Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lawn Chair = Heaven



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

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

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

Food, Food, Glorious Food...



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

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

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

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

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

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

I rearranged my room - and feel a little better.

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Here are some photos of my village.

Random House
My Village

Main Street

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blissful Earplugs!!



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

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

Oh Wherefore Art Thou Romeo????



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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

#53 Christmas in January



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

#51 - Language Week



First week back to school is over. I'm working on being as honestly enthusiastic about my lessons and visuals and things as I was when I first arrived. I just watched 5 episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia in a row. lol. Great use of time. There has been a lot of talk the past week about going to the mountains for some kind of Winter Sport Competition between schools. Lately, Kazakhstan has given me a bad case of "boy who cried wolf" syndrome for pretty much anything that makes me excited at the initial announcement. I just don't believe what local people tell me. And even with this terrible disease, I still always somehow cancel other plans to make room for the one that seems to always fall through. Genius Kazakhstan. You win.

I wanted to wait until the sweet Winter Sport Competition in the mountains to write an exciting blog. However, it was cancelled/postponed the past 4 days, and again today. The weather is being quite strange. It warms up at night, melting everything and making a mess, then freezes and snows during the afternoon. Backwards, if you ask me. So we were supposed to leave this morning but the rain and slush made it impossible. :( Now, word is that it will be the 23th, Saturday.

On saturday, I met a new friend on a play date set up by one of the teachers at my school. You never know what to expect with these propositions, "Noelle, I want you to meet my husband's brother's son's cousin's friend's.... he/she (Kazakh doesn't have gender specific pronouns) knows English and wants to practice with you. Come over on Saturday." ...You just never know. The girl's name is Aika, she's 22 and from Taldykorgan and was very sweet, we got along well. She spoke English much better than I was expecting, and I liked that she kept calling the village the, "countryside". Even though it wasn't intentional to give the place a better connotation. It was cute. Made it seem like a prettier place than it might be. Boy could she talk though... and she is a lot more passionate about grammar issues than I am, which made most conversations very long. I'm really glad that I met her though. She wants to take me to her house in Taldy on Saturday, the 23th.

This approaching week is also Language week. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I understand it's some sort of competition between the language classes, Kazakh, Russian, and English. Zhamilya is excited to show off our posters and visuals, which is good. Confirmation that I've made some positive progress among the teachers - which is rarely expressed openly, and equally nice to hear. I'm having my english club kids do a Kazakh version of Romeo and Juliet, (Rauan and Jildez). It's hilarious. They really get into it. My biggest problem is getting them to slow down their lines and take their time. They are too excited and then the play lasts like 3 minutes. Lol. Not much of a show... but we have all week to work on it and then perform either on Friday or Saturday. I wrote the script intending to print off a copy for each student. No ink anywhere at the school. Awesome, so it's been difficult to organize. Had I known that today the WSC thing was going to be cancelled, I could have gone to the city to buy my own ink today. We need to make a few things too like a balcony, some horses, swords, and signs - it should be a fun, busy week. Then, of course, the Traditional American Dance has once again been reincarnated. The students love love love it lol, though they want me to make it longer. The performance is planned to happen on Friday or Saturday, the 22th or 23th. The way things have been going it will probably be the 23th - so my Saturday will likely be triple booked lol with WSC, R&J, and new friend visit. It will be interesting to see what happens.

I've been able to read a lot since being here and just finished a book called The Red Tent, I really liked it and suggest it for all women interested in the culture or the Old Testament times. Although it's fictional, it's very interesting. I am almost finished with the Where There Is No Doctor handbook that Dr. Victor gave all of us. It's interesting and maybe I'll have the unfortunate chance to use some of the new knowledge I gain while out here in the village :) That would be cool. Help deliver a baby, or suck the venom out of a snake bite (even though the book says that that doesn't work) I don't know, something more exciting than shooing goats and sheep out of my way on the way to the outhouse...

First Semester - DONE!



I can finally say that I've survived my first semester in the village. That statement is nearly true - although I wasn't here for entirely the first semester, and I'd like to think I've more than just survived. The holidays are over, and today was my first day back in classes. It was nice to see my students again. My lessons were far from spectacular... and even as of now, I'm not exactly as super pumped about working with these ridiculous text books and working in dissonance with my teachers in a school system that I honestly have little regard for, as you would think I should be... after a really nice break. I'm sure I'll get over myself soon, I'm just tired lol.

