So I haven’t been able to write in what seems like forever because we just don’t have internet access and we have been pretty busy. So today is October 24 and we are all done with our classes for PST!!! WE are leaving our village on Tuesday and going to Almaty for our counterpart conference where we will meet our counterpart and get some information on the organizations we will be working for. My counterpart speaks no English which should be funny. But my Russian should improve!!! Yay!! So we got our site placements. I am going to a small village called Tokhtarovo. It is northeast and about an hour away from Russian. Population 900!!!!! I am going to be one of the most remote volunteers from our class of 66, with no other volunteers nearby. I think the closest is a few hours by bus but I’m not sure. Plus, my site is a pioneer site so not only am I the first volunteer to work at this organization but I am the first American to have gone to this village. Haha I am excited and it should be an adventure! Just getting there will be an adventure, with about two days on a train then 5 or so hours on a bus with all my junk with me. My counterpart will be traveling with me thank God so we will have time to let to know each other using charades and my basic Russian grunts. =)
PST has been soooo great. I have loved it and I am sad to say goodbye to my fellow trainees and to my host family. I have been taken such good care of and had so much fun with my family here. We just laugh all the time and they are so sweet. It reminds me of my sister back home and how we always laugh at silly things like America’s funniest home videos ahah I spend most of my time at home with my host sister Naylya who is 17. She is awesome, and most nights we have dinner with our Ma who is awesome as well. The other day she ran into my room blasting Russian at me as usual, or Kazak whichever she is in the mood for, and after awhile I was able to understand she was telling me she loved me!! Haha Naylya had left my room and was tearing up about the volunteers approaching departure and her mom who says Naylya never cries was laughing saying I have become part of the family and that she loves me, haha surprised, I spit out the best I love you too in Russian and it was a great moment. It has been such an amazing and unique experience to be able to become part of a family here and I will always look back on this time fondly. I am so happy to be going to another small village for my service, a lot of my fellow trainees are headed to cities for their time here in Kazakhstan.
So we have to say goodbye to our fellow Americans and it is going to be crazy to be out on our own. We have all grown close, the ten of us, spending everyday together in this foreign land that we now call home. We have had great teaching by our Russian teachers and technical trainers David and Irina. Irina is a local who works in an NGO and Dave is a volunteer finishing up his service when we swear in. He has done an amazing job teaching and inspiring us for our service, and if you are reading, hey Dave’s mom!!! You have an awesome son and I am sure you are proud!! He was a great volunteer and a great trainer! =) Our language teacher Anya has also become a good friend to all of us and I hope to visit her during my service and she lives up north so it won’t be impossible. One trainee in our group Becky going to the same city that Anya lives in so that is awesome, we are all kind of jealous. Haha Becky is from Mass and we met the first day in DC, then we were roommates in Almaty, then neighbors here in the village haha so we were joking saying how funny it would be if our site placements were right next to each other. Our sites aren’t really close but in the vastness of Kazakhstan we are actually relatively close and I definitely plan on visiting when I get the chance. She is one of the northern most peace corps volunteers in the world!!! Yeah we will be freezing here pretty soon with both of us going north!
We were asked to do a day camp and a community project for the village we are living in now as our practicum experience during training and both were great successes!! We had a three day, day camp at the school and it was so much fun. The kids really seemed to enjoy themselves and so did we! We also had an art day community project where all the kids were invited to come and do different art activities for a few hours and it was awesome. The face painting was probably the most successful station. I hope to have pics from both projects whenever I get the chance but uploading pictures in Kazakhstan is proving to be quite difficult if not impossible. Hahaha After our two projects the teacher we have been working with throughout our time here and the students we trained to be camp counselors gave us all flowers and sang us a goodbye song in Russian and English. It was great and we all started realizing our time together was coming to an end and everyone broke out in tears. It surprised me how emotional I got! But it was such a good feeling of accomplishment and happiness that we had grown so close to these people in such a short amount of time. They gave us sincere thank you’s and appreciativeness that we took the time to be interested in them. It is hard for us all to leave and say goodbye.
