Friday, September 25, 2009

More pictures from Culture Holiday

My favorite 11th grade class.

My favorite 10th grade class.

These ones made me think of nuns. Or Sister Act, more specifically. Especially when they were dancing...

You could just see the concentration in these little boys' eyes when they danced.

Cultural Holiday at School No. 39

We had some sort of holiday this week at my school. Basically every homeroom class was given a nationality (found in Kazakhstan) and they had to prepare some sort of presentation around that nationality. It actually reminded me a lot of the Culture Presentations we did during my Global and Cultural Awareness Week. Except the costumes were fantastic and the performances were a little more dance-focused. I spent two hours (during the break between morning and afternoon sessions) watching the different classes perform and was even asked to be an extra in one presentation. It was long and my feet were tired after standing that long, but it was totally worth it.

Daniar (we would call him Daniel in America) is one of the sweetest little boys at my school. He also participated in my Summer Camp.

Little boys and their capes... (this was Germany I believe)

The Russian 5th grade class. They were Ukraine.

All the little 5th graders. SO cute.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pirates (пираты)

written September 16, 2009

It's the end of the third week of school and I still don't have a permanent schedule. I am told what my day's schedule will be at approximately 1:30pm the day before. This is not uncommon for Kazakhstan. The administration takes the month of September to get organized and the teachers scramble about making do in the mean time. More importantly than the teacher not having a reliable schedule is the fact that none of the English classes have books. Aparently this is also something that takes the month of September to coordinate. For anyone who has ever taught students before, I'm sure you can imagine how difficult it is for a teacher to plan lessons without a book and with less than 24 hours notice as to which classes will be taught.

As a result, for the past three weeks I have been making up lesson plans using the internet, my own creativity or any other resource I have available. This week, running low on ideas, I came across a lesson theme online that I thought might be of interest for my 7th form students. The theme? Pirates. I found a song online (The Pirate Song) and pulled the Pittsburg Pirate logo off the internet. After learning new vocabulary words (like peg leg), and listening to The Pirate Song, I showed them the Pittsburg Pirate logo and told them that for the last 10 minutes of class, their job was to design a NEW logo for the baseball team and that we would vote on the winner (and that person would receive a 5 for the day - this is the equivalent of an A+).

I thought you might like to see what my students came up with...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What? No Water?

written September 10, 2009

So, I'm a procrastinator by nature. Honestly, I blame my brother. He always excelled at procrastinating when we lived at home together and I immediately understood that this was a way of life that I needed to adopt. It didn't take long before I, too, excelled in the art of procrastination. In Davis, 90% of my essays were started and completed the morning they were due and I always seemed to get away with it.

Since arriving back on the farm I've gladly welcomed my procrastinating ways back into my daily life. Dishes? I'll do them in the morning. Cleaning the floors? Eh, I'll wear socks. I can clean the floors on Thursday. Bathing? My hair doesn't start to look greasy until after 2.5 days. I'll boil water when I absolutely have to. Well, I believe the time has come for my lesson to be taught.

Yesterday afternoon, a mere 24 hours before Joe is planning to arrive in Merke, I decided it was probably about time to clean those floors and the few dishes left over from breakfast. I went out to the pump and began pumping. It took me a minute before I realized nothing was coming out of the pump. At first, I assumed I must just be doing it wrong (as if the past 5 months hasn't been lesson enough) but quickly realized that no, indeed something was terribly wrong. Every time I pulled and pushed the pump the darn thing only yielded air. I ran over to my neighbor's house to play the "stupid American" card, but she was still at work.

So, now I've got dirty floors, I'm feeding Kairu bottled water and the dirty dishes keep piling up. Not to mention the fact that I am now a day past my greasy hair limit and haven't gotten a run in for 3 days. It's a really bizarre feeling to realize that you don't have access to water. Suppose I'm going to have to stock up on gallon bottles of water at the local магазин (shop) that or start carrying buckets to and from a neighbor's water pump...

