Sunday, October 25, 2009

One more week...

Blog 25
October 25
Counterpart conference is over, and I'm back in Panfilova. A small group of us stayed an extra night in Almaty after the conference - seeing as we had a barbeque at the Country Director's house the following day. That was more of an adventure than anticipated... but super fun. The barbeque was also amazing. Our CD has an amazingly gigantic house. We ate chili, hamburgers, grilled chicken, salad, brownies and more. I overate. There was badminton, trivial pursuit, a free American phone to use, the internet... even a dog that sits and fetches :)
Today I went to church like normal, had lunch and went to the bazaar after. It's weird to think that next week I'll be in Mambet... with Johnny. Lol. (Our counterparts knew each other very well even before the conference, and apparently we are in the same district even!) We leave immediately after the swearing in ceremony. My host family is sad :( After church, I did some dishes and helped clean a little. For the first time, my host mom recognized my help and actually thanked me! It felt so good lol. It's hard to do things with a joyful heart when no one even appreciates the work. But it was a very pleasant surprise :) Other than that, nothing special happened - just banya and hung out with Laura and Echo for a little bit. Tomorrow we will cook.
So our Swearing in Ceremony is on the 31 of October... and there isn't much to this week but that. We have our talent show, and a teacher training seminar. So that takes care of 2 days? Other than that... we will hang out and say goodbye - and freak ourselves out thinking too much about what might happen in the next two years.

Counterpart Conference

October 23
The past 3 days we've been in Almaty for our counterpart conference! It's been so weird and awkward. It was held at that same hotel that we stayed in when we arrived initially for orientation... LOL I was reunited with that stupid plastic palm tree! And the most hilarious part was that I actually liked it. I can remember just plain rolling my eyes at most everything in the entire hotel complex, but this time around I was impressed! It really is a beautiful place. I ate every single piece of food served to me... while last time I may have consumed an accumulative spoonful portion the entire stay. I actually looked forward to eating porridge everyday. A toilet and a shower is a luxury in my book. So it's full of tacky nail salon wall paper, oddly unleveled floors, and strange hodgepodges of room decorations... it's warm and pipes are not exposed. So they didn't serve grilled salmon and a Ciao! salad... I'm getting surprisingly good at sorting fat from food simultaneously in my mouth - organizing textures gracefully mid chew, and politely storing the unwanted in a cheek. I honestly thought I could beat the whole perspective change concept. I thought I could keep my standards, and just live with different conditions without making a big deal of anything... I don't want to be that guy... comparing everything to Kazland when I come back home. But even after a couple of months I'm noticing a huge shift in perspective! Darn it. The hotel really is a nice place, when compared with surrounding hotels, maybe. I think this whole Kazakhstan thing is almost more traumatic because it is seemingly almost familiar, but just done completely backwards. lol. It's sort of like Kaz had a choice of maybe 5 things to keep "normal" in my perspective - and the Kaz and I picked completely different things. If that makes sense.
I'm glad Kok Tobe had a chance to redeem itself. I have been having a great time. All of the education trainees are here together... which is always fun to see the people in the other villages. Even though there are still people that seem interesting should we cross paths... I've definitely stayed consistent with my familiar group that I know and love :) I figure now is not the time to play small talk with strangers... we only have like one week before everything familiar is swiped from under our feet and I want to spend what little time I have left with my pre-established good friends, no offense. So we spent the days in repeat sessions that we've heard 29,405,682 times before with our counterparts, and evenings either going out (Dancing :) or hanging out inside (Salad bowl :). I really love my friends.
My counterpart's name is Zhamiyla. She's 43, the head of the English Department at the school, has 3 kids, and was pretty quiet. I'm somewhat concerned with her level of English. The first thing after an awkward hug was "You're young." Uh... You're old? lol. She really didn't talk much at all - I could clearly see how nervous she was. Every activity they gave us was so hard for her. Could you imagine, not only being an English teacher, but being the head of the English Department, expected to know English so well... then showing up and being completely showed up by someone who had never taught a real class. Being completely lost due to language! I don't blame her for closing up... talk about a shot to your ego. eek. So I just acted like I didn't notice that things took her forever, or embarrass her for not understanding directions. I feel like under her nerves she's a really nice person. Although her one word answers to all of my small talk questions didn't help much the time pass. Most of our time was spent in difficult silence. She didn't smile much, but when I attempted Kazakh. I told her we (Andrew and I) play Kazakh lol, (I meant study)... She also lit up when I asked about maybe entering the talent show! So we sang the infamous Kozemning Karasuh (though I still haven't memorized it entirely!) I figured even though I'm no professional and definitely wouldn't have entered on my own... I can sure sacrifice some pride for our relationship lol.
We also were given our host family options! I have three options. One with three siblings(ages 4/5/14), a mother, father, and dog... 5 rooms; One is a grandma and granddaughter (4), banya, no door?, dog... 4 rooms; One with no siblings living in the house, mother, father, grandma, cat, no banya (go to daughter's house), 6 rooms. I'm not sure which way I'm leaning so far. So once I go to Mambet, I'll live for a couple of days with Zhamiyla and meet these families before I choose which one to live with. She actually already knows all of the families. My current host mom insists that I choose the one with no kids. I'll wait until I can check them out in person. Really, location is a big deal I think, and I want to have good people around during the extremely cold hibernation months :).

Happy Birthday Echo!

