May 20, 2003 - Personal Web Page: Mary G. Smith's Peace Corps Adventure in Kazakhstan

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Mary G. Smith's Peace Corps Adventure in Kazakhstan



Mary G. Smith's Peace Corps Adventure in Kazakhstan

Week of June 7 - June 13, 2002

June 7, 2002

DFW airport to Philadelphia:

Arrived at 7:30, learned flight delayed. Drew the lottery and had to have all my bags searched. Decided to check all three bags and not have to tote one around all the time.

Arrived in Philadelphia about 4 pm, of course late for the meeting. Had good meetings and then checked into my room.


June 8, 2002

Westin Hotel by Bus to JFK:

Next morning on our own and left at 1:30 to go to the JFK airport. Got to airport and got our tickets and our Peace Corps passport. Left JFK on Luftansa and was 6 ¾ hours in the air and arrived in Frankfurt, Germany.


June 9, 2002

Stayed over in Frankfurt for 4 hours and then boarded another Luftansa airliner and flew 6 ¾ hours to Almaty (pronounced "al mah tee").

June 10, 2002

Arrived in Kazakhstan

Arrived at 2 am in the morning. It WAS raining. Walked in the rain and boarded small buses to go to the Sanitorium where we will be staying for 3 days.

They had a great cultural program for us. They sang the Kazakh national anthem and then we sang the U.S. one. We learned several words in Russian and saw several Russian dances performed. Busy day of many classes on many things, mostly an overview of everything. Everyone has been so friendly.

We got "walk around money" today, about $20 worth. I had my interview with the Educational Development area, about 5 people. On Thursday we will meet and go to our in-country host family where we will stay for the next 9 weeks. The families are in villages about 50 km from Almaty, about an hour's drive.

June 11, 2002- Tuesday

Today has been a wonderfully exciting day for me. We woke this morning to the strains of some beautiful French music on my short wave radio. It was our first full night of sleep and we were so tired we went to bed as soon as it got dark which was about 9:15. We breakfasted on cheese, warm sweet bread of some kind and for the final dish pasta and mystery meat.

Our first session of the morning was on personal safety and dress protocol of the Kazakh. We were told that women should never smoke on the street and certainly not walk and smoke.

After the first session, the US Ambassador and his wife (Larry and Mary Napper) came to meet us and he talked to us about the goals for his office. They were:

(1) the war on terrorism;
(2) nonproliferation of weapons;
(3) economic drive to improve the country;
(4) spread of democracy and human rights.

He spoke for about 30 minutes and his wife spoke about her interests in teaching; she had 25 years experience in teaching. He took a Q and A and one question was about the movement of the Embassy to Astana ("ah stan na", with emphasis on the middle).

After the session with Mr. Napper, we had tea and rolls. Later in the day I had my first Russian language class. I got my shots, two in each arm one for hepatitis A & B, Rabies, meningococcal.

I found out which village I will live in and with what family. I will be living in Esik which is 40km from Almaty. I will live with a 68 year old grandmother, her daughter who is 38 and two children who are 10 and 12. No dogs or cats and there is an indoor restroom and hot water. I am so pleased. Some do not have hot water and some have outdoor toilets. I will go to that family on Thursday of this week and will remain there until I am sworn in, in August. Then of course I will be going to my final placement.

I have gotten a water purified system, which is a large canister that makes pure water for me to drink. So far this week we have been furnished bottle water.

Then Carolina (a woman friend) and I walked down to a small store near the Sanitorium and bought plums, cherries, some bread, and tomatoes.

June 12, 2002- Wednesday

Today we had classes all day long, one on personal safety, one on medical stuff, what to watch for and one on our Host Family. A hot topic is vodka. The national drink in this area is Vodka, and it is used for all things. My host mom wrapped my arm and leg in a vodka-soaked cloth when I fell, and when my host mom was sunburned she rubbed it on her burned area. It is also imbibed by a lot of the people. Many of our young trainees are susceptible to being urged to drink and to toast with this drink. Our teacher gave us information on how to say "no."

