Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lawn Chair = Heaven



I told you I intend on writing regularly! Today was a pretty regular day. One of my classes was cancelled. The rest were smooth. The year's goal for the teachers that I work with is to "get through the book", overlooking what is actually in the book or whether the students are actually understanding what is going on in class. That said, in most classes we are finished with the book. Finally the stupid book is out of the way! Too bad students are pretty much over school at this point. I find my ways to fill class time, though... Today only 3 students came to the 10th grade class, so we looked at my pictures from home and talked about them (I brought my laptop to have my counterpart check on the certificates I'm making for my summer volleyball camp.) The students loved it - and we only spoke English, so there. Then in 8th grade, I somehow found myself giving Spanish lessons lol! Students - getting me off track! But it was very much grammar related....?

I look forward to next year, having a couple of months to explain some changes I'd like to make will go much better than coming from another country to a village school a month into lessons - with an agenda.... I hope. The other day I had one of the worst teaching situations happen. Gulbak had missed a series of classes - giving me the room to do my own thing (without the book). She suddenly returns one class and decides we are further back in the book than what I am teaching. So, we go back. I usually don't do any exercises from the book because they are ridiculous and confusing. She decides I will facilitate all of the exercises this class and she will do her grade book. Exercise 1 says "Read the job advertisement below and discuss it." - "below" is a exert from the dictionary of the words to qualify, to apply, and to interview. I say, "Gulbak, I don't understand what this exercise wants us to do, there is no job advertisement." We continue to argue about the stupidness of the book. She tells me to write the translation and transcription of these words on the board. I say, well... then we aren't doing the exercise from the book, and the students don't learn from a translation and transcription... (I know its petty, but I decided to use this to make my case about the books.) We argued for a while (students stunned), and by the end of class - she was with me! She is all about new books for next year - yes! (Although now she uses the "awful books" as a scapegoat for her not preparing for class...)

I finished my "locavore" book, and although I don't 100% agree with every detail, I am moved to change. Please read it! It really is important. That is what I spent the rest of my day doing - finishing... I don't know what it is about the book that I just couldn't stop reading. Hopefully by the time I get home and have a place to settle down and invest into, I'll still be passionate about food. For now, I'm moving on to the next book. Tell you what, one thing I've discovered about myself while here is that I really like to read lol! I'm currently on a desperate search to find a lawn chair in this country. The superstition for women here is you may not sit on the ground or touch your bare-feet to the ground - or you will become infertile (assuming that is what they mean when they tell me "Your woman parts will hurt lol). They take this very seriously and have a near heart attack if they see a young woman touching the earth. However, there are no chairs or benches outside. ever. which only leaves the squat-perch position, which they have mastered but most western people teeter over while attempting. This position is not a lounge and read position. I want a lawn chair.

Food, Food, Glorious Food...



I knew this would happen sooner or later when I started this blog - the unintentional awkward black hole in the blog series. Fail. Two and a half months of mystery..... :) And now how to fill the cavity while staying current. First of all, I am perfectly healthy and still in the same village I was since blog...#? I figure with my intended very regular future blogs, the hole will refill itself. But for my own sake, I will quickly note (with the help of my planner...) the major events since Valentine's Day: Volleyball Competition, Music Department Competition, Ford's Olympiad, Balkhash trip, Women's Day, Shimkent, Nauryz, Turkistan, Janatas, Aksukent, In-Service Training, Project Design Management, Saule's 15th birthday, India Trip confirmed, Commitment to Eurasian Marathon, Victory Day/Zhere's birthday. Well, there are so many stories within each of these listed - and so many in between! Like I said, they will surface naturally, I'm sure.

Back to the present. The last day of school is on May 25th for us at Eginbayev. This leaves about a week and a half of classes, then I start packing my bags for India! Classes have been a little lame, students aren't so willing to cooperate, which leaves me being Angry Miss Noelle threatening children every class... well, mainly the same ones multiple times. My Student English club has morphed seamlessly from actual English themes, to holiday themes, to Drama Club ,to Card Game Club, to, currently, Sports Club. We are now happily practicing English outside within a wonderful sport of the children's choice! Johnny gave me a frisbee for Christmas and it's a huge hit. I've taught my kids Ultimate Frisbee, Kickball, and American football (with a frisbee instead of a football). They love it. - and so do I! I have some very active students both in the classroom and out.

