Ironically, the day after finally posting about my site announcement, I have become the first Kaz-21 to have a site change – before even leaving to site! Our Country Director (CD) and Assistant Country Director broke the news to me on Thursday that my organization in Ust-Kamenogorsk had pulled out of receiving a Peace Corps Volunteer at the last minute. It is a complicated and unfortunate story, the precise details of which I am not allowed to fully disclose in a public forum…but suffice to say that it had to do with a former volunteer that had gotten into trouble in the region and damaged PC’s relationship with local authorities, thus effectively precluding a future volunteer from working at this particular site. This all officially transpired after arrangements had already been made for me to go, but kudos to PC for finding me a new site within 24 hours!
I will now be going to Shymkent, to yet another pioneer site that wasn’t on our original list (they seem to keep finding brand new sites to open specifically for my sake, which is crazy but also appreciated:). The only information I have right now is that it is based out of a university and works with conflict resolution and law. I will also be splitting my time at an org that works again in human trafficking (yay), and which is currently occupied by a Kaz-19 who is extending for 6 months but will then be leaving. After that it will be up to me whether I want to make that my primary site, or how I will continue splitting my time.
Though it was clearly a bit shocking to have such a last minute change, I am really excited about this chain of events for a number of reasons. I now have exactly the type of site I originally asked for at site placement:
- I will be in a very large city (in fact Shymkent is the third largest in Kazakhstan, after Almaty and Astana); it is also on the Tier 2 pay scale and has lots of amenities (including, hopefully, regular internet access!).
- I will be in the south where I can also pick up some Kazakh in addition to advancing my Russian (ideally I wanted to have Russian in the workplace and be able to find Kazakh at the bazaar or in the community to practice).
- Similarly, in the south I will have a more authentic “Kazakhstanian” experience, as opposed to the more familiar Russian one you get up north. Shymkent is the “cultural capital” of Kazakhstan with its southern location, and is the jump-off point for Turkestan, the most important Muslim pilgramage site after Mecca.
- The south is also much warmer (only down to -10C instead of -40 in the north), with inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
- I will have a lot of sitemates…in fact, one of them is Sipra, one of my best friends at PST and the first Kaz-21 I ever met, back when we were both in NYC! We are going to have so much fun:D.
- I also get to work on a larger variety of very interesting substantive issues now that I will be spending time with at least two orgs, and the other Kaz-20s in the area also have very interesting workplaces with plenty of areas for collaboration (some of them came down recently to present to us on Women & Gender in Development and HIV/AIDS during PST).
- It is easier to get to Almaty and my friends and work/PC matters in this area (only a 12-hour night train or bus, instead of 18 hours with connections).
Guess things have an odd and roundabout way of working out…but as usual if you want a crazy adventure that tries your flexibility, come join the Peace Corps!
Let’s try the map and photo roll again 🙂
Shymkent! As you can see, it’s in the southern-most oblast (region) of Kaz, just a couple hours from Uzbekistan!