This part week was Easter according to the Roman Catholic calendar. Myself and a few volunteers wanted to find the Catholic church in Taraz in order to celebrate. Yeah, I’ve been at site for five months now, so I probably should have found it sooner. But it’s not really as easy as looking in the white pages. Two Christmases ago a van full of volunteers drove around for hours trying to find it with no luck. But for Easter, Jenny and I were on top of things.
She’d actually found it a couple months ago with the help of our Peace Corps Regional Manager and the coolest driver in the world (shout out to Pasha!). It was pretty much nowhere near anything else in the city. How they found it, I don’t know, but they did. However, despite finding it, there were no mass times posted.
I did know there is a web site for the Catholic dioceses in Kazakhstan (I believe there are three of them). I went there to find out mass times. No times. Just an address and a phone number. The phone number didn’t work though. However, my friends in Shymkent knew a priest there. That’s the next city over; the closest parish to the one in Taraz. Surely he knows how to reach the neighboring parish. I call him (get voice mail, an absolute first in Kazakhstan!) and he gets back to me. He doesn’t know the new number but he can find out. Or of course, I could just call the operator. What? The operator in Kazakhstan? How does that work?
I didn’t know. Nor did any of my coworkers. 06, 07, 009, 09. We tried a lot of numbers. None of them reached anything at all, let alone something resembling information. (Later my friend in Taraz tried as well; she reached the operator, but even the operator didn’t know where the church was.)
Finally, the priest from Shymkent texted the number to me. I call it. No answer. I text it in bad Russian and get a reply in Russian spelled out with English. It’s popular, especially on cell phones to text Russian but spell it using English letters. This is especially hard for readers of English to understand I think because I actually know how to read English, and usually pronouncing these English-russian hybrids does not result in any Russian words I know. For example, this message used a “w” to make the “v” sound. Anyway, I got an address. I got a time. We were in business.
We met up on Sunday and were going to take a taxi. Easier that way. Of course, taxi doesn’t know the address. It’s not like we were going to the main square, we were going to middle of nowhere Taraz. So we get on a bus that Jenny knows goes there thanks to hours of experimenting she had done in February. We call the number I have again to make sure 55 goes there, it does, he gives more directions in Russian. I understand some of them. Its near a store like Bereke (really, that’s like saying something is near the Starbucks in Seattle; every other store here is named Bereke.)
But Jenny’s memory does not fail us. We find the church and meet a wonderful priest named Peter, who is Polish. He speaks really good English, and is impressed with my Russian. He tells us that most of the parishioners came to the vigil service the night before, but there are like four other people that come. The parish itself was a lot bigger a few decades ago, but has shrunk drastically since most of the Germans in the area have moved out of Kazakhstan.
The church itself is not big, but it is nice. Lots of pews. Some hymnals in Russian. Definitely Catholic with the crucifix, the tabernacle, and all the fixings. There were even tulips on the altar, a nice Easter touch. It felt good to be in a familiar setting. Even if we don’t understand all the prayers, we know what’s going on during the whole mass. (We did say the Our Father in English though after they said it in Russian, and he told us the hymn numbers in English.)
After mass, we got bulletins (!) and were invited to come back. I’m doing a lot of traveling soon (hopefully!) so I’m not actually sure when my next Sunday in Taraz will be, but all of us wanted to go back at least once a month. Sometimes even something as simple as finding the church feels like a huge accomplishment over here. It made for a great Easter.