After New Years, actually exactly the 2nd of Jan, when Anar, Muktar, and Tima came over, my host mom really hyped up some volleyball event at the end of the week. She was surprised I hadn't heard about it and said our team would practice the following four days and then go to Johnny's Gimnasium for a tournament. I was actually really looking forward to this as I didn't really have much planned for the break - as popular as you can imagine I might be here haha... It was funny because Johnny had tried to explain some kind of basketball tournament going at his school on that same week, and I had told him they were trying to trick him. (You see, I'd like to think that I can sense a hoaxy excuse of a hang out plan from a mile away/only because I've been there lol) I felt bad crushing his plans, but I was doubtful... Until the volleyball thing was mentioned - then I ate my words lol. So I did an English conference with some other volunteers in Taldy, feeling guilty about missing the first "practices" of the week. (We ate dog at a Korean restaurant, well I can say I tasted it...!, and went bowling) Strangely, no one gave me the hard time I was sure to receive, however, for skipping out... then I asked my host mom about the vb plans and she said we couldn't do them? - in short, in three days the whole thing dissolved as quickly as it was explained. Gives me a headache lol. Johnny was in the same boat with basketball. I was disappointed but not entirely surprised. Johnny said his team even had jerseys. Cleveland Cavs jerseys! I would have liked to see that haha. O well.

My host family had been hosting lots of relatives over the break. One family was from Almaty, and on the day that the volleyball idea disappeared, I had an idea to maybe hitch a ride to Almaty with them on their way back home :) It worked. The plan was to leave on Thursday afternoon, which, by Thursday evening, was pushed back to Friday morning. We left at 3:00 on Friday, which gave me some anxiety. I met up with some church friends that night and had a really nice time. I skyped for the first time with my mom too! So grateful for the new freeeeee wi-fi at the PC HQ. I stayed up quite late.... In the morning, I took a nice hot shower and headed to Panfilova to visit family #1. I was expecting to feel all sorts of strange feelings in that village, like walking around your old high school, or something. I didn't. It was strange to see the place covered in snow, but seeing my old family was not strange at all. There was nothing uncomfortable about it. I felt at home. My host father was friendlier than I remember, Ablai taller (but still just as energetic), Aziza wasn't as shy, and my host mom still told me I needed to color my hair. We played Uno, which was a hit... looked at pictures, I told them about my horse and turkey experience, and we were all quite taken by the huge improvement of my Kazakh :) I wasn't shy about talking, and I realize now that they speak in Russian far more than Kazakh, which makes sense now - why I always felt like I didn't understand them in training lol.

I wanted to try and make church in the morning, but ended up heading home early instead after I couldn't find my stop on the bus, and clearly missed it long before I realized I'd missed it. (I was coming from the opposite direction than when I was in training) I decided not to mess with back tracking and wandering. I was nervous about arranging my transportation back to the village on my own - haggling prices down - making sure I arrive in Balpuk Bi before 5, since the taxis stop after 5, and I had class in the morning - I also had accumulated two extra bags on the trip... one of books and dvds (Thanks Peter!) and another of food and snacks (Thanks first host fam!) and even a new down feather coat from the PC office, which I stuffed in my backpack along with the drawings, stuffed animals, and action figures Ablai snuck in my bag during the visit lol. I'm blessed beyond what I deserve. My hands were blistering and I felt like Godzilla destroying the city of Almaty with my oversized backpack. The marshutka I took was much better than my first experience in October, the putting and pushing... The trip only took 3 hours, and I had expected 5. I spent the ride reading my children's picture dictionary and sort of took pride in the confused looks of the random other passengers :) All in all I was able to check off most of what I had listed to do on my "Almaty Trip List", I hadn't spent half of the money I thought I would spend, came back with a ton of stuff, my computer is updated and I can now play Avi files :) and had wonderful visits with church friends and the host family. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy New Year! ...and Bridenapping?



