Saturday, November 28, 2009

Really... Kazakhstan?

Blog 37
November 22

The past couple of days have been rough. I'm frustrated with the language, being treated like I'm two, not having any friends lol, people breaking their commitments, no one smiling - ever., eating greasy potatoes like it's a special entree, and I caught some kind of cold. I got a little grumpy yesterday after waiting 2 hours after the agreed upon time for my tutor to show up. Then she did, and we studied a little - the session was less than productive. She spent at least 2 minutes looking up the word vowel, which was printed in big black letters in English beside the corresponding letters. Then she had two lessons to teach and told me to just wait there until she comes back... didn't happen. At first I thought... ok, I haven't been spending much time on Kazakh lately, so maybe I can use these 2 hours to keep studying... that lasted 20 minutes. Then I thought, maybe I can use the Internet for a little while - on the one computer with Internet in the school. It was closed. It's been closed the last 5 times I've tried it. What's the point of having the thing?
I ended up writing a broken note to Dinara, "I go home. We study Kazakh a different day. Thank you helping me. Noelle" Lol. My host mom happened to walk in the teacher's lounge and I showed her. She laughed. The previous day we had a impromtu meeting about the flu. My host mom looked like a member of the KKK with a tall pointy white hat, white robe, and a white mask... 7 of 10 people in the school had those masks on. Yesterday, my host mom made me wear one to school too. lol. I felt like either a storm trooper or a leper, I'm not entirely sure. All I had was a cold. I would see students wear them, then when they have to sneeze - lift the thing up and sneeze all over whatever's in front of them. Worthless masks.
Johnny was going to come visit my site, but my mom said to wait because she wasn't going to be home. So, I went to his town with the intentions of using the Internet and coming home - quick trip. His host mom, of course, had me eat something first... She's a real trip. She yelled at me for my coat, my pants, my boots, and probably more that I just couldn't understand. Mind you it has been warming up the past couple of days - snow's melting. I thought she was mad that I didn't wear jeans (I had long johns and sweatpantsish pants, quick trip) After leaving, Johnny told me she was saying that I am destroying my woman parts, and she'll see me in the hospital. I'm sick of people acting like I don't know what it's like to feel cold. They tell you when you're cold. Constantly. The PC literature calls it hospitality... what about that seems hospitable? I'm usually good about just saying "Thank you." or nodding/shrugging it off. But this time it really bothered me. I'm sure I was extra emotional because I didn't feel well.
Johnny and I went to both Internet cafes in Balpuk Bi, one wasn't working, the other didn't have a place for a USB. We made our way to Taldy. Sometimes it's hard going on the Internet... facebook makes me sad - homesick. The people in the Internet place weren't friendly either... I told Johnny, "When stuff like this happens, I read this quote I found (and it's true). It's along the bottom edge of one of the pages in my planner. It says, "Please visit for additional product information and to share your ideas for new products that fit YOUR needs." Thank you, America (specifically Bluesky of TX) for being polite ("Please"), considerate ("additional information"), kind, and caring about the customer ("YOUR needs"). We laughed at my so called inspirational quote.
I told myself today would be a better day. I read 1 John - Jude the past two days and did again this morning. I'm working on being more regular with my devotions... my relationship has been quite one sided lately... consisting of a lot of asking/talking and little listening/reading. Not a good combo. No more church, no more Anna and Denise... It's an interesting challenge - not craving America more than God. My plan is to make a wall of God's promises in my room, for encouragement. I went for a good run, which I haven't done since the States. People looked at me like I was an alien - ...used to it lol. It felt really good. The rest of the day pretty much, I read. I read an entire book. I've never done that before... 296 pages. A gothic novel, it was a pretty sad story actually.
Thanksgiving and Christmas plans are in the making so I'm looking forward to an actual social interaction :) I don't know the people in my oblast very well yet, besides Johnny, so it will probably be a lot of the same questions over and over. I don't mind it though, I'll be asking them too!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What time is it...?

