Monday, August 31, 2009


So a ton of places in Kazakhstan, you see billboards saying Kazakhstan 2030. No, it's not advertising a new sci-fi flick starring Mark Dacascos, but rather a reference to the government's longterm growth strategy. I actually admire that they have a patient plan for growth, and I hope that in the end it will pay off. (Resource rich countries have had a history of looking for short-term solutions with all of their wealth.)

So in my attempt to find the country's constitution in English (found: Constitution Good news: my reading of it seems to suggest I could eventually be President after turning 40, living here 15 years, and gaining "perfect command" of the Kazakh language). But I also stumbled across the 2030 plan (2030. And starts off with a quote from Virgil and then a few paragraphs later quotes Shakespeare. I didn't read the whole thing, but so I wouldn't be left in suspense, I did skim down to the end. And the final section is introduced by:


What!? Bowie? As in David Bowie? Am I supposed to just know which famous Bowie this is referring to. A quick google search of that quote in quotations, returns...only the Kazakh 2030 plan the Kazakh 2030 plan. Expanding it to non-quotation marks and including bowie in the search yields..."I had a lot of self-confidence." -Bowie Kuhn. As in the former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn?

I don't know who wrote the plan, but they sure were well-read. I hope the next longterm strategy will contain a quote from Ziggy Stardust.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The little things in Almaty

After being here for a year, I was feeling like I had done just about everything. Life is becoming more routine. It’s now my second August here. I’ve done the weddings. I’ve done the gostings. Life is still an adventure, but some of the surprise seems to be gone. However, during my last Almaty trip I was happy to:

Meet the English theater group at KIMEP. KIMEP is an American-style university in the center of Almaty. All of the students are required to speak English, as the classes are taught in English. They have a library full of books in English. And because it’s a business school, they had a ton of economic books in English! I felt chills. And they have an English language theater group ( They were a lively bunch, and this year will be staging How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Grease: The Musical. I wish I could buy my tickets now, but I don’t think their available yet. From one of the students, I found out about…

Find a free Nintendo Wii in Almaty! Not free to take home. But free to play. It’s in Omega Zone on Gogol near Ablai Xan. It’s in the downstairs of this Internet café. They also have Rock Band and PS3 to play, but those cost money. For some reason though, the Wii is besplatno (free!). Maybe it’s not popular. And I guess for the crowd that would be attracted to a gaming center, it may not be. But after Ainalain had received a free Wii in July (but haven’t been able to get electricity until September), I’ve had a Wii craving. I just wish I would have known about the game selection before playing. Now I’ll always have something to do when I find myself bored in the city.

Find the Konaev Museum. After failing to find a museum with my family, I happened to stumble upon one myself while wandering the streets. It was small. And a typical museum in dedication to a person here. Lots of pictures of him. Some memorabilia. Little information on what he actually did. I need to brush up on my Kazakhstani political history. Konaev? He sounds important enough that a ton of stuff is named after him, but I don’t really know what he did.

Be in a commercial/infomercial/something for a Singapore technology company. The director of KELT told me her friend needed extras to play tourists in a video being made by the Ministry of Education. Turns out it was for a technology company whose products are used in Kazakshtani schools. I had to pretend to be lost and a young Kazakh girl gave me directions in English. Of course she was able to speak English because of the technology in the schools! Unfortunately, my friend was cut as they started the process after they sent her to change t-shirt colors. I don’t know who it will be broadcast for, but I hope I make the cut. Take that Krystal!

Meet the new trainees! Although my life is becoming normal, a new group of Americans just arrived last week. Sixty something young, middle-aged, and even slightly older new volunteers ready to change the world and have their dreams crushed. Or expectations lowered. Or managed. We even persuaded some to hit a nearby café for a few drinks. They were eager and full of questions. It’s hard to remember what I was like back then, but it must have been similar. I wish them all success, and hope the coolest ones end up replacing Dave and Susannah.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Family just left

So I'm sitting at an Internet cafe here in Almaty. It's 8:35 in the morning. I'm exhausted. I had a terriffic time with my brother and mom over the past week. I wish I could just go back to Taraz and crash for the weekend, but I'm supposed to meet with some English theater people here in Almaty. We want to build on a budding program, and figure why not talk to the people with experience.

So... their trip. I wanted to show them my life here. Not Kazakhstan and all its grandeur. So no Astana, no Berevoi. What it's like for me. So we started in Almaty, where all PCTs start. We hit up the usual sites for us. We gostied my host family in Ecik. Ate ploaf. Then we platscarted it back to Taraz.

The train was great. I has been worried. Platscart! people would exclaim. You're going to make your mom ride platscart. But I love it, I would respond. It can be so much fun. Admittedly, it's different for a younger woman than for a younger guy than for a middle-aged woman. But anyway, Stephen and my mom loved it. We met some fabulous Russian sisters who were about my mom's age. We shared food, stories, and laughs.

