is based on hourly requirements for certain activities. For example: we need 10 hours of extra-curricular activities, 2 hours of which must be conducted during our permanent site visit. So on and so forth for teaching, lesson observation and community project stuff. Speaking of PST, this week, week six, marked the official halfway point of training. This is exciting for a number of reasons. The first of which is that during our seventh week of PST site announcements are made. This means that in five days I will know my future home in Kazakhstan. Our eighth week will also be our last week of teaching. The rest of PST will be spent in counterpart conference, visiting our permanent site and completing a seminar on teacher training. Our work is far from over.

Today we completed the first half of our community project. We taught seminars at all three of the Shamolgan schools about traffic safety. I went to the Karasai school, the one school that has no volunteers. This made me slightly worried we may be ill-received. Fortunately, the seminar went really well and the teachers actually enjoyed it. Hoorah! Our community project will be completed after our “traffic safety festival” on October 11th.

We also had dance lessons today. Strange though it may sound, we consider this an integral part of familiarizing ourselves with the culture. We learned a dance called the “black horse” (use your imagination on this one, kids), and were informed by our dance teacher that it is a very popular dance that everyone knows the name of. Later, when I asked my hip and trendy teenage neighbor about it, she replied that she had never heard of it. Go figure.

In other news, the path I usually take to school has been infiltrated by sewage overflow (today dubbed “Lake Shit” by another volunteer). This sewage has been surfacing for some time but has now spread to the radius of almost an entire block. It has now become our favorite past-time to point out particularly charming qualities of Lake Shit to each other. For example: Jesus Sandle. Jesus Sandle was sacrificed to Lake Shit by an unknown individual shortly after its formation. It has failed to sink below the surface due to the unique properties of the lake.

Tomorrow we will be venturing back to Almaty to visit the history and art museums of the city. Almaty will also be host to the infamous Baursak Day. Baursak is the national bread of Kazakhstan, very delicious and deep fried. Also, when pronounced sounds like “ball-sack”. This was a source of amusement to us upon on arrival, and will most likely continue to be so for some time.

I would also like to announce that I have only received one letter in the six weeks I have been here. Much love to Andrea Costa. Everyone else, I hate you all. My fellow volunteers have all received numerous letters and packages containing random goodies. Where is the love people? My two years here is looking grim...

A glimpse of my future; otherwise entitled: “The onions were a little strong”
September whatever until now...

Tak... This past week was an interesting mixture of wonderful and horrific. Let's start with the wonderful. My standards for a good day have lowered considerably since coming to this country. Basically, if nothing goes wrong during the day, I consider it fabulous. Monday fell as such into this category. Next, Tuesday. A legitimately wonderful day. My language group, along with one other from the village of Amalybak, was invited to the home of our country director. Kind of an important guy. Definitely a cool guy. These things aside, the food was beyond amazing. Our director had his grill flown in from the good ol' UsofA and we had ourselves some cheeseburgers. Probably the best cheeseburger I've ever had in my life, mostly due to the fact that I was consuming meat that hadn't been boiled to a point considered unfit for human consumption. And the meat was actually meat, not ligaments, gristle, and bone. These three elements are the definition of meat here in K-stan. In addition to this, I could also eat my burger without the fear of biting into a foreign object of some kind. This may seem ridiculous, but I've bitten down on rocks in my bread before. That's right. Rocks. In my bread. Anyways, enough about the food.

Wednesday was lovely. We taught our lessons in the morning and then spent the afternoon rehearsing for site announcement. Site announcement (the ceremony in which trainees are informed of our future permanent site in Kazakhstan) was moved from Saturday to Thursday. This meant the cramming in of our entertainment preparation. As the host village, we Shamalganians had a duty to provide entertainment for the ceremony. Our final lineup included a song, a dance and a skit. All three were awesome (of course), but the skit was the crowd favorite. Don't worry, I have video (stolen from a fellow trainee). Then (insert dramatic music) site announcement. This was how it broke-down. Everyone walks to a table in muddled herd formation and finds the envelope with their name on it. These envelopes are color coded by regional manager. Then, all the people with the same manager sit together. These people will all be in the same oblast and/or surrounding oblast (editor's note: an oblast is like a state, there are 14 oblasts in Kazakhstan). I was blue. I sit down with my blue peeps and get ready to open my envelope. Permission is given, the sound of shredding commences, screams of horror and delight fill the room, etc. Where will my permanent site be, you ask... Koktobe! Almaty Oblast! I'm not gonna lie, I cried, tears, the bad kind. Srsly.