So these are the only pictures I could get to work... It's of the river we found, Laura wandering and collecting floatable objects, Johnny, and Pat (who I love and reminds me of Michael George :)

Blog 23
October 19

I haven't written in a couple of days (and almost didn't even write tonight!), and I'm actually glad to feel remorse about it. I really want to record everything that happens here. Even though it's annoying and I don't feel like it sometimes... I just don't want to forget anything. Yesterday was church and banya day, with company over late and an early morning to follow... the day before was a night out on the town... or village lol. dancing.
This morning Andrew, Laura, and I woke up early to make pineapple pancakes for Echo! (She turned 24 today) We sort of made up a recipe as we went... and the texture of the pancakes was definitely off, but the fruit, powdered sugar, and jam made up for it :) We walked next door with hot chocolate and the breakfast to Echo's house and knocked on her window... I'm really going to miss window knocking at my site. I love it when I get a knock on my window - and I love knocking on other people's window haha it's a cute surprise. Any way she loved it! Even the strange rubbery pancakes lol. It was nice to have breakfast together, and the hot chocolate was more like thick rich melty fudge - through which we had our next best idea... A fondu party! (details to come later... but think French theme, with mustaches and a murder mystery haha)
After breakfast, we went home... got ourselves together and the plan was to go try out this national park and eagle farm! Although knowing I really need to do some laundry... I figured we'd be back by 5 anyways, and if I didn't go, I'd be home alone all day. So Echo, Laura, Pat, Johnny, and I made our way to the bus stop. I'm still confused as why Andrew not wanting to go stopped us from going - seeing as he didn't go anyway... but we decided against the original plan. It's funny how many times Laura has tried to go to this eagle farm and every time something doesn't work out lol. She's persistent.
This is where our adventure starts. We decide - hey we've got nothing to do all day... and we don't know when we'll be able to say that again... So we just got on a random bus and went where ever it was going :) Maybe not the wisest thing to do with the little bit of language skills we have combined but whatever. So we end up in Talgar. We wander around for a while, laughing and making up stories about people, found a pet shop, ate a block of cheese like a popsicle, then found this gorgeous river. We hung out there for a while... wishing we would have brought our cheese and apple danish there for a picnic (instead of eating on the side of a road hahah) Laura was hilarious... she just kept picking up trash that could potentially float, and doctoring the cans and things to see how long they could last in the current. We played frisbee on rocks, ate shashleek (sort of like a barbeque). It was a lot of fun to wander aimlessly on an open ended adventure.
Once back in Panfilova, Laura and Echo came over and the best thing ever happened! Laura needed a haircut :) She has definelty a short haircut, and as most in my family know... I've always wanted to cut someone's hair - Yes, Elana, I know I'm not a professional. So we took my hair cutting scissors and a comb and a stool and sat out by the street with a beautiful view of the mountains and made our own hair salon haha. People would drive by and stare.... but not laugh? lol. I was in heaven. And I think I did a pretty good job if I do say so myself. She said she loved it but that may be because she's just super sweet :) Then we went over to her house and colored her roots with henna. I felt like an artist lol. Laura is my masterpiece!
...And for our 3rd delicious meal for the day... we made a makeshift tuna noodle casserole. Aka, macaroni and cheese with tuna and spices :) It was nice to make noodles the "normal" way.... as opposed to the raw noodles in grease way here in Kaz... Then we did NOT chat about Kazakhstan or the related over tea, which was very satisfying.

Non-Prom-ish Event...?