PST is coming to a close and the real adventure begins on Halloween where we swear in and become official Peace Corps Volunteers and no longer trainees. We are all nervous, but excited for whatever is about to come next. I hope everyone at home is doing well, I miss everyone so much!!! Don’t waste anytime worrying about me (mom) I am doing great and having the time of my life! I love you all, and if you want a unique vacation experience anytime soon I would love to have you!!! =) Squat toilets are a must in every lifetime at least once!! =) Take care and I am going to hopefully have a new mailing address soon to give out! Much love from Kazakhstan!! =)
Tess, fellow trainee, me, host mama!, awesome English teacher, becky, tainee, jess, trainee and Brandon trainee.
The teacher in the middle is quite the character, she has become our point of contact with the school and helps us out with anything we need. She has helped us recruit leaders for our camp, set up a community project and is just awesome. She seems to have taken a liking to me, I think it is because we are both nuts and just have a good time together. I told her I was going to take her back to America with me and she just laughs staying I should move to their village permanently. She has a lot of energy and works so hard, I am so grateful that we have met her and have her on our side or I don’t know if we would get anything done.
Here are some photos of my first few weeks of Kazakhstan, most of them are taken on my walk back and forth from Russian lessons, the ones that are not, I will do my best to describe them.
This is in our bathroom and that is the bucket we fill with boiled water then mix it with the cold and pour over ourselves to ‘shower’ Just took one actually ahhhhhhh =)
The local school invited us to ‘health day’ and we got to lead some games. We are doing a three day-day camp at the same school in October, the kids are awesome!!!
I have more pictures but I am hesitant to put more on here b/c I am not sure how long it will take to upload but I am hoping this works. We are about to finish up with week four of PST (pre-service training) We are hard at work on our day camp and community projects that are coming up in October. We are splitting up into smaller groups of trainees and going on a 3 day field trip to different parts of Kazakhstan to check out some NGO’s. If I did get to send this that means we all went to Almaty for a birthday bash for one of our trainees. We are going to rent an apartment for the evening, apparently that is the common thing to do instead of hotel rooms, for larger groups. Things are going really well and I am loving this part of the Peace Corps. We are really busy but in a routine and having fun. It’s really hard work but really interesting and it will be a drastic difference b/w this and service which we are told is more slow paced and less structured. The village here is awesome and I am going to miss it when we leave Nov 1. All of the kids say hi to us in the streets and my friend Becky’s host sisters, 5 and 7, run up to us in the street when we walk home and jump in our arms hoping for a ride or some tickling which has them howling with laughter. I am really looking forward to doing the camp being able to draw on my skills and past experiences to hopefully make it a success. Everytime we get to interact with the kids here it is so much fun and they are so excited to talk to Americans. A lot of them ask when we have to go home b/c they want us to stay, too cute!!! Hope everyone reading this is doing well, write me a letter I would love to hear from you!!!! I promise to get back to you once things settle down and I get to my site in November, pray for a post office in my village!!!
Tonight I write out of nothing but gratitude. The past few days have been so great. No major changes, I’m just looking around and appreciating the people and places around us. My host family is so amazing, I feel so honored to be let into their lives. My host mother is quite stoic and a force to be reckoned with at the school she works at and out in the community but at home she is so soft and funny, she is always laughing and smiling and just eager to learn about me and america. She works so hard and so often and her daughter, my host sister nayla is so amazing too, at 17 she does all of the housework, cooking and cleaning, she is studying to take the text that admits you to university and hopes to go study next year to become a doctor. They are amazing people and take such good care of me. Tonight they told me about my host mother’s brothers and sisters, she has two sisters and 6 brothers and grew up and spent her whole life in this village. I told them all they should come to america and they just laugh at me. It is almost impossible on the wages here to save up enough to get a ticket to america.
This afternoon two other trainees and myself went to a store and bought drinks to drink in the gazebo next to the store. We had a good time talking about our similar hopes and fears and feelings about this whole experience. Not long after sitting there we were surrounded by village kids, who we all know at this point who just want to talk and stare at the Americans. We are the first americans anyone in this village has seen besides on the tv. We have gotten used to feeling like rock stars, or aliens. Haha we laugh about how when we get back to the states it will be weird that no one wants to take their picture with us or just speak to us for a second. Haha it is definitely a living in a fish bowl situation. The kids are so sweet and cute and their Russian is so much better than ours. Haha it isn’t uncommon for toddlers to be without parental supervision, they just walk the streets, lesson in independence I guess? Haha plus everyone in the village is equally responsible for everyone else’s kids. It is interesting to say the least.
