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.

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