Alma-Ata

So this blog will be about Almaty, the biggest city in Kazakhstan. Almaty was once the capital of Almaty before it was changed to Astana. Almaty or Alma-Ata which means “Grandfather Apple” in Kazakh is located in the south close to the Chinese border. It is a very cool city with lots of things to do. My group were really able to get to know the city well and even though we were about 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Almaty, we endured those gypsy cabs/buses just to get there.

Before I go on with my story, let me tell you what a gypsy cab could be. So, Kazakhstan doesn’t really have a cab system outside the city so everyone could just be a potential taxi. You basically do a hitchhike pose and a taxi will stop then you can barter for how much you would pay for it. During this time, I didn’t really have the language skills to yell at the taxi driver for a lower price so we relied a lot on how much the locals told us it should cost. Now, however I am happy to say that I could yell in Russian and basically tell them that my money does not grow on trees for me to pay for that much. Haha.

Ok, so we would always take a cab to the city and pay about 300 tenge or about $2 to go to the city. Of course, it is not that much if you think about it in dollars but we didn’t have that much money. We were trainees and only get like $4 a week as allowance. It was actually kind of expensive for us poor volunteers. As I have mentioned Almaty is cool and it is one of my favorites cities here in Kazakhstan. I feel like we were in the city every weekend or every other weekend just to get some food and internet. South Kazakhstan is also famous for their beautiful mountains and we were lucky enough to go to Medeo. We suffered 900 steps up the mountain, but it was totally worth it because the view was amazing and it reminded me so much of Quito! Which as all of you guys know, is my favorite city in the whole world.

Ok so here is the list of my favorite food in Kazakhstan.
1. Doner Kabobs (awesome Turkish confection!)
2. Lagman (awesome Uighur noodles, the only thing with flavor)
3. Potatoes and meat that was baked by my host aunt during PST
4. Shashlik (barbequed meat)
5. Vareniki (Perogies like which reminded me so much of home)
6. Plov (Uzbek rice with meat)

I will not list any more, but all I have to say is that the top 2 are my favorites! Also, I miss Mexican and Chinese food sooo much!

Next blog may be interesting!

Ice Rink!

Ohh Shoot! Earthquake!!!!

Here is one little thing that you need to know about my training site. I lived in a village called Baltabai, and it has about 3,000 people. When I say that it’s a village, its definitely a village in southern Kazakhstan. There are cows, donkeys, dogs, chickens everywhere and its hard to miss them because you can smell them a mile away. We are always the talk of the town and I am pretty sure that everyone knows what we are doing the minute we start doing them. As small as this village is, we didn’t have any cafes or just a place where 10 Americans could hang out. So 3 weeks before we were supposed to leave to go to our permanent site, here comes 2 cafes!

Of course, we were all excited to eat shashlik and drink less than a dollar beer. I am not kidding when I say that those beers are about 90 cents each. The one draw back about these cafes in a small village is that we run into the problem of seeing our students and the whole town talking about the Americans drinking at the café. That happened by the way, we didn’t need to tell our host families where we were because the neighbor would just do that for us. As would be expected though, being in this “fishbowl” didn’t stop us from hanging out at the two local cafes and sometimes striking up conversations with the locals. I am sure that our locals get super confused whenever we talk because half of us are studying Russian and the other half are studying Kazakh. Every time we open our mouths they have to guess whether we will order in Russian or Kazakh. After a while, we just didn’t mind nor cared that we were being watched because we just wanted to hang out and spend a little time away from Technical Sessions and Language.

So the two cafes are the first half of this blog while the next half is totally about a different experience. It is not exactly my first time experiencing this, but after 10 years of not being in the middle of it. I can still say that it was still a little unnerving and interesting.

I am sure that has piqued your interests so I will start and talk about my first earthquake in Kazakhstan. As per always, I woke up at around 8 am on a Sunday morning getting ready to go to the nearest town with other volunteers for the Bazaar (public market) and the internet. I stepped outside to go to the outhouse since it was early in the morning and I needed to go. As I was looking for the dog, I heard the windows move and I was thinking that the wind was not strong enough to make that noise when the ground started moving. I looked around and said out loud that “Sh**, I just had my first Kazakhstani earthquake” Again, I said that this is not my first experience ever because being originally from the Philippines; we get this all them time. So it was not such a big deal, until I went in to the house and found my host family freaking out. I mean major freak out!

