The end of Pre-Service Training (PST) is finally here. After two months in this lovely town, I will be eating the last of my granny’s fresh apple cake and chai, and spending my last night in this cozy plant-filled room with my tank of fish. We move on to Counterpart Conference this week in Almaty (where we get together with all of our local “counterparts” from our respective organizations where we’ll be working for the next two years). On Saturday we will then swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, and depart either that very same day or the very next to our permanent sites.
Here is a picture of me, decked out in my amazingly generous gifts from my local friends – a real sheepskin coat and a pair of hand-knitted socks! Back when I thought I was going to Ust (where it gets to -40 C/F…glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore!!), I told my granny I needed to go to the huge market in Almaty to buy the most hard-core winter coat possible and survive this instant-frostbite weather. She then told this to Damir’s mom Almagul, who promptly offered me up the perfect winter coat: a real dublonka (sheepskin coat) lined in rabbit fur, which goes down to my knees and has a huge hood – exactly what I was going to buy myself at the bazaar! I tried to refuse but she insisted that it was a spare one that had been sitting in her closet, and then she wouldn’t let me give her anything for it either. I nearly cried, I was seriously so touched. Then for my going away present, Natalia Mihaelovna gifted me a pair of socks that she knit herself! They are so thick and warm and colorful, and make me happy 😛 So here I am in my dress at my going-away lunch (I cooked amazing Chinese food again that everyone liked)…and my wonderful winter trappings. J The generosity of my babush and friends here has just been amazing – I am brainstorming epic ideas of how to repay them (with goodies sent from the U.S. hopefully, once I get my next care package!), but seriously it will be impossible to fully return all the kindness they’ve shown me. I will miss them so much and cannot wait to come back and visit as often as possible.
Here is a picture of the boys we play basketball with at school! In recent weeks, Kyle and I had been going almost every single day after class/work to shoot hoops with these guys. I always say you can tell a lot about a person from the way they play basketball, and somehow I am always right. 😀 These boys are energetic, happy, active, friendly, silly, sweet, rambunctious, and above all SO much fun. Words cannot express how much I love basketball here, and the feelings of teamwork and friendship that develop are really the true reasons why – I spend half the time playing and half the time laughing as we all fall over every game!
[Maksim, Nikita, me, Didar, and Kyle. Sadly, we are missing a few here in the pic].
Here are a couple pictures of us at the beautiful Lake Issyk, made even more splendid by the delicious picnic, fantastic company, and gorgeous autumn weather. You can read about it in Russian if you like on Damir’s blog. J
Finally, as a tribute, I’d like to end with an old blog post I had written that never made it up – a compilation of pictures of life around Issyk, with captions. For all my friends here, please remember all our happy times together and keep in touch! I will see you at the very latest in March when I am back in the Almaty area. And I even have a Russian facebook account (Мой Мир, or «My World») now where you can find me: firstname.lastname@example.org. 😀
09.15.09 – Issyk and Village Life
The following post will be largely a compilation of pictures of life around Issyk. I thought a nice string of photos with some captions/explanations would be the best way to really show you how I am living these days.
This is the gymnasia, where we go every day for training. Issyk pretty much only has two sides for us: home-side, and school-side. Besides home and school our main points of interest are the bazaar, the internet café across from the gymnasia, the post office, the larger grocery store, the large outdoor stadium behind our houses, and a few restaurants that may or may not turn into mafia joints at night and that we are therefore avoiding for the timebeing. Our houses are about 30-40 minutes away from the gymnasia by foot. The signs above those doors say “Welcome” in both Kazakh and Russian. Inside there is a squat toilet that we share with the students. There are never any toilet paper, soap, or paper towels. You get used to bringing your own everywhere.
This is a picture from my uphill walk to school. We are always going towards the mountains in the mornings, and they are gorgeous. Most sites in Kazakhstan involve endless amount of steppe, so it is nice to have mountains in the South and East. The roads in Issyk are generally like this; paved, but with lots of rocks and dirt and gravel on the shoulders where we actually walk. Good shoes a must here.
Speaking of steppe, here is a picture looking the other way (north) out of Issyk. You can already see the steppe stretching on out of sight. One of my friends called it the “land ocean,” and that’s when I took this picture – it really is a perfect description. A river running down into an ocean of land in the background.
This is a picture of a huge landmark by our apartments that does not seem to have any particular function. To this day I’m not sure what it used to be – I’ve heard church or bank, but they are just hypotheses. We think there are squatters living there now, and it’s definitely not in use. I put this here to show how entire grandiose buildings can be built here and then left decrepit. And also to show the constant present of animals, which I will expound upon next.
This is a goat on the side of the road on our way home from training. There are always a couple of goats on our walk. We also see the the occasional donkey, cow (or just many cow patties), cats and lots and lots of dogs. The smaller animals frequently end up dead by the side of the road as well: on a particularly bad week I saw one dead cat on the roadside, one decapitated cat run over in the middle of the road, one dead dog on the roadside, and one seemingly dead puppy. Animal life here is not particularly valued, and most are strays that may be fed occasionally but never let into the house.
Here is a picture of the teensy tiny stray kitten we picked up in our schoolyard. You may be able to tell from the bowl how ridiculously small and adorable it is; it pretty much fit in the palm of my hand!! I’ve never been a pet person but kittens are my weak point (I’m allergic to dogs but have also always disliked them Sorry). And this one is super Asian, check out the eyes!!! 😀 We ended up finding it a home with a current volunteer, thank goodness – it almost certainly would have died with no food or mother.
Here is a picture of the Issyk bazaar, which is actually quite large and bustling. They sell everything here: rhinestone-encrusted shoes, hair dryers, sweaters, underwear, towels, car parts, DVDs and electronics, shampoo, notebooks, kitchen supplies, “dry” condensed milk in a package, a strange but delicious sweet sunflower-oil-sugar concoction that looks like giant blocks of wet cement, rows of dried fish (god knows from where in this landlocked country), soy sauce (with Chinese packaging and all from next door), large white honey melons (juicier and tastier than any of our honeydew or canteloupes), and even cold Korean noodle salad (though it is ruined by the ubiquitous dill). It is great, and you can still bargain (though prices are not as inflated as they are in China, so you can usually only go down about 20% tops from the initial stated price, if at all). A pair of shoes or a shirt is usually around $10 though, and a bag of sweet caramelized popcorn or a creamy ice cream cake cone (I am obsessed with these) are each about a third of a dollar (40-50 tenge). 😀
Ah the small of burning trash in the mornings…
So that is Issyk! You have to get used to some things like the water going off randomly in the evening when you’re in the shower (thank goodness for baby wipes), or waking up to a bathtub full of fresh cucumbers because granny is preparing to make pickles for winter, or being almost attacked by a frenzied dog, or never being able to stand in line to get anything at the bazaar. But honestly, it’s amazing how little these things frazzle me; they seem totally normal, and here we hardly have what I would describe as a life of hardship. There is everything a person might need (admittedly sans the occasional urge for high-speed wireless internet;), and I love it. Sometimes I really wish I could stay here as my permanent site! J