I'm sorry I procrastinate. I know I won't change my ways, but I would really love some water right about now! :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

I Rescued A Dog From Kazakhstan Today

I had been planning to temporarily adopt a puppy. Saltanat's dog had a litter of seven puppies two months ago and she asked if I'd like to keep one of them at my house until I moved back to America. This sounded great for a number of reasons, the main one being that I get bored and puppies are cute! I had planned to pick the puppy up from Saltanat's after my trip to Sweden. However, when I made my way over there the puppy was much less excited about me than I was about her. She was the last of the litter left and she had seen all of her brothers and sisters shipped off. When Saltanat even tried to approach her she ran screaming and crying into the garden. We spent 20 minutes trying to catch the puppy and everytime we got close she sounded as though someone had stepped on her - yelping and squealing.
After 20 minutes, I was feeling pretty unwanted and Saltanat was pretty tired. She told me she would try and catch the dog and bring it to my house whenever she caught it. Well, a week passed and no dog showed up at my front door. I had resigned myself to the fact that the puppy and I were not meant to be, but made jokes about how the puppy had no idea how good she would have had it if she had simply wanted to be loved by me.

(Enter Fate)

After a trip to the "white house" (the toilets at our school), Saltanat, Dinara (the other amazing new and young English teacher) and I came across an adorable little puppy on the school grounds. I crouched down and called him to me and he came galloping across the path up to my legs. He wasn't afraid of me at all. Saltanat eyed me (knowing full well what I was thinking). I asked her if the puppy was a stray and she asked the groundskeeper (who was standing nearby). Sure enough, he had no home. Saltanat and Dinara encouraged me to adopt him and I decided that when my lessons were finished I would think about taking this dog home with me.
I spent one entire lesson just looking out the window for the puppy. I was terrified he was going to run off and I wouldn't be able to take him home. After the lesson, I told Saltanat that I must go look for 'my' puppy. I had already claimed him, apparantly. When I got outside a bunch of 7th or 8th grade boys were working in the yard (something they have to do in Kazakhstan). The puppy was just wandering around them, trying to be one of the boys. I walked excitedly over to him and pet him furiously. The boys got very excited about the puppy and started asking me to translate things about him in Russian. He's black. He's a boy. etc. Then they started picking on him, as Kazakh boys like to do. I was discussing with the groundskeeper that I wanted to take the puppy home after classes. The boys literally began tossing the puppy around and kicking him when I wasn't looking. I scolded them and decided right then and there that the puppy was coming home with me.
And so, I have provided a home for this adorable homeless puppy. It took me a day (and an hour-long Skype conversation with Sarah) but I finally named him. Kairu (kai-roo). It means "little black one" in Kenyan and while it may be a little peculiar, I just couldn't escape the name. He's going to be one cultured little puppy, let me tell you. He's already learning both English and Russian ('come' in English, and the equivalent of 'no, stop that!' in Russian) and he has a Kenyan name and could one day visit America? :)
I'll try not to let this blog turn into the Kairu Chronicles, but he IS providing me with much entertainment and a lot more chores around the house. I no longer come home and spend hours watching movies or reading books. Now, I've got to feed the dog, make sure he doesn't have any fleas, potty-train and (when I get my hands on a collar/leash) take him for walks. If only he were a little older, I could start training him to run with me. :) Kairu is a very welcome addition to The Farm - at least until the Hubers come back and we have to worry about allergies...

Isn't he adorable?
After his first bath, which he did NOT like very much.
Debbie and Paul sent dog treats for Norbert, but since he ran away... the new puppy says Thank You!
And then, off to play...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Kazakhstan from another perspective...

Just a quick note here. As I've mentioned before, there are plenty of Peace Corps volunteers with blogs similar to mine which I try to keep listed on the right hand column of this page. Recently, of note, my friend Hotard (Michael is his first name) received some very special visitors. His mom and brother from Georgia came out to Kazakhstan for a week-long visit. His mom has written a guest blog entry on his blog which accesses Kazakhstan from a very different perspective than what I can provide right now. Her opinions are probably very similar to what anyone from America would experience upon visiting this country for the first time. I strongly suggest that you all check it out - it's a very real experience of a week in our lives.

I also have the blogs of friends and family who aren't in the Peace Corps because although they may not be living in Kazakhstan, I like to think they're doing some pretty cool things and/or have entertaining and interesting things to say about life outside of Kazakhstan.

