Friday, September 23, 2011

top 10 things you didn't know about the peace corps

i found this interesting and thought i would share.

Monday, September 12, 2011

6 month anniversary!

six months ago i was standing in line for customs to enter kazakhstan & i burst into tears. the weight of the international move, lack of sleep, and intense meet and greet for the past 3 days had caught up with me & i was overwhelmed. thank goodness for the welcoming smiles of the peace corps kaz office staff & the corny big bars & water they had waiting for us.

it has now been six months & that time & that girl seem so very far away. my first thought was, "say what?!!? it has only been six months?" immediately followed by, "holy cow!!! it has been six months already!" time here seems to move in a very different way. when i measure time by the accomplishments i have made and the changes i can see within myself it is hard to believe that it all took place in the short span of 6 months. it has certainly been the most challenging & life changing 6 months of my life. & i can honestly say that without feeling like i am exaggerating in the least.

so i have decided to post some of my favorite pictures from my times here so far & things i have learned, eaten, etc. in celebration of the past six months.

some of my favorite things about kazakhstan: the people. they are truly hospitable and welcoming. without the many great locals that have been a part of my life here i would not have made it. they are what make getting up in the morning worth it. chai.i love tea. i love that we drink it here allllll the time. (though i will admit there were times over the summer when i did not understand the need for hot tea in 112 degree weather) i love that there is always time in the day, no matter how busy you may be, to take a break, sit with friends, & just drink tea. glittery wall paper.glitter and rhinestones of kinds actually. i love that the sparklier it is, the more trendy it is. chechel.i love chechel. it is kind of like smoked string cheese. except the cheese strings are much thinner. it is chewy & salty & delicious.

things i am most proud of since being here: sticking it out.number one. peace corps is hard. being away from friends and family is hard. somedays all i want to do is hop on the next plane home. sticking it out through the lowest lows takes a strength i didn't know i had & a strength that has been & will be tested again & again. learning a new language.i can speak kazakh now! granted i sound like a five year old, but i am proud nonetheless. six months is a short amount of time to make the progress i have made. & kazakh is such a unique and interesting language to be learning. writing a textbook. i am not qualified to write a textbook. i don't even know where to begin. but i managed to put together this book that is working in my classes so far & looks professional! i am certainly proud of that. saying yes more often. i have made it a goal to say yes to as many opportunities as i can. things i would normally turn down in a heartbeat at home have led me on adventures here i will never forget. from jumping across rooftops to singing in kazakh in front of a crowd.

things i have eaten: horse meat.i have now had horse meat in a couple dif. forms. i can't really tell that much of a dif. from beef in all honesty. kort. kort is a fermented cheese of some sort. it looks like a rock and is powdery. it tastes like a really stinky, sour parmesan. it is super dry so if you bite off too much your mouth starts to stick together. beshbarmak. of course. the national kazakh dish. lasagna noodles topped with meat of some sort, broth, and onions. eaten off one big plate with your hands. & yes, it still burns my fingers & i still make a mess. sheep's ...i've pretty much had everything you can eat on a sheep minus the eyeballs now. organ soup, cheek, brain, gum... kumis. fermented mare's milk. i heard about this before i even left. i have to is growing on me. i may even like it. is kind of tastes like kort except in liquid form. it has a smoky aftertaste (to me) & i think it quenches your thirst nicely after a big plate of beshbarmak.

habits that will be hard to break back in the states: drinking out of anything but a bowl. eating with utensils. not sticking my personal utensil into every dish on the table. inserting random kazakh or russian words into everyday conversation. taking my shoes off before entering the house. throwing my toilet paper in the trashcan. carrying toilet paper everywhere. answering my telephone no matter what i am doing or where i am. covering my cup with my hand to show everyone that i am finished.

habits i am still having a hard time breaking here: sitting on the ground. we can't sit on the ground here, we will become infertile. sitting at the corner of the table. you will become infertile. standing with my hands on my hips. i could become infertile. this one is a toughy. years of cheerleading have taught me this is the place my hands ought to be. reaching for my tea with my left hand. this is a no, no. i forget often. paying money in the evening or later. it is bad luck...and i always forget. which leads to an awkward standoff that results in me finally realizing the mistake i have made and having to leave the money in a random spot for the person to pick up later.

