9.23.2011

Announcing the Publication of My New Book

Announcing the publication of my new book - If you've had fun reading this website and following my adventures, or simply wandered onto this page because you're also considering joining the Peace Corps yourself, you may be interested to know that in the past 3 years I've been working on a collection of Peace Corps stories from Central Asia called "A Small Key Opens Big Doors: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories from the Heart of Eurasia."

You can buy the book now on amazon, it's available at Amazon through this link:


This book is the best bang for your buck if you're interested in the PCV experience in the area, as you get over 40 stories from the Eastern Europe / Central Asia region. Featuring stories from Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, and many more!

5.16.2008

On the news

Here's a small clip of a news report on me and some other volunteers in the area. For arrogance's sake (and the trouble with my bandwidth) I'm only uploading half of the video. The half with me. More to come.


video

2.04.2008

Recap of Last Few Days

This probably isn't all that interesting for the general reader, but...

January 31st 2008 - Ust-Kamenogorsk to Almaty
Rode on a Tupolev Jet. The thing felt like it was about to fall apart as we left Ust-Kamenogorsk Airport in the snow-covered airport.

January 31st, 2008 - Almaty. Stuck here for 8 hours as the flight to Beijing is delayed. CRAP.
However, I did get to eat a poor excuse for a hamburger, and the airport has free wireless! Score.

January 31st, 2008 - February 1st, 2008 - The airport delay means getting into Beijing at 3:30 in the morning. CRAP. At least the food was decent.

February 1st, 2008 - Picked up by Uncle Qu and Dad. Home. Right to bed.

February 1st, 2008 - Went for a walk around the neighborhood close to my Dad's apartment. Ate at Ali's Xinjiang Muslim Restaurant, where the waiters all remember me from the last time I went there because I greeted them with an "asaalam aleykum." Lunch consisted of:

Lamb Shashlyk
Lamb Chop (Grilled)
Naan
Some sort of pepper-ground beef fresh laghman (noodles) mixture.

Excellent.

February 2nd, 2008 - February 4th, 2008. Didn't leave the house, working on the SPA grant. (Details later).

February 4th, 2008 - Beijing to Hong Kong. Food sucked on the plane - a pat of rice and two "beef" things that looked like shriveled up cut-off fingers.

February 4th, 2008 - Hong Kong. Sitting in First Class lounge. It's good to have a Dad who travels too much. More updates later.

8.21.2007

Recent dealings, Blue Bay, Photo updates

The photo section has a been once more updated! In this update:

Portraiture Collection

Blue Bay Trip, August '07

Lost Sledding Photos, circa January, '07

These, and other photos, can always be found at my Photo Album.

---------------
A few posts back I had written that I wanted to start writing more about documenting day-to-day life here – usually I felt the need to write only posts that had some poignant meaning at the end of post, but I’ve realized that this actually results in few posts than I’d like.

I’ve returned from my 30 day home leave back from the states. In the Peace Corps, if a person elects to stay for a 3rd year, they get an free plane ticket back home and back to the country of origin for R&R. I even get a fat per diem of $12.00 a day while in the states, so that was good for like…half a pizza.

Being back at home was nice, certainly better than the last time, since this time I was home for longer than two weeks. Being able to see all my old friends again, (especially long lost high school friends who seemed to crawl out of the woodwork and congregate the local Starbucks) as well as my family was actually very refreshing after being away for so long. I completed most of the things I wanted to do, including going the beach, eating Mexican, Japanese, Chinese and Fast food, buying new clothes, swimming, and so on. The in-and-out burger was an epic part of my trip home, I have to admit.

Upon my return to Kazakhstan, I hung out with Ashli and Amanda, two remaining Kaz-17s who are a part of the Kaz-19’s training. After that, I got back on a train (through plotzkart, unfortunately) back to Ust-Kamenogorsk.