Blog 36
November 18

Classes have been going well. I have finally seen all of my students and been awkwardly introduced as Noil. So much for a cute little nickname lol. The hardest part has been working with the English teachers. I think that my situation is unique in that since day one, I have been working equally with each of the three teachers. Usually that is a challenge for volunteers to do... to eventually work with the other teachers as well, and not just the counterpart. Johnny, for instance, is only working with his counterpart and the other teachers are fighting to work with him. (Just another example of not quite feeling as welcome and wanted as I had anticipated. Though absolutely not a bad thing...) I like working with all of the teachers... it's just that my counterpart is the only one who went to counterpart conference, and understands what I have been trained to do. It's hard to explain, but just know that it makes planning lessons difficult.
These teachers, like I've said, love doing what is in writing. If the book says, "Homework is to learn the new vocabulary words and do Ex. 4.", then that is the only thing that can be assigned for homework. My poor students are almost taking two different classes in one class period lol. The local teachers generally have the exact same style, which is to be mean to the "children" (yes, they call the students children... even when they are 16 and 17!) and only read from the book. I think they would fall asleep in their own classes if they were sitting down. They write every single ridiculous vocabulary word (like...) on the chalk board with the pronunciation symbols and translation. I technically don't have a problem with that... but I think it's something the students can do on their own... I mean it's in their books in front of them. It just takes entirely too much time - and it's unnecessary to do in class.
My plan this week, since I didn't have the chance to observe but one lesson, was to lay low and just watch what the teachers do. Planning has been difficult, it usually ends up with me going home and writing my own lesson plan, making my own materials, and we do my lesson - along with the book exercises (that make no sense, but are comfortable and safe; and nobody understands them... not even me sometimes :). I'm OK with it so far, but I hope these teachers don't think I'm just going to do their work for them for two years...
Pretty much everyday I've spent getting lost in making my lesson materials and listening to Christmas music. :) These lesson posters are like my little projects, its fun - like art class. I'm a professional tape lamenter. I made this great clock last night. I have to admit I'm pretty proud of it. It says "What time is it?" then on the bottom, "It's fun o'clock!" haha pretty dorky, I know. It even has hands that spin :) I tried to make it really nice so they could keep it, use it next year and the year after. I took it to my lesson today, and my English teacher friends didn't seem as impressed with it as I am lol. :( But the other teachers liked at it... I just get the feeling that the English department is not all on the same team. One day at a time.
In our 6th grade book, the next lesson looks like a page from a dictionary. With words like preserve, effect, to depend upon, to deal with... 20 dictionary-esk excerpts... with ridiculous words. My counterpart thought we should write them all up on the board... That's not what I thought we should do, but... I'm not sure what to do with this lesson lol. So, again, I'm basically coming up with the thing on my own. I was sitting in the teacher's lounge brainstorming about how I can simplify this. These kids can't even say it's snowing outside, let alone speak about an organism in English... Another teacher walked in and saw me puzzled, so she asked what I was doing. I, caught off guard, told her that these books were bad lol, and showed her two pages full of only text. Another teacher told me that this school doesn't have money like America haha. "Uhh... Well, sir this book is actually a 2009 book, brand new. What I mean is the content in the book is not good." "Oh,", the first teacher said... "Actually my book is terrible too...". The guy teacher was like, 'yeah mine too... all of the books we use in this school are really bad." lol. Huh. It just doesn't make much sense to continue using something that isn't worth using - or even right (like spelling and grammar in my case).

Teaching... finally

Blog 35
November 16

Today was my first day teaching classes. They weren't my best work... but my counterpart didn't give me much direction... so I did my own thing. I'm honestly not sure how well it meshed... what she said and what I said. I may have repeated some things. She spoke Kazakh the whole time... which is very annoying. The students don't have to think about anything that way. The director sat in on my lesson and said I did well afterwards.
It could be that I'm new still, but the classes were super easy. The students barely make a peep during class. I have been prepared for rowdiness with my Panfilova classes. My counterpart doesn't like to steer much from the book...well all of the teachers here. Their English isn't good enough to recognize how terrible to book is. But they love the idea of doing exactly what is written in a book. Hopefully my creative juices will start flowing... I'm not sure how to physically do what I want with the resources I have. PC provided this flip chart paper, or butcher paper, in PST... Apparently it's an American product and unheard of in this country. I saved some up from training and brought it with me, but I'm hesitant to use it because I want to make sure that I use it for a worthy class. Lol. I'm such a pack rat sometimes.
I played volleyball yesterday with some people at school. It honestly wasn't much fun. I'm no professional by any means, but they would kick the ball regularly. It got on my nerves. I really don't like it when people kick volleyballs lol. Some people were also way too competitive... not playing nice - just pure machoism. Not fun. But sort of funny...

It's Christmas time in the city!