Thursday, I actually had to work. Note that Peace Corps, I will be asking for that Leave Day back if I can manage it. My family saw the office, met all my coworkers, and then went off into Taraz with Amina. They saw the museum. I've been there for three months in Taraz, nine months in the region, and I still haven't seen the museum. I had wanted to go with them, but that's what happens when your family isn't interested in you doublechecking your budget figures. Thursday night we gulyatted in President's Park and played some windy ping-pong. It's a nice place to just walk around. Peaceful, lots of families and some young people. I wish it was closer to me though.

Friday was even better. My work went on a picnic. Note work again. It was with kids in our English classes, so we were giving them all-day English language practicum at the river near Asa. Swimming. Eating. Laughing. And a crazy crazy game of keep-a-way which I'm surprised we all walked away having survived. That night we tried shoshlik as well. (So by now, my family had tried (in this order): lagman, ploaf, doner kebob, manti, shoshlik. I was betting on the wedding for beshbarmark.)

Saturday was a quiet day in Taraz. We mailed some postcards, I paid my bills. They took me shopping. I passed on the super sweet mesh hawaiann shirt, but did pick up the white pointy shoes. Like I care the season for them is practically over. I'll wear them until the snow falls and pick them back up in the spring. Back to work, and then over to Acela's for dinner (gellupsie, a national, but oft-forgotten in my book, dish. We also tried kurt! Umm... yummy. It really does help if you think parmesean before you take a bite.) After dinner, we taught them Durak and my brother got to keep the deck of Russian cards we played with.

Sunday we made it to Catholic mass then gostied my host family in Baurzhan Momushylu. Their house was under remont (repair). I thought maybe that meant painting the walls. Nope. Everything was outside, the walls were stripped. They were redoing everything. So since we couldn't eat there, we ate lunch in yurt. Yurt experience, check! Kyrduck was served along with some Kymis. Kurduck was voted to be okay, kymis was tried, and not liked. Then we had our Kazakh wedding to go to. The invitation said 8:00. I knew that would be too early. 8:30 maybe? Nope, we waiting for an hour and a half. It started at 10:00. That was fun. I don't think they tried the kaza I tried to give them. And then the beshbarmark came. Awesome! We left at 2:00 and took a taxi home.

Our plans to go to a nature reserve Monday were thrown off by sleeping until 11:30. Stephen began feeling the effects of the local cuisine, and my mom and I ventured off on our own to see Aisha Bibi, Textormas, and the Old Banya museum. That museum needs to be added to lonely planet, and I apologize for not telling all past couch surfers about it. It's actually a really cool place, much more interesting that the rebuilt mouseleums the city usually boasts. Afterwards, we made tacos and had a quiet night in.

Tuesday was our last day. We gostied Asa to buy some korpusheis from Ainalain. Then we gostied at Salavat's. More beshbarmark. And finally the tomato-fried eggplant things. My mom loved them and said she'd make them in America. I said the same thing when I first tried them. After Asa, we said goodbye to people at my work, I got a haircut (keeping the mullet for now), and then went out to eat at a nice Georgia restaurant.

Wednseday we took a taxi to Almaty. Drink some coffee. Sat in a park. Had a subpar meal at a cafe and then we waited in the airport for seven hours as their flight was delayed. But now, they are in the air on the way home.

So that's what we did. It was a good summary of my life here. I think my next post will be maybe about some of those things in more detail or at least fillin in the thoughts and feelings that went along with them. Oh, and look out for some guest blogging from my mom and Stephen about what they thought about Kazakstan.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Family is here

My family is here, so why am I blogging. We actually had a really exhausting day of Kazakhstani picnicing. So my mom is writing postcards and Stepehen is reading an excellent book on Islam. So far they have flown into Almaty. We saw the city as I know it, meaning: the park, the mosque, the bazaar, the cathedral, Ramstor, Kok Tobe, getting lost on buses, and walking around and not actually finding what you were looking for. Also, finally stopping at 4A. About the only Peace Corps-y thing they didn't see was the office itself.

We also gostied by original host family. That was a lot of fun and went a lot better than I expected. They had my host brother there and an aunt that spoke English, so there was less translating that needed to be done on my part.

Now we are in Taraz. We went on a picnic today with my organization, so I'm going to try and get my leave day back. It was with kids from our English courses, so it was like work all day. Who says work doesn't have to include swimming for hours at the river?

We have a busy schedule for the next few days, and I'm still trying to wrap up the final stuff on the grant due tomorrow. I'll try to write a really reflective ONE YEAR post next week. I have a lot to say about the experience actually, although maybe it will change by the time I write it. I'm on a PC life high right now, which is a lot better than I was last month. I think it's all about the attitude, but more on that later. I'm just so happy my family is here to visit right now too. Good luck to any new volunteers that may be reading this. Can't wait to meet you soon!