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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


i was dropped off yesterday for staging in georgetown. i walked in last minute (of course!) & had time to drop my luggage off in the holding room and head to registration. after handing in all my forms i had a litte break and then went to our staging orientation thing. it was long, i'm not gonna lie, but it was neat to meet everyone and it definitely provided so solid information. it is always nice to know that everyone else is in the same boat as far as fears and expectations go. they also addressed some major concerns which was comforting. overall it was a great pep meeting and i left feeling energized and excited. (& hungry).

we went out last night for pizza and drinks and then called it a night. i will be meeting downstairs in an hour to take the bus to dulles airport. this will begin a long journey that is sure to be exhausting. i will finally land in almaty, kaz at 12:25 am their time on 3/11/11. (good luck right?) we will then go through the customs jazz and then a peace corps processing. they said we'll probs finally get to our sleeping area at around 3. then they will get us up at 7am to eat breakfast and get ready & our training will start at 9 am. nothing like jumping right in!

i am so so so excited to see what's next & to finally make it kazakhstan. this has been a long awaited moment.

by the way, totally didn't bring the most luggage. i'm probably towards the bottom in who brought the most. there are peeps here with single bags close to 80 or 90 pounds. i can't imagine carrying that!

anyways, i love you all! i'm not sure when i'll be able to post again, but i will when i can.

wish me luck!

Monday, March 7, 2011

wow. tomorrow.

i cannot believe i am headed to staging tomorrow. it seems so unreal still. i thought that at this point i would be terrified or nervous beyond belief, but i feel peaceful. i am excited about getting started with my work in kazakhstan. surprisingly the only thing i am actually nervous about is russian. i'm feeling slightly inept at foreign languages. sign language was just soooo much easier!

i spent last night repacking my bags (thanks to lindsay, andrew, and pops for performing miracles and getting it to all fit) for the third time. my dad and i got it right the first time, but when i went to put the backpack duffle on i couldn't lift it. like at all. & then once i got it on i had to practically bend over and touch my toes to keep from falling over. (it was also 54 pounds. oops). so pops and i went back to the samsonite store, i'm pretty sure they know me by name there now, and i got another rolling duffle. it was heavier than what i wanted, but a sacrifice i was willing to make to roll my junk. this bag weighed 7 pounds more than the other.

i brought it home and repacked with andrew. it was actually pretty painless, and i am glad that i did because my febreeze had exploded in its freezer bag and started to leak. i got it all packed and underweight so i was even able to add my uggs in. yay!this was all one week ago before i went to jersey to greet my new niece. i was so proud of myself (a famous procrastinator) for packing so far in advance.

thennn...i got an email from peace corps with packing suggestions. thanks PC, but a lil late. anywho they said to pack three days worth of stuff in my carry-on, which i did (go me!) and then to fill one bag with the things i will need during training and the other with stuff i won't need until i get to my permanent site. oops again. i totally didn't do that, i just squished wherever things fit. i'm pretty sure even my shoes were separated from their mates. soo my sister and andrew and i spent a loooong time last night unpacking and reorganizing. and then my dad had to come over and get my smaller duffle to fit everything and zip. it was a mess, but i totally think not having to get into the second bag and try to repack again before going to my permanent site will be soooo much easier.

so tips for future pcvs out there struggling to pack, pack one bag for training and the other with things you can live without. so much easier. & i have a packing list that i can email anyone packing in the future if they want it. i was gonna post it, but i don't really have room. =)

tomorrow i will be meeting in georgetown to register and then go through a day of orientation. i will stay the night at the hotel there and then take a bus to dulles airport with my fellow kazakhstan trainees. we will fly out to frankfurt at 5:50ish. then a six or seven hour layover and then flying to almaty. we should get in around 12:30 am. i will then go to sleep and wake-up bright and early for my first day of trainings. whew!

i'm not sure how my internet situation will be, but i'll keep everyone posted & my awesome sister will update periodically for me to let you all know what i'm up to.

&&& i've been meaning to post this forever. i am going to be part of an awesome project. 50 volunteers from 50 different countries will be filling two journals up with snapshots of their service. look at the blog for the details! i will be helping keep track of the second journal and updating the blog to let everyone know where the journal is in the world.

for those of you reading this on Peace Corps Journals, i will be switching over from Applicants to Kazakhstan so find me there!

Sorry for the lengthy post.
27 months til disney world,