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June 26th, 2007

10:06 pm - Back!!!
So, I am aware that I haven't written in forever. I've been a bit busy. I left Kazakhstan on May 8th and flew home to Chicago. I got 3 days to go on a spending frenzy to aquire clothing needed for a trip to central and Eastern Europe. I had pretty much nothing to wear before.
The trip was fabulous. 3 weeks. 6 Days in Prague, a stop a a cute village inthe Czech Republic then on to Austria and the Danube river. We went to Melk, Linz, Salzburg, Vienna; then to Brataslava, Slovakia;Eztergom, Hungary and finally Budapest for the last 5 days. All the stops were along the Danube River or bus distance. It was great! Budapest was good, But Prague takes the cake as the coolest city. I would totally love to live there. I speak pretty good Russian now and Czech is a Slavic language, I think I could handle that.
I got to see friends and family then off to San Diego to visit a fellow RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). It was a great week there, got up to Disney and to LA. Nice and Sunny.
Now i'm back in Chicago job hunting and figuring out where I want to be and what, exactly I want to do. Oh, yeah, also trying to keep up the Russian.


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April 28th, 2007

08:17 pm - Leaving...
Just a quick update. I will be leaving Kokshtau on Monday and heading to Almaty for the last check out before leaving Kazakhstan. I have papers to submit and interviews to do and doctors to visit, but after that I will be on my way to Chicago. I leave Kazakstan on May 4th. I will incidently also arrive in Chicago on the 4th, in the evening after 22 hours flying west. I'll will be home for about 4 days and leave again on the 8th of May for Europe. I'll be home for a while starting May 25th. See you all stateside.

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March 21st, 2007

09:41 pm
So, my excuse for not writing in an eon is simply that I am in a neither here nor there funk. I am still here, but I have my foot out the door and there isn’t time to do anything new. I am not home yet and so I haven’t moved on and can’t really begin to do that. I am also having a bit of the “quarter life crisis” thing. Turned 25 on Monday and I think the cause for worry was really due to having to pick up, change countries, figure out what to do and be a grown up. Not sure I am ready to do any of those things and not entirely sure I have figured out much more about life than when I was 22. Granted I have a bit more focus and know better what my interest are, but trying to figure out what to do with those interests and what kind of work that leads to is still a mystery. We really need to work on this…

My Birthday was fun. I spent a large part of the day with Gulnara. Her son, Kaisar, even cooked and omelet for us. We cooked and ate and chatted. I taught my class and had dinner with another friend, Oksana. I have been spending much more time with friends the last week. I don’t think I have spent a day alone since last Wednesday. Thursday Another volunteer stayed over; Friday I had a birthday party with volunteers, chaos, movies and henna tattoos ensued; Saturday I had the twins over to tea and help with US college applications; Sunday Oksana came over, Monday I already said; Yesterday I was at Aliya’s house for lunch, then to a concert and today I was at a new friend, Aigul’s house. Wow! Been a busy girl. Aigul works at the store by my house and is practically my next-door neighbor too. She speaks English pretty well and after seeing each other for months and chatting at bit at the store she invited me over. She is really nice and I wish I got to know her sooner. It does kind of freak me out that she is also 25, her birthday is March 30, and she is married with two kids, 5 and 3!

I am really happy I can spend time with friends here and am sad to leave just as I am really spending more time with them and getting to know them better. There certainly things, people mostly I will miss about this place. It is hard leaving a place you called home for 2 years. I will be happy never to see my landlord again, hate dealing with them. They came to inspect the place, even though I have 6 weeks left and basically kept telling me how I had to clean it (it is really clean compared to when I moved in not to mention the stuff I fixed) and they wanted to know what was staying ( not a single thing I bought – I will junk it or give it away before they get it).

COS conference was good. Nice to see all the other volunteers from my group, all 10 of them, for the last time. Basically, we have a bunch of paper work to get out of the way before we leave. We also met our new CD and PTO. They seem like they will be good. Brownie points to the new CD. He has been here about 2 weeks and I got a call on my birthday from him wishing me happy birthday. Wow! Nice that he would take the time.

Aiman is doing well and there will be a baby soon. I am happy about that. I got to see her on my birthday at Gulnara’s. These times with friends are the memories I will be taking with me. I love talking with them and feel very at home in some of there houses. I will try to stay in contact with them. On a similar note, Chingiz is coming to the US this summer with CCUSA. He wants to stay longer and work if he can. His English is fab and he will have a chance to travel a bit. He wants to visit in Chicago an that would be great.

