I have finally succumbed and imported my blog from blogspot to wordpress. As much as I loved having my blog pop up first on Google when you enter “Peace Corps Kazakhstan,” my vanity is officially deferring to convenience in light of the KZ ban on blogspot. It will be very nice for people in-country without a VPN to get to read this for once as well.
This transition has come just in time for my serendipitous participation in Almaty’s hot BarCamp conference, which isn’t quite what it sounds like…it’s a annual conference for social media experts and internet professionals held at KIMEP, Kazakhstan’s premier university. I think such activities are important to building free media and civil society here, and am lucky that I will get to stop by this weekend in the midst of a busy schedule of meetings with more partners and donors (Eurasia Foundation, Soros, World Bank, the UN, MISMUN organizers, a couple private individuals, Peace Corps and the U.S. Counsel General are currently on the agenda!). More on this later, as I commit myself to posting more regularly on this new blog iteration.
I promised in my second-to-latest post to write about some events that transpired while my Macbook was out being repaired, but time flies and now all of that information is very outdated. Nevertheless, I think I’ll give a quick summary briefly of some recent travels and adventures. Hopefully the pictures will mostly speak for themselves.
Christmas in China
A nice holiday vacay at home, largely spent frolicking, shopping and salon-hopping with the lil sis. She undergoes a big hair transformation, as you can see.
New Years in Shymkent
I arrive on New Year’s Eve itself and am immediately rushed off to a series of awesome parties.
New Years Party #1: with the Dostar volunteers, at the Musabayevs’.
New Years Party #4: various forms of fortune telling for the new year at Olga’s
Other Holiday Celebrations
We went to this beautiful church service over Russian Orthodox New Years (or as they say here, “Old New Year” ;).
On James’ birthday we managed to catch the grand opening of Guns & Roses, a branch of the popular Almaty restaurant that was sadly short-lived and closed down within the month because the owner hadn’t properly paid rent (typical Shymkent). Oh well, at least we got an awesome fruit tower out of it.
February brings with it the best new years of all – Chinese New Years! We make delicious potstickers and celebrate at my place, fully decked out in lanterns, silk rabbits (my year!) and “福” signs. My dumpling-making also makes its way onto local Kazakh television…must thank mom, as always!
We baked lovely and delicious heart-shaped sugar cookies for our Shymkent Women’s Club Valentine’s Day Bake Sale, complete with amazing rhyming poems authored by Zhenya, encouraging women to protect their reproductive health and stay in school.
March 1st was an international day of celebration for the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary! I held a chai break at my organization, at which I gave an important presentation on tolerance and human rights and then served homemade chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies. I find that tolerance is always facilitated by cookie-eating.
In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8), we baked mini lava cakes and had a spa night at Sipra’s house.
In between I also went on vacation to Turkey, which I will write more about separately. And finally there was Nauryz, the largest national Kazakhstan holiday celebrating the coming of spring – but there is so much to show and tell there that this too definitely merits its own post.
Work Related Shenanigans
We finished our UNFPA-supported advocacy project this winter (same one for which we went to Bulgaria for a training conference). It involved 12 rural journalists from around South Kazakhstan Oblast, and we had a great UN-recommended trainer come in and teach them about journalism etiquette and different opportunities to report sensitively on HIV-related issues. A great success!
We also had our annual youth conference in January, which this year we decided to do in an innovative format. Instead of just having presentation after presentation, we set up four interactive booths in a “ярмаркa” (“fair”) fashion. My booth was once again an Advocacy Booth, to teach young people how to advocate for issues they care about to school administrators, local authorities, or even their parents! There was also a booth representing the arts, one specifically on sexual/reproductive health, and finally one about educational opportunities, in co-sponsorship with the U.S. Embassy’s Alumni programming. Balapan from the Embassy also came as our opening guest speaker!
Finally, I took a big trip to Kostanai where my PC bestie Bree lives. We were invited as trainers for the Civic Alliance Winter NGO School, marking my first venture up into the frigid north durings its most imposing season. Surprisingly (and a bit disappointingly), it wasn’t that cold! Only -10C, which is really small fries compared to the -40C/F (yes, -40 is where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet) that they sometimes get up there. But I still rocked my very much too-big дублёнка (fur-lined, sheepskin coat) and toe-warmers, especially when we got snowed in to our conference resort and had to take a jeep to a tiny, cold Soviet train station in the middle of nowhere for a 2-hour wait. Check out the weird certificate I got, addressed to me but in which my signature is also at the bottom 😛 Kazakhstanians love their certificates.
Ok, that’s enough I think to get us caught up at least til spring! Sorry again for the lapse, I promise that with this new blog address I will try to be better. 🙂 Please update your Google Readers, etc. with the new URL.