October 16
Oh I couldn't wait to write this post! The most embarrassing thing happened to Echo and I today... So, we all taught our last lesson this morning. Which was a little sad... but defenitely ok. Anna, Denise, Sarah, and I decided to go to Baraholka Bazaar after the our lessons to buy warm winter stuff. So we did that for a while - I bought some stuff, it was a much better experience than the last couple of trips to the bazaar. We split up and I was free to wander on my own. Staring as long as I wanted at whatever I wanted. Not speaking English - so people didn't stalk me or harass me lol. Plus there wasn't a terribly humungous crowd because it was a weekday. Anyways I could have spent a lot more time there but I really made sure to leave with plenty of time to get back to Echo's for her sister's school dance. On my way to catch the bus to the bazaar Anar yelled at me to come over wearing a black shirt at 4:00... I tried, but I was late.
So once back in Panfilova... Anar yelled at me from a distance for being late I'm assuming. I passed Pat on the way to Echo's, and he said he was going to the ball, he was going to watch one of his student's sing apparently? At a dance? So, I went to Echo's and she said that after talking to her host mom... there was some kind of contest at the school... uhhh? We started over. A bunch of the other volunteers were going to this "Fall Ball" too. Most of them had host siblings or students that were going. Once in the school, it all slowly started coming together. There were seats set up facing the stage. Sam and Pat were in the last row, so we sat down beside them. It was all quite confusing... I had envisioned like a prom or school dance like that. Where it was dark and the student's didn't know Echo and I were there... We would just make it not awkward to dance - like be the goofy people who danced first so no one else had to be those guys. It was weird and nothing like that. People were in jeans... and there was a judges table. Anar, who apparently stayed home from school to prepare for this event lol, was no where to be found. Echo for the past couple days had been criticizing her sister for being so ridiculous about this stupid dance. (She was quite adamant at our little dance party the other night...) Echo and I put two and two together and realized that WE were supposed to perform with Anar on stage lol! She coordinated our outfits, discussed the song, asked the teacher if it was cool that we came, kept talking about the wall being koop adam...(a whole bunch of people) as we were dancing, hahaha the whole time Echo and I were like - this girl is just weird haha. Let's humor her and go along with it. So we're in the auditorium, with the debate - ruin sweet Anar's high school image or embarrass ourselves in front the whole town of Panfilova. I felt so tricked! haha But she didn't mean to trick us. One of her friends ran out to Echo and told her that we should go back stage now. So,after much intense discussion as to how to deal with this horrible situation... We thought it would be best to just go along with it and not destroy poor Anar's shot at whatever this event was that was so important to her. No one was paying attention to what was going on on stage... and we had two guaranteed supportive audience members lol.
The preceding acts were a couple that, once the music started, argued and shoved their way off stage? a poem reading maybe, with a whistling tree boy complete with a leaves and branches costume, and a girl in head to toe leopard catsuit who sang off key. Echo and I were cracking up behind the curtains. Anar was giving directions and directions. I felt like some 30 year old creep trying to go back to high school and be cool haha. It was weird. So we did our 5th grade Cinderella line dance awkwardly and improv-ed the rest haha. People were taking pictures and recording it. People that I play frisbee with! Oh man. They know my name! (One of our convincing arguments was that this wasn't the school we taught in and we taught our last lesson this morning anyway) I decided to go back to being "Noelle" and lose the whole "Nina" persona haha. Who would have thought that some stupid electric slide-ish dance would be such a hit in Kazland. They loved it they were clapping to the beat and everything. I died. Woldim (Kazakh) The main thing was that Anar was happy. And she was. She said we did super :) She owes us. HA
As we made our way off stage... after what seemed like a song of eternity, our crowd of trainees had grown and they came and congratulated us. Very nice of them haha. My neighbor was there. Andrew's host mom. What a disaster lol. The rest of the acts were either very scandalous or break dancing. Apparently Kazakhs are into the hip hop video-girl scene, which is a stupid fantasy that I can't wait to break. Make them realize how uncool and demeaning that is to women. These are kids. Makes me sick. Anyway, so the conclusion is that I'm still unsure what the real point of this whole thing was. Some sort of fashion show, vegetable decoration, talent show, homecoming, cooking contest. And that's no joke. I left before the prizes were announced. Later on, Johnny, Echo, Laura, and I went and watched Halloween at Andrew's. Echo said we won 2 place!! LOL I've never won a talent show... never even been in one actually. Echo said the closest she has ever been is 3rd in a spelling be hahah. What a strange strange day. I can't wait to see the pictures.

Traditional American Dance

October 14

I loved today. My regional manager didn't come like she was supposed to... I'm ok with that, but apparently she's the one giving the Kazakh language test tomorrow, which makes me more concerned than I originally was. I'm not concerned necessarily about my particular level... but with giving a decent impression to my manager :) From what I understand, this test is just a formality... the test I will want to do well on is the one at the end of our service. So my class went well. I had to give some unruly boys threes in front of the whole class to publicly embarrass them, which I don't like doing - but that's the extent of my power and frankly, it worked. I'm still working on my lesson for tomorrow, surprise! I can't wait until I get better at this... or just have accumulated so much stuff that I don't have to make every piece of material.
After giving a lesson, we did a little bit of Kazakh, and had lunch. Then, Laura, Anna, and I chatted in Kazakh... with the help of Aigul. It was really nice practice, just to say what we would normally say in English in Kazakh. Then we had English Club! Our play is really coming together. It's an extremely basic version of Cinderella... but it's super cute. Unfortunately our Cinderella was absent today... so in order to not get any girl's hopes up, I filled in. I made up a goofy version of the electric slide (added in some turns and arm motions) for the ball scene last Wednesday (on the spot). The kids remembered it for the most part, and the new kids caught on quickly. The music is the most hysterical part... they do the ballroom line dance to Jai Ho (Slumdog), it's utterly baliwoodtastic. Elias, super English Club kid, absolutely loved being the Prince - he really hammed it up (and said his one line, "SHwho are you?" every 2 seconds, obviously not understanding what he was saying). And we had a little king, who was so into character and took his one line seriously (ssss...on, I vant to you get married). He practiced and practiced. Then decided at the Prince's wedding, he should say it again haha. I love these kids.
After the Club, we were able to use the internet... then I needed to show my lesson plan for tomorrow to Simbat. So Denise and I walked half an hour to her house, to only find that she wasn't home. So... back we walked. It was a nice day though once the sun came out. Then the plan was for me to go to Laura's and help with baking a carrot cake for Aigul's surprise Goodbye Party. Once home, I helped my host mom dig up and clean potatoes... then decided to head over to Laura's, forgetting about committing to a dance party with Echo's sister yesterday. Apparently, at School 33 there is a fall dance on Friday... and Echo's host sister, Anar, wants to learn how to dance! (How cute) Anar reminds me of Elana... on every school committee possible... super involved with everything she can get her hands on. She is very excited about the dance and somehow plans on doing, not one... but two costume changes throughout the dance (beat that Elana haha)! Her dresses are poofy and iridescent - one orange, and one purple.
So, on my way to Laura's I got the message that I needed to go dance at Echo's. It was hilarious. She was very serious about learning how to dance haha. Echo and I were like... uhh? So we danced. Then I jokingly started the baliwood line dance and Anar (Echo's sister) loved it! We did it over and over again... then she wanted to add on (not suprised seeing as it is only about 4 dance moves). "Nina, teach me more of that Traditional American Dance..." haha - uhh yeah about that dance lol. She kept talking about the wall beeing a huge crowd of people - which was cute that she really wanted the spot light haha. She arranged our formations and kept wanting to dance to the same song? I don't know maybe she really liked that one. It's like she was expecting the "Americans" to just be born as awesome dancers. After about 40 minutes we weaseled our way out - even with Anar insisting we stay longer. She ended up just scheduling an additional dance practice day for tomorrow.
We continued to Laura's to back some carrot cake for Aigul's party! The batter was promising, but ended in a disaster. In short, we were baking half in a microwave with a cake setting, and the other in a fire oven in a pot hahaha. Not surprised it wasn't working out. It was getting late and I hadn't eaten all day so, I felt bad but had to dip out in the middle of a catastrophe. Anna, Echo, and Laura stayed and hopefully we will have some sort of dish for the party tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mening Aigul!