Blog 34
November 15

All of the sudden it's halfway through November, and I'm listening to Christmas music!... how did that happen lol. I guess it's a good sign that I haven't really noticed time go by. I've been trying to stay busy. My first day of classes is tomorrow, and, to say the least, I'm pretty rusty - at least planning-wise. Hopefully it's like riding a bike lol. I couldn't think of anything for these classes! My counterpart is expecting the circus conductor PC has promised her lol. I couldn't remember all of the games and activities PST taught us... and I don't want to run a circus 12 times a week anyway (it was exhausting). Maybe for English Club... Quite a bit has happened in the last 5 days that I just didn't have the chance to write down... I have "gosti-ed", which is a verb for being a guest at someone's house, done our first Teacher's English Club, almost made 2 friends (haha), and explored with Johnny.
It's interesting how different Johnny and I's situations are. He is working in a Kazakh "Gimnasium", which is sort of like a private school. It's huge, warm, new and has a lingaphone (lol) room - which has laptops and supposedly wi-fi, a swimming pool, a plant and animal room, smart boards in every classroom, an auditorium, and a counterpart that is actually enthusiastic lol. This is just from the first visit I had at the Teacher's Club... we have it together on Thursday's at Johnny's school for all of the English teachers in the district. I'm not sure whose arrangement is better yet though... :)
After the club, I was invited spontaneously for tea by a teacher passing by as I was getting out of the taxi. So, I went for tea. Little did I know, tea actually meant a big meal... As they were cooking, my counterpart and I were watching cartoons with the teacher's son. It was strange lol, we were watching Anamaniacs in Kazakh. The theme song was hilarious... it was exactly as I remember it being 10 years ago, except no music - just the spastic cartoons- and a monotone man's voice speaking Kazakh slowly. I'm assuming it was the translation. I was trying to read their lips and sort of remembered some of the words... It's funny how people here are surprised that we have things like, "Colgate, Tide, Snickers, SpongeBob, M&Ms, Garnier Fructis, and so much more" in America. Sometimes it's such genuine disbelief, I actually think twice about where the companies are from lol. The American-ness of Anamaniacs was confirmed by some great American cultural references, Southern culture stereotypes, Fort Knox's gold, California wildfires, I feel like there were a couple of more but I can't remember them. They made for some conversation. It's funny to watch stupid old cartoons like that when your older. Even though I don't know how to say it in Kazakh, I know that Pinky said, "So, what are we gonna do today, Brain?" - Response, "Try to take over the world!"
We also did all of our scheduling the other day. I'll be teaching grades 5-9, which is the same as in Panfilova, so that's nice. They initially (and still do) wanted to me to basically take over all classes. I was able to use Johnny's schedule to say, "Johnny is only teaching 10 hours, so 12 would be better than 20..." and my counterpart actually fought with the other teachers to give me Saturdays off... apparently my Regional Manager told her that we weren't allowed to teach on Saturdays! I figured I would have to swindle free Sats. later on in the year. Nope. She had the master schedule re-done to accommodate free Sats. from day one! (Johnny was able to use me to get his Sats off too lol.) We planned our first two lessons, and it was quite odd. She just told me to play games and practice the new material for 20-25 minutes each lesson. Not much for teamwork, but I can handle doing my own thing for 20 minutes with the kids. I have volleyball on Wednesdays and Fridays, which is amazing. Who would have thought that I'd have a volleyball team in Kazakhstan! (and my host sister said that the teacher's team competes too!) Then my English Club is on Tue/Thur. My counterpart is on top of the scheduling. She is very good at doing exactly what the rules say. She wants me to do a wall newspaper on Christmas and AIDs? whatever that means. I'm not even supposed to start clubs until 3 months... O well. Now I just need a Kazakh tutor. I was hesitant to seriously pursue anyone simply because I didn't know my schedule, but now I can actually coordinate a time and place with someone.
I asked this sweet older English teacher, Gulbak (or Flower Garden :). She told me she couldn't do it because she was an English teacher... she doesn't know how to teach Kazakh, and that I should ask the Kazakh teacher. They don't understand the concept of tutoring... over and over I tried to explain that this was informal, minimal grammar... I just need to be able to live in this village normally, speaking Kazakh. She obviously speaks Kazakh... and English. She also mentioned, I think, that money is sort of an issue. Teachers aren't paid much and I think she's the only income she's living on. She doesn't have kids - and seems like a side job would be doable. It's only 2 days a week, one hour each. My counterpart overheard me and offered. I dismissed the idea pretty quickly - Johnny said too quickly - so I spoke with her about it more, afraid I offended her. I don't want her to tutor me, although it may help build our relationship. Maybe. I don't know, but I need help. In the meantime, Saule has been wonderful about drilling me!
I'm looking forward to not being new news. It's awkward having the same conversations over and over. I'm also looking forward to being able to actually have more in depth conversations lol. And I'm not talking politics or neuroscience... just more interesting small talk - to start.

My heart will go on.... and on....!