I have had little to NO coffee. The medical people have a coffee pot and some Starbucks coffee so I have had two cups since I arrive. My packages are not here yet so my coffee is not available.

Lunch is always soup, bread, and some kind of small mayo salad stuff. Always tomatoes and cucumbers.

Tomorrow I meet my host family and go to their house. On Friday I will ride a public conveyance and come to Almaty with someone to the Green Bazaar, which is a market place.

June 13, 2002-Thursday

Woke this morning excited about meeting host family. We had breakfast and then we met in the auditorium to find out the schedule. We were told the procedure of how to handle our baggage and that some of the baggage we would take with us to the host family and some we could leave. They would be taken to Esik where we would be twice a week if we needed to get anything from the stored luggage. We had a 2 hour language lesson and then lunch. After lunch we went to our separate places to meet our families.

When I walked into my room a woman and girl of 10 were sitting in the middle of the room and they both stood and said "Mary." We chatted with an interpreter for a minute and then the child went to hold the taxi and the mother and I went to my room to get my piles of luggage. I had two suitcases and the huge water distillation system. (The picture on the right is of Grandma and the two children).

The ride in the taxi with Mom and child and taxi driver was fun and full of frustrations since they cannot speak English and I cannot speak Russian. We laughed and pointed a lot.

After arriving at the apartment, Mom, Grandmother and two children showed me around. I finally hooked up my computer and started Snood and got the kids fixed. Mamma and Gramma showed me where I was to stay, where to put my clothes, the bathroom, shower room with washing machine (I might add). It took about two hours. I finally went to my room and while the kids played Snood I unpacked and got settled.

Around 6 they came for me for supper. Soup, salad, bread, and strawberries. Really good.
Journal Entries

Journal entries shown below to the left in the table are web-based, and contain text and pictures. Text files on the right contain text only and may be downloaded to your computer to read at your leisure.

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Week of June 15 - June 21, 2002

June 15, 2002- Friday

We reached Almaty around 3:10 and it seems that all 47 of us were scheduled to be there the same afternoon, and the system was so overloaded that we were unable to do much. I finally, in the last five minutes, was able to send out two or three emails, some to long lists of people. I know what to expect now and will do much better next time. The system just cannot handle so many people. Ludmila, my language counselor tells me that Esik has an Internet café with one computer and she will let us know where that is and maybe the few of us in Esik can take turns going. Then we went to the green market and I bought a basket for my makeup and some coat hangers, some toothpaste, and also some fruit. I was with Ludmila so I did not have to fend for myself; otherwise, I would have bought nothing I think. We were very late getting home, nearly 8 pm and my housemother was at the door with a sweater ready to walk to the bus to meet me. She thought I would be cold, and it had rained and was just a bit chilly but not for me.

I am on my way to school for 4 more hours of language today. Then we are free for the rest of today and Sunday. Then we will start again on Monday with language and other safety/medical stuff we need to know. Today they returned our passports and gave us our Russian dictionary.

Tonight I must study and learn the Russian alphabet. It has 33 letters.

The family had planned to take me to a public sauna (called a banya) but it started to rain and is still raining. They go every Saturday. It is not coed. I am studying today trying to learn the alphabet and tomorrow we have plans to meet at 10 am to go to the mountains, some will hike, some will not. I am in the "some will not" category.

I am very happy to be here. The family members are friendly and helpful and think only of my welfare. They have walked me to school every day (about 5 blocks) and are there at noon to pick me up to go home for lunch (we walk).

They are at this minute heating water so I can use their old washing machine. (Hey, how about that). I have a few things that need washing.

They want only to know what I want to eat and they will be happy to buy and prepare whatever it is that I want. I have not eaten very much meat, only salads and cheese. They prepare lots of pasta and pasta kind of things with meat, many potatoes cooked until they are real real done, and tons of good bread. They have beets, carrots, cabbage, green onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and they use lots of dill in their salads. They serve sour cream for each meal. Cheese and butter at every meal also.