I suppose it’s hard to say a city can change much in 30 days, but it certainly does seem to be a bit different. The local Coffee Blues (a coffee chain situated among Pizza Blues, the local Pizza joint monopoly) has started offering unlimited wi-fi internet for free, something that Sam and myself discovered with much delight. Previously internet was bought through prepaid cards, a normal card being 10 megs upload/download (good enough to check email and surf a few sites) for a ridiculous price of 500 tenge, just under 5 dollars.

So today, Sam and I just basically sat here for most of the day catching up on some long needed internet access on our own computers.

A few days ago we returned from Blue Bay, a local lake resort area about 2 hours outside of town. You can see pictures in the posted above link. Locals usually go every summer, for weeks at a time, to relax by the lake in owned dachas or rented 'domiks' [little house] and apartments and go swimming or enjoy watersports. Basically every watersport you can think of is here, including windsailing, jet-skiing, and sailing.

My trip here was a long time coming because locals rave about how great the place is during the summer yet I've never been able to manage a trip out there in the two years that I've been here, since the process of renting a place and getting out there can be a little difficult. Fortunately, Sam's counterpart, Sveta, invited him out. Upon hearing that I was back, her niece called up a friend that was nice enough to pick me up and drive me the whole two hours out.

Blue Bay is, interestingly enough, a man-made lake - half a century ago the entire area was nothing but a large valley that was intentionally flooded under the directorate of the USSR for a purpose that isn't entirely clear to me just yet. Regardless of the reason, in its present day state it's a place for people to go swimming and jet-skiing, apparently.

There were many beach-like areas, and it was great just to go and lay out by the beach. Our gracious hosts were great to us, feeding us, giving us a place to stay, entertaining us, etc, all free of charge.

Sam's counterpart, Sveta, is amazing with the bayan, a Russian-style accordian and the two nights we were there the group partied it up in the most classic russian style way possible. Drinking and Singing. Loudly. Until 3 am. Until americans have long gone to bed. Until the neighbors came pounding on the door demanding silence.

On the first day, Sam and I took the little air-pumped boat out to the center of the bay, actually quite far from the beach (and dangerously close to the paths of jetskis and motorboats, we soon discovered), and proceeded to watch a paddle that had a crack in it sink into the water, leaving us with one paddle and turning around in circles. Wonderful. After about 10 minutes of struggling in circles, we decided, that being rational adults, we would figure something out. Although a bit awkwardly, we eventually rowed canoe style back to the beach, paddling one side, then the other.

On day two, Sam and I went for a hike around the bay, trying to get through to other side by foot. 2 hours, dirtied pants and scratched arms later, (and watching Sam try to jump across a ditch which he proceeded to fall into) we eventually go to the other side. However, we were to return to the other side of the bay by 3, which was getting dangerously close. We eventually decided to split the cost of renting aa rowboat with a kazakh guy and his girlfriend, where we would row across and they would proceed to take the boat out later.

At 3, we went out on a little catamaran that took us out to an isolated part of the bay, where we had a picnic of shashlyk (skewered bbq meat) and vegetables with Sveta and her friends. I have to admit, I was a bit afraid I wouldn't be able to get a fire going, but we managed to do so without much problems. This was easily the best part of trip, since it was fairly well isolated had lots of scenery without man-made objects to screw up the view. Belly full of meat and vodka, we returned back to shore and proceeded to lay out at the beach for the rest of the evening, chatting with locals.

Definitely something to attempt again later next summer when the rest of the volunteers get here. Good times. Rested and relaxed, I'm pretty ready for school to start.

Ust has also treated me well, since I have a few weeks before school actually starts. I've already met up with lots of local friends already, as well as dealing with my Landlady to negotiate rent for the new year. Coming back, I went out with Dana, a 21 year old english teacher that worked at the kazakh school down the street from my house. Actually meeting her on the train down to to Almaty, coming back and seeing her after a month was actually a bit strange, but I had a good time getting to know her.