I snuck in my long list of missing things "Eurasian Marathon"... which is quite an ambitious stretch for my running abilities. However I am so excited to give it my best shot. I've been running much more regularly now and feel better in more than one way! Denise suggested this marathon a couple of months ago and as it is still quite intimidating, I had to let the idea sit for a couple of weeks before committing. Now, I'm all in. It will be October 17 in Istanbul, Turkey. It is the ideal time and situation for me to run a marathon. Financially, I will be scraping... but... I'll get to go to Istanbul.. with an amazing group of girls... run a marathon... and use these ol' muscles of mine to the max! Not knowing exactly where to start, I've just been running. Five times a week. (Although I am currently in a mini slump - the arch of my foot is giving me problems) I run for 30 minutes in one direction along the river, then turn around and run 30 minutes back... for now. I've gained quite a reputation in the village - there's no doubt, they notice lol. My students adorably ask me every day, "Miss Noelle, boogin jugerasiz be?" (Are you going to run today, Miss Noelle?) I told them in the beginning to ask their parents first - if it would be ok for them to run with me, then changed my mind and said I would rather they not run with me... I run along a road, along the water, in the mountains. The cars make ME nervous, let alone being responsible for children! Needless to say, they didn't listen to me anyway. I run with 6th graders - and they keep me moving! They don't usually run the entire route, but the beginning and end, which are where it counts anyway! I'm glad they didn't listen. It's nice to have some company! My favorite part of all this running is the 5 bucket bathes I now take a week! Spick and Spam! I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner! LOL!

I have had a recent revelation in regards to food. A good friend of mine, Sam, let me borrow a couple of books - all of which I have really enjoyed. This one in particular has really touched me. It's called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. I recommend this to all who eat. It's about American food culture. What it is, and could be. It's inspiring, political, scientific, social, do-it-yourself, creative, funny, homey, poetic, down to earth, dare I say, life changing. That said, I'm considering abandoning all of my worldly ambitions, degrees, languages, you name it lol - and becoming a serious gardener. Simple life, no drama. When I came here, initially, I was, of course, impressed by the magical-ness of turning a garden into dinner... (what? fresh tomatoes means they actually have dirt on them? dirt is bad. cucumbers aren't all straight and exactly 6 inches with a 2 inch diameter?). Then I quickly became defensive of our convenient-quick-cheap-easy focused diet, typical American mentality. Time is money, right? Reasoning: I would rather eat something quick and tasty then this stupid bland potato dumpling you put so much work in growing and kneading and NOT spicing up, respectively... I'm alive aren't I? - not starving. That's all food is needed for - and I actually could just skip it all together and take a pill or a disguised chocolate covered concoction of supplements. It seems like a good percentage of us would do just that without a second blink (myself included).

In America (and abroad) we are harassed and scolded for being obese - not eating right - eating Mcjunk - etc, and we are so far from the memory of our own real food culture (yes, we do have one) we panic, binge, deny, ignore, and justify. It doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be intimidating or a shameful thing to eat. It's O.K. to talk about food, America. The US is amazing for more than one reason - and one reason is it's food potential. Most of America's land is completely capable of producing more varieties of food than I imagined possible on their own. The seasons alone decide the types of food you should eat year round. This book helped me realize that it is possible to make and enjoy delicious meals from your own backyard. "Homegrown" doesn't always have to mean sheep liver, onions and potatoes, this isn't actually a terrible meal.... lol (from last night's dinner); and also, food is just about as timeless as you get. Since when do people decide eating isn't really for them? I don't remember a time in human history when any one civilization ever decided they would actually prefer to pursue photosynthesis instead, thanks. (Although wouldn't it be nice to be able to get a tan (...or green?) for a healthy reason!) So I think it's about time we get back on track.

I planted about 500,000 potatoes yesterday with my host mom. three of our four garden squares are potatoes. WHY SO MANY POTATOES?! I so wish I could control something in this country.

I rearranged my room - and feel a little better.

(P.S. our soil is way better than the soil here - dry, pale, rocky - and they still manage to eat through the winter without trouble - just not very creatively. We have the upper hand.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Here are some photos of my village.

Random House
My Village

Main Street

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blissful Earplugs!!