Blog 33
November 10
I wonder if I'l have so much to write about in 4 months (or 14 months!), or if it's only because there are so many changes happening in this stage of PC that I have to pick and choose what stories to post lol... Let's see, yesterday was such a fun night, but it was too late and I was too tired to write on here. I guess it wasn't super special, but the munchkins finally warmed up to me! After another game of volleyball (I don't remember if I've mentioned volleyball before, but there is a teacher at the school who loves volleyball and loves that I also enjoy volleyball. We often play on the spot. In full on dress clothes. And she holds nothing back haha.), my host grandmother came over. It was just a nice night with the family. The little ones said cucumber a thousand times. We played cards, and laughed. By the end of the night I could hardly pry the little ones off of me. Zhere, the little girl, is so ornery. She loves making faces and it's hilarious. Zharas, the little boy, lost a tooth. They didn't take to the tooth fairy story as well as Ablai did - maybe when I can explain it to Zharas directly...
I saw Johnny today! It's funny how annoyed I was with him at counterpart conference - and that whole week at that... seeing him 24/7 lol. But I haven't seen him in two weeks, so it was just a long enough break to be excited about seeing him again. It's funny we both had so many stories, I don't think I completely finished one to the extent that I had intended, if that makes sense. He's doing well. His counterpart and host family, which is only one old lady, definitely have that shot gun hospitality that I don't miss about my old host family. They both wanted me to stay the night and move to Balpuk Bi lol right then! Hey, I must say that I would prefer a clearly overly excited counterpart to the confused/I can't really read her silence type of counterpart I've seen so far. I had a nice visit with Johnny though; and managed to politely talk my way out of staying the night. My ride home was a hilarious adventure.
So it's pitch black here by about 7, and now cold and snowy. Johnny kindly walks me to the bus station to catch a cab. (Mind you cabs here aren't really cabs but random people who are willing to drive you places for money, gypsy cabs, if you will lol) When we're at the bus station, Johnny, being a gentleman, wanted to do most of the talking. I would actually have preferred to take care of it myself since generally people here take to Kazakh better than Russian. (Especially from a white girl :) It cost me 70tg to go from my village to Johnny's town. These drivers wanted 700tg. I thought that was ridiculous. There was no way I would pay 700 tg for a ride 10 min away, especially when I came here for 70 - without negotiating, even. These drivers aren't the most polished Kazakhs usually. Johnny was nervous that I was so insistent on not paying 700. He's like "Noelle, your making them mad and I'm the one who will have to walk home by myself - with them watching" lol. I refused to pay. I wanted to just walk away and find someone else... Johnny wanted to negotiate... The lowest they went was 400. We walked away. I found another guy who would take US for 100... I didn't realize he meant both of us would pay 100, and so when that was clear, I decided 200 was fine.. "I'm cold, I don't want to argue, take me home" lol. So I told him I was going to Mambet, also called Lenin. "Ok, sit down." Johnny was still nervous for me haha.
So I'm riding along with these big Russian guys in black leather jackets with big voices. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I definitely had my guard up. We were told oodles of stories about gypsy cabs and what-not in PST. Then the flutes of the Celine Dion - Titanic song come on the radio... I start humming. They look at me and smile. Then before I know it, we're singing... "Near... Far... Where ever you are..." haha. They clearly are talking about me and English. So, I say clearly, "What is your name?" The big one grins and says with thick Russian accent, "My name is Maxim." They were very nice guys. Making small talk. And when I say small, I mean small. It was funny. Before I know it, I see a big sign all lit up that says, "Taldykorgan". Shoot. I went the wrong way. I tell the driver, "No, not Taldykorgan, Mambet... Lenin." "Yeah, yeah, we'll go there next." is what I understood... So after multiple invites to see a movie, go dancing, everything under the sun, we drop off my new friends. The driver stops in front of some building (that must have been called Lenin), and is prompting me to get out. "Uhh... no.. Mambetttt, Lennnin." He clearly has no clue what I'm talking about. Thinking maybe I was pronouncing something wrong, I called my counterpart and had her talk to the driver, she was clearly concerned for me haha.
Once the communication was clear, he annoyingly tells me that I should have said Lenin, the village. Well, I didn't even think about it. I thought it was clear enough to specify, Lenin... the village's name is Mambet - formerly known as Lenin. I wasn't sure if he was going to kick me out... so I didn't say much, I just sat there and waited to see what he would do. If he would have kicked me out I wouldn't have blamed him really lol. How do you not know where this village is? It's not far... it's just small. As we're leaving Taldy for Balpuk, he asks me how much am I paying. Man, I'm already paying way more than I wanted... so I say "300?". He sort of sighs of disappointment, but doesn't argue. I think he felt bad for me. He told me to come sit in the front where it's warmer, I did... but I wasn't sure if that was the right thing to do... We pick someone else up, who he clearly knows and is now in the back - where I can't see him. When we stopped for gas, I gave him 500 instead... thinking it would probably be best to show my appreciation before this friend of his might think of doing something stupid. He happily took the raise, and trust me I was happy that he was happy - and I really was grateful for how well he took my rookie mistake (even though I don't think I did anything wrong necessarily). The ride was for the most part smooth sailing. He gave me his phone number and told me to call him whenever I need a taxi :). I may or may not take him up on that...
In the end, I'm proud to say that there was a miscommunication that had nothing to do with a language barrier. My language was clear, and he understood me. I even had a genuine conversation, in both Russian and Kazakh, beyond our robotic structures like "In your spare time... what do you like to do...?" I just forgot to mention that Mambet is a village not far from Balpuk Bi... who would think to do that anyway. My host family and I had a good laugh, annnd now I know.

Feeling better

Saule and Zhere :)
Blog 32
November 8

Well, I'm feeling much better about my situation today than I did yesterday. I think this place is actually much more down to earth than Panfilova and my family there. My host mom's hearty smile is so comforting. We went to the bazaar this morning. Even though I couldn't understand most of what was being said, I could tell by the body language of the interactions that she has her head on straight. (isn't it funny how that happens - even without language, you can still tell how a person is by spending a normal day with them...) She's a smart woman. I think my previous host mom was negative and yelled so much because she was insecure about something. I'm not trying to compare them, but I'm human and I'm just saying... My new family is nice in a way that reminds me of home, which was what I was going for. The little ones, Zharas (5 yr old boy) and Zhere (4 yr old girl) are so adorable. Curly hair and tiny teeth and voices. They remind me of Alex and I... I can remember being chased and getting in fighting position on the couch haha, Alex. Being stuffed into poofy coats and mittens, so cute; and, every two seconds "Mom... Mo-om... Mom!" The way to respond to a beckon (lol) is the "ow?" part of "How" - meaning "Yeah?" or "What?". So the kids call out "Moo-om..." and Aigul responds "o-ow..." lol. I love it.
So like I said, my host mom and I went to the bazaar, which is in Balpuk Bi, where Johnny is. For the most part, I liked what I saw. We took a taxi, and the ride wasn't long at all, but very close. (Very do-able on a bike! Especially when compared to my Ciao route :) There were also a number of bikers at the bazaar... good sign. There were even bike supplies sellers! However, I didn't muster up the courage to ask a biker where they bought their bike... in due time. We also went into this meat building. What an experience. I didn't know what kind of meat I was looking at, but it just felt wrong. My knees went weak and my stomach turned. My host mom didn't notice... but the guy hacking away at a carcass on a stump with a huge axe sure did. I didn't realize what face I was making until the hacker guy smiled and winked at me mid-whack lol. There were segmented furry hoofed legs under the tables, and a lady pulled two nice white chickens by their feet from out of nowhere and then they disappeared... sad day. All kinds of organs and body parts were hanging from the walls... yuck. In the end - we didn't find the hangers I had intended on purchasing.
Another positive point in regards to my host family... they actually cut the fat off of the meat before cooking it! :) Pretty amazing, I know. I expressed my appreciation openly lol. I spent mainly the rest of the day with my host sister, Soule (14 yr old girl) and the two munchkins. Soule is a very cool girl and a good big sister. I like that she likes sports and scary movies. Most little girls that I've met here really enjoy and even desire fitting into the "girly, house-wife" mentality, which is fine if it's genuine... but I tend to question if they really want what they say what they want here. Every Kazakh person here will tell you they love bishbarmak and Nasurbayev. It's like asking someone if they like puppies... "Is that even a real question? Of course I like puppies..., weirdo." lol. Even though bishbarmak is essentially plain wet (in my opinion, mushy) noodles and boiled horse and/or beef. Not exactly what I would call tasty - the main indicator to me is having to pile on the hot sauce.... "But it's the Kazakh national dish....!" Yeah, not buying it... Nonetheless, I look forward to having Soule in class, and watching the little ones grow up.
There are definitely adjustments that I will have to make, but I'm feeling better about them. This is farm life, with a smaller house, less to do in the village, and definitely less friends (as of now). And, it's looking like my new nickname is Nelly haha. People are just puzzled by my name. The way they say Noelle sounds like Noil, think foil. Not so cute. (And usually they can't even come up with Noil... I know how they feel! :)

