Friday, October 3, 2008

Yurt Search

This is an updated version of the site announcement post from last week. Site announcement is a big deal. Up until now, we have had no idea where we would be going in Kazakhstan. And Kazakhstan is big. The farthest sites from Almaty are up to 40 hours away by train. The staff in country takes our group of volunteers, looks at our skills, looks at all the organizations that want volunteers, and then matches us up. This process can take weeks, and while some site placements are obvious, other ones are up in the air until the day they announce them.

But today was the day. We arrived at our hub site (where we have classes together) at 11:00. All of our training staff, including the country director and some other PC staff was there as well. In the middle of the room was a large table covered by sheets of paper, under which we could see there was a map of Kazakhstan and miniature souvenir yurts. We all sat on one side of the room and the program began. First, an introduction by CD John, and then Karen introduced the regional managers we will be working with. Then Nina and Dinara each gave short presentations. Then the moment of truth.

They pulled off the sheets of paper. The map was now obvious and the yurts were scattered all over the country. Some were in the south. Some in the north. A few in the center. And one lone yurt out in the west. Melanie was the first to go. She stood up and walked to the map to find her yurt. As luck would have it, she was the one in the west, all by herself. I think most of us were relieved when that one disappeared. After Mel, each of us walked up one by one to find the slip of paper and yurt that indicated our future home for the next two years. By the time I went, there were about seven yurts left, half in the north, half in the south.

I found my yurt in the south. I couldn’t read my city name (it was long) and I saw was working for the ecological association. Immediately, I wondered how I was qualified for that, as I am one of the least outdoorsy people that I know. But mostly, I was happy to have a name and a place. I can figure the rest out later. After all of us finished the yurt search, we received folders containing more information about our site and our organization. My folder was pretty empty. As in, only two sheets of paper on my site and organization. Reading it was slightly relieving, although not altogether illuminating. I know there are two people in my organization, it has been around for five years, and their main activities are a sewing center and leadership. I’m not sure how ecology fits into either of those right now, but I’m okay with that. I’m the first volunteer in my organization and in my town, both of which are exciting. Lots of attention and no legends to live up to.

While I didn’t find out a lot of information about my site or organization, I do know some. My town is smaller than Issyk, has the district’s Akimat, and at least one good cafĂ©. Also, my organization has its office in the Akimat. There is a nature preserve that claims to be the original home of the tulip not too far away. Both of the staff for my organization are teachers. One of them is pregnant. I am in the South, so it won’t get cold (or so I’m telling myself, even though that’s not true). I am in the South, so it will get very very very hot in the summer. I’ll have to pick up more Kazakh, or I should try to at least. I’ll be working with youth, and maybe farmers. I’m near Aaron and Nadia in Taraz, and Joe and Britt in Shymkent. And supposedly my town is in a wonderful part of the country with mountains and trees and green things. (Trees!)
But despite the festivities and the hype, today wasn’t all that exciting. And I think it showed on my face and in my reaction. Some people were very excited to be where they were, but when you don’t really have any preferences or expectations going into it, it’s hard to be really excited about where ever you end up. Peace Corps stresses that it’s not the site or the organization that make your experience, it’s you. And I truly believe that. I believed that when I chose to go to UGA to go to ISU and to accept my invitation to Kazakhstan. A place is just where you are, where you get to do what you do. And your job matters a lot in the Peace Corps, but knowing the name of the organization and a short summary of its activities doesn’t tell me what actually working there will be like. What my actual job will be, what the staff will be like, what challenges I’ll face. Counterpart conference where I meet my counterpart (half the staff or my organization) and site visit will be a lot more exciting to me than today was.

Another trainee commented that this morning she thought about the fact that it was the last time she would be waking up in Kazakhstan not knowing where she would be for the next two years. It’s true. Now I have the knowledge of where I’ll be doing, but I don’t feel all that different. Yesterday, I didn’t know my town. I didn’t know my organization. Today I do. But yesterday, I was the same person I am today. And come November, I’ll be me no matter what I had found out today. And that’s what matters to me.


Margie said...

michael no matter where you go you always do your best and your best is the best.

Kyle said...

I totally agree when you say that counterpart day and site visit will be more exciting than than today.