Good times ahead. New University year, Newspaper Projects, Grants to write, Orphanages to work with, English and Leadership clubs to start, new volunteers, etc. etc. To the 3rd year.

Cheers!

8.07.2007

I've been getting a lot of emails lately regarding on what to bring to KZ and for advice for the 19s. I've included this here for the K-19s arriving soon. If I get anymore questions I'll be sure to add more.

1. How is life and work in KZ? What advice can you provide to help me adapt to KZ? What advice can you give me to successfully complete my service?

I'll give you a few pieces of advice.

1. Throw away any preconceptions of what you 'expect' out of your experience, because those oftentimes are unrealistic and can lead to disappointment. The best way to go about the whole thing is to keep your attitude aligned with two absolute truths about Peace Corps service:

a. "Service is a rollercoaster." There will be highs and lows, and they're probably going to be some of the highest highs and lowest lows you've ever experienced, so when it gets rough, just hold out and grasp onto the belief that there will be highs.

b. "Volunteer Flexibility and Attitude is what makes or breaks the service." If you're prone to blame other people for your problems or tend to be a competitive person, it's time to drop that nonsense because your work here is for the local community, not to make yourself feel better about yourself or compete. Realize now that comparison of ‘accomplishments’ between volunteers is meaningless. You're gonna meet lots of people who are different and I guarantee you you'll find people that are difficult to work with (locals and volunteers), and at the end of the day, you can only control what you do yourself and be as positive as possible. You're gonna fail a few times, but the real question is what you do after that – you either pick up and try something else or you can sit and complain about things you can't change. Don't be the latter.

2. If you have a boyfriend/girlfriend in the states right now, it might be a good idea to break up. Lots of volunteers who have relations left behind in the states end up going back early and quitting, or end up suffering quite a bit while dealing with the stresses and strains here and going through a break up. The two of you will take extremely different paths in the following two years, and it's difficult to sugarcoat that.

3. When you get to site, try not to spend too much time with other Americans. Chances are you're going to be in a village and a ways away from other volunteers, but if you do end up in a situation where you can potentially spend all of your time with other Americans/volunteers, don't. Make lots of local friends and spend your time with them.

4. Be wary the ugly American. Unfortunately there are quite a few volunteers that took their opportunity of working here and treated it as essentially a second college experience, whether drinking heavily, womanizing, etc. I'm not saying you shouldn't drink socially or find a boyfriend/girlfriend while here, but PLEASE know that locals are going to be judging you and other Americans/PCVs through your behavior, so be careful and act like an adult. Your method of dealing with stress is also important to your service – try to be concientious of how you may come off to locals when stressed out. In addition, realize now that “The American Way” isn’t necessarily the right way.

5. . Life and work here has been great for me, I'm actually extending for a year, so I look forward to working with all of you – I'll probably even drop by your training for a bit. I've gone through a lot of rough times while here, but things have pretty much stabilized and I've got good work. A lot of volunteers would argue that I'm having a good time because I work at a University in a city, but most volunteers are close enough to the city centers that they can come in a few times a month to enjoy R&R. In addition, it’s important to realize that site doesn’t necessarily dictate how good or bad of an experience you had – there are plenty of stories of volunteers that share sites and one having a great time while the other has a terrible time.

6. A general good rule of thumb for service, life, and everything: Don't be a retard. ;-)

How was work as a TEFL teacher?

I teach at a university, so I don't have to deal with a lot of the stresses that secondary school TEFL teachers deal with (which, chances are, you will be). My students are generally well behaved, and since I teach 2-4th year English, I can teach more advanced topics like essay writing, TOEFL prep, conversation and proficiency, conduct home reading, and give lectures and tests. Safe to say, I love it, and I do lots of other community activities in addition.

While I don't have to worry about disciplinary problems that secondary school teachers face, my lessons are also on the whole a little less interesting because I can't do as many 'fun' activities since my lessons and content are fairly controlled by the administration. So doing things you can do with kids – i.e. plays, dances, many sorts of word games, etc. are out.