A stranger in a village...

Blog 31
November 7
Day 1 with my new host family :) My counter part seemed to want me out of her house pronto... I noticed quite a few signs indicating she anticipated my departure lol, or maybe that was me anticipating it ha. She had me up and out the door before 9 this morning. I'm not sure why I'm not feeling as welcomed and fussed over as PC makes us think we will be. This town seems either scared of me or completely dumbfounded by me. They just stare. They are plain people. Simple folk wondering why there is a white person in their village lol - I thought PC would at least warn them about a strange American foreigner being the volunteer :)
I moved in this morning to my new place. I'm not sure how I fit all of my stuff in the room I was given, and didn't realize that it was assumed I share a room with my 14 yr old host sister and the family computer. Neither of which are desirable to me. After awkward tension and misunderstandings - I successfully managed my own room and my laptop replacing the desktop comp. Though the walls are completely bare... I finally have a room with (something like) a chandelier! And my favorite part of the room is the cinnamon yankee candle scent.. (Thanks Jane!) I look forward to making my room more homey - maybe encourage some decoration here in Mambet.
I spent most of the earlier half of the day moving in. In the early afternoon my counterpart wanted me to go to a meeting. I wasn't sure what the meeting was going to be and am still not sure exactly what I took part in. The meeting was held in the Culture House. The akim (mayor) and some other big city officials - reminder this is barely a village - sat at a table on a stage and each one took a turn speaking about some very serious matter (a grim 45 minutes per person). The meeting lasted about two hours... but seemed much longer due to the less than perfect microphone system squeaking and blaring at random. I think the meeting was comparable to some kind of county meeting, if there is such a thing. After the meeting was a concert, again not your typical concert. It was sort of like a play/concert/performance. Different people from the village would sing or dance or play an instrument... all in traditional Kazakh dress, of course. I wish I had taken my camera - I wasn't expecting a show to follow the town meeting. I think I would have enjoyed the show much more if my ears weren't blown out by every performer lol. No, we do not need 5 microphones on each mouth... and if there are 5 microphones surrounding you, it is not necessary that you yell into them. I'm glad that I went though. This village, as small as it is, still puts together a performance, which is impressive. I'm not sure how often they do this, though.
Nothing else too special happened today. I had a banya - different style of banya. I'm looking forward to starting classes next week. I need to be busy, my mind wanders and sometimes I discourage my own self by useless thoughts that somehow turn into... well... something discouraging. I've had a whole extra week of idleness, plus tomorrow is demalus (the weekend). One day at a time. My next move is to buy a bicycle somewhere.

Making my way

Blog 30
November 6
I finally made it to site! Yesterday, when I went to the PC office to check on my visa status, I was super excited and impressed to find that they got me a visa in 3 days! Yerkin is very good at his job - which I had heard, but now have experienced. The only thing is that that PC passport was actually the best official doc. picture I have ever taken! If only I could have at least kept the picture and dropped the rest down the hole.... Oh well. So they asked if I wanted to go then or wait until tomorrow... (It was around 1) I said, "Put me on a bus and let's go!"
The marshutka ride was something else. I've ridden on many marshutkas so far in Kaz, but this one was different. A marshutka is a van that is sort of like a mix between taxi and bus. For about the first hour it was like a party van, music just blaring! There were only 4 then more started getting on. I worked on my Kazakh workbook, not noticing how slowly we were puttering on. Our driver would occasionally stop the vehicle, get out, and check something. I didn't pay much attention. Then, a while later, he stopped the marshutka - it was shaking violently lol. He got out and paced around for a while - I was the only person that seemed concerned... Then he got back in and turned on the lights (it was dark by then) he said something and started getting up and getting out. I looked confused-ly at these two younger boys and they motioned to me that it was ok, and follow them. No one was taking their bags. So we get out and the van takes off lol. Uhh.. my stuff is in there! I'm just following at this point and everyone walks up this big hill. The van is way off in the distance. It goes out of sight. I assume that the thing couldn't make it up the hills and trust its there in the distance waiting for us! Thankfully it was. This happened again. Then we had to push it once. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. I mean this thing was going so slow! My counterpart is calling me, "Where are you? I'm waiting you..." Well... I'm in the middle of nowhere, but I'm on the way. Johnny's calling me, my regional manager is calling me... lol. Nonetheless, I made it!
So my site. To be honest, I'm pretty underwhelmed. It's verrrry small. Verrry country. There is no bazaar even. I'm trying to stay positive, though after one day I'm bored already. My school is nice. I haven't met any students - it's holiday right now until next week, which sort of works out well... allowing me to have a peaceful tour. The people seem nice but quiet... simple people. I hope that simple doesn't equal boring. It was quite uncomfortable today - all of my luggage was sent earlier and stayed in the director's office; so, I had no professional clothes... or host family gifts! How embarrassing. I should know better.
I met the school faculty and really connected with one lady in particular. She loves volleyball and we played a quick game. She is excited for me to help coach their team! On paper everything sounds better, I've found lol. We played in the "gym"... there was a "net". I must say that if I learned anything from the 19s (Victor:) these past couple of days, it's the word "relative". I now understand. Anyway, playing volleyball was fun. I also met and chose my host family. Of the three choices, I chose the family with 3 kids, a dog, piano, banya,mother is a nurse and policeman as the father! I'm quite happy with my choice! They were the last family to see and the previous two were sort of bland. Nothing stuck out to me... I prayed that this be a clear, easy, and right choice. I want to stay with my family for 2 years :) It was once I saw the piano and kids :) Plus I figure I'll be safe and healthy...! I was a little concerned that we were burning through the houses too quickly. My counterpart, director and I literally would walk in, take a look around and walk out. I was at least expecting tea! LOL - I didn't even have the chance to really speak with the families. ...Although, it did make it easier due to less pressure and being less personal (so no hard feelings).
Right now, I'm with my counterpart for one more night. She has three kids. Two sons, 20 and 15?, and a daughter, 5. The boys will barely even look at me let alone talk to me. The little girl is sweet but also quiet. My counterpart's English is much better than I remember - and she would probably say the same about my Kazakh lol. I've just been studying my Kaz books.... out of boredom really, but I think it impresses her.
Well, even though my literal first impression of this place was a little grey mouse friend scurrying out of my backpack this morning!!, I have hope after picking my host family. I have a good feeling about them and they were the only family I smiled naturally with - which I would say is a good indicator.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Independent Woman :)

