Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Night Before (a Kazakhstan) Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the land
Not a creature was stirring
Not even in Kazakhstan

The volunteers were nestled
In their long underwear
In hopes that the summer
Soon would be there

We sit at the table
Drinking more tea
While visions of Turkey Sandwiches
Dance in my head

Outside the wind blows
With never a lull
But we keep warm inside
Another bucket of coal

As I lay down in my bed,
I wonder with fear
If my family is Muslim
Will Santa visit here?

I wake up the next morning
And head off to school
Cuz us teachers still have work
How can life be so cruel?

But I get the good news
From a man I pass by
There is a package for me
To the post office I fly

Running from dogs
And slipping on ice
I can’t help but smile
That the day is so nice

No brightly lit tree
Or cookies in cans
But Christmas is still awesome
Here in Kazakhstan

Far from our families
And our mothers all fret
But Peace Corps was the best way
To put off my debt

Times like this can be sad
Far away and alone
But our families are near
Just over the phone

Though we miss our families
We love to be here
We will be home in no time
No worse for the wear

So don’t worry too much, mom
Everything’s alright.
Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Don't Antagonize the Geese Jeff

I hate the geese. They honk and honk like mad any time I go to the bathroom. Some of them hissed at me when I walked between a group of them. I want to kick them or something. I'm actually almost to the point where I'd be comfortable slaughtering one and eating it. In another animal anecdote, the dogs in town are really quite pathetic. They will bark like mad at you as you go by, and maybe take some steps toward you. I've dealt with it by walking towards them or stomping my foot at them. It usually gets them to back off a bit, but I'm afraid someday that will come back to bite me in the ass (!).

I was walking around town this evening, enjoying the clearish sky and warmish weather. It was about 3:30 or so and the sun was starting to get low in the sky. It was very calm and peaceful and I was feeling very content. I like it here, I’m very glad I’m not in a city (though that would probably mean a flush toilet). I walked toward the river, since I hadn’t seen it since it had frozen over. I saw some kids who said “good morning” to me (at 4 pm). They were sledding down a hill and out onto the river. It looked like fun and I wish I had joined them, because once they hit the river they would slide for a long time across the ice. Anyway, it was a really quaint site that I really enjoyed.
I also walked through the park some and took pictures of my favorite building in town, the Orthodox Church. It has two cool domed tops on the buildings that end in a point. They are checkered green and a dark red and it’s really a beautiful building. I hope some day when my Russian is better to venture inside and take a look around. It may not be as exciting inside as I hope, but I’d like to find out for myself. Walking through the park also revealed to me how much snow we really have. It’s over three inches deep now, the only difference is that in most places people walked it stays stamped down pretty thin. I’m still very much enjoying the snow, and I hope that lasts throughout the next few months.
In those same lines, Nora and I have started a contest to see who falls down the least this winter. I’m at 3 falls now and she’s only had 1. I’m going to have to be extra careful if I want a chance to stay in this. She’s already got experience on me, but I’m hoping my large feet will give me the edge in stability. I’ll keep you all updated.
English clubs are still a lot of fun, they have gotten bigger every time. The kids really enjoy the games we play, and so do I. They are active and eager, though usually pretty talkative. It’s not as frustrating as talking in the classroom though, because often they have an activity or I’m working with somebody and not trying to talk to everybody. Also, I’m teaching exactly what I want to teach, how I want to teach it, which is really satisfying. I was rewarded with some “good afternoons” by my students, which was so great to hear in the midst of the dozens of “good mornings” I get all throughout the day. My next English club I plan to teach about articles. Since the Russian language doesn’t use articles, students often forget about them in English. If I can get them using them, even if it’s the wrong one, that’ll make their English much better.
I had the chance to go to a student patriotism conference at First School the other day. I sat in a room with students from around the area and two of our teachers. Artur, the history teacher, and Tanya, the school psychologist. Artur was leading the discussion and he seemed to be doing a really good job, because the kids were active and had a lot to say. I had a lot of trouble following most of it, but I was filled in later. There were talks about citizenship and how a student body can improve the school.
They kids had a chance to ask me questions too, about American citizenship. I gave them the rundown about the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem at sports events, merit badges in scouts and all that. They asked about Student ASB in schools and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it’s really a popularity contest and the ASB has little to no influence on a school. I told them they have different positions and they work with the school staff to improve them.
Frankly, I feel I left the kids unsatisfied. I went there under th impression it was a roundtable discussion about patriotism in the socialist state (that’s what I interpreted from Artur when he first told me about it, in Russian) and I was going to give a couple minute speech about American patriotism. I had prepared about a page of material on Patriotism in the midst of the Iraq War and criticism of the government etc., which is now sitting in our coal oven waiting to be burnt. I did enjoy myself though, and am interested in what, if any, changes come about from this.
Speaking of coal, I tripped over a mountain of coal on my way to the bathroom last night. It was pretty dark out and we had just had the coal delivered that day. It was in a line about 2 feet high right infront of the gate in the fence. I didn’t see it, tripped, rolled and cursed my way to the ground. I was wearing my last clean t-shirt and my only pair of jeans. The jeans made it out alright, they only have a couple dark spots, but my t-shirt took the brunt of the abuse and now one shoulder is colored almost entirely black. I wasn’t too happy about this.

I ran into some students outside of school the other day who were laughing and having a good time (possibly booze was involved). It was the evening and I was on my way to the store to buy a pepsi and snickers bar that I could eat alone in my room. It made me think about how much we rely on relationships to get us through, and how absolutely necessary they are to survival for most people. I love my family, but it's our friendships and daily contacts with people that really make a huge difference in our lives. Being able to joke casually with people around you, remember past events and just relax is really important. Right now, I feel pretty isolated from all of that. I don't have the ability to do that with any of the people I know right now. Nora is in town, and really helps when I need to talk or vent or whatever about something, but it's relationships that grow over a few months or years with people you see every day that are the real life savers. So all you guys back home reading this, just know that I miss you a lot and appreciate how cool you all are. Even Ian.

Now I want you all to go back and make sure you noticed my awesome use of a pun. That's dedicated to three people who I'm pretty sure dont' actually read this, but somebody should let Tyler, Alli Sr. and Alli Jr. know to check it out.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

They like me, they really do!