Today we got to go to the local school and attend health day where we were immediately asked to lead games with some of the kids, I did a few and they were so happy to play and a cute little girl came up to me afterward and asked when I was going home, hoping that we all could stay, they just really want us here which is crazy b/c we haven’t done anything for them, they are just so interested in America and love when we talk to them. Earlier in the week we had the opportunity to teach an English lesson which was really fun and crazy haha the kids were really great though and it was a great time. Later during our ten weeks of training we are going to hold a day camp for some of the kids which I am looking forward to. Training is going well, we just completed week 3 and have 7 more to go until we swear in as official volunteers and go out into Kazakhstan and try to do some good. We are busy from sun up til sun down with only Sunday’s off. Tomorrow is Sunday and I am heading to the next village over Issick which is a much bigger village with a bazaar and internet cafes where I will hopefully get to send this blog. Haha So I guess to wrap it up, I am having a great time, learning so much from the people here and the peace corps training sessions. I am excited to try and put it all into real situations. Our group of ten is getting along great and next week we plan on renting an apartment in the big city of almaty for a birthday celebration for Elena in our group. I guess that is the alternative to hotels and pcvs do it all the time. It will be our first night out on our own away from our host families. Haha we all feel a bit like children since we have to ask to shower and can’t feed ourselves or anything b/c all the host families just take such good care of us. Anyway everyday is full of so much it is hard to take it all in. The next 7 weeks will be challenging but enjoyable and busy. Once our service starts in November our lives change drastically, we go from very busy, structured days to a lot of free time and our own schedules and a lot of self motivation and initiating of our own projects becomes necessary. Plus we are moving villages, will no longer be surrounded by nine other americans, and having to get used to a completely different part of the country. Should be interesting. I am off to bed now, tired from a long week. I think of home often and speak about how awesome Virginia is whenever I get the chance. =) I hope that everyone who is reading this is doing great, send me some gossip via snail mail, mail is the highlight of our days, our whole group gets excited if any of us gets a letter or a package. As they say in the village paka! (see ya)
I just read over my last entries and must apologize for my all over the place random approach to blogging. Haha I thought it might be a good idea to go over some basic details of my life here. So ten trainees live here in this small village called Enbek. Well technically two of us live in the next village over called Aktogai, that is myself and Becky. I live with a host family that I absolutely LOVE. There is a mother, who is a teacher/vice principle kind of at the local school and she speaks no English. But we have been communicating in German, thank you Western Albemarle!!! Why she knows German I haven’t really figured out, but she is a native kazak so she speaks kazak and Russian and is learning German for some reason. She is very nice and welcoming and keeps telling me she now has three daughters and is just a lovely woman. She has two daughters, Donna who is 20, and gone at university but comes home most Sundays. The other daughter is Nayla who is 17 and does all the cooking and cleaning of the house, she is great and the family member I see the most. They also have a kitten who follows me everywhere in the house and is aptly named ‘money’. Very cute cat. The mother works all day a lot. The mother also is Muslim and celebrating Ramadan so she does not eat from sun up til sun down so we eat dinner around 8 so we can all eat together. The two daughters know some English and love speaking it with me. Not doing my Russian any good but very comforting and helps with communicating.
I love this picture bc we have the big american grinss and they have the kazak picture face on. Even the little girl who is all smiles and laughs. Haha Anyway my host mother is on my right. Next to me is another trainee Becky and next to her is her host mom and her granddaughter. Sweetest woman you are ever likely to meet. This picture was taken at a school ceremony called first bell that happens nationwide at every school in Kazakhstan on September 1, to kick off the school year.
The village is small, there are a few magazines, or convenience stores, a school, a mosque and that is about it. The roads are dirt or full of potholes and we pass all sorts of animals on the walk to school everyday, donkeys, horses, cows, chickens, and stray dogs. There is a beautiful view of snow covered mountains in the background of our quaint little village. All of us have tried to capture it on our cameras but it doesn’t really do it justice. All of the school children call out ‘hello!’ to us as we pass them on the streets. There is no internet in the village or post office but we do have Sunday’s off so we can travel to neighboring villages or the mighty capital, almaty for suck things.