What things do you recommend bringing? What not to bring?

I made the mistake of bringing *too* many things because I wanted to be prepared for every situation. You can buy almost everything you need in Almaty and in oblast centers (where you're guaranteed to be no further than 3 hours away by bus when you go to site), so it's not necessary to bring everything.

Certain things might be useful that you can only find in the states:

- High quality thermal underwear, top and bottom in the thickest you can find. (UnderArmor is a popular brand that isn't available here)

- Gifts and trinkets from America. Key chains, dollar-wrapped chocolates, bottle openers, etc. Be sure to ration it out a bit over your service, as you'll be making all sorts of friends and you'll never know when you want to give a little something as a token of appreciation/memory for locals. Cheap crap like that is also popular with children as a prizes. It doesn't have to flamboyantly American-flag sort of stuff. Volunteers also usually bring presents that somehow represent the area they’re from. Nothing needs to be expensive.

- Wrinkle-free dress shirts and dress pants. Having wrinkle free clean clothing is VERY important here, so having wrinkle free shirts will make life easier so you aren't always ironing.

- Stickers and Markers are great for children.

- Waterproof hiking boots.

- Good pair of thick thick waterproof/resistant gloves. You can buy light ones here for early winter, but the thick ones will be useful during the coldest of winter.

- Good thick thermal socks.

- If you have a GSM cell phone now that's unlocked and internationally enabled, you can consider bringing it, because you'll end up buying one here anyway if you don't. If it's locked call your cell phone company and ask for the unlock code.

- Digital Camera. You'll be taking lots of pictures. All film developing places will print your digital pictures if you need prints.

- iPod or reasonable mp3 player will help with the long train rides.

- Laptop


Things you don't need:

- Heavy Jacket/Winter Coat. Whatever you can buy now (in Reno, NV in the dead of the summer, god forbid) is not going to be heavy enough during the winter. Save your money and buy one when you get to site. You'll find one that will fit fine. Bring a light waterproof jacket instead.

- Most other winter gear. People have been living in the kind of winters they get here for generations. You'll find whatever you need.

- Language Textbooks/Dictionaries – Unless you have one that you're absolutely attached to, Peace Corps will provide you with everything you need.

- Most medicinal stuff. Peace Corps med office has practically everything you need, unless you absolutely need the brand name of one particular product or another. They won't provide you with contact lens stuff, though, so bring those on your own if you plan on wearing them.

- Travel Guides. The newest lonely planet guide is coming out later this year (I actually helped write the section on Ust-Kamenogorsk), but it won't be that useful to you since you'll be learning everything firsthand and through volunteer chains anyway. Plus there's plenty of those lying around the peace corps office.

- As a rule of thumb, just remember that people have been living this way in this country for hundreds of years, so people get by fine without whatever doohickey you're on the fence about.


I plan on bringing a laptop. How are computer and internet connections? If you brought one, did you have trouble connecting to KZ outlets? Do I need to bring a surge protector?

- I'd recommend you bring a reliable laptop, because it'll be difficult to get fixed here since internet is spotty. Internet is generally available in every city and oblast center – I can get a decent dial-up connection from home, but it's about $12 for 10 hours, so it's not cheap. There's slightly more reliable connections in local internet cafes, but they can be just as slow or unreliable. It just depends on the site.

- I'm a big nerd, so I ended up having to have my friends send me a portable hard drive since I ended up collecting quite a bit of media from other volunteers. You might find it useful as well to exchange stuff with other volunteers.

- I've heard of volunteers in the villages being able to get internet connections as well, but again, it depends on the site. At the very worst, you'll have to have bus 2-3 hours into town to access the internet. At the very best, you'll have internet access at home (the occasional volunteer even has DSL).

- You can buy surge protectors here though it might be expensive, but you can bring one too if you like.

