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.