On a random personal note: I took a personality test and it explains so much. Our accounting officer told us about it at COS, it’s at typelogic.com. Reading my profile I realized I did some thing I did not even realize. It also helps to know other people, if only 2% of the world, think like me. I am still digging more information up on it and I have actually found it to be really helpful.

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February 13th, 2007

04:47 pm - Just another day.
Things remain pretty normal here, cold, but not too bad. My classes are ok. Kinds usually show up. Sue is back so I am nto teaching her class anymore. I head to Almaty soon, looking forward to it. In about a week, Becky will come for a visit. happy valentine's Day.

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February 2nd, 2007

12:09 pm - Worse than -40?
So, the warm weather is a blessing and a curse. No negative 40, but sunday is supposed to be -30. The warm weather made the snow melt, but not evaporate. Ice, lots of it for weeks. It covers everything and won't go away. Salt does not seem to be an option here. Sometimes I have seen trucks throwing gravel on the ground, but it does not help much. Ice alone would not equal -40 in how much I hate it, but add to it what feels like gale force winds and it serously sucks. My usual 10 minut walk took upwards of 30 minuts and I had the wind in my face the whole time. I would get stuck on smooth ice and the wind gust would hit, no control over being blown backwards or which ever way the wind wants you. I have already fallen a few times this winter. Yak Trax don't work, I need cleets, the metal kind. It is aweful. Add to this a possibility of -30 on Sunday and I am not going anywhere.
I suppose each winter here is designed to keep us on our toes, or perhaps, liek this winter, our butts. I hope it either warms up and melts or we get some serious snow to cover the ice. I'd take either.

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January 30th, 2007

10:55 pm - Wedding et al
What have I been up to in the eons since I last wrote? This and that is the short answer. First, Aiman’s wedding. She made a beautiful bride, seemed happy. It was not at all like Sue’s wedding done in the Russian tradition. This was not even the actual wedding party I attended. Like the Russian’s, the Kazakh wedding is two days, there the similarity ends. The first day of the Russian wedding is the wedding and reception, the second is Banya day, or a day of food and games. For the Kazakh wedding, the first day is a dinner and party with the bride’s family and only a few members of the groom’s family. It is a farewell to the bride. The second day is the wedding – well official registration and then a party with mainly the groom’s family and only a few from the bride’s. Traditionally those who attend the first day do not attend the second.

We American’s seemed to be a major hit the first day. The groom’s family was quite enamored with us and kept asking us to dance and coming over and talking to us and such. Aiman’s brother in his toast even made specific mention at how great it was that the American’s attended his sister’s wedding. Made it sound like we had come all the way from America for the event. We came because we all love Aiman and she invited us. The groom’s, sorry I should tell you his name, Aidar, family loved us so much that they asked Gulnara if we were going to the Zaks (the officiating place) and if we were coming to the party the next day. Gulnara said we had not been invited as we were invited by Aiman and so we had not been placed on the list for the restaurant the next day. They seemed quite disappointed they had not met us in time for us to make the list and entertain them for yet another day.

Charlene has been sick, think she is better now. She camped out at my house for 2 days due to crappy weather (ice due to the warmer weather and melting snow, really sucked, took us about 30+ minutes to do the usual 10 minute walk from Globus to my house) and stomach issues. We believe the culprit to be the mushrooms the host brother cooked the day before. Just one bad ‘shroom and the stomach is very unhappy.

I have taken over Sue’s classes while she is gone, Gulnara was supposed to but she has either been there and done nothing or, like today she simply did not show and I was the only one out of the loop. Hummm. TOEFL is interesting, Students keep being no shows, wanting to change the times, not doing their homework or taking home papers, faithfully promising to bring them back and then forgetting. Hasn’t made my life easier.

Got my toilet fixed, finally. I had to pay for it of course as my landlord pays for nothing. He, predictably, by this point, called at the end of January to tell me he has a little issue with money and can I pay for March. I said no. Sick of these calls and really, literally have no money. I had a lot of expenses over the holiday season, it winter so stuff is more expensive anyway, I have decided not to live with out or skimp on fresh fruit and veggies this winter or live off soup and I have the huge expense of going to Almaty for COS conference in February. (we get a per diem, but it tends not to cover expenses in Almaty, expensive city to stay in and who wants to cook in when you can get food there you can't get anywhere else?).

