Friday, August 5, 2011

Hot Tea With Ice

This opinion piece from the New York Times comes at just the right time, as temperatures in Shymkent will reach 109 degree Fahrenheit this weekend.

While the article speaks mainly of Russians the same is true in Kazakhstan. Multiple cups of tea a day are a norm here. I can understand that in the winter when it can help you warm up. However, many people in Kazakhstan have advised me drink a hot cup of tea even in the summer as way to cool down. Wait! I don't get it. The explanation is that drinking a hot cup of tea makes you sweat and thus cool off. I don't need anymore help sweating. But, I've been here for two years so I know that integration is important. I'll take that cup of tea...s l'dom.

Oh a side note, I'm leaving my site, Shymkent, today so I will be one of the lucky ones missing out on the 109 degrees. 

Stay cool. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women of the Year!

Happy International Women's Day!!! (March 8th)

Women of the Year
For a few months now our women's club in Shymkent has been putting together a list of women of the year. Each week one or two participants presents information about a woman they have chosen to be on our list. Our criteria is simple, chose a woman, dead or alive, who admire and explain why. Also, we have been trying to deter women from just selecting pop stars. In celebration of Women's Day here's our list:
  • Marie Curie - physicist and chemist, first person to win two Nobel Prizes
  • Dr. Hawa Abdi - founder of a health clinic for women and children in Somalia
  • Rosa Parks - civil rights activist
  • Tomyris - queen of Iranic people in Central Asia
  • Anna Politkovskaya - journalist and human rights activist opposed to Chechen conflict
  • Aung San Suu Kyi - opposition political in Burma and Nobel Peace Prize winner
  • Cleopatra - last pharaoh of ancient Egypt
  • Mother Teresa - humanitarian and advocate
  • Gabriela Mistral - educator, poet and first Latin American woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Saint Olga - Princess of Kiev who avenged her husband's death and converted to Christianity
  • Valentina Tereshkova - first woman in space
  • Jennifer Figge - endurance athlete
My short descriptions do no justice to the amazing achievements and qualities of these women! I'm really proud of our women's club for putting together such a strong list.

Women's Day
Women's Day is a very big deal here. It's like Valentine's Day and Mother's Day combined and multiplied. Flower vendors are out in full force, glittery cards are for sale, tons of people are out and about, there's a lot of traffic, and you probably can't get a table at a restaurant. Usually, guys give gifts to the women in their lives. This year the holiday falls on a Tuesday so we got both Monday and Tuesday off of work.

On Saturday, I bought and delivered presents for my Russian tutor and director. When I got to work give my director a bouquet of beautiful red tulips that are now blooming outside of Shymkent, she was already celebrating! My sitemate, Katie, and I joined her and a co-worker for a mid-day celebration break.

The next day I invited a few women, local friends and Peace Corps volunteers in Shymkent, to come to my apartment over the weekend for a spa day. We did face masks, painted our nails, made lava cakes and watched a chick flick. It was a fun and girly evening!

On the actual day I was in Zhetisai a town of 30,000 people about 4 hours south of Shymkent. I went there with my sitemate, Phillip, to visit three volunteers that live there. We got there Sunday afternoon and went straight to a English Club that Tes, Katharine and Lisa hold, but of course nobody was there because of the holiday. On Women's Day I slept in (!!!) and leisurely head over to Tes' for eggs and toast. Toast! It may not sound exciting to you but it's rare here. Despite the availability and use of many modern appliances people here don't have toasters! After filling up Katharine, Lisa and I head off to the banya (sauna) to sweat and scrub away our winter skin. I think I've written about banyas before. It's one thing I'm sure to miss when I leave Kazakhstan. Anyways, our short time in Zhetisai was nice. It's always fun to get out of the "big city" and enter the slow pace life of a town or village. Kids are playing outside, livestock is roaming around, and at night you can see the stars.