BLOG #20
October 13

The weather is definitely starting to cool down. It's been quite chilly lately, today was the first day that I've warn my precious "cuddle duds" my mom insisted on having. I can remember leaving multiple stores in a huff - completely shocked that the place didn't carry Cuddle Duds in the middle of July... Lol. I'm glad we searched so hard mom. Today was a beautiful fall day, nice and crisp but sunny.
This is our unit plan week, so we are teaching the same class everyday all week. I like it. I chose my 5th graders (I know them best). It's nice to know what they know and what they should know. It's easy to plan for. Yesterday, Simbat had us make public grading charts for our classes. I felt so uncomfortable posting that thing today. It's so weird that everyone can see everyone's grades! These are daily grades that are posted. They are soo subjective too. Generally, they are based on whatever you feel like making them based on. I have yet to see actual graded homework, quizzes, tests... nothing. From what I've heard the tests are given and done in informal groups. There is no such thing as cheating. You are actually almost expected to "help" your fellow struggling classmates. So, as nice as it is to not have to explain your grading system, and having no one argue or question you... I still just don't agree with it entirely.
My class went well, and after we had Kazakh lessons. Aigul leaves on Friday! I'm not sure what I'll do without her lol. I'm definitely going to find myself a tutor once I get to Mambet. -By the way I asked Aigul yesterday what on earth Mambet meant that was so hilarious to every Kazakh person I talk to... She said Mambet is slang for a strange women that dresses funny. ...I think? - We are having a surprise party for her. Echo and I have been working on a song to sing for her! She loves when we sing in class (which we do often and randomly) She asked Echo if she could have a recording of us singing to show her class in Aktobe :) As ridiculous as we are in class... She's been showing a different, more relaxed and laid back side - maybe she's understanding our sense of humor. Either way she's been awesome and will love the song we're making for her - it's to the tune of the Kazakh national anthem, which we are obsessed with as a class lol. Check it out if you can, it's inspiring! It's so hearty and powerful, though it talks about flowers and streams and the country being happy lol... not a rockets glare or bombs bursting in the air :) Here's our Aigul version... she's going to love it :)

From your dance at Kok Tobe, We were sure that we would stay
From the start you stole our hearts, with your lovely Kazakh arts
As you leave for Aktobe, don't foget us on your way
We love you, Moonflower
Every minute, every hour

Our Aigul, Our Aigul
We can only hope for a counterpart so cool
Our hearts sing a tune when you say "ƃүгін қандай күн?" (boogin kandai koon/What's today's date?)
Please don't leave so soon
Our Aigul

My new regional manager is coming tomorrow to observe my class... eek! I hope it goes well. Everything has been much more laxed lately, I'm going to need to pick my game up... - the 31st is coming quick! We have our language test on Thursday... Frankly, MeI'm not sure how I'll do.

Lost in the City

Me and Johnny, my new best friend lol.
BLOG #19
October 11
Today was a pretty typical Sunday, went to Almaty with Anna and Denise and met Roshan there. Roshan is an interesting character, I like him. He's from California so he's super laid back haha - when I first met him I told him, "I think that you are the look Michael Jackson was going for but he didn't quite get it right.." lol. He has the longer black hair and smile and always wears a blazer. It was so funny introducing him to locals. First of all his name is a Russian name given to girls (Rashawn). He looks somewhat asian and they are just boggled that he is an American. He explains (in Russian, which people expect him to speak Kazakh by the way he looks), my mom was from China and my dad was from India... but I'm an American. People here can't fathom that someone would be an American if they looked different from white or black. (He said leaves out that he was born in Singapore, because that would just throw them over the top). Sidd, who is Indian, is known as chorny - or black lol. He is also not an American here :) People are funny.
The one thing I'm not sure I'll get used to in the two years I'll be here is the lack of consideration for others around you in general public areas. By that I mean, not the space issue, but the general unspoken walking rules. Like, you walk on the right side of the sidewalk - unless you are passing. Even more than that just letting someone pass by you, or not standing in the middle of a walkway, hanging out with your friends. It's so weird. I know it's not meant to be offensive, but if someone knocked you out of the way or stepped in front of you inconsiderately, that could be interpreted as a threat in New York or something... that's dangerous lol. I can't help but think it's rude to not walk in public correctly. And it's frustrating. People just push and shove to get where they want. This attitude is actually reflected in so many parts of the culture, walking, driving, speaking in classes, reaching at the dinner table, lesson scheduling. Ok. Now I feel better :)
So in Almaty today, we decided to take a different bus we had been told goes to the same place... We were on the bus just fine, but realized it was taking longer than normal... Anna, who studied in Russia for a semester, asked him about the intersection we needed. He mumbled some uninterpretable explanation. Then he told us to get off... not even at an intersection. We did. We asked some random couple for directions, who told us we should go near the circus. That also is incorrect lol. So we got a taxi and he did a complete U Turn as soon as we got in the car lol. We did make it there, eventually. (20 min late... not too bad) After church we went to the kok bazaar. Another unsuccessful trip to the bazaar for Nina. I just can't get used to that scene. It's so overwhelming - everyone yells at you, people beg, plus being there with 3 other people. You can barely walk, let alone keep track of your group. I don't trust any of those sellers either lol. My own host mom tried to pawn me into buying some turtle neck this morning! lol. Forget it. I'd rather be ripped off thinking I'm getting a sale, then be ripped off for being someone I can't help but be.
We then made our long trek to a coffee shop we had heard had wi-fi. Another below average decision. The bus system here is so confusing. (Maybe in part because we don't know the language) It's like buses stop whenever they want, they don't stop at the same stops every time. It's almost like it's everyman for himself with the buses. So, lost twice, in short, and at the insanely overpriced coffee shop, there were so many people there that the connection was super slow. ...Now I know. But to say the least, it was a perfect day to get lost in the city... beautiful weather and no time constraints. (But I am super relieved to not have been placed in a city for my permanent site!)
It's such an awkward feeling now, knowing my site. It's like I suddenly have a disconnect with Panfilova now... Like this isn't my real host family, these aren't my real students, or my village. Aigul leaves this Friday. Everything is changing again - of course. It's hard to remember today, and not be focused on the near, near future :) (I hope Johnny likes to hike!)

