So I'm back at my site now. I'm sitting at home. Alone in my apartment. And it feels great. For now. I'm sure a couple days of this and I'll be bored wishing I was back traveling again, but it feels good to finally have a break. The roller coaster that was the summer seems to have wound down, although a week earlier than expected.
Uzbekistan did not work out for us. Me, Mark, Courtney, and Jessica had wanted to go check out some of the old cities there. We filled out our paperwork, jumped through tons of PC hoops, and then in the end never got our letter of invitation. The tour agency (Roxana Tour) said that it could take months for us to be processed because we are all Peace Corps volunteers. That would have been nice to know from the beginning, but we had trusted the tour agency to secure visa assistance, and they did not. Other volunteers have used this agency in the past, but I don't know if I can recommend them, mainly because next week instead of going to Uzbekistan I will be sitting at home in Taraz.
Before traveling to Almaty to get a final NO on the Uzbekistan issue from the embassy, I was in central to northern Kazakhstan in a gorgeous spot known as Shchychenks. There were not only trees, but forests! Forests! In Taraz, we have lots of trees. It's very green, but we don't have actual forests with trails. It was amazing to see. It's also not far from Kazakhstan's "Little Switzerland" known as Borovoe (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/kazakhstan/northern-kazakhstan/lake-burabay). It does not look like Switzerland, but it was awesome to see a beach in Kazakhstan. I hope in the future there will be something like the Jersey Shore filmed there with locals.
I was up north to learn Russian, but I think I came back speaking worse Russian than I did before I left. A week surrounded by English speakers means that whatever Russian we do learn won't actually be used. I speak now and hear so many mistakes. I want to surround myself for a week with only Russian speakers so I can start speaking okay again.
Before going to the lake-filled land of Akmola Oblast, I was at BASEBALL CAMP!. Baseball camp this year was awesome because A) It's baseball camp. B) Mark's parents brought sweet Braves hats for everyone. Everyone being the children and Mark. C) We stayed in a sweet pimped-out yurt complete with two beds and a television D) We had a ton of awesome volunteers come and help out. The two beds were somewhat useful, but because there were ten of us, it was really only 20% useful. Other highlights included sponge dodgeball, BASEBALL, picnic by the river, lots of watermelon, BASEBALL, berry picking, banya-ing, and finding a sweet new karoke spot in the city. It was a lot of fun, and I'm already excited about next year's camp. We'll need some more balls though, but I'll try to get some donated or something and bring them back. We have tons of hardballs, but we are afraid to use them and all of our squishy baseballs are ripping at the seams.
Before going to BASEBALL CAMP!, I was in Shymkent for an activity/English camp. We went to the water park. We went bowling. We went to Mega. The kids on our trip decided they didn't like delicious pitas. I also learned a new Kazakh superstition that people here don't drink out of chipped cups or glasses. Now I acknowledge that its bad for a restaurant to serve you a chipped cup, but if I got one, I'd just turn it around and drink from the non-chipped side. Here, a poll of all 20 students revealed that all of them would send it back. It's an insult to the guest to serve such a glass. Two years here, and there is still the stuff I don't know. Overall, the camp was fun and the kids had a good time. And they were speaking so much English. After working with them for half a year, it finally sounds like they are opening up and become more comfortable speaking. I had a good time too despite my sandals breaking on day two. And me only bringing sandals. I don't think they could handle the nightly discoteque we had at the hotel restaurant.
So now I'm back at my site. I don't have any major travel plans until September for our Close of Service conference (despite staying a third year, I still get to go). Seven full weeks at site. Hopefully, I'll get a lot done. I'm really excited to hit the school year running with all sorts of service projects and volunteer recruiting. I also need to finally hunker down and make my organization a web site.
Preview for upcoming blog: Another description of trains in Kazakhstan, but this one is mind-blowing