I planned to start this blog with a big announcement: I fell for the first time on the ice today. It was pretty awkward, and I spilled my skittles all over, which was the biggest tragedy. Anyway, this isn’t such a big announcement since, five minutes later, I fell again. The second time was in front of people, though I didn’t hear any loud guffaws (which I probably would have done) so maybe they didn’t notice. In short: it’s slippery around here.
Volleyball has been getting better and better (except for last Friday). My spikes are looking more like spikes, and I’ve blocked a couple of the other teams spikes. At the same time, I’m still making some stupid mistakes and trying to figure out where I need to be all the time. The problem is my team is always winning, so I don’t ever get to sit out and watch other people and how they play.
I did both my English clubs, and by the time this is actually posted, I’ll probably have done another two. They’re good, the adult one is fun because I start at the very beginning and the people are pretty interested in the material. The students English Club is great too, though I only had six kids there. I think there will be more in the future. I’m working on correcting what I see as the biggest problem with English in this country: saying Good Morning in the afternoon. It’s a VERY common mistake, and even the teachers say it at times. Even I say it, if a student catches me by surprise with a good morning and I’m just not sure what time it is, I reply reflexively with a good morning. I’m working on it, and I think my six English Club kids have it figured out, I hope. We also talked about different ways people say hello in English speaking countries. Just so everybody knows, in Washington we all say Hey, California says Yo and New York says “Hey, how ya doin’.” It’s important to know, in case my kids ever run into you on the streets.
I just came from dinner with my family and they have learned that I have lost 30 pounds (look how I just drop that fact in there), so now my mom thinks it’s her job to make me gain at least 10 kilos (which is about what I’ve lost). She doesn’t seem to think that thin is good, though I assure her it’s exactly what I want to be. I’ll have to put up quite a fight I think to prevent her from force feeding me.
I’m going into Pavlodar on Thursday to buy my train ticket back to Almaty for New Years. I’m pretty excited to see my old family again, and Drew and Matthew are coming down as well so we’re gonna have a pretty good time I think. I need to work out when I can leave, because with the length of the train ride I would have to leave on the evening of the 29th to get there, and the 29th is my last day of work. I think I can work something out though, because I really don’t want to miss New Years, or spend it on a train. I also haven’t told people here in Zhelezinka, which I should probably do, since they seem pretty excited that I’ll be here for all the traditions. I didn’t want to say until I knew for sure, but as long as I can get a ticket, I’m going.
I think I’m settling into town pretty well though. My students are all saying hello to me in the halls, I’ve connected with my family for the most part and I’ve actually got night time activities. I need to know the language better (if I had a nickel…) if I’m going to make some real friends here I think, but there’s at least a crew of guys, some of which would be the ones that scared me if I saw them on the streets, that seem to like me and I enjoy them, even if I don’t understand them. I’ve gotta say thanks to Nora for this though, because without her I would probably spend all my free time here at my computer. It’s incredibly helpful having somebody who is knows the town (and English) and is willing to spend the time to help you get settled in and meet some people.
So how about the weather! It’s snows, then over the course of a week or so the snow sort of recedes or gets packed down really tight, then it snow again. It’s only been about an inch or two each time, and it’s not really getting much deeper, but it’s there. It’ll be quite an adventure when there’s waist and chest high snow on the ground, and it’s actually cold. The weather hasn’t been too bad, and I’m enjoying a weekend walk.
Other news, the playdoh I brought with me was a huge hit with my 7 year old cousin, Karina, and the rest of the family as well. We’ve spent a couple hours making all sorts of things, so I’m glad I brought that. I have yet to break out the checkers or the jacks, but they’ll come with time. Maybe when people have finally grown bored with me.
Also, I had an article in the local paper printed about me. I gave an interview and had my picture taken fake teaching. There were some strange questions in the interview, about when my brothers were born, are they married and do they live with my parents still. Aaron, were you born in ’78 or ’79. I said ’78 but later though maybe it was ’79. Anyway, you’re basically an old man. The article was half a page, so I’ll try to scan it or take a picture and send it to you guys to admire and attempt to understand.
I taught two classes all on my own today. The teacher had to go into Pavlodar for some reason, so I was left to fend for myself. I was excited about it, only a little worried. The first class was 7th graders. They were great, though slightly talkative. We did reflexive pronouns and it helped that I knew the Russian for them and could use that to help explain. We did some work, got it figured out then played a game with it that they enjoyed. They didn’t perfect it, but they understand how it works and which pronoun goes with which, so it wasn’t a total failure. Later their homeroom teacher found me and she told me that they loved my lesson and were really excited about it, which is exactly what I want from English lessons. If the kids are excited they will hopefully learn better.
The next class wasn’t quite such a success. Three of the kids were not paying much attention and didn’t seem to care about the lesson. They thought that since there was no “teacher” they could do what they want. I did my best to keep them in line, and it helps when they have nametags and I can call them out. Overall, I’m not entirely sure the grammar (passive voice) got through to them. It’s hard when you can’t explain something as complicated as grammar in Russian. They would translate it and I couldn’t tell them if they were right or not. I think they were. Anyway, at the end of class when I was giving marks, the three noisy kids got 3’s (grades are from 2-5, you never actually give a 1 and rarely a 2, so this was pretty bad) but two of them left the class before I could mark their scores in their books. I know their names though, so they aren’t getting off the hook.
On the connecting with family front, I’m doing pretty well. Tonight (the 4th) I did some actual chatting, managed to crack a joke or two (pretty basic slapstick stuff, but better than nothing). The more language I gain the more personality I’m allowed to have. Before, I was just the guy that nodded, smiled dumbly and spoke like a 2 year old. Now I’m the guy who speaks like a 3 year old, smiles dumbly a little less and genuinely laughs and throws in his ¼ cent to the conversation (I’m hoping to be up to 2 cents by the end of March). I still feel proud of myself when I feel like I managed something extraordinary in the Russian language, like explain that I always have marker on my hands because I make lots of posters for English class. Whoooo!
I was walking back from my counterparts house tonight (now it’s Thursday, the 6th) and it struck me how beautiful it was. It was lightly snowing and there was no starlight or moonlight, but it was still somewhat light out. The snow was covering everything and reflecting the meager lights coming from windows and an occasional streetlamp. It almost glowed with this light. The snow was frozen to tree branches and the shrubs lining the streets, making them look like ice crystals growing out of the ground. It silent except for my footsteps in the snow, and I was loving it.
I got all my affairs sorted out for my money and bank card since I lost my wallet a month ago. Thankfully that’s all done now and I can stop worrying about it and having to run into Pavlodar every other weekend to get something done. I have money, I have a train ticket, I shouldn’t need anything else from the city for three months.
I’ve been getting told a bit more by the guys around town that I need to get a girlfriend over here. It seems important to them, and they assure me I can have pretty much any woman just by telling them I’m a rich American with a car and tons of money. It’s an interesting thought, but I’m not really in any rush, and so far the only women I’ve really met are old enough to be my mother or kids in my class. Not too many options there. I’ve been told though that I’m just not looking in the right places. I’ll work on that.
That's about it for now. Everybody continue taking care and let me know what's happenign with your lives, as boring as it may be for you, I may find it interesting.

Quick Addendum answering Alex's questions: during the day it's been around -10 C here, at night it gets down to -20. It's really not all that bad, I've got warm clothes and since the heating died in our school they have been making it extra hot lately. My house is pretty warm too. The other day I learned how to scoop up coal and add it to the fire to keep the house warm. There are pipes that run heat throughout the house, all coming from this one wood/coal stove. Also, I learned where water comes from. What I thought were dog houses turned out to be wells, covered so they don't freeze. I got to lower a bucket on a long chain 22 meters to the water and haul it back up and fill our milk can with water. Pretty cool stuff. Alright, that's really all.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Things that Haven't Been In my Nose

