Wednesday, September 30, 2009


BLOG #12
Sept. 29

The past couple of days have been the longest most exhausting days yet! (As much as I appreciate the lunch-after-church invites... I just can't keep getting home at 5 on Sundays...) We are at the school from about 8 to 5... like normal, except we don't start Kazakh class until 1 or 2 - which is about the same time everyone is hitting their attention limits. We teach during the morning/hang around the school until it's our turn for tutoring or teaching, then after lunch begin with Aigul. It always amazes me how exhausting it is to be idle lol. Tempers are breaking and people's patience are wearing out... there have been tears, hurt feelings, and frustrations and a deal of miscommunication - yikes! All on top or our already hectic schedule.
But, anyways... this type of thing always happens when you're with the same group of people 24/7. I'm fine and have no hard feelings whatsoever. We had our interviews yesterday for our sites. Mine was with Ekat(erina), who I love. She's the type of lady who loves cracking up at her own jokes lol... super cute lady. I really felt like she listened to me (especially since she remembered my rough start here ha). She also kind of looks like Grandma Zalar, which I like. :) I feel really good about how our talk went. The only thing I forgot to mention was that I want a dog. The PC staff have the final meeting on the subject on Thursday. It's quite a funny feeling - feeling like my PC adventure is over. I mean after Thursday, my site will be determined. It's like this PC mystery is over. The decision will be made. No more wonder, no more dreaming lol , no more anxious excitement. I'll know where my 2 years in the PC will be. Weird.
I made my family pizza for dinner. (I think my host mom didn't want to admit that she really liked it haha) I'm ok with that. - The only thing is that they insisted we put "salami" on it... by salami I mean an oversized hotdog-like tubular meat. (I call it Spam... ) I was not excited about this by any means, but decided this wasn't a battle I wanted to pursue. If this family is going to get me to eat the mystery meat... I'll generally succumb to the pizza venue.
Tomorrow is our first day of English Club with a purpose lol. The previous English Clubs have just been random silly games done in English... some lacking any language at all. We are putting on a community talent show for our community project. (With a secondary tech project on the side). We have art, drama, music, and dance areas that our English Club will focus on - giving the participants a time to practice a group act. I am focusing on the drama area with Anna (made the commitment before these other areas were formed...) I think I'll try and help with the art and dance sectors if I can. Depending on how many kids are interested in drama, Anna and I are thinking about having our students perform Cinderella.
There was an craft fair in Almaty this weekend (lol Sunday), which was very cool! Rugs, jewelry, dolls, clothes, instruments, pottery... all by local artists were for sale. Very beautiful things - apparently they do this every final Sunday of the month. I wanted to buy everything haha... but I decided to wait - give myself something to look forward to in the future here. I may go back on the last Sunday of October to pick up some things to ship home :)

Dance :)

BLOG #11
Sept 26

Its about 11 at night... and I'm "watching" Harry Potter with Ablai lol (he's koncked out :) I'm pretty pumped... Sarah let me have her music and movies... so now I have like 25 movies on my computer all of the sudden - most of which I've never seen! After class today there was some sort of Greek festival I think lol, it was really cool! There were these dance groups who performed different traditional dances (greek, bulgarian, korean, and more that I couldn't understand) I loved it! I'll post the video as soon as I can :) I'm not sure how such a rural village managed such an event... But then Anna reminded me of when Aigul was telling us that when people gosti (or are invited to another house as guests) they are usually entertained by people dancing, or singing or doing some kind of live performing act! Since there are rarely TVs and such, people just develop these incredible talents and traditional ways from when they are young. I think thats really cool. Like Aigul danced for us when we first arrived in Kaz and it was beautiful - never having any real training that I know of, and knowing first hand that schools here offer NO arts classes. It's pretty crazy how prestigious even a high school degree from America is in comparison to countries like Kaz... and for the education to be free! It really is a blessing I've never realized until seeing this school system (Go Dad! lol)
Then I came home and hung out with Ablai... we've eaten the same fried bread dish for the past 5 meals. Literally. (Grandma's package has come in sooo handy... tuna, cheese crackers, etc...) I didn't eat much of it for dinner tonight and my host mom noticed - and called me out lol she's like "Nina are you sick of ____ yet? We've had it... then she lists the meals we've eaten haha I must say I've been pretty hungry today. Mom and the fam called today, which was sooo nice! It stinks that I couldn't be there for the fun moments (ahem.. ELANA!) but I have to admit its pretty sweet to be able to brag a little bit to my PC friends :) Echo and her host sister came over then to "watch a movie" which didn't happen - Ablai gets too excited when people come over and shows off... like any other 10 year old lol. It's funny to think about when I first met him, how surprised I was to have a kid brother that was so "American-like" in a Kaz... if that makes sense. Like so fun and outgoing... I don't know it's like I didn't think people could be goofy unless they were from America - Oh my narrow mind lol. There is some truth to that however unfortunately - clearly noticed by my "Why do Americans smile so much?" conversation I had with my host mom several days ago... She was like "Nina," ok I don't know how to type our special language but basically why are you always smiling? I wasn't quite sure how to answer that question... Does everyone in America always smile?... yeah... yeah, uh, we smile in America. Does your mom smile?... yeah my mom smiles. Does your dad...grandma...teacher etc smile? yeah lol they do. Do I smile? haha this was another awkward one! Uh... yeah... yeah you smile ( : / ) Papa? ehhh I guess he smiles - She clearly wanted to be known as a smiling person so I figured reassuring their joy was the best way to go about this...! It's an interesting concept to think about though... I understood smile to actually mean joy. It's just overall not a smiley culture here - or really most other places outside of the US - someone should do a study on that :) I'll tell you one thing that makes them smile is my hot pink sequined slippers Sarah V gave me last Christmas! lol (I think of you ever time I wear them :)
Some terrible news happened last night to Denise (one of the girls I go to church with) Her host fam's flat was broken into - actually really just her bedroom- and he computer and money was stolen! I felt soo bad! Not going into details too much... it sounds like it had to have been either a direct host family member or someone that is very close to the family... She's being put with another family now - Its so ironic because the host family only consisted of a host "mom and dad"... both of which are YOUNGER (19) than Denise! How does that make sense lol. I think that had I stayed with my first host "family" I would very well may have had a more similar experience... there are just a lot of similarities from what she has told me. Which makes me think, "If they caught my sub-par family placement - why wouldn't they have noticed the sketchy signs that Denise has had?" Who knows... It's just too bad.
On a lighter note... my host dad fixed the light in my bedroom! And it's quite hilarious because when you turn it off, it blinks for about 20 minutes before it fades away and off - It's really fun like a disco party... Ablai and I dance before we go to sleep :)

