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.

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