I sat in the kitchen and felt the aftershock, this is freak out worthy apparently. I went into my room to get ready for my excursion and saw that my phone was basically blown up with text messages. Messages from my TCF making sure that we are ok and a funny text message from one of my best friends Katya. Which says “Please tell me that your outhouse fell!” This will be a lot funnier later when I tell you guys the story and I am sure it will get some chuckles here and there.

The rest of the day consisted of a lot of aftershocks that it just didn’t phased us Americans anymore. I spent my day at ECIK and I didn’t feel anything. I was able to go to the bazaar, use the internet and hang out with the other cool volunteers! Oh, I forgot to say! The epicenter was apparently not that far away from my village, which was why we kept feeling the aftershocks. Everything turned out alright though and it still ended up a very good day because I was able to speak a lot of Russian. Yay Me!

And the winner is….

When we were in PST, our lovely PCVTAs or helpers organized a scavenger hunt for my training village and the closest training town from us (ECIK). The main objective of this scavenger hunt is for us to practice our language and some of us were able to do that. The price for whoever wins it is to go to the Peace Corps office in the city for a night and eat Pizza Hut. Of course, for those who are reading this will not think that the price is worth it, but for those who did not have internet at their training village; that night at the Peace Corps office seems like the greatest gift ever! Also, the pizza since most of us have not had pizza for the last 2 months.

We had a list of things that we needed to find and take pictures to prove that we did find them. The pictures are below to show you guys that we really found them. Some were easy to find and some were hard to get. We had the hardest time finding a babushka wearing a blue scarf on her head and a pair of fake (Bazaar) prada shoes. The last one meant something to my training group because our wonderful PCVTA Janelle had a pair of these fierce Prada shoes. I loved those shoes! After the hunt, we also had to write something interesting about the pictures in Russian/Kazakh. It was Russian for my group and it was really hard to find an interesting way to describe those pictures when your language level is of a 3 year old.

Alas my group did not win the hunt, but it was still fun to have made a really good friend while doing this scavenger hunt. I am happy to say that Carrie and I are really close friends and it all started with this hunt as being the only 2 girls in a group of 5. I guess we really didn’t need the win to spend time in Almaty, as I will gladly tell you guys on my next blog.

The Trainees with some students! We found a statue!

English Clubs for ALL

For training we were required to have English Clubs for the students of our training site. My group decided to have 3 different English for the 10 of us. I decided to have a theatre club (not a surprised, yeah?) with Katya, Andrew and Brian. There is a sports club with Will, Matt and Martha and there is a small camp, boys scout thing for the little kids with Liz, Ben and Brett. We were still considered novelties in Baltabai so we knew that a lot of kids wanted to be part of our English Clubs and we were not wrong. So, Vera decided to ask the English teachers to pick their best students to be part of our clubs. It worked out well the 1st time and we had 24 students in the theater club.

We decided to have the kids make their own skits at the end of the day so that they could practice their English. We played a lot of theater games too and I know that Mrs. Dull would be super proud because I taught my kids BABY SHARK! It was great to see the kids not be so shy anymore especially when they were trying to write their scripts. Of course, we had to help them all the time with their scripts, but it was fun nonetheless to see the final product on stage. These kids and their imagination were to die for realsies. There was one story of a giraffe, mayor and a big lake. The mayor was swimming in the lake, enjoying the lake without his clothes and the curious giraffe saw his clothes and liked them. The giraffe took his ties and everything else and went back to Africa. A few days later, the mayor went to African with 2 police in tow and tried to find the giraffe. When they finally spotted the giraffe wearing all of the mayor’s clothes. The police arrested him and the mayor finally got his clothes back. It was so great and we told that story over and over again for weeks. The English Clubs at Baltabai was truly a great success because we were able entertain about around 200 kids for 2 hours. The theater club was lucky enough to have a consistent 24 older kids while the others had around 150 or more each because all they did were play games. It was fun for the kids because they did not have anything else to do in Baltabai and it was great for us to introduce American games to the kids. The Nostalgia of it all!

