Culture Shock Moment #1: I decided it was time to treat myself to a “Sanity-Salvation Beauty Splurge of the Month,” which I’d hoped would become a regular staple in my life. I saw that a lot of girls here have French manicures, and asked a teacher assistant in my office where I could get one. The nice girl generously offered to take me during our lunch break. The result?
….This monstrosity. Apparently “I want a French manicure” (Russian) and then “No!! Why are you using black???!! I don’t want black!!” (Russian) followed finally by “Is this zebra print?? Oh dear god” (English) did nothing to prevent me from receiving the following. I don’t think it was language barrier…just here, it don’t matter what you want, it matters what they want to give you. Which they decide without you, of course. 😛
Culture Shock Moment #2: I realize that Shymkent is a well-developed city with more amenities than you would likely find in almost any other Peace Corps site placement, Kazakhstan or otherwise…but that doesn’t mean they always work. Like when the traffic light randomly went blank one day on the main crossroad from my house to my office, and cars started jettisoning their way through at random. Take a look:
Culture Shock Moment #3: I am faced every day by the fact that the “office” my organization works out of is actually a busy and bustling teacher’s cabinet in the middle of the biggest university in Southern Kazakhstan (UKGU). My director is also a teacher at UKGU, and thus we are basically squatting out of her small allocated bit of office space. As a result, every day someone comes in while I am sitting at “my desk” (loosely named) and asks me where various teachers are…in Kazakh, of course, because I look Kazakh and they have no clue who I am. Soooo, in awesome Jeff Mason style (thanks for the tip, Jeff!), I put up the following sign, shown here. So useful…so necessary.
Culture Shock Moment #4: I was approached by a teacher in the university where I work. She invited me to judge an English language debate among students in the technical faculties. The teacher came multiple times throughout the week to remind me about the event, every time also insisting that I invite my fellow new PCVs to join as official judges. Though the time of the event suddenly changes the night before (of course), we all successfully show up to the auditorium hall the morning of and even find front-row seats reserved with bottles of water and little paper placards with our names printed on them (almost all correctly!).
The event begins, and we look at the printed “programs” we have been given. There is no sign of any type of debate: just songs, dances and skits. What follows can barely be described. Each faculty was represented by a team with creative, specialty-appropriate names like “The Mad Builders” (resource management & construction),“Biohazard” (bioengineering), “Chemical Brothers and Sisters” (chemical engineering), and “Bank of Knowledge” (economics). There was abundant lipsyncing to English songs, an all-male rendition of the Swan Lake quartet complete with tutus, and a hip hop dance by girls in what Phillip, Sipra and I dubbed “Lady Gaga” sequined hoods.
Culture Shock Moment #5: The other day, Phillip and I were walking back home from dance class and witnessed this little gem. A snappily-dressed gentlemen with a girl…on each hand. Not very visible here, but nevertheless…you get the picture.
Culture Shock Moment #6, 7, 8 , 9…: Some of you have asked about my host family switch. Worry not, I am in good hands now…but I have plenty of amusing CSMs from my first month here. The first was arriving to my large new apartment, putting down all my luggage, and being told that my two grown host sisters will take turns sleeping with me in my bed to “facilitate greater language learning.” After my lovely Peace Corps Regional Manager sorted that one out for me, I found out that I was not allowed to have a key to the actual apartment itself…making it difficult to enter and exit the house on my own schedule, among other things. If you want the rest of this particular set of CSMs, comment and I’ll put you on my email list. 😉