insights i have had: take it one day at a time. looking past that one day is overwhelming and it keeps you from living in the moment. patience really is the greatest virtue. it is so easy to become frustrated. but being patient makes everything easier & life so much more enjoyable. mistakes are inevitable, it is how you react to them that matters. i taught my last lesson today with my fly down & my hot pink underwear flashing for all to see. things like this happen. being able to laugh about it has made my journey much easier. i am still working to be able to do this with all my mistakes. take a moment & remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. caught up in the little day to day dramas it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. it is important to take a moment and reflect on why you are where you are. being able to say out loud the goals you are hoping to accomplish makes it much easier to deal with the hurdles along the way.

hope you enjoyed,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

up we go!

it is about that time for my monthly update. =) I have spent a little over two weeks in almaty for training with my fellow Kaz 23s. Getting 53 americans together after our brief stays at site made for an interesting visit. Things were never dull, well except during our training sessions that lasted 9 hours everyday. Womp womp. But we made good use of our evenings together. I also managed to go to American Bar & Grill 3 times, which is quite impressive on my peace corps budget. But you really can’t put a price on a real cheeseburger and french-fries. I also indulged in a little pizza hut and some hardees. I promise I did more than eat though! Obviously it would take forever to relay all the stories from my trip, so I will just share my favorite in detail.

Whenever we go into to almaty for trainings we stay at a sanatorium called көк-тобе. It is a really strange little place, but I think it suits us perfectly. From the array of sparkling wallpaper designs, to the many statues in varying stages of decay, to the light menagerie that decorates the woods each night, it has become our home away from home. This sanetorium rests right at the base of the mountains that sorround the city. Directly behind our sanetorium is a tourist attraction on the top of the closest mountain, also called көк-тобе. You can pay 5,000 tenge a person to ride up from the city to the top in a gondola. Since we were busy spending our moolah on well-deserved, high quality food, we did not have the tenge to dish out for that ride. Apparently you can also take a bus up to the top, but how exciting could the bus ride be in comparison to flying over the mountain in a ski-lift? We decied the since it didn't seem that far away we would take our day off to hike up to the top.

Justin, Carrie, Brian, and I left the sanetorium at about 11 to begin our trek. We stopped at the 24 hour cafeteria nearby to fuel up first. I had a giant plate of rice which was suprisingly satisfying. We then began our journey. Justin naturally became our leader and took charge heading down various streets on the outskirts of the city. Our general thought was that if we were moving uphill we were on the right track. We took several roads that ended in deadends of private houses. At one point we actually ended up directly beneath one of the towers that the gondola travels on, so we thought for sure we getting warmer. We ended up at one more deadend. When we reached a clearing, we could see that all needed to do was to corss a valley filled with houses and we would be on our way up the clear stretch of mountain. Justin picked our route and we followed.

We thought we had reached another deadend because all that was at the end of the road were two big fenced in houses. Luckily at that moment, a Kazakh man that lives in one of the houses came out to get into his car. He must have known eactly what we were up to (maybe the waterbottles, backbacks, and tennis shoes gave it away) and yelled to say hello to the mountain for him at us in kazakh and then started pointing back near his house. It took me a moment to realize that Carrie and Justin both do not speak Kazakh so they had no idea what he was saying. Not that me knowing was any help. We all wandered towards the back gate of his house where it looked like he was pointing and thought maybe he was going to let us cut through his backyard. He quickly stopped us and came over to lift a bush that was covering a very overgrown path. I don't know if we would have ever found a cut-through without him. I wonder how often he becomes an unofficial guide for tourists trying to find their way up the mountain.

We followed the path that led downhill to a little creek. After we crossed the creek we reached another big house on another road. In the bushes right before we hit the house we heard a chicken yelling at us. I bent down to get a closer look and found baby chicks! They were so adorable. We came out of the woods and followed the road until we reached a giant highway. Just beyond the highway was the foot of the mountain. We crossed the right side of the highway, jumped the fence in the median, and crossed the left side of the highway to reach the other side. We followed the road for a bit until we came to a dirt path that we could see wound up the side of the mountain. The dirt path was rather steep, but when it finally leveled out we could see the entire city stretched out before us. It was incredible. We continued following the trail wrapping around the side of the mountain.