It would seem important to talk about the new family I have moved in with, but in my excitement to talk about frozen boogers, I forgot to mention it, and a few other things that have happened since I’ve gotten here. Now that I’ve gotten boogers off the brain, I’m free to talk.
I am living with a Tatar family. A mother, daughter and son. The mother, Galiya, is divorced and stays at home most of the day, cooking etc. The daughter, Ramzea, is a young teacher at my school. She teaches chemistry, and this is apparently her second year. She is four days older than me (Sept. 12th). The brother, whose name I have yet to learn, is studying at the Pedigogical College in Pavlodar, to be a geography teacher. He is home rarely I understand, but we just celebrated his birthday, so he has been home all weekend.
The birthday celebration was the typical Kazakhstani event. There was plenty of food, family and vodka. I ate my share of food and drank my toasts of vodka, which is getting easier every time (maybe that’s not a good thing). Anyway, my host moms brother and sister were there with their families, three young daughters. They were entertaining, saying they would take charge of teaching me Kazakh, which they study in school, and their parents speak some too. They are around the ages of 8-10, and a 13 year old daughter who is in one of my 8th grade classes apparently. It turns out that my other option for a family had been my current host-moms brother and sister-in-law, along with the two of the girls. I guess I’ll still be seeing plenty of them.
I always enjoy when families get together because the conversation is usually interesting, even when I don’t understand much. I try to absorb. The women are all very talkative while the men are quiet, especially my host brother. After all the toasts went around he stood to say his thanks, which amounted to a few words of his own, then his aunt feeding him the things he should say. It was pretty entertaining and I think this family will also be a lot of fun.
I also have an “adopted” host sister, Julie, who is Ramzea’s (remember my sister) best friend. She is over fairly often and is a lot of fun. We’ve played cards some and she likes to chat, so she’s been helping me to speak a bit more and practice my Russian. Apparently I don’t speak enough for them, which I think is just how I am usually. They think I should do a lot more speaking in order to practice what I’ve learned (which makes a bit of sense I suppose). I’m working on it, but I need to do some better independent study to expand my vocabulary. I can listen in to conversations, but without any context I have a hard time learning what they are talking about, then using some of it myself later.
My home is pretty small. There is a narrow kitchen, a central hallway/room, my bedroom across from the kitchen, a living room with a couch, two chairs and a massive cabinet, an entryway where the shoes, coats etc go, a heating room where water is heated, the sink (no running water) and the oven used to heat the coal that warms the house is. Finally, there is some sort of long closet which I think is also used for laundry. It’s behind a curtain and I’m not entirely what’s there, I haven’t looked too closely. We have a yard that in the spring and summer looks like it’ll be quite the garden, then behind another fence is the woodpile, the geese and the outhouse. There are some outer buildings, one of which has stacks of firewood, another has a large amount of coal and I’m not sure what’s in the other two. I live a very short walk from the school, which I can see from my front gate. I’m kitty corner across town from Nora (Hi Nora’s parents), and that walk only takes about 15 minutes. Not a big place really.
(Writing this a few days later after the rest of the stuff). I did my walking tour of the town because Peace Corps wants a map of the village in case they have to come find me. I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to get to the main places in town now. It was pretty interesting. I walked around for the better part of two hours. I apparently missed the hospital, but I can get out there again if I need to. I found all three schools, the main shopping stuff, a coal factory thing, etc etc. It’s pretty interesting, the town isn’t all that huge. I live in the corner of it though, so I’m pretty far from everything.
I’ve been pretty busy the last couple days, which has been great. For a few days I was spending a lot of time playing games on my computer and I felt like I was hiding in my room. The last few days though I’ve gone and visited family, played volleyball, taught late classes, and today I had adult English Club and then visited my counterparts family. Slava’s wife, Tanya, is a lot of fun. She’s a mom now and all, but she’s definitely still young at heart, and she loves to play cards. We played for awhile, and I finished 5-7-2. Not too bad, but I was up 4-2 at one point. She wants to make sure I come again for more cards, and I assured her I will.
Adult English Club was fun, there were only three people. Two teachers from my school and a man who Slava was giving private lessons too that I had met earlier. He’s the dentist in town and has a very nice house. If you remember in a past installment I mentioned a two story house in town. It’s his, and the bottom floor is his clinic. Anyway, they all knew a little bit. We went through greetings and introductions, started some alphabet, then asked and answered questions after that. They want to read some comics, since they are pretty simple English. Parents, it’d be cool if you could send one or two of my Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield comics. They’re in a box somewhere. (I’m a fan of Scientific Process Goes Boink! And Two-headed Deranged Mutant Snowman). I’m excited for more adult English clubs, they’re pretty easy to teach and I have more freedom. There’re no tests, so I don’t have to follow a curriculum.
More volleyball, by the way. Last night there was a record turnout I think. Over 20 players, and maybe half as many watchers. When I showed up I was afraid it was a tournament or something. Anyway, I got on a team with only one guy I knew from before. Most were friendly, except for the one intense guy that was freaking out if there were some mistakes late in the game. We won three in a row though, until we finally lost. One of our games was really epic, with a late comeback by my team then a fierce battle, ending something like 28-26 us. (25 to win). I’m enjoying it, and definitely getting better. The guys are friendly and it’s a lot of fun when the games get intense like that.
Other events so far: ice fishing! This guy has gone ice fishing. It’s not the most exciting event. I went with Sasha, the military instructor at my school, and two of his friends, Sergei and other guy. We walked out onto the frozen river (frozen in November mind you) drilled four or five holes, put some sort of fish food in them, plopped down stools and sat there. Sasha showed me how to put the worms on the hook, how to watch for the cork to bob, and how to yank out the line. It’s not too complicated. About 20 seconds into the fishing I saw a bob, yanked the line and had a fish about 6-8 inches long. I thought, “at this rate I will clean out the entire river of fish in no time!”
I apparently didn’t have the process entirely figured out however. With Sasha’s help I had five or six fish pretty quickly. Then it slowed down, since I was putting the worms on wrong, wasn’t setting the hook when I yanked the line up right, and I was getting frustrated. It didn’t help that every time I had to pull the line up to add a worm or grab a fish, my gloves had to come off. It was cold. Soon I was dreading the bobbing of the line when a fish was hooked. My fingers and toes were getting very cold and I bitterly wanted to head back inside.
3 hours went by like this, and though I was enjoying the idea of what I was doing, the reality was cold and I was about ready to be done. Sasha came over, handed me a bag, and I knew it was done. I scooped up the pitiful dozen fish I had caught, looked at Sasha bag that had to have over 30 fish in it, and headed for the car. I did enjoy it though, I just needed an extra pair of socks for my toes, and to be faster at getting the worm on the hook. I told them I would go again. I was also told by Slava, my counterpart, that the reason I was so cold was because they weren’t drinking. An interesting idea, but I wasn’t looking to get buzzed at 9 am in the morning.
I’m getting comfortable in my home now, not sure if I mentioned that already. My room is getting all set up. I have my cup full of pens now, pictures lining my bookcase of all you guys, everything in its place. It’s feeling more homely now, which is something my room in Kaskelen didn’t have. I felt since I was there only temporarily I shouldn’t put up tons of stuff. It’s a helpful thing to feel really comfortable here. I can retreat when I’m getting frustrated or homesick or just plain grumpy, and since this is where I’ll be making lesson material and studying and playing on my computer, I’ll have you guys around me the whole time. There’s some pretty good pictures. Superbowl 40 (it’s not all bad memories from there), camping with the guys, Alex’s birthday, Huckleberry Picking, Safeco, Kayaking and plenty of the Family. I think I’ll start a collection of Addison pictures as she gets older. When I was at my CP (counterparts) house tonight, I kept thinking of what a little terror Addison will probably be in about 6 months when she’s running around tearing up Randy and Ellie’s condo. Good Luck you two, I’m sure you’re going to love it.
Another, shorter, story involving the cold. School has been cancelled two days in a row now, likely it will be a third by the time I post this, because the heating in our school hasn’t been working and it’s too cold to teach lessons. This is still in November!!! It’s going to get colder, much colder. When it was 0 degrees Celsius out, I was told it was a warm day. It’s gonna take some getting used to I think. Anyway, that’s it for this post. Oh, no its not.
Nora tells me that if you want to send me mail and you don’t want to bother writing in Russian or anything like that, it’s possible to just write:

Jeff Whitehill
Zhelezinka Village
Pavlodar Oblast
Kazakhstan, 140400

It got to Nora, so it will probably get to me too. Otherwise, email me and I will give you the full address.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Frozen Boogers

So I thought maybe I should class this up, since I’ve discovered that more than just my family and friends are reading this blog now. People that maybe potentially I will ask for a job later, and they will say “Hey, aren’t you the frozen booger guy?” and I will have to answer that yes, in fact I am. But then I thought, what the hell, that just wouldn’t really be me. Okay, onto the booger story.
Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) said it best. “There’s nothing worse than frozen boogers.” Or something like that. Anyway, I think I will develop a new temperature scale, measured in Calvins. It will be based on the temperature boogers freeze at, which I would guess is around -10 Celsius or so. Anyway, my boogers have been freezing when I go outside, and it’s really not all that pleasant. Something to think about.