Today, I discovered the joy of earplugs. Having little ones in the house, we definitely have our good days and bad days - Like any family, I would say. Today was a bad day, but not horrible. Maybe its a cultural thing, but from what I've noticed, noise is easily ignored. Screaming, crying, yelling, all of it is easily accepted and dealt with. And maybe it's just that I'm just losing patience cooped up in a house all day. Our house is very small and even the TV always seems to be on, whether people are watching it or not, and by on I mean loud. It's like a war of the sounds. If you can't hear, then turn it up. Then the other person can't hear so they turn their whatever up, and it goes on like this. The walls are thin and we are all pretty tightly squeezed in our house here. So, needless to say, kids are kids and they can be brats at times too, yes, even in Kazakhstan. So, Zhere with her cackling doll and Zharas with his musical game thing were getting on my nerves. Even after turning down the toys myself, shutting the doors, and asking nicely, the munchkins wouldn't cooperate. I don't know what clicked in my mind, but after staring at the same sentence in my book for an extended time, I remembered the earplugs they gave out in the airplane - and thought, heyyyy.... :)

Peace and quiet. It's amazing how much clearer you can think without noise. It was strangely blissful. I don't know why I didn't think of that sooner. Best idea in Kazakhstan yet. I'm in my own little world with the earplugs. Apparently a circus is coming to town this weekend. Johnny and I are planning to go on Saturday. This might be a bad idea, I'm not sure. I've never been into the PETA-thing, but I have a feeling in my gut that this will probably be worse than I'm expecting - worse in every way lol. Who knows... I guess I'll find out on Saturday. We had a discussion, about which is worse, a bad zoo or a bad circus? Pretty terrible, but something to think about, right?

Oh Wherefore Art Thou Romeo????



I feel like I haven't written in forever, although now looking at the dates, I can see it's only been about a week an a half. Still, I'm lost at where to begin with catching up... I don't think anything unusual or exciting has happened that I can recall. Actually, it was English week that tied me up and threw my normal schedule off. English week was a lot of work, seeing as it was basically a time where my English teachers just sat back and expected me to keep pulling rabbits out of my hats. Literally that went on for a week. All eyes on Miss Noelle. It went well though, no disasters. Although our Romeo and Juliet play totally bombed lol. That could easily be considered a disaster. It was so disastrous, I have no record of the account, except for all of the signs and posters that I made. I could write a whole post on the things that went wrong with that thing, but I chose not to. My Regional Manager even came during English week. That was, surprisingly, a perfect end to the packed week. (Apparently she and my host mom are from the same tribe, which pretty much set the tone for the visit... :)

So now here I am, bored. Back to my normal life here. I am happy to say that I had my first tutoring session with Saltanat today. I am so happy she agreed - and I like being able to help her financially. I feel bad in a way, there aren't really very many career options in this village. It's pretty much: herder, driver, work at the school, akimat (mayor/police building), or a shop. So far I've met three women who have studied and know English fairly well that can't find jobs, specifically as teachers; and here I am, a native English speaker teaching English at no cost to the schools. You can't really beat that. I think that this tutoring arrangement is a huge improvement to my first tutor. I came home after classes, ate lunch, went to English Club, then played volleyball. It was a challenge just to walk from the school to the sport complex - not because it was far, but because roads and sidewalks, if you can really call them that, aren't salted or shoveled here. Which means that it is a mess to get around outside. Everything is ice. Ice mixed with animal... well animal droppings. Everywhere. Not so pretty. The latter is my main motivation to take my time and NOT fall lol! (Oh yeah, and I saw a dead frozen dog in the yard on my way to school this morning!!!!)

I was never much into watching TV back at home... usually just silly reality shows about fashion, or the Disney Channel. My host family actually just installed satellite TV maybe a week ago. Now we have channels like Russian MTV. (I'm telling you Saule is a different person since the new MTV-like channels, and her new boyfriend lol, clearly feeling pretty cool) I think as the newness of this whole being-in-Kazakhstan-situation is wearing off, I find TV shows and movies more appealing. I don't know if anyone has heard of the show Firefly, but I have a love-hate relationship with the series. A friend of mine gave it to me in PST and it just about gives me 3 heart attacks per episode. But I love it lol. Action-packed. I'm not sure what the shows will be like in 2 years when I come back, but I don't know what else they can think of! That, playing the piano, and reading have kept my brain from becoming oatmeal. I'm on my 11th book since I arrived, which was November 4th. I'm starting to think that maybe I can read 100 books in these 2 years. People, let me know what books you suggest, I hear Amazon ships to Kazakhstan :) Seriously.