It wasn't long before we reached a herd of goats! I am still amazed at this city that is so modern and bustling, yet still has herds of goats in the mountains just minutes away. When we got closer we could see that there were two paths. The herd of goats was blocking one path around the side of the mountains so we started up the path further up the mountain. At that moment the shepard and his bull came down the path towards us. The shepard yelled something at us that we didn't understand and then continued on to go stand by his herd. The bull stopped in his tracks and stared at us. I froze. Our options were heading towards the bull, tumbling down the mountain, or towards the herd of goats. Looking back on it the choice to make seems clear, but we stood there a hot minute to think about it. At one point Brian actually started up the path towards the bull and we all had to scream at him to stop. Carrie was hurriedly telling us about the story she read that ended in the main character getting gored by a bull. It was a tense moment. Since I had run the farthest away from the bull, I was now at the front to lead us towards the goats. I hate to admit that my knowledge of goats is limited. I wasn't sure if I was safe or not, all I knew was I should not have been the one leading the way around them. I tried to say hello in Kazakh to the shepard, but he just grunted at me in return. The goats frantcially jumped away from me and our path was clear.

We continued on the path until we reached a clearing at the top of the mountain/hill. It was amazing! The mountains were on one side of us and the city was on the other. If we get a chance all of us said that we would love to camp out there. It has the feeling of being completely isolated, like our own personal oasis. We followed the beautiful scenery until we reached a fence that blocked in a rollercoaseter? That's right. Isn't that what you would expect to fnd at the top of the mountain? The sign on the fence said something about not walking around the fence and a video camera (in russian), but we had no choice. We just had to decide which way to follow the fence. We went to the right because we (I think I actaully made this call, sorry guys!) thought it looked like it led to the entrance for көк-тобе. Along the fence the ground was covered in dry straw that made it very slippery and the hill was very steep. I imainge that if I had slipped I would have continued rolling until I reached the highway at the bottom. It took us about 30 minutes to follow along two sides of the fence. Along the way we discovered an old abanadoned staircase and a hole that belonged to some animal I would not like to meet. Above the hole a animal's skull of some sort was staked on the fence. When we finally made it to the end of the fence we realized that it just ended. Probably because it ran into the side of the mountain covered in a brush that no one could possiblly get through. I'm sure whoever was monitoring those cameras was having a good time watching us struggle to come to that discovery. Ha.

We took a few pictures to document the hilarity of the situation and did the only thig we could do, turned around and went back. When we got back to square one we were all sweaty, thirsty messes. I could feel the sunburn stretching across the freckles on my nose and cheeks. We headed around the other side of the fence and after only five minutes we could see a bustling sidewalk just above us. Justin said he felt a bit like Jaemes Bond climbing out of the woods and onto the side walk, but I did not feel like a Bond girl at all. We hopped over the railing and literally stumbled into a sidewalk full of families and couples out for the day to enjoy the weather and attractions. Everyone was dressed in their best summer day outfits and I was wearing workout shorts that showed the scratches all down my legs from walking through the brush, and a bright teal workout tee just to make sure no one would miss me. My hair was tossed up in a messy bun with strands plastered around my face with sweat. To say I stook out like a sore thumb was an understatment. My excitement at making it to the top quickly took over any insecruty I may have felt at first with all eyes on me.

I don't know what I was expecting to be at көк-тобе, but whatever it was it defintiely wasn't what we found. көк-тобе is actually a very fancy tourist spot. It has games, cotton candy, and icees, along with an upscale restaurant, a zoo!, a fountain with a golden apple, a bench with statues of the beatles?, and booths that line the sidewalk selling traditional Kazakh items. After sitting in the shade for a while to cool off, Carrie and I made a beeline for the booths. Even with our little allowence, shopping hasn't left my blood just because I am living in Kazakhstan. Carrie found a neat little dagger that looks super fancy. I found a little purse (which I have been needing!) made out of teal and white felt with colorful felt flowers and a camel and sun set across a straw fence. It has KAZAKHSTAN embroidered across the bottom in black. I am absolutely in love with it, just looking at it makes me happy. It is the perfect mixture of hippie, boho, and Kazakh. After that we went to the restaurant and got a seat out on the back deck. The deck hangs over the side of the mountain enough so that it looks as if you are floating over the city. The view is impossible to describe. The families and couples all around us were eating fancy salads, huge plates of steaks and ribs, smoking hookah, and drinking pretty cocktails. I don't think much on that meu was within our peace corps budget, but it was just our luck that the milkshakes were! We each ordered a milkshake and when they got to our table we looked picture perfect sitting over the city with the strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla milkshakes sitting in front of us. Defintely what you think of when you imagine peace corps, right? =)

After our shakes we wandered around the top for an hour or so. We strolled along the zoo and made a stop to see the beatles, of course. When we finally ducked back into the woods, Justin darted down the hill and for a moment he really did look just like James Bond. We got lost again on the way home, but we managed to find our way and we got back to the sanetorium much faster on the way down. My camera was dead for the adventure, but Carrie took lots of pics for all of us. As soon as I get them from her, I will be sure to post them.