Allow me to defend myself. Up until I laid my eyes upon the name of my future home, I had hoped, wished and prayed for only one thing: to be in Northern Kazakhstan. Why? Because it's close to Russia, duh! My dream situation was to be in a tiny Kazakh village (population estimated at 3,000) completed surrounded by Russians. The best of both worlds, in my mind. I also didn't want to have to endure the unbearably hot summers in the South. And while the winters of the North are as equally unbearable, I thought this a fair trade. Why? My rationale has always been that you can put on as many clothes as you want, but you can only get so naked. Especially in a country with no AC. My longing for the North was expressed time and again. I wrote it on my site preference form. In fact, I only expressed two preferences total: to be in the North and to speak both Russian and Kazakh. AND, I was reassured that I would most likely get both of these things. Nevertheless, I told myself not to expect anything, less it lead to disappointment. Therefore, I convinced myself that even if I was in the South, I would remain optimistic, just as long as I'm far from the city of Almaty. Lo and behold, where am I to live, but a tiny Kazakh village (my only request granted) two hours from this very city. The same city two hours from which I now live. So you see, my future home is exactly four hours from my current residence. This was the greatest disappointment. In a country that is infinitely vast, I am to reside permanently in only one tiny area. Meanwhile, the people who have become my closest friends will be scattered to the winds. Hence, my tears.

Now, four days removed from this event I have come to terms with my future situation. My emotions have actually transitioned into a kind of optimism. Always good. My village is located in the foothills of the mountains, the landscape of which I've been told, is very beautiful. The name Koktobe actually means “Green Hill” in Kazakh. There is plenty of hiking to be had, which I admit I'm very excited about. Also, being close to Almaty does have it's perks. Shopping for one. Always a favorite past time of mine. I plan to continue this self-destructive habit throughout my two years of “volunteer” service(just kidding Mom). But srsly, my future host mother apparently has a very nice house with an indoor shower and toilet (words cannot express my joy) and also has an apartment in Almtay. What does this mean? I'll be the new best friend of any and every volunteer that needs to spend a night in the city. Things might actually turn out to be pretty sweet. Site visit is in 2-3 weeks, so stay tuned.

Seeing as how we volunteers had finally reached the momentous occasion of site announcement, we felt that celebration was in order. For the weekend I went to Almaty to hang with some OCAPers that I haven't seen in quite a while. It was a good time. Saturday, I started the day at Baraholka, what might possibly be the largest bazaar in Central Asia. I bought some shoes (that don't give me horrendous blisters), a stylish bomber jacket for the fall weather and a pashmina scarf. Then I rambled over to the Green Bazaar to meet up with my peeps. We rented an apartment for the night and then the festivities began. We started at the only coffee shop in Almaty run by an American (and thus the only real coffee shop) and hung out with some other volunteers from Amalybak and Kaskelen. We also had the pleasure of meeting some Brits who happen to teach at one of the city's foreign language institutes. They advised us to meet with them later in the night at a bar called “Guns and Roses” (har har), which we did, dancing the night away to American music. It was good times. Sunday I returned to my beloved Shamalgan and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

This upcoming week will be our last teaching. We have a total of five lessons. After that, we enter the home stretch of PST: counterpart conference, site visit, etc. The countdown begins.

Yulengayman 10/6-10/12

This was it! Our last week teaching! I have a good three to four weeks before I ever need to make a visual aid again! Well, actually, that may be a lie. But I definitely don't need any visual aids for this week! Woo!

In other news, our community project was carried out on Saturday. We did a traffic safety fair. This was...interesting (details to be given upon request). Overall, it went really well. We had an pedestrian/vehicle obstacle course and question/answer games. A lot of kids showed up, which was awesome! Way more than we thought would come, anyways. I worked the obstacle course for the majority of the fair, my main role was as a car. I honked and sped and kids had to avoid me at crosswalks. It was fabulous. We gave out candy and certificates, which are the big thing here, and it was a grand success!

Other than teaching and acting the part of a car, nothing very exciting happened this week. The one exception being that I got my first package since my arrival in K-stan! Much appreciation to the Normster. Those movies have made me the most popular volunteer in Shamalgan. Quite an accomplishment. I also received another letter from the lovely Ms. Andrea Costa, love ya girl! That brings my total letter count to four: two from my Sugar Bob and two from the Charlotte County Voter's Registry. Yay. I find it curious that so little mail has been sent to me. This has been a source of much confusion and reflection. But finally, the other day, I realized why. Silly me, I haven't communicated my needs to others so that they are aware of what is best to send me. How could I be so inconsiderate? So, for the ease of those dying to send me mail, I've included a short list of things I will be needing over the course of two years:

Baby Wipes
Toilet Paper
Hair Spray
Contact Lens Solution
Crest Toothpaste
Elastic Hairties
Teaching supplies such as:
Did I mention markers?
Yummy foods such as:
Peanut Butter
Brownie Mix
Granola Bars

Feel free to stray from the list as needed :)

Also, it's obviously been a ridiculously long time since I've been able to update my blog. Firstly, my apologies. Secondly, this should give you some idea of my internet situation. It may or may not get better. The village I will be living in is significantly smaller than the one I'm currently in, which has no internet. However, once PST is over, I should have more time to travel to the city to use the internet there. Theoretically. We'll see. In the mean time. Phone calls are lovely. Thanks to those of you who have called me (you know who you are and the list is short). Those who haven't... I don't want to lay on the guilt trip, but I've only been gone for two months. Makes me wonder what things will be like in two years. I need all the support I can get right now. Letters, phone calls, whatever, I'm not picky. But don't rely on the internet to contact me, please. I won't have it.

And just so I don't end on a negative note, I loaded some pictures onto my facebook profile. Check them out, maybe I will be able to get some on here soon, but as of now, the internet connection will not allow it.