More on the landlord front, I am quite concerned about my deal making with April’s rent. I had hoped, with Gulnara’s help, to get him to agree I get to live here in April with out paying in exchange he gets to keep more than twice my monthly rents worth of stuff I had to buy for the apartment. I really did, it is crazy the amount of stuff I had to buy to live here. Since he has proved to be horrible with money, always having issues that results in him asking me for more months rent, as if I am made of money, I am loosing faith in the deals appeal to him which means I will give away or sell the stuff in my apartment. It actually might not be as bad as I thought though. Sveta came over today with my Avon and was wondering what I would do with my heater and laundry rack when I leave. I told her the landlord issue, she agreed with me. She suggested that she and her husband Stass would soon or eventually move into an apartment and they would need the stuff. Since my rent is 20,000 tenge – the deal I was trying to make – she suggested she could talk to Stass and if my landlord said no to the deal she and Stass would give me 20,000 for all the stuff. I told her if that happened, I would probably give it to her cheaper as she is a friend. My deal with my landlord would be a loss, I am willing to talk a much greater loss and help out a friend I know would use the stuff and doesn’t have much money. We’ll see what happens, she may get stuff anyway.

I have also been peppering Kokshetau residents with toasty toes. I had my mom ship a bunch early on in winter, expecting a winter like last. Things happen and everyone tells me this winter is unprecedented. It has had a few very cold days, but overall, really warm. I haven’t busted out my fleece lined jeans but once or twice and even do without my long underwear some days. So, my feet haven’t been too cold and not needing for toasty toe foot warmers. I have given some to local friends; they will need them when winter returns to normal, maybe next winter. Least I can do, I am certainly not bringing them home with me.

All in all, life here continues. I really do begin to see the people and things I will really miss here. Some days I still feel like I am still settling in and improving my relations with friends here and wish to continue those friendships face to face. I don’t think I have gotten sentimental enough to seriously contemplate a third year. I do want to go home, I feel I need to re-charge my batteries. It’s time for a change, but there is a part of me that does not want to leave this place and my friends behind. If only I could pack them all up with me.

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January 13th, 2007

04:45 pm - Kazakhstan: never boring
Just when I thought life in Kazakhstan was getting dull…. I was at the bazaar the other day, Thursday, I believe. I bought my food and, as an after thought, bought a samsa. Samsa is a triangle, sometimes rectangle of filo dough with cheese baked inside. I love them. I was eating it on my walk home. After I finished I noticed something sharp my tongue kept running over. I assumed it was an errant piece of filo dough caught in my teeth and went to remove it, only it didn’t budge. I rant my finger over the place, nothing but sharpness. Oh, crap.

The thought hit me at once, I chipped my tooth! As soon as I thought it, I tried desperately to think of anything else it could be. Thoughts of 30 hours on a train to Almaty with a chipped tooth were not happy thoughts. At home I rant to the bathroom, and frantically brushed my tooth, hoping to dislodge what must be a piece of samsa. No luck. I checked it out in the mirror and though I couldn’t see the back of the tooth, I could tell a piece off the top was missing too.

I did the only thing I could – called Peace Corps Medical. I got Valentina and explained the situation. I had to tell her that my front, bottom, middle-right tooth was chipped. Oddly, it did not hurt and was not sensitive to hot or cold. The main issue was a part of my tooth was gone and my tongue was not happy scrapping the edge.

I was told if it became sensitive I could get it fixed in Kokshetau or if I could wait, at COS in March. My first thought was to wait – did I really want to go to the dentist here and alone? After less than 24 hours I decided it had to be done now, no waiting for COS. Valentina called me back with the information. I would have to pay and PC would reimburse me after I faxed the information or gave it to them at COS. Off all the dentists in Kokshetau, they sent me to the one, literally, right next door to me. (My address - 127 Aulebekova, Dent Lux – 129 Aulebekova). I had walked by many times and it looked nice. I had an appointment for Saturday, 1pm. I was to go and as soon as I saw the doctor call Valentina and she would talk to her. Sounds simple, right?

I got there, the secretary was nice and I did indeed have an appointment. I was then presented with a form to fill out. If you are thinking it was a medical history form, you are right. Now, my Russian is pretty ok and I can do a lot with it, it does not, however, extend to very many medical terms. I got the “do you have allergies, diabetes, and AIDS questions,” the rest might as well have been Greek. I secretary saw my look and had already figured out I was a foreigner. She decided to help.

I we go to the blood type question, they must use a different system and since I figured the chance of needing a blood transfusion at the dentist was low, we both decided that I did not need to answer that question. The rest she would read out loud, that actually helped a lot, hearing it correct and making educated guesses to yes or no questions. The ones I did not get she re-worded or pointed to parts of the body it was asking about. From an outsider’s perspective it was, I am sure, hilarious to witness that comedy of errors. Go figure, all were no’s except how my teeth felt.

I was then given a guarantee, 3 years as a matter of fact. Must be and interesting read, but my Russian is not anywhere near that good. I am thinking about making one of Globus’ practicum students from the university translate it, they need practice and it would be kinda fun.