Happy New Year! :) The first day of 2010, I spent New Years Eve in Taldykorgan with some other volunteers. Some 21's from afar came. It was a pretty standard celebration. I picked up a package from Grandma Z and a letter from Denise!!! My host grandparents have been staying at our house for the past couple of days. They are here for the New Year and my host grandma turns 63 on the 3rd. I had met her before but I don't remember saying much to her. It was around the beginning of when I arrived here. I was very shy. This was the first time I have met the grandpa. He is really sweet and very encouraging with my language progression! I like that lol. He also told me I'll be the next US President in 2 years :) and he'll vote for me. It's nice when people talk to me like a normal human. I'm expecting that he keeps his word on the president thing, although I'm not sure what, of our conversations, he actually remembers... he has several shots at every meal.

Anar, a new teacher at my school - who is also 22, Muktar, a 22 year old distant cousin, and Tima, my host father's youngest brother, came over to be guests today. I thought it was just to hang out lol - then I thought maybe my host mom was playing cupid between Anar and Muktar. Turns out my host mom had in fact arranged... for Anar to meet Tima, the 40-something year old single man. I didn't put that together until after the facts, and now feel a little silly for showing all of the normal pictures of my family, state, blah blah blah. Apparently my routine circus performance was not needed for this occasion. I feel bad for Anar. Who would want to be set up with some old guy by a co-worker, who clearly has a tie to the man. Awkward. Muktar is nice - we went ice skating at the disco skating rink a while ago. I remember how surprised he was when I told him that "ko ko jumbo" wasn't a word.

Weddings happen very fast here. I'm sure most of the friends I have now will soon be married away and I'll be left to be the strange American old maid lol. I cringe when people throw out - well you should marry a Kazakh man and stay here forever! Always a sticky one to fend off haha. Not that I'm absolutely opposed to the idea or don't recognize it as a possibility. I try not to limit myself, knowing that God's will for me is unfathomable. But still. There is a so-called "old tradition" here called brideknapping. During PST, in one of our training villages there was a brideknapping incident. It involved knives. Basically a man steals a woman away and keeps her in his house for a period of time, signifying that she has been tainted (or probably raped) and no other man will take her. Thus, forcing her to marry this guy. Usually, it is a violent episode, but it is sometimes treated like a light-hearted joke-y type of proposal/eloping.

Saltanat, one day, cancelled plans we had made the previous day because her brother had gotten married. I was confused. This was the first I had heard about her brother being engaged even and Johnny told me that she was making it up to get out of hanging out. It turned into an inside joke... but after many questions and through both of our sub par language efforts, I have come to understand that he brideknapped his now wife because he is going into the army. They had been together before, though. It wasn't a big deal. I gained a lot of respect for a PC staff member a while ago, when she told me a brideknapping story of her own. This Kazakh woman told a group of us that she had been brideknapped in her youth and to get out of it, she shaved her head and chain smoked for a week straight! The man kicked her out haha. Go girl!

Peanut Butter = America...Fried Bread = Kazakhstan



Best day ever today! I taught this morning, only one class - but it is my favorite, the 5th graders. It's my favorite for a few reasons: it's a small class, their lessons are very easy and fun to plan for, they are smart and excited, and Gulbak (or Flower Garden :) let's me do whatever I want because she just wants to retire, already. The director observed our class today and told me I did a good job - but then I heard from other teachers a more enthusiastic response! That it was excellent and he was impressed!

After class, I talked/planned with Saltanat for a while. Then we went konaka-ing to another teacher's house for lunch. This was the first time I met the host. Since she's pregnant, she probably won't teach until next year lol. Apparently, having kids is one of those things the government hooks you up for here. Interesting. So that was nice, we ate bishbarmak - and people gave me a hard time for not eating the fat or drinking the cup of broth. Then my host mom "stuck up" for me by saying, "In America, they don't eat natural food - it's all poly-fabricated." Whatever poly-fabricated means... I think I'm going to start telling people that we eat plastic in America.

Once home from having tea, Saule handed me a letter! I've been stalking the post office for the past couple of days - by stalking I mean by phone... calling and harassing them in my poor but insistent Kazakh. Saule said the post office dropped the letter off at the house. Cool! Then she said I had more... bigger things but they didn't bring them because they were too heavy? Hooray!! Even though I only had 15 minutes until English Club was supposed to begin, I went straight to the post office. Surprise!... it was closed. I spoke with a nice man about what the procedure was for me to receive my box(es). He said come back at nine tomorrow morning. :( O.K. On my way home, I happened to pass my host mom, who told me that I should go back at 4 - it will be open. Yes!