We were pretty sure that we had the most kids in all of the training groups and they were growing every week. I felt so bad for Ben, Liz and Brett especially because they had to entertain a lot of kids for 2 hours every week and it was exhausting. I was exhausted with 24 kids and they were good older kids who had decent English and understood a lot of what we were saying. Our Thursday also came to be known as pictorial or picture day. The kids in Baltabai enjoyed taking pictures of the volunteers and I swear that the majority of them took 5 million pics of us each. I always remember having a really sore jaw for smiling all the time and of course we had to smile because they don’t smile here. We had to show them how the Americans smile all the time. We don’t know what they are going to do with all of those pics and pics were taken everywhere (the school, the streets, the monument and maybe even the store (магазин). It is really funny being the first trainees in the village because we all got so much attention and I kind of feel bad for the next training group because they may not have that attention. But then again, they actually might have the same attention we got for 9 weeks in the small village of Baltabai <3

The 9th of May

We have been working really hard on what seems like 7 years on our community projects. When we saw our schedule for the next 9 weeks, we saw that we were supposed to conduct a community project for our, guess for it… community. We were trying to figure out what we could do such as making a resource center for the English teachers in our training site or just simply building a bench. We decided to commemorate the veterans on their day. There was a small monument behind the school and it seems like it has been forgotten. We wanted to clean the area and plant flowers around the monument. The timing was perfect because it is just before the 9th of May which is Victory Day here in Kazakhstan (it is the equivalent of our Veterans’ Day). This culture really respects their veterans and its awesome to see that! We realized how much kids cared about the veterans when they made cards for them.

On the day of our project, it was raining really hard in the morning and we were worried about the possibility of canceling the whole project. However, at around noon the rain stopped and we had a lot of donated flowers. Will’s host dad is fond of flowers and he was generous enough to give us some of his flowers. There was also a flower farm in the area and our great friend Arman was nice enough as well to have donated a lot of flowers and plants for the project.

The day was so great that my boys were able to plant with the kids and it turned out really well. The girls were busy handling the arts and crafts of it all. The kids wrote great essays and drew awesome pictures for the veterans! The day was such a success and we had Ekat and Paul there as well. It was great to have some of the PC staff at our project because it showed that they cared about our work. I was also interviewed by one of the teachers which was great because I got to practice my Russian a little bit. It was nice to know that I may have improved a little bit.

On the actual day of Victory, there was a big celebration and we were part of the program. We announced the winners of the essay and art contests and it was great to see the kids’ faces when we announced it! The American volunteers had to perform our Russian song Katoshia (КАТЮША), the Kazakh song Sulu Cuz (сулу куз) and my rendition of “Lean on Me” with the older kids. The people loved our Sulu Cuz performance and the boys really impressed the older Kazakhs. We practiced all of our songs for so long that it was great to be appreciated and we all had to memorize a Russian and Kazakh song. It was a little hard of course because of the differences between the Cyrillic and the English alphabets. However, we pulled it off! and now it is hard to think about anything else that happened that day.

 

I will write more about other things such as our ridiculously big English Clubs!

Baltabai (балтабай)

Drum Roll please… The first 9 weeks of my life in Kazakhstan was…. great, frustrating, scary, rewarding, stressful and just AWESOME! It was exactly what I had expected it would be; I knew that being in a Peace Corps volunteer will not be easy and I knew that it would not be all rainbows and unicorns (or butterflies, whatever haha). It would be really awful if anyone was ever thinking that.

Meeting my host mom was exciting because I am ready to just have a bed and sleep, but that is not how it was in the beginning. It wasn’t really bad and we were able to fix everything; it was just a little misunderstanding that was hugely because of our miscommunication. I am now in possession of her house key in case I ever come back down south and needed a place to stay (sweet, right?). She told me that my room is always available and I am going to take advantage of that when I come back this August. She was just the best and I know that I lucked out because she was always supportive. In the culture were girls my age are already married with 2 kids, she did not pry or tried to figure out why I was still single. She told me to focus on my career and that getting married can always wait. Of course, the rest of the village was not that supportive, but it was still nice to have that support behind me.

