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,

Saturday, May 21, 2011

made it to my new home!

so first things first.


I swore in as a volunteer a week ago. it was awesome. we had our swearing in ceremony at the academy of sciences in almaty. the ceremony was nice. my lang. group and i sang our kazakh song. it went better than our dry run with out students at the college the week before. it sounded much less like a dirge this time around. i was definitely shaking the whole time though. haha i'm so lame. the whole thing was over pretty quickly and then we got to have some refreshments. only an hour later i was saying goodbye to most of my training group from ecik. they were all heading out on the train to their sites that day. it was so sad to say goodbye! it is amazing how close you can get to people in such a short amount of time when you go through extreme stress together. i was not lucky enough to leave the same day as swearing in. i was actually one of the last to leave kok-tobe sanetorium. i hung around with the remaining volunteers and waved goodbye as peace corps suvs pulled away with each group. my last night in almaty the four of us left went and grabbed pizza hut in the city. it was a good farewell dinner before going off on my way to zhez.

i was also not lucky enough to travel to site in a group. it was just me and my counterpart, aizhan. aizhan is super sweet. we had a good time during counterpart conference. (though not as much fun as we trainees had after conference ended each night). so when the peace corps suv came to pick me up at 10:00 pm on sunday i had to climb in with all my luggage alone. the three remaining vols, andrew, cat, and brian stood outside and waved goodbye. my counterpart met me at the train station about 45 minutes later.

i was super nervous sitting alone in the lobby with all my luggage waiting for her. she seemed just as nervous when she saw all my luggage that we had to get onto the train. we made it on just fine. peace corps bought two seat in the coupe for me and one for my counterpart. the fourth seat belonged to a really friendly kazakh guy that was insistent that i would marry a kazakh man before my two years are up, just like the other volunteer he knew of a couple hours from his village. haha. i highly doubt that one.

the train was fun/odd. i have never been on a train for a long trip like that so it was a new experience. since the train left at midnight i was pretty much only on for two nights and one day. this = lots of sleeping and eating. the entier way the view was just steppe. empty steppe. it is amazing to me that so much land here has just been left complete untouched. my counterpart and the friendly guy looked at me like i was nuts when i kept saying beautiful and taking pictures. "this is just steppe. there is nothing here. we are coming close to a village that is beautiful. take pictures of that." btw that village was not beautiful. it was neat to see, but def. not beautiful. although, i'm not sure what compares to watching the sun set and rise over the steppe. absolutely amazing. & of course while on the train i was forced to eat all kinds of foods i would rather not have. but, this is kazakhstan.

when i arrived in zhez it was 5:30 am. & the other vols at my site were at the train station waiting for me with a welcome sign. so sweet! everyone helped me get my luggage into the van and then i was off to my counterparts house. the next two days were really a blur. i went to the school and met the other teachers in my dept. (super friendly and nice. they made me a sign also. and got flowers!) i met with the director of the school. a really nice woman that is also super intimidating at the same time. i met with my potential families and picked one. it is an awesome, super traditional, very outgoing family. they live in a two story house that is way nicer than my condo back home. still no internet though :( but they do have a big flatscreen. it is my host mom, my host dad, and two host brothers. one is 15 and one is 23. they are both super sweet and the 15 year-old speaks great english that is a big help! especially since the dialect of kazakh here is so different. i am basically back at square one as far as language goes. my first night at the house the family cooked a huge meal and invited other vols and family over. there was lots of eating and dancing. i didn't realize until now actually how little i was eating in ecik. the family is my favorite part of zhez so far. (they are so traditional that we eat off one big plate with our hands! something that actually takes skill and i am working on doing without getting food all over the house.)

i start teaching on monday. i am both excited and terrified. the students are a much lower level than my students in ecik so it will be interesting.

wish me luck,

Sunday, May 8, 2011

site announcement!

i know where i am going to spend the next two years!

talk about excitement.

i am headed to a city in the Karaganda Oblast called:


A little info for you about my new home:

 Zhezkazgan has about 96,900 people.
 Z. is located smack dab in the middle of kaz. if you took your finger and put it in the center of the map, you would
probably find z.
 it is 315 miles from Karaganda, the capital of the oblast. (that is also my nearest kaz 23 volunteers)
 60.8% of the pop is kazakh, 27.2% is russian
 there are parks, restaurants, shops, a bazaar, a bus line, a swimming pool & sports center, a public banya, a movie
theater!, bowling, and a lake that you can rent kayaks in the summer from or go ice-fishing in the winter. ☺
 it has 'extreme continental weather'. avg temp in july is 75 and 3.2 in january. it can get as hot as 104 in the summer and
as cold as -40 in the winter. woo!
 it is home to the copper conglomerate Kazakkhyms

My placement info:

i am going to be teaching in an industrial college. i will be the thrid volunteer to teach at this college, which means that the college probably won't get another volunteer after me. my job will be work with the awesome projects the awesome vlounteers already have going there and try to make them sustainable. there are a few other volunteers already working in Z. or in the nearby Satpaev. So even though i am the only kaz 23 to go there, i will def. not be alone. from everything i have heard from my regional manager and current volunteers it sounds like this group is really great. i'm very lucky.

i totally thought i was heading to the south so this was an unexpected turn of events. it was a lot to absorb. it is cool too because now i am not that far from the other trainees from my training village. i can take an overnight train into karaganda. there are four kaz 23s that will be right around there. and then from karaganda to astana (the capital of kaz) there is a fast train that is only 3 ½ hours. some of my fellow ecik trainees live only an hour or less away from astana. it sounds like a long trip, but in a huge country like kaz that is really pretty close.