I have washed my clothes. They have what they refer to as an "old washing machine." Better than doing by hand in the bathtub which is what the rest of my bunch here are doing (they spread us out over 7 villages and we have 7 in our village. We are to travel by bus to and from different villages and make phone calls to other villages so that we can learn how to do that. They take us the first time and then we have to do it alone the next time.) So the washing machine is a drum (barrel) like metal can and she heats water and puts it in. Then I put in a few clothes and we wash for about 5-10 minutes. Then we wring out and put it in a bathtub of water and rinse around and wring out and hang up on the line outside my room on the balcony. It is of course dripping even now as I type and it is raining outside, but in time it will dry. If the rain clears up, it might dry in the sun tomorrow. (The picture is a view from my balcony, the road to the far right is the one I take to school).

While washing clothes the grandmother came to get us and we all went to my window and looked out and there were lots of horns blowing. When we looked out, all four of us, we saw a row of about 5 cars all decorated with ribbons and lining up in the lane behind our house. It was a wedding in progress. The rain had stopped a bit and the bride and groom got out of the car to go in and see the mother of the groom in her home. Then they were to all go to a restaurant. When they stopped a guy jumped out with his camera held on his shoulder and all my family began to clap and announce me "an amerikee." Every one looked up and waved and the cameraman left the bride and made pictures of me and the family hanging off the balcony waving. One of the party could speak English and he chatted me up for a while. But it was fun watching and they were very proud of their own personal American.

On Monday we go by bus to what they call a hub city to meet and see the other volunteers and have information given on safety and medical things. They have a very detailed evacuation plan available, and we must all learn it. They are to have a test sometime in the next 10 weeks and if any one volunteer can not be found, we are in for it. We have received several notices about how to behave in time of trouble and who to contact and what to do to get to the place we need to get to, to leave if there is trouble. We have to go to each others' house and then draw a map that shows where we all are and where the PC staff live in our town. The people in charge here are very concerned about us, and it is their job to keep us safe and they take lots of steps and implement lots of measures in order to do so. I feel very safe and hope that none at home are worried about me.

Before I went to bed my host mother asked if I would like a massage. Well of course I said yes and her small 10 year old daughter gave me a massage. Her mother stood nearby telling her how and talking quietly to her and then the mother showed her several times how to do a certain thing. The grandmother came in and put a white sheet over me to hold in the warmth when they were through. It was great. I gave the little girl an American dollar and she was pleased.


June 16, 2002- Saturday morning

It rained all afternoon yesterday. The Mom and the Grams went to the Banya for the public baths but I decided not to go. The children stayed here with me but played outside. I got a lot of studying done, trying to learn the alphabet. Tough to teach an old dog new tricks.

We were to go to the mountains at 10 but they changed it to 12, hoping I think, that the sun would dry things so that we could go. The sun is out and bright so I think it might work.

This morning I had toast for breakfast. It took a while, along with using the Russian/English dictionary, before I could get the concept across but I pan toasted my bread this morning. So I had fried eggs and toast with tea. It was grand. I had only one piece of toast because I read in my Health Notebook yesterday that for some reason not known, the PCV men lose weight and the women gain. This is not what I want. I am not eating meat so I have to eat cheese, yogurt, and peanut butter to get protein.

I am going to be doing lots of walking and I wish I had some different shoes, these are ok and I am not hurting but will get some different ones soon. I also plan to be looking for a good, long winter coat. Much of course will depend on where they send me in August when I am sworn-in from being a trainee to a full- fledged volunteer.

