Well hello. Yes, I am still alive and kicking and happy to be here, wherever here might be at the moment. Staying static just isn’t e I guess. I’m more of a kinesthetic force.
This last week was girls’ camp which I co-organized with a fellow volunteer down south,where young women really need an extra boost,someone telling them ‘you too should have a say in your future.’ Of course, by co-organized I mean she planned all the hard stuff and I did the bare minimum grunt work required to keep things going. Still I felt like I did not stop moving all week. And it was glorious. I need to develop a mind for detaiils fast because this camp needs a repeat next year, and planning would then fall to yours truly.
We planned for a pretty small camp, 20 girls and 6 olunteers but as we all know things rarely go according to plan. We ended up with 27 girls and 9 volunteers, well 8 volunteers and a tag-a-long. One of my good friend’s little sister was here visiting for a couple of weeks. Even though we had way more help than planned and more mouths to feed than our grant budgeted,it definitely followed the stupid cliche;the more the merrier. The girls were great and stoked about the new information. We did sessions on self-esteem, judgements and stereotypes, leadership, relationships, communication skills, future opportunities, conflict resolution, and at the end of the week had two wonderful local volunteers come in and talk tothem about sexual health. We were all holding our breath about how that would go over, and even expecting walkouts, but by the end the girls were asking about how they could get involved in working with the volunteer org these girls came from. It blew our minds. There is nothing even resembling sex ed in schools here so you can imagine how mind boggling it must have been for them to be told why their bodies do that funny thing every 28 days. Yep, we’re talking that rudimentary.
Everyday we, the lovely volunteer staff, prepared coffee break and lunch for the girls. This meant daily bazaar trips, haggling with stingy vendors, chatting with friendly ones, longingly eyeing the buckets of fresh strawberries and cherries and lugging home about 20 puonds of food. Also buying things on a grant’s dime is fun, but it means tons o receipts and meticulous accounting. In a bazaar you getsome pretty strange looks when you ask a person to put their name on a random piece of paper, along with their signature and what you just bought. Just look at your hands dummy! You’re still holding the bag of rice and beans. Why do you need me to write it down? Still it was fun and adventurous and by the end of the week most of the vendors and taxi drivers in that little city knew us all by face if not name It’shard to lay low in group that size, especially when you’re all white girls speaking Kazakh…
So we made sandwiches, mediterranean wraps, pizza, and burritos, and then thegirls either took pity on us or got really sick of our wierdo food and said they’d do tea the next day. Now I think I’ve mentioned tea time before, but just in case I’ll remind you; this is not your grandmother’s tea party. It tok these girls less than 5 minutes to set up a huge spread of cookies, cakes, bread, salad, sausage, crazy fermented milk beverages and oh so much moe. Never doubt a kzakh tea party, they mean business. We ended on a half ay and all the girls left gushing, much of which went beyond the culture’s obligatory polite complimenting. It was an exhausting week, but one I’d gladly repeat.
The next day we had hours before our train left and there just happens to be a waterpark in the town we had camp in, fancy that. So we went and played in the wate and got ourselves thoroughly tanned/burned. Best Kazakstan Saturday yet.
So now here I sit in Abu Dabhi. Well sort of. I’m just in the airport really, but its still a huge culture shock. I saw my firs woman in a full on burkha tonight. Very strange. Many of the male airport workers are wearing the traditional white trouser-tunic-turban outfit. It’s beautiful but very surreal. Well, I can’t exactly say the burkha was beautiful, but there are also woen in saris and other less confining traditional garb. I have to admit, guiltily, that it makes me a bit nervous to be a solo American traveller in an Arab country. It’s just that there are a lot of negativ feelings directed towards us right now, and many of them are perfectly justified. Imet a young Iranian man in Shymkent a few weeks ago and once he found out I was American he asked me why my government was bombing his country. What can you even say to that? It was one of those moments where the world outside yourself steps in and slaps you real good across the face, just to make sure you don’tforget its out there.
On the more normal side of things, more people speak English here than in KZ so airport navigation is made easy. Also its an international airport which means no body cares who I am. I’m just one more face in the hodge-odge of ethnicities running around. It may seem strange to count this as a positive but it’s literally the first time in months I’ve been out in public fora couple of hours without getting asked by everybody and their neighbor to teach them English. I know teaching is my job and all, but it sure is nice to take a breather. I’ve got 4+ hours until my flight to the Philippines leaves, but nothing more of great interest to say. Well, except that too many peple travel in pairs. C’mon guys, don’t you know it’s infinitely cooler to be sitting by youself,drinking coffe and trying to stave off sleep so no one will steal you luggage? Jeeze you’d think having a travel buddy was normal or something.
Wish me luck, and the magical ability to speak in tongues. Vietnamese isn’t something I’ve got stored upstairs. Funny stories shall surely follow shortly.