Sorry in advance that my posts are backlogged, outdated and in the wrong order; I rarely got enough access to internet (just wireless about once a week when I could get to Almaty) to post blog or photos, but now the waiting is over: we got internet at home!!! My babushka is so high-tech, I know – yesterday I taught her how to capitalize letters with the Shift key, and she sent an e-mail to her daughter in Germany. J Somehow we are able to share a good old Megaline ethernet box with Damir’s family, and the wire runs from their apartment the next entryway over, up the roof, over the balcony and into my window…lol! It is pretty fast and amazing…I gaped at my screen in awe for a good 10 minutes when we installed it, not knowing what to do first. Now I’ve caught up on news (what’s happened in the world for the last month and a half?!), uploaded an album of photos to FB, answered almost all my e-mails, researched public opinion survey tactics for one of my practicum organizations, video Skyped with a good friend, re-entered the amazing world of gchat, and scouted out fellow PCTrainee’s blogs and linked them all here. J This last bit is great because I feel like I will never be able to convey nearly enough about our life here, and the others have great insights, explanations, and cultural notes that I encourage you all to read if you have some spare time on your hands. 😀 Scroll down and take a look – they’re in the right-hand toolbar!
The time has just flown by here. We find out our permanent sites this Friday, which is incredibly exciting. A couple weeks ago in the middle of PST (Pre-Service Training) they give us a mid-training interview about how we are doing in language, technical training, practicum, host family, general happiness, and our own preferences for site placement (that they may or may not take into account:P). Site placement is a complicated thing that involves matching up our diverse group of volunteers, each with his/her own skills, experience, personality and interests, to the various organizations that need us. We can express general preferences (north or south, rural or urban, site-mates or no site-mates), and new to this year we actually got a list of orgs (without locations) that we were allowed to rank. There are 11 of us OCAP-ODs (Organizational & Community Assistant Program – Organizational Development), and 13 organizations on our list, which means not every org on there will be getting a volunteer. The list mostly consisted of 3-4 orgs each that work in the fields of HIV/AIDS, disabilities, or ecology. Then there were 2 business-related NGOs and just one that works on women/children rights and trafficking. We were a bit surprised at the list because it was not as substantively diverse as some of us hoped, but since most of the skills we will be giving to these orgs are general capacity building anyway, we should be fine working on organizational development regardless of the org’s topic area.
It is sometimes tough to keep in mind with all of this site placement hoopla, but really, we are Peace Corps volunteers and we need to go where our skills are most needed. This depends not only on our substantive experiences but also our practical skills and personality traits – in Kaz just like in the U.S., accomplishing work is often based on interpersonal relationships. Some sites may be pioneer sites hosting a PCV for the first time, while others may have had 10 generations of volunteers before us and already have projects (and expectations) to build off of. While it’s hard not to think constantly about placement, I’ve realized that: 1) I do not envy the task of our Regional Managers and trainers in having to make those decisions, 2) I trust they will put us where our skills can be best utilized, and 3) I know I have in myself everything it takes to have a successful experience, wherever I end up. Especially after our field trip up to the central/northern regions last week, I’ve seen that Kazakhstan is a gigantic country with a lot of different landscapes and cultural experiences to offer, any of which I am sure I could be happy in and learn a lot from. At the same time though, it will be so sad to leave Issyk life here and all the people and things I’ve already grown attached to (especially my wonderful babushka who I just don’t think can be beat in terms of host families! Also my local friends here, the ethnic diversity of this town, its proximity to Almaty and my non-PC friends there, the warm weather and fresh produce, etc. etc. the list goes on). And let’s not forget my 63 fellow PCTrainees…it will be hard going to different sites and being up to 40+ hours away by train from each other! My one big hope is that I do have sitemates, wherever I am placed.
As for my reflections/feedback on PST so far: I have to say that I am very impressed with everything overall. From what I understand, a lot of improvements have been made this year, possibly thanks to the arrival of both a new Training Officer and Country Director. As always, our language teachers (LCFs) are truly wonderful and basically serve as everyone’s “life helpers” for these few months. Of course, I personally have less daily interaction with them since I self-study every day for Russian, but they are still great resources and I’m amazed at how patient they are and how much time they make for volunteers’ every needs, from fixing doors to helping us mail letters to resolving host family issues to hosting movie nights!:). We have a wide variety of activities in technical training, including practicums at local NGOs (stay tuned for a post in itself about that). Also, for the first time this year they have put people from the EDU and OCAP programs together in the same village, which has given us invaluable insight on the work of our fellow volunteers who will be teaching English, and which is a good foundation to cross-pollenate projects and learn from each other (especially many of us NGO workers will still likely have English clubs as secondary projects here, or be asked to teach English to our organization as one of our duties). And once again for the first time in our PST we have actual PCVs as our trainers (Kaz-19s who are finishing up their service now), whose perspectives from their own two years of service here have been invaluable – I frankly cannot imagine not having had them before this year! Thank you Peace Corps for taking into account past volunteer feedback and making these great changes to our training this year.
I still have to write yet another post updating about my eventful field trip to Karaganda (including my first Soviet-style ambulance ride. Oh the suspense…), but before that here is a quick photo roll of some highlights before then. Sorry this is long – there is so much to tell, especially when I no longer have to just give up on keeping you all updated due to lack of internet!
- Cooking night at Dasha & Katya’s (two more of our LCFs) – we made real tacos with taco shells from the Almaty RamStore (big grocery with lots of expensive imported things;) and taco spices from Shannon’s mother in a care package (thank goodness for parents who send care packages! We are all grateful:P)! Delish.
- Cooking night at Erlan’s house – we made a simple tomato pasta and hung out with Erlan, one of our LCFs (Language/Cultural Facilitators, aka Russian/Kazakh teachers). He is the coolest guy ever, and just got a new job as Administrative Assistant at PCHQ in Almaty! Yay for two more years with Erlan helping us out =)
- Kazakh class – Erlan and Amantai are our teachers, and they keep us busy with classroom shenanigans. We even had a dance-off once, which I will try to find the video for and upload (it’s with another PCT). Here we are putting on a skit about animals…lol.
- Almaty – We went for a night of karaoke on the town! Self-explanatory 😀
- Almaty – ballet. Damir and Yegor took my granny and I to the ballet as promised. Damir’s mom and Natalia Mihaelovna, the music director at the gymnasia, also came. It was the last performance of the theater’s prima ballerina (who was retiring and moving to London), so the house was totally packed. We only got tickets b/c Damir studies at the ballet academy and has several friends who were in the show (thank you, Damir!). It was gorgeous, as you can see…Don Quixote! Afterwards everyone came over to our place to have some of the real Chinese (and vegetarian!) meal I made — spicy black bean eggplant, homestyle eggs & tomato w/ green onions, and stir-fried potatoes/peppers/onions. I love a home-cooked Chinese meal and it is always a surefire way to make fast friends :P…thank you mom for teaching me well.
- Me this past weekend with Amanda, who was my classmate at Middlebury Language School for Russian. She spent two years working in Almaty as a journalist reporting on oil, and is here for the week to report on an oil conference. I love how I have so many friends with some connection to Kaz!
As you can see, I am busy, spending quality time on both work (but that’s less picture-friendly;) and friends, and loving life as usual. It will be hard leaving our lovely world of Pre-Service Training, but soon enough we will have to attend to that little matter of actually starting our service! Wish me luck. J