Tuesday, April 19, 2011


The other day I had on some brown pants that my parents sent me for
Christmas. Asela saw them and commented that they'd look really good
with her new brown top that I got her from America. Brown on brown,
that matches right? I said that it matched in a Kazakhstan kind of
way. Is it fashionable to wear a whole outfit of just one color in
America? Here, it's not uncommon to see full-color outfits. Like
purple. Girls will have on purple boots, a purple dress, purple
earrings, and purple eye shadow. I've seen the same for yellow, blue,
and green. It certainly stands out, but it leaves me feeling there may
be a little too much of one color going on. However it definitely
draws attention in the crowd of black that people often wear in

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Taraz Tennis

So I just found out that my city is hosting a tennis tournament at the
end of April. At first, I thought this was almost as shocking as
December's dolphin show, but considering Kstan's recent success in the
Davis Cup (http://www.astanatimes.kz/index.php?uin=1290953792&pg=1301719563)
and the new tennis courts in my city (which do not rent
equipment.....ahh!!! so aggravating), maybe it's not that big of a
surprise. Still, pro tennis in Taraz seems almost as strange as pro
boxing in Shymkent (http://www.boxingletstalk.com/?p=7434).

More on the Taraz tennis tournament at

Unrelated to Kazakhstan, but highly related to tennis
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK42LZqO0wA (click link to hear really
catchy song and entertaining music video)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Re-adjusting to Kazakhstan

Looking back at my six week vacation in America, I definitely did not
enjoy it enough. I mean, I enjoyed it. I loved seeing everyone that I
got to see. I loved talking to everyone on the phone instead of over
skype, and when the time difference was at most three hours. I loved
all of it. But I took it for granted. Sure, the first week there, I
was amazed by America, but then it all felt normal. Now I'm back in
Kazakhstan, and I realize I should have eaten way more deli meat.
Drank way more root beer. Eaten more steak and more bacon and more of
everything. I also should have brought back more candy to give away
when I got back. And I should have taken more pictures.

So my advice for anyone who goes home to America, make a list of
things you want in America and get it when you first get there. Write
yourself a letter reminding yourself of all the things you can't have
in Kazakhstan. Then when you get saturated in America, read that
letter and try to remind yourself.

When I first came to Kazakshtan, I was all pumped about the Peace
Corps. I was ready for not having the finer things in life. I didn't
know if I'd have to pump my own water or eat strange food. I think
fresh PCVs get excited about having an inconvenient life. I know I
was. But now, the novelty of inconvenience has definitely worn off.
America life is so much easier and more comfortable than life here.
Maybe to excess. No, definitely to the excess. The level of
consumption in America was ridiculous. Just the sheer number of
"things" one could buy was crazy. But at the same time, I like having
a big choice of deli meats. I like paying my bills online or even with
checks. I like having a shower head that hangs on the wall. I like
having bitter beers and dark beers (do any of these exist anywhere in
Kazakhstan?) I wish people in America would choose to lead a simpler
life than they do, but I wish people here had more of a chance to make
that choice.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Kazakhstan is full of surprises. That's one reason why I love it so
much here. The first surprise when I came back was a small one. My
luggage actually made it with me! Despite only having an hour in the
Frankfurt airport (called ), Lufthansa managed to get it onto my plane
to Almaty.

The next was a huge surprise. After picking up my luggage, my thoughts
turned to finding a taxi. It was 12:30 at night and I was at the
airport. Now normally, taxis are dirt cheap in Almaty. You can get
them for like three or four bucks. However, taxi drivers are notorious
sharks at Almaty airport. They love to prey on unknowing tourists both
foreign and local. I think a normal, yet still overly priced based on
the distance, may be ten dollars. However, taxi drivers will start
quoting prices as high as sixty or seventy dollars. People may cut
that in half and they are still getting ripped off. And even when you
agree on a price at the airport, they might start negotiating again
while driving. And when it's dark, you're alone with the driver, and
all your stuff is in the back of his trunk, he has a lot of leverage
on you. In short, I was not excited to have to deal with taxi drivers.

