November 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Desert-Mountain Times: Jim Glendinning says ours is the first group of Peace Corps business volunteers to visit Kazakhstan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kazakstan : Peace Corps Kazakhstan : The Peace Corps in Kazakstan: November 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Desert-Mountain Times: Jim Glendinning says ours is the first group of Peace Corps business volunteers to visit Kazakhstan

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 2:54 pm: Edit Post

Jim Glendinning says ours is the first group of Peace Corps business volunteers to visit Kazakhstan

Jim Glendinning says ours is the first group of Peace Corps business volunteers to visit Kazakhstan

Jim Glendinning says ours is the first group of Peace Corps business volunteers to visit Kazakhstan

Brief visit to ‘big city’ life before returning to the village, a snowbound winter

Publish Date: November 4, 2004 | Permanent Link

Caption: Glendinning relaxes below a bust of Lenin, one of the few not torn down in the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. photograph courtesy of Jim Glendinning

By Jim Glendinning


After seven months in Kazakhstan and four months on-site, our group of 24 Peace Corps business volunteers came together for a debriefing. We returned by plane and train from across Kazakhstan to the town of Issik, near Almaty, where we had done our initial training.

The town seemed little changed, except the potholes in the street had been filled in. I took flowers to my housemother, in whose comfortable apartment I was again a guest – luxury compared to the cold-water digs in my mountain village.

At first glance, the Peace Corps group, too, seemed little changed, happy about being together again and boisterous as always. But when the individual debriefings began, a wide variety of experiences was heard. Earlier e-mails within the group indicated substantial frustration, and now, despite a desire to put a brave face on things, it became apparent that for several in the group, this experience was not going well.

Remember – ours is the first group of Peace Corps business volunteers to visit Kazakhstan. We had been told how our various experience in business in the USA would be particularly useful to this country in its present stage of development. Our background experience and achievements had been applauded by Peace Corps, anxious to make this first business volunteer experiment work. After four months on-site, it looks as if this may be harder than we, the volunteers, expected.

The most common complaint was frustration at not being given something useful to do.

"I am not a piece of furniture," one exasperated volunteer told her boss.

"Two months wasted," said another.

None of this should have come as unexpected. We had been told more than once that we might find ourselves in a job with a non-functioning organization, or one which functioned at the whim of an egotistical boss, or one which had no idea how to direct foreigners, let alone volunteer foreigners. We have come face to face with a central Asian mentality, often compounded by a Soviet point of view. Still – to have such high hopes dashed – for some this was a let-down, and they were hoping for a solution.

Some volunteers were well matched and vigorously useful. "Wonderful organization, wonderful time" was the opinion of one happy volunteer. Most, however, like myself were still in the stage of getting a feel for the organization, and vice versa. There are frustrations which arise from delays and from the apparent inability by one’s host organization to see when obvious (by our standards), simple decisions need to be made plus a host of other cultural differences which we had been told about but only now are understanding. "Like a slow crawl uphill" was a comment which generally summarized our experience at work.

For four days, we worked at understanding the difficulties we faced and looking for solutions. The sharing experience itself was of benefit, realizing that the stress and challenge was not unique to oneself. We discussed how to select an NGO which could provide a more useful space to work in, how to get closer to our counterpart at the NGO, the person vital for translating and cultural interpretation. Above all, we heard again about the importance of developing personal relationships and being patient.

In sharp contrast to the Peace Corps training, I later found myself in the "expat" world of Almaty: nice restaurants, fine stores, chauffeur-driven cars and maids. I had been invited to stay at the home of a Chevron-Texaco project director who had visited my village of Zhabagly with his family a few weeks earlier. I spent two days showing them around, and when they were leaving they invited me to stay with them in Almaty. They also arranged for me to address the International Women’s Club in Almaty and tell them about my village.

This is why, in a suit which now seemed too big and wearing an unaccustomed tie, I was speaking in the top floor restaurant of a five-star hotel, telling 80 elegant ladies whose husbands were businessmen or diplomats, about the Zhabagly village and nature reserve. After that, it was lunch at a Chinese restaurant, shopping in one of the new supermarkets, then home for tea prepared by a maid. Next, a visit to the home of an oil company colleague (a Moroccan) produced some mint tea and some chat (he had once worked in Odessa).

The generosity of the oil company expats came as no surprise, since hospitality and entertaining are part of their job. But I was surprised at their interest in a volunteer’s life. Then I thought how limited their circle of acquaintances is, and how a volunteer, besides being a native English speaker, is someone they don’t often meet. They see us as a small part of the development world, and their companies regularly support volunteers’ work with donations for specific projects – but we are normally not in view, certainly not at oil company receptions.

The Peace Corps also came through with some R & R treats: a lasagne supper at the home of the country director, pizza at the Peace Corps office and an Indian meal at a fine restaurant on the last evening. The next morning at the train station, we bought bottled water for the train ride, found our sleeping berths, kept non-ticket holders out of our space and got ready for a lengthy journey back to our sites – for me only 12 hours, for others more than 40.

We’re on our own again, and winter is coming.

Jim Glendinning of Alpine, a tour guide and author, joined the Peace Corps early this year.

When this story was posted in November 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

Finally read our wrap-up of the eight RPCVs in Senate and House races around the country and where the candidates are in their races.

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Story Source: Desert-Mountain Times

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



By Ron Seibel ( - on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 9:38 pm: Edit Post

Jim Glendinning is full of BULL, saying he was anong the first BUSINESS VOLUNTEERS in KZ in 2004.

Sixteen (16) Business Volunteers were in the first group, Kaz 1. 1993

I set up the Business Center in Taldykorgan, the only Peace Corps funded center that is still in business -- to my knowledge. It is managed by Valery Lazurin. ( )
That is the SECOND business center I set up. The first was with Tursun Alimehanov, who was killed by the mafia.

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