Your sweaty, Kazakh-speaking, Bond girl,

Monday, July 25, 2011

Just call me Giada

I’ve always been a picky eater. My mom probably knows this best after having spent the past 23 years trying to get me to eat less bread and potatoes and more vegetables and meat. When it comes to food I am like your average 4 year old. My favorites are mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken tenders, and pizza. To be fair I haven’t really tried anything else. Now, I will lie to you and tell you I have no problem trying anything, but I just don’t like it, but in truth you will be lucky for me to put a spoonful of anything new anywhere near my mouth. I blame this on green beans.

Green beans are like the staple vegetable in my family. My brother and sister love them. Green bean casserole at the thanksgiving dinner is like their highlight. I had green beans on my plate more times than not when I was a kid and when green beans were on the table it meant war. My parents insisted that I eat them. The rule at our table was as many bites as your age. My parents would monitor my bites to make sure they were legitimate. If I tried to get away with a nibble I would have to finish that nibble and try again. This often meant that I would end up eating the whole serving of green beans on my plate. My dad would say, “You would like them if you really tried them.” But I didn’t. I tried them and I hated them. And I still do. I think this is where I made the correlation that if I think I don’t like something I probably won’t, even if I have never tried it.

In my mind all vegetables taste something like green beans. Anything that looks like fish must taste like fish sticks, and I certainly don’t like those. Anything jiggly must taste like jello, and that is just gross. Somewhere along the way my parents gave in and stopped making me try things and I have avoided doing so since. At restaurants I find one thing I like and I stick to it. I have a specific meal I order at every place and my whole family knows it. I never felt like I was missing out on anything at all.

My relationship with food started to change right around the time I graduated college. I didn’t know it then, but I found a spark of interest in the culinary world that would forever change how I look at food. That summer I became hooked on one of those cake cooking shows. I should first say I hate cakes. I have never been able to eat the icing. It is just too much sugar for me. My sister and I rarely had cakes at our birthday parties. She opted for root beer floats and I loved the chocolate and peanut ice cream pizza from Dairy Queen (why did you stop making those DQ?). I loved this show, though, because the cakes were not food, they were art. One of my best friends was getting married and my mom was putting together a bridal shower for her. One of the requests that my mom had for me was that I bake a cake for the shower. My mom does not enjoy baking so my sister and I threw together cookies and brownies on occasion for different parties. Up until this point I rarely set foot in the kitchen to do more than heat up food or throw dishes in the dishwasher, but I decided that I was going to make a cake like the ones on TV. (Those of you that know me well know that I am prone to big ideas and elaborate projects out of the blue).

I went to the craft store and the grocery store and bought all the things I would need to make a two tier cake and a fondant covered cake. I perused tons of recipes for cakes that looked delicious. I settled on a two tier heart cake that was malted chocolate and a little chocolate cake covered in white fondant with green and brown polka dots all over it and a little brown bow tied at the bottom. And surprisingly, the cakes turned out great. Nowhere neat perfect, but completely edible and adorable. It was enough motivation for me to try again. I started making cakes and cupcakes for every occasion I could think of. I didn’t stop until my beautiful cake for fourth of july filled with strawberries and blueberries accidentally ended up in a pile on the kitchen floor. After that highly entertaining catastrophe I decided to take a break form the world of cake making. Even though I hadn’t baked in a while, the desire to learn how to do more stuck with me. I even looked into culinary school before committing to the Peace Corps. I became so interested in the art of cooking.

