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


Mike said...

Jeff, You don't know me but I'm a good friend of your father's. I've known him thru Scouts (not hard to guess) for several years. He's extremely proud of you and has sent me this link/blog, which I've read with great interest. I hope to keep up on your "adventure" so I'll try to put it on my favorites menu.
I've done a lot of traveling on my own, and visited many foreign places, trying to meet real people, have real experiences, to feel "connected" with the world as a whole.... but what you are doing and are about to do really makes my ventures small in comparison! I don't even know you yet feel a real bond of sorts because of the "living on the edge" type of mentality you must have. I had a similar experience when I agreed to teach school in an Eskimo village in Alaska many years ago. Although most spoke English, I was thrust into their culture, with their expectations, and I had to make my own way much like you'll have to do. I loved it.
What did I do? I hardly every stayed in my house... I always walked around trying to lend a hand when someone was working on something outside... they would invite me in for tea or a meal, bonds became strong. If there was a meeting or community event, I attended. I did extra stuff with the kids, I used to carry a frisbee around with me, but it shattered in the cold temperatures which I didn't expect :) Anyway, good luck with your first encounters, try to keep a log or journal, create activities and make the first advance when walking around... they will be shy too... and sadly, they've probably seen lots of PCs come and go, so you're just another one to them... who will leave... which will make them less apt to put much energy into you, till you show you're making effort to "meet" and be active joining in with them.


Anonymous said...


I know you from Scouts too, partly through your esteemed father. Seems to me that what you are doing there is not only for the local people, but also a benefit to all of us here, and everywhere. So, thanks.
Sounds exciting, but maybe partly in the sense of the famous Chinese curse about interesting times. Hope you enjoy it -- and doubtless you will grow in it.

-George T.

alex said...

I certainly understand the homesickness thing; the world becomes a very lonely place when you don't have any friends. As such my advice is the obvious - make new friends. By my understanding you will be making a relatively long stop at this next place you're headed so now is the time to go the extra mile to establish good friendships. I like Mike's advice.

In oceanography I have to teach my children about fish tails this week. Fish with lunate tails are generally quicker swimmers it turns out. Also, chinchilla are nocturnal, but not fish.

How is your vodka consumption?

Anonymous said...

Hello, Jeff
You don't know me, either, but I've spoken to your dad several times through scout-related activities, and he's been involved in my sons' Eagle projects. It is wonderful to read about your encounters and experiences, and my family and I have enjoyed reading your postings. They are so thoughtful and well-composed that we hope you continue, and compile them someday...they would make an excellent book.
Our son, Colin, spent 4 months in Kenya last year, and it truly changed his life. He was doing field study as an environmental science student, and got to spend some time with the local villagers and working at an orphanage. He would like to return there after graduation in some capacity. He found it hard in some ways to return to our culture, and missed Kenya very much.
I want to commend you for the work you are doing. It seems an unfortunate truth that the humanitarian aspect of our society is not often emphasized, and I feel it is so very important. I admire your recognizing this and acting on it in the most personal way you could. We support you and hope to hear much more of your exploits in the future!
Tom M

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jeff, we are Nora's parents. Friends found out that when you google nora and kazakhstan your blog comes up. It's fun to read another perspective on Kstan and Zhelsinka, and we are fans of your writing. We're cheering for you, too. Keep warm, Kathy and Tony