Sorry for the long delay in posting. I have finally sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and moved out of training to my permanent site of Shymkent, and it’s been a crazy period of adjustment since then. It is strange to think that my time here is only just beginning, as my two years of service begins now. Coming to site flipped my life upside down again, as I had to leave behind all the friends and daily activities that I had built up over the past few months and start over.
The days before Swearing In were a whirlwind, filled with last nights at our four-day Counterpart Conference (where our organizational counterparts and PCTs are trained on how to work together over the next two years), upcoming travel logistics, and many hurried goodbyes.
[My counterpart Aigul and I receiving our certificate at the end of Counterpart Conference]
[Me with Kyle at Swearing In. Miss the Issyk gang!]
Shymkent is so different from Issyk, once again showing the diversity of this country. It is more Almaty-esque in the sense that it is such a huge city (3rd or 4th largest in Kazakhstan, depending on whom you ask). It boasts amenities like an outdoor heated pool, restaurant/cafes with wireless internet, a Ramstore (giant Western grocery store), and this place called “Mega” that is basically an exact duplicate of a huge American mall.
[This is Mega. It has an ice skating rink below and those mall-elevators to several levels of high-end stores, including Ramstore.]
While there are plenty of amenities in Shymkent, it is really the cultural differences here that need adjusting to. The vast majority of the city is ethnically Kazakh, and though everyone understands and basically speaks Russian, for many it is clearly a second language and they prefer to operate in their native tongue. This is not necessarily a bad thing for me, as I would love to come out of here with excellent Russian and intermediate Kazakh to boot…which would have been very difficult if I were up in a city further north. However, it is somewhat of a problem at work, where I am trying to absorb information about my organization but a lot of the everyday dialogue happens in Kazakh. My language karma from training coming back to me I guess – now it’s my turn not to understand what’s going on! 😛 I am starting tutoring though this week finally (with my counterpart, because of course the Kazakh tutor that had agreed to meet with me bailed at the last minute), which should help.
In addition, there are a lot of difficult gender roles and norms to deal with here. I have enough to say on this issue though that I think it merits a separate post of its own.
My new organization is very different on paper than it is in reality. Many of the projects that were outlined in their official description are purely theoretical, as they have yet to actually happen. It was unclear for awhile who exactly worked for the organization, as I only met two actual non-student employees (turns out, that’s basically it). We are in the process of trying to get our own office, and for now are squatting in the teacher’s cabinet at the university where my director works part-time. I experienced many of the things that we were warned about in training: being asked to write a grant my second day at work for a deadline that was in a week, having to deal with a very general mission statement, lack of strategic planning of any sort, etc. The up-side of this though is that I feel very needed and utilized, and the OCAP-OD (Organizational Development) tools we were trained on are actually applicable here. I have plans to do sessions with them on grassroots fundraising, grant management, human resources & team building, project design & management, etc. etc. It will also be good because wherever this org ends up two years from now, the progress should be quite visible.
As for secondary projects, Shymkent is bustling with them. There are 5 (yes, five!) other volunteers here besides me, which makes for a lot of areas of cooperation and different activities going on. Many things are already in motion though; two of the Kaz 20’s are organizing a Gender & Leadership conference later this month that we have been asked to help with, and the older volunteers also have 3 English club/movie nights per week. Us new Kaz-21’s need to carve out our own niches. I have contacted a women’s business organization and am meeting with them tomorrow to discuss projects, and am also working on starting up a women’s club (Notice a theme? Wait for the next post:P).
Here are some other random pictures of Shymkent:
[Another typical Kazakhstanian irony…the smokers with the no smoking sign. They recently passed this no-smoking law here that no one abides by.]
[With friends at a great night of gosti-ing! Alex (a cool guy who studied in England), Sipra (Kaz-21), me (Kaz-21), Zach (Kaz-19), and Ira at the bottom (Sipra’s host sister!)]