Kazakhstan’s Mystery Ritual.

I spent all day today trying to figure out what my counterpart was trying to tell me.  “Today at 11 we will go outside and the students will run around the building, stay close to me.”  This sounded serious.  As the time approached I began to get nervous.  Was this some type of Kazakh running with the bulls?

Nope, it was just a fire drill.  I’m so used to the unexpected that I don’t expect the expected.


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Akdene (Pure Body)

It’s funny how the weeks you feel like you’re making a difference are the weeks you learn the most.  I just had a phenomenal week.  My students surprised me with how much they’d learned, I donated books, celebrated International Women’s Day with the teacher’s of my school and, with volunteers Kaysie and Gisela, put on another successful Women’s Club.

We’ve come to call the new Women’s Club our “feel good” club.  The local pedagogical college hosts our meetings and the girls who have attended are extraordinary.  In lieu of Women’s Day we had asked the girls to pick a woman they admired and prepare some sentences about why they admired her.  We explained the word “admire,” but we weren’t quite sure what the girls would come back with.

The following is the response of one our club members, Kuralai, who chose her great grandmother as the woman she admires.  It is an incredible story that I hope you find as captivating as I did.

Who is a woman of my admire? I want to talk about my father’s admire – his grandmother. Her name was Akdene, surname was Umbetbekkyzy. She was born in 1904 and died in 1997. When she became 16 years old she was married to a man of 55 years old. She was his third wife. It was a very difficult time of the life of human. Her husband gave her parents about 50 rams, horses, sheep and so on to marry her. I can’t say that they married, but he took her as a wife.

Do not surprise that time they had such type of life. She had eleven babies, five of them died. One of them is my grandfather, Kydyrbeck.   Akdene was a  brave, courageous, clever and wise woman.

In 1932 there was a great famine, that people couldn’t live. That’s why Akdene needed to run away to China with her two children and old husband from country. During the famine years it was impossible to leave country and some families had to run away. In 1962 she returned to Kazakhstan with her children, so they began a new life here.

Akdene was deeply respected among the people. She was good at dress-making. She made clothes for the village people. Also, she had an extraordinary curative qualities. She always rendered help to sick people to women to born a baby.

Dreams in our life play a big role, they may advice us something or tell us our future. And this woman could understand the dreams so clear, to propose something before. What baby somebody will have, what kind of person will be a new born baby in the future or that somebody has bright future and etc.

For me she’s remarkable person. I’ve seen her when I was four or five years old, but then never. I know her only from my father’s stories.


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10 ways you know it’s time to mourn the loss of your college life.

  1. You get up before the sun every day of your life.
  2. Thursday is no longer considered the weekend.
  3. Carry-out food is not a part of your current reality.
  4. You live with a 3 year old child.
  5. You spend more hours in your ‘work clothes’ than you do in your sweatpants.
  6. Chugging a beer just seems like a waste.
  7. You stop having nightmares about being late for exams.
  8. You’ve started reading for pleasure again.
  9. 4-5 inch heels are no longer a part of your wardrobe.
  10. You’re really jealous of your 18 year old sister who’s about to enter 4 years of bliss at the University of Missouri.
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6 Months Reflection

In some ways I can’t believe I’ve already been here for 6 months. But then, I’ve also been here so long I’ve forgotten what a Starbucks latte tastes like. It’s definitely been a life-changing journey already. Not in the sappy way, anyone this isolated is bound to discover things about themselves that they may otherwise never have known.

One of the things I’ve had the time to study and practice is the balance between patience and self assertion. When do I let it slide and when do I speak up? It is my opinion that this balance is crucial for a volunteer’s success in their community. I am my only advocate and it has been nice to find and exercise my voice in the last 6 months. I’ve found myself initiating projects, addressing work tensions and negotiating prices more than I ever would have felt comfortable doing in the states.

While some families have flat screen TVs, the culture is far from Western. This has made my time here both extremely exciting and frustrating. Continual patience was particularly important in this aspect of integration. It’s interesting how things that were shocking to me upon my arrival are now second nature (examples include: swallowing fat chunks, sleeping on the floor, eating with my hands and showering publically). That being said, I’ve been here 6 months and there are still plenty of things for me to learn.

The Kazakh people are so welcoming and hospitable and all of the incredible experiences I’ve had so far are owed to their willingness to indulge a stranger. I can only hope that the next 6 months are equally as exciting and rewarding.

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Weather Woes.

As a child, I remember seeing a framed poster that said “If you pray for rain, be prepared to deal with some mud.”  I think the Kazakhstan edition would read: “If you pray for spring, be prepared to ruin all your shoes.”  And let me tell you, I think we’ve all been praying for spring pretty desperately.