the other kaz 23s that are coming to my region are awesome. it is really strange that there are three kaz 23s from nova. me from woodbridge and will and david from fairfax. somehow we all ended up in the same oblast! i think we are going to have an awesome time. i'm super stoked about it.

so now this week our counterparts will come into town and we will have counterpart conference with them. it is sure to be interesting and awkward. we will work on lesson plans, teaching strategies, and other teacher-training-ish stuff. we leave ecik for almaty on wednesday. i am super nervous about getting my bags there. i have a lot of stuff. and a giant yurt dollhouse. :) we will stay in almaty at the sanetorium for the rest of the week for counterpart conference. then on saturday? we will officailly swear-in as volunteers. so stoked. on sunday i will hop on a train to zhezkazgan. it should only be a 33-hour train ride. ;) this week is gonna be crazy, busy, fun, and exciting, but it will also be bittersweet.

in other news:

i went to almaty with a big group of kaz 23 trainees last night to celebrate our site announcement. in order to get up to the 12th floor of our super sketch apartment we had to climb in a super sketch elevator. the elevators here are the size of a small pantry and smell like cat pee. we crammed five of us on to this elveator. we were the last group to start heading up. the eleveator buzzed for a minute and then all the lights went out and we were stuck in the dark. thank goodness phones in kaz have flashlights on them. at first it was rather frightnening because we weren't sure what floor we were on. when we realized we were on the first floor it was mostly just hot and uncomfortable.

we called the other trainees and immediately a rescue mission ensued. through the crack in the door we saw frisbees, hangers, spatulas, and toilet paper roll holders coming through trying to pry the door open. david even climbed into the shaft from above, but there isn't a hatch door like in american elveators. there was a light that had been wired down that i'm pretty sure my hips wouldn't have fit through anyways.

we made a good time of it anyways. we listened to music and played games. it was me, cody, and arthur from ecik. and then brittany and will who will be in my new oblast with me. it was a fab opportunity to get to know them. two hours later a dispatcher finally arrived and we made it out, safe and sound and only slightly more smelly than when we got on.

all in all it was a fab night. let the packing commence,

Friday, May 6, 2011

TiK (this is kazakhstan)

and the unexpected adventures came. and it was wonderful.

first of all, i forgot to mention that last weekend i got to spend an entire weekend living like an expat in almaty. we went to almaty with my kazakh class to practice train vocabulary at the train station. afterwards kat and i decided to stick around and grab a taxi back to ecik later. it was fabulous. we walked (forever) to the new pizza hut! in almaty. i had myself a personal pan pizza with pepperoni, a pepsi, and kat and i split garlic cheese bread. it was pricey for me, 1000 tenge. (only like 7 bucks at home). and it tasted like america. it was a fabulous break for my stomach. after pizza hut we went on a shortened version of a walking tour of almaty. we saw the monument of independence & i put my hand on nazerbayev's golden hand. this is the hand that is printed on every tenge bill here. we also saw great buildings, a statue of abai, and tulips! we eventually made it to a winding road surrounding by towering green trees. it was beautiful. at the end of the road we reached café delia. it is a fabulous coffee shop with wifi! kat and i ordered a coffee (mine was espresso, icecream, and whipcream) and sat on a hip and trendy bench outside. we stayed there for a couple hours and just enjoyed the weather and feeling like normal people for a while. it was a wonderful break.

back to the new advenutres:

after the first earthequake there were like five or six more. my mom said something to me in kazakh about 9 or 10 pm at night and then said she wasn't going to sleep. i laughed and said me too. i thought we were talking about being so scared we couldn't sleep. i left the house and went to the café with some other trainees. i got a call at the café from tommy at about 9 telling me that he thought my mom was looking for me. i immediately headed home…i have been trying to avoid getting in any more trouble with my host mom here. when i got home the house was empty. i thought it was odd, but i was so tired i just changed into jammies and crawled into bed. (yes, i got to bed around 9:30 here. sometimes as early as 8. don't judge me. =] ) an hour later my host mom came in my room and flipped the lights on. she told me to get out of bed and get dressed. i asked where we were going and she just kept saying, 'now!' so i hopped out of bed and pulled on my sweat pants and my host was like 'no! jeans! it's cold.' this was my first indication that we were leaving the house. since i learned from the last time i was taken away abruptly, i grabbed my purse, a change of clothes, and water and followed her out the door.

on the way down the stairs she pointed at each door and told me that each apartment was empty. she sent my host sister to the village where her parents live for the night. she led me to the little store that is beneath my apartment complex and into the back where i think a friend of hers lives? i asked here what we were doing and she said that we were waiting for the next earthequake to come. i asked how long and she said maybe midnight. i was exhausted and in disbelief. you can't predict earthquakes. but the entire area was convinced it was coming and we should wait for it. better safe than sorry i guess. though i'm not sure how being in the store at the bottom of a crumbling arptment complex would turn out well for me. finally at 2 am, after falling asleep at the kitcehn table, my host mom took me back to my bed.

she was clearly scared and slept with all the lights in the apartment on all night. a big deal here in kaz since electricity is so expensive. the earthquake did come. at 2:30 am. turns out my mom knew what she was talking about. it wasn't a big deal and i didn't even roll over in my bed. my host mom wanted me to come outside with her, but i told her i would be fine. i'm glad i did. josh had to go outside with his family and he didn't get back in until 4:30 am. 7:30 am comes too fast for that.

