Published on March 13, 2005 By The Mada In Life Journals
Hello again from KZ. I apologize for the long delay between letters, I have had a lot of trouble with the phone lines and internet connections, and I have been waiting for a good time to update everyone on what’s been going on. It’s been nearly 3 months since my last letter, which I can hardly believe. Time is flying by, and I am amazed when I think about the fact that in a little more than 2 months, I will have been here for a full year, and I will be halfway home. Let me pick up where I left off in my last letter in December. I spent the New Year’s holiday in my original training site with my first host family. It was a bit strange to see them again after nearly 4 months, and of course for the first time since the father died. The older volunteer who lived with them in 2003 was there as well, which was nice. We all toasted to the father’s memory and had a really nice time. We drank lots of vodka and danced in the streets and shot off fireworks to commemorate the new year. On the 2nd I went back into Almaty to prepare for our In Service Training (IST) session. All 40 (we’ve had 2 volunteers go home to the states) of us gathered together in a sanatorium for 3 days of complaining, training, and (of course) drinking. It was great to see everyone again, and it was nice to hear that nearly all the other volunteers have had the same problems as I have during their first 6 months at their sites. We left Almaty to return to site on the 7th of January. I took a rather long detour and traveled up to Ust Kamenogorsk with a friend of mine because she didn’t want to go alone on the train. So we spent 32 hours in a train car just hanging out, reading, and talking. We had a rather interesting night in between, however. Each cabin in the train has 4 beds. We occupied two obviously, and there were two beds which were being used by the train militia, so they were frequently available. During the night, random families of Kazakh people kept bribing the train workers to get on the train, and then they would come into our cabin, sit on the opposite bed from me (I was on the bottom bunk) and start talking (and sometimes yelling or arguing) for the next hour or two. Then they’d get to their stop and leave, and another family would come in and do the same. We had 4 (!) different families come into our cabin during the night, all Kazakh, and all were horrible. I wanted to kill each and every one of them. We didn’t get a wink of sleep all night. The worst part was that I kept locking our cabin when each family left, and the workers would literally force our doors open so they could let new families in since they didn’t want to lose the bribes. It was horrible. Anyway, we got to Ust Kamenogorsk, and I then took a bus back down to my town. For the next 2 full months, it was just incredibly cold. Some days were as much as 25 degrees below zero, and nights regularly dropped into the -30 or -35 degree range. It was so cold that your eyes would freeze, then start to water when you blinked. The tears would then freeze instantly to your eyes, and you couldn’t see where you were going. It snowed nearly every day, and at times we had as much as 2 feet. They have no snow plows here, so each layer of snow just got compacted onto the next, and there was ice everywhere. Let me say that teaching during this time was not fun. Every day I’d come to school chilled to the bone, then I’d have to deal with annoying students who didn’t want to listen to me or do their homework. A lot of time the school wasn’t heated, so all the teachers and students had to wear their coats and hats all day long. I have never encountered anything that resembled the cold here during the month of January. I expect that St. Louis winters will seem a bit milder when I experience them again in 2006. Just as an example of how cold it really was: we handwash all our laundry here. During the winter, we wash the clothes in buckets inside, then hang dry them outside (don’t ask, I don’t understand it either. When in Rome….). When I would take my wet clothes outside, I’d drop them over the clothesline. They would be instantly frozen by that time. In the 5-10 seconds it took my to get the clothes from the house to the clothesline, they froze. It was insane. The water on your hands from the wet clothes would then freeze too. Holy crap it sucked. Anyway, enough about the weather. It is now the beginning of March, and the weather has finally crept back above freezing for the first time since December. I have spent the last 4 weekends hanging out in other towns with other volunteers. I went into Taldykorgan (the nearest city to me, about 4 hours away) twice, I went up to Ust Kamenogorsk in the north eastern part of the country, and I went down to see my friend William in his new town last weekend. He moved to a new site about a month ago because he had some serious problems in his previous site – namely, he had a gun pulled on him and was nearly stabbed in an attempted robbery (2 separate incidents), so the PC thought moving him would be best. He’s the closest volunteer to me now. The married couple that used to live near me also changed towns for a number of reasons, so me and Will are pretty much alone here, 4 hours from the next closest Americans. I may be getting a site-mate in August, which will be fantastic, but until then this is a pretty lonely place. This week was a national holiday called Women’s Day (which is ironic, but I just don’t have enough time or energy to explain why- anyone who really wants to know can write me individually and ask) so we had no classes. All the male teachers in our school put on a big concert for the women, and we each had to get up in front of everyone and sing a song. This was interesting for me, but I think it went better than I had expected. I sang a song in English, and provided a translation for everyone. Honestly, other than that, not too much has happened outside of the normal teaching routine the last couple months. I’m traveling to the southwest of the country in 2 weeks for the biggest Kazakh holiday of the year, which is called Nauryz. It’s the Kazakh New Year. All the volunteers in the country are going to be down there, so it should be a lot of fun. For anyone who doesn’t know yet, my parents have sprung for me to come home to the states for 2 weeks during the month of July. I’m not sure exactly of the dates yet but I will let everyone know once I do. I hope to see you all at some point during my time there, and I will have a number of stories and pictures to share with everyone. As I said, not a whole lot else going on here, if anyone has specific questions, please drop me a line. I have recently started what’s called a weblog, where I will post all the group letters I have written since I have been here for anyone who missed anything. I will also post pictures there, as well as some other interesting information from time to time. You can access my weblog at the following internet address:
I hope you all will visit the site, and I welcome any comments or questions you may have. Anyway, until next time, I hope everything is going great for everyone, I miss everyone, and I look forward to seeing you all this summer. Cheers.

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