Thursday, June 2, 2011

First Few Weeks

Well, it was brought to my attention that I have not updated this since I arrived in माय village, hence, not a lot of people know the deets. (It's really easy for me to slip into ridiculous English slang here, just for the fun of it.)
So, here I sit, typing this up on my computer while jamming out to some Taylor Swift. I'll then transfer it to a flash drive and take it to my counterpart's house soon, monopolize her internet connection, and post it. Aaaand that should tell you what my internet sitch is like!
Well, I arrived here with a week and a half left of school, which means there wasn't a lot for me to do! I spent a few days doing PC-y things, like traveling to Akmol (where another PCV works) to visit the education department, introduce myself (really, say a few meaningless statements about myself in Russian and then let my CP do the rest of the talking), and get things squared away. One day, I got to ride the village bus into Astana and go on a field trip! People were concerned my bank card would not work in the village, so I went into Astana to visit the bankomat and get my rent money, but I also got to tag along with some teachers to go to a few bookstores as they bought presents for the students. Interesting trip, although I didn't get to see a whole lot of the city. I hope to go back soon for some sightseeing!
After the first few days, I was able to stay at school and 'observe,' though there was not a lot to observe during the English lessons. Most of the classes were taking final tests, and the sixth grade is preparing for their end-of-the-year (national?) exam in English on May 30th. However, a few of the classes, after their tests, were allowed to hold Q&A sessions with me. These were generally, "Do you have a family?" and "What is your hobby?" and "Did you have lots of friends in America?" I'm not sure what to make of that last one . . .
The "Last Bell" ceremony was held on May 25th, and we all gathered outside to stand in the cold, windy weather and watch the 11th graders graduate, really. There were speeches, a few songs, a few more speeches, a bizarre skit involving a fortune teller (?), and gifts given out to the students – the 11th graders, another class (the 1st? the 4th?), and the best student from each class (Maybe? I really sort of stood there while people jabbered away in Russian . . .).
But the interesting thing is that May 25th is a holiday, precisely because it's the last day of school. And the teachers are so, so happy that it is the last day of school. We had a teachers' luncheon at the restaurant in town (Yes, there's a restaurant. I'm pretty sure they only have one thing on the menu – shashlik.), which was possibly the strangest event I've attended thus far. There were a lot of toasts, and I even had to get up and say something. Thankfully, in English, and my CP translated, but it was embarrassing and I'm sure I jabbered away and my cheeks were red. And all the teachers got up and sang and danced, and . . . I'm pretty sure you can imagine it. Just imagine a normal teachers' celebration, but in Russian. Anyways, apparently they get really excited about the last day of school, because it started at 1 and I left at 6, and I left early!
So, since then, I've been going to school to do random tasks, but mostly to get to know the kids. On Friday, I got to hang out with some younger students and teach them Frisbee. It didn't quite work, because it was so gosh darn windy, and the boys got a bit too rowdy when we tried out Ultimate Frisbee ("Only three steps?! How about seven? Five??"), but I'm looking forward to playing Frisbee again in the summer.
Also, I've been working on my plan for summer camp. The teachers want me to come up with a club sort of plan. So, instead of just planning games and activities each day (which would be so, so easy!), they want me to do a focused theme that has a tangible result at the end of the month. I'm still debating between a kickball club (tangible result – the kids can actually play, teams, a tourney?) and a music club (tangible result – a concert?). Or, possibly, an exploring club. There's not a lot to explore in the steppe, but I've got a handheld GPS (which is awesome, Dad!) and geocaching would be a superb way to spend my summer. So . . . you know, it's going. (When you ask how people are, sometimes they respond, "Pie-dyot," which translates roughly to, "It goes," or "It's going.") I think camp starts on June 2nd (the same day as the Women's College World Series! Who's going to update me on the scores??), so I have to figure it out soon, and I'll keep you apprised of my decision.
How is my Russian going, you ask? It's definitely a challenge. The hardest task for me is listening, especially when there are a lot of people in the conversation. It's difficult for me to stay focused on the conversation, especially when I don't quite know a lot of words yet and people talk so fast. My CP speaks English to me, which is awesome. Also, there are a few people who understand that I am a slow listener, so they talk very slowly and act things out. Which I love. They are so easy to understand! And I'm not sure why, but I can understand my host mom pretty well. Maybe it's because a lot of what she says to me is house vocabulary, like, "Come and eat," or "Lock the door," or "Where are you going on your walk?" I could not understand my last host mom at all, so this is a nice change.
While on the trip to Astana, I was able to purchase a children's book in Russian – the Tangled storybook. I've been doing some independent study, reading it through translation and hopefully learning some new words in the process. Here's an idea of how these sessions go: I sit down at my desk to work on one page, which has an average of seven sentences. I have a notebook, in which I write the Russian sentence, then the English translation after I've thumbed through my massive dictionary and toiled through the meaning. And I've got a little scratch pad for the sentences, because sometimes I forget the first word by the time I get to the last word of the sentence. I try to do a page at a time, which typically takes me . . . two hours! I've gotten through three pages, haha. Also, it's a fairy tale book. Perhaps I should have made a better choice (I picked it because I thought I could stay focused on a story I enjoyed), because I'm learning words such as, "kingdom," "magical flower," "sorceress," and "quest." Very useful in everyday conversation, I'm sure.
However, one of the teachers at school has a younger sister who studied English at a university in Kokchetau (I spelled that wrong, I know it. Another PCV is in Kokchetau right now.). I believe she graduated last year. Now she's living here, and she speaks wonderful English. Sometimes people tell me they have relatives who want to speak to me in English, and I get worried because what if they're just saying that and this relative actually hates to speak English? Because I know if my sister said to me, "Hey, I've got this Russian friend. Want to hang out with him/her and speak Russian all night?" I might croak. So I get worried that they actually don't want to talk to me; their relatives who know me just want to make me more comfortable here by giving me the opportunity to speak my native language. For this reason, I was a little wary when my colleague told me about her sister. However, we went for a walk this evening and, like I said, her English is simply wonderful. I can't express how refreshing it is to hold an actual conversation in which I'm not worried about making grammatical errors and I'm not racking my brain for words I can actually say. I know learning Russian is one of my biggest goals here, but it's quite nice to have an hour's worth of English after hearing Russian 24/7.
Speaking of our walk, we walked around the village! I take walks frequently. (I may even start jogging, but I'm afraid to mention this, because what if I don't start? Then what will you think of me?? Then again, if I write it here, maybe it will give me an extra push to start . . .) The village is small, but very nice. To give you an idea of its size, it takes me about 25, maybe 30, minutes to walk the main perimeter, not including the outlying agrofirm and fields.
It's very cute though. Mostly houses. The school is a big fixture. Nearby is a building that functions as a social hall – it has a stage, plus ping pong tables, and a hall where the disco takes place on the weekends. (Yes, I've been to the disco. I think that deserves an entirely separate post though.) Towards the 'center' of town, there's the restaurant which is open on the weekends, a supermarket, and a few small stores (one is like a hardware store, another sells dishes and household items, a third sells food). I promise to take pictures soon!

Well, I think that's about it for now! However, since I've written the above, I have started jogging, in fact! So there you are.

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