Now, if you are still reading, you must be wondering where this blog post is going. I have given you this back story to show how amazing it is that Kazakhstan has gotten me hooked on food again. Since living here I have learned to try new things in an amazing way. I can no longer judge a thing based on whether I think I may or may not like it. Living with multiple host families and attending more than a handful of parties I have been forced to try so many new types of foods and the results are startling. I had this long list of food that I thought for sure I didn’t like that is getting shorter by the second. My favorite meal here that my host mom makes is stuffed green peppers! Who would have thought that I, Emily picky-eater Johnson would love green peppers? And that is not the only thing. I love vegetables and fruits of all sorts that I wouldn’t even try before. I am so excited to learn how to make things and learn new recipes here and my host mom is more than excited to teach me. I have also had cooking thrust upon me. Before I had the choice to buy a frozen pizza or run through the closest Taco Bell, but here every meal is made at the stove with nothing from a package. I love to stroll through the bazaar and look at the seasonal produce that is available. I like looking up new recipes to try with the ingredients I can find here. I love that a microwave is not included in the necessary appliances here. I am also amazed at the ability I have to actually make something. I always said the reason my sister and I didn’t cook was because we weren’t good at it or we didn’t really know how, but I was mistaken. I know how to make so much more than I thought I did. Years of watching my mom at the stove have taught me more than enough to create a great meal. The adventures outdoors, meeting new people, and learning a new language are all fascinating parts of this experience, but by far my favorite part of being in Kazakhstan is the culinary adventure it is taking me on.

So if anyone has anyone recipes they want to share, I would love to get them! just leave a comment here or shoot me an email. i would love your salsa recipe mrs. susnhine! (i know this is like the 121th time i have asked, but i promise i won't lose it this time!)

back to,

Friday, July 15, 2011


Apparently my blog is turning into a monthly update. Sorry about that, I think once i get regular internet I may be able to update more often. It’s tough because the internet café has blogger and all the proxy sites blocked so i can only update using my little beeline usb modem at my house, but it is soooooo slow. & to be honest i haven’t been quite sure what to write.

part of keeping my blog requires me to keep my audience, both local and at home, in mind at all times. those of you that i speak with on a regular basis, or that get an update from my mom on a regular basis know that the past two months here at site have not been the easiest. if i’m being completely honest, my time in general here in Kaz has not been the easiest. but even during training with the earthquakes and sickness i haven’t really struggled like i have been struggling here in Zhez. which is why i have been avoiding this blog. i didn’t really want to post until i had something worthwhile and motivating to post, but i am just now beginning to see that it is quite possible that my service here may be strung together by the small accomplishments amongst the much larger mountains i am climbing. i am hoping that things will begin to even out a bit soon, but for right now i am just trying to keep my head down, one foot in front of the other.

a week ago i got the chance to help out with an all-girls sleep away camp here in Zhez. it is called camp G.L.O.W (girls leading our world) and is a camp put on by pcvs all over the world. the camp was really fun, but so exhausting. i now have a greater appreciation for all the camp counselors and youth ministers that took care of me while i was away at camp for all those summers of my youth. i had no idea. our camp was filled with daily kickboxing, games of all sorts, sessions on important subjects like self-esteem, budgeting, leadership, love, healthy relationships, and goal planning. we also had nightly events like a volunteer fashion show, where the girls dressed us up, a lip syncing concert, a talent show, and a disco. overall the camp was a huge success. the girls here really don’t get this information anywhere else so it is important to discuss these sensitive topics. they also don’t get the opportunity to get away from home for anything like this so the girls loved hanging out and making friends. we had a total of 45 girls and nine volunteers. this week really gave me a boost of energy that i had been needing and helped me to get a glimpse of the type of volunteer projects i will be able to take on during my two years here.

other than camp GLOW life here has been slow. really slow. i am having trouble filling the hours of each day. Most volunteers spend their summers traveling around. Summer is filled with camps and volunteers travel back and forth to help out with each other’s camps. Also, this is the time of year for edu volunteers to take vacations. My group, kaz 23, is a guinea pig training group. We are the first group in kaz to enter our sites during the summer. Typically volunteers get to Kazakhstan in august and reach their sites in November. This means that the school year has already begun and within weeks of arriving at site they are teaching full-time and don’t get a break until the school year ends during the summer. One of the problems with this schedule is that volunteers aren’t around for the full school year. They are trying to remedy this with our group. It is great in that I get to start the school year with my counterpart which means that I can set my expectations for the year upfront and make changes from the beginning instead of trying to change things once the school year has already begun. I am discovering that the major setback is getting to site in the summer.