How difficult was it to stay in touch with family and friends in the US?

Email, chat are viable forms of communication. My family all skype me on my local phone or cell phone, so those are fine as well. International phone calls are all received fairly easily, so it's not a big deal to keep in contact.

What advice can you provide me for learning Russian and Kazakh?

Training will be frustrating. Do the best you can, but don't feel like you have to know or memorize all of the rules. Russian AND Kazakh might be a bit ambitious unless you have a huge talent for languages or already have a background in either. Don't take it out on your language coordinator if it's frustrating either. But everyone suffers, so don't worry about it. As a rule of thumb, Kazakh is supposedly easier, and locals will love you for learning it, BUT, Russian is much more widely spoken, so communicating is much easier. There are pluses and minuses to both. However, there's been a national movement towards Kazakh and rejection of Russian on an official level, so Kazakh might be more useful if you plan to stay here long term or come back in 3-4 generations. But I think we're getting ahead of ourselves ;)

You should also figure out what kind of learner you are and focus on studying through those methods. I'm an audio learner, so no amount of staring at rule charts really helped me as much as just getting out there and speaking and having conversations as much as possible.

How was training? What exactly do you do during training?

Training consists of technical training, where you learn methodologies of how to teach in Kazakhstan and work with children, medical training, cultural training, etc. The bulk of it is taken up by intensive language training, however.

I would argue that in reality, training is also a sort of crucible in which volunteers are melted down to see what they're really made of. In general, it generally is pretty stressful, and this is the real test, to see how you deal with that stress. Some react by leaving, others laugh it off and work through it, others resort to complaining and/or partying/drinking heavily. Like really, you're gonna find out a lot about yourself during training and service, and really important is being conscious of the person you want to come off as.

Training is a lot like high school, because there are volunteers from all backgrounds – rich spoiled kids, poor kids, nerds, potheads, jackasses, idealists, pessimists, student body types, emo kids, etc. etc. the trick is not to get caught up in the drama that will inevitably happen during training and be on your best behavior despite how other people act because you'll be judged throughout training by your trainers. But despite how much I tell you all this, you're gonna deal with the stress however best suits you, you just need to be aware of how it comes off to everyone else, volunteers, locals, trainers, etc.

Did you travel much through KZ? Through Central Asia, Russia or China? If so, how was it?

Your primary job is to stay at your site, but I have seen a lot of Kazakhstan through various work-related functions as well as vacations. The train rides are long, but a part of life.

I haven't gone through Russia or the rest of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan is a popular destination, as well as Thailand), but I've gone a few times to China and Taiwan from here since I have family there. I already speak Chinese, so it was great for me.

6.17.2007

My "I Love Lucy" Moment. Or: How I got introduced to all of my neighbors and why they think the American living in their building is a retard

I had an “I Love Lucy” moment today.

You know those moments, don’t you? It starts off innocently enough – there’s some minor technical problem that’s been bothering you and you think you can solve it easily enough without anybody’s help. So you go out and do something about it. Maybe Ricky's been really tightfisted again with the money. Maybe getting a job packaging chocolate at the chocolate factory to earn some pocket money sounds good, but then suddenly, before you know it, you've got a mouth crammed full of chocolate and you're shoving more into your shirt pocket as things start spinning out of control.

I’m lucky enough to live in the city in an apartment with a washing machine. However, this presents its own complications, as I discovered today.

Upon my return from Pavlodar, I realized that the hose connecting the hot water to my washing machine had been slowly leaking. In addition, the handle to open and close the valve connecting the washing machine had broken off some time ago, which isn’t *that* serious, since it’s all in a closed system. However, the leaking was no doubt in relation to the fact that the valve was always open. See exhibit A.

Easy enough to fix, right? Buy a new handle to close the valve, and some plumber’s tape to seal off the leak on the hose. I tramp off to the bazaar.

