April 24, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakstan: COS - Russia: Desert Mountain Times: We must behave in Kazakhstan, or we will be sent home (administrative separation is the term). Peace Corps recently got kicked out of Russia, partly because of volunteers’ behavioral problems.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kazakstan : Peace Corps Kazakhstan : The Peace Corps in Kazakstan: April 24, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakstan: COS - Russia: Desert Mountain Times: We must behave in Kazakhstan, or we will be sent home (administrative separation is the term). Peace Corps recently got kicked out of Russia, partly because of volunteers’ behavioral problems.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-44-226.balt.east.verizon.net - on Saturday, May 08, 2004 - 2:50 pm: Edit Post

We must behave in Kazakhstan, or we will be sent home (administrative separation is the term). Peace Corps recently got kicked out of Russia, partly because of volunteers’ behavioral problems.

We must behave in Kazakhstan, or we will be sent home (administrative separation is the term). Peace Corps recently got kicked out of Russia, partly because of volunteers’ behavioral problems.

We must behave in Kazakhstan, or we will be sent home (administrative separation is the term). Peace Corps recently got kicked out of Russia, partly because of volunteers’ behavioral problems.

From Alpine to Issik where the greeting is ‘Zdrastvootiye’

Jim Glendenning, a former resident of Alpine, worked here as a well-known tour guide and writer. His letters will appear regularly.

By Jim Glendinning

Part I:

Kazakhstan, Central Asia. April 24.

For readers who want to know exactly where I am, try to imagine flying eastbound one third the way around the world, across eleven time zones and landing somewhere southeast of Moscow and north of Afghanistan. This is where the old Soviet empire, China and the Indian subcontinent come together in the middle of central Asia. Anyway, wherever I am precisely – I have arrived.

I am getting more comfortable each day with my living conditions, my language skills are improving, and I am about two thirds the way through the 12-week Peace Corps training course.

It was a rumpled group of 26 Peace Corps trainees who disembarked March 3 in Almaty, Kazakhstan from a Lufthansa flight (seven hours Washington to Frankfurt, six hours Frankfurt to Kazakhstan). We were the only plane to arrive at that time at Kazakstan’s largest city (1.3 million). Inside the immigration barrier of the new airport, we were met by Peace Corps staff, by the country director herself at the baggage carousel and by a group of applauding current Peace Corps volunteers as we strode purposefully through customs pushing baggage trolleys, which we were told were only two weeks old.

Apparently we created a good initial impression with the local Peace Corps staff with this purposefulness as well as our age. Usually, they get 22 to 25 year olds. By contrast, our group’s average age is 32, and 40 percent women, with 11 master’s degrees and varied business experience. We are the first Peace Corps group to arrive in Kazakhstan to try to impart some business learning to this country, newly emerging from communism. The Peace Corps office has high hopes of us, but with the compliments comes a warning: We must behave, or we will be sent home (administrative separation is the term). Peace Corps recently got kicked out of Russia, partly because of volunteers’ behavioral problems.

After a two-day orientation at a resort hotel in Almaty, we were taken by bus to the town of Issik, a town of 25,000 people 35 miles south, where we are undergoing a 12-week course of language and culture instruction, as well as safety and health awareness. We live with families and attend the Peace Corps training program six days a week in a local high school.

The mountains rise steeply immediately outside of town and are still snow-covered since winter is not yet over. These mountains, reaching to 12,000 feet, are part of the Tien Shan range, itself an extension of the Himalayas.

Immediately on arrival in Issik, we meet our host families. Would I get a Russian or Kazakh family or a family from one of the more than 100 minorities which make up this country of 15 million people? Would I be placed in a modern apartment with hot, running water or an older house with a pit toilet and no hot water? I got lucky. My “house mother” is younger than I am and is a widowed lady from a family of lawyers. Her Soviet-era apartment is clean and well heated, with a washing machine and tub. I have my own room which I can lock. She is of Korean background, another of Kazakhstan’s minorities, and can’t do enough to feed me, make me comfortable and try to teach me Russian. Fortunately she speaks some German and, when Russian fails, we turn to that for communication.

By now I have learned how to get to school. I bundle up in my greatcoat, donated by Bob Bell of Alpine, put on the backpack containing my study books and walk out onto the street. Catching a taxi is easy. I flap my arm at any passing car. The Mercedes and Audis owned by the new rich class will ignore me. But soon a beat-up old Russian Lada with broken door handles and patched bodywork stops and I climb in. “Gymnasium” (High School) I say. The taxi, which may have other passengers, will take off, swerving all over the road in a balletic dance with other cars and horse carts. This is because of the many potholes in the road. In about 8 minutes, for a fare of 30 tenge (22 cents), I am dropped outside the high school, meet up with the other 25 volunteers and prepare for yet another Russian class. We expect to put in a total of 180 hours in learning Russian.