We have just returned from the trip to the mountains. We had a minibus that should have held 15 and inside had 20 in it. We sang Russian songs and American songs. We were made up of 5 (Mary, Pattie and Todd {married} Michael, and Shawn) of the PCV trainees and their families. We drove up the mountain to the top of one of them and it began to rain on us as we went. It was hot in the bus, but I was next to the window and not so hot for me. We took our lunch and had planned to eat there but as it happened we did not. When we first arrived it was sprinkling. Some of the young trainees and their host brothers went hiking up the side of the mountain.

We also stopped at an overview place and there was a large bush covered in ribbons and strips of cloth tied to the branches. One of the family brought out her hankerchiefs and we all got to tie a ribbon on the happiness tree. You tie it on and wish for happiness. (The picture to the right is of me and my host mother and her two children- Ulpan and Uldzan at the mountain top).

We walked around the lake and I got a couple of pics before my battery died. (I foolishly left my camera on my bed with the lens open and the battery goes when you do that.) The boys finally returned and we all piled into the bus again and went to Shawn's family's house, and 18 of us had the lunch we had packed. They had a small container of wine, and the adults had some, and we toasted. Shawn's house mother has two boys, and she was a teacher and she really cracks the whip on Shawn to make him learn his Russian.

June 17, 2002--Monday morning

Today we went to Panfilovskiy for lectures and two speakers on the Ecomonic situation in Kazakhstan. Then we had a lecture on cross culture. (The picture below is of Tyler (the striped shirt), Rebecca and 2 other trainees at lunch).

I was a big hit at lunch, I brought my jar of peanut butter. I shared a little bit with several guys. I had peanut butter and bread, an orange, a plum, some cheese and water to drink.

Today was our first day for us to find our own way home. So Todd, Tyler and I got on the bus to Esik and about half way there it broke down. There we all were on the side of the road awaiting help. A bus came and all the people ran and got in and it filled up, so we still waited. Not too long though, finally the bus driver tried it again and it started, but in about a mile it stopped again. At that time another bus came along and picked us up.

One of the PC staff told me that they had two packages for me, and they are to deliver them to the school tomorrow in Esik.

When I got home about 6 pm they had supper waiting for me. Borscht is a soup common here and we had that. It was good, sorta like vegetable soup. Then she had been to the supermarket and had some asparagus (like none I had ever seen before), seaweed, beans of a sort, mushrooms and carrot salad. Slice tomatoes, bread and butter, and a wonderful fried pie sorta thing with grass in it. It was wonderful. The grass was chopped real fine and sauted in the pan with butter and some other herbs and then a fried pie was made with some dough the mamma makes (so good). First meal where I ate too much; not bad, but I need them to quit finding things I like.

June 18, 2002- Tuesday

I walked to school on my own this morning for a full day of language. My two boxes were delivered to the school and my family walked down to help me get the two boxes home. It had my coffee in it and another light sweater, so all is well in that department. It was good to get my stuff and nothing had been opened or touched.

After lunch we went to my language teacher's apartment to study since they were painting the school and the paint smell was about to kill us. In the summer time the teachers come in for two weeks and paint what ever needs painting. The children take turns for two weeks all summer and sweep up and trim bushes around the school. Every one works on their school. It is a public school and is in very poor repair. So we went to her place for class for two hours in the afternoon.

Then Ludmila and I left and went to the bus stop to go to the green market and to the other school to get my last piece of luggage. Her brother came along and picked us up and took us around to do all our errands. Went much faster that way. I went to the other school. got my luggage, put it in his car.

They brought me home. I went to the door to unlock my room, got the lock unlocked. I discovered due to carelessness on my part, the lock inside my room, which is a slide mechanism and was not properly unlocked, had slid into the holder, and my door was locked from the inside. We are on the second floor, and "what to do?" Well we pushed and looked and talked and pushed and looked and talked (me English, her Russian). We finally all went outside and stared at the balcony. After a while the crowd of women grew to about 10 and after a while a man came along. He tried climbing up and could not reach anything to hold on to on the second level. We all stared and they talked a mile a minute in Russian and in a minute a young 18 year old boy with his girlfriend came along. He was told the problem, he tried getting upon the first floor balcony and trying to reach the second floor. Nothing doing. He gets down and I think it is all over for me. I of course am totally done in. A lot of milling around, now the crowd has grown to about 20 with lots of kids kicking a ball (kinda like a block party), and we are all staring at the balcony. So the kid will not give up, he goes into a door on the first floor and comes out with a ladder, only tall enough to get a bit past the first balcony. But he does it. He climbs the ladder (the other man holding) and gets all the way to the top, grabs the window that opens out and gets his leg over the top of that window and reaches the edge of the second balcony. Over the balcony, into my room, and the door is open. He is such a hero and had the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen next to Paul Newman.