we were super lucky though, we got to take a bus to medeo in almaty the next morning with all the other trainees. it was simply amazing. on the bus ride into almaty in the morning my mom texted me and gave me the news about bin laden. the trainees were buzzing. when we got to almaty our country director met us there and chit chatted with us for a bit. it was weird to see him out of his dress clothes. he is really cool, and it was nice of him to stop and hang out with us for a bit.

medeo is the famous skating rink in the mountains in almaty. i had heard that the rink was actually closed so i was a little confused about what we could possibly be doing there for a day, but a whole day without lang. classes or technical sessions and i didn't really care. once we got there i learned that there is actually quite a lot of 'hiking' to do. the big catch was that it was only 800 steps to get up to the hiking area. at first i thought i could totally handle the stairs. after about step 250 i realized how exhausted being sick the week before had made me. i could barely stand. my cheerleaders, carrie and cody, stayed with me the whole way and got me to the top. they had a hard time convincing me not to stop at the halfway point and just have a beer. i made it though. i have to say the view from the top was rather disappointing. it was beautiful, but i don't know that it was 800 steps beautiful. what was awesome was the man with the eagle.

in kaz, hunting on horses with giant eagles was very popular. before coming to kaz my sister and i read a children's book about kaz and they had pictures of this. i was like 'i have to do this'. it looked just like the bad guy from mulan. when i saw the eagle sitting on the bench there was no hesitation. i paid about 2 dollars to have my pic taken with the eagle. it was the best tourist trap i have ever enjoyed. and let me tell you, those eagles are heavier than they look.

after playing with the eagle we went 'hiking'. there was a path that wrapped around and got you to the valley, but of course my group of friends decided that it would be much faster to slide down the side of the mountain covered in rocks and glass. & of course i couldn't say no. arthur and elizabeth went first and their struggle made carrie and i think twice. but then cody went down another way that looked super easy. so we followed his path. clearly cody is just much more talented at sliding down mountains. we finally made it to the bottom with all of us safe and sound.

we spent the day wandering around the area like explorers. we climbed buildings and rocks. jumped over, waded, through, and a few people(cough, cough) even fell in the stream. the weather was warm and beautiful. it was the perfect relaxing day. although at some point following elizabeth and carrie through a tunnel of brush and trees or hopping over the stream to get back to the other side i lost my jacket. :( hopefully someone else is enjoying it now. i also didn't think about the fact that it was super hot and sunny. those of you that know me now know what color my skin is. i'll give you a clue it's not tan and it starts with an r and ends with a d. =)

after our trip to medeo, the rest of the week was pretty low key. on thursday for our last english club we were planning on showing and discussing the fantastic mr. fox, but our plans were derailed by a surprise thank you performance from our students. they sang songs (or lip synced) in kazakh and english, including the remix 'we are the world, we are translators'. they danced, acted out plays, made speeches, quizzed us on american history (which we failed miserably), and even had us stand up and dance the black horse (the kazakh national dance?) in the middle of the room. it was really sweet and entertaining. our students also got us all gifts. my classes gave me a giant yurt that is very beautiful. like a big yurt dollhouse. which is perfect since my other class gave my a little kazakh doll, a little dombra, a little yurt, and a traditional looking purse. sweetest thing ever.

i taught my last class on friday. it was uneventful and a little boring i think, but i made it through. we also had our language test on friday. we will get tested like three more times during service to see how we are improving. i bombed mine i think. peace corps wants us all to test novice high by the end of pst. i'm pretty sure i may not have made that goal. i'm not really sure was happened. i speak ok kazakh in my classes. i always use full sentences and can usually use a good variety of vocab. not in that test. i'm pretty sure i just said 'i like' 100 times. nothing else. no complete sentences. i was just saying words. she asked me what i did the past weekend, and i told her i went to medeo. then she asked what i did there. i was like 'really?' i don't know how to say climbed stairs, hiked, swam, jumped in rivers. the only thing i could think of that i could say that i actually did do was drank beer & i didn't think that was appropriate. so i told her i looked at the mountains. except i didn't congugate anything so i actually just said. 'mountain looked'. awesome. i guess i can only go up from there now though right?

i find out where i am going tomorrow. i'll write a whole post just for that.

so nervous/excited,

Sunday, May 1, 2011

the downside of things. i think i handled it rather well.

where do i even begin? it has been a whirlwind the past few weeks.

last weekend a group of us trainees went to almaty and rented an apartment to stay the night. it was a blast. we ate donor kebabs (my once fav. street food: meat, french fries, pickles, carrots, tomatoes, sour cream, and hot sauce? inside a burrito. mmm, hung out all night, woke-up and went to central park. it is this beautfiul park where you walk through tons of giant trees and green plants and suddenly you spot the ferris wheel. within minutes you are surrounded by an amusement park. you have to pay to do each ride, but it is really neat. we sat at a café and ordered mojiotos and french fries with meat on top. this was the beginning of my demise.

within an hour i was not feeling well. we went as a group and took a nap in the sun in a field of dandilions. it was beautiful and comfortable, but when i woke up my stomach was screaming at me. we walked back to pick a marshutka up to take back to ecik. moments before getting on the marshutka i had to urgently pay to use the squatter on the side of the street. (you have to pay to use public toilets here. 40 tenge isn't much, but it is not cool when you have to stop at a cashier before you can go puke your lungs out.) which is exaclty what i did. & imagine for a moment puking in a squatter on the sidewalk where the whole world can hear. it was difficult and slightly embarassing. i then had to ride in a packed marshutka on the way home with no windows, 80 degree weather, and too many potholes for an hour and fifteen minutes. it wasn't pretty.

and that was the start of my unfortunate week. my coughing from the week before was getting worse and i couldn't keep anything down. i had to call the peace corps medical officer. i then spent quite a bit of time this week shuttling back and forth between ecik and the peace corps office in almaty. i got to see the almaty hospital though. three times actually. that was nice. after quite a bit of poking and prodding and more than a few meals lost, i am finally feeling better. looking better too i might add. not the most enjoyable diet i've been on, but clearly the most effective ☺

i missed quite a bit of class this week. i also missed teaching three of my own classes. (which by the way, i am feeling much more comfortable with. i might even be a decent teacher by the end of two years.) i even missed seeting the romeo & juliet ballet in almaty that i was super excited for. but o well, at least i am well now. && my brochitis is almost gone too.