February is a cold and miserable month but just like last year the weather started changing as soon as March arrived. I'm pretty sure March 8th marks the start of spring in Shymkent. On March 8th last year, the weather was warm enough to wear shorts and dresses. This year is much the same. Well, the snow's melted and you can go outside without a coat on. Spring is here!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

50 Years!!!

This year Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary! On March 1st 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order that established Peace Corps.

Peace Corps volunteers and RPCVS (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) around the world will be celebrating all year. I hope you can join us!

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Peace Corps Kazakhstan's website celebrating the 50th anniversary. The site has great information on how you can get involved in celebrations this year. One of my favorite features is our PC Kaz Family Mapping. On the top menu click "Map" to see where the supporters of Peace Corps Kazakhstan are. You can participate by printing out the PDF sign, filling it out, taking a picture and emailing back to us with your location. I can't wait to see this map fill up!

View Title in a larger map

Thursday, January 27, 2011


A tough part of being away for the last year and a half has been keeping in touch with friends and family. Some people have been more than amazing though. Being a volunteer in a country like Kazakhstan allows me many ways to stay in touch. It's not like the Peace Corps from 50 years ago!

When I was at my host family's apartment we got internet a few months after I moved in but eventually it stopped working on my computer. I still have no idea why. Also, for the longest time I didn't have internet at work. Well correction, there was internet but it was dial up that my director paid for out of her own pocket, so I generally stayed away from that. For her sake and to save my own sanity. About once a week I went to a cafe with wifi to satisfy my internet needs. They probably hated me there. I would order something and eat it as slowly as possible. Then an hour or so later I'd order a soft drink or a pot of tea if I really wanted to stretch out my time. At that time I did my best to copy emails to a blank document and write out my replies offline. Now things have changed. A month or two after moving out of my host family's apartment and into my own, my roommate and I decided to get internet and a wireless router. Unlimited internet costs about 4000 tenge ($1=~150 tenge) per month after the initial set up fees.

When I got to Kazakhstan I had some culture shock about the way people use their cellphones here. To an American it could seem rude. People often have more than one pre-paid service provider and some have more than one phone. Also, an important note is that there is no voice mail or free nights and weekends. When people get a call they pick it up right away so that they don't have to call back and use their units. This is common even in class or at a training. Even after a reminder many do not put their phone on silent.
Now I have two cellphones. Very integrated! One plan is cheaper to call people on the same plan for a long conversation. The other is really good for short calls to people on the same plan and for calling America, though I can't figure out why it limits the call to only ten minutes.

The seven volunteers in Shymkent share a P.O. box. Since my office is closest to the post office I've taken on checking the mail box once a week. It can be the best or most depressing thing. If no one gets mail I leave dejected. There should always be mail in the post office box! Even if it's not for me! I should have probably mentioned this a long time ago but packages can take any where from three weeks to two months to get to Shymkent. When you send the package, you may be told that it will arrive in 10-14 days. Don't believe it! Not that the USPS isn't doing their job but I think that's the time it takes the package to get to Kazakhstan. Who knows what happens once it gets here. Unfortunately, two packages that were sent to me have been lost. A tip for anyone sending mail to me in the next few months, make sure you write the address in English and Russian (Cyrillic letters). My address is written on the right panel of my blog. Getting packages are great but I love receiving letters just as much. I write back to everyone who sends me mail so email or message me if you don't get a reply.

So whichever line of communication you prefer I'd love to hear from you and stay in touch (or get back in touch). That said, I'm down to my last six months so maybe we can talk face to face soon!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Fireworks and view of Shymkent from my balcony (photo by James Adams)

Happy new year!!! Best wishes for 2011!
As far as I know, in Shymkent, there are no city fireworks. Who needs that when the residents of the city put on their own show. At midnight people all around the city shoot of fireworks from their balconies and rooftops and this goes on for about 20 minutes. The result is a beautiful and magical sky filled with all different shapes, colors and sizes of fireworks. The view from my apartment (on the 12th floor) was amazing!