Blog 29
November 3
Trying to use this time wisely! Successful day :) Asked for my free meals, and received all three. Yes! Started the day, after breakfast, working on my Kazakh language book. My goal is to fill in the entire thing before I get to site. I want to wow them with my sweet Kazakh skills lol. That was a good refresher - you have to think I haven't really done much with the language for the past two weeks! I know there wasn't much there to lose in the first place... but I'm rusty lol. Then a PC driver came and picked up my luggage. Praise the Lord, there just happens to be some trip going somewhere but - most importantly- going through Bilpuk Bi, where Johnny is, - and they are willing and able to swing by my school and drop off all of my luggage! What a blessing to not have to worry about lugging all of that around by myself on the bus/taxi/marshutka/fill-in-the-blank. Hopefully it will be safe and won't be rummaged through or anything at the school. Another positive. (I sort of feel like half of me is on my way now!)
The Kok Tobe people brought dinner to my room, which was very convenient.... I wasn't looking forward to eating alone in that big dining hall! Earlier Jeffery showed me the way to this humungous tower thing up in the mountains. It was beautiful and had a great view of the city. I took some really nice pictures. Now I'm just overlooking all of the papers that we were given about my site/community/school/host family options/what I'm actually supposed to be doing at site. Also, realizing the importance of staying focused on what we had just been taught and told, you know.
I think I forgot to mention that I applied for and was selected to be part of the Peer Support Network, 5 were chosen. :) I am so glad to be a part of this group because it means that I will be reimbursed for the money I spend calling friends and encouraging them! What an easy job. I've used my idle time here to start supporting my peers... :) It's also really cool because one of the things that I was looking forward to about doing PC was really watching God, and staying out of His way. What I mean is having a really strong prayer life and seeing how He moves while I'm here. Being on the PSN, I will have plenty of prayer material! I just know God is going to use this opportunity to show me what's up lol. So, I had already planned on being more organized with prayers, requests, and how they are answered... but this group gives me the opportunity to be paid for doing this! Cool :) I'm working on a good system, I'm sure I'll figure one out the more calls/texts I make.
It also works that I'm here, now in a way that it gives me the chance to make some calls and start out my little project :)

Monday, November 2, 2009


Blog 28

November 2

I think this is the 4th time I've restarted this 28th blog. I'm struggling. Things are not going so hot here. Actually that's not true at all. Many things are going right, but there was one huge thing that went so wrong, it's just hard to overlook. I haven't written in a while, like I said. Much has happened since the last post, which I'm glad are documented with pictures at least, so I can remember most of it. A strange opera, a great farewell dinner with my host family, a super Russian-haircut (complete with the bangs lol) and more in between. Right now, I'm in a coffee place with wi-fi! I'm with a Kaz - 19, in Almaty. I know... I should be writing some exciting blog about my new site and my new counterpart and school. The people, the scenery... nope. Not yet at least.

We were sworn in on Saturday. The previous day was when we were having all of our bags picked up and shipped to the place where we were being sworn in. So at the luggage stop, I'm thinking of ways to downsize... Staring intimidated-ly at my 3 huge suitcases I think to myself "I could at least eliminate this purse I'm carrying..." Thankfully I was offered a ride to the luggage drop off spot by another trainee's family, otherwise I was planning on three 15-min trips! So, I open one of my suitcases and, after taking the important items out of my purse, put it in the suitcase. I had my hard drive (because I planned to swing by Gambrill's place and take her David Lanz... which remind me of my mom :), my PC Passport & Card, and some other random important items (phone... etc) I put the hard drive in my track jacket pocket and my passport/card in the back pocket of my jeans. (The weather has been beautiful, and not requiring of a coat.) So I know, I know, my passport/card were hanging out my back pocket and I realized that it wasn't the smartest idea. Also, my hard drive didn't really fit properly in my front pocket either... But, I figured I only had to walk down our little dirt road and it would be fine. I was paranoid nonetheless, and checked repeatedly, "Passport, card, hard drive, phone... Passport, card, hard drive, phone...) Once home, after Gambrill's, as I was unlocking the front door, I suddenly had a dire urge to go to the bathroom. I don't know what it is about unlocking that door, but every time I come home from school, or anything really, and have to unlock that door with all of my bags, I just instantly get that tingling feeling! (Hide and seek will do it too lol) So, I open the door and, instead of dropping of my things in my room, I just drop everything at the door. I think I had a paper and maybe something else... And head to the outhouse.

