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.