Wednesday, February 27, 2008

February is the Windy month

We’ve been having a wind storm for awhile now. The first couple days were really crazy, and you had to fight your way upwind sometimes. It’s mellowed out lately, though apparently February in general is really windy. It’s pretty fun actually, except when the wind blows up gritty snow that pelts you in the face. The ground has been scoured pretty well, so all the loose snow is getting piled up wherever it finds a break from the wind. It makes for some really deep drifts in places, though the rest of the ground is icy and slick.
We celebrated my little host cousin’s birthday last night. She turned 8 and there was a big feast (typical Kazakhstan affair). We had bisparmak, which is the traditional dish here: big flat noodles with horse meat, and occasionally a goats head, though I’ve only seen that once (and it saw me too…creepy). The horse meat is really pretty good, though there was also some sheep meat, which is the most fetid meat you can imagine. I took a piece by accident, and then the man sitting next to me threw a big piece on my plate telling me to try it. I politely pushed it to the side and hoped he’d forget about it, but I heard him laughing and telling somebody that I was eating around the meat. True, but what can you do. Is it less polite to avoid the meat, or to gag and hurl on the table? I’m not a fan.
Lots of toasts with shots of vodka as well. I gave my toast, which basically praised the awesome family, and they all told me that they understood me…a plus. I was also told by my host aunt, Inga, that my Russian has improved. It was a fun meal in general, with some relatives and friends I had never met. Inga’s parents were in from the city, and her father enjoyed talking to me. He was funny, because he’d often turn to me and say “more questions” or something. He was unsure how much I understood, and did a good job talking slowly for me. It’s actually funny what some people think you don’t understand, like simple verbs that everybody should know.
Anyway, he asked me what languages I know, telling me it’s important that I study Kazakh while I’m here. Everybody tells me that. It’ll happen eventually. They were impressed that I’ve now studied 5 different languages (only one has stuck so far), including English. They pointed out that there were 8 different ethnicities there, though surprisingly they didn’t ask mine. Normally everybody wants to know where your ancestors came from, and it’s a major point of pride for them. The grandparents were Azerbaijani, another grandfather/uncle was Uigar (in China), and there were Russians, Kazakhs, Tatars and an American.
I got to talk about my family as well, who’s in it and all that. I was asked about my feelings for the president. “Do you like Bush?” they asked. “No.” “Why?” “Uh…many reasons.” They proceeded to list plenty of reasons for me. According to grandpa, Clinton was good, Bush Sr. was also good, and Reagan was great! I listened and enjoyed it; he seemed up on American foreign policy and whatnot. He talked about Iraq and the first Bush just getting it done and getting out. Interesting stuff, it could have been a debate from the states really.
I wasn’t asked but I managed to follow a brief conversation about patriotism. According to grandpa (he had a lot of opinions) we Americans are the most patriotic people in the world. His example was that we say “My President” whereas everybody else just says “the President.” I thought it was interesting, but not sure I agree, at least with his example. I will say my President, but I think so does everybody else in their countries. Anyway, the main point of this was that patriotism is still a big topic for everybody, and how they compare to the United States and other countries.
I spent the weekend in Pavlodar, which was a good break for me. I went in to take care of some banking stuff and spent the morning in the train station reading my book, waiting for my friend to be free so he could help me out. Nora was in town for a ski competition, and a couple other volunteers came into town for other reasons. I went to a café near the station for lunch and ran into my taxi driver there. He ate with me and we talked about his daughter, who is in my 10th grade class. I’m in charge of telling him if she doesn’t work hard or something like that. It was a good time, he’s a fun guy. I still don’t know his name though. Minivan taxi guy. The best taxi guy.
I met up with Nora at a café near Adam’s apartment to wait for him. The café was pretty nice, and I had my first beer in about two months, much needed. Adam showed up and we headed to his apartment where I dropped off my stuff, then trucked down to the bank, where we met Jeffrey OCAP, another Kaz-19. From there, we headed to the train station to buy train tickets for a coming trip.
Earlier I had stopped by the ticket window to check on the train schedule. My mission was to find out if the train left on the 19th of March, and at what time. I figured out how to ask, when to the window and fired my question at her. I got a yes, at 1 o’clock, and I promptly turned and walked away before something happened that I didn’t understand. Complete understanding of strangers is a big cause for celebration for me, and I didn’t want to ruin it by her talking more and me not following.
Anyway, turns out I didn’t understand (or she lied to me, which doesn’t hurt my understandingness, so we’re going with a lie) and the train leaves on the 18th or 20th. We figured to buy our tickets then, but apparently the schedule was getting changed or something (the ticket woman actually had no clue) so she couldn’t sell us tickets, and now Nora and I will be going back into the city in a couple weeks. Long trip, but definitely a fun time if you can get a beer or two out of it.
We ran into Nick, another out of towner visiting for the day, and began to bar hop a little bit. He took us to a metal shack that had a sign outside, handwritten, that only said “Beer.” Inviting. We went in; there was a small room with a bar and a few chairs around the outside. It was Veterans Day (Saturday), and people were celebrating in style. Plenty of mostly empty bottles of vodka sitting on tables. We took the corner and it wasn’t long before we were getting some questions from one table and friendly banter. They wanted us to drink with them, we didn’t want to. Eventually they left and were replaced by the man with the pickled watermelon.
The pickled watermelon. A new concept for me. Pickled in brine, the man cut it up and served it to the patrons. We got our pieces and gave it a shot. Jeff OCAP described it as eating sweaty socks. Not too far off, but overall, edible. We all ate a piece, and left the extra two sitting there. Finished our beers and headed back out to find some food. We managed to get some pizza, which wasn’t half bad either. Mine had beans on it. I gave Nora the mushrooms.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. Our ski team got first place overall, Nora thinks she got 4th, and a couple of our individual skiers placed 1st and 2nd. We’ve got a pretty good team. I hitched a ride back with them and spent two hours sitting and staring out the window because most people were too tired to talk, and my head was flailing all over the place on the bumpy road, making it hard to sleep.
A PCV I know from training recently asked if I feel like I’m just along for the ride. He’s getting frustrated feeling like we’re not really doing anything here. I can definitely get that impression at times. It’s hard working in a school where English levels are so low, that any production is small and far between often. It’s necessary to see the small victories in what we do though. Getting my students to say Good Afternoon instead of Good Morning always makes me feel better. Seeing students doing well in class, being greeted by people on the street and all that makes me feel really good. It’s hard to see the results of what we do, especially so soon, but I think there’s enough small things that it can add up to a lot. Even if it’s just being able to answer questions about America for people interested.
I was in the shop buying a Pepsi when a man came in. He asked the woman if I was the/an American, and I turned to him with a smile. Apparently I understand! Anyway, I introduced myself, I think he introduced himself and we shook hands. He seemed happy to meet me, and that’s what I like. Volleyball players that tell me about their Aunt who live in Minneapolis and want to visit her are great. Interacting with the people is where I think I accomplish the most.
On the other hand, I had a really terrible class last Friday. Tanya had to teach another class at the same time, so we chose between the 7th graders and the 8th graders. I chose 7th. They were loud, disrespectful and not doing any work. It’s not good when students are just asking me to translate song lyrics (especially when it’s The Black Eyed Peas – My Humps). I got fed up and gave up on the lesson. I stood there, telling them to be quiet, not getting much response. I gave them grades for the lesson that they were not happy with at all. All of this taught me one thing: choose 8th graders.
We had the class again yesterday, and they were almost as bad for Tanya as they were for me, which actually made me feel a bit better. Their disrespect didn’t have as much to do with me being the American teacher, as it was just being a teacher. They don’t want to learn English, though sadly, there are a couple kids in there that really try. They had to take a test and they kept asking me to confirm their answers. I wasn’t giving in, but I’d try to help them understand why. Anyway, you’ve got some good days and some bad days. My 6th graders still love me and treat me like a real teacher.
I think that’s about all that I have to report on. Our puppy is still a little terror, and he’s getting bigger. He goes outside for a few hours every day (doesn’t stop him from pooping all over the floor in our hall) and frolics in the snow. We play together, and now that he’s big I can play rougher with him. He jumps at me and I knock him aside, or he chases my hand around trying to bite it. We’ve become buddies. I’m now playing the game where I throw snowballs at him or toss him in snow drifts, which he seems to enjoy. Anyway, life is good here, I’m still enjoying myself. Take care all, write back.