This may be graphic but as I'm going I remember "Oh, yeah! I have my passport and card in my back pocket... be careful." I finish and as I'm pulling up my pants and taking a step away from the hole... I hear a clink.... then plop. Are you kidding me! I felt sick and just stopped with my mouth open. My initial reaction was to just jump in lol. I feel like that was the feeling that the little boy on Slumdog Millionaire had in the outhouse scene... Geez! Very few moments in my life do I actually talk out loud in disbelief when no one is around. I did! I still can't believe that even happened! LOL. I can remember the disclaimer when we first arrived about those stupid outhouses; and, I may be the most paranoid person in Kaz about the toilets. Not to let my pants touch the ground, not to touch anything if I can help it, I didn't even use them but once a day in the beginning... sometimes I take a flashlight in there and it freaks me out lol - I even dropped a bobby pin once and didn't even think about picking it up again. Anyways - there I was cracking up, yelling at myself and pacing outside the "toilet". I called Leah, our LCF, and we discussed the options. She told me, "Nina, you have to get that out of there. Find a big apple picking stick and a flash light. This happens more than you think..."

"Ok, I'll see what I can do...

Of course, the battery on my phone was dead and we were cut off several times within this conversation. She was so nice and calm about it, which I really appreciated as I was freaking out! Thankfully Andrew had been locked out of his house and randomly came over... I found the longest stick I could find and took a flashlight out to the toilet. I couldn't see a thing, it was so deep; and, the stick didn't even touch the surface of the... stuff... I could only stomach 2 tries. I told Leah it was impossible. Andrew was the voice of reason, which I clearly needed. He suggested we fill the thing with water and then it should float to the top. LOL. Man. That was unrealistic, and we decided that even if we should get the thing out - is that really a valid document? I can just picture it, "Uhh, I'm sorry ma'am, but isn't your passport supposed to be blue..?" lol. Yeah right! There is no way I could carry that around - It's like inhumane or something. So yes, 6 o'clock on a Friday, the day before I'm supposed to leave for site, everything is closed and will be for the weekend - I DROP both of the most important documents I possess at the time in the outhouse toilet. What are the odds. At least I don't have to worry about identity theft or anything like that with losing those documents! Nobody is going to mess with them in the toilet... The next morning was the oddest feeling in the world as I woke up and headed to the outhouse.... peeing on my own passport and id card. WOW. lol. And the thought that my host family will be doing so for at least the next 2 years... I wonder how that actually works - with digging - Oh, never mind... I'm not going to go there.

So, here I am 2 days later... in Almaty still. At least there isn't like a "National Peace Corps Volunteer Arrival Day" that I'm missing or late for you know... But I do definitely feel delayed. Like my dad said, in the perspective of being here for 2 years, this first week won't seem like a big deal - but that is at the end of the 2 years, and, well, I'm here now...

The swearing in ceremony went well. Met the ambassador, sort of. And Johnny's out at site by himself. I felt bad for giving him such a hard time about his finger, and here I am lol, bailing on him! They, of course, wouldn't let me travel without a Visa... and today is the first day they started the Visa process. They aren't sure how long the process will take - but I'm here alone and all of my friends are starting their adventure out at site. Actually I'm not alone, I stayed the night with some 21s at the notorious Kok Tobe, the ones who are headed the farthest away and had super train rides - like 50 hours, for example! Then, the Kaz 19s are right now too... so now that my 21s are gone, I've been tagging along basically. COS (is the Close of Service process). I'm not sure if it's the healthiest thing to be around people who are in the exact opposite phase of PC as I am lol. But it's nice to talk one on one with them! Hear their advice, experience, feelings, plans, stories. I like them.

Hopefully this Visa process won't take long... If I could ask for one thing, it would be prayer! :) I want to go to site... :( soon! It feels good to write again, now that I squeezed out this tough one, I'll do my best to get back on track with my blog! This tops the surprise dance performance with Echo's sister by far! I miss them...

Pictures: The Ambassador and I at the Swearing In Ceremony, Pizza Hut before the Opera, and Farewell dinner with my host family!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action!