Just yesterday I had one of those epiphinous moments. I was walking away from Nora’s (you remember Nora, the Kaz 18 here) English Club which I had attended. I looked to my left at a beautiful sunset (5.30 pm) and thought “Holy cow, I’m in Kazakhstan. I’m teaching English.” As many people have told me, this is an incredibly unique experience. Even when volunteering you don’t often get as integrated or as grassroots as we do here in Peace Corps. So I guess what I’m saying is, Lucky Me! I thought I’d add that for anybody who was thinking I was struggling (I am, but it’s worth it).
On the train from Almaty to Zhelezinka, my village (I’m now an official volunteer by the way, and have moved permanently up into Siberia), we met some young students who attend a quad lingual school (Turkish, English, Russian, Kazakh) who were in Almaty competing in the Academic Olympiads (a big thing over here, I’ll try to learn more real info). They were competing in physics, but at least two of them spoke pretty good English so we (me and the four other volunteers going to my oblast) talked with them for an hour or so. They seemed interested in us and America. We talked music, some history, geography etc. It’s always good when you meet somebody interested in what you are doing and that wants to learn more. They seemed like bright kids and I imagine in a school like theirs they can do quite well.
A sadder story, somewhere between the train and the bus station I lost my wallet. It may have been stolen, but I think it probably fell out of a pocket somewhere. Who knows, anyway, it’s gone.
On the bus to Zhelezinka I also met a few good people. The first was a woman who was an English teacher in Pavlodar. She saw my confused look about what to do with my two giant bags after the man at the back of the bus closed the doors and said something in Russian to me. She got the rest of the people to make way so I could shove my bags up into the bus. They filled up the aisle in the back, but I guess it wasn’t really a problem. I clambered over things to get to the back and squeezed in next to an older man. Sadly, I still can’t get a handle on names, so I can’t tell you what these two people’s names were, but they’re good people.
The older man began making a couple jokes that I didn’t understand but people who heard seemed to like them. Then we started talking in Russian. He told me I was the first American he had ever met. He had met a man from England, but no Americans. He also kept asking if I was married. He seemed to think it was strange. Maybe he thought I was older than 23, I never told him how old I was. He proposed I marry the English teacher sitting next to me but she insisted she was married and seemed quite embarrassed by the questions. Other interesting things he told me was that the only beautiful people in America are in Hollywood, but in Kazakhstan they were everywhere. (Considering I was on a bus whose occupants were mostly middle aged and older women, I couldn’t whole heartedly agree).
At our one stop on the 3 hour trip to Zhelezinka the man led me off the bus, smoked a cigarette, offering me one. Then he asked if I wanted a beer (it was 10.30 in the morning). I said I didn’t have enough money (which was true, but not the actual reason I didn’t want a breakfast beer, don’t worry mom). He took me inside and bought a sprite, offering me a drink. Then we went back outside for a minute, then his nephew and niece took us back inside. They bought me a cup of chai and a samsa (sort of like a triangular hot pocket, no cheese). They were friendly and we talked a little then everybody piled back on the bus.
I got to Zhelezinka a little after noon, where Army man from the school (remember: Hey, Shtata Washington!) met me and gave me a lift to my host family’s house. I greeted my new family, brought in my bags and sat down for a lunch. My host mom is quite the gabber, and I understand about 20% of what she says. That afternoon Ramzea (my host sister) left for a week long seminar somewhere. I didn’t understand and thought she said she’d be gone until 5, but I guess maybe it was five days or something. Who knows? Anyway, now it’s just mom and me. She talked for about an hour after dinner the first night, with me contributing a comment when I understood what she was talking about. She’ll probably realize soon what exactly I don’t understand because I don’t have anything to say about it except “mmmhmmm. Interesna, ahhh, xopowo (read harasho = good). Anyway, it’s fun because there are not a whole lot of awkward silences at this point where we’re still adapting to each other.
My good byes to my first host family were a little rough. Vala (my mom) gave me a quick hug and then turned around, I think she was crying. The guys were guys, handshakes and one armed hugs. Karolina (my sister) held out a hug for about a minute, which made me feel very good and loved. I’m glad I had the same impression on them that they had on me. Karolina has told me a couple times to not forget them, and I have assured her equally that’s not remotely possible. I’ve said it all before, but this family meant so much to me when I came to a strange country, didn’t speak the language and was freaking out on a fairly regular basis. They were a good filler for my American family, and don’t worry guys, I miss you too and love and all of that good stuff. I’d love to have you here with me, but I like to know I can do it without you. So far so good.
School started the day after I got into town. I attended four classes, which were pretty good. There’s trouble kids, like everywhere. For about 10 minutes in the first class I was alone with the kids and two of them decided that meant they could talk all they wanted. I tried to warn them that Slava would hear about it, but either they didn’t understand or didn’t care (I’m guessing it was the understanding) and so at the end of the class they got 3’s (out of 5). And if that doesn’t sound bad, on a scale of 1-5, the lowest students ever get are 2’s. Grading is different here; teachers do not want to fail the students. It looks bad for the teachers if they have failing students. I don’t know if I’ve explained this, but basically there is no such thing as cheating. Tests and any other work are all group projects as answers are passed around the class in not quite suppressed whispers. Anyway, it can make it frustrating for those of us that grew up in strict cheat-and-fail classes.
I played volleyball Wednesday night with Nora and 10 other men from the village. Volleyball here is a national sport, which I didn’t really register on my way to play. I’m used to sand, a bunch of people that include the likes of Julie Bunger, Luigi and other “odd” characters. Now, I’m not so good myself, but I figured I could hold my own and not embarrass myself. Boy, was I wrong. The guys were all friendly, but they’re intense too. It was a friendly game, but watching them warm up (I’ve never warmed up for volleyball), I thought any mistake would put me immediately on the blacklist. So what did I do right off the bat…tripped into the net and got tangled up, completely destroying it as I fell to the floor…
Not really, but wouldn’t that be sad. No, I wasn’t looking when they served the first ball and it landed basically at my feet. In addition, it was served by Nora. It wasn’t a big deal I guess, they didn’t seem to mind to much, but I embarrassed myself. I persevered though and manage to get a point or two for my team out of 5 games. Now, I’m taller than just about everybody in this country, but my spikes were next to nothing. I don’t know how these guys do it, but they can slam the ball over the net with more force than a cannon. I would “try” to hit the spike when it came at me, but not really. I was more thankful that it hadn’t knocked my head off. Anyway, my team won 3-2, so I guess it was a success, and I was invited to come back on Friday, which I am doing. Go me.
That night…wait back up. My host sister left for a seminar in the city the day I showed up, so it’s just been me and my mom. Anyway, last night her best friend came over, another girl that works at the school. My mom and I hung out with her. I showed pictures again, everybody agrees that Addi is super cute, my parents are beautiful, and Randy and I could be twins (much to my dismay). Oh, and they think Lea is our sister, and me and my friends are crazy when they see the picture in the Superbowl regalia, complete with facepaint. Anyway, apparently I’m the youngest brother, since Julie (Yulie) has adopted me as well. Ramzea, my sister is four days older than me and Julie is about six months. After pictures we played some cards and drank some chai until they could tell I was falling asleep at the table (11.30 at night, class at 9 the next morning). It’s a fun family, especially when you include the extended and adopted family members.
This is getting written up on my laptop so it will be a few days installment before I get it online, but I will have pretty consistent internet access. Basically anytime I’m at school and want to make the effort to get online. Send those emails, letters are going to be much appreciated too, there’s something very heart warming about having a physical letter in my hands, and in Siberia, anything that warms me is good. Include pictures if you want, because those are maybe even more awesome. You can send letters to the Almaty address and they will be forwarded here to Zhelezinka. Then when I write back, I will include my new address. This is the address the PC really doesn’t want the terrorists to know, so I can’t put it online. You can also email me for it I suppose. Anyway, write to me because I like to know what people are up to.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Homesickness and other News

I miss all of you guys, quite a bit recently. I have been done teaching for over a week now, and I took my Russian test last weekend, so I have had a lot of free time to just hang around. So I have had lots of time to think, and look at all my old pictures. I've come to the conclusion that I miss everybody at home quite a bit, and it's no good when you have time to just dwell on these thoughts. I've been feeling pretty homesick as of late, but I think part of the problem is also that I'm leaving all my friends here in Kaskelen, and also my host-family who I've become incredibly attached too. It's amplifying the problem, and the thought of going off to my far away village without the vast support group I've developed here is pretty terrifying. They may only be a phone call or email away, but it's obviously not the same. Hopefully I can make some local friends quickly, and Nora will be able to put up with me while I'm there. I'm excited to get going on actual teaching in my school, but I've already said goodbye to a few friends and my teacher, which has not been easy. I made a couple toasts when we wer sitting around some meals last night, and I surprised myself by getting a tiny bit choked up. No tears, but that's how much these people have meant to me in my almost three months here already. So to any of them that may read this, or their parents, Jackie, Drew, Matthew, Kim, I couldn't have survived here without you. My host family was also a big part of my survival, I had doubts about Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, but they were a great influence and showed me how great the people are here. Indira, my teacher, had incredible patience in dealing with my early frustrations (and they were huge) and her perseverence has made me into a semi descent Russian speaker. The rest of the volunteers, including Daniel, Chelsea, Chrisconsin, Darkside Chris, Casey and Jessica more than otehhers, you were always great for a laugh and I enjoyed the bus rides to Hub Days and all the rest of the time we spent together, and look forward to seeing you all again in a few months.