Where In the World...

BLOG #10
Sept. 25

I taught my 4th lesson to my 5th graders today! It was on addresses and phone numbers and it went really well. This class was the closest I have come to actually making it through a whole lesson plan! Usually the actual class turns out completely different than what I had meant to do lol! I mean the topics and grammar are alway covered, it just ends up that it happens different than I plan for it... I don't really understand it either - but I really am getting better at this! I also really like my 5th graders... It's also nice to teach the same group for a while... I know what they have learned in the previous classes, who does well, who struggles - it will be really cool to teach the same kids for two years!
We had Kazakh after lessons, which were fun... we played games most of the time... then I came home had tea and ate a little bit. The four lesson plans for next week are due tomorrow! I have one done and its about 11:00 at night lol. Story of my life. I played with Ablai and the neighbor kid for a while. It's so funny, kids are just kids no matter where you are lol. We threw plastic paint container lids at each other like frisbees lol. Just the same as the stupid games we made up when we were kids. We made a punching bag out of a big water jug tied to the clothesline with a rope. Did some karate. Played hot potato/monkey in the middle (its a dog in the middle here though). Then I talked to Peter, the British guy from church, about going to an orphanage!
He invited me to go with him yesterday, but we were in Almaty for a Hub Day and didn't finish in time. It sounds like a really moving experience. I've never been to an orphanage... but he and some other people from the church go every monday and thursday... just to hang out with the kids, most of which are disabled in someway. It's funny because I guess "there are no disorders" in Kazakhstan... still... I mean that nothing is recognized to be a disorder here yet... no one "has" ADD or any learning disabilities, or any disorders even... Lord knows what happens to those who suffer from something like that here! Echo was telling me about a study that she read about where a group of advanced students were treated like an LD class, and an LD class was treated like advanced students... to the point that they considered themselves to be opposite class, and they actually performed accordingly. (The real Advanced students performed worse, and the real LD students improved) I think there is a lot of truth to that. I've been so blessed to have complete support from family in whatever I did...! Others definitely don't have that, which is hard for me to wrap my head around. Anyway I'm very excited to go to the orphanage - should it be feasible... we usually don't finish at the school until 4 30/5ish... and they go at 4... I'll try for Monday.
We filled out our site preference sheets the other day... I decided to go for it! Lol, there has been a lot of talk from other trainees that they already have us placed and they don't pay attention to what we say on the forms... But I figure - if they are going to give me the opportunity to say what I want in a site, I'll take it lol! I circled, the south, Kazakh language (possibly a Russian tutor), to have a site-mate, and high school level. My only other request was to be a reasonable distance from Almaty to have the option to occasionally make it to an English speaking Protestant church when I can... (I don't really remember how I worded it) We'll see where I end up! I'm trying to really make my case about this... I feel like I've already made more concessions to PC than most other trainees and really want them to consider that! ...I won't go into details but let's just say that it definitely has been the Lord's will and not mine for me to be where I am - since the application process :) And it's amazing how I really like where I am now... and I wouldn't have expected that I say that if you would have asked me when I first arrived here. The only way to look at it is - even if I am assigned to me "ideal" site, there will be plenty of challenges to work around... and even if I am assigned my "worst case scenario" site, there will be amazing experiences.
We will be talking face to face with someone about the sites on Monday (the 28) - hopefully we will be able to leave school early, as soon as the interview ends, and I'll be able to visit the orphanage :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

