Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Getting in that New Year's Spirit

New Year’s is a great time to be here in Kazakhstan. Three major events leading up to the holiday really put me in the New Year’s mood.

1) Holiday party with my coworkers

My counterpart/boss told me a few weeks ago that they wanted to have a New Year’s party and invite all the PCVs in the area. Apparently, they do it every year. Why didn’t I go last year? I don’t know. But it would be held on December 27th, and it would be 3500 tenge. 3500 tenge! That’s about $22. Which isn’t all that much, but for a night in a café, it’s a lot. Usually at a café I try to spend less than 1000, and if the bill is over 2000 then it’s been an expensive night. What on Earth could cost that much?

But apparently, that’s what cafes do around here. New Year’s comes and they jack up the prices on the special New Year’s menu. But it’s only once a year, so why not go ahead and pay. So I signed up and corralled Mark, Jamie, Jessica, and AC into going to it as well. With them and my coworkers and their friends/spouses we had about fifteen people total.

The night started off normal. Huge table with a spread of salads, sweets, glasses, plates. It’s what I’ve come to expect at holiday parties here, and maybe I’ll be disappointed when I don’t get that back in the States. Another difference is we brought our own salads and alcohol in the morning and they served it to us in the evening as if it were theirs. There was music for dancing, toasts given, and we snacked on the salads.

Then the real fun began when Ded Moroz and Snegorichka (Grandfather frost and snow daughter) came out. They led us in a lot of games. There was a three-legged race, musical vodka bottles, eating candy with boxing gloves, etc. Finally they had everyone up and dancing in a circle, laughing and singing. It was really really fun.

By then, everyone was loosened up and in the holiday mood. We stayed until about 1:00 and left. Some of my coworkers stayed another hour or two. It was an expensive night, but in the end, it was worth it.

2) Holiday party at the nursing home

One thing I am trying to do is get our volunteers more active. We have people who say they are our volunteers, but we don’t always have a lot of things for them to do. One idea was to have a holiday concert at a nursing home. We used to do that with St. James CYM every year. It was always a good time. I suggested this to our volunteers, and they ran with it. I was expecting to have to make phone calls and do some coordinating, but one of our volunteers planned the whole thing.

I volunteered my English clubs to make cards for all the residents. I thought maybe there’d be 100. They claimed there were 210. I expected each person in my clubs to make about three cards. They each made one. So we were a little short. But we came through and made a lot on Christmas.

For the show itself, we had singers, a play, and new year’s wishes lined up. Only about thirty residents were in attendance, but they assured us they had a lot more that were in bed. Maybe they had 210. Maybe.

Some of the residents seemed bored, but a few were really really happy that we came. And that made it all worth it to me. I hope that the dozen or so volunteers who helped out felt the same way.

3) Holiday party at the pre-school

The day after we performed at the nursing home, the piano player from the concert called my work to invite me to a pre-school for their new year’s celebration. I’d heard about yolkas (Christmas tree or rather New Year’s tree in Russian) parties where the kids dance around with ded moroz and get presents, but I’d never seen one. I was excited to get the chance, but it did feel a little weird going. I had talked to the piano player the day before, but I didn’t remember her name or really what she looked like. Just that she was a middle-aged cheerful woman that always had a smile on her face.

I found the preschool (dyedski sad in Russian, literally children’s garden) with little trouble despite forgetting its name or address. Then I wandered around until I found the music hall. I was supposed to get there at 11:00, but I showed up a little early at 10:40. I found that the party had already started. Strange, but then I realized that they probably have a party for each class of children. I don’t know why they invited me to the 11:00 one, but sure enough, at 10:50 that show ended and the musical director found me. She cheerfully greeted me and introduced me to the director and the pre-school’s English teacher. I got a great seat near the front and waited for the next show to start.

First, all the children danced in singing a new year’s song. Then Ded Moroz came out but then left forgetting his staff! Then some other people dressed like a bear and a wolf came and stole his staff. The rest of the hour was full of the children singing, reciting poems, and Ded Moroz getting back his staff. At one point one little girl punched another playing musical chairs. And another girl started crying for I don’t know why. But overall the show was really entertaining to watch, and probably even more so if I had actually known anyone in the show. But I was glad I was able to take part in such a fundamental cultural event.

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