As far as our training goes, we have ten weeks of pre-service training. We are actually a unique group that is pioneering a new track for the peace corps. We are part of the Ocap group doing community development but we are directly targeting youth development. So there are ten YD trainees and we are all learning together and it is a brand new section that could continue or discontinue based on our and the programs performance. (yikes) So in the morning we have four hours of Russian class. The ten of us are split into two language classes. So we have class till about one then we walk home for lunch then meet up with everyone for technical training in the afternoons. This is training on working with youth in Kazakhstan and working with ngo’s that work with youth and all sorts of training all over the place that I cannot really sum up here right now. Haha We get so much information everyday it can be a bit overwhelming. Our trainers are great and are so helpful and such great resources. So at the end of ten weeks, on Halloween we will swear in as actual peace corps volunteers and then move out to our sites that will be our home for the next two years and we will meet the organization that will be the base for our work for the next two years. None of us know our sights yet and we are all nervous/excited about our site placements. That’s about all I think of talk about at this point. This week we get to deliver an English lesson to a local school and it should be a lot of fun and quite interesting. We have met one of the local English teachers and she is a character to say the least.
Soooo a lot has happened. Turns out I don’t really like writing journal entries. I have been writing Emily letters though which has sort of replaced keeping a journal. Yesterday we had Almaty entry. It was a lot of fun. We took three cabs that our LCF’s just caught at the edge of town. Anyone can be a taxi cab driver, it is just understood that if someone pulls over you will give them 50 tenge for a ride. Anyone and everyone stops. It is a crazy system and in America it just would not work b/c people are too scared to get rides from strangers. Goes against our untrusting nature I geuss. So anyway we all got rides to the next village up, Issick and got a bus from there. That was 100 tenge and took us all the way to Almaty, not a bad ride and I chatted with Becky, Tes and Hannah the whole way there about Boston, Becky’s hometown, rugby and camp courageous. Then we arrived at a bus station it seemed and we walked to the mosque. A beautiful building, we had to wear head scarfs to go in and look around. Then we caught a bus to go to the Peace Corps headquarters that was way back in an alley or something crazy. None of us are sure we could find it again if we had to. But then we were able to get online for ten minutes a piece and met up with our trainer dave. Then we walked to a place to eat and I got a pizza and a pespsi and ate the whole thing. It was soooo good and worth whatever I paid for it. About 1700 tenge total. Then we walked to the big orthodox church that was beautiful and filled with paintings and candles and this interested me a lot. I definitely want to go back here when I get the chance. Also reminded of my interest in saints and christian traditions. Grad school maybe?? Haha Then we went back to like a main shopping mall district and went to an internet café where we got more time online, we were all thrilled. It was 200 tenge for an hour. Then I went to a post office and mailed some letters. Then we were off to the bizarre. Rows and rows of dried apricots, grapes, watermelons, nuts every kind of fruit, and meat. Apparently amazing race came through there once and they had to buy something. Lol I bought some more minutes for my phone while others got chocolate and fruit. We then did more shopping, someone got a blow dryer, I looked at business casual shoes ahah and we just all looked around. After a long day in the city we were all pretty tired and so we found a van taxi that would take us all the way back to enbek for 200 tenge a person. We all welcomed the higher price for a ride straight through to our destination. So many sights and sounds, it was a great day. Not sure if I could navigate the city on my own like we are supposedly supposed to be able to do now but I had a great time.
Tomorrow starts week three of pre-service training. A lot of important projects are coming up. We are currently planning a 3 day, half day camp for the local school. We have to plan an English lesson plan, a community project and a one day extra curricular activity. A lot but we are working as two groups and it should be fun and really help us to have that experience when we get into the field. Of course we still have our four hours of Russian class every morning. Week five we learn our site placements, we are all excited/nervous about that. I look forward to the next step in the peace corps process though I will miss my host family and the other nine youth development trainees that I get to see everyday now. This afternoon I am meeting with my language group, Tes, Jess, Brandon and Becky and we are going over some of our group projects and our Russian homework. Then we have our end of the week meetings with dave this evening. I feel like I have been here a lot longer then two weeks. I do miss things from home, things like working toilets and showers and fooooood come to mind. But I am enjoying this experience a lot and look forward to the time I have left.