I walked through customs and out into the airport. My plan was to make
it outside and find a cab when I heard my name being called. Michael,
Michael. I looked up and saw Andrey, one of the Peace Corps drivers
waiting for me. There he was his bushy mustache and large smile. I
don't know if I was ever happier to see anyone in my whole life. "What
are you doing here? I didn't know Peace Corps picked us up from the
airport," I said comfortably in Russian, surprised at how smoothly it
came out. "Of course. Now give me one of your bags." Andrey took my
wheeling bag and I walked out of the airport with a huge grin on my
face. (Since then, I've asked a few volunteers and no one knew that
Peace Corps does this. Is this a new service? It's a great idea for
comfort and for safety.)

I stayed over night at the Peace Corps office, and woke up early to
get to the bus station Sayaran. I was surprised to see a bus listed
for 830. I thought the earliest ones left at nine. I was getting
settled in my seat (8 dollars for a 600km trip) when I heard English
behind me. I looked around and didn't see any obvious foreigners.
Strange to hear English on a bus to Taraz. I then heard it again and
decided to ask what was up. It seemed to be coming from four girls and
a guy a few rows behind me. "Excuse me, I said. But can I ask why you
guys are speaking English." "Are you an American?" one of them asked
excitedly. "Yes. I am a Peace Corps volunteer." "Wow. We are going to
Shymkent to meet all of the Peace Corps volunteers in Kazakhstan. This
is our friend, Michael," one of them said pointing to a guy in the
second-to-last row. He was Asian-American volunteer living in
Taldykorgan, so he did a lot better job blending in on the bus. "Why
are you guys on the Taraz bus if you are going to Shymkent?" I asked
(since Taraz is about 150 km before Shymkent). "We just figured we'd
head that way." Maybe I should have said that they could find a
Shymkent bus, but by that time our bus was beginning to get on its
way. They'd find a way somehow.

The bus ride was a real welcome back to Kazakhstan. I have taken that
bus ride probably about thirty times either going to Almaty or coming
back from Almaty. It was the third worse one ever. I think it was the
combination of being used to American roads, the construction being
done on the road, and the fact that all the potholes from winter icing
hadn't been filled in yet. We also took an hour detour through Shy
which meant we had to spend even longer on the stuffy, hot bus.

Finally, after ten hours I arrived in Taraz. The PCV from Taldy and
his friends had to find a taxi to Shymkent because all the marshrutkas
had left for the day. Asela met me at the bus stop to tell me yet
another surprise. My landlady who usually lives in Almaty was in Taraz
because it was Nauryz. She was staying at my apartment with her two
sons for the whole week. I just wanted to relax a couple days without
all the fuss of a semi-host family, and Mark was gracious enough to
let me crash at his place while he was in Shymkent.

Less than 24 hours back in country and I'd had a great surprise at the
airport, an interesting surprise on the bus, a really uncomfortable 10
hour bus ride, and another surprise upon arriving in my city. I felt
like I was definitely back in Kazakhstan.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Peace Corps Uniforms?

Did anyone else see this today? This is the first I'm hearing about it. In Kazakhstan, they'll probably have to issue the men suits and crazy boots for the women.


Peace Corps to Issue Uniforms to New Volunteers


A representative from Peace Corps announced that beginning this summer new volunteers would be issued official Peace Corps clothing to wear during their 27-month service. Volunteers will be expected to wear the special clothing with the Peace Corps insignia during their first two to three months of training and also while they were working at their primary site. This change comes as Peace Corps staff around the world faced troubles getting volunteers to dress professionally in their work environment. Because the climate and culture can vary drastically in the 77 countries currently hosting Peace Corps Volunteers, each country's director will be able to set the specific uniform standard. However, all uniforms will have a patch with the Peace Corps emblem sewn onto it. 


"In addition to ensuring a more professional appearance from our volunteers, this will also be a great opportunity to support the Peace Corps brand. Our volunteers are out there doing great work, all over the world, everyday, and we want people to realize this," a Peace Corps representative said.


Based on blogs of Peace Corps volunteers, most of them seemed shocked by this news and have reacted negatively. One volunteer blogger responded with, "If it wasn't Peace Corps, I probably wouldn't believe this. But if there's anything I've learned is that never know what to expect as a PCV. I think we're responsible enough to dress ourselves though." Another posted, "I always wished Peace Corps had given me a free shirt or something, but this seems a little ridiculous."


It was not clear if these changes would affect current volunteers or only be implemented for volunteers who begin their service starting this summer.