Outlook: Life in Kazakhstan
If you have about half an hour listen to this podcast about life, culture and history in Kazakhstan brought to you by the BBC. Rayhan Demytrie, a Central Asia Correspondent, has lived in Kazakhstan for 2 years. In this clip she shares interviews with three citizens.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Dad's visit: A walk with the rocks

This past Thanksgiving I was an exceptional thankful because I had my dad here visiting me for five days. Recently, I've wrote about time flying and it definitely did when he was here. Our five days together in Kazakhstan were filled with a busy schedule of people to visit and places to see. Here's a quick recap:

Most of the first day was spent at home so my dad could get over his jet lag. After resting up, showering and giving me a suitcase full of stuff from America we head off to get some food and internet at Address Cafe. In the evening, we went to gosti (be guests) at my host family's house. As usual my host mom had a table spread with a variety foods for us so my dad became familiar with the words I know too well, "eat, eat!". It's not a request it's a command. I’m glad my dad got to meet my host family and vice versa. My dad thanked my host mom for taking such good care of me while I was so far away from home. My host mom replied that I am like a daughter to her. Awww!
The next day my host sister, Ira joined me and my dad on a trip out of town to Turkestan, where the main attraction is Yasaui Mausoleum. This UNESCO world heritage site and pilgrimage site is the final resting place of Yasaui, a holy man in the 12th century. Check out the link to my pictures at the bottom of this blog because it's a really beautiful place. The mausoleum is partially covered with pretty blue tiles but construction was never finished. The front of the building is not decorated with the same tiles and the original scaffolding poles still stick out of the main arch. People in Kazakhstan say that three trips to the mausoleum are like one trip to Mecca. I don't think the rest of the Muslim world has even heard of this idea. It being my second time here I wanted to check out something new so I pulled out my handy dandy Lonely Planet book. About an hour away from Turkestan is Sauran, or the ruins of Sauran. It was once a Silk Road city that was inhabited until the 18th century. There really isn't much there but the remains of they city walls but the cool thing is that there is no one else there. You can walk along the ancient walls without being yelled at by a guard and imagine and old fortified city. We also found pieces of old glazed pottery.

After the full day trip away from Shymkent, I decided to make plans closer to home. My roommate Dina, Ira, my dad and I went to Sayram, a village about half an hour from Shymkent that used to be a Silk Road city. We went straight to a local school and met kids there who were eager to show us around their town. We started off in the backyard of the school to see a tower called Kydyra Minaret. The funny thing is I have been to Sayram for sight seeing before, this past summer actually when a German tourist was visiting Shymkent, and I visited this tower which we had to search for. I had no idea it was just behind the school. The students also took us to see a few mausoleums and then the Friday Mosque, where girls were actually allowed in as long as they weren’t on their periods. I could tell that this was news to the girls because most of them seemed as if they had never been in the mosque. Most still didn’t want to go. We capped off our visit with a trip to the local museum which showcased Kazakhstani history as well as Sayram’s. Our guide was very eager to explain everything to us and one of the students did an excellent job translating so my dad and I could keep up with him.

