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.