6-grade madness

Sept. 22
This week is our second week of teaching... my 3rd lesson with my 5th graders and my 1st lesson with 6th. My 5th grade class went well... although the actual lesson was completely different than the lesson plan (in both classes). My 5th graders were actually more advanced than the lesson I had planned, which was very cool. So, I had to make due... on the fly lol. The 6th graders were absolutely insane. This was my first time meeting them... and for an A class (6A) I was quite suprised by their unruliness! There were 20+ students... which normally would be split up into two classes, but not in my case. It was maddness, they were wayyy too excited. Standing, shouting, flailing, jumping - then... my counterpart left the room and I was left with the heathens for some time lol, yeah. At one point one boy was hitting another with an umbrella. I have never seen kids act this way lol. I'm not sure how much the kids learned, but I sure learned alot! How to break up a fight, how to scare children, how to punish... you get the point. Outside of class It’s almost scary to even walk down the halls with dozens of kids yelling HELLO! WHAT IS YOUR NAME! MY NAME IS ____ HOW ARE YOU! I mean I like my 5th graders but kids just start getting rowdy for like the next 5 years lol.... then "college" which is sort of like jr and sr year, they start having control of themselves again lol. So it's either the young ones or the young adults, but those ackward years are just a mess! :) Mental note.
That was pretty much the just of the day. It was rainy, and dirt roads are soo hard to walk in when they are so muddy. Language lessons with Aigul... made another outstanding pizza. (Andrew, Echo, Laura, and I are perfecting this craft.) I mean 3 ѳте дамды pizzas (that's very tasty)... Aigul says we should be writing our journals in Kazak, so whenever possible I try to throw in some Kazak words lol. Echo and Andrew taught us this fun/hilarious game called salad bowl - I would describe it, but you could probably google it easier... came back home and danced with Ablia haha. He drew me some pictures to take to America...! aww! I wonder what it would be like to teach him... lol!

Beef Stew!

Sept. 20

Today was a really beautiful day. Anna, Denise and I left at about 9 this morning to go to church in Almaty. If I haven’t mentioned before it takes about 20 minutes by bus to go to Almaty from Panfilova, then it takes about another 20 minutes once you’re in the city. We were pretty impressed with ourselves for being able to make our way to and around the city with no local people - or experienced expats lol! There was a very charismatic guest speaker there this morning, who had an interesting story about God really giving him a vision in college - reminded me of my giiirl! Sarah V!! Then, a lady last Sunday, I guess, invited us to have lunch after church this week...! So we went to her and her husband’s flat... and she cooked us the most amazing food I’ve had in a long time!
We had a delicious salad of leafy greens! :) Which I haven’t seen since the states... and super tasty beef stew (I know... I never thought I'd ever be so excited to have seconds of beef - let alone thirds! lol) then apple cobbler with ice cream... sigh! I could have died. lol. How nice of them to invite us! It was a couple who work at an “International School” in Almaty who hosted us. Two other guys from the church were over too. Both with interesting stories. One’s name is Able - he’s a refugee from Darfur in Sudan. His entire family has been killed by the crisis going on there. What a tragic story! I can’t explain how stupid I felt after he told us this about saying something about missing my family and talking to them yesterday and blah blah blah... I’m so grateful I even have a family to miss! I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to have had my entire family killed - not just dead, but killed! It just blows my mind. How was I given this life? 1 Cor: 7, Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? It’s just beyond me... So Able is here looking for a job and looking to be granted residency in Kaz. Then Peter, who is from England, is a science/P.E. teacher at the same “International School” as the couple. He was really sweet and hilariously spoke Russian with a british accent lol. Students here learn British English, as opposed to American English. It was funny to ask him if Brits really say the things that our students are learning - like beastly weather, to row warmer... It was a really nice time. Good food and good conversation.
Today was the first of the three day celebration of the end of Ramadan. My host mom, host sister and I were up all night last night cooking. We cooked - well mostly fried lol until after midnight! I didn’t know what was going on... We fried every type of bread in every shape you can think of lol. (each being a different dish with a different name of course) So, I knew today was some sort of special day (even though no one fasted through Ramadan) and told my family I would be back sometime in the afternoon - when we actually didn’t leave Almaty until around 6... eek. Once back home, there, clearly, had been a huge feast and my host mom, of course, wanted me to eat eat eat “Nina! ish tamak!” lol that means Nina, eat your food. Every time she says that (and its pretty much every two seconds when we are at the table for a meal) All I can think about is Napoleon Dynamite... only I’m Tina! LOL. I just laugh to myself. ha. Thankfully my host mom wasn’t mad about me not calling and not coming home when I said I was... (I had to get a new phone number after an incident in the mountains the other day and hadn’t had a chance to re add her number in my phone) I made up by singing. I’m sort of like a one man circus. They tell me to do/say/sing things they can laugh at... then the laugh and talk about me lol. In a loving way (I tell myself at least) ha. I’m ok with that. The food was sooo good again (even after eating three bowls of beef stew!) I didn’t eat a super lot but I did eat a little more once back home.
Generally, Sundays are banya days. I don’t think I’ve really talked about banyas yet... People here don’t shower. Instead, they have this sauna like way of bathing. It’s actually really enjoyable! I want to have a banya in my house, should I ever have a house. You basically, using different buckets of water - hot and cold, mix the water to make whatever temperature you want and wash yourself off, scrubbing yourself down over and over. You just keep splashing yourself with hot water, then cold water. Then put cold water in the banya pit to make it steam up and just sit and sweat. It’s shockingly hot. I mean hard-to-breathe hot. If you breathe on yourself it hurts lol. Dad, you would like banya-ing. So you sit there for a couple of minutes - I’ve heard stories about beating yourself with some sort of branch or stick lol, but we don’t do that at my host family’s house - I think it may be a Russian thing... Then you scrub yourself down again, and wash off again, wash your hair - all of the above. Then, back in the steam - you do this cycle at least twice... more if you want. It’s quite a time consuming process, but, I mean, I’ve never felt cleaner in my life - maybe when I was born, lol. My skin is soo much softer from banya-ing than it is when I shower. I love the banya! It’s like a spa :) (though i've actually never been to a spa... Mom don't forget about those gift certificates! They expire in December..!) I’m curious to see what it will be like in the winter! The only thing is - is that it’s only once a week, any additional bathing is by buckets. So today is Sunday... but since it’s some kind of holiday - for some reason, there is no washing... :( And, not to be nasty... but let’s just say I’m due lol. My host mom said that tomorrow we will banya. So, I look forward to that. Definitely.