So I have never blogged before or whatever you wanna call it but so much happens here every day that it would probably be a good idea to start writing it down so I won’t forget it. So far one word….craziness! Right now I am sitting in an old sanatorium, in Almaty, (the capital of Kazakhstan), which we are reassured was once an resort for the up and coming and famous of kazak. The first day was kind of a night mare, we arrived in dc, mom, dad and ann drove me and we had to say goodbye in the hotel parking lot which was too sad to even talk about. Then I had to wait in line for over an hour to register and turn in some paperwork, and then we sat in a conference room and did icebreakers while also receiving general information and policies about the peace corps. I was definitely overwhelmed with all the people. 66 in kaz 21. All sorts of different kinds of people. Most of the trainees, as we are not yet volunteers until we swear in on Halloween if we pass our training and language assesments, anyway most of the trainees are just out of college, like graduated in may. There are two married couples in our group,
Anyway, lets see if I can stay focused, I am still adjusting to the jet lag so my brain is not properly functioning yet. So anyway back to the first night, after a long day of training we were free to go out to dinner. Spent the night in Holiday Inn in Georgetown then up in the morning to check out at 11 and head to Dulles for our 5:45 pm flight to Frankfurt. We had some time in Frankfurt in which I just sat and chatted with another trainee who happens to be a little later in her years and has lived a fascinating life. She told me all about how she crashed her sailboat after sailing around the Caribbean for 3 weeks and how she taught in Alaska and was a pilot for awhile, it was interesting. Then the flight from Frankfurt to Almaty was long and we landed in astana to let some people off the plane but no one else boarded, we were told many times before we left america not to get off at astana, haha Then it was a short trip to Almaty where we went through security and got our bags in a quick and painless process around 2 in the morning. Then made our way to our buses that brought us here, to the Sanatorium called the blue mountain in native kazak. There are two languages here in Kazakhstan, Russian which is spoken more widely but then the kazak language is more for the die hard natives I geuss. Anyway then we got to our rooms after dragging out hundred pounds of luggage up a flight of stairs only to find out that our 4 person room had one bed and a pull our falling apart futon couch thing. Hahah as I lay down I get a ‘whats your name again?’ followed by some chatting and giggling , delirious from travel and lack of sleep till falling asleep around 3 or 4 only to get woken up at 7 for a full day of training today.
The day began with a wonderful welcome presentation. There was traditional dancing, intro to some language learning, a very awesome eagle dance by a young man, serenading of the national anthem then we all returned the favor and sang ours. We had candy thrown at us which is a kazak tradition meaning if you catch some sweet things will come to your life. Then apples were handed out because almaty is also called big apple and apples are a big deal here. They were pretty good. Then we each got a balloon that after we popped it had a fortune about our service rolled up inside. Mine said something about pictures I take during my service will end up in national geographic or some magazine. Not likely is probably what Emily is thinking right now hahaha Then we had some Q&A periods and then the peace corps medical staff came and spoke to us and we got pills in case we get the swine flu, which is present over here apparently. We also got a demonstration of our water distillers that we will have to use during out entire time of service. Which takes about 4 to 5 hours to filter about half a gallon of water. Then it was off to get shots. At this point I was already feeling weak from not sleeping and not eating much and just being nervous and stressed so while I was waiting in line for the shots which I hate anyway I started getting weaker and weaker to the point I was having to sit on the floor while waiting in line. Hahah Then when it was my turn to go in I immediately said I don’t feel well and they had me lay on the bed and gave me the shots while I was laying down , two in each arm, haha not sure what they were for. I laid there for a bit till I felt better then went to get in line for my medical kit. Then I snuck off for a ten minute nap where I quickly passed out and dreamt of home awaking to my alarm not sure of where I was.Then it was time for more paperwork and our first allowance stipend and then off to our first Russian lesson. The youth development people are all together, it is a group of 10 of us. Our Russian teachers are two very sweet 22 years olds who are quite patient with us. We worked on greetings, different phrases, numbers, the alphabet, a lot to take in! Then after dinner, which consisted of tortellini looking things with sausage inside the big moment came…..we got to buy cell phones!!! We all were assembling them and tying them out and jumping for joy for being able to contact home. I got to talk to Emily and have been in the best mood and chatting up a storm just bouncing off the walls since. After that back in our room the four of us tried to go over some Russian but ended up sharing movies on our external hard drives and blogging about the recent few days. Tomorrow we do some more orientation, training then we get to go and meet our host families and move into where we will be staying for the next ten weeks. We are all holding our breath for internet and nice families!! The next blog will definitely be filled with stories about this first encounter as I still have trouble with the Russian for hello.
Peace Corps Kazakhstan Корпус Мира Казахстан
P.O. Box 257 а/я 257
Almaty 050022 050022 Алматы
ATTN: Cindy Gay