Blog 27
October 28
I began the day waking up late :(... But, rushing through tea and all of the formalities of the morning - I made it on time to my Teacher Training Session. A quick granola bar and banana on the go breakfast is not an option here, which would have been nice this morning lol. I'm glad Sarah and I's presentation was first. Now I really have no responsibilities until I get to site. Though I know I could use this time wisely... sorting out key phrases I will need to know how to say dealing with host families :)
After our presentation, I did a take two on sending Sarah a letter. This is such a process. Yesterday, the lady yelled at me like I was mentally challenged lol. I thought maybe today I could try again... seeing if someone else was working. I told the other lady today that my letter was going to the USA - I'm not sure if she was just pawning the task off because she didn't want to deal with it, but she told me to come back after 2. I don't understand why things just don't work smoothly here. It's not that difficult to do your job is it? lol. This iiis a post office ...right? I didn't have time before the talent show to stop by again (it's sort of out of the way). Maybe tomorrow it will happen... In the meantime I'll just carry it around with me in case I get the chance to try again :)
Our talent show was today! The kids were so cute! It's entertaining enough for a kid talent show - but to add in the cultural differences was like adding a cherry on top. Our play was a hit. A couple of fumbles and rushed lines but overall a crowd pleaser. I'll do my best to post the video in a timely manner. Nothing else interesting happened today. It was a pretty chilly day. Yesterday I didn't need a coat. Today was rainy, and I guess (according to the neighbor boy) tomorrow it should snow! Here it comes....!
We are going to see a hungarian ballet, if I understand correctly, tomorrow! I can't wait :) And before the show we are going to Pizza Hut! I'm excited. People probably aren't dressing up... but I'm so tempted just because I'm so pumped lol. There is talk about maybe doing karaoke after - we'll see what I end up deciding on. I honestly feel like I should devote more of my time to my host family than "livin it up" with my friends. But... I'm not going to be able to call my host family and vent about being so bored and lonely 5 months from now. It goes with out saying that I have much more in common with my friends than my host family. I'm trying to swindle Azizza into joining us tomorrow - but she's a hard sell.

A New Dress and A Big Burrito

Blog 26
October 27
Today I slept in :) first time in a while... I had a very lazy start to the day since language classes are over, we are just kinda hanging out now. I, figuring I was home alone at around 9, decided to figure out what I should wear for our swearing in ceremony on Saturday. A group of girls went on a shopping trip to buy dresses... I thought that was impractical. I already have way too much stuff - why would I want to add a ball gown to my collection, especially when I'll only wear the thing once! I only have the one dress that I brought from home. It's a shorter length, black dress (definitely a summer dress). I was counting on wintering it up with some tights and maybe a cardigan or something...
I tried it on with the tights and shoes (well just the one shoe actually lol), Sam has a cute black cardigan she offered me to borrow. Since there isn't a mirror in my room, I went out to the front door where there's a mirror. It's a smaller mirror so I stood on a footrest and lifted the one leg with the shoe on it up - to get a good look at the complete ensemble. So there I am checking myself out in the strangest position... and I'm sure you can guess what happens next lol. "Oh, Aziza! You're home!" awkward-lol (lol). She gave me a deservingly strange look haha. I explained myself to the best of my ability. She advised me against the tights - and was not impressed with my summer dress... even after explaining that I would have a cover for it at the ceremony. She was so kind enough to bring one of her dresses for me to try on. Then she called her older sister and asked if I could borrow something :) There was some kind of a positive message after that, I sort of assumed that something would be pursued with that idea. Apparently, Anar has lots and lots of dresses.
My day continued with the first round of packing. I have no clue how I've accumulated so much stuff within the past couple of months! I mean books and books, papers, materials. Geez. Plus the two extra huge bags PC gave us once we arrived to Kazakhstan for our medical stuff, water distillers, smoke alarms the whole nine yards. Good thing Johnny is going with me :) It's only because it's culturally sensitive that men carry things for women in this country that I would let Johnny help me out in that way :) I mean as a woman, I'm only really capable of cooking and cleaning - I wasn't born with muscles. Actually bad news to go with that situation. I guess there is a possibility that Johnny may be medi-vacced (sent home for medical reasons) due to a frisbee related finger injury! (Eye roll) Really, Johnny?. He had x-rays today and apparently Dr. Victor is all over the situation, there may be need of an American surgery. I think Dr. Victor is just bored lol. Johnny is his new project. We'll see what happens with that. I hope he's ok for both of our sakes.
So, then, Sarah and I prepared for a presentation we have tomorrow. We are doing a session at a Teacher Training seminar on Lesson Planning. Honestly, I'm still pretty uncomfortable about going in there and telling all of these teachers from the surrounding area how to do their job. It has only just been pounded in our heads, now I'm supposed to do the same to my elders - who have been teaching for how many years now? Regardless, that's tomorrow morning. We had our talent show rehearsal then. Our Cinderella was a now show... along with half every other "girl part". We re-casted the entire performance lol. I'm happy with our show. (Our king and prince are still super enthusiastic. And their lines are noticeably improved from the last time!)
Once home, I left upon arriving. Lol Yesterday, Echo, Laura, and I went to the PC office in Almaty and stopped at the RamStore (Which I've been reading as PamStop for forever.... РамСтор in cyrillic) It has everything you would ever crave - we bought ingredients for delicious black bean burritos! Proving that it is possible to eat here with no fatty meat or grease or oil! I felt like I was at Chipotle :) I came back home - and I rushed off to Anar's house with the family. I'm not sure what the hurry was... They played dress up Nina - talk about every wrinkle, freckle, blemish, split end, you name it lol. They are very blunt and honest here. I am trying to learn to appreciate that. I have to remember that in the end I know they are on my side, but it's borderline offensive. From what I understand, tomorrow my host dad is going to cut my hair? What did I get myself into... and they still want to dye my hair, which I put up a good fight about, but my host mom isn't satisfied. Not happening. Too many bad hair cases in Kazakhstan as is. I will not become another mullet statistic haha. I want to be one less :)
I'm ok if no one gets that last little joke... it was kind of lame but I chuckled to myself, so I'll keep it :)