It is a peace corps wide rule that volunteers are not allowed to travel from their site during their first 3 months. That means the entire summer for us. With school being out it means we have no classes to teach and it is too late to try and start a camp or any other major project. Peace corps kaz foresaw this problem and gave us permission to travel within our region to help out with other camps so we would have something to do. The problem is the peace corps kaz did not tell the current volunteers that they would be having a group of 50 vols traveling around the country to crash their camps. Camps are a great excuse for vols to invite their friends to come socialize with them for a week, so most of the current vols have already filled up their camps with their friends. That means that there are many of us kaz 23s that have no camps to go to. So this summer I have only been to one camp, the camp glow at my site. My days are filled with nothing minus the occasional one hour English club.

I can see that coming to site in November is hard because you are just tossed into the mix, but I can’t help feeling jealous. For these vols they are so busy from the second they get to site. I can imagine that by the time they get a break to think about how uncomfortable or exhausted they were in another country, they had already put in so much time that it was easy to just keep truckin’ along. On the other hand, I wake up each day around 11, eat lunch, watch a movie, read a book, occasionally venture out to wander around the city, and then come back for dinner and watch tv until bedtime. & lately with the 100 degree weather it is harder and harder to venture outside. I spend each day completely bored out of my mind, with plenty of time to evaluate why I am here. It is a hard question to answer when I am currently filling my days with things I could be doing in the states, and I would be able to do them there in much more comfort. I just keep telling myself that September will change everything, but it is hard to stare down 60 days without a single thing to do. & so far I am making a judgment of my site and role as a volunteer here that is based on situations that will not be the norm for me. I sometimes worry that when September does roll around I may be more disappointed than relieved. & then at that point I will have already put in 6-7 months here and it would make it much harder to walk away. I can only hope at this point that the summer will pass and that the fall will bring with it new challenges and excitement that make it worth the current struggles.

So, I hope this explains the lack of updates. I am just not doing anything. Which means there is nothing to write about. I am going to start thinking of the small accomplishments of each day as the big things I am doing here. Hopefully with this mindset I will have more stories to share soon. (:

Miss you all,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

the weekly highlights

i don’t really feel like stringing sentences together at the moment. partially because i am so tired of writing with this textbook and partially because i have become uncharacteristically lazy with this summer heat. & i’m actually pretty lazy normally so you can only imagine the nothingness i have managed to accomplish lately. despite this fact, lots of interesting and amusing (in my opinion) things have happened here in zhez lately, but because i don’t feel like really writing at the moment i am going to do a bit of a quick run down of the highlights. i may come back to it at a later date and fill in the blanks if i am feeling less lazy, but don’t hold your breath.

the interrupted run:

a couple weeks ago i went for my first run here in zhez. carrie & i have decided to make running a half-marathon (or maybe a 10k… i can’t remember what i committed to) our goal by the end of our service. so naturally we have both started running. she is actually way more committed than i am at the moment which is awesome for her because she is also sick right now. it makes me feel even worse about my slacker tendencies. but then again maybe i can blame some of my lack of running on this story.

so i went for my first run. i wasn’t exactly sure where i was going because i don’t really know my way around yet, but i started down a paved path that is partially covered by long rows of trees. my house is on a super busy street, and people in Kazakhstan do not really run for exercise. seeing a girl outside running (in shorts, heaven forbid) is not a normal sight. so you can imagine that i get many strange looks. this is why i ducked for the trees. at the end of the path i found a park. i thought this was perfect so i headed right in and started weaving my way through a maze of paved paths and ended up at the very back. while i was jogging i was approached by a young russian woman. she started speaking to me hurriedly in russian. i thought at first she was probably a student from one of the colleges in zhez because she asked if i spoke English. (i don’t know what gave it away, me running, my ipod, the neon green tennis shoes, or the shirt that said Virginia Wesleyan in English) i assumed that she wanted to practice english, but i was anxious to get back on my way so i told her i was sorry i didn’t understand russian. she then recruited her other russian girlfriend over to try and get me to understand them. when i apologized and started moving further along the path they called over three more russian girls. the girls surrounded me and started speaking to me from all sides in Russian. i tried again to explain i only speak Kazakh. apparently they were getting frustrated with me so they started yelling. it wasn’t until this point that i noticed that the girls were dressed rather scandalously. then the policemen appeared from no where and were heading straight for us. the first police man pulled one of the girls with bright red lipstick and matching bright red boyshorts away by her arm and the other police man continued towards the rest of us. i panicked because, of course, i had decided not to bring my documents with me on my little run. (lesson learned). so i said excuse me, nodded at the police man, and ran away. ( i think that is how any perfectly innocent citizen would behave, ha).

