Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I know, you just finished reading the last post

Things have been going really well lately. I’ve been in a good mood and been having lots of fun all around. I think this mostly comes from being busy for most of the day. For the past week or so I’ve had very little downtime to just sit and relax. School is back in full swing (mostly), so I’m there until 1 or 2 o’clock every day. I come home, relax by reading a book, listening to music or reading Newsweek. Then it’s time for lunch. After lunch I’ve often had additional lessons or something else school related. I get home around 4 or 5 again, then relax a little more. I’ve started volleyball again, which I found I really missed, so that keeps me busy until about 9 o’clock. Interspersed throughout the day I’m planning lessons and preparing materials for the next day.
I realize that I don’t do well when I don’t have anything to do. Too much just sitting and thinking, and I get antsy. I start to think, "Is there really a point to me being here?" I’m not working, I’m not really getting out and doing much. It’s a depressing time, and so I’m really happy that I’m back and contributing.
After my visit from Natalya, I’ve been working harder and preparing better lessons. Before I go to lesson plan I try to review the material and come up with some good ideas of my own, so we don’t waste time just sitting there trying to think of something. I’ve gotten back to having an actual objective, and remembering everything Peace Corps tried to teach me in my twelve weeks of training. I think lessons are getting better, and I’m definitely more involved when I’m part of the planning process.
All of this will come in handy when I have kids and can say "You need to learn the value of hard work! Why, when I was in Kazakhstan…(at this point they stop listening). Anyway, long story short, I’m back to work and it’s made me a lot happier.
Now, a short story long. I tried cross country skiing for the first time the other day. This was the first time I had ever had skis on my feet in my life, and I’m proud to say I didn’t fall over as soon as I was strapped in! I waited about five minutes, then fell over. Also, in order to click my feet in, Nora had to stand on the skis so they wouldn’t keep sliding away from me. I managed to get all set up, had no idea what I was doing, and began to move. Nora, whose skis I was borrowing, was my coach.
She tells me the easiest way to do it is to point my feet straight ahead and push myself forward with my poles. This went fine, until I realized that my arms were dieing, and I had to try real skiing. She has some fancy type of cross country ski where you have to basically ice skate to get anywhere. I think they’re speed skis or something bizarre like that. Anyway, I gave the ice skate technique a shot, with a large amount of help from my arms.
Nora was strolling behind me, keeping up without a problem as I wobbled back and forth and tried to avoid the piles of frozen horse manure (poop). Things seemed to be going well, when my skis decided it would be more fun if they crossed over each other. My eyes bugged out as I flailed about, then slowly toppled sideways onto my knees, then a face plant deep in the snow. Nora started cracking up, I laughed and tried to figure out how to get up.
My feet don’t move like I want them to when they’re strapped into ski’s, and I was having a lot of trouble, so Nora had to reach down and grab my feet and twist them around until they were lined up again. I just lay there, patiently staring at the snow surrounding my face. She told me I was ready, and I started to shove myself up. That’s when I saw IT! The piece of horse dung, right next to my head. I had narrowly missed braining myself on a piece of poop with the density of a rock.
I managed to struggle back to my feet and wobble my way around a bit more. I traded the ski’s over to Nora, who was much better than me (she’s from Minnesota). She came around the track, handed them back off to me and sent me off into the woods, all alone…She wandered off to look at the horses. I started along the track, enjoying myself. Over all, I managed to get the entire 2.5 km lap in over the course of our time there, and only fell about 5 times, with many…many…more near misses. I’m a fan of skiing, and I’m going to try to borrow a pair from my school, so Nora and I don’t have to trade off constantly.
Volleyball was back on to, and rather than start up with the really good guys at the sport school, I went with Nora to First School, where the scrubs (me) play. We played with some teachers there who are all as bad as or worse than me. Also, the net was barely above my head, so it made spikes and blocks a lot easier for me. I’m not sure who exactly won, but I had fun.
The next day I went back to the sport school after being away for a month. The guys seemed happy to see me, and thought it was funny that my excuse for not coming was that it was so cold. Anyway, I got in a few games with them, and was reminded how bad I still am. The best part about me going again, though, was I learned of a Sunday afternoon soccer game in the gym every week. I told them I’m better at soccer, and I’m definitely going to go and play. I’ll let you know how that all went. I’m not sure if it’s like court soccer, or if the volleyball net will still be up and we’ll play like soccer tennis. Either way, I’m excited for it.
I finished Silk Road to Ruin, and I really recommend it to anybody at all interested in the area or American foreign policy. The book is really pretty funny, especially during the beginning. The last third or so is a bit more focused on the future of the area, and moves away from the more light-hearted beginning, but by that point you are so engaged in the area and politics that it doesn’t matter at all. I do have to add a disclaimer though. The author, Rall, claims that the majority of people in Kazakhstan do not support President Nazerbaeyev, which is absolutely untrue. Nazerbaeyev is a pretty popular president, though this may be due as much to propaganda as any of his programs might.
That brings me to one final point I want to vent out. I have mentioned before these Interactive Boards, which are basically fancy blackboards connected to computers and projectors so you can write directly on them with a light pen and also show movies, pictures or whatever. They cost thousands of dollars, and rarely get much use in the schools. Anyway, my school already had one, and now we just got a second. This wouldn’t be a problem, if all our computers had internet, or up-to-date software, or worked at all. Or if we had blackboards in the classrooms you could actually write on. This is one of Nazerbaeyevs projects, is to put these boards in the schools where the money could be spent so much better in tons of other ways. With the money the Interactive Boards cost, you could buy a whole new set of computers with educational software. Just something to think about. Also, enough textbooks so every student can have one would be great too.


alex said...

I hope your students are learning English and you are learning Russian. I don't know why this is important either but I am glad you are too busy to think about it sometimes. j/k It is good because really these people will be able to make a difference in the world once they speak common. Until you speak English you can't really fit into the global Earth.

I went cross country skiing over break and it was pretty cool. I toe-in horribly so I am really bad at ice skating, roller skating (you already know that) and similar things which include down-hill skiiing. I am tolerable at cross country skiing though and it is good fun. I do like the arm propulsion method but it really isn't feasible over long distances, especially if there is ever a bump in the terrain.

That poop wasn't as dense as a rock - it was as hard.

I have decided to be rich someday, so tell your students that if they behave and learn a lot (and get rich) I'll donate some computers to their school to go along with the projectors.

alex said...

I'd like to edit my last comment to clarify "(and *I* get rich)

I would also like to add that the space bar on my keyboard seems to not be working very well.

Mike said...

Jeff, I wrote to you a long time ago (I'm a friend of your dad's) and just read some of your postings. Sounds like you're going thru this experience really trying to take advantage of opportunities and keeping involved with the people around you. That's really great. I think too many people, in situations like yours, find themselves uninvolved with the people and probably don't last very long... I'm sure there are times when you wish you were somewhere else... but we do that here too, ya know.
I'm sure your dad has told you about the Klondike experience we just went thru (-2 degrees in tents)and that it's now passed on to Dale Rae. Time for some of us old farts to get out of the way and let some new blood in!
Do the people do much crafts or handiwork there? Like wood carving or art type stuff? I work at a junior high in Redmond and we all have active boards, some teachers use them alot, some not. Are the students very computer savey? Do you make them talk in English in front of the class much? How old are the students? How do you give your lessons, or what are the techniques you use? I have a million questions... you don't have to answer them.
I'll write again sometime. Mike Gilluly mggilluly@msn.com