And, if you haven't figured this out already, internet is up and running and very easily accessible at the moment, so I hope to keep the flurry of blog posts coming (at least until I get too bogged down in my job as an English teacher to keep up).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Welcome to Kazakhstan, Take 2

Every time a plane safely lands in Europe, there is almost always an eruption of applause so common, that I have grown to expect it. I turn the sound up on my iPod and wait as the applause moves in waves around the cabin. I'm not sure if the applause is in response to a belief that it's a miracle when a plane lands safely or just a greater appreciation for the work of the airplane pilots and crew, but either way I find it peculiar and a little obnoxious. However, on this particular trip, there was merely a brief and unimpressive applause scattered among a few rare seats. Maybe Kazakhs don't hold the same traditions as Europeans? However, there are a few things which I found quite reliable about my return to Kazakhstan.

After leaving the plane in the Almaty airport, all of the passengers are almost immediately filtered down two flights of stairs (no escalators) and into one large room for "Passport Control". Having just been through a handful of these in the past few weeks, I knew the drill: Have your passport out and ready, be prepared to answer some questions about your vacation, stand in line for a few minutes. And now just minutes after my arrival at 5:15am, I found myself in this non-descript room instantly thrown back into my Kazakhstan reality. As I tried to find the most promising line, to get through this situation as quickly as possible, I remembered that there aren't generally lines in this country -- more like suggestions. I stood in what started out as a line, and before long it morphed into something more closely resembling a huddle. People were coming into the group from all sides. In the three weeks I had been away I had nearly forgotten how to throw elbows and stand my ground and I was forced, very quickly, to relearn these habits. No one smiled. No one apologized for stepping on your feet or slyly nudging you out of the way.

I waited in this "huddle" for 37 minutes before I made it to the counter with my passport. Once there, I was not asked the usual series of questions. The Kazakh man behind the glass simply pointed up at the small camera above his head. I stared. He then took out a stamp, pounded it against the page of my passport and handed me an immigration card to begin filling out. As I quickly scribbled my name, he became impatient and waved for my attention. Pulling the piece of paper away from me he stamped it in disgust and slid it back under the glass. Now, nearly certain that my luggage had been circling the belt for at least a half an hour , I walked over and found unsurprisingly, two solitary pieces of luggage sitting upon the belt. Mine, of course, not among them. I waited, watching those two pieces travel around the track for a minute or two before I noticed a heap of suitcases and duffel bags on the floor near the conveyor belt. Sure enough, I dug mine out from among them.

Suitcase in hand, I prepared myself for the inevitable taxi negotiation. This part, unlike the others, I had known would be a part of my return to Kazakhstan. I didn't expect the delay caused by the hoard of friends and family essentially blocking the exit to the baggage claim, each and every passenger being forced to weave a path through the masses just to get out on to the street. From all sides men are yelling, "Taxi, devochka (girl)! Taxi!" Finally escaping through those front doors I set my sights on the group of taxi drivers negotiating rides. The first of whom, blatantly laughed in my face when I suggested 1500 tenge as an appropriate price for a cab across town. The second, accepted. I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but as we walked through the parking lot towards his car I kept hesitating in front of all of the vehicles I thought might be his. I was shocked when he opened the trunk to his once-blue wreck of a car. No more Mercedes-Benz or Volvos for me, I suppose. After loading my bag into the car and fumbling to find the seatbelt in the backseat, before remembering that seatbelts were a shot in the dark here, the driver told me to wait 5-10 minutes while he went to smoke with his friends. I rolled my eyes and he seemed concerned. As I prepared myself for a long wait in the back of this smelly beaten-up vehicle, I decided I simply wasn't in the mood. I began to get out of the car, telling him that I would find another driver. Alarmed at losing his passenger, he insisted that he could smoke later, we should definitely get on the road.