There, I sift through a mess of valves until I find what seems like what I’m looking for. Apparently you can’t buy the handle buy itself, so you have to buy the whole valve.

“Eto russiski, 400T.” This is Russian-made, the woman selling pipe fittings tells me. “Esli ti hochesh kitaiski, 200T.” If you want the Chinese-made, it’s half the cost.

“Are the Chinese ones bad?” I ask her in Russian.
“It’s probably why the handle on your old one broke. Buy the Russian one.” I pay the woman for the new valve and some plumber’s tape and set off back home.

At home, I happily unscrew the handle off the new valve and install it on the new valve, beaming at my ingenuity. I don’t have a good monkey wrench, so I’m scraping by with a small pair of pliers I found in a tool drawer in the house. I turn the pliers, following the righty-tighty rule until it’s tightened to my satisfaction. All right, time for a test run.

I turn the new handle. It doesn’t move.

Huh, that’s weird. Maybe the hard water finally got the valve inside and it’s mineralized shut. I try again, this time pushing a little harder. Should be easy enough once I get the valve moving.

The valve gives a little bit. I can feel it turning ever so slowly, so I apply some more force to turn the handle all the way to the ‘closed’ setting.

*CRUNCH*

Hot water begins to shoot out of the hole where the valve once was (now firmly in my left hand, still attached to the handle) like a fire hose. Hot water. EVERYWHERE.

My first instinct, of course, while the water is blasting and soaking my whole body (and my shorts, which contain my wallet, sunglasses, passport, and digital camera) is to cover the hole with my hands and shove the valve back into the hole. I'm screaming like a little girl, using every curse word in the book in every language I can think of as I'm pushing at the hole where the water is shooting out through.

This of course, is futile, because it seems that I’ve snapped the valve in half, and a part of the valve is still stuck inside the pipe itself, preventing anything from being screwed back in. In my desperation, I jam my palm onto the hole itself, and this only serves to spray the water upwards towards the ceiling, shorting out the light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

So now I’m standing in the dark, soaked shirt to shorts, with water slowly flooding the floor of my bathroom. The floor begins to feel weirdly soapy as the water gets to the box of detergent on the floor as well. I grab a plastic basin and try to redirect the water flow towards the bathtub, where there’s a drain. This, like the palm, only proceeds to redirect the water over to where my dry clothes are hanging from the last wash, when suddenly it occurs to me that there’s a water shut off valve in the toilet room. (the toilet and bathtub is in separate rooms).

I slam the door shut to prevent the water spraying out into the hallway and run to the next room where the water shut off is. I turn off the valves. My leaky toilet stops leaking as I turn the water off, but the water valve in this room seems to have had little effect on the sickening “Pssssssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” emanating from the next room as the hot water fails to cease.

Time to call for reinforcements. I run out into the hall, soaked head to toe, and knock on the door of my neighbor, desperately. Sergei, a gangly Russian teen living next door, answers the door in his white briefs.

“Sergei! Is your dad home? The valve to my washing machine from the pipe broke and it’s spraying water everywhere! I need to shut off the water!” Of course, this is in my broken Russian, and so it probably came out more like “Sergei! Your dad home? Water washing machine! Broke! Water! Hot Water! How close water!?”

Sergei’s dad is not home, of course, but Sergei runs to my bathroom and offers to use the plastic basin to try and redirect the water back into the tub while I get help. “Go downstairs to the first floor and find the super, it’s a black door.”

I run downstairs, leaving a trail of water as I get to the first floor, and I pound on the door. A woman answers the door, I look inside, it looks like an office space.

“Yes?” says the woman, her eyes slightly open with surprise, as she looks at the strange foreigner, soaked head to toe, gibbers at her.

“Super, he here? Water! Hot Water! Water, Washing Machine, Water Broken! I need close water!”

“Not here!” she says, as she tries to close the door on me, no doubt thinking I’m an escaped mental patient. I jam my arm in the door to stop her from closing it, and I gasp,

“Where’s the super? Who can help me? Please, help me!”. She seems to respond to this, and tells me to go to the second floor where the super apparently lives.

