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 :)