& as an awesome end to this crazy week i was startled out of bed this morning by an earthquake. you can imagine with the craziness going on in the world, i was rather frightened when my apartment started shaking. i hopped out of bed and my host mom was grabbing me to run out the door. (apparently these soviet apartment buildings don't put up too much of a fight when gravtiy comes calling). i was prepared to leave the house in my pjs with no shoes, but fortunately the shaking stopped. the eerie swaying of the apartment bulding hung around a few seconds after.

apparently it was a 5.4 on the richter scale 44 miles northeast of almaty. i'm east of almaty somewhere. i think. but since i survived the minor earthquake & it is may day, i went to the city center to see a parade, dancing, and a concert and then traveled to the bazaar and bought a pair of fabulous shoes. black flats with sparkles on the front and a little shoelace. 1200 tenge. that's like 8 bucks in the states. love it. although on my peace corps budget that's a splurge. one i felt i most definitely deserved after this week.

since may day is a big holiday here classes for tomorrow and tuesday are cancelled. peace corps is taking all the trainees to medeo. the famous ice skating rink in the mountains in almaty. it should be beautiful and fun. i teach two classes on thursday and it looks like my last class to teach on friday will be cancelled as well. (you can see how seriously they take school around here. not really. but kind of.) &&&&& on saturday is site placement day. we have all reached the point where we are exhausted and ready to move to our new sites. i am only slightly a.ka. terribly nervous about repacking and getting my now 3 bags down four flights of stairs and onto a train. good thing i have been walking so much here, i'm gonna need those strong legs.

waiting on the next unexpected adventure,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

we've got the beat


week 6 started today. than means 4 weeks to go. i think technically it means 3 weeks and 6 days to go. ☺ most importantly it means that i am getting so much closer to finding out where in the world is Carmen Sandiego..err i mean when i in the world i will be living for the next two years. i cannot wait for this. not only will i know what the region will be like, i will also know which trainees i will be near to. it is difficult with a country so big. if i had been placed in maceonia i could have already traveled all over the country by now. i would be in a day or two’s drive to any of the other volunteers. Kazakhstan is very unique for the peace corps.

it is the 9th largest country in the world. it is the size of texas x 4 to give you perspective. my volunteer assistant told us yesterday that she is only 9 hours away from her boyfriend and she was very glad about that. i went to school 9 hours away from home. that’s a long distance relationship & she is glad about it! i could end up in aktobe which is 48 hour train ride from almaty. whew! and the weather is so different. I could be up in petropovlisk (spelling?) where the other trainees in my group are supposedly going where it is freeeeeeeezing. or i could be in shymkent in the south where it is super hot in the summers. the suspense is killing me! anywho i find out may 7th where i am going. then the next week is our counterpart conference where we will meet the counterpart we will be working very closely with for the next two years. yay! and then on may 14th we will be swearing in as official volunteers. apparently right after swearing in they push on trains to our permanent site and that is that.

for swearing-in it looks like my Kazakh group will be singing a song. in front of country officials. in kazkah. i’m actually pretty stoked about this. our lang. teacher spends about an hour of every class singing songs with us. i haven’t heard of any other group that gets to do this. he also teaches us dances. it may seem meaningless but it is so important to the culture here. Roman tells us that music is the language of the Kazakhstani soul. it is so true. if i even start humming a Kazakh tune the entire house will be singing in minutes and won’t stop for hours. Roman is also an awesome singer, dancer, and toaster. He rocks a gold grill and it 47 years old. he’s a tiny dude but his voice packs a punch and he managed to get me to waltz gracefully around our language room.

he taught us this one song that is split by guys and girls. it’s about some guy that spots a pretty girl and is begging for her name and the girl won’t give it to him. when we sing this song roman makes us stand up and Katrina and I (the only girls in the class) have to link arms and walk in circles around the room. The guys then follow us. When we get to the chorus the guys drop to one knee and we turn and face them and sway. then we sing our part refusing them and they start chasing us again. it is pretty hilarious. this is another song we are learning that we will probably sing for swearing-in (it is written and composed by Abai. he is huge here):

көзімің қарасы

көзімнің қарасы, көңлімнің санасы.
бітпейді іштегі ғашықтың жарасы.

Жырлайын, жырлайын ағызып көз майын
Айтуға келгенде қалқама сөз дайын

Қазақтың данасы, жасы үлкен ағасы
бар дейді сендей бір адамның баласы.

Apple of my eye, consiousness of my sould
The would of love cannot be healed.