Site Announcements!!!

BLOG #18
Oct 9

I have been recharged!! :) I just got home from the site announcement hub day!!! I love where I'm going :)What a long and torturous day of speeches that I couldn't tell you one thing about haha. Our bus/van left at 7:`10 this morning, the mountains were gorgeous! We went to Ecick (another training village) and we were in lectures until lunch... then lunch lasted 2 hours! (really...!) then Dr. Victor jeopardy and some more ridiculous stories about what happened so long ago to a random volunteer that didn't mean to happen upon a terrible situation - finally the announcement part! The slideshow really was overkill (it was like slow motion fake outs, a talking camel and a globe than spun... and spun... and spun - and honestly was just executed poorly in my opinion - making it more painful)
So just to recap... I got here to Kazland super excited about Russian culture and language, wanted to go north and wear fur :) - they needed to fill two more spots in the Kazakh-learning groups... my name was one drawn out of a hat. lol. go figure :) - so I worked on my flexibility and went with it. Turns out I had a wonderful group in Panfilova, great language teacher and lots of supportive faculty. I decided I wanted to go south consequentially. Wasn't too crazy about the bathroom arrangements and liked idea of being in a city where showers and toilets were more common (it still drives me nuts that yes, they really say "where's the toilet", or "I need to use the toilet"... and as ugly as that just sounds, you get to the "toilet" and there's not even a toilet there! haha they shouldn't be allowed to say "the toilet's over there" unless there really is a toilet...) and in a city I would have the option of moving to my own apt after 6 months (mainly for cooking freedom) then thought about it a little and got over the restroom thing and decided I wanted more of a rural area (the city got old quick haha) and would prefer to stay with the same family for 2 years if possible. In short... I didn't have a strong preference - or know what I wanted. So randomly in the middle of all that - the staff observes you and analyzes what they interpret by how you act and ask you questions incognito to determine what conditions THEY think suit you best. It's a lot.
Anyway, all that aside... So they sit us down in an auditorium and put on a powerpoint. We of course heard all sorts of rumors of the way they would do this... Individually, in front of everyone, pictures on a map... ect. They go through this stupid talking camel and show and random pictures of Kazakhstan. Finally they got around to reading off the names. They showed a map of Kazakhstan and all of the Oblasts (oblasts are like regions/counties/statesish) and speak a little bit about the school/village/PC history then say the volunteer's name. They started in the north. From the pictures and the cool people they were listing off - I sort of wouldn't have minded if they'd of called my name :) They didn't. Once you're name was called off everyone clapped and a girl came around and gave you an apple and a bar of chocolate. It was all a blur haha. Panfilova people were called and it was weird. They got to the Almaty Oblast -which I definitely went through a phase of obsession with (actually my most recent phase of obsession) They called off a couple of people, who aren't my favorite. Called off some more people. My knees were weak. Blah Blah Blah pioneer site, Noelle Zalar. I'm not sure if I smiled or not. They went through the whole country - some people happy, some not.
Still unsure of what it is that it actually meant to be in Almaty Oblast... all of the other volunteers in the region and I went into a classroom. I was sort of jealous of all of the people going so far away - they seemed much more confidently happy than I was haha. My regional manager's name is Ufilamalik (nickname Ufi - oofee) She handed everyone big white envelopes. The only thing I could remember them saying about my site was that it was a Pioneer Site and I was 10 min from Johnny. Both were true, in the envelope I read more.
My site is a village called Mambet. (maybe try and google it, but I'm not promising it will pop up...) It has a population of 3-3500, comparable to Deshler... I was soo excited to read that its landscape is that of the Zhungar Alatau mountain chains - the site is flat itself, but is surrounded by foothills. It's green! and there is a small river -Koksu- nearby! The weather will be similar to Almaty, which is no problem. 90% of the village is Kazakh and the only language listed is Kazakh! (Talk about new motivation in class lol) It's a small village so you walk around the majority of the time. (same as Panfilova) No abnormal security issues; "Pollution: It's a clean area." we'll see what that really means... It's a pioneer site, which means that I'm the first PCV to go to the village; maybe even the first American they've seen! So, there are no contacts provided. It says it's a new site and a new work place... meaning maybe that the school is new? I'm not sure. The school seems super promising! It's the only school in the village, It's a Kazakh school and holds learning English as a high priority! Even without ever having a PCV in the past, they already have an English Club! English is offered to grades 5-11, and there is a kindergarten English option as well. The Akim (mayor) even supports Enlgish education financially! Also... under possible secondary projects it lists Sports Clubs, English Club, Dancing, Eco club, Handcrafts, Orchestra, Civic/Law as already being projects/clubs at the school! Of course I don't expect the Traditional Kazakh Orchestra concert that I saw in Almaty to be at my school... but to know that there is so much interest is sooo encouraging! I already have something to work with :) My village is 30 minutes away from Taldykorgan and 10 minutes from Johnny... Johnny is in the Russian language group in Panfilova - he's really funny and known for playing ultimate frisbee in our village. Ablai calls him Fantastic Four haha. Overall I am amazed at what an awesome site I have!
It's a small town feel with easy access to civilization... I forgot to mention that the school has 9 computers reserved for English teachers only!!!... it's "clean" and green with mountains and a river, a pioneer site (so I have no shoes to fill haha), they are super excited for me to come! The school was described as almost like an American high school... the director (superintendent) said they will take care of me! The school already has organized after-school activities! I couldn't have asked for more - and I have a funny guy right by me.
Man, I am so happy. It seems like everyone got what they wanted for the most part. Echo will be teaching in a university in the South! Laura also has a pioneer site in the south, which she is pumped about! Anna and Denise are pretty far north... Denise's main concern was for a solid host family (she was the one who had her computer and money stolen) they gave her 5 host family options to choose from!)... I am just in awe of how much they listened to me! I got just what I wanted. Every single thing. My regional manager even said that they picked this site just for me. There is a waiting list of places that they went through and specifically pulled this one out for me. There is even some kind of Italian missionary church in Taldykorgan they found for me! (again who knows what that means lol) But how awesome that they put way more thought and intent in the process than I would have expected! I'm so excited to see this village and meet my students and faculty! It's almost like I just had a kid or something lol I already love my community :) I'm like in la la land! I'll be able to visit my current host family easily and maybe go to the American church on holidays! I can't wait to come back to Panfilova and have an intelligent conversation with my host family in Kazakh haha, which will be easy to do (only 4 hours away). The only thing is that I'm not going to have the sweet train ride of adventure (and sing that confidence song from the sound of music - in my heart..) as most of the other volunteers... which I was subconsciously looking forward to. But if anyone ever comes here, I'll have easy access to Almaty and a willing host family to host us (ahem dad? :) I would be able to bring someone to my village easily if willing lol. The papers didn't mention anything about host families, but I understand there are 2 or 3 that I will be able to meet and choose from. (Prayer request)
The funny thing is that when I came home, I told my host mom and Ablai, "Mhen Mambet baramhin!" I'm going to Mambet - and they busted out laughing lol. Uhh... what in the world does that mean? Do they know something I don't know...? I figured my host mom would be impressed that I was staying in the Almaty Oblast, seeing as the only thing that she could come up with when I asked her where good places to go were: Almaty, and Panfilova haha. She quickly dismissed all other oblasts and cities. Later I found out that she had no clue that Mambet was even in the Almaty Oblast - I think maybe the name of the village means something funny... they kept doing the crazy hand signal (I'm not too worried about it). So, now it's about time for me to come back to reality... Russian class tomorrow and 5 lesson plans to make for next week. One day at a time lol. All this 2 year stuff is still hard from me to wrap my head around. But it's looking much better now that I have a destination. It really changes everything, having something to shoot for. Sidd did the math and once we are sworn in, on the 31st, we'll already have completed 10% of our 27 months here! (or something like that) It makes this whole thing seem much more attainable. I think I could stay this long 9 more times lol....