Eventually finally rolls around...

September 17

I had a feeling this day would come soon lol... After coming home from our “After School Activities”, (English Club), My host mom and I sat down and had chai (tea) and talked, if you so venture to call it talking lol. It was nice - I think we both were on the same page for the most part... talking about how we should have our hair cut next, etc. (she thinks I should cut mine very short and dye it red! eek lol) sometimes I wish I were in God’s position so I could just laugh hysterically at the conversations that go on in our kitchen! Who knows what the person you are talking to is understanding from what you try and say! It has be funny to someone up there! Anyway, there are really pretty Kazakh folk songs in our language book that Aigul is helping us learn... They are so pretty, one especially - its called Kөзімнің Қарасы (Kozemning Karaca maybe?) by a famous Kazakh poet Abai (Aбай). It’s like a lullaby. So I tried to tell my host mom about our songs in class - then it just resulted to singing a sorry version of what I could remember lol. She was quite pleased by my attempt lol and we sang for a while, trading songs back and forth- I could barely keep up! I had heard that people love to sing here but I hadn’t really seen it ‘till today! She was just a-singin and a-singin! lol it was really cute. (I performed my songs about 4 more times throughout the evening as other family members came home... :)
We cleaned up and cooked and as we were chopping up vegetables, she brought out the KUMICE lol. Again, having heard about kumice... I had some sort of idea what we were in for... lol. My host mom was pretty excited about the thought of me trying some kumice... telling me in our custom sign language that it was milk with alcohol... from some animal.. I’m not really sure about which one she was referring to (the sound didn’t sound like a horse but I have no clue what a camel would sound like lol) and I can’t remember if it is from mare’s milk or camel milk - I think I remember hearing about both? Anyways, I know it wasn’t from any animal I would ever associate with milk lol. She gladly poured me a glass and... and there I was - to drink or not to drink... lol I can’t explain how difficult it is to politely decline something here. Anything. It’s nearly impossible! Kazakh mothers are sooo insistent, almost to the point of being offensive. I decided to just forget about trying to get out of it. We had been having a nice time together thus far why ruin it. (She even bought more халова, halova, for me... Shannon you should look for it at trader joe’s its delicious - like a cement looking dessert made of sunflower seeds and honey... I love it! Mom and Elana try it too if you find it anywhere) Anyways, so down it went.... Well one gulp anyway. It was so disgusting! lol. It didn’t taste like much at first... I actually, for the first millisecond, enjoyed it just because it was finally a cold drink that I was drinking! Then, it was the strongest but grossest taste I have ever tasted. Salty, bitter, sour. Nasty... My host mom had a good laugh at the face I couldn’t help but make lol. Nonetheless, she insisted that I drink more... hey, at least she’s consistent. Add one more more notch on Nina’s Kazakhstan belt!
Oh, I taught my second class today. It was to the same students, this time half of them though - so I think around 13 kids maybe. I knew that first class was too good to be true... This class, yeah, not so hot. I was supposed to be team teaching with my counterpart, Gulnara. So, planning the lesson was pretty much a disaster to begin with. What I understood of our little conversation was that the lesson was on introductions questions (how are you, how old are you) and numbers 1-12. She was presenting the new information, I was practicing it with games. Yeah. That didn’t happen. (For being an English teacher, I didn’t expect the conversation to be so difficult) I stayed up all night making these posters and cards and things, made a solid lesson plan... the whole deal. The materials PC supplies us with to make the things for our classes are these big off-white flip chart pages, tape, and markers - then, whatever else you can muster up for yourself from the bazaar. I usually cut up the big papers to make smaller poster - trying to be more resourceful and economical lol. So I made these posters then rolled them up together... different sizes - not thinking about it. Made my way to school at 8 and by the time I got to school and actually found the classroom I was supposed to be teacing in, I realized that my smaller posters must have slipped out of my roll on the walk to school! Great... It didn’t matter in the end - my class still could barely get past the alphabet. We started sort of a memory game that my kids just weren’t catching on to. It was pretty much a disaster lol. Gulnara didn’t say a word all class, except for yelling and scolding students for making mistakes during the games. And I mean she would rip them a new one... For being such cute little women, these teachers can really strike fear in the hearts of children lol. and me. So yeah, I overestimated the level of my students and didn’t pay any attention to time management. It’s really hard to explain directions in a way that these kids will understand... in a language that they don’t understand! Oh well, I’ll learn.
I just had the most hilarious time with Ablai. I have these videos of him that I really need to post! He. Is. A. Ninja. Turtle. We did flips and handstands and kicks, and karate chops together. Then he wanted to perform... so he went at it against the imaginary bad guys while I taped him... his imagination reminds me of Teddy. I think he has really helped me transition through “culture shock” - being able to just escape to an imaginary world that isn’t home, and isn’t Kazakhstan lol. Not talk in English or in Kazakh, or in Russian - but in sound effects. I don’t know. I’m really going to miss this guy when we move away to our permanent sites!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Miss Nina LOL!