Dear fellow – Kazakhs, older brothers
I did not know that there could be a person like her

I sing and cry my eyes out
My words are ready to be said to my sweetheart

i'm going to try and get a recording of us singing this at some point, but i don't know when my internet will be good enough to post it anywhere.

movie night with the other trainees in ecik. we're watching tangled, thanks to my awesome mother.
catch ya on the flip side,

Saturday, April 9, 2011

living in the moment

sorry for the lack of updates. i have been super busy here. we started teaching last week. i am teaching a 1st year class of translators. their English level is very low. the class is super structured, and the students never use critical thinking or group or pair work. i am trying to push the envelope with my lesson plans, but my first lesson crashed and burned. the students aren’t comfortable enough with me and their class is usually taught with a great deal of Russian language support. the communication barrier is massive. getting participation is a bear. communication with my counterpart is also difficult. we are just on two different pages. this coming week i will be teaching two lessons, one with this class and another with a new class and counterpart.

i think i have finally reached the point in my travels where i am becoming comfortable here. i have officially been away from home for one month. i am starting to fall into a routine that makes life more comfortable. granted my schedule is packed with training, homework, & lessons. i am also getting to hang out with some awesome trainees. what i have enjoyed most about being in Kazakhstan is being forced to live in the moment. i think i spent several hours a day at home in the states thinking about the future. my next meal, my next job, my next big move, here it just isn’t possible to think this way. i have absolutely no control over my future. at all. i don’t know what i will eat for lunch tomorrow. i don’t know where i will be living in a couple months. i don’t know what my training schedule is this week.

i spend each day living in the moment. it is amazing. it has it’s perks and downers. the thing about living in the moment is that you really feel every emotion throughout the day. i really feel every high and low. when i successfully teach 200 students to line dance during English club the high radiates through me. i am content in an unimaginable way. i love being here. and then moments later i am standing over the dog i have been feeding for the past two weeks lying dead on the side of the road. & the low is so low. and the heartbreak literally aches throughout my body. & in that moment this is the worst thing that could have happened, & i don’t know if i will make it one more minute here.

the important thing is that at the end of the day i can reflect on the highs and recognize that they truly outweigh the lows. yesterday i had the worst morning ever. i saw my dead dog & then walked in to teach my lesson and it flopped. & then i got torn to pieces in the debrief of my lesson. as if i wasn’t already aware of the disasters that had just occurred. but my day ended with me having one of the best nights since i have been here. i watched a sunset from my apartment roof, played on a merry-go round (and then got told to leave), scrambled through an abandoned building, stood at the top of a hill in between two giant brush fires, hung out at a friends house, and finished the evening standing & seesawing in a playground. & i had these fantastic opportunities with the company of some really awesome trainees. last night as i was crawling into bed i was amazed at how easy it is to turn a disaster of a day into something i will never forget.

p.s. spring is finally here! & the kazakhstanis celebrate in style. although my mom tells me that it will be cold again on monday. boo.

p.p.s i promise my next post will be less abstract and give some more concrete stories of my time here.

bedtime for this kid,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

happy nauryz!

this week has been super long, though not necessarily in a bad way. it has certainly been full of ups and downs per usual. i honestly can’t even remember monday…so maybe nothing happened that day. tuesday was nauryz! nauryz is a huge holiday in Kazakhstan celebrating the coming of spring & a new year. we went to college in the morning for classes and walked across the street to the city center. there were yurts set up all throughout the streets. yurts are basically like teepees for the nomads in Kazakhstan. they are dome shaped and covered in wool. on the inside they are covered in ornate fabric. for nauryz they are filled with banquet style tables and benches. in the middle of all the yurts is a stage for speeches, dances, and concerts. along the sides of the roads there are street vendors selling toys, drinks, food (including candy apples!) and much more. it is pretty much like an intense street festival. a couple peeps from the college training group got asked to do an interview for the local news. the director from the college invited us into his yurt to dine. the tables in the yurt were filled with food. there were bowl and plates filled with crazy dishes. imagine the paintings of feast in the olden days and this is what you get. i was lucky enough to be placed in front of the plate filled with dried fruits and nuts. mmm. we were then each given a bowl of nauryz koshe. it is a special soup made for nauryz. it is made with noodles, millet, meat, salt, and sour milk. mmm. (i have actually now had four bowls of this soup & today i even managed to eat ¾ of my bowl). i was sitting across the table from a kazakhstani man that if known for running marathons. he recently ran and medaled in the asian Olympic games for Kazakhstan. he has also run in the boston marathon. he was intent on picking out foods from the table and making me eat them. one such item was horse sausage. not gonna lie, i was only able to get it down by shoving four dried apricots into my mouth. they also passed around a sheep’s head for everyone in our group to pull a piece off and eat. they somehow managed to skip right over me. fine by me, but tommy was sitting next to me and noticed and tried to grab them and get their attention to tell them i didn’t get any. i practically took him out with my elbow. not really. but almost. that is still a part of kaz that i am not ready to encounter.

on thursday we host our first English club for the college. it was a long and hard day to get through. by thursday we are usually just beat. we decided to host a film club. our plan was to show a clip from avatar when jake first meets the tribe & then have a discussion about strangers coming to a new place. our film club had a turn out of over 100 students! we had it in the auditorium, but we were still tight on space. & murphy’s law, the power in ecik was out. we didn’t really have a plan B so we introduced ourselves and then asked the kids what their favorite movies were. i was totally surprised: titanic, son of the mask, avatar, step up, and honey? we then split into groups. since there are 6 trainees in the college group we had about 20 kids each. i was completely at a loss for what to do with them. we were all crammed in an aisle of the auditorium. i tried the name game where you say your name, something you like, and show your favorite dance move. it evolved into everyone saying their name, that they like break dancing and mimicking my original dance move. whatever works right? i then taught them down by the banks of the hanky panky… which was fun, but the words were way to tough for them to get. they just yelled kurPLOP! with me at the end. then they showed me that they knew if you’re happy and you know it. josh’s group started singing the Kazakh national anthem and eventually every group turned and joined in & that concluded our English club. our technical trainer observed our club and said she thought it went fine. she called me out on teaching a game without butcher paper to teach them the words (she clearly didn’t have sympathy for the fact that our plans were completely disrupted), but whatevs. we also learned that we overestimated the level of English our college kids have. will def. have to turn down the expectations for next week.