Now, I will talk  about my training group. I was fortunate enough to have been stuck with the best 9 people I know in a small village. It was great to build a relationship with them when we didn’t have any cafes or anywhere to go. Our laughs and jokes were stuck in the four corners or our language and technical classrooms. We all shared laughs about Will’s tardiness, to my not so sound and foundation lacking outhouse, Brett’s nicknames, Liz’ old woman character, Andrew’s lack of enthusiasm about everything, Martha’s noises, Matt’s humor, Katya’s cousin, Ben’s 1st Banya (баня) experience, and Brian’s love for music. We all created a circle of friendship in Baltabai and even though we didn’t have any internet we were able to keep sane for that whole 9 weeks. I had the greatest time with these 9 people because they were so open and there was no judgment. I didn’t think that it was possible to fall in love with 9 different people at the same time, but I was proven wrong. I think that my experience would have been different if I was placed in another village or town and frankly I was and still am happy for being with my group. We had no drama and we were all each others’ cheerleaders. We were all there for each other when we experienced Dr. Victor’s roller coaster ride. I will never trade the last 9 weeks of my life for anything because I was truly happy with my friends!

We were also very fortunate to have gotten 3 of the best supporters and teachers in PST. I had an awesome time with my Russian teacher, Zarina and Amantai Apai was sneaky with how she was trying to teach me Kazakh every time I go to her classroom. Vera our technical facilitator is someone you would want to be behind you because she will raise hell when anyone accuses us of not working.

The last 9 weeks was so long, hard and frustrating, but it was worth it because I had the best kids anyone could ask for. I had two 5th grade classes and they were the cutest things ever! They were so eager to learn and were just so sweet. On my last day, I was given a lot of gifts and I will forever treasure those gifts. I hope that my kids would try and really learn English because when I come back here in KZ I would like to see them again.

Plane ride to Almaty

I have been trying to write this for a few days now and alas 2 months of no technology has finally erased my knowledge of how to work a blog or the internet for that matter. haha!

So… this is how it goes. For the last 2 months of my life I’ve had to endure training for language and techical skills to be a good teacher in Kazakhstan. However, before I go on with how frustrating training was and how it was also rewarding. I will go ahead and rewind to the time when I first met the 54 people in my group. We were all nervous about leaving the country and being with random people in the plane. We all know that we are the only ones in this whole world who will ever understand the nervousness and excitement that we feel. I remember being at the airport in D.C and cursing myself for being a girl because I had one big suitcase and a duffel bag. The next 48 hours will be a pain in the ass because I have to carry EVERYTHING! It is a curse to be a girl! haha. I then met 3 great new friends at the airport and all of us were worried about being late because my flight did not get to D.C till an hour before we were supposed to be at the hotel. We all found out that we are Education volunteers and we wondered if there were any other volunteers from other program such as YD (Youth Development Program) in our group. When we got to the hotel, we saw a line of people (my guess was that they were our volunteers). The line was of course for the ever popular paperwork of the Peace Corps. We had a whole day of staging and I remember meeting my roomate and thinking that she was soo cool. Everytime I see her now, I would always get the biggest hug ever from her! (Great Girl!).

A lot of things happened the next day when we left for the airport to KZ. I was cursing myself about having lots of stuff; I actually only had about 35 lbs in one and 48 lbs in another (Crazy?? Right??). The wait was of course awful and unbearable! Then finally we took off to go to Germany for a few more hours. This time I sat in between 2 people from my group. I think that this may have been the greatest thing ever because I was able to build a good relationship with the girl I sat next to.  A few more hours in Germany and finding shot glasses for my friends (guys, wait for the next 2 years because there will be more!). I had another fun plane ride with another girl in my group and as was the 1st case we became fast friends. Landing in Almaty airport at midnight (frankly, i don’t remember what time) was so surreal because we were in KZ and I do not speak Russian or Kazakh. This is going to be the greatest adventure ever! And not comes the ever dreadful jetlag (I hate jetlags!). The next day we found out our training sites and I was placed in the farthest village from Almaty. I was both scared and excited and was a little po’d because it snowed! haha. I am going to love the winters up north!

The ride to my little village of Baltabai was upon us and we will be the 1st American volunteers to have ever been trained there. Exciting! The story of the next 2 months will be on the next blog.