I went to English club - we played Simon Says, sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas, and did another listening activity. Sounds familiar right? Then I went to the post office again. My same new nice guy friend was still there, and a little disappointed I didn't listen to him. He said something about a house - and I tried to explain that, yes, they dropped off the small mail at my house, but I was supposed to pick up the packages by myself. I left again sad. My host mom, when I returned home, was not happy that I didn't have any packages... She called someone and then told me let's go get your mail :) So we walked to a lady's house and sure enough 3 packages and 2 more letters were inside next to her door! Whoo hoo :) ...Did a little paper work and were happily on our way!

I must say it didn't feel how I expected it to feel, eating peanut butter in Kazakhstan. I'm not sure I like it lol... I mean I definitely liked it, it's just surreal feeling. Like it shouldn't go together. I eat peanut butter in America, and fried bread in Kazakhstan... But I was beyond happy all day today - even just having one letter in the beginning! I felt like I wasn't dead to the world - in no man's land. What a good feeling. I spent the rest of the night re-reading previous letters (Jane, you're on #9 now!), writing letters, and looking at my new supplies. The only thing is, I did not spend the evening preparing for lessons tomorrow... I figure I can plan something in the morning tomorrow... I don't teach until 10:35. O geez, now I feel like I'm in college again ha.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!! 2011 is right around the corner...



Parties, parties, parties :) and it's not even the New Year yet... I haven't written in so long due to late nights, busy days, and early mornings. I remember before Christmas looking at my planner and thinking, "How am I going to fit everything in?!"; but, I did it! Today was our last day of classes, so now I'm on break until the 11th of January :) Even without teaching, there is still quite a lot that I would like to do in the next week or so.

Even though Christmas is over, my itunes is still playing my Christmas playlist. It still feels as Christmas-y as it felt during the actual Christmas time here because of the interesting way New Years is celebrated. It's sort of as if they mix a bunch of holidays into one. They have a Yulka, or Christmas tree, decorated and lit up, with gift giving and the Santa concept, but they dress up in costumes, and also have fireworks and sparklers. Strange. To me that's just no fun to do all of that for only one holiday, anyway - why not spread those out over the whole year...?

I've had two New Years parties so far, one with the teachers last night and one tonight with the students. The teachers' party was nice. We rented out a hall and ate and danced, played silly games, and probably more that I didn't understand lol. I like that people have no hesitation to dance here, no matter the age, or anything. I had fun for the most part, (however, it goes back to the whole sitting for long periods of time in a huge room full of people speaking Kazakh way too fast for my level - and psyching myself out.) Also, we didn't come home until after midnight. I had two classes this morning, the first was at 8:50, and they weren't entirely planned to my satisfaction. A PC higher up had planned to come visit our sites and sit in on our classes at sometime today, so I wanted to make the lessons extra good. :) I spent so much time making this great board game to use for both lessons, both last night and this morning - and guess what... lol, we played it in my first class (without observers) and my second class (and observers) didn't show up. Oh, story of my life... :) The PC did show up in the afternoon, which was what I was expecting - but you never know! In the evening today was what I thought was a Teachers' Ball Masquerade... wrong again. I was excited to wear my cat mask that I didn't have the chance to wear for halloween. (Thanks Jane and Dave!) I went at 5, like I was told, with my mask to wear, which I was pretty pumped about lol. The event turned out to be a prom-ish dance, with no costumes. I felt a little silly. I even didn't leave until 20 after 5, and I was still awkwardly early. Oh, America and our punctuality - I was even punctual about being unpunctual lol. I'm so cool.

Christmas turned out really well! Johnny and Saltanat came over, and we had turkey and danced. I played Santa the night before, which was so cute. My gifts were by no means extravagant, but everyone liked theirs. I sort of kicked myself for the gifts I gave Zharas and Zhere - an abnormally ripped Spiderman doll and a mini kitchen set... encouraging two things I didn't mean to support (especially in this country): machoism and domestication. Oh well. I remember liking my kitchen set when I was little and sometimes I wish I were more domesticated than I am lol. The dinner was nice, although, after the turkey, my host mom brought out a big dish of bishbarmak. Apparently, turkey isn't meat in this country. Out loud, I politely declined. In silence, I absolutely refused. After dinner, we danced, of course.