About those palm trees...

BLOG #17
Oct 7
So I didn't really have a chance to explain the pictures I put up today... The first as you could guess, is the infamous Ablai - this was maybe our first video session, he was dancing and decided to do some costume changes and came down with this batman number on haha. The three girls picture is of my host mom, and host sisters - the younger of course is Aziza. It was taken at the swimming hole on my birthday - they did a barbeque for me :) My host mom would probably kill me if she knew I posted that picture - she told me that I need to take one to show in America of her with a nice dress on :) I didn't actually mean to post the plastic palm tree picture... It was saved as "Kok Tobe", which I now know means pretty much anything. Everything is called Kok Tobe, the mountains, hotels, restaurants... this picture was taken at our orientation hotel in Almaty called Kok Tobe. I actually took the picture out of spite. I think I had, what they call the "hut syndrome" when I arrived. I had a mental picture of camels and yurts and really cool exotic lifestyles... when all I saw was a normal dirty trash-filled city... I wasn't initially impressed. Then I thought the Kok Tobe labeled picture was of the gorgeous mountains we went to... incidentally called Kok Tobe. Not the case. lol. so, no, there aren't palm trees in Kazakhstan, just ridiculous fake ones that they actually use as outside decorations? Yeah... Then obviously me on my first day of school in Kazakhstan. And if I remember correctly, the other picture was of the road to my house, coming home from school with the mountains in the background.

