Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some Funny Stories

The other day, while my training group was leaving our school after a long day of Russian, we were bombarded with the usual, "Hello!" (snicker-snicker) "How are you?" (he-he-he) "What is your name?" (pull friends towards you sheepishly and laugh or run away). Basically, just the usual Almalybak interactions with local children. So, we nonchalantly answered their questions and then AC (the local Almalybak celebrity, and fellow PCT) asked one of the young boys how old HE was. They, as a general rule, aren't prepared to answer these questions, but if they do answer it generally means they have been taught the appropriate english response, and they are almost always correct. This particular little boy (who couldn't have been more than 3.5' tall) looked up at AC and confidently replied, "I'm 20!". We all started laughing and AC replied, "No, you aren't". The little boy was insistent that he was 20 years old. After switching to our minimal Russian we asked him how old he was. 12. :) When we corrected his mistake, he smiled largely and laughed with his friends. By the way, I still have a hard time beliving he was even 12 - these kids looks SO young.

On that same day, I also saw a man herding his sheep through the streets of Almalybak, twice. And every morning I pass a woman and a man who are "walking their cow(s)". Technically, they are taking them out to the fields behind my house, but when you pass them on the streets with ropes tied to the cows, it pretty much looks like they are just walking their cows. I also pass a donkey on the way to school every morning, always tied somewhere different to "graze" for the day. I've named him Donkey (Shrek, anyone?).

I have seen a young school girl dropped off at school by her father in their garbage truck (military-issue). The dad had to get out, walk around, open the door and hoist the daughter our, all the while I just walked on by smiling.

I have officially given my first autograph, to a group of four school girls on the playground during lunch. That is always a funny experience.

Being woken up in the middle of the night (when my window is open) by Donkey, down the road, hee-hawing is terribly frustrating, but I still can't help but smile.

The kids yelling "Hello" is getting a little old, as are their 3 other English phrases, but the boy who yelled "My mother's name is Dana!" the other day, deserves some credit. :)

When my host dad got home late from work and we saw eachother in the hall upstairs and he proudly said, "Good Morning!" in perfect English, only to be laughed at by his wife who realized his mistake, is in the top 10 moments for sure. Especially because Aida (my host mom) then brought it up at the dinner table so that everyone could have a good laugh at my host Dad's expense (including Dad). I noticed he hasn't greeted me in English since, however. :)

Hearing about Ryan S.'s host mom saying that "plants are bad for the environment too!" when he tried to explain his vegetarianism to her, will not ever cease to amuse me. I mean, come on, plants ARE the environment.

Also near the top of the list is AC's video of the donkey eating weeds, only to see, as the camera zooms out, two little boys smiling from ear to ear atop the donkey. AC calls it the Kazakhstan Gas Station.

I'll try to write about the much anticipated food subject soon!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Almalybak, anyone?

We just started Week 4 of PST (pre-service training) and a lot has changed since my first Sunday here in Almalybak. For one, I am no longer living with my original host family. Peace Corps got wind of some uncomfortable situations I was being placed in and the realization that there was no lock on my bedroom door and they found me a new family and moved me in with them no more than a day or two after they grew concerned. Basically, I spent the first week trying to find ways to deal with the very awkward 23-year old brother I was sharing a house with. He took an uncomfortable interest in everything I was doing, at all times of the day. When I was writing a letter to one of my friends back home, he came into my room (uninvited) and sat down on my bed and watched me write a letter for 20 minutes, just watched me.

But, no need to dwell on the past, Peace Corps moved me in with a new family, which I never asked them to do, but felt immediately relieved when I learned of their decision. I now live on the other side of Almalyback (in a newer part of town) with a family that is absolutely fantastic. I have three brothers (none of which compare to my American one, but all of whom add a little to my life). They are 15 (Manas), 18 (Manarbek) and 21 (Azamat), and then Mama (Aida) and Papa (Hanat) (which I don't call them haha). My host mother is a Vice Principal at the school I am training at and my host father is a "businessman" in Almaty. The literal translation of his position is Businessman, so take what you will from that because I still don't have a clue what he does (something with documents, I think). Our house is very western, almost too western in fact, but can you really complain about these kinds of things? I think not. I'll try to post pictures soon, I wasn't able to post them today unfortunately.

The first 7 days were really rough and culture shock basically took over, but now we've climbed over that hump and life is starting to feel a little more regular. I'm getting to know all of the other PSTs in Almalybak very well and a few of them would even fit right in back home (maybe I'll throw them in my suitcase in 26.5 months?) My new house is the last at the end of a newly constructed street (so new it doesn't even have a street name yet) and then the dirt road opens up into fields and fields for days, with a dirt path leading through the fields, lined with tall birch trees. This has been a lifesaver - I wake up in the morning and am able to go for a run through the fields with fantastic views of the mountains all around and no Kazakstanians staring and pointing at me as I run. It's perfect. The first evening at my new house I told my family I was going to go running in the morning, and when I woke up the next morning I was followed out of the house by my 15 year old brother. He doesn't speak English so I couldn't ask him what he was doing, but when I started to run down the path, next thing I know my little brother is running with me. Turns out his parents had told him to be my escort for my first day, so he was forced to go running with me. I still laugh about it to this day. After breakfast he then walked me to school as well. The poor thing must have been miserably embarassed, but it was only one day. :)

There are a lot of funny stories I hope to be able to share soon, but for now I'll have to leave it at this. My time on the computer is coming to an end and I've actually got to run back to Russian class here in 30 minutes. For now, internet in Almalybak is up and running, but you just never know... But Kaskelan (another PST site) is down the road about 15 minutes and they have a reliable cafe, so that's my plan of attack if I can't get internet in the next few days.

Love and miss you all!