Friday, May 9, 2008

The Little Rascals and More

Mark your calendars everybody. July 2nd to July 19th. I’m coming home! I’m hopping on three planes and spending 24 hours to arrive in Seattle (still on July 2nd). I’ve got some plans already in motion, others still in planning phase. I have a feeling my time will be scarce though, so book me in advance, and I don’t take personal checks.
Okay, that’s covered. Other news. First off, fishing. I went fishing when I first arrived here, in the winter. That was okay, but really cold. I have now discovered that fishing in the spring and summer is no different, except it’s a bit warmer. There’s no reel on the poles here, so you just kind of toss it out there and watch it drift back towards you, hoping the fish think the corn kernels and seeds are more appetizing than they appear. I went with four of my students: Albert, Dima, Sasha and Dasha (the token girl).
We met up at the school at o dark 30, fishing poles slung over our shoulders, and trekked out to the river in the morning twilight. I pictured myself walking along with Spanky and the gang, and wishing I had had a river or lake nearby my house that I could walk to through fields as I grew up.
Sadly, we didn’t catch a thing, though the kids claim there were some nibbles, I somewhat doubt it. After awhile fishing degenerated into wresting matches and throwing contests. I easily won the wrestling contest (I almost weighed as much as all three combined). It was a really good time, and I feel that I bonded with my kids. They also managed to get my phone number out of me, so they have called me almost everyday. “Can Mr. Whitehill come out and play?” Not today kids, he’s got grown up things to do.
Frisbee has also been catching on here lately. Nora and I (mostly Nora) have put together a Frisbee camp for the end of June, and so we brought them out to show off. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty sure my kids will dominate this camp. They’ve got the form, the energy and the can do attitude! Though, as Nora pointed out, they are also tiny. Some of my 7th graders look like 5th graders. But that’s okay cause the Little Rascals taught us that it’s heart that really matters.
Other things: holidays. In traditional Kazakhstani style, the latest holidays have been celebrated with singing, dancing and costumes. There was the 1st of May celebration, which was a cultural show. Schools and other organizations were given a culture to represent that lives in Zhelezinka. They came in costume, sang traditional songs and dance and occasionally food. My school represented the Caucuses (white people). The winners of that portion were the Ukrainians, who had recently bought new costumes and danced every chance they could get, showing them off.
The other events were fitness competitions. The first was jump roping and my (ex) host sister Ramzea dominated that with 115 jumps in one minute. Most people couldn’t finish the minute, so props to her, I didn’t know she had it in her. The next was lifting a weight over your head as many times as you can in a minute. I was tossed in to help represent our school. I pulled off a gentleman’s 26 lifts. The winner did 63, but I’m pretty sure he was juicing. I asked for a drug test, but no dice. I won for the most laughs though, because on my 27th lift, I tried to sneak my left arm in there to help. You should have been there, it was hilarious. On paper, not so much. The final event was tug-o-war, which our school was terrible at, but we won one match by forfeit, which was enough for us to get 2nd place overall in the entire competition!
There have been two other holidays in quick succession here as well. Young soldiers’ day, which, as you can imagine, involves the older students dressing up in uniform and parading around. There was a chemical weapons suit relay race, another race carrying a girl around, marching and shouting contests. Our school managed to get 1st place in this competition. This was followed by singing and people laughing as a small child tried to drag his brother out of the middle of the circle.
Finally, today, 9th of May: Victory Day. World War II is still a massive event over here. With the millions of Soviet soldiers that fought in the war, every village, no matter how small, has dozens of men who fought, and plenty that died in the Great War. They honor their soldiers greatly here, as incredible heroes. The day began at 10 o’clock at my school with a service to honor the village hero, Babin, who has a statue in front of our school. It moved onto the park, where there was another ceremony. I didn’t get to watch this though, since I was on the soccer team.
Earlier this week, soccer season started, and it’s been pretty good. I have become pretty rusty, and I’ve got a list of excuses why I’m not playing as good as I am…and here they are: horrible bumpy fields, 8 months since I’ve played, no jerseys to distinguish players, bugs, lack of vocabulary for soccer. I think they’re all pretty good excuses. I’m getting better every time though, and once I get enough practice, everybody will be happy again.
Anyway, there was a big 11 on 11 match at the park today. I was put on the team with 3rd school, in the small blue uniform. It was a good game, and I played my best yet (uniforms, better field, a little practice earlier) and had a good time. I didn’t appreciate being put at midfield though, and being told to constantly run back and support our 6 players defending two of theirs. It didn’t make sense, but who am I to argue? In Russian. Our team ended up winning 4-2, and I didn’t do anything to amazing, but I didn’t make any big mistakes either, so hurray for that!

The day ended with a bbq back at my house. Slava invited a couple locals over and Nora came as well. We BBQ's Shashlik (meat kabobs), had salad and played frisbee. It felt very American, except for the Russian pop music playing in the background. It was a really good time, and very relaxing. I can tell you more about it when I see you in July though.
That’s going to end this update, except for a few quick notes: I bought pointy slip on shoes because I lost my old ones, so now I look more Kazakhstani. Summer seems to finally have arrived. We had snow on the 3rd, but today it’s 30 degrees Celsius (that’s pretty hot). I’m still looking at for a host family to take me in permanently; I’ve got two lined up to look at next week. School is going well, but it’s all turned pretty lazy as the end of the year gets near. That’s all; see most or at least some of you in about two months. Take care until then.


Randy said...

Sounds like you're getting ready for a vacation. I hereby lay claim to any and all time that is un-claimed. I know you'll be very busy, but if we have time, soccer, golf, and hiking would be a ton of fun. you could probably even drop in on one of my soccer games. I look forward so much to seeing you soon!!!!!!!!!!

Wendy said...

I call dibs before Randy. Can't wait to see you!

alex said...

What time is o dark 30?

What sort of excuse is bugs?

How did you lose your shoes?

Do you get tornadoes in Kazakhstan? Those crazy weather shifts sound reminiscent of the midwest where they get all sorts of crazy weather.

How's your Russian coming along? I get the impression you are getting better quickly at this point - but that is entirely inferrential with little to infer from.

Sounds like things are going pretty well out there.

Wish I could make it back to Seattle in July, alas I have to work out here.

Trav said...

Bugs is totally an excuse. I'd definitely give that one to you. I hate hiking behind someone and seeing their shirt entirely covered with mosquitoes. This makes you think about how your back probably looks very similar.

It's still light out at 11:30!!
I bet you'll have an awesome solstice party. I'm looking forward to mine.