These are the pictures I meant to post of the mountains! Our Panfilova group and then the one of Anna, Denise and I/

Yep, Still here... :)

Oct 6
Today was another pretty average day. I taught two lessons and had language class. I think that the counterparts are getting comfortable with us doing lessons, because they used to sit down and just watch - not saying anything. Now it's just yelling and noise all.the.time. I can't even think during my own lesson! It's just non-stop talking and translating and yelling and saying the answers before the student even has a chance to compute the question. Its no wonder that these students don't know half of what they should by the grade they are in. literally not even half. I have yet to see one legitimately graded activity. Students receive a daily grade on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest. The grade is based on nothing in my opinion. 3 is the lowest grade given out. Even if a student doesn't participate, is disruptive, and doesn't have his homework or even is absent without an excuse. Nobody fails. period. So, no matter if the student receives 0's everyday which would never happen - but if it did... the kid would somehow pass for the year. But I just have to remember that the reason I'm here isn't to make every system the way I had it... but to teach English. I don't give out final grades. But I think that I will keep my own grading system for the students if they want it (and I can figure it out)
I just think that the classroom mimics the lead the teacher gives. In my case today I saw that so long as the teacher is just yelling and making noise... so will the students! It just gets to me that I really have seen sort of the troubled kids clean their act up in the past couple of lessons I've taught (with the local teacher not present) - all gone to waste today because they know how to get a rise out of her. Another thing with undisciplined students is that I'm still not entirely sure what the best way to discipline them is - being that there are no such things as detentions, you can't throw a kid out of the class, or send them to the principal (and you can't even give them a 0 for the day) I'll keep thinking about it though.
Tomorrow for our technical training we are supposed to bring in 4 different activities focused on reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I just finished making two decks of "go fish" using pictures of my 5th graders vocabulary that I drew haha. It kind of feels like I'm a kid again being here. Literally just not having much to work with. It's like I'm playing pretend haha. I'm making mud pies with whatever I can find. I like it. After school, of course I did the dishes and helped my host mom cook. I like cooking. Especially this way - where you just put things together... whatever is ripe in the garden. I really just walk outside with a big bowl and pick different vegetables... tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, onions, potatoes... whatever and bring them in, wash them, chop them up, cook them and eat them. I don't know why this is so fun haha but just to eat what you grew, cleaned and cooked is just fun for some reason. It tastes better... sometimes :) I'm not sure what the food will look like in the winter though... when the vegetables won't be from the garden. I also wonder what all the little seller people along the roads and sidewalks will do in the winter - they won't have as many (if any) fruits and vegetables to sell...
I'm surprised it's been such beautiful weather for this long. I am still not wearing a jacket here. The literature that PC gave us all said that by October it's already snowy - not the case for us. I'm not complaining!

Robots Can to Fly.

BLOG #15
October 5

So It's October and I'm still in Kazakhstan. It's so funny because I really seriously wanted to go home so bad the first couple of days - actually probably the whole first week I was here! (I didn't tell people that though haha) But I haven't felt that way since... at least not to that extreme :) I'm glad I'm still here and can't believe it's been over a month already! But then at the same time... I feel like all that we've been doing couldn't possible have been squeezed in such the short time that we've been here. (For an 'English teacher' that sentence could use some work!) But you get the point. It's hard and sometimes overwhelming to try to explain the way time passes - it just does. I try not to think about it too much :) So today I taught 6th grade (a different, smaller class than the previous one) It was a really fun class, the lesson was based "can". Echo and I were splitting the same class, and we planned the lesson together. We played a couple of cute acting out games and then at the end of class had the students create robots that 'can' do 2 things, but 'can't' do 1 thing. They would present their sentences and another student would act as the robot. They really got into this - they would turn on their "robots" name them and such. However, having the same counterpart... after witnessing Echo's class, my counterpart knew what the games and things were that I was hinting toward and basically dominated my classroom lol. She translated basically every word I said, as soon as I would say it. (And also told the students that "No. Robots can't fly". For crying out loud why can't a robot fly!? Way to crush a kid's imagination ...does she not know that there are robots flying around in space now? And if you're going to be so technical, why can a robot read a book, but not fly!) Anyway, the point of having the kids (or me) act out the verbs that are new is so that they really understand what the action is that the verb stands for. What do you need to act out if the teacher just translates every word....? It's almost like she was so excited to understand the games and things that she just jumped right in and had to prove to her students (or me?) that she knows what's going on. Really bizarre. My kids enjoyed the class but they could have had so much more fun with it! I'm starting to think that the biggest challenge isn't language... but working with school faculty.
We find out where we are placed on Friday! I feel like a five year old at Christmas time. I hate saying it but...the only thing is that after Friday... there is essentially no more hope lol. Today I can still have the mentality that "I could end up anywhere!" Once Friday comes, I'll know where I'll be for the next two years... hopefully I will have a good site mate - or even just a site mate lol - it's just so helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Oh man, we'll see... No matter what happens, I can't forget that anything can always happen :) It will just be nice to not be under so much of a watchful eye. Having every lesson plan critiqued and changed 25 times. It's just hard when everybody has to have an opinion about what you do or did or plan to do... I'm really looking forward to some freedom.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Attempt at Pictures

So I'm not sure how to organize these pictures... and I don't have enough time on here todo it well right now. So this is all I can make of what I have right now. Sorry if they don't make sense - I'll explain them better later!

