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.


alex said...

I just walked home at 3:30-4:30 in the morning here (wonder what I was up to) and it was about -15C. The snow is maybe a foot deep naturally, however the sidewalks and streets are clear which results in larger piles of snow where people don't walk. I am proud to be the first to reply to your blog - I just sort of figured today was the day as I walked home.

I am disappointed to hear that you are getting better at volleyball. I am definitely never going to play with you again in fear of getting killed by a spike.

I am sorry to hear that your students are a bunch of punks. My advice is to whip them with brambles.

I agree that Aaron is an old man... but so is Randy. I declared my fellow first year grad students who are 25+ old today as well.

Also I fixed this for you:
I was walking back from my counterparts house tonight (now it’s Thursday, the 6th) and it struck me how beautiful SHE was.
I agree with your students that you need a girlfriend. You can just pretend you are in Vegas... so what happens in Kazakhstan stays in Kazakhstan.

alex said...

I would also like to add that Todd Turner the atheletic director at UW had this great quote regarding keeping Tyrone Willingham for a fourth season of inevitable losing.

"I know everyone wants to go to Rose Bowls and yadda yadda yadda...but keeping Ty was the right thing to do...."

Talk about a crock of...

alex said...

Thirdly I would like to add that upon reading my previous comment I know how to spell athletic and the extra e was purely a typo. I don't know how often you check the internet or what you do when you get on, but the Seahawks clinched the NFC West today.

alex said...


Trav said...

When the snow gets that icicle look... that's called hoarfrost.

No, I didn't name it.

Sounds like you're starting to fit in. I'd love to be learning Russian.