Here’s a riddle for you: What happens when the snow and ice that has been on the ground for the last 3 months melts on dirt roads?

You are correct!  MUD.  Lots and lots of mud.  It’s inescapable, unavoidable and really gross.  If you go outside, you will get mud all over you.  My usual route to school has turned into such a swamp I actually fantasized about renting a little pontoon to get to school.  I tried to take a different path and ended up looking like a creature from the black lagoon by the time I arrived for my lessons.

None of this would be so bad if everyone were in it together.  But we’re not.  Kazakh people have superpowers; boot-cleaning superpowers.   In KZ cleanliness is the Siamese twin of godliness and showing up to school as a creature of the black lagoon is just unacceptable.  I hope I can learn their secret before all my shoes meet their maker.  Maybe there is some Mr. Clean for boots that I’m missing in the bazaar.  Here’s to me finding it in time!


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School Pictures.

When you travel thousands of miles outside of your country, you expect to escape certain atrocities.  One thing I hoped never to re-visit was the horror of the school picture experience.

I’ve had some doozies to be sure.  There was the 5th grade shot with the Great Clips version of ‘the Rachael’ haircut (a layered bowl cut).  There was the 6th grade photo where I had a scab on my forehead.  The 9th grade fashion faux paus with the braces/glasses/hoop earrings combo (not a good look on anyone). And just when I thought I’d finally blossomed, there was the Mizzou Student ID freshman year where my hair cast a shadow that made me look like Medusa.

With these shameful pictures far from my mind I arrived at school the other day.  I’ve given up on trying to plan my days here because they inevitable turn into something totally different from what I anticipate.  My counterpart rolls off the agenda with one deviation from the planned schedule: “We will take a teachers photo at 1:00 today.”

I looked over myself in the hall mirror and decided it could be worse.  I hadn’t showered in a few days, but hey, the ponytail was looking good and I’d managed to iron my shirt that morning.  As one o’clock approached I began to feel more at ease, at least it was a group picture and given my height I was a shoe-in for the back row (at a staggering 5’5 I’m 4 inches taller than most teachers at my school).  Turns out I was placed in the back row, standing on a chair.  And I stood there for a whole hour.

Kazakh time is a lot like Spanish time in the sense that 1:00 actually means whenever you show up. I stood on that chair in the back row until my legs were sore.  And then, finally, the photographer took the pictures.  And as soon as I thought it was over I was ushered into the English room and informed we were also taking department photos.

After trying out many different poses and rearranging countless potted plants, the powers that be finally decided on the winning stance: Me, standing and holding an English book and everyone else sitting at a table behind me.  Reluctantly, I paid for copies of these two pictures hoping, like always, that they would be better than I thought.

Oh, they were much worse.  Upon receiving my copies I literally laughed out loud in the teacher’s room.  The group picture had been photoshopped and superimposed onto a background of the front of our school.  In the process some of my hair had been removed creating the illusion that I was wearing a very sad wig.  The department picture looks like something out of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels; Me, the giant towering over all the Kazakh Lilliputians in the background.  To top it all off, I’m the only one smiling in any of these pictures.  Everyone else has their game face on, and I’m smiling like a blond fool.  Oh well, there’s always next year to take that winning photo!


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English Week!

Or should I say “English 10-day.”  The last 10 days have been dedicated to showcasing the English teachers’ and students’ work.  During the Opening Ceremony of English week, I dedicated 45 books from Kazakhstan’s Christmas Book Drive to my school!  And let me tell you, a frenzy ensued.

My Director, to match the generosity of our friends and family who sent books, had a new bookshelf moved into the English room to house them.  She doesn’t speak a word of English, but spent about an hour flipping through the books.  To accompany the dedication, I had the students from my clubs put on a production of the Rainbow Fish. In short, Rainbow Fish is a beautifully illustrated children’s book about friendship.

I beamed with pride as the students from my club recited the lines I had written and moved about the stage.  I’m really not sure how they did it, but even the 1st year English students learned their lines by heart.  Impressive.

During English week all of the department teachers give what are called ‘Open Lessons.’  They’re exactly what they sound like; lessons open for observation to the faculty and community.  It really warmed my heart to see that all the local teachers incorporated the new books into their lessons.  It also tickled me that I caught students, normally distracted by their cell phones, sneakily reading the new books under their desks during my lessons.  I laughed as I told them that there was still no excuse to not listen to the lesson and returned them to the shelf.   I think these books are going to get a lot of love.

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time and spent the funds to send these books, your generosity was overwhelming.   I inscribed everything sent to me with the name and state of the sender.  Attached are some pictures.


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