the missing chicken:

last week i came home from school a bit early. i saw that my host dad’s car was in the driveway so i knew i had caught him at home on his lunch break. i walked up the stairs to the house and heard my host dad speaking to me from the kitchen window that overlooks the stairs. i missed the first part of what he said, but i could’ve sworn the last word was Kazakh for blood. i assumed i had made a mistake in understanding per usual and continued up the stairs. i opened the door to find a puddle of blood sitting on the floor in the doorway. i stepped over it hurriedly, slipped my shoes off in the entryway (this is required when entering any house) and turned the corner into the kitchen. my host dad was standing in the middle of the room wiping the blade of a large knife with a rag, and he had the creepiest grin ever. he then said in English “chicken” and in Kazakh “finished”. with that he set the knife on the cabinet, walked into the entryway and slipped on his shoes, and stepped over the blood and out the door. i searched the house high and low for any sign of a recently murdered chicken, but i never found one and we still haven’t eaten any since. the blood was all cleaned up by the time i got back from my evening run.

my true calling is to be a chef:

so as i said in my last post, my host family pretty much dug my pizza. so my host mom asked me if i would make it again last week. i found out later that the reason i was actually asked to make pizza was because my host parents were going out for the evening and someone needed to make dinner for me and my two host brothers, but c’est la vie. so my host brothers bought the ingredients and left me to work in the kitchen. right before leaving my host mom instructed me to make two fried eggs and fried bologna for both of the boys also. while i was making the dough my youngest host brother, bakchan, came in and asked if i would make two pizzas. since he bought enough for two i reluctantly agreed. after getting both pizzas ready to cook bakchan came in a told me to put both pizzas in the oven at once. (now mind you, i am using one of those little toaster ovens, not a real oven). i told him that it was too small, but he insisted. so instead of disagreeing with a kazakh male, i put both pizzas in the oven.

i then turned to the task of frying bologna and eggs. i finished the bologna without any trouble, but bakchan came in while i was making the eggs and made me turn the skillet up on high. consequently the eggs starting bubbling and bursting in the oil and i was getting burns all over my chest and arms. this happened simultaneously as i noticed the smell of smoke in the air. i called bakchan to come help, but he didn’t hear. so after i got the egg situation under control (which tasted totally fine), i hurriedly got the pizzas out of the oven. like i had thought, they were both too close to the heat so the pizza on top got slight burned on the top and the pizza on the bottom got a lil black underneath. my host brothers and i ate the top pizza and it tasted totally fine. my older brother, yeerzhan, was still hungry and asked if he could eat the other pizza that we were saving for my host parents. in my broken Kazakh i tried to explain that it was black so it probably wouldn’t taste great, but he didn’t understand so i smiled and said sure. he grabbed a piece and i went to the stove to get some more tea when i turned around yeerzhan had eaten the pizza and was now holding his tooth in his hand. his tooth! (now in case you think like my mother, my oldest host brother is 23. his tooth was not “ready to come out”) my younger host brother pulled me aside later and said “Miss Emily, your pizza hard. Maybe better as dog food.” i like to interpret that as, “my compliments to the chef!” but that still doesn’t explain why i haven’t been asked to cook again…

so those are the highlights. hope you enjoyed,

Saturday, June 4, 2011

kazkhstan is turning me back into a child. i like it.

note: i can’t remember what i wrote last time, so if i repeat info here excuse me. =)

so it has been about two and a half weeks now here in zhez. mostly right now i am just exhausted. i started teaching my 6th day here. i was teaching six 80 minutes lessons a week. my last lessons were today. phew. it is now summer for all of the kiddos at my college. i will continue to go into the school until the end of july though. my counterpart expressed the need for some sort of textbook to work from for her students. right now there is no english textbook available for the teachers to use at all. so that is how i came to be writing an english textbook and teacher’s book to accompany.

