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!