In between then and today, I had spent most of my time with other volunteers. Sam, a friend from Panfilova, came from Balhesh and so on the 26th, we met up with her in Taldy and did a White Elephant exchange and then karaoke! It really was a lot of fun. Karaoke is different here. You pay for a room for a certain amount of time and just sing amongst each other. I'm not sure which I like better, but this was nice. It felt like you were in you're own basement or something. The next day I had dinner at a place called Hessens in Taldy with some other volunteers and our PC visitor. It was delicious! And he gave Johnny and I a ride back to our site. That was extremely helpful, considering I was planning on catching a marshutka at 7 to make it back in time for my first class of the day - oojus, lol.

I have a couple of ideas formulating about the break. I've heard talk about sledding, skiing, road trips (to some kind of outdoor Russian baptisms, or back to Panfilova, maybe visit my first host family - PC headquarters, in Almaty, has wi-fi now!) I'm sure I'll easily fill the time. First up is New Years!

HO! HO! Santa's here, go to bed children!



Christmas eve! What a busy day I've had. Running all over Kazakhstan... that's an exaggeration, but it's what it feels like! I had class this morning, then ran all over the school trying to print off next semester's worth of English Clubs - after planning a semester's worth of clubs on the spot. So much for trying to turn something professional in, from now on it's hand written! I'm sick of people just copping out on their jobs... "it's broken.", "it's closed." Fix it. Tell me a real time when I can use something... blows my mind. So I had a late start to the Teacher's English Club, which meant a late start to Christmas shopping, and a late start to Student English Club - and a late end to the day!

Speaking of late... Christmas shopping on Christmas eve! Ha ha. I've never done that before... It doesn't really feel much like Christmas anyway... The Teacher English Club made a nice meal for Johnny and I, but the most Christmas-y thing about the event was the music and the Santa bag they used for our felt yurt gifts. Other than that, we ate horse tubes, fried bread and dried salty milk chunks haha. (There was tasty fruit and cookies there too, I just like to be dramatic). It was really nice of them - I didn't expect so much food! Saltanat and I left a little early, to so a little Christmas shopping, like I've said. She's so helpful and sweet. We were late for Student English Club - but the kids still came. They made snowflakes, candy canes and little ornaments for their Christmas trees. They really liked it! (So did I) Now there are 20 beautiful Christmas trees the kids made themselves in Mambet :) Even a group of 5 or 6 boys came in a little bit later and had fun making crafts with us. By the time Saltanat and I had the mess cleaned up... I was a little over an hour behind schedule. I ran out to the "taxi stop" to try and catch a "taxi" to Balpuk Bi for Aliya (Johnny's counterpart)'s konaka. I waited there for about 45 minutes, and decided it wasn't worth it...

I wanted to go visit with them, but taxi's are hard to catch in the evening, they just don't run... And I really wanted to make it home tonight to wrap my gifts, play Santa, and be able to have a nice, uninterrupted conversation with the Zalar fam in the morning, and I just wanted to rest... I'm a little concerned with all of the crazy disorganization of events this week... I think I have one or two parties every day until Tuesday! No joke. I'm trusting God will put me where He wants me throughout all of the madness... people coming and going, planning and changing plans, ooojus (as they say in Kazakh haha)

Now I'm just waiting for everyone to fall asleep to put the presents under the tree... It's after midnight and even Zhere and Zharas are still wide awake! I'm tired lol. Overall it was definitely a good day. Although I did loose an earring... a good one! Today was the first day that I've ever worn my dangly red rose earrings - I halfway made them myself... I had been waiting since summer for Christmas to wear them, just because they are quite wintery and a little much for everyday. At least I got one compliment on them - and took plenty of pictures with them on haha... It must have happened as Saltanat and I were rushing around shopping. O well... gives me another goal for the winter :)

Mr. Turkey Bolda.... "turkey's done!"



Tomorrow is the big English Club Christmas party! More kids wanted to sign up than I had planned for, so I bought some extra stuff today on a an errand run with Saltanat in Balpuk Bi. She is so funny - I haven't shopped like that in a long time. Usually shopping is more of a chore... I have think about what I want to say, analyze whether I'm getting ripped off, debate on whether I should hackle with people about prices... if you even look around at things, the seller puts so much pressure on you to buy whatever it is - normally I let that pressure get to me, feel bad, and buy things I don't want to buy lol. With Saltanat, though, we bought things we didn't mean to buy, not out of our own will lol, but just one of those things where you want to buy everything. It was hilarious, she bought a poster of Santa Claus for the English teachers haha. She's cute.