This is our Kazakh classroom, complete with Nasurbayev and the cyrillic alphabet. We are actually in the military classroom, incase of any wars... we will know the first aid - or how to shoot a riffle? Then Echo and I accidently dressed identically... to the small children's uniforms haha.

Sept 15
I taught my first lesson today! It was so much fun... :) I was assigned to 6th period, which starts at 1:00, teaching 5th form class B (similar to 5th grade, the B is like the “average” students I guess you could say). Generally, 5th form is the first time students are introduced to English, unless they are an experimental class. So I arrived to school around 9:30, hoping to do some tutoring with Aigul and maybe observe some of the other trainees’ classes. I watched Laura teach her 5th graders - she did great! Lol super animated... :) And completely didn’t use her lesson plan as her counterpart asked her mid-lesson to introduce big numbers, she did awesome on the fly. Trainees are assigned to counterparts, who are the normal English teachers at the school, to work with. Some are much more difficult than others! So, after that, we had a 2 hour break before my class began. Well, was supposed to begin. Then Gulnara, my counterpart, popped in our class and told me that the schedule changed and she needed me to teach my lesson right then.... It’s incredible the way they schedule classes here. I have yet to see a day that the time/room of a class has been what it is supposed to be lol. I couldn’t explain it if I tried. All I understand is that there are no substitutes? Anyway, so.. of course I was a little... I don’t know rushed lol.
I had planned to go to my class like 5 minutes early to tape up all of my materials, which obviously didn’t happen. So generally, classes are of about 10-15 students. Mine was around 30! I was intimidated by all of those cute little faces. But they were great... the way they raise their hands here is hilarious. It’s almost like a tomahawk chop. I’ll describe it, grab your right elbow with your left hand; keeping all fingers together and straight, raise your hand firmly almost flexing lol, and then they chop it when they are excited or really want to be called on! It’s so cute. You can imagine what it looks like to have 20 kids chop their arms at you lol. So, of course the class flew by. We... I sang the alphabet probably 30 times, we spelled things. Oh, I made vocab cards last night with Laura and Ablai (the 10 yr old h-bro) it was fun. Ablai helped me draw things like spider, turtle, sheep, car, train... he wanted to draw a helicopter and a hedgehog too lol. I had to explain there were too many letters in those words. Ironically, he has practiced drawing these things in school (spiderman, sonic the hedgehog, ninja turtles...) when he should be taking notes. Lol his notebooks are full of superheroes... (reminds me of Teddy’s war stories) He really is talented! It was fun. So at the end of class we played a game where someone makes the shape of a letter (with their body) and the class guesses which letter it is. They really like that one.
It was so funny how the students were soo boggled by the concept of leaving their seats in class. Laura played a game where the were competing at the board and the kids were so confused about the request of coming to the front of the class. They really aren’t used to being able to leave their seats, except to answer a question - they stand beside their seats. Normal classes here, well English classes at least, students just translate and memorize. No thinking on their own. Also, the majority of what they are asked to do is written, not spoken. So, the style of our classes are very new to them. Which is what they are supposed to be. I really liked it. I’m looking forward to having the same class for a long period. Really getting to know the students... I thought that I would prefer older more advanced students to have and be able to have more interesting lessons, but those middle school/early high school aged kids are much more difficult to control. I liked the students being so into the lesson I mean these kids really want to answer and be right, and I’m not sure if I would see much of that in the awkward stages... At least not with the majority of students.
We have our interviews about what preferences we have about our permanent sites sometime next week. As of right now, I’m not really sure what preferences I have... maybe that I have a host sibling my age? Internet? Dog lol? If anyone feels called to pray for me... this would be a great prayer request! I do know that my site assignment will be important... And this interview will be my only chance to express my preferences. I’ll be living at this site for 2 years. So, knowing what is important in a site to me, and knowing realistically how I won’t be able to spend the next 2 years are pretty key! Either way, I’m excited to see where the Lord really, specifically wants me to be while I’m over here.


