Sunday, November 16, 2008

Welcome to site

Friday, November 7 happened to be a cold and rainy night in southern Kazakhstan. I had just finished pre-service training and I was riding on a train with about a dozen other volunteers headed to our respective sites. I was scheduled to get off the train in Taraz at about 1:00am and was meeting my counterpart/director Almas at the train station. Why Peace Corps bought a ticket for Taraz is unknown to me, as my town has its own little stop, and getting off early would just mean a more expensive taxi.

But as the scheduled time came, I gathered up my luggage (all five bags) and woke the other volunteers to say my final goodbyes (for at least a few weeks). Then I dragged my luggage down the narrow hallway probably waking up half the kupets as I clinked and clanked against their doors. And just as I got to the exit of the train, I see Almas standing in the doorway with a large grin on his face and a even larger furry Russian hat on top of his head. Confused at first, he waved me back on the train. He too did not understand why Peace Corps had bought me a ticket to Taraz. It turns out we would just pay a little extra and ride along to the stop in my town. Although, without an actual ticket, neither of us could lay claim to any of the seat in the kupets. As we sat in the cramped hallway of the train, the hours passed slowly as I mostly failed to show excitement for arriving at site through my increasingly tired demeanor.

A couple hours later, we did reach my town and we quickly exited the train (only three minute stop here). As aforementioned, it was raining. It was cold. And at 2:30 in the morning, the only thing on my mind was getting sleep. I didn’t expect to actually go to my host family. That would be too normal an experience for my site. But I expected a bed. Remember Peace Corps rule number one: Don’t have any expectations.

We walked up to the road to wait on a taxi. There were none. “Are there usually taxis?” I asked. Almas confirmed that there were. But on that Saturday morning, there were none to be had. After standing outside for maybe ten minutes, we headed back away from the road into the train station, which was just an average sized room with a row of waiting chairs stretching down the middle. We put my bags down and we sat there and looked out the windows. Still no sign of taxis. The minutes dragged on. It was getting to the point where all I could do was keep my eyes open. Eventually I gave in. I pulled my bags close to me (although there weren’t any other people in the station, I still wanted to be safe), wrapped my arms through as many straps as I could, positioned myself as comfortably as possible (which wasn’t very, but it didn’t matter at that point), and I fell asleep. I would awake occasionally to see Almas either staring out the windows, scanning for a possible ride, or also napping a few chairs away from mine.

At around 8am (having spent five hours in the train station), we did manage to catch a taxi to take us the 3km to Almas’s family’s house. And after eating some breakfast, I did finally get to sleep on a bed (or rather mats on the floor, pretty much equivalent) for a few hours. But night number one was definitely spent in a train station. Welcome to site.

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