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.