Sept. 13

It’s 5:00 in the evening and I literally just returned from Almaty. I can’t even explain how well this day has gone, so I had to write about it, even at such a random time! The plan has been for me to locate this church in Almaty called International Christian Fellowship. I found the church on the US Embassy-Kazakhstan’s website before I left. Then, I didn’t think about writing the address down, and somehow figured I would be able to access the internet to look it up again- then google map it or something. Ha. Didn’t happen, so when my family called me on skype, I had them look it up for me and I wrote it down... Step one. Then... only having the name of the building and the intersection of the streets it was on, I asked around to the PC faculty if anyone recognized the street names, or would happen to know what buses to take to get there. Of course, Almaty being as huge as it is, no one knew where it was but they were so great about asking around for me. I was starting to get discouraged, just that it was seeming so out of reach- Anna, another trainee interested in going to church with me was very encouraging and persistent, which was good. A week or so went by... Anna and I actually picked up 2 other people who were interested in that time. Simbat, our technical trainer, had arranged a trip for people to go to Almaty today to shop for classroom supplies. She was the last person for us to ask about the address to, since she wasn’t from this area... we figured she probably wouldn’t have a clue. So we asked her yesterday if we could somehow work a “How to get to this building” trip into the plans. She is so amazing. She didn’t even hesitate! So we had 5 girls and Simbat as our Almaty trip group.
This morning - still unsure of how this was going to work with the school supplies store, bazaar, and church as the priorities. We left at 8 30 (negotiated down from 9, being that church started at 10). Once in Almaty it was so cool - everyone was OK with going to church then shopping! Even Simbat - who has never even entered a mosque!, she said she’s scared to because she isn’t good enough and it freaks her out... I can’t tell you how appreciative I am that she helped us get to this building, then even sat through the 2 hour service with us! Which was amazing by the way. The service is held in a bank building and in English (a lady told me that the service used to be held in a night club!). It’s a nondenominational church that is bible believing. So many lovely people there that truly welcomed us. Great connections. So many prayers were answered today! Fellow Christian volunteers, a solid church, Kazakhstani Christians old and young. They did a thing where all of the first time visitors introduced themselves, I thought that was great. There was even a trainee that didn’t come with our group there! She said she met a family in a shop somewhere that invited her - a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). So it was really great to see her there too, she was excited to see us to lol. I’ve never actually talked to people I didn’t know during that little ‘turn and greet your neighbor’ part until today lol. It changes the whole dynamics of things when your in a foreign country haha. I don’t even know how this finally happened, I’m just so glad it did! A great big thank you to anyone who has been praying for me!
So I plan on going every Sunday with anyone who wants to join me... maybe the group number will grow! After church, we went to the school supply store - I wasn’t sure what to buy since I haven’t really even started anything, though I know I need more than I have (which is basically nothing lol). We had a tasty lunch together then headed back to our village. I really like these girls :) Anna from Oregon (the state), Denise from Nebraska, Laura from Detroit, and Gambrill from Florida (most recently). Good times. Very good times.

Howie Substitute :)

Friday, Sept. 11
Blog #4
Wow, so I didn’t even realize all day today that it is 9/11, until writing this blog! That’s incredible! Again with the no lights... but not mad about it. Today we had language lessons and then some technical with Simbat (She’s amazing). These Kazakh national women who work with the Peace Corps truly have it going! So appreciative :) So a girl in my group had this insane story today about her host family’s dog. Dogs in this country are everywhere. They don’t bother you... it’s just really sad. They rummage in the ever present garbage everywhere... Most are extremely cute! (Some scary) Occasionally families will have dogs - either chained up by the house, or free inside the yard gate (more rare), but never inside dogs. There is this adorable puppy that hangs around the neighborhood I’m living in. I love him :) He is blonde and always dirty lol. He is always soo happy to see people and just wants to be petted so badly... He waits for me to come home from school and I give him my lunch leftovers (I know I’m not supposed to but I can’t help it!) Ablai, my host brother, calls him Rex lol. Anyways, Sarah, today, said that this morning she walked outside and found the remnants of a dog in her front yard! She said that her parents told her that their 2 yard dogs ate this dog that came onto their property! I mean like they ate everything, insides and all, only fresh bones and fur were left. Seriously cannibalistic dogs...! I was shocked... I mean as far as I had seen in this village dogs were all talk - but my whole perspective has changed lol. Really.
I learned another lesson today that maybe panty hose aren’t meant for Kazakhstan. Today was the first day that I wore panty hose to school. A brand new pair too. Not too far outside my house while Andrew and I were waiting for Echo, little Rex was soo happy to see me lol he jumped on my leg. Snag one. I knew that was going to happen, I mean I dodged him at least 3 times before the snag. But it wasn’t too bad. My skirt covered it fine, I wasn’t too concerned, I just took extra precautions during the rest of the walk. Scary bridge, pot holes, gangly branches, good to go. Then in school I noticed a huge hole on the back of one of my ankles lol. Just from walking period shredded the hose! Not so cute... and not exactly camouflage-able with a skirt. Lesson learned: wear tights, bring hose.
On the bright side... Lesson plans!! I have been assigned 5th form and 6th form. Form basically means grade. So, these grades are the first years that students learn English. I was sort of hoping for a young class simply because these kids are SO excited to participate and are all about learning, in the sweetest way. On the other hand, I sort of wanted an older class to be able to have some lessons with substance. I’m not sure what ideas that I have will actually be feasible at the level the students really are. Generally even at the 10th and 11th grade, there English isn’t really functional, it’s just based on memorization and translations. Either way it was soo refreshing in the sense that finally I have “control” of something... my own class :) I’m actually the “expert” of something in this country lol!
After class we decided it was time to make a Kazakh pizza. :) Laura, Andrew, Echo and I live right next to each other, walk to school together, and are all learning Kazakh together. So we bought some ingredients from the bazaar to make 2 delicious pizzas! Best idea ever. Very flavorful - peppers, lots of tomatoes, onion, cheese, garlic, basil, and oregano... mmm.... food here tends to be kind of bland at times. Everything worked out perfectly. Kazakhs hold bread to be sacred so there are plenty of choices for crusts. We bought this extremely common and inexpensive Uigger bread that is already shaped just like a pizza crust. Then we just chopped everything up, made a little sauce and tossed it into this microwave/oven and it was just the right size, and cooked just right. It tasted great and was fun to make together. Then we invited Laura’s family to try it - it was funny to see these people squirm the same way we do with bishbarmak in front of us lol! It went over well - surprise... lol who doesn’t like pizza, really!? We thought about making a pizza shop as our community project :) After eating, we worked on our lesson plans together... Laura brought soo many classroom supplies to work with! I didn’t. lol. Classes here don’t usually have much to offer - teachers are responsible for providing ALL supplies for the classrooms, even things like lights; and, teachers are ironically paid near nothing. Imagine how that may work... Anyways, Laura kindly invited us to use her things, although we didn’t even make it as far as to start making the materials we need. Raincheck on that...