side note: college in kaz is not like college in the states. i will be teaching at a Kazakh college when i leave training. i will find out where in my eighth week here. i found out recently that i will most likely not be near anyone from my training group of 13. bummer. anywho, college here is like a trade school. they have medical colleges, economic colleges, and many more. my college is like a humanities college. i will be working with future English teachers and interpreters by teaching English through the communicative approach. i will not be teaching methodology unless i decide to host teacher trainings on the side. the college students are as young as 9th grade. colleges cost money and some of the kids stay and dorms and eat in the canteen just like in the states. our college her in ecik is very nice. it is definitely a model school. there are even smart boards in the classrooms! it will be interesting to see how my college at my permanent site compares.

side side note: our trainers during pst are host country nationals. my lcf (language teacher), roman, is very nice. he is 47 and lives in aktobe. he is a science teacher there and recently won and award for being a great teacher. he was able to go to north Dakota university to observe and take some courses as a result. he is very patient, even when we get the 3:00 giggles. he doesn’t always understand what we are trying to say in English. if something goes wrong while in training, roman is supposed to be my go-to guy. we also have a technical trainer. her name is natalya and she is from way up north. she is giving us sessions on techniques for being a better teacher while we are here. natalya is also the one that has to approve our lessons plans and English clubs while we are in training. she is very nice, but very to the point. she does not hold back at all and is very opinionated. having host country nationals as our instructors certainly gives us more of an inside look into the culture, but it does present challenges also.

friday was hub day and all the kaz 23 trainees came to ecik for the day. they were very jealous of our village. & i’m not surprised because it is awesome. we did safety and security trainings and health trainings. dr. victor handles all things health related in kaz. he is awesome. he is a former soviet military doctor from moldova. his first lang. is Russian, but he is very good in English as well. he is everything you would imagine a Russian-speaking, former soviet military doctor to be. but he is also so entertaining. in every powerpoint presentation he sneaks in art, or classical music or songs. he had us sing a diarrhea song as a group. it was entertaining. in order to start his presentation of stds he showed us a painting of raphael’s muse & told us this lovely love story. the then said that there are some people, though, who believe that this muse slept around. he then flashes to the slide saying std prevention. the point is that dr. victor is very cool and i def. trust him with my life. i’m sure i’ll be include some dr. victor references in the future.

saturday we had our almaty entry. my training group took the public bus into almaty. we then spent the day walking around and taking busses to see some major sights. we saw the famous wooden church in alamaty, the city center mosque (which is beautiful), the big wwII monument, the ramstore, a museum, the green bazaar, and we stopped and had lunch in a café. it was very fun and i took lots of pics. i will post more about it when i put the pics up. && sunday i went back into alamaty with my host mom. he brother lives in an apt in almaty. i sent the day at the apt. with my mom, her sister-in-law, her sisters, and all of their kiddies. it was kind of a nice ladies day. they made me eat. a lot. for lunch we had fried fish? i’m not really sure what is was but it looked like sardines on crack. you eat them, skin, fins, and all by holding the tail and pulling everything on the backbone. all that is left at the end is a head and a tail connected to a bone. those of you that know me well know what it took for me to eat that. i ate the two on my plate and they were immediately replaced with two more. dun dun dun. my host mom finally stepped in and told them that i didn’t eat a lot. the women all seemed shocked and told me i needed to eat more to get strong… along with the fish i also had fried bread and a salad with corn, peas, meat?, eggs, and mayonnaise? and it was all finished up with two slices of cake and chai. phew. after lunch they told me i could take a shower. completely random, but at the rate i am getting showers here (2-3 a week) i never pass one up. & it was awesome. they then had my blow-dry my hair and take a nap. (i felt slightly like a baby, but i didn’t protest. i was actually pretty tired. but when they wheeled the 1 year old in to take a nap with me i had to giggle) when i woke up they made me come back and eat dinner, nauryz koshe. i then had more chai and some chocolates. they gave me a present (hairspray & mousse, and a whole cake!) and then mom and i left.

i am now sitting in my room at home. my mom just called me back into the kitchen for another piece of cake and some chai. i can now see why female volunteers usually gain ten pounds in peace corps. i have language tomorrow at 8:00 am. this week we teach in front of the class for the first time. i am excited and anxious about this. we also have our hub day at the peace corps office in almaty this week. as usual i am excited to see what adventures that week ahead will hold.

homesick, but hopeful

Sunday, March 20, 2011

one week down. only a few more to go right?

i have officially survived a week in Kazakhstan. it certainly feels like it has been much longer. the days seem to stretch on forever here. it is 7:30 pm right now, and there is still light outside. my basic schedule is this: wake-up, get dressed, drink chai, brush teeth, get bundled up, 20 minute walk to school on a very icy sidewalk with tommy and josh, Kazakh class, lunch, technical training, get bundled up, walk 20 minutes home with tommy and josh, drink chai and eat dinner, hang out with host mom, watch Russian mtv, brush teeth, crawl in bed and read/sleep. phew.

