Friday, January 2, 2009

I've caught some awful Kazakhstan fever, but ibuprofen has made me feel a little better. Most importantly, I no longer feel like I want to throw up. It's disappointing that I'm sick, though, because some volunteers from outlying villages were talking about coming into town tonight, and I was looking forward to seeing them. Oh well, next time.

Because of the holidays, my work schedule has been weird for the past few weeks. Some of my students were on break, then others at a different time. The new semester starts soon, though. I guess it's been good to have a somewhat light schedule while I adjust to my site. I suppose I am adjusting further to the culture, too - I voluntarily add mayonnaise to soups, and I ate raspberry jam when I was feeling sick. And while I was a tea drinker in the US, I rarely had more than one cup a day. Here, though, I drink noticeably more, because everyone else does.

My neighbors upstairs really, really like techno music.

Oh, and my Russian is improving, too. I meet once or twice a week with a tutor, and we do the speaking activities from my Russian textbook from the US. Then I do the written exercises in the accompanying workbook at home.

We celebrated New Year's, the biggest holiday of the year here, a few days ago. We ate around 11, watched the president's address (in Kazakh and Russian), watched people set off crazy fireworks outside just after midnight, and then came back inside to have cake and open presents. I ended up finally going to sleep around 5:30 AM.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Kazakhstan

Merry Christmas from Siberia.



Apologies for the lack of updates.

P.S. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page and click where it says "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)," you can be notified when there's a new post here. It's a lot more convenient than checking back here without knowing if there will be any new posts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I went to Charyn Canyon in southeastern Kazakhstan recently with a few other volunteers and a few locals. Again, click on a picture for a larger version.

The river

Christina, Christina, and Roza
Ryszhan and Emily

Christina, Lisa, Roza, Christina, Eliza

Walking down into the canyon

Me in front of some rocks


Eliza, Jaime, and Christina

Some cool colors

The whole group by the river. Note my warm jacket.

Looks like Utah

Utah-ish again

Monday, October 6, 2008

Peace Corps announced our sites last week, and I'll be living in northern Kazakhstan, which also happens to be southern Siberia. It'll be cold, but I'm going where I wanted to go.

I've mentioned before that this isn't the typical Peace Corps experience. Case in point: Yesterday, after school, I went over to a fellow volunteer's homestay and fixed their wireless router, webcam, and printer. Then, her host mom drove me home in a brand new car with a touch-screen audio system while we talked about interior design. It might sound like the Peace Corps isn't even needed here, but I think that I can help a lot in the educational system, both because native English speakers are rare here and because I think there's a lot to be gained, on both sides, by sharing ideas about teaching methodology. And, obviously, the middle class, which I think is vital to stability if you're a capitalist society (especially a new one), is still growing.

Today I'm teaching parts 3 and 4 of a 4-part lesson loosely based on the topic of family. I'm going to play a clip of a stand up comedy routine by Jerry Seinfeld about "old people in Florida" and have a discussion about differences between how the elderly live in Kazakhstan and the US. I'm excited, and I think it gives the students motivation, too, when the teacher brings materials that he/she prepared him/herself.

As for free time, we got together last weekend to watch the movie Serenity, which is a continuation of the science fiction TV show Firefly. There's a bit of a geek factor in our group, and I like that.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Some students from the tourism department of the university took us to a couple places around town today. Photo post follows (by the way, click any image for a larger version):

Autumn already started.

A statue.

Contemplating Kazakhstan.

Motion blur

WWII, known here as the Great Patriotic War

The "silly" photo with the Beatles.

Wish I'd gone on this thing.

The funicular. One of my favorite words, incidentally.

The sled thingy again.

Emily and the city

You can't rock climb in heels here.

I'm sick of repression under the Regime of Work. (Seriously though, it's a mistranslation of the Russian word "rezhim," which should have been rendered as "schedule.") On top is Kazakh, middle is Russian, and you know which one is English.

I don't know what this thing is, but it liked flowers and had eye spots.

Emily wanted me to take a picture of this tree with my (sort of) long lens.

Looks like the TV Tower in Berlin.

This bird isn't gonna take it anymore.

Autumn again.

Motion blur again.

Duck A

Duck B

Apparently, the "silly" photo a second time. I'm not used to the formatting on Blogger.