The new tech guy, who just returned from the military may turn around the tech situation at that school! That would be lovely. Today was our first day back "in classes" since the break last week. All of my classes were taking tests today - so my teachers told me there was no reason for me to just sit pretty in the classes... I went to the computer room! It took maybe 2 class periods, but he had the internet up and running. It's still only one computer, but there is hope... I think I offended him by asking why they don't put the Internet on all of the computers - he said, "The students know everything about technology, and he doesn't want them to break the computers." Yes, I said that right, and no it makes no sense. He got all huffy and left. I didn't mean to upset him, I was just asking. I want to help!

Yesterday as I was eating lunch with Saule, she told me there was a turkey in the banya. Haha. They had been making jokes about killing a turkey for Christmas, but even after the horse day - it still didn't cross my mind that we may actually kill the turkey ourselves. Silly me. So we went out to the banya to look at it. The big thing was just sitting there, with it's legs tied. It was a warm day, but it was shivering :( Later in the evening yesterday, my h-mom set up a nice little outdoor photo setting haha - stuck a scrawny fake Christmas tree in the snow outside, and we gave Mr. Turkey his 15 min. of fame. By the time I showed Saule the pics, my h mom came in and said, "Mr. Turkey bolda." (Mr. Turkey's done.) That was quick. I actually helped this time... I plucked a turkey! I've eaten turkey how many times and never plucked a feather. It was so weird - then it started getting cool. It's pretty amazing - living things, bodies, life, death, creation. We cut him open, and took out all of his parts. I used to think that Jess was crazy for being able to look at/work with corpses and dead things - but it was really cool. (And there is not even that much to a turkey.)

Mr. Turkey cost 5000 tg! That's like 30$! They don't normally eat turkey here... Saule said she wasn't going to eat any. (They eat mutton, goat heads and horse intestines, but not turkey or chicken...?) So it was a financial sacrifice as well as a personal preference sacrifice! How sweet of them. I need to think of a nice Christmas gift to thank them with. It's almost 2010.... which makes 2011 seem soo much more reachable!

This Does Not Compute...



Yesterday was Kazakhstan's Independence Day, so we didn't have school then or today. Twiddling your thumbs in Kazakhstan isn't an exciting thing to do - but I guess it's not exciting no matter where you are. I actually did a good job of keeping busy. I'm not sure how I always create something to do, but it usually happens - and I don't even mean for it to, or think about it. The day before the mini break started was a volleyball tournament. We only had a half day of school, then I had some lunch and met Saltanat at the Sport Complex to warm up for our big competition. I don't mean to over exaggerate, it was just class versus class... but people are serious about it :). That was a long day. Too long - too many people (whose names I still can't remember), too much of the same conversation topics repeated (which I still can't elaborate on)... also, when I sit for long periods of time... and start day dreaming, I can really spook myself into an emotional mess lol. It ended well, though. The technical coordinator at our school just came home from the army, and we had a mini welcome back celebration after all of the students left.

On the day off yesterday, I went to another concert/meeting/ceremony, this one for the holiday. Then went and hung out with Johnny for a while - watched the Grinch :). I also picked up some supplies for my Christmas Craft - English Club! We are making sparkly decorated Christmas trees... well if tomorrow nobody objects to the idea... (poster cones wrapped in shiny green garland with paper snowflakes and candy canes as ornaments) I spent most of my day testing and practicing the best and most economical way to lead the craft. I've made the perfect size tree, with tiny snowflake and candy cane paper ornaments - clipped paper clips in half for the ornament hangers, and have a nice big golden star topping the tree. :) I love it! I'm excited for the kids to make theirs... I think they'll have fun with it, and be able to use it as a legitimate decoration.

I went to a Konaka last night too. The first house I walked through when choosing my host family... Their son just got married recently so he and his new wife and her sisters were there... we watched the entire, entire wedding on video. I mean the wedding showers, preparations, wedding, reception, and everything in between. Kazakhstan is a funny place in that it's hard for me to take official things seriously due to the chinsy-ness of the execution. Yesterday especially made me see this - with the Independence Day ceremony and the wedding celebration. At the Independence Day thing, people would speak very seriously and passionately about the history of the country, which is seriously a tragic history - then when speakers would change, they play this techno-club music? Does not compute. Does not compute. haha. Then the wedding... pictures in her wedding album have people's heads cut off, half bodies, people aren't looking you name it... there is a clipart cupid on the cover. Does not compute lol.