Food Frenzy

Thursday, Sept. 10
So tonight the quote in the journal that Carrie gave me says “God give me joy in the tasks that press, in the memories that burn and bless. In the thought that life has love to spend, in the faith that God’s at journey’s end.” I really like this on many levels. (Thanks Carrie again for the journal... it’s filling up fast :) I have been taking the first phrase to heart lately with the especially in the area of food, and at times my seemingly pushy host mom. I’ve really have to take my time in prayer and make sure that I’m genuinely grateful for the food served. That probably sounds ridiculous - but you don’t realize until you’ve been served something that you honestly just don’t want to eat how ridiculous/offensive it must sound to God that you just rushed through a prayer saying all of these great things about how thankful you are... or whatever... then grumble about it in your heart and even out loud at times! It’s honestly difficult, and I really am trying...! For example, I was just thinking through dinner (which was actually fabulous!) tonight, “Really, this is culture with a nomadic history, meaning meat has been the ultimate source of food. They didn’t have gardens or things like this. Really, to professional meat eaters (Kazakhs), the fatter the animal, the tastier the meat, except if you’re in America, in which case the more roided the animal, the bigger and tastier the meat - like those stupid rib-eyes we featured for forever at ciao that people would send back because “Oh it was delicious, but there was way too much fat” lol. So you just have to deal with the hormones and who knows what that the mega farms have pumped into the animal. This was the reason I stopped eating beef in the first place (Mr. Inselmann)....and the fact that I’m served extremely fatty meat should be reassuring that the animal wasn’t a juiced up freak of nature and I won’t turn into a man from eating it lol. I really should be grateful from the get go that I’m served fatty meat because it is tastier that sickly meat. I don’t know, I really didn’t to write this much about fatty meat... but its the principle of the thing.
Another shot today - flu shot... and man if I could have one wish it would have been that Sarah V gave it to me! :) Then we had more lectures from Dr. Victor (our very interesting, passionate, and hilarious - previous Russian Army guy, turned PC Dr.(he actually cleaned up Angloa!)) about alcohol, mental health, dental care, STDs, rape, police encounters (corruption)... very emotionally exhausting to hear all of these tragic tragic stories about volunteer incidents in the past. Makes me think of Romans, “righteousness is pleasing to God and man., think of yourselves with sober judgement, and rulers hold no terror for those who do right”. The message seems clear - wise choices, and obedience. I can manage.
Lesson plans are quickly approaching, which makes me excited!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Somebody Hit the Lights