I run to the second floor, and ring the doorbell.
Of course, no answer.

So I run back down and pound on the black door again, begging the woman to help me.
“I don’t know how to turn off the water,” she says. “The master water valve is in the basement, but it’s locked, and you need Nikolai Ivanovich (the super) to open it because he has the key to open the basement.” I beg her to make some calls for me, to which she agrees.

I run back upstairs to my apartment to check on Sergei. My wet shoes squish with each step. Sergei is stripped to his underwear, fighting the futile fight to stop the floor from flooding. He’s bailing the water from the floor to the tub. I tell him that the super isn’t in. Sergei, without looking at me, screams back,

“There should be an extra key to the basement with the director of Lumix, the clothing store on the first floor of the building!”

I run downstairs, and tell the first woman on the phone (who is now frantically calling all of the neighbors to try and find Nikolai). She says okay, and runs out to Lumix to ask the director. The director comes out, and tries the one key she has, but of course, it doesn’t work.

“You need to find Igor Anatolovich, the director of the sport equipment store.” I run over with the woman to the sport equipment store on the other end of the apartment building, and find Igor, who denies knowing anything about any key, ever.

Keep in mind, this is over a span of 15-20 minutes. Everytime I run upstairs to check on the apartment its starting to look more and more like a sauna. Steam is everywhere. Walking into the apartment is like walking into a bad Halloween haunted house with a fog machine gone wild.

After some more frantic pacing, Nikolai Ivanovich decides to show up, and I rush him to open the basement door so we can shut off the main hot water valve.

“I can’t do it,” he tells me. “The café on the first floor is remodeling, and they blocked off access to the main water line, so I can’t access it from here. What’s wrong with your valve? It’s a Chinese valve, isn’t it? Can’t buy the Chinese ones, gotta go with the Italian ones.”

I’m about to tear my hair out. The origins of the valve is the least of my concerns at the moment. I NEED TO TURN OFF THE WATER.

“Okay, what do we do next?” I say to him through gritted teeth.
“Well, we have to find Igor Yevgeninovich, the owner of the café to unlock the back door.” Nikolai picks up his phone, and starts making calls again.

I run up to check on the apartment. The bathroom is flooded and comign out into the hallway. I run back downstairs to find Igor arriving at the scene, who luckily lives in the apartment building down the street. Nikolai again insists on pointing out and debating with Igor the inferiority of Chinese valves.

Igor slowly waddles towards the café back door, unlocking it and walking in while listening to Nikolai's wild proclamation on the superiority of italian valves. He goes down into another basement accessible only through the café with another worker, examining pipes here and there along the way, trying to figure out which pipe shuts off the pipe in my house. After about 5 minutes of poking and touching, he twists a valve and looks at me.

“Well, go see if it’s off.”

I run back upstairs, and I can still hear the sickening

pssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhh

from outside the door. I look inside, Sergei’s given up, stripped down to his underwear and just pulling on the door to keep it shut. The water isn’t off. I run back downstairs and report.

Igor and Nikolai both scratch their heads a bit, and think “maybe it’s in the other one basement? But we don’t have the key for that…we'll have to call the super of that section...”

"Maybe turn off all pipes? Try all!" I gibber more, having more or less accepted that I effectively have a pool in my house now.

On a whim, Igor pulls out a gigantic wrench and turns off another valve and tells me to check again. I run back upstairs. My assumption that it was just a pool was wrong. My house is actually a sauna. It's difficult to see anything in the house because of the amount of steam, but as I walk in, splashing water everywhere, I'm relieved to see that the water has ceased.