it sounds loftier than it is. it is actually more like a course-pack. i am essentially planning the lessons for the upcoming year all at once and putting all the materials and activities needed to complete them in one place. i am also attempting to turn the “theme lessons” into some sort of curriculum with a lesson plan, unit plan, and yearly plan. that is where most of my free time is going at the moment. writing a textbook is not an easy task without internet. so i have been spending quite a bit of time (and money) at the local internet café. it will be interesting to see how that works out.

last weekend i went with all of the volunteers and some students to an orphanage in a nearby town. the students led games and gave away prizes. it was part of a project the volunteers had been working on to expose volunteerism to the students. volunteering and community service are essentially unheard of for the students here.. they all participate in community clean-up, but developing and carrying a volunteer project is a great accomplishment for these girls. the students loved it. they got a chance to realize how great volunteering makes the volunteer feel also. it was definitely a great experience. it went so well that i think we are going to try and do a similar project again here in the zhez orphanage.

i have also been attending english clubs and getting the opportunity to meet and chat with local teachers and students. english clubs are great because it is always a room filled with people that really want to learn. it is unlike the classroom setting in that there are no unmotivated students in a club since it is their free time. it is also a chance for volunteers to facilitate discussions and activities in a more informal setting. it gives us a chance to get to know the teachers and students on a more personal level. i can definitely tell that club will probably be the highlight of my service.

at one of these english clubs i got the opportunity to make friends with the cutest little girl ever. her name is gulden. she is a friend of robin, another vol here in zhez. the three of us walked to english club together yesterday. within seconds of meeting me she started talking hurriedly to me in russian. robin speaks russian so it is easy to see why she would think that i spoke russian also. when i told her that i spoke kazakh she got super excited. we walked all the way to english club holding hands. she sat next to me and chatted with me during the entire english club. her english is great for being so young! she attends the english club that is filled with university and college students and she can certainly keep up. she called me today while i was cooking lunch just to chit chat. so adorable.

highlight of the week: i cooked my family an american dinner! i was super nervous about this. my host mom asked if i would cook them american food for dinner on tuesday night. i said yes of course. i realized later that i had english club on tuesday so i had to postpone until wednesday. then on wednesday the family told me that were going to a party. so finally thursday night it was american food night! my host brother asked me to make a list of ingredients i needed so he could get them during the day. i decided to make the package of kraft mac ‘n cheese i had and try to make pizza from scratch. for dessert- banana splits! (i didn’t put this on the list though, it was my surprise)

when i got home from school i came into the kitchen to see the ingredients lying in a bag on the table. instead of milk i had powdered milk. instead of tomato paste i had tomatoes. and the cheese was like the packed American cheese slices. obviously i should have been more specific. i made a quick run to the local store to get the right things. since i can’t speak kazakh very well i ended up with the 6% milk instead of the 1.5% i had been aiming for. oh well. creamier mac ‘n cheese it is. i also had to just pick a random jar that looked like tomato sauce and had a picture of tomatoes on it.

i went home and waited around for a bit. the family wasn’t home still and i wasn’t 100% sure i was actually supposed to be cooking that night. (another failure of mine language wise) i finally decided that the bag of ingredients was a clear indication i should start cooking. i managed to make the dough from scratch! (the best part of the pizza, actually) mom didn’t come home for dinner. i don’t know why, but my little bro and host dad were there. my host borther loved the mac ‘n cheese. my host dad seemed a little confused about milk and cheese being on macaroni. macaroni here is eaten in broth with veggies. he added chopped up tomato to it and that seemed to appease him. the pizza turned out decent. it was totally edible, but the sauce tasted a bit too much like barbq sauce and the cheese kind of melted into a rubber coating. next time i will invest in the more expensive cheese. all in all i think the fam loved it. they were super impressed with the dough i made (i was too!) and they want me to make more food for them again soon. particularly cakes since they saw the pictures of some of the cakes i made in the states. since this turned out ok i am feeling more confident in my ability to cook here with completely different ingredients. maybe cakes won’t be as hard as i thought. still a bit skeptical of the frosting though. (no mixers!)

also today i got a package from one of my volunteer friends up north, carrie. it had a russian aladdin coloring book, a letter, and a cd mix in it. so excited. i started coloring & listening to my cd immediately, i took a break to eat an entire box of spongebob kraft mac ‘n cheese and went back to coloring. successful day i think!

back to coloring,