Well, I have a little bit of a headache, so I'm going to start heading to bed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

#53 Christmas in January



Merry Christmas! I had 5 packages come yesterday :) It was so much I had to make two trips! I seriously don't know how anybody does PC without support from home. It helps so much to have that taste of home. I couldn't believe all of the stuff that can fit in a box! A Snuggie :) Just what I asked for lol! Sharpies - perfect! Reeses... I'm hoarding them haha. Even piano music :))))I had to reorganize my supply cabinet just to fit the new goods. Thank you! Then I was able to talk to Joan for a little bit - so nice to hear from my girlfriend from afar, well not really so far now that I'm here! (only 30 min different)

Well Kazakhstan happened again. I wanted this post tonight to be about just having had an amazingly fun trip to the mountains... nope again. It was rainy and melty this morning, which makes for lots of mud and slippery slippery ice. No good for a Winter Sports Competition... So instead I cleaned up the mess of gifts, boxes and paper I made the night before. I played with my new toys all day lol. The piano my host family has is terribly out of tune, but I got over that pretty quick... maybe the music teacher at the school can help me. I finished my latest book (Heartbreaker: A memoir of Judy Garland, really, very good, though we all know how the ending goes...) in my Snuggie, and I even used my new umbrella in the rain this morning... (wasn't cold enough for the mittens) and I ate candy canes all day haha. I feel like I talked about and defended candy canes and nutcrackers all December and finally I feel justified by being able to have my h family try them. All in all, an easy relaxing day.

I'm trying to force myself back into preparing properly for classes. I'm just struggling with not feeling like a slave. It reminds me of when I was little, I can remember getting so mad at my brothers for not helping fold laundry, etc., and not even being asked to do it... they would say, "Ohh, uuh, we don't know how ta do it.... derr duhhh" lol (ok sorry that was just fun). Everyone knew very well that was the lamest cop out. You just learn... Nobody was born knowing how to do anything... Well most things you learn. I feel like my teachers are giving me the lame cop outs, but not quite so literally. They just don't care - which makes me not want to care. They are just content with the free labor I'm supplying. Well this isn't exactly a vacation here... And as much as I think I would prefer to work alone and do my own thing... I'm just not sure if I'm ok with doing everyone's work for them for nothing. I feel like the main thing I'm here for isn't to teach children English, but to teach teachers how to teach better... and how will that happen when we teach separately? I'm in a pickle.

How cold is -40? Not Wind Chill, just -40!



It was -40 today; -40 is the temperature where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet, so no matter what you measure it with, it's just really cold. I was surprised that my host mom admitted that she wished we had an indoor toilet today - people here seem so proud of doing things the hard way. I'm with her on the toilet thing lol. I had Saule time my bathroom run - 17 seconds :) Not bad. I'm confident that I can shave that down yet too.

I had a crick in my neck all day today. I haven't had one of those in a long time and had forgotten how annoying it is... School was pretty typical today, aside from the "seminar". The seminar isn't what I thinking it was. It's more like people from other schools came and watched some teachers' lessons. Mine will be next week with my 5th graders. I sat in on a 3rd grade class and my 9A's Russian class. The 3rd grade lesson was so clearly scripted and practiced. The kids' answers were so obviously memorized, it was weird. The 9A class was also quite dry. The director wants me to use the Active board for my lesson. I've never used an active board, but I'm guessing no one has from the way they talk about the thing. I'm planning on just making a sweet powerpoint :)

Then I had English Club/Play practice. My students have rejected the Traditional American Dance lol. They want something longer, more complicated... I'm basically going to watch Slumdogs and see what I can come up with. I'm not mad that I have ambitious students. I played volleyball after English Club. I'm slowly gaining the respect of my coworkers through my slow but steady improvements on the vb court. If only this language thing would come easier for me... that would help a lot. Speaking of which, my Kazakh tutor officially bailed on me. Zhamilya told me that she doesn't want to tutor me anymore. I could have told you that, on account of we've only met twice in the past 3 months that she's been my "tutor". Finally. Now, I can ask Saltanat to help me with out stepping on anyone's toes. It's just too bad I've not made much progress with the language in the first three months that I've been here. Now I sort of feel like I've created a rut for myself - just keeping to myself... Those first couple of months are supposed to be the least busy too. Ooojus.