Wednesday, September 9
Since I have no lights tonight, I thought it would be easier to write on my laptop as opposed to my journal, though usually when this happens I just use my cell phone to see. Today was a pretty average day here. It was a technical day so we didn't have to be at the school until 9 30... which I enjoyed thoroughly! Technical days are nice because - A. they are in English - B. both language groups are together - and C. they seem way more useful (surprisingly) than language lessons. I am becoming better and better at the charade/dictionary game with my host family, but teaching still seems intimidating. Technical days are when current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) come and talk to us about how to teach. Methods, games, lesson plans, grades, working with a counterpart, things like this. It's so helpful to hear it from someone who is going through it right now. We have Emiko and Robert helping us. They were Kaz-19s, I am a Kaz-21, so they are on their last couple months in Kazakhstan. It's nice to hear them speak from experience and tell stories. Then after lunch is the culture part. This is when Leah kind of let's us vent a little, and we discuss the community project part of our service.
So we have this "Morale Chart" that we keep up which I thought was kind of hilarious at the beginning, but has basically just been the icebreaker to talk about how we're adjusting here. So that's that, really... Then the community projects are something that we have to over the two year span. Things like... start a sports team, or try to help educate people on rabid dogs lol. seriously. Dogs here are a whole nother issue! (I miss Howie!!) Anyway, the project has to be something that the community wants, needs, is sustainable, specific, measurable - o geez I sound like Leah lol. So for training we're sort of practicing with after school projects and English Clubs. Anna and I are doing a drama club. It should be fun - she brought some play scripts and I want to do sort of improv games (Who's Line-style). Then in our service we are also required to keep an English club going for the 2 years too. I'm not sure what I'll want to do for my community project... I've thought about dance, gymnastics, jewelry making, singing, art... I guess it really depends on what the students/people want. I've heard so many stories about projects failing because volunteers don't listen to what locals think they need or want.
After class, I got on the internet for a little bit! (Like 15 min... and I wasn't expecting it so I didn't bring my pictures or anything to post) They confirmed today that Wednesdays we will have one hour of internet on 6 computers to split between the 12 of us! Definitely good news :) So I sent an email, then, Leah was able to get a room for us to do yoga in on Mon, Wed, and Fri's! So I did some yoga. Leah is very passionate about ancient Chinese practices... medicines, traditions all of it. For her secondary project she started a yoga club at a women's center. Pretty cool! It was a little strange though. She was telling us what all of these different moves we supposed to help you with - longevity, youth, gray hair (Ehem, mom... sit with your legs straight out in front of you and touch your chest to your thighs) lol! It was almost like the move was like some sort of healing magic potion... I don't know. Lot's of interesting, colorful people here. So, that was super nice and relaxing. My body hasn't really moved much the past month!
Then, I came home, had some soup and bread, took a bucket bath, and am just about to hit the sack. We are going to Almaty tomorrow for "Hub Day". I'm still not really sure what that means besides getting 9,293,485 shots! Yuck - I think my count is up to 9 since being here (not to mention all the shots I had before coming). Hopefully there won't be anymore! We leave at 7 30.... :(... But, there is a chance I will be able to get to a computer and post some pictures and start this blog of mine I have without having lol. We'll see... I'll keep my expectations low, and my hopes high. Flexibility, patience, and creativity are virtuous in PC Kaz!

Samimeytesbea... Mening Atmin Noelle

Monday, September 7
So I’m not sure on exactly how blogging works, but I’m going to give it my best shot while I’m here in the Kaz. To begin I’ll introduce myself and the situation. This is now my 3rd week being overseas with the Peace Corps. Technically, I am an Education Trainee in a small village outside Almaty, until I am sworn in as an official volunteer on October 31. There are 64 (I think now) Kaz-21s here now in my group. There are education, community development, and business advising volunteers - the vast majority being education. Education volunteers are then split up a couple more times into University teaching volunteers and secondary education volunteers. Then the secondary volunteers are split again into Russian learning and Kazakh learning. Each sub-group is split into groups of 5-9ish trainees - then each group was put into different villages in the Almaty area. In the village I live in, there are 6 Russian learning education trainees and 6 Kazakh learning education trainees.
I am a Kazakh focused-secondary education trainee. Right now, my job is to learn how to be a teacher... and learn Kazakh, which is far easier said than done! Kazakh is a Turkic language based on the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet. It has the 33 Russian alphabet letters, plus 9 Kazakh specific letters. This language sounds like you just say the same sounds over and over again - which you sort of do. Everything matches and agrees in this language (if that makes sense). You say the subject at the beginning of the sentence then repeat it at the end. Reading Kazakh is also difficult - at a distance it just looks like squares lol. But then it also looks like there are a lot of similar letters to English... this is a trap! Actually, I think the most difficult part is pronouncing things. There are 9 Kazakh vowels (13 if you count the Russian vowels) each sounding slightly different from the other (three variations of “Y”). I was so frustrated when I began learning... everything just sounded like gargling... But we have a great teacher, Aigul, she is so cute and very patient. The language classes can be downers sometimes... but then we have a culture/technical class once a week too. People here work 6 days a week. Sundays are “Holiday”. So we are in class from around 8 30-4 30 for 5 days a week (super long days). Even with our one day off, usually something is planned for us to do then too. It’s hard to find down time here. But keeping busy helps me from getting homesick.
We are all living with families now. I live in the same little neighborhood as 3 other Kazakh-learning trainees. It’s nice to be so close to other Americans. We live in the nicer part of the village (almost like the suburbs). Even being in a little bit of a nicer area doesn’t really say much... electricity and hot water still come and go as they please. The bathroom facilities are nothing special either (to say the least)... By nothing special I mean nothing. A hole. Toilet paper if you bring it yourself... Yeah. Anyways, I have host parents and a host brother, Ablai (10), and a host sister, Aziza (18). They have really helped with adjusting! Every couple hours between meals we have chai, or tea. Having tea takes about an hour. My bladder still isn’t used to this heavy liquid diet. And I can say that I have never appreciated the feeling of not having to “go” more than I do now! Back to meals... Meals are also always eaten together. Meat, bread, and salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, and mayo) are always on the table. For a girl that doesn’t eat beef (or typically red meat in general) I have had my fair share these past weeks... probably more than I have eaten in my lifetime. I promised I wouldn’t make food an issue for myself, and I have been trying hard to make that a reality. Meat isn’t cleaned the way it is in the US here. It is swimming in fat. This wasn’t a big deal until the past couple of days. It has just seemed to worsen for some reason lately. I tend to feed my lunch meat to the cute stray dogs we pass on our walk to school.
Well, my homework is done and I’m pretty tired. I still need to write in my journal. I was so happy to have just received a call from home! Skype worked! Man, I miss my family. ...But it seems like everything is still moving the same way I left it. No huge surprises - not saying there won’t be any... It was so nice to hear from them!