my Kazakh classes and technical training are from 8-6ish everyday with an hour for lunch. as you can imagine at about 2:30-3 during Kazakh class we all get rather giggly from sitting so long and trying to push so much Kazakh in our brains. so far we have learned how to ask and answer, what is your name, how old are you, where are you from, are you married, what is your profession, what is your telephone number, and what is your address. we also learned (though i struggle to remember) the days of the week, how to ask and tell time, numbers all the way to the thousands, how to say i am going somewhere, happy nauryz, and some very basic grammar. i happen to think that is pretty impressive for only one week. i went from not understanding a word from my host mom, to sitting at dinner tonight talking about my sister and i having an apartment in the states and the schedule of my Kazakhstan peace corps adventure. (she thought that when i left her house in may that i went back to America. i wish haha. she was thoroughly impressed that i was staying in kaz for two years and asked if my mom cried. yes. she said she wouldn’t let aidana go.) i think i have come a long ways in just a week. apparently i still have a ways to go.

yesterday i got home late from school after going out to a café with the other volunteers in my village. i told my mom i would be home around 6ish. she called when i was late, my bad, so i texted her and said i would be home in 2 hours. apparently at some point i missed that we were supposed to go banya together. when i got home she hurriedly explained we would go banya and told me to get my shampoo. i thought we were going to a public banya and grabbed a towel and shampoo and we were out the door.

side note: banya is very popular in kaz. it is basically like a sauna in America except you bathe in it. there are both private and public banyas in kaz. public banyas are divided by gender and everyone is nakey. you basically get super hot and sweaty and then rub yourself down with hot soapy water. you use a scrubbing thing to wash with that exfoliates. you can literally see the layers of dead skin falling off of you. kinda cool/disgusting. then you wash your hair and dump a bucket of water on top of yourself. tah dah! you are clean for the rest of the week. kinda.

so when we got in the car and started driving towards almaty i knew we were going to my host mom’s parents house in caymacay, a little village about two minutes away we got there and my host mom took me straight to the banya and told me to strip down while she did the same. i am typically super shy so banya-ing with my host mom=super awkward. it was fine though. minus the fact that i had forgotten my water bottle in the morning for school that day so i was super thirsty all day and then we left in such a hurry that i forgot to grab water again. so the hot banya didn’t help with the dehydration and i felt a little faint a couple times. my host mom made me go stand by the door where it was cooler. i couldn’t sit though. (in kaz we were told that many ppl believe that if a women sits on the cold floor they will become infertile. at orientation pc staff said to “protect your ovaries!”) after banya we walked back through the snow to the house and drank some chai. then they showed me to my bed for the night in my host uncle’s house. big miscommunication.

i had no idea we were staying the night. my phone had no balance so i had no way to get in touch with anyone. i was also so thirsty and there was no filtered water for me to drink there. not to mention i have been completely spoiled and at the grandparents house i have to trudge through the snow to use the outhouse squatter. anywho i survived the night and got a big bottle of water when i got home this morning. i even added a crystal light package since i felt like i deserved it. (thanks ms. sunshine! ;) that has really been the only big misunderstanding since i have been here, and i think that makes me lucky. other kaz 23 trainees have had way worse encounters including robbery while they were away (luckily none of the pct’s stuff was taken, just the host family’s valuables), police encounters, and host families that don’t want them. i am pretty lucky. thanks for all your prayers!

today i met up with some other trainees to see each others houses and walk to the bazaar. i didn’t buy anything, but i really wanted some shoes and clothes. next time! i’m a shopaholic in kaz too. =) i didn’t see any Russian nesting dolls, sorry mom! we also ate in a café and then i came home and washed my clothes. (double bucket system) i have 8 weeks to go until training is over…the countdown has commenced. this week we will host our first English club for the college students. the head of the English dept. told us to expect close to 100 kids. we are going to do a an American film club, which i think will be pretty sweet. it is also nauryz here this week. all the students are out of school and the adults out of work (not us though) to celebrate the new year! the big celebration is tuesday and we have been invited to watch. i’m super excited about this. friday all the other kaz 23 trainees will be coming here for a hub day and saturday we all get to spend in almaty to play around and practice putting our lang. skills to use. we might get a little lost asking for directions in a new language. can’t wait.

thanks for the package of reeses mom & pops! my Kazakh class, Roman, & host family enjoyed them! i am still enjoying them secretly in my room. ☺

fasten your seatbelts,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

the first days in kaz

warning: this post is long. =)

i stepped off the plane in almaty, kazakhstan at 12:35 am, after two long seven hour flights and a total of nine hours hanging out in airports. i was exhausted, uncomfortable, and nervous. peace corps staff were waiting for us at the end of the walkway with nametags and instructions. the second i approached customs i felt tears welling up in my eyes and the familiar feeling of an onset of sobbing to begin at any moment. i’m still not quite sure why this happened or what it meant, but i know for a fact my exhaustion played into it. we got all our bags loaded up & boarded the bus to our sanatorium (basically a Kazakh hotel). it was too dark to really see almaty, but i stared out the window intently anyways. the sanatorium we were staying at was used at a retreat for steel workers during the soviet era. the wallpaper in my building was pink with sparkly swirls, love it! the beds were tiny. my roommate & i hit the hay asap.

