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,