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.


whitney said...

I can't thank you enough for the book excerpt. Now I know I can make it through the day!

PS- goiters are a swollen nasty area on the neck. McCain has at least one.

outreach said...


My name is Tearrie and I am the publicist assistant at Hesperian, publisher of Where There Is No Doctor. I came across your blog today via google alerts, and it was a really funny and interesting read (and yes the stories are based on real life situations). Many of our books are utilized by peace corp volunteers all over the world and are also available for free download at We will soon be undergoing a 21st century revision of WTND and we would really like to get feedback from peace corp volunteers who've utilized the book (i.e. where you used it, how, what was missing, what can be added, etc). Please, we invite you to share your stories with us.


Michael Hotard said...

After reading your blog I realized I need to go back and read more of WTND.