I go back down to report, and my neighbors call KCK for me, the city plumber service who arrive about 30 minutes later to repair the damaged valve.
"What happened?" they ask.
"Valve, broke off, water everywhere." I reply.
"Ahh... yeah, those chinese valves are worthless, can't trust those. Gotta go with It-"
"Italian or Russian, I know, i know" I interrupt. I listlessly hand them the new Russian valve that I had bought earlier and they fix everything for me.

After about an hour of cleaning and mopping up the new olympic sized swimming pool in my bathroom and corridor, while the plumbers are working, everything is finally repaired and the water is back on. I pay the plumbers and casually look over at the job and find that they had left old broken valve on my washing machine, the original source of all my problems.

*SIGH*

5.28.2007

Thoughts on the website...

I think it's important to note that my website isn't meant to document the experience of local people here in this country. Rather, it's meant to document the experiences that I, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, personally experience day-by-day.

The things I experience, whether it's traveling around to different cities in the country, seeing sheep carcasses on the train, using a vacuum cleaner from 1957, or handwashing clothes is not necessarily something that people everywhere in this country experience, so for you, dear reader, should never ever consider that all people who live in this country live this way.

The image that comes along with a Peace Corps Volunteer is often of that of a 'barefoot in the dirt floor hut" that has been perpetuated for quite a bit now. However, the reality is that being in Ust-Kamenogorsk, in Kazakhstan, one of the fastest-developing countries in Central Asia, I hardly live this way. There are people who drive mercedes benzes in town. I can get sushi if I want it. People have nicer cell phones than I do. People have nice washing machines, as well as new vacuum cleaners.

It just so happens that I don't have much money, so I tend to rent apartments and live in places that don't necessarily have those amenities. My current place of living boasts cable television (complete with CNN, though I can't watch that nonsense anymore), a washing machine, a real working electric oven, and I can actually access the internet from home (albeit via dialup). But in the past, as you can see from some of my photos, I did have an old soviet-era washing machine that required me to rinse and dry by hand - but even then, this is a step up from 80% of volunteers who live in villages and must hand wash their clothes to start.

Ironically, Americans who come as Peace Corps Volunteers often take a sick pride in the whole 'trial by hard work'. We love going back home to tell people that we handwashed our clothes or killed our own chickens for dinner. I relish in going to the meat bazaar to argue with the meat salesladies there and staring at the hanging carcasses of meat. The whole beating the rug thing was hilarious for me because i've never had to do it before.

But I've realized something - sometimes locals find that our pride in things like that to be strange, or sometimes even offensive, as if we're joking about them. But the reality couldn't be further from the truth - in a way, there's a sense of pride and admiration expressed for this way of life purely because I feel like that Americans are completely spoiled and living this way is refreshing compared to the original materialistic way of life I used to live. Having lived in this country for two years, I've found value in things purely past the materialistic aspect (i.e. a new car, cell phone, video game, etc.). The development of relationships, enjoying a peaceful, quiet environment, and simply observing and living in a beautiful new place alone were huge parts of my experience here. The simple appreciation of time alone and development of patience (away from the Franklin-Covey dominated American way of life) was worth the two years I've been here.

I don't want this website to ever give the perception that I think negatively of this country. Upon reading some of my old posts, I've realized that I enjoyed writing about the experiences that were novel to me, that is, those experiences that were different and unique to me because I've never experienced them in America. In addition, I've also used the website as a way of venting frustration during memorable events of the day - things that tend to stay on my mind and I had to write about it as a way of stress relief.

It's easy to seize onto one or two points here and there and make some conclusion that "all people in this country are like this or that," but readers should know that whatever happens to me, positive or negative, is solely a personal experience, and should never be extrapolated to locals, the country, or the Peace Corps as a whole.

I love Kazakhstan through and through. This isn't to say that there aren't faults or things I don't like, but no country is perfect, is it? Still, the experience has been so thoroughly rewarding and lovely that I've I decided to stay a third year. I've decided that with this third year I'll be sure to update the blog again with day-to-day activities and reflect not just on things that make me frustrated, but things that I love too. Stay tuned.