It took us another 15 minutes just to travel the 50 meters to the parking attendants, the cars all following the same pattern as the huddles at Passport Control. Once my driver made it to the window, he managed to convince the attendant that he couldn't pay now (he didn't have the money), but that he would be back in 30 minutes and he would pay then. I was snickering under my breath in the backseat, eagerly anticipating the response from the attendant. What an absurd suggestion! There's a system. I was shocked, when the parking attendant hesitated and then simply nodded and opened the gate. I'll have to remember that one for next time... :)

Finally, we were on the road. I began to imagine the soft comfortable couch in the Peace Corps lounge, just 20 minutes away now. As I pictured myself curling up with a blanket and sleeping off these miserable first hours in Kazakhstan our car swerved softly off the road and into a gas station. Oh yes, how could I have forgotten? Buses, taxis, marshrutkas, they all simply stop and fill up when the tank is empty. Another 6 or 7 minute delay, and at last we truly were on the last leg of our journey to the office. Besides the incessant talking and blabbing from my driver who, learning that I was American, now wanted to be best friends and eat beshbarmak together, the ride was really quite pleasant. There were very few cars on the road at such an early hour and I watched as everything began to feel a little familiar. All of these little houses with their green or aqua blue gates. The masses of stray dogs wandering the streets in packs. One pothole after another until I was convinced that the shocks were absolutely destroyed. A couple of closed roads due to "construction" and about 30 minutes later we finally arrived in front of the Peace Corps Office in Almaty. Being buzzed through the front gate was like returning to a sanctuary. Granted, a sanctuary I was entirely convinced I wanted to be visiting, but a sanctuary from this morning nonetheless.

Returning to Kazakhstan after three weeks away, was almost like arriving in Kazakhstan for the very first time, simply more educated and less jet-lagged. As opposed to everything looking exotic and foreign, it all looked vaguely familiar and yet seemed as though I was seeing it all with fresh new eyes. Eyes that were less inclined to be impressed. Less inclined to feel awed. After waking up from my 5 hour nap in the Peace Corps Office, I quite honestly couldn't imagine how the next (and last) 15 months of my service were going to be even remotely enjoyable. I unwillingly dragged myself away from the office and onto a marshrutka at the bus station. I refused to use the barbaric toilets at the rest stop. And yet, somehow, as I unlocked the gate to my place in Merke, I was instantly overcome with a feeling of familiarity and comfort. I dropped my bags and climbed through the hole in the fence to my neighbors' yard to retrieve the keys to my house. The amazing Russian family next door greeted me with happiness and smiles, knowing instantly that I must be exhausted from my travels and insisting that I go immediately home and rest. We would catch up tomorrow and I could tell them all about it later. They completely understood. I wasn't forced to drink chai completely delirious or sit and make small talk after three weeks without speaking a word of Russian. I returned home, to a house that had been cleaned before I left and looked after while I was away and I felt almost happy to be "home".

This first week in Kazakhstan has presented its share of challenges: I was assigned 9 lessons on the first day of school, I had 18 hours to recover from my jetlag before the first bell ceremony at 9am, I have had 8am lessons every day this week, I was scheduled for Saturday classes (which is not something I have had to experience in Kazakhstan so far), two of the worst classes at my school were dumped on me, and my counterpart currently lives and works outside of Almaty as a TCF for the new PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees). I can't lie and say that every moment of every day is a joy to spend in Kazakhstan and that I never dream about being somewhere (almost anywhere) else. I can say that I'll be here for COS next November and that despite all of its quirks and traditions, Kazakhstan is the place that I currently call home.

These are the pictures from our school's First Bell Ceremony, September 1, 2009.
The "Seniors" (that's what we'd call them in America). Here, 11th Formers.
I would say Freshman, but they're only 9. The new babies of the school, our 5th Formers.
It wouldn't be Kazakhstan without some kind of concert.
Oh, and yes... the French Maid outfits (aka Special Occassion Attire).
The Senior girls wear these to graduation and other special events during the year.

Let me tell you, the first time I saw a Kazakh girl wearing one of these (it was at a cafe on graduation day this year), I nearly died. I politely asked one of my best students if I could take a picture. She was honored. Thank you Batima.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tree of Life

Happy Birthday Mom and Baby Blastic!
I think we all needed a happy day...

Paul and Debbie just welcomed Orion Patrick into the world on September 4, 2009.
And my Mom celebrated her 35th (?) birthday on September 3.

"Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life." - Albert Einstein.

xoxo Grandma Morris

In other news... Happy Birthday Lauren! (Who just came and traveled with me in Sweden and Denmark), It's a popular couple of days for birthdays it seems...