My language study group fortunately numbers only five, and I can escape from the loud collegiality of the main group. We five sit in a small classroom with central heating pipes running down one side. On the walls are numerous pieces of paper stuck there by our teacher, lists of prepositions and verbs, charts of case endings and other aids to learning. Through the window I can observe the street scene outside the gymnasium, where there is usually there is a line of people waiting to get photocopies made in a small store opposite. We are allowed to snack while studying, and usually by ten o’clock everyone is nibbling on an apple or snack. Our trim, good humored and efficient teacher is called Guzel. Day after day, she conscientiously drills into us the basics of grammar and leads us in vocabulary recitation. Russian is a tricky language to learn, and the pronunciation can also be difficult (try ‘zdrastvootiye,” for example, which is a standard greeting).

Guzel, a single mother like many in this country, is a Yughuir, another of Kazakhstan’s minorities. She has a lot of patience and needs it, since we are not fast learners. We have a humorist in the group, Jason from Virginia, covering up for his lack of discipline by acting the joker.

The younger girls laugh at him and, when he is especially funny, Guzel too. She perseveres with us, demanding we repeat phrases and words over

and over, praising and cajoling. After four hours in the morning, sometimes two more in the afternoon, she is as ready to quit as we are. But she is professional and will see it through. It is a good job for her in a country where, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, jobs are no longer available for everyone. This is one reason for the very high divorce rate of 60 percent, since couples are splitting up in order to find jobs. What jobs there are in the middle and upper range are usually done by women, who work more capably and willingly than men.

In the evenings, I walk back home, all downhill, perhaps 50 minutes slow walking as I try to remember some of the day’s new words. Away from the main potholed streets, Issik is like a village. The narrow streets, some unpaved, are lined by small houses with metal roofs, painted blue mainly, sometimes green. Younger kids play a game with stones at the street’s edge, older kids kick a soccer ball. Chickens roam around houses, piles of manure lie waiting to be spread on the little gardens, which surround each house. The periodic prayer call from a minaret is a reminder that Islam is the traditional religion of this region. Early on during our family stay we were introduced to the habit of “ghosting,” from the Russian word “Gost” (Guest). While impassive and uncommunicative in public with strangers, Kazahks are sociable and tight-knit within the family and hugely hospitable. As described in the Peace Corps handbook: “Visiting friends’ homes and dropping in on people is a common activity. When visiting someone’s home or going to a party, bring along a small gift. This is especially important when visiting someone for the first time.”

I have had several visits to the friends of my “house mother,” Myra. She is a born-again Christian, a member of the New Life Church. This evangelical group has a congregation of 1,200 in Almaty and around 20 in the local church, which is in a room in the local bread factory. I know, because I have been to both churches – and the former’s service runs to three hours. When “ghosting” to Myra’s friends, the evening usually takes a religious turn. This, however, has its advantage, since I can listen to soothing accordion and guitar music accompanied by beautiful singing. This gives me a break from the hard work of trying to make conversation on a limited vocabulary.

Today it was the Peace Corps’ turn to organize some entertainment in the form of “Culture Day.” In the auditorium of the school where we study, a program of 26 acts, singing, dancing and skits was lined up, featuring local ethnic groups as well as us Peace Corps volunteers. For two and a half hours we were treated to a cultural pot pourri, including dancing by Uighars in traditional red costumes, ballads from groups of matronly Kazakh women, mournful songs from Turkey and other acts by Slavic and Kurdish groups. An 11-year-old local girl played exquisite classical music on the piano, and later her father and another Kazakh played guitar. The Peace Corps contribution was spirited, less cultural and more modern, working with our limited language skills to entertain the Kazakhs. Our best effort was by Suzanne from Iowa, who had chosen to dance with her “host uncle.” He turned out to be a young Chechen man in a leather suit and pointy shoes, with snappy dance steps. Suzanne followed him around the stage in a languid ballet mode with a fixed smile, not faltering for 8 minutes.

After two and a half hours of entertainment, we went downstairs to the cafeteria where each Peace Corps family had prepared two dishes, a local dish and an American dish. The result was two long tables groaning with dishes of meat, salads, desserts and breads. One dish in particular was being eagerly eaten by the local people – beshbarmak. This is boiled horse meat, the Kazakh national delicacy, in a plate of noodles and onions. I did not feel ready for this experience, so I tried some Plosh (a pilaf of rice, beef and vegetables) made by my host mother. My own contribution was a dessert of yoghurt, apricots and walnuts, which was quickly eaten.

We are now looking ahead to a visit next week to the sites where most probably we will later be posted – in my case a town called Taraz, 10 hours south of Almaty, where there is a tourism project underway. This sounds like something I could help with. The only drawbacks are the heat (going up to 105F), and the fact that the majority of the population speak only Kazakh – which will mean learning another language. Each of us volunteers will have a counterpart or minder to help us get settled in with the organization we will be working for and the family with whom we will be staying, but getting a handle on a second language is going to be another challenge. The moment of truth is fast approaching when we leave the safety and comfort of the Peace Corps training center and start our two-year assignment – in a country four times the size of Texas. Then the experience will really begin. Stay tuned for the next Letter in a few weeks.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Desert Mountain Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kazakstan; COS - Russia



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.