Now I have all my possessions here in this room. Still expecting two more boxes in the next week, and two more by boat, coming in early August with my winter things.

June 19, 2002- Wednesday

Went again to Panfliloskiy to meet up with the other volunteers to do Health (three more shots today rabies vaccine, hepatitis A and B shots) and also some training on the educational and economic development of Kazakh. There were 4 volunteers who were there to tell us about their experience in their sites and answer any questions we might have. We rode the bus there and back alone, no help from anyone. It was quite an experience. One old man got on the bus with two buckets full to the brim with strawberries (it is strawberry and apricot season here now) and a huge bundle of flowers. He hummed and sang the whole time.

Took my lunch today, a slice of bread (the heel), two boiled eggs, some cheese, a few cherries, a banana, and water. I came home with one egg and the banana. Other trainees offered me strawberries and blintzes (like crepes).

After training was completed, it was 5:30 and we all headed down the way (about 20 minute walk) and stopped in a restaurant and we all tried the local beer named from the Tyan Shan mountain range. It was good. I drank only one as I had to still get home on the bus with my two companions.

June 20, 2002- Thursday

This morning I was able to get the concept across that I wanted to fix my own breakfast and so in the morning I will try that Two eggs, 1 slice of toast and tea. I have not had one bite of meat since I came here. I have turned into a vegetarian. I walked to school this morning in the cool morning breeze and we had another full day of conjugating pronouns and learning about telling time and days of the week and month.

Walked home for lunch and had another two hours of Russian. Then I had two more boxes waiting for me at the PC office in Esik and so I went there with my host mother and one daughter to get the boxes. I was looking for a fancy skirt to wear to a party tonight. My teacher, Ludmila, is going to the graduation for her last year class and party afterwards, and we are all going with her to some of the festivities. Any way, we got the two boxes that I had mailed from Dallas and headed for the internet café. The internet café was not up and running so was unable to communicate.

June 21, 2002-Friday

We arrived at the party, which was a kind of a graduation ceremony and prom at the same time. The kids arrived dressed all in their prom finery, and there was a program of speakers with welcome and the usual things you say to a graduate (so they tell me) and then a program of dancers and singers. Then the diplomas were handed to each young person. Then the last thing on the agenda is that some number of the young girls got up and all together they sang songs to their teachers, and the boys delivered a small bunch of flowers to each teacher. One teacher had been with this bunch of kids since they started first grade and she got about 10 bunches of flower. It was fun to watch. I got a ride home with someone and got home at 11 pm and have to be up at 6 to prepare my breakfast and get to school by 8. We will have a short day today.

Went to the Internet Café called the Lepracon and the computer was once again down. I went to the Bazaar and got cherries, peaches, bananas and some hair spray. I was with my Kazakh sister Uldzan, who is 12. She sees to it that I don't get into trouble. I came home to take a nap, out late last night, and had a tutor session with Ludmila at 6 pm to work on the alphabet.

Ludmila has a friend who has a friend that has a computer with Internet in her home. Ludmila has asked her if I can come use her computer tomorrow after class. She has agreed and I will go there and pay her what I would have paid the Internet Café. I am really pleased that Ludmila was concerned enough to seek out this for me.
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Story Source: Personal Web Page

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kazakhstan; PCVs in the Field - Kazakhstan

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