Sorry to have kept you all waiting for so long, but I'm back! And by back, I mean back to work! I've gotten over 20 hours of classes a week, which keeps me busy six days a week. During the morning, up until about 2 pm I am at school teaching 5th to 11th graders. I have about 2 hours for lunch then I head back to school for my favorite part of the day, the 3rd and 4th graders!
These kids are terrific! They are starting from the beginning, so I don't have to spend time unlearning things or reviewing past material. A lot of the time is spent playing games and things like that. They love me and are always asking when the next English class will be. They are absolutely adorable and excited about learning! It's a great feeling for a teacher, those of you that know. Life is so much easier when you don't have to force feed them the material. Things like colors, family and animals are super fun.
Among my students my favorites have to be the 4th "B" class. There's little Lea (this girl is eerily similar to a mini Lea, at least in my eyes), Arina and Sveta who have big eyes and goofy smiles. My 3rd graders include Rima and my ex-cousin Karina. Overall, I couldn't be happier to go back to school after lunch, when most people just want to relax.
Other classes are not too bad, I have a pretty fun time with most of my classes. I get tired of my older classes though and rarely look forward to them. 5th grade is good too, and I can always count on them to do their homework. The 6th grade has been begging me to come teach their class as well and I'm about to give in to them, even though I really don't need the extra 2 or 3 hours a week I'd have to be working.
I've decided that if I really want to leave my mark in this community, I need to be working a lot more on the English teachers than on the students. I'm only here another year and I can't improve English all that much, but what I can do is improve on very outdated methodology so that the resident teachers can carry on with amazing lessons. In this way though, I'm being resisted. It is very easy to rely on Russian and translate texts, and trying to get teachers to completely stop that is proving difficult. Some find it funny that I've started to become a "methodologist" as they say, but I'm going to persist. I've made a few advances, but it's going to take the whole year to get to a point that I'm satisfied.
I have also learned about the other side of potato planting. That is, the digging of potatos. I went out to a field one Saturday afternoon when I thought I was going to get to relax with a shovel and a pail. As the men dug up all the potatos we had planted five months ago (men being Slava and myself), our two women went around gathering them up. It was a pretty pathetic turn out, and we only gathered five sacks. These would not last through the winter and I heard lots of complaining about it from all points. This work was not nearly as hard as it was made out to be and we finished in the early afternoon and headed home. In most respects, it was identical to planting them, just in reverse. That's all that can really be said about this topic.
Other news, I'm officially a year older! Yeah, this old man just turned 24. I'm starting to feel it in my bones, the hair line is receding (or already receded) and my eyes are turning on me. I celebrated on the 16th pretty tamely. I had no classes that day amazingly, so I was able to relax. I got some happy birthday messages, the first at 7 am from my family in Almaty, when I was not in the right state of mind to fully appreciate it, but overall it was good. I had adults english club that night and talked to them for a bit, but there was no real celebration.
That weekend I went into the city and hung out with "the guys." We first went to a public banya in Pavlodar where we steamed, drank beers and did "man" things. Leave that to your imagination. We then met up with a local friend who I was told is "the greatest guy in Kazakhstan" which he would have to be to spend an evening with some crazy Americans. We went to a cafe and did the traditional bottle and toasts, did some dancing, then hit the town. All the details aren't necessary, but I would say I did any Kazakhstani proud, and many of my friends back home. I never went on a 21 run with my buddies, cause I'm older than most of them, but this pretty much made up for it.
I got back Monday afternoon after spending all of Sunday...recovering. Wednesday at school Slava comes up to me and tells me he has a surprise. I was thinking maybe a belated birthday present or something... but no, not exactly. Apparently Tanya, Slava's wife, had pointed out the wrong field to us when we were digging potatoes last time. We had dug up somebody else and had to go back and get our potatoes still. So Thursday morning when we had no classes and I again thought I was going to relax, Slava dragged me out to the fields.
This time it was just the two of us and it took a much longer time. Same process, but now i had to gather as well, and this was the hard part. By the end my back was killing me and I still had to go back for English club. Our driver was about an hour late coming to pick us up and Slava and I had some good philisophical discussions. Mostly about video games, movies, girls and the like. We really got deep and emotional. You can imagine.
Friday morning I learn I'm running in a race. From what I understood (and I'm getting better at understanding by the way), it was to be a relay race and I would be picking up the second leg and had to run 500 meters. At 1 pm I ate a light lunch of soup and at 3 pm got to the center where the race was to be held. It was there that I learned that I still had some work to do in understanding the Russian language. Apparently I was running my own race in the 20-29 year old mens catergory. And they had lied about the distance. I'm still not sure of the exact distance, but some say it was 1800 meters (that's more than a mile).
So I get all lined up with the other guys, most of whom are in much better shape than me and likely have been doing some running to get ready for this day. Me of course, I've been wearing my legs out digging potatoes and the like. My legs felt pretty heavy, but I figured I could do alright. So at go I took off and not wanting to look like a fool, tried to keep pace with the leaders. This quickly wore me down. As I got to the turn around point I was at 6th out of 9 or 10 people. I was wheezing and flopping my arms about, but still chugging along.
The whole time one of the kids from my school was riding beside me on his bicycle, offering me encouragement. Maybe it helped, I don't know, but as it was, I was slowly catching up to the guy ahead of me. As I neared his back, he must have heard my labored breathing or felt the spittle landing on his neck because he turned, saw me, and turned up the gas enough to get about 10 feet ahead of me again. This happened 3 times and after the 3rd I actually yelled at him, half jokingly, to slow down. He didn't listen.
As we came into the home stretch I decided I was going to get some sort of victory. So with all my students lining the track and cheering I turned on whatever I had left and came up behind the guy again. He saw me and tried to pick up his pace but he was no match. I lurchingly stumbled past him and beat him by some sort of distance, I don't know cause I was too tired to look back. I took a respectable 5th place overall. I was met by the winners and we all congratulated each other.
Then I wandered about the parking lotish area trying to hold down my lunch and stop my lungs from burning. This was the tiredest I've ever been. I tried to sit on the curb but was promptly told by a complete stranger that my butt would freeze to death or something, I was too tired to understand. Anyway, after about 10 minutes of fighting the urge to vomit, I gave up. Again, use your imagination. Though, I want to say I was not the only one from my group that hurled.
Okay, so now my legs are really, really tired. And today the school is going on a hike. Or have already. I hiked out to the woods with them, and in the interest of not using up the last of your patience with this blog, I'll keep it short. We went to the woods for Tourism Day, built fires, stomped down a beautiful meadow, ate lunch and drank tea, played games and left the place a mess. There were candy wrappers, plastic bottles and tin cans. Areas of burnt up grass and basically everything I had learned not to do in Boy Scouts. I wasn't too happy with the result, and I'm thinking of ways I can undo dozens of years of "who cares" attitude.
Alright, so that's the long (not the short) of what's been going on this last month. The weather is turning cold and before I know it I'll be trudging across ice and snow. In a week I will find out who my new American buddy will be and I've been assured that one is coming. I'm pretty excited to be the old salt out here. The guys from the city are all taking off in the next few weeks and I'll be sad to see them go, they've been a lot of fun and I wish them luck in wherever they end up (though I doubt they read this so it doesn't really matter what I say. They all smell terrible. Worse than Randy). That's all for that. Oh, also, I've reached the half way point (most volunteers leave after 26 months, 27 is the absolute limit). See you all in another 13 months.