On the way home we stopped at one of my best discoveries of the year. In fact it deserves its own paragraph! When riding the train from Shymkent to Almaty in the spring I spotted a bright green sign in Cyrillic that says Shymkent. However, from the train I could not figure out where it was. The street signs were too small and infrequent to read. This sign consumed me. I wanted to see it in real life. I wanted to take a picture with it, a full out photo shoot. I asked around but no one in Shymkent seemed to know where it actually is, if they had even heard of it at all. Major disappointment. Then during the summer when I went to Sayram with the German tourist, I saw it on our way back to Shymkent. I saw the sign! Since we had our own taxi on this most recent visit to Sayram and I was with some lovely company we stopped to take pictures with the coveted sign!
Wednesday was spent showing my dad some of my favorite and most frequented places in Shymkent: Kritirinik Bazaar, English club at my school and Movie club. Recently, I learned from my Russian tutor that Kritirinik means covered bazaar. This bazaar was the first and only covered marketplace for some time. But, now there are many covered bazaars and Kritirinik is half uncovered. Still the name sticks. The reason I loved this bazaar is because that uncovered half is a flea market. People sell there knick-knacks, junk, things that looks like they fell off the side of a truck, etc. It is a great place to find Soviet souvenirs. Awesome finds in past visits include bills, coins, envelopes, stamps and medals from the Soviet era. We browsed for awhile but ended up just getting some fresh produce. After a rushed lunch I showed my dad my school. He met with the director of my organization and watched my English club. My students were really interested to talk to him and ask many questions. Maybe passing out Reeses Peanut Butter Cups helped. In the evening we stopped by at Movie club which I’ve been helping run for the past year. My dad was pretty beat though, and not really interested in watching Sherlock Holmes so we took advantage of the good weather and walked home.

The last full day was as busy if not busier than the previous days. The day before at my organization, one of our trainers, Adil, was there and he offered to take me and my dad to some place in the mountains. Sure, why not we replied, but we only have tomorrow left. In the morning we went back to my school so my dad could meet and speak to two of the English classes. I was really surprised that the first class didn’t really have many questions to ask. Usually kids here are so curious when they meet a foreigner. The second class was a year older and they were a different story. I was really impressed by some of the questions. I wish I had taken notes.
After touring the school, we loaded up in Adil's jeep and went off towards Kazygurt Mountains. Once we got there a guide showed us some interesting rock formations. In most places people probably wouldn't care about rocks in the middle of nowhere, but Kazakhstan is mostly steppe (dry flat land) so these rock formations are not only a big deal but mystical. Two of the big formations (Adam and Eve rocks) have a crevice in between them. If you pass through it you will be cleansed of your sins. I am now very pure! Another big rock was called "Dastarkhan". Dastarkhan is the feast spread on a long low table or just simply on a table cloth. One rock that had a very fitting name was the Elephant Rock.
Once we got back to Shymkent one of my co-workers at the school took my dad and I to a very nice Kazakh restaurant to try fermented horse's milk (Kumys) and fermented camel's milk (Shubat). I don't want to ruin it for you so I really recommend you try it yourself! After downing as much fermented milk as is humanly possible we head to El Doro Pizzeria. My dad took all the Shymkent volunteers out for Thanksgiving dinner. Yum!

The next day we just got up, got ready and head off to the airport, but the funny thing about Kazakhstan is that it has a special way of welcoming you and it doesn’t let you leave. When my dad thought he was leaving Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan said no wait there’s more. We get to the airport an hour before his flight and no one is in line to check in. Strange. A short while later there is an announcement over the intercom. If it was in English the speaker system is so bad that I thought it was a foreign language. The flight would be delayed until 11 am because the plane hadn’t come in from Almaty. Okay not too long of a wait. Ten rolls around and all of a sudden another announcement stating the flight has been pushed back to 2 pm because the plane still hasn’t arrived. No big deal, it’s not like it’s the day before the Shymkent volunteers are hosting 20 people for a Thanksgiving dinner. At some point two representatives from Air Astana come around giving passengers a 500 tenge ($3.33) voucher to eat at the café in the airport. I didn’t even know the tiny airport had a dining establishment. The voucher somehow reaffirms that you’re in for the long haul. Some more time passes and finally my dad tells me I should get going because I had mentioned I had thanksgiving dinner grocery shopping to help out with. I kept insisting I stay because there was nothing to do in this airport. NOTHING! No arguing with my dad though, eventually I left after we hadn’t heard any flight changes in awhile. I head off to help with grocery shopping an emotional mess. It was really sad to leave my dad, but so nice to have someone from back home here…in Kazakhstan. I get on with my day and get an unexpected call at 6 or 7 pm from my dad. His flight still hadn’t left! On top of that Air Astana wanted to put him on a bus to Almaty and have him find his own way to the airport. So many things are ridiculous about that suggestion! He hasn’t eaten dinner, he doesn’t speak Russian, the roads are so scary!!! Long story short he made it to Almaty fine but still couldn’t get a flight to India, where he was going to visit family. I think he ended up leaving over 36 hours after his original flight. What a mess! In the end though my dad said it was an interesting experience. I think that’s crazy. Is that interesting like actually interesting or ohhhh that’s ….mmm…interesting as in I can’t find words that describe how absurd the situation was. When he got to India my cousin sent me a picture of my dad from his Blackberry with a caption that read, “India accepts refugee from Kazakhstan”. Thanks for the laugh. And dad, thanks for visiting.

Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving! Happy holidays, folks!

If you want to see pictures of his visit or of my second year here in Kazakhstan check out this Picasa Album!

The 2nd Year in Kaz

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sitemates, Halloween, Workshop and Special Guest

October and half of November have flown by! I've been amazed at how there is not enough time each day.

New Apartment

In the beginning of October I moved out of my host family's apartment and into an apartment with a local friend and her sister. I was living with my host family since November of last year and will really miss living with them but like the change as well. I still visit them. My new apartment is on the top floor of a building in the dead center of Shymkent and it was recently renovated. It took me awhile to get settled in but since then I've already hosted a few guests.

Britt's Departure

At the end of the month Britt left Shymkent after volunteering here for the past two years, She has been an amazing friend and support and I can't imagine my past year without her. When I first got to Shymkent she hosted me for a week, helped me visit my host family options and introduced me to Musli cereal. More importantly, she got me into Battlestar Galactica over the last few months. Leading up to Britt's departure she, Phillip and I marathoned the last season.

Halloween Party

So this holiday isn't completely unknown here it's just not celebrated at all. My friends in Shymkent, however, got a taste of it at my Halloween party. The first guests that arrived received American chocolates (Butterfingers) and all were greeted by decorations that I had been preparing for a few days. During the evening we ate pumpkin pie and pizza that was delivered (a novelty), danced, had a costume contest and watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Sharing cultural moments like this are a fun part of the Peace Corps experience.


Last week at 6:15 in the morning we (kz-21s) went to pick up the new volunteers who will live in Shymkent for the next two years. We welcomed Bethany, Cynthia, James, and Katie with a pancake brunch. Delicious! Over the past week and a half they have been busy getting adjusted to their new lives, finding host families and understanding the intricacies of Kazakhstani work culture.

College Application Workshop
Last week was Fall break for public schools in Shymkent. Since my older students are normally super busy taking extra courses I had a 3 day training for them during the break. It was a workshop to teach them how to apply to universities and colleges in America. We covered topics such as choosing universities to apply to, writing application essays, scholarships, admissions tests, resumes, and American college culture. I had a lot of help from other Peace Corps volunteers and two Fulbrights that live in Shymkent. Part of the workshop required students to prepare a draft of their personal statements so they could get one-on-one editing help from the volunteers and Fulbrights. Over the 3 days about 20 students showed up, maybe 7-9 showed up everyday and they found it really helpful.

Guest of Honor
In just a few days my dad will be visiting me for about 5 days! Not only am excited to see him after a year and a few months, but many of my local friends are interested in meeting him. I'm going to take him to work, to meet my host family and see some cultural sites. More on the visit later!

Peace Corps Trainings

Right after Thanksgiving a few of us will get on a train and head to Almaty for two trainings. The first is about PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS and the second is our Mid-Service Training. I'm not really sure what the second one will be about but it will be great to see friends that are spread all over this huge country.

Whew! That's alot and to be honest I just breezed through it without much detail but I'm glad to be busy!