Last week was the end of the first quarter here, which meant we got a week off. Most teachers are still required to go to work for half day during this week, which in my limited experience entails sitting in classrooms, staring at the walls until lunch time, and occasionally filling in some numbers on some charts, that surely only seem arbitrary because I don’t have a full understanding of the system. However, I cannot even fill in the numbers which means during previous school holidays I have sat for hours on end in the English room, twiddling my thumbs and trying to come up with more posters I could draw and ways to make my lessons exciting. Worthy tasks, both of them, for about 3 hours. One day. So what to do with the other 5…?
This time, in anticipation of the monotony, Sarah, a fellow volunteer, and I planned a trip to spice things up. We decided to travel to Almaty for a few days and then move on to visit another volunteer at her site and basically just have a very good, very relaxing week. And it was a wild success.
Our first stop was actually not the city of Almaty, but the small suburbish village that we lived in during our training. We stayed for two days with our respective host families from those two months. It was nice to see them again and it felt somewhat like coming home. That was the first Kazakhstan I knew so there’s some nostalgia. Plus, the family I lived with has, since I left, built an indoor bathroom that has a flushing toilet and a shower with hot water. Look out! I like visiting them, and will do it again at least once more before leaving the country, but even with my improved language skills we run out of things to talk about within about 30 minutes. School, family, romance, its amazing how quickly such topics get brought up, talked about, and dropped again. We did make some amazing pumpkin dumplings and I had what my friends have since told me was a date with my 18 year old former host brother. I still disagree with that. Girls and boys can hang out without it being weird, I swear. It was a bit weird though.
So, after a couple of days there Sarah and I ventured into the belly of the Beast, Almaty itself. Its amazing how modern the city seems. I go into Shymkent pretty frequently, more than I should really, and it seems to be pretty modern, but still looks like a village in comparison to Almaty. The bus system is a bit confusing, however. I’ve gotten used to the conductors that yell out all the stops and without them I have no idea where I am going. We had a bit of a misadventure as regards the buses, but ended up having a lovely walk because of it. We saw some of the newer volunteers who were there for a conference and a bit more of the city than we previously had. I bought some amazing boots that are reminiscent of Victorian England, which I expect to be one of the only items of clothing I own that will be appreciated by my local friends and teachers. Try as I might I just can’t get the fashion thing down. Honestly, I’m not trying hard.
We got back on the train and headed South once more, for Turkestan and Jennie, the third member of our holiday trinity. I had accidentally purchased our tickets in the private compartments as opposed to the open cars that we usually favor, but I actually enjoyed the luxury. Usually I like mingling with the people in the open bunk cars, but this time it was nice to be able to close a door and have some privacy. Well, from everyone but our compartment mates. Babies and trains, no good.
Turkestan was wonderful. I like it much better in Fall when it’s not 90 degrees with gale force winds. Yes I wore long underwear most of the trip, but it was possible to walk around the bazaar without dripping. Actually, Jennie, Sarah and I spent most of the week in Jennie’s new apartment. Sounds lazy right? It was, and it was glorious. We did get in some pretty intense cooking though. The first night we made gnocchi, which was the first time for me, and then we made calzones. Breakfasts were pancakes, french toast, and oatmeal. I always think that I will eat so much healthier when with volunteers, and not feel as overfed as I usually do after a local meal, but that’s false. We just feast on foods that remind us of home, regardless of their nutritional value. All of our adventures were a wild success and brought with them the feeling of satisfaction that comes from creating something good.
On Friday we went to a university club and “worked” for a whole hour. It was so taxing. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with some amazing Yuigur food and a night of dancing in a local discotech. Leaving on Saturday was difficult, but it was good to have spent a week with good friends and get a break from work. I think I will be able to head into this term with a more positive frame of mind than I had a week ago, and with some fresh ideas from other amazing volunteers.
Now I’m back in the village, eeking every last bit of vacation time out of today before classes start again in the morning. I’m thinking positive, or at least telling myself too. If you say something enough, it becomes true, right? Yes, it does, and this is going to be a good term. It helps that it is also the shortest of the year, and Thanksgiving is only a couple of weeks away. How’s that for positive?