Now the real photo. According to what I've read, people in the USSR were also part of Beatlemania.

Autumn yet again.

A rather desolate-looking see-saw. The park is actually rather nice, though.

Emily and Eliza on the swings.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The presidential debates were on early in the morning here, so some other volunteers and I went to a Peace Corps staff person's apartment to watch them before sessions started. This Peace Corps staff person also, as it turned out, had pancake batter ready and made us pancakes. (It's exciting to learn about other cultures' eating habits - here, for example, not everyone distinguishes between "breakfast foods," "lunch foods," and "dinner foods," so you eat whatever, whenever - but it was also nice to have a typical American breakfast.)

Next week, Peace Corps will tell us what our permanent sites in Kazakhstan will be. I think it's technically against security regulations to post the place's name in a semi-public blog, but I'm pretty sure I'm in regular enough contact with everyone who reads this that you'll find out if you're curious to know.

At the university today, a different Peace Corps staff person asked me if I'd be interested in being an interpreter for an upcoming counterpart conference (when some volunteers meet with their counterparts in local NGOs). Now, my Russian is intermediate at best, but there's apparently a lack of interpreters, so even my far from fluent* Russian would be preferable to nothing. That sounds exciting to me - I've worked in translation but never interpretation - and I was flattered that they thought my Russian would even be halfway passable for a job like that.

After sessions, another volunteer and I did some brief food shopping. First, we went to the Korean grocery store and bought kimchi (pickled - I think - vegetables with spices). I like the food in Kazakhstan, but it's not spicy, so it was really great to eat something that was. I didn't even realize until I ate the kimchi how much I'd missed spicy food. Anyway, the next stop was a store that had a big selection of the local brand of candies. (Side note: The woman at the candy counter, once she heard my accent, asked if my friend and I were German. It's interesting that people don't automatically assume I'm American. I've gotten French before, too, as well as British. In fact, people generally seem to assume I'm an ethnic Russian and are often visibly surprised when they hear me speak with an accent.) They're very good, and they're also very inexpensive. I got one kind called "Bird's Milk" (Do birds have milk?) and one called "Songs of Abai" (Abai was a famous Kazakh poet). Finally, we picked up a couple tomatoes from a produce stand, and we cooked rice with chopped tomatoes, which we then topped with some beans I'd cooked yesterday. Cheap, delicious, and vegan, even.

Interesting fact: People don't use voice mail on their phones in Kazakhstan, as far as I can tell. My cell phone, for example, doesn't even have any settings or buttons for voice mail. As best as I can surmise, nobody feels like they need or want it.

*Remember Volkswagen's "Fahrvergnügen" - "driving pleasure" - ad campaign, as well as the resultant parody T-shirts? "Far from fluent" sounds like "Fahrvergnügen." Incidentally, "Fahrvergnügen," as I understand the matter, is a construction that nobody would ever actually create in real German.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Here's my semi-public Peace Corps blog (by semi-public, I mean that it's accessible by invite - all you have to do is ask me). As you probably know, I'm in Kazakhstan with Peace Corps' university English teaching program. Right now I'm in what's called pre-service training, or PST, and in November, I'll be sworn in as a volunteer and will teach English, probably other subjects, and maybe even German at a university.

Right now, I live in an apartment with a host family. The Soviet-era exterior is a big contrast to the cozy interior. We have DSL, satellite TV, a shower, hot water, and a washing machine, so it's not the Peace Corps experience that initially comes to mind for most people. That's fine with me, though, because frankly, it's nice, and I still feel like I can make a difference here even if I'm machine-washing my clothes as I type. Besides, sometimes the hot water stops working, and you can feel a little more Peace Corps-y by boiling water in a teapot and mixing it with cold water in a bucket to bathe.

Our days here mostly consist of Russian language lessons, "technical sessions" (i.e. safety, health, lesson planning, university structure, etc.), and the English club that we're running during training. It's a busy schedule, but it's only for a month and a half more.

Here are some photos from last month. The bird was trained, not wild, if you were wondering. And the horse was also domestic. But still cool. The other people are a fellow volunteer (technically, trainee, but "volunteer" seems like a better all-purpose word), her host sister, and her friend.