Monday, September 15, 2008

Almaty Alone

One of my biggest complaints about the Peace Corps so far is that it has been kind of boring. If we’re not in class, then we are studying Russian, and if you’re not studying, then you preparing stuff for your practicum, or if you’re not working on that, then you are lesson planning for English, or gosting with your family, or drinking chai, or doing all sorts of activities that don’t always make for good stories. There are the little tidbits here and there that make amusing anecdotes (like stopping for a herd of cows as they cross in front of your path, which one person likened to a train crossing), but not always that many. This weekend however, offered quite a bit of excitement. Maybe it’s not great story material, but it was something out of the ordinary routine.

After learning some recipes on Saturday, a group of us ventured into Almaty. Melanie, Megan, Sean, Andrew (the Kansas one, not the NC one) decided to attend mass. We are officially allowed to leave our training site by ourselves, but we had not done so as of yet. This was going to be our first trip into the “big city” without our teachers. Just our wits and our broken Russian to get us to our desired destination.

We were a little delayed leaving our town, but caught a marshutka (van) headed into the city. These cost a little more than buses, but they are well worth the extra 45 cents in my opinion. We arrived in Almaty no problem and walked to the bus station area. There we stood around as I eagerly tried out asking for directions in Russian, and then thanked the helpful pedestrians using one of about five Kazakh phrases I knew. This put us on bus 65 to pretty much the other side of the city. Of course the Catholic church would not be close to anywhere we would ever want to be, other than the church itself. So we get on the bus, and I’m feeling good with my Russian. I asked the conductor if he’ll tell me when we are near our destination (not the church, but rather a more well known location near by). But the actual question was more like, Please speak to me when near bus station. Anyway, he nodded, and I felt good.

However, then Andrew decided that we didn’t actually want the bus station. So we got off despite the warnings of my new friend. This meant I got to practice even more Russian as I asked every stranger we passed were the church was, how to get there, or how to get to the street it was on. We eventually stopped at a supermarket Ramstore to find a map. Megan tried asking if they had a map and immediately the store paged their English speaking employee to help us. It’s times like that when language training is frustrating. Fortunately, this employee walked to the street, flagged down a cab, negotiated the price, and sent us on our way. I mean we could have done that for ourselves, but we were ten minutes from the start of mass and an unknown distance away. We ended up making it just in time.

Mass was eerily similar to the US. It was in English. Same songs and everything. They did intinct for everyone though, which was bizarre. Afterwards, we had wanted to make the symphony, but that was starting in twenty minutes, and all we knew is that we were not near it at all. We abandoned that idea, and just decided to head back to Issyk. Overall, we felt accomplished and fulfilled. It was a great trip.

And that was just the start of our weekend. Sunday was equally awesome.


R. M. "Андрей" Romero said...

Not my finest moment, but we made it.

Adrienne said...

Hey Michael! I was thinking of you today because I'm trying to figure out life after Fulbright, and I started thinking about your program. That led me to your blog. Which leads me to saying hi! We are in two different countries but I can definitely identify with lots of your thoughts. I'm looking forward to following your blog!