Cary, Me, Lauren and Megan at the Brett Dennen, Colbie Caillat, John Mayer concert last summer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Home Swede Home

written August 30, 2009

Scandinavian trip in a nutshell: Incredible. There is far too much to say about the last three weeks of my life to fit it all into a manageable and still entertaining blog post. Over the past three weeks I experienced nearly every emotion known to man. Happy. Sad. Overwhelmed. Angry. Peaceful. Excited. The list goes on. It took me a while to recognize, but Kazakhstan had hardened me. I stepped off that plane in Stockholm with a different outlook on life than I had a year ago and with really no clue how to manage it.

The Cliff Notes version of my trip to Scandinavia:

Toured an old Swedish castle, took an evening jazz cruise in Stockholm, stood in a 14th century Swedish church in the countryside watching my best friend from college marry the man of her dreams, got stuck in a rain storm on a canal cruise in Copenhagen, sat in the backseat of a car with two great friends from America watching the Swedish countryside flying by, stood in an Ice Bar with flip-flops, a parka and winter gloves drinking a cocktail served out of a block of ice on a bar also made entirely of ice, saw the Copenhagen skyline flying by beneath my feet from an amusement park ride at Tivoli, had a traditional Danish meal with two remarkably hospitable Danish friends, buried my face in laundry fresh out of the dryer, made new friends in Stockholm who did a great job of convincing me that Sweden should be the next destination for my life, sat in a one-room cottage with 20 other wedding guests singing 'Oh When The Saints' to the tunes of an amazing trumpet and guitar player, got upgraded to Business Class and ate chocolate chip ice cream and fried gambas (prawns, bet you didn't know that) on a bed of mango, bell pepper and coconut salad, watched the latest Harry Potter (in English!) in a real movie theater, ate Thai, Indian, Italian, Japanese and Mexican cuisines not to mention approximately 7 or 8 hamburgers/chicken burgers, spent several mornings running around a lake on winding forest paths listening to amazing music and breathing fresh air, took several hot baths with absolutely no shame when my hands and feet were long beyond pruny.

Some of my expectations for this trip were absolutely shattered and others were far beyond what I could have expected. Unfortunately, for me, this wasn't just a vacation to Scandinavia like it would have been two years ago. The whole experience turned out to be as much about me being a Peace Corps Volunteer as it was being a tourist. Separating my life in Central Asia from this experience proved nearly impossible. Nothing in my life is certain right now, nothing except these 27 months spent serving in the country of Kazakhstan. When you spend 12 months of your life experiencing and adapting to very little that resembles ‘normal’ it’s hard, I found, to instantaneously bring yourself back to the ‘real world’ and not bring a lot of that baggage with you.
A friend of mine commented that it seemed as though I was incapable of being in a conversation that didn't revolve around my life in Kazakhstan. At first, of course, I was shocked and appalled. And of course, I hope there was bit of exaggeration in the claim, but, the more I thought about it, I realized that he probably has a point. I spent a lot of time in my head these past three weeks and it was impossible to deny the fact that Kazakhstan, if absolutely nothing else, has changed my daily realities. When almost every aspect of a once-familiar life begins to feel foreign, I suppose one option is to resort to talking about things that you are familiar with – for me, Kazakhstan. I've changed in a lot of little (and some not-so-little) ways since I left California last August. Some of them, like this, seem to be the temporary, consequences-of-the-job type that I hope to correct or overcome during this experience, or in its aftermath. Others, I hope will stick with me for a long time to come.
Of course I didn’t spend the entire time imprisoned by my own overactive thoughts. It’s a bold claim, but under the circumstances, I think it’s reasonably safe to say that this trip to Scandinavia was by far the most amazing vacation I’ve been on. Leaving Stockholm was one of the hardest things I’ve had to force myself to do in quite some time, and returning to Kazakhstan has definitely presented it’s share of challenges (but, more on those later). Now it’s just letting my family and friends in California try to convince me that when this is all said and done that I should be heading home and not to Sweden…
Matt & Lauren in Kalmar, Sweden (that's our hotel in the back)
Copenhagen Canal Cruise
The Tivoli Gardens ride that made me realize I'm not 14 anymore.
(For you Tracy - always complaining about how there aren't any pictures of me)
Stockholm. The Archipelago.
Bridesmaids drive to Sandviken for the wedding!
(This is the only picture I have because my battery died...)
Stockholm's Absolut Ice Bar. Brrr..