My Russian test: Peace Corps has some sort of scale, I think it's an official sort of thing used by governments and whatnot. It is from 1-10, rating Novice, Intermediate, Advanced and Superior, and then low medium and high in each of those categories. Peace Corps wanted us to get Novice high (OCAP was supposed to get Intermediate Low - they are the business developers). Well Matthew, Drew and I all got Intermediate Low, which we are very proud of. That basically means I am able to carry on a basic conversation in limited, slow and erroneous Russian with somebody patient enough to listen to me. This is pretty good. I can survive. At this point as well, our Russian I think will improve faster, and in the next few months I hope to be able to do a lot more. Anyway, kudos to me.

What else...oh yeah, I am now an official volunteer. I have been only a trainee, but on Friday we had the official swearing in ceremony where I had to promise to uphold the constitution and defend America from enemies etc etc. I hadn't realized we were going to have to say all that stuff, it was interesting, but now I guess I have some big responsibilites. The ambassador to Kazakhstan swore us in, which was cool, but my camera died so I couldn't get my picture with him, or with anybody else, or of anything there. So just imagine a small auditorium, kinda nice, filled with our families and people we have worked with. Rows of chairs with the volunteers up on stage, speeches by people in Russian and English, songs and slideshows (ours was the best song, Kazakhstan Living, if you remember) and then a big Repeat After Me. Afterwords was food and hugs and everything, most volunteers said goodbye to each other there. It was interesting, but nobody thought it was any sort of big change. Anyway, I can probably get pictures from other people, it'll just take some time.

That's about it, I'm going to get on a train in about 7 hours and head up to the frozen North. It's been really cold in Kazakhstan so I'm expecting lots of snow in my village. Ihad a dream that I couldn't get a bus or taxi to take me out there because the roads were all closed, but hopefully that doesn't happen. Anyway, take care all, I miss you and am thinking about you a lot. Take care and write often.


My Russian test

Friday, November 2, 2007

The need for more language

Alright, so I've got some free time, I'm hitting up the internet. Somet deep thoughts for y'all.

I haven't been able to choose my friends. Us five volunteers got thrown together in this village, learning Russian, trying to survive the various ins and outs of Peace Corps life, and we are forced to be friends. Thankfully, this has turned out very well. I've become great friends with the two guys, and though I hang out with the girls a little less, they're always fun in class and I enjoy our friendship. I don't know if its the fact that we're going through this all together, but we have all become very good friends. I bring this up because we came to the realization that in aobut a week, we will only see each other a few more times over the course of two years. None of us are "near" each other in this country. I think the closest person is Jackie, who is probably a 20 hour train ride away. Not exactly a day trip. It's not going to be so easy when I vanish up to the cold north and my only companty for a few months, until I've made some good local friends, will be snowmen and small children. Granted Nora is up there, but I've spent these last two months creating some great inside jokes with my training group, and I'm going to have to start that all over again. I think I'm lucky though, because Nora seems like she'll be fun, and not some weirdo I'll have to avoid.

Whate else is going on. My language test is tomorrow, though I'm not too worried about it. Coming to Kazakhstan, we were warned about all these things that could get us kicked out, and we have to pass this and that test and all sorts of things, but we've come to realize they don't want to send us home, and we're almost guarenteed to be able to continue. We would have to do something really stupid or irresponsible to get sent home. Therefore my training group, and I hope to spread it to the rest of the Kaz-19's, has adopted the slogan "What're you gonna do, send us home?" Hopefully this comment won't get me sent home. John Drodos, the Country Director reads this, Hi John, but I think he can have a good sense of humor. Either that or I'll hear about it next hub day.

I met a man today, a construction worker, and if I understood him correctly, he was telling us a story about how he fought for the Soviets in Afghanistan, and he showed up a large scar on his chest. He said something about how we are similar now because my people are also fighting in Afghanistan. it was interesting and I look forward to the time when I can really understand what peopel are trying to tell me, and respond with real comments or questions besides just, "oh, yes, interesting!" I missed this converstaion, but I guess my host uncle was telling two of my friends aobut how he served on a Soviet submarine during the Cold War. It will be very interesting to hear all the stories from this side of the Iron Curtain.

I now own a really sweet fur hat, complete with ear flaps.

I talked with my host family last night about American politics a little bit, but honestly I don't follow the subject closely, so I didn't have a whole lot to say. My family was telling me they think Hilary Clinton would make a great president and I should vote for her, but Barack Obama (they only knew him as the black guy), would not be good. I couldn't get any solid reasons, at least that I understand, but it's interesting that in a society where women have set roles in the house and kitchen, they would think a woman would make a great president. Again, the need for more language skills. My teacher praises me for how I"m doing now, but the problem is my language doesn't extend beyond basic needs and chit chat type conversation. I'm eager for it to get farther along, and the process is slowly driving me insane I think.

I think that's about all I have to talk about, I can't think of any really good anecdotes to tell about my time. I'll try and work some mroe out, get them down on paper somewehre so I'm not trying to do this all from memory. Until then, take care everybody and write often, I love hearing from you guys.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

All my fingers and toes

Alright, I am back in Almaty, where I don't have to wear a fur coat outside, and I've got the full skinny of what happened on my site visit.

Train ride: Long, first time fun, second time boring. Lots of cards, some reading, and some sleeping. On the way back, 3 Americans and a couple confused Kazakhstani's. That's about all you need to know about that.

Zhelezinka: It snowed, but not deep enough to completely cover the ground. Apparently this was one of the worst times to visit. No grass because it's too cold, but not tons of snow to beautify all the dirt and empty fields. Ah well, I will see it in a bit. I stayed with my Counterpart (the guy I will teach with) and his wife adn 15 month old daughter. It hink this was all mentioned before. Anyway, it was a good time, but I didn't get out much to see the town and meet people which I wanted. I did meet some of the other teachers in the school, and will be living with on eof them. Later. Now, Zhelezinka hass only a couple paved roads, one that goes to Pavlodar and the rest are in the center. My home and school are on the edge of town, the southern edge I think. The school is big, with labeled classrooms, a good computer center, an air rifle range in teh basement, and a pretty good sports program. There is also some sort of sports club in town I can go to play volleyball or anything like that. I may take up hockey, we'll see. There are a couple good shops and some cafes, though they don't see much action. There is another PC volunteer in town who teaches at the Kazakh school, Nora Williams. She was cool, she can speak fluent Russian and pretty good Kazakh, so I've got some catching up to do.

I have a Russian language tutor who is like a grandma too me, feeding me large meals, drinking wine with her husband and speaking very slowly so I can understand. They're sweet people and lessons should be fun, since she doesn't speak any English and there will likely be a lot of confusion.

My host family is going to be a Tatar Muslim family. There is a mother (either widowed or divorced, I'm not sure) who is cheerful an dhas a good laugh an dis very patient with my Russian. My host sister is a 23 year old chemisty teacher at my school. There is a younger brother who is studying in Pavlodar I think, and that's it. My toilet is outide, no running water and heating is through a wood and coal stove. It's closer to what I expected from the PC, and should be pretty interesting. Though, being Muslim, it's not likely they'll feed me a lot of bacon.

