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 :)