Music to my ears

BLOG #14
Oct 2
Today we went to a traditional Kazakh concert in Almaty! It was so cool! It was sort of like an orchestra, but with traditional Kazakh instruments... (I wish Grandma R could have seen it) There were dombras, (if I had the internet I would look up the names of the different instruments lol ...but that's not exactly realistic...) viola-like string instruments, bagpipe-like, some kind of flute about the size of a fist (sounded like it was wooden but I couldn't see it), big dombras, yeah I don't know lots of interesting instruments. One instruments that sounded like a gazoo haha. Opera singers... I've never seen opera singers actually sing... it was a show in itself! I really liked the concert... the musicians were dressed in traditional kazakh outfits - I took some great pictures. It made me want to be a director :) ...maybe when I get home! lol.
Not much else special happened today. Had our language lesson. I taught two classes. Neither went so hot lol. I think I confused the pants off of my fifth graders... we learned the possessive s ('s). We ran out of time (surprise) The zavouch (assistant principal, in charge of scheduling) double booked a room... so the kids and I were hanging out in the hall for about 5 minutes after our bell rang, waiting for a room... The military teacher took his students outside to march so we were able to use his room while they were gone. I would not be able to function this way for my real career, like these teachers. There is no way. I don't know why these teachers let the scheduling be so disorganized! But I'm only there for 2 more weeks... then I can actually put my roots down. Maybe all schools don't function this way - but the other trainees' school is nothing like ours in this way.
So in the fifth grade... this one kid kept talking - he has family that lives in Ireland, so his English is the best, and he thinks he can just goof off in the meantime- so I kept yelling "Abish please!" "Turn around please..."and so on... lol he would pay no attention to me and this other student would stand up everytime I would say something like this. I was confused... What's this kid doing? haha "Sit down please." I would motion with my hand... and continue telling Abish to stop talking. This went on for a couple of minutes.... Later, when we were doing dialogues, I learned that "Abish"s name was actually Azamat haha and the real Abish thought I was talking to him and would stand up every time I yelled "Abish, please!" Oh man... these kids probably thought I was nuts. Those two boys come to English Club regularly and I thought I knew their names well enough to use them in class... I guess not!
Another little tid-bit, my host mom just came into my room with a candle right... she did this before when I didn't have a light and I thought she was just going to leave the candle for me to be able to see. Instead she said something to me... of course I had no clue what she said lol.. I tried to motion that I didn't understand and thank her for the candle haha turns out the candle wasn't for me but instead she just rubbed the candles on the walls of my room then left awkwardly. I asked Aigul about it the next day and she said that my host mom was getting rid of the bad spirits in the corners of my room. Interesting. Rest assured, family and friends... my room is bad-guy spirit free.

My long lost friend

BLOG #13
September 30
So, you would think I would be getting used to the long day think, right... lol, not the case. Today was a technical training day - where we learn how to be good teachers. I generally really enjoy the technical sessions... they just seem long. We spoke about grading, cheating, unit plans (briefly), and lessons about writing. I'm probably forgetting a lot. But overall it was very helpful. They always help a lot with lesson ideas! My favorite part of the day was our after-school activities! Today was the first day of our talent show preparations... There was such a good turn out :) Anna and I have more than we need to fill the parts of Cinderella. Of course there was drama about who was playing Cinderella (no surprise there, right Elana :) haha) The kids caught on quick and really had fun with the story. I love that my little 5th graders are so excited to hang out at English club. It's so cute how they are all so proud of knowing their volunteer-teacher's name... I also had a chance to help out with the art project, which made me sooo happy! The project was to make talent show decorations out of trash. (Talk about low-key haha) It was beautiful chaos. We cut up pop bottles to look like flowers. We fringed the tops to bending them out to make petals cut the bottom and taped it in the middle of the bloom, then and added a foil candy wrapper to make the - pollen part? Then we strung them on string made from the body of the bottles, just cut in a spiral so it's like a curly Q. I'll take a picture, that will describe this 291,034 times better!
I'm in love with a couple of the boys. It was so hilarious that they actually got really into making pop bottle flowers :) I didn't expect that... but they took charge and were serious about making a beautiful vine of flowers. The other groups were dance, singing, games, and frisbee. These kids really need something to do after school, they literally hung around outside of our classroom for over 45 min before the club started! ...just waiting for us to come out and start the club! Some might say (and may have said) that our half of the club was madness... but I disagree wholeheartedly. These kids were smiling :) and I think I had as much fun making trash flowers as any of them haha. Elias, our favorite English Club boy, made a whole bouquet and vase of trash flowers! He is über involved in anything English Club-related. I like that about him haha.
Names here are very interesting, well Kazakh names at least. For example, our language teacher, Aigul,'s name means moonflower. Ai-moon, gul-flower. Her daughter's name is camelbaby. Echo's host sister is pomegranate, Laura's blueberry, Andrew's star... There are many many more examples like this... It's almost like what I understand of the Native Americans... but it's just funny how America gave _fill-in-the-blank_ such a hard time for naming her kid Apple... Blueberry?
Yesterday, after school, I was eating a quick cucumber salad with Ablai (chopped up cucumbers and salt) and he left to go to his friends, then the two of them came back with a Dizzy Cocktails cardboard box. They did the whole "Nina, shut your eyes and hold out your hands." thing. I was skeptical to say the least. There could have been anything in that box. Most of which, I'm sure I wouldn't like in my hands. But, I did it anyway... guess what it was! A fat little puppy! The cutest silly little puppy. My heart turned to honey (to quote Dr. Victor)! They said his name was White Tooth - which sounded more to me like belly-click. Apparently they bought him from the bazaar for 1000 tenge, which is a little under 7$! I was really encouraged, this being the first sign I had seen here that the concept of selling an animal as a pet is understood. I'm not sure I would pay money for a pet here though (even if its 1000tr), seeing as I could have picked up the same sweet little thing for free at some trash dump. (P.S. I saw Rex outside of our school the other day... confirming that Ablai was trying to trick me, saying that his uncle shot Rex. Or it was just a terrible miscommunication.... though Rex was limping.)