alex said...

Sheep meat is a vital ingredient for health potions so you should take as much as you can and save it for later.

I don't know that I have heard people say "my president". Thinking about it I may ask a foreign guy like "who is your president?" but I think I would respond to that question with 'GWB is the president". Saying
"my president" just seems weird.

The food there continues to intrigue me. Horse meat and mutton are one thing but pickled watermelon and mushroom and bean pizza sounds exciting.

It is interesting that you don't get beer very often. That never really occurred to me.

That dog looks very angry. I think he is trying to really bite your hand. You should watch out for him in your sleep.

Wendy said...

I find it very amusing that you eat horse meat, mutton, and goats head - but you still won't eat mushrooms!

Anonymous said...

Seeing that I spend most days watching teaching, thinking about teaching, or looking at school in some way I automatically go to that point.

Is your curriculum set in stone? If your students are so interested in song lyrics can you add that to your curriculum and give them a challenge in something that they are interested in?

On another note, I now work with Haden Robert's mother from boy scouts. She asked me several questions about you and commented that both you and Randy were like heroes to him when he first started boy scouts.

Kass said...

MMmmm... bean pizza... sounds like your mouth is having a party over there.

I think you're completely right on about interacting with people being a big deal and on of the coolest things you guys are doing. As awesome as kids are, your example is going to be what people are will use to understand Americans. You flesh out the whole global community thing, which is an something special for you and the people around you.

I'm unusually prejudiced against Australians, Kiwis and Europeans because of the international examples I've met. So no pressure.

By the way, I'm with Alex, collect as much sheep meat as possible before you get back. And pickled watermelon. For magic.

Take care of yourself.

The puppy looks super cute.

Trav said...

Maybe it's different where you're at, but I've heard that Russian tests don't involve "cheating", at least in the way we see it. I've heard it's more of a collective effort, so when Russians come over here and are looking on other peoples' tests, they don't realize they're doing anything wrong.

Oh, and I think it's kind of weird that "grandpa" likes both Clinton and Reagan. How does that work?