I managed to stay warm enough in my fur/leather coat and a big furry hat on my head. My school has a group of male teachers that all hang out in the metal shop and talk between classes, so I'm thinking I can get in on this mens club. The military teacher in school greeted me in a store by yelling "Hey, shtata Washington!" so I think he and I are tight. I am having all the unmarried women pointed out to me by my CP ( I may have said this already) and one student already offered to have me over and she would make me tea and cook for me. Interesting.

Other things to tell...nothing really. I'm looking forward to really getting into my community, Nora seems to be really well connected, but I'm not looking forward to leaving my current host family. I have gotten close with them and definitely missed them during my site visit. They have made me feel very at home. Anybody that comes to visit me, I will take you to meet them and you'll understand my attachment. That's all though, Alex I hope Hockey is good for you (I'm thinking of trying to start my own team up here, we'll see how that goes, I may have identified a potential player but haven't asked him if he knows the game yet). Write some letters or emails, I love hearing from you all, and I promise there will be pictures in two weeks or less. Fso(that's all), Baka.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is it cold in here, or is it just me?

Okay, here is a quick update about my recent activities:

I took a 33ish horu train ride north with my counterpart and three other volunteers to see my permanent site where I will be teachign for 2 years. My counterpart is a big man, said by many to look like Dolf Lundgren from Rocky IV. He's friendly and has a good sense of humor though, not too scary when you get to know him. I am staying with him and his wife and 15 month old daughter, so I get to see how little Addison will be in a year. Randy and Ellie, you'll have your hands full, but you already knew that.

I did some team teaching today, helping my coutnerpart with his two classes. There are less than 10 kids in both classes adn I didn't do much besides give examples and correct some mistakes. It was fun though and the kids that paid attention were fairly decent in English and seemed very eager to learn. I think I'm running out of time, I"m going to meet a potential host family next.

Briefly, my town is 5000 people, spread out on the steppe. It's cold already, below freezing when the wind blows (which is always, it's the steppe) and by February I may be a popsicle wrapped up in a fur coat. My walk to school is only about 5 minutes now, but I don't know where I'll be living in three weeks. The school is big, has fast internet, sports and nice classrooms. I'm excited to really get going with my kids and get settled in here. That's all for now, hope to hear from you all soon. Write me emails and letters whenever you get the chance. Which reminds me, I will be gettign a new address for letters and packages when I move up here, but if you want it you will have to message me, because I'm not supposed to post it on the internet. Or, if you write letters to my old address, they will be forwarded to me and I will reply in them with my new address. Talk to you all later, adios. I mean Baka.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Got Chased by a Big Guy

Okay, here’s another sweet blog. It’s been about a month I guess since I’ve gotten on the internet and sent any real, meaningful messages, so I’m going to pack them all into this one mega message. It’s gonna take some work figuring out what all happened in the last few weeks, but I’ll piece it together.
Every group in Kazakhstan has to organize a community project. The goal is to involve the people of your community and do something meaningful and maybe even helpful for them. Our group of 11 volunteers in Kaskelen decided to put on a cultural celebration at our school. With much help from the directors and other staff of the school we had a big festival one Sunday morning. There was only a turnout of maybe 100 or so spectators, but we had dancing, singing, some sweet juggling (that was me), and an amazing skit about the Peace Corps. Everybody seemed very entertained and we were told by our supervisors that it was one of the better they’ve seen.
The highlight of the festival, at least for me, was our rendition of Kazakhstan living. The song was written and performed by us volunteers. Set to the tune of Honky Tonk Woman by the Rolling Stones with a guitar accompaniment by Casey Meyering (also a UW graduate, 07 by the way) and some harmonica solo by Drew Stinson. I’ll put out the words here, you can try and sing along if you’d like. We will be performing it probably twice more, so hopefully I can get some video and set it up for you guys. I will be the guy standing as far away from the microphone as possible.
Kazakhstan Livin’
Walkin down the street, road beneath my feet in Kaskelen
Lookin for shashlik (really tasty kabob) and tryin hard to speak pa-ruskie (in Russian)
Ya ochetil b shkoloo Kierembekov E Belinski (I teach in Kierembekov and Belinksy school)
If you see me in the halls, just say "Hello!"
Cause it’s Kaaaaaaazakhstan Livin!
Gimme, gimme, gimme the Kazakhstan life
Sitting at the table smia simya (my family)
Kooshit kooshit I can’t eat no more
Eatin lots of meat I’m getting tons of gristle
And this bisbarmak is starin up at me
Goin to the banya cmia papa
Sweat is drippin out of every pore
Takin quite a beating from this oak branch
Zharka Zharka (hot) get me out of here!
The End
It’s much better set to music and with actual singing, not reading. Trust me. You’ll see.
Anyway, after the song and dance business, the director of our school invited us to a feast of traditional Kazakh foods. Guess what that included. Sheeps head. My first experience with it, I was given some meat from around the lip. Honestly, it didn’t taste so bad, but the head was sitting on the table and looking right at me, and I was having a little trouble, but I got it all down without a problem. Not something I want to repeat, but I think I can manage. The rest of the food was pretty good, but we also tried Camels Milk (drinkable but not too good) and Mares Milk (I had two sips and it was so sour I thought my head was going to turn inside out). It was all pretty interesting though, we made rounds of toasts and drank some vodka and cognac.
At this point the director left, and we were getting ready to leave as well, when a group of teachers from the school came in with a bottle of vodka. They told us there is a tradition that if you get up from the table and you aren’t wobbling, then you need to stay and drink some more. So they filled a bowl with the fifth of vodka and told us we had to pass it around the table and say one wish for ourselves and one wish for everybody else. This woman also decided that I would be the last one in line, and the last person is supposed to drain whatever is left in the bowl. Well anyway, it went around the table, it got to me and there was still a sizeable amount left, so I drank my fair share, but decided to include these teachers. When I handed the bowl off though, the produced another bottle and filled it up again and went at it, but threw Casey and I in there again. I had to take two more huge mouthfuls, as did two other of my volunteers. All in all, not my favorite game, but you guys should give it a shot at home. It really brings you together.
Okay, and the last note from the Kazebration. At the end of the singing and dancing, we held a soccer game between us 12 volunteers and 12 students from the two schools. Two 15 minutes halves. It was pretty pathetic, we were losing 3-0 in about five minutes, but I’m pretty sure the referee who is also the JROTC type guy at the school told them not to beat us, because we miraculously scored 3 goals and tied it. It helped that about 20 small children joined our team and all the older kids were mobbed by a swarm of them every time they got the ball. Myself, I scored two goals and was given the game ball. The game ended in a 5-5 tie. I only fell once when I tried to start running after the ball and my feet stayed put and my body went forward. It was a lot of fun, and I’m excited for more chances to play.
Okay, new subject
Pavlodar is very far north. It is actually part of Siberia. I won’t be in Pavlodar. I will be 2.5 hours north of Pavlodar, about 60 miles from the Russian border in a small village of 5000 called Zhelezinka. There are three schools, two Russian and a Kazakh. Two of the schools have already had a volunteer teacher (there is actually one currently there). I will be the first volunteer in my school, which I’m excited about. The word from this other volunteer is that I will be teaching the 5th, 10th and 11th grades, but that is subject to change. My counterpart is the assistant director at the school, and he was recently promoted.
Other things of note about the village: it is on a large river, it is surrounded by steppe mostly, with some forest, it gets to -40 degrees in the winter, there is a fitness center where I can do wrestling, judo, weightlifting, soccer, volleyball, tennis etc. My school has an air rifle range in the basement. There is internet in town. That’s about it. I’m going to visit it in a week and a half, so I’ll have more news after that.
Last Night
Funny story. Last night I was walking some friends home from my house (other volunteers) after playing cards. I went one way to drop off one girl and another guy went another way to drop off the other girl so we could save some time. Anyway, after I dropped off this girl, I was walking to meet the guy when I heard some yelling and whistling behind me. I looked over my shoulder and there was a huge Kazakhstani guy running after me, about 20 feet back. I took off running, bolted around the corner and looked back after another 50 feet but he was gone. A little freaked out I called my buddy and told him to hurry the f--- up and we headed home.