we got up at 7:30 am the next morning for breakfast (porridge, chai, and hamburger helper) & then started our first day of trainings. we were greeted with a performance that was amazing. i was super thankful for this. that morning has been my lowest point so far. i spent the entire breakfast trying to figure out who to talk to so i could go home. walking in to see a stage full of Kazakh teens with dombras and other traditional instruments and their beautiful clothes & hats was so uplifting. it reminded me of one of the major reasons i am here, to experience a culture outside my own for longer than just a vacation. they also had skits, songs, and powerpoints to teach us a bit about kaz and to calm our fears.

the hardest part of kaz so far for me has been the food. it is certainly taking me out of my comfort zone, and my friends and fam at home would be so impressed. so far i have eaten porridge, hamburger helper (noodles, butter –lots!, cheese, and beef – i think), shredded carrot, garlic, parsley & vinaigrette salad, borsch (beet soup with potatoes & cabbage i think), mashed potatoes & something like meatloaf (def. not beef, but i’m going to pretend it was, more porridge, lots of bread (tastes like it came out of the bread maker), pickled beet, potato, carrot, cabbage, and onion salad (totally expected beets to be yuckier, but i didn’t mind them), stew with potatoes, carrots, parsley, broth, and onions, more meatloaf-ish stuff with bread that looks like a fried pita –delicious, but totally unhealthy. all this was at the sanatorium. i also had lots of chai. which i love. i thought i would & i was totally right. it feels like i have been drinking it all my life. it tastes just like unsweetened iced tea except hot. yum. i don’t even want sugar in it (which my host family thinks is totally strange. they keep asking if i am on a diete).

yesterday i left the sanatorium in alamaty & drove to my new village in ecik (issyk). there are a total of 55 kaz 23 (the twenty-third group in kazakhstan) trainees. we were divided into five villages for the rest of our training and will get back together on hub days about once a week for technical training as a group. my village is ecik. it is the largest town out of all of the sites so i am very lucky. there are thirteen volunteers in my group. ecik has hosted volunteers for training many times so they are very used to seeing Americans. ecik has about 30-40,000 people (i got mixed answers on this). in my group half of us will be learning the Kazakh language and half will be learning Russian. i am in the college group & we found out at training that we would be learning Kazakh without any choice. i was planning on learning Russian to put all that rosetta stone to good use, but alas it will not be in the cards for me. the Kazakh people love that we are learning Kazakh though and today at the bazaar an older man was super excited when i said thank you in Kazakh (one of the very few things i can say right now).

after arriving in ecik yesterday, our new host families met us at the college to take us home. some students at the college were waiting for us with welcome signs and balloons, so cute! the girls pulled me aside to take a picture with me. totally felt like a celebrity. my family is fabulous. my host mom is 36 and my host sister is 14. they both speak Russian and Kazakh, though i am sensing that Russian is their usual language and they are speaking Kazakh on my behalf. my host sister also knows a bit of English which is so helpful. she is still learning so she can’t translate everything, but so far there haven’t been any big mishaps. i tried to use Russian since i know more, but my host mom won’t let me. she teaches me the Kazakh word and that is all i’m allowed to say from then on. i find it cute that she is so interested in my language learning. she is a history teacher though, so i shouldn’t be surprised. (apparently she doesn’t work. i’m not really sure who the history teacher my sis was talking about is…)she walked around the living room last night showing me objects and telling me how to say it in Kazakh. she then gives me a pop quiz about every hour. she also makes me practice saying hello, how are you, what is your name, my name is, and i am from…every time a guest comes over. everyone laughs at me as i struggle through it. i am like a five-year-old right now and they love it. all i can do is smile and nod.

being at my host families reminds me of home. i am so lucky to have a comfy, warm, bed, an armoire, a desk, and an iron, all in my room. it is pretty light blue with sparkly wallpaper (totally catching on to the trend), a blue and white light, and lace flower blue curtains. i also have a shower with hot water and an American style toilet. though i haven’t gotten to take a shower yet…not sure if that will happen or what. the only difference in the toilet is that they don’t flush paper here, you just throw it in the waster basket by the toilet. it certainly takes getting used to. and it is byop (bring your own paper). no internet though, i mean this is peace corps. ☺ my family laughed at me when they carried my bags up the 8 flights of stairs. they asked if i had packed goats. haha. i totally wished i had packed less, and brought more of the right things. i am totally missing black dress boots right now, and skinny jeans. that’s all women wear here. no wide leg dress pants or flares. oops.

since i have been at my host house i have eaten spaghetti and meatballs (again with the meatloaf-ish thing), scrambled eggs, and hamburger helper (am i really in Kazakhstan?). the hamburger helper we ate family style. marzhan (host mama), aidana (host sister), and my host mama’s brother all ate off one big plate. i’m not sure why we don’t do this at home. it would def. save dishes. i am lucky to have a host family that is awesome, but i went to the bazaar with my host mama and her friends today and she bought two whole chickens?, so i am sure we will be eating those soon. hopefully not off the bone, but i reckon i can just pretend it is buffalo wild wings. i gave them American chocolates and they were all about it, though i did see my host mama slip three reeeses to the shop downstairs to sell. she tried to be discreet, but i totally caught her. not really sure how to feel about that one. flattered? offended? i don’t think it matters i reckon.

tomorrow i start at 8am with language lessons at the college. my host mama is walking me to school. =) hopefully with six hours of Kazakh everyday i will be able to say something at dinner by the end of the week. maybe even sooner. i have a feeling my host mama won’t let me get away very long without practice. i woke up this morning to learn the Kazakh national anthem. i’m taking it with me to class tomorrow to my language instructor, roman, to get some help with it. maybe that will impress my host mama.

i miss you all & i think about you often.
my mom & dad have information for getting in touch with me, so shoot them an email or facebook em.