Tonight I was invited to go ice skating! I really like ice skating... and this time it was night ice skating, so it was like a discotec on ice - techno music, laser lights and all! It was fun, but this group wasn't very adventurous, it was Saule, Aika, Baiyon, and Maurxan (distant host cousins)... What a great idea though, to have a little roller rink/teen club on ice haha. Now Johnny and I have something to practice for - to show off to the pre teens at the ice rink haha.

It's a Horse of Course...



What a weekend! I must say I'm not sure where to start... so I'll just go from the beginning. Yesterday I lesson planned with Saltanat and did some Kazakh tutoring with Dinara. Neither which happened as I had planned. My host mom left at 5 till 10 to "run to school real quick... back in 10" and I was ok with staying home to watch the munchkins for a quick 10, even though I had planned to meet with Saltanat at the school at 10... 30 minutes later, I started getting anxious. Then an hour later, after I had been standing at the door for 30 minutes all suited up and ready to sprint to the school as soon as my host mom walked in the door... Saltanat shows up. I felt terrible but she said that my host mom explained. Why didn't I think of that? To have my host mom tell her to come here instead... but apparently she eventually did. So we planned the lessons here. Then I went to tutoring... also not so great. Dinara had me wait for her for half an hour into our planned time. Then she ended it 10 minutes early too. It was pretty scary, she was yelling and speaking fast. I don't know if I'll keep her as my tutor...

I headed to Taldy with Johnny as soon as tutoring ended. This is when the fun began... We met up with Justin, Kyle, Athena and a volunteer from a Korean Organization at a burger place! Hooray burgers :) That was fun, then, we went ice skating. It was hilarious - we laughed so hard. Johnny fell three times, twice with me. We were doing all kinds of "tricks" haha. I had to work to get him to cooperate with me in the beginning... but I was glad he was up for it. The ice rink was outside, and is a tennis court in the summers... In the end he wanted to do one more spin move with me - I couldn't remember how I did it earlier and so we tried - this was our... or, my worst fall haha. I went one way and he went the other... I got some air to say the least and landed flat on my back!!! haha. We limped away together cracking up and promised each other that this will be our outlet for the winter - it can get us out of the house.... although it was definitely cold!

Today was quite a trip too! (no pun intended). My host mom mentioned the night before that we were going to kill a horse for the winter today...! I woke up and my host mom was frying baursek (triangular bread dough)... which means a celebration/company. After breakfast, they said the horse was here. Saule and I went outside and looked at the poor thing all dirty and tied up with a rope by the outhouse. There were a lot of people over at our house, my host parents' friends and their kids. Before I knew it, I looked out my window and my host dad and his friends had killed the horse and it was on it's back with numbs for legs. It's been such a long day, I can't tell you if I felt sick or not - probably. I didn't go outside... Saule and I just kept filling up buckets of hot water... I thought we were pretty much done after a while. Not true. They just butchered the thing right there on the ground. Rinsing off the meat with water and separating it all out. It was a whole team effort and everybody just knew what to do. The ladies brought in a bucket of meat.. and pulled out the intestines maybe? Then, I thought I was going to be sick, they put another piece of meat through the tubes and pushed some bad stuff out... THEN! They tied off one end of the intestines and blew them up like balloons! I'm not kidding, with their mouthes - they blew air into them like those balloons you make animals out of (ironic). After a while, your numb to all the blood... and the fact that nobody around you is making a big deal out of any of this definitely dulls the shock. I even taped some of the butchering. They stuffed the blown up tubes with some other kind of meat... We stewed, and fried horse and ate it. It was actually really tasty. Talk about fresh! It can't get any fresher! Wow. They kept reminding me how natural they do things here... I get the point - we don't kill our food ourselves in America. I'm impressed. A horse is so much meat! And this horse wasn't huge to begin with. They used basically all o f the meat too. I guess they do this every winter... if people can afford it. I think it's a more luxurious thing to do - like not everyone can do it, but would if they could.

In short, I'm going to be eating horse for the next four months... And I don't ever want to hear anyone say they can eat a whole horse until they come to Kazakhstan and actually do eat a whole horse... hahaha - I'll be able to truthfully say that by spring! Weird.