Other news, I was sick with a fever up to 102 for a couple days, some sort of bacteria infection., I'm better now. I have little time as I'm supposed to be meeting people at our bazaar to buy some things pretty soon. I will not be staying in a giant hotel I was just told, so no special intenet contact like I was hoping. I have my mailing address up on facebook for thеры ща нyouthat can check that,and want to send me letters or packages. In about a month it will be changing since I will be living up North for 2 years, and if you want that address you can email me about it, but Peace Corps will continue to forward letters that are sent to the old address. That's all for now, adios.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quick Post

Okay, I only have a few more minutes before I have to jet. My family has been wihtout internet and I've been too lazy to come to the one internet cafe in town. I finally broke down, so here's the quick skinny.

I finished teaching today. I found out I'm going to a village of 5000 people north of Pavlodar, called Zhelizinky (I don't have the paper, so the spelling may be off). If you want to send me letters, email me at and I will send my address, though it is going to change in about a month when I move to this tiny permanent site. It's way in teh north and gets to -40 degrees, so it should be awesome.

What else...I don't know right now, I'll work on it later. But next week I will be staying in Hotel Kazakhstan for a conference. Three days with free wireless internet. After that a 40 hour train ride out to visit my permanent site and teach for a few days, then back to Almaty for two more weeks. That's all for now, take care all.


Monday, September 17, 2007

There's hope yet...for bacon.

Okay, considering most of thes blogs will be written over the course of at least a week, I figured maybe some subtitles are in order so that there is at least a semblance of coherency. Also, if I go to teh North, they eat lots of bacon, so let's keep our fingers crossed.


Russian makes very little sense. Apparently English has somethign like 26 verb tenses (so I'm told), but Russian only has three. They have casses. Sentences can be in any order the speaker/writer wants, you just change the ending of the word based on it's role in the sentence. So I could say "Jeff loves to eat bacon" or "Bacon loves to eat Jeff" (also probably true). Numbered things have different endings for some reason, if they are 1, 2-4, or 5+. Why, nobody seems to know. Therefore my secondary project (other than teaching English) is going to be fixing Russian so it makes sense. First we'll get rid of teh silly cyrillic alphabet and use the good old Latin one, then words will be in a set order. I'd understand so much better if they could do that. For now though, my conversations are limited to fruits and vegetables, my hobbies (what they are, not anything about them), where I am from, and what I am doing here.


is awesome. I love the kids, and many of them seem to love learning English. Typically, the younger teh more energetic and eager, but all students participate in class when they can. Every time I walk through the halls I hear a chorus of "hello's" and "good morning teacher" (no matter the time of day). I've taught an entire 45 minute lesson now myself on the Past Continuous (I had to figure out what it was myself first) and I think the kids understood. My class is 10th grade. We are doing English club where the kids can practice their English some more, and jsut hang out with the Americans. They told us they are very eager to learn about American culture, so we're going to work on that for the next one.

The Weather

is getting better. It's starting to cool down a bit, and I don't drip sweat everywhere I walk now. It will be exciting to actually wear a sweater to school some day. I'm very much hoping to get sent up North in two months, where snow is on the ground 4 months out of the year (I think). It has rained twice, once in the middle of the night and once in the evening, but it was still hot and I think the rain evaporated as soon as it touched the ground.


is great. My sister Karolina helps me with homework and seems to love correcting my horribly pronounced Russian. My host father took me and another volunteer to a football game (more later) and my mother is always making sure I'm comfortable and have had enough to eat. My birthday was incredibly exciting because tons of family came over and there was a big bbq with awesome food, and lots of beer all through out. The man sitting next to me (some sort of cousin) kept trying to get me very drunk, and when he had to leave, somebody else took over his job. Cards is a weekly occurence, usually before and after banya, and soemtimes other nights. They definitely make life much easier and fun here, and I don't think I would have survived without them.

The Football Game

Sergei (host father) took Matthew (another PCT) to a football match in Almaty on the 12th. It was the Kazakhstan national team vs Belgium. The crowd was very much into the game and blue and yellow was everywhere. Apparently Belgium is a pretty good team, and at half time they were up 2-0. Kazakhstan was disheartened adn the fans still cheered mightily, and even more so when their team scored a goal, making it 2-1. With only 10 minutes left, Belgium fouled Kazakhstan in the box adn they got a PK. The shot was perfect and it was tied 2-2. The crowd was insane, and I have some video that I will try to get up. Well anyway, apparently a tie was qutie a victory for the Kazakhstanis adn everybody was excited when the game ended soon after.

Wrapping up, it's great to hear from you all and I love your messages. I'm still having fun, no regrets. I will learn where my permanent site is in a few weeks, so that's exciting, but until then I have tons of classes to teach and English clubs to run. Take care all and keep writing


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The long awaited update

Bacon. I lose sleep over it. Where’s the Bacon? Will I remember what it tastes like two years from now? Is Aaron eating bacon right now? Can you make bacon from an animal other than a pig? These are my questions. I want some bacon, but this is (technically) a Muslim country and there aren’t too many pork products. Hell, do they even have a word for Bacon? Anyway, I really want some bacon right now, and it’s making me question coming to a non-pork country. Moving on.
This is my first real entry in this blog, and a surprising amount has happened in the two weeks that I’ve been gone. For those that don’t know all the details yet, I am in Almaty, living with a host family. I’ve been with the family for a week now. I have a mother, Vala, and a father, Sergei, a 22 year old brother Vasa, and a 15 year old sister, Karolina who is currently vacuuming outside my door. She calls herself a Cinderella. Anyway, my adventure began before that however, in a place called Tabagan, which is a ski resort in the mountains above Almaty.
It was here that we had safety and policy lectures, medical lectures, and our first cross cultural and language classes. My Russian is still very bad, but we have 4-6 hours of Russian class five days a week, so I am learning quickly (hopefully). In Tabagan we also got an inordinate amount of shots, including Rabies (three volunteers had already been bitten by dogs less than two days with our host families). Anyway, I’ve had my arm stuck 9 times already by our beloved medical officer, Victor.
After two and a half days at Tabagan, we were ushered off to our families with extremely limited Russian. The first group of volunteers was dropped off in Almalybak and I saw one volunteer, Rambo (yes that’s his real name), get herded to a car by a half dozen small children. It was pretty entertaining. My group was taken to the village of Kackilian (Kackeлen) where I met my mother. Another volunteer, Mathew, is living about a block away with my host aunt. It turns out my mother is a teacher and speaks pretty good English, and so does my brother, Vasa. My father and sister both speak German. It’s an interesting time, and when my mother isn’t around it takes a lot of time with the dictionary and hand gestures to figure out what we are talking about. Conversation is usually limited to: Are you hungry? What? Hungry? What? Eat? Oh, yeah, Da. Anyway, it’s quite the experience and I’m enjoying myself.
The food has all been good so far. I haven’t had any sheep face (it doesn’t seem all that common, at least around here), and I had horse meat for the first time on Saturday. It was the first day of school and there was a large assembly in the soccer field (stadium) and a presentation that lasted an hour. We met the director then took a tour of the school and met a few classes, some of which couldn’t believe or didn’t understand we would be their teachers. We then had lunch and the director joined us and served us the horse meat, a delicacy apparently.
The director is a very imposing man that commands a lot of respect from his teachers and students. He has a large office, and when he enters a room everybody is quiet. We talked with him some, through a translator, and he was telling jokes and laughing and having a good time, so I liked him.
My training group is me and four other volunteers – Matthew, Drew, Jackie (Jessica) and Kim. It’s a good group and we have fun during our language classes. Our teacher is nice and tries hard to make sure we understand what is going on, but the language is very difficult. I’ve figured out the alphabet fairly well, now it’s just a matter of putting sentence together. Russian nouns and adjectives and what not are put into cases depending on the sentence. They can be in any order and it is the case that tells you their role in the sentence, so it’s hard to understand how to make sentences. Seeing as this is my first week really, I don’t think I should worry yet.
Kackilian isn’t a village in a sense that you’d think a third world country would be. Most streets are paved, houses have power and there are tons of cars. My family lives in the middle class range, including dial up internet, two TVs and a microwave. I eat well and enjoy the food, including the chai that comes 3-4 times a day. The people are typically friendly when you meet them and the kids are excited to meet an American. For many we are the first Americans in the flesh. American culture is everywhere. My host sister loves Fall Out Boy, Lincoln Park and Johnny Depp.
It’s pretty hot here, probably a little hotter than Seattle was when I left, but as long as I’m in the shade I’m doing alright. I have to wear long pants to work which doesn’t help, but I’m feeling pretty professional so I don’t mind it.
I’ve only drank one night I’ve been here, and not that much. Some out of town family came and I had a few shots of vodka with them. It was pretty rough the first full shot, but I got through it, then had mini half shots after that. To be honest, vodka is vodka to me and I don’t think this was any special kind.
I also have a flush toilet and a shower, just so you all know. The first night with my host family though (Saturday, August 25th) I banya’d. The banya is basically a sauna, so I stripped down to my birthday suit along with another volunteer and our host uncle or cousin, I wasn’t sure. You sit in the heat for some time, and then somebody whacks you with some soft branches. The entire time it’s so hot it hurts to breath and you keep splashing cold water on your face. After about four or five minutes we stepped out into the other room, put on our underwear and went outside to dump buckets of cold water over ourselves. Then we went back in and washed our hair etc. It was quite the cultural experience and since we had no idea what we were doing Alex, the Kazakhstani cousin/uncle sort of guided us with points and Russian words like Sadiz (sit).
Okay, since this blog is being written on my laptop over time while I look for internet where I can load this up, I’m now continuing. I got to go into Almaty, and I bought a cell phone there. Don’t expect any phone calls from me though, it costs a few dollars a minute, and I don’t really have that kind of money right now. But I can talk to other volunteers, and whatnot, so that’s a bonus. My group of volunteers spent a long time walking around class cases sort of like at a jewelry store with hundreds of cell phones, looking for the cheapest one, but our language teacher kept disapproving, and we could never quite figure out why. Finally we went to an official looking counter and got a Nokia phone. It seems like pretty much every volunteer ends up getting the same phone. It was around $45 dollars, which was a large junk of our monthly allowance.
Anyway, that’s not the exciting part of Almaty. We went to the top of a mountain by cable car (not that big of a mountain). The mountain was called Kok-Toobye (that’s how you pronounce it at least). Up there, we got our pictures taken with some random Beatles statues, which was probably one of the highlights of this adventure so far. They had Beatles music playing over a speaker near the statues, and we kept hoping to hear “Back in the USSR,” but no luck. Anyway, after that we just enjoyed the view of Almaty at night. It was interesting, because Almaty’s tallest buidings are only about 15 stories tall. It is an earthquake prone area and so they don’t want anything too tall. After that, it was the ride home and sleep at 11 pm, pretty late for me sadly.
I begin teaching tomorrow (Monday) which will probably be after this blog actually gets posted. I’m going to teach about fruits and the difference between likes and favorites. Should be filled with excitement and keep the students on the edge of their seats. Anyway, I’m looking forward to it.
So far I don’t have any really funny anecdotes to share or anything, life is pretty normal. We went to the bazaar and gave all the women a good laugh trying to pronounce the names of foods and whatnot. That’s pretty much it.

