Sunday, August 17, 2008

Staging: Day One

Ted asked me to blog about staging. And there was there is a free computer in the lobby, so why not fill some requests. Staging has been great so far. The day began for me early, as my flight out was at 7:00. I arrived here and noticed another volunteer at the airport, as he was carrying a large backpack and a winter coat (in August). We rode to the hotel together and then met some more volunteers. After lunch, we had registration which was just filling out a bunch of paperwork. Then the sessions began. Pretty basic stuff: Peace Corps mission, backgrounds, introductions of everyone, safety concerns (which they stress a lot, which is of course, good), expression of general anxieties and aspirations. Then we were let out on the city for dinner and hanging out.

Everyone here seems awesome. There are sixty-three of us, and Peace Corps does do a really good job of creating diversity among the group. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone more and getting to know them. It's finally awesome to talk to people who have been going through the same things (explaining where Kazakhstan is, that we have no idea where we are going, or what we will be doing there, etc.) I mean, I feel that since I know so many other MI students, I have this support more than some other volunteers, but it's nice to meet people who have been going through many of the same things.

Philadelphia is also awesome. I got to see my good friend Lauren for the first time in fourteen months, so thanks PC for staging us here. Tomorrow we have more sessions, and then Tuesday we ship out to Kazakhstan. It still hasn't sunk in completely. It has, but it hasn't. I can't really describe what I"m feeling right now. Excitement, numbness, anxiety, anticipation.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Address and Thoughts

Staging is tomorrow. I have a lot of things going on in my head. And feelings too. Nerves are kicking in, but I'm pretty calm. I've done the final things (pack, get Power of Attorney signed (which I picked up from Office Depot, if anyone ever wondered where to get one), printed out requirements for my internship assignments, got photos developed, went to the beach, etc.) and now I'm just waiting and hoping that I didn't forget anything too important and my baggage fits the crazy airline requirements.

Also, my address for training is:

Peace Corps Kazakhstan
P.O. Box 257
Almaty 050022

Корпус Мира Казахстан
а/я 257
050022 Алматы

Feel free to copy and paste that into word, put my name on it, size it appropriately, and then send me lots of fun stuff. Be sure to put my name on it. This will be good until about November. It takes about two to three weeks to get mail so, until about November 1 or so. I'll send out my new address for my site when I get it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trouble in the Region

When I first found out I was going to Central Asia for NGO development work, I thought I might end up in Georgia. Obviously, it is lucky that I received the assignment to Kazakhstan instead. I've had some concerns over whether what is going on in Georgia right now would affect the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. From the books and articles I have read, Russia and Kazakhstan have a pretty good relationship right now. There are no disputed territories like South Ossetia. There may be some tension between ethnic Kazakhs and Russians in Kazakhstan, but the government and the society seem to be negotiating this well. Also, Peace Corps is very concerned about the safety of its volunteers and takes every situation seriously. If there ever were to be any sort of problem in Kazakhstan while I was there for any reason, PC would get us out of there. It happened to my friend who was serving in East Timor, and it may happen to a fellow ISU ACEDer currently in Georgia. I am confident of my safety during my two years in Kazakhstan. I hope that the conflict in the region ends soon. My thoughts and prayers are with all the people that this conflict is affecting.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Upcoming Challenges

All over the world, Peace Corps volunteers face different challenges based on their country's environment. I have friends that are going to Africa that probably will not have running water or electricity. Whereas, I'm going to Kazakhstan. Even within Kazakhstan, there are volunteers that have very few amenities in the remote villages they are placed in. However, as an NGO volunteer, the likelihood of such a placement is low.

However, one unsuspected challenge that I am preparing myself to face is the intense emphasis on personal appearance. Based on the reading packets and the listserv communication with current volunteers, it seems that Kazakhs care a lot about how they look. They put a lot of effort into always looking their best and take a lot of pride in their appearance. Examples of this include one of the Peace Corps staff saying that volunteers' bosses often talk about appearance before performance, a volunteer saying that her colleagues always talk about the previous volunteers' poor appearance, and many more volunteers chiming in about fashion and appearance. If this wasn't enough, the PC language program actually instructs us on how to ask Do you have...a washing machine, detergent, iron, lint brush, hot water (in that order!). I took Spanish for two years, traveled to South America twice, and never ever learned the word for lint brush.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like I'm a bum or a slob, but as most people know, personal appearance is not something I usually put a lot of effort into. I have won the superlative for least likely to own an iron. At my grandfather's birthday, we have video footage of my niece calling me a caveman (at least three times) due to my beard. And this past year, I did grow a mullet, color it red, and then cut it into a mohawk (mul-hawk) for a number of weeks. Of course, all of this was when I was working as a graduate assistant for the economics department at school, and people expect grad students to be a little off don't they? Based on my own personal style, a number of friends have said that I look homeless or compared me to a hobo(tard).

And its not even that I'm just lazy about it (although that is a part of it). I really believe that appearance is just this artificial facade. If we get past it and really see a person, then we are much better off. I value a person and their actions much more than their appearance. Although, I am not blind to the fact that appearance makes a huge difference, especially with first impressions. But I try to push beyond these normative social values whenever I can. End short rant.

But I can be professional. I can look nice. I can keep my clothes clean and iron them all the time. But I don't imagine it will be easy. People face all sorts of challenges in the Peace Corps. And as stupid as it sounds, this will probably be one of mine.

PS. In a previous entry, I was excited that I could keep my beard if I kept it trimmed and professional. After further honest self-evaluation, I realized that my scraggly facial hair never quite makes it to the level of looking professional, and I plan on shaving it.