Other notes of consequence:
-Kazakhstani chocolate is the best I’ve had so far
-It’s quite fun sitting around drinking tea and asking shto eta (what’s this?)
-Kazakhi’s are some of the most hospitable people
-Most Kazakh teenagers look like models
-Pamagat (help me) and pamidor (tomato) are two different things
-Reading is never so enjoyable as when it breaks up long awkward silences between people who can’t speak each others languages

Anyway, that’s all for now. I miss folks back home and all the excitement you guys are having. Keep in touch with me, it means a lot when I get emails, and even more so if I get a letter. Leave me your email address and I will send you the address for my letters since I’m not supposed to post it online if you want to send me a letter (or a packageJ) Take care etc.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Okay folks, I'm getting close to board a plane and begin my 2893243 hour flight to Frankfurt and from there to Almaty, Kazakhstan. I've been briefed and rebriefed on safety and policy issues so that I don't die or get sent home once I've gotten there. I met about 73 other volunteers in DC, and I remember maybe half their names at this point. They all seem pretty cool, but I'm keeping an eye on them in case they slip.

Anyway, I won't be able to talk for about a week once I get to the Kaz, so don't expect anything exciting coming from me for a little while. Wednesday night/Thursday morning I will be moving into a hotel in the mountains above Almaty, then on Sunday after lunch I move in with my family. Language lessons will be in small groups of about five, and they will take up the majority of my six day a week classes. Other than that, it's hands on training in classrooms for a total of three months before they send me off to some small, lonely post in the middle of nowhere. Most likely I'll be far away from internet and will only have time to get online once a week at the most.

Anyway, I'll be missing you kids, not now, but in a while. Take care, keep me up to date with what's happening in the world, and if you want to send me a hand written letter, you can get my address from my parents or email me and I'll send it to you. That's it.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stage Diving?

Okay, so I'm not diving or anything. I'm sitting in a hotel bar right now, where I had just spent the last four hours listening to safety information and other technical stuff. Before that I spent three hours mixing with other volunteers. I've met many people, most of them seem pretty cool. This isn't a long post because there isn't much to say. In a couple days I will be in Kazakhstan and that's when the really interesting stuff happens. For now, I listen to people talk, sometimes I get to do interactive stuff, and now I'm going out to dinner. Anyway, miss most of you (only the cool ones, you can debate who that is), and send me emails etc as time goes by so I know you haven't forgot about me.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Expecting the Unexpected

Okay, so I've spent a vast majority of my time lately reading other PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) blogs, and trying to get a handle on what I've gotten myself into. I thought I'd compile a list to encompass the main themes:

1)Eating parts of an animal I never would have guessed were edible.
I have read stories about eating sheeps FACES!!! Cow tongue with a glaze of cow ear (not sure I understand this, but that's what I've been told), homemade Horse sausages (made as they originally were, look it up) etc.

2) Vodka, and lots of it, often home made. I'm actually looking forward to preparing myself for this aspect.

3) Squating: specifically, over a hole in an outhouse

4) Dog bites: it seems that even if I can manage to find one or two friendly dogs wherever I'm at, I can expect to be bit at least once.

5) Geese, and probably aggressive. I don't know if it's considered offensive to kick another man's goose, but I know I consider another mans goose bite to be offensive, and I'm prepared to go for 3 points if one of those suckers gets into kicking distance of me.

6) Poop, everywhere. Randy would probably love it, but stories of vast fields of dung throughout the streets doesn't appeal to me

7) Falling, frequently and painfully on the sheets of ice that seem to coat everything in Kazakhstan in the winter

8) Strange and exciting sports: soccer may be a major national pasttime, which I am very much loking forared to, but I have also read about goat carcass polo type matches, horseback wresting and more exotic activities

9) Friendly and talkative people: It seems the host families, their friends, neighbors, and anybody else I might meet seem to be excited to talk and practice English or pamper me, etc.

10) Holidays: The Kazakh people seem to love a celebration, and apparently have plenty of holidays. Dancing, singing, drinking (see #2), food and friends are the most common themes for these events.

That's all I have for now. I'm incredibly excited for this, and the more I read the more I want to get started right away. I'm jealous of people that already get to experience all of this, and there is nothing that I'm not looking forward to. Except maybe Sheep's face, I hear it's not so good.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Just the Beginning

Okay, so it seems a good idea that since I'm heading off to Kazakhstan (yes, where Borat is from), I should catalogue my adventures for all of you. Rather than constantly sending out emails, you folks can check my website and see what I've been up to lately. I can post pictures and all sorts of other good stuff.

It's still two months until I leave for staging and training, but I'm already incredibly excited. Any time I read new stuff about my coming adventure, I get more and more eager. I want to squeeze in as much fun with all you folks around here before I go. That's all for now, I'll keep posting my thoughts on what I'm getting myself into.