I digress. I get into see the doctor, about 15-20 minutes after my appointment time, no different from the US. The equipment, I was pleasantly surprised looked exactly like my dentist back home, down to the little sink and overhead lamp. It was reassuring. All the room lacked were weird art and piped in elevator music to make me feel right at home. The doctor talked to Valentina on the phone and the pre-flight check began.

This is where it gets fun. I was informed, simply on the basis of the color of the tooth that I had 2 cavities – yeah, I understood that word. I was then told that because of my overbite - the one I have had for nearly 25 years now and my series of well educated, American doctors told me was just fine and my flute teacher loved (apparently it helps with the playing) – was the cause of my chip and how could she guarantee her work for 3 years if it was just going to happen again because I had this overbite. Too bad Valentina was no longer on the line, I had to deal with this solo. I thought for a minute, weighing the options. I wanted something done and done now, but there was a definite limit to what I was willing to let her do.

I told her to just fix it. She protested. I told her I did not care about the guarantee and I was leaving in 4 months anyway. She did not seem happy about this. I said I had a doctor in Almaty, they would check in 2 months and if something else needed to be done, they needed to decide. She was not happy about my calling Valentina back. She complained some more and then said I needed a crown – yeah, understood that too. I said no, but I could call the doctor in Almaty back, it worked so well last time I threatened that. Surprisingly, then she suggested I wait until I was home or in Almaty. I said no, just fix the tooth. If something happens, I’ll deal with it later.

I was then, probably because I am interesting and foreign, shown photos of all the foreign doctors she knew. An English guy, with a Jewish last name, same as mine, Webber. I think Valentina got the Amanda’s confused, Amanda Webber is only 2 hours from me, both nice, German names, happens a lot here. I was also shown the photo of the Canadian doctor, who looked German, but was Jewish, by the name of Friedman. The showing of photos is something locals love to do, I just did not think a doctor would do it. As for the discussion of Germans and Jews and English and Canadians, I have no idea, it was weird and almost comical. I felt like I was in the twilight zone.

The fun continues. She puts some yellow-orange goopy stuff front and back of my tooth, I was really hoping that this was going to be the only anesthetic. No such luck. She whips out a huge needle, right in front of my face, wanting me to look at it and asking if I had any allergies. “Yes, allergic to needles!” I wanted to say. Followed closely by “How the hell should I know if I am allergic to it, what is it?!” I settled for a “no,” I am not allergic to any medications I know about. Let me go back and say it was one of those old, stainless steal looking needles that have actual glass vials in them, vial snaps in and out to put in medication and big plunger puts it in you.

I was shown and informed, needed both I guess, that it, whatever this anesthetic was, was manufactured by 3M, an American company, in Germany. I was even told who their German partner was. Satisfied I now knew it was an American drug made in Germany, the needle was plunged into me only about 50 times front and back. The next show and tell happened after she had set the replacement, but before she set about filing it down. They were all 3M products, either made in America or Germany. I was read it with an indecipherable accent, but immediately understood when I was shown it 3 inches from my eye, that it said “3M. Made in the USA.”

The work done, it looks good and feels so much better than it did. It took another phone call to Valentina and I got the written documentation of what they did and how much it cost. I also got a copy of the bill out of the secretary, they were only going to give me a cash register receipt. She agreed to write it out on another form and stamp it so I have a better record, you can never be too careful. So much for not needing the whole 6,000 tenge I was told to bring. It was 5,520 tenge. Pretty close if you ask me. Valentina told me that if anything seems not right to call her and she can set up another appointment.
As far as the cavities this dentist found, Valentina told me not to trust local doctors, they want to find things wrong. She told me about a volunteer that was told he had 5 cavities and actually had none. Valentina will also see me at COS and if I need to will schedule some more dental time for me to have it looked over or whatever in Almaty. All in all, not too bad. It took less than an hour, 30-45 minutes and cost about $43. The anesthetic wore off pretty fast too so I could feel pretty normal. Nice not to have your tongue feeling sliced. I will be interested in hearing what my American dentist thinks when I go home.

I am hoping not to repeat this experience in the next 4 months, but at least it is another interesting story about life in Kazakhstan. After all, how many people get to experience all the wonders and frustrations of doctors, dentists and utilities companies and crazy landlords in other countries?

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January 9th, 2007

04:20 pm - Well, I can get out of problems alone....
I may not be able to avoid getting into probelms, but I can get myself out of them now. My lights went out today, about 1 in the afternoon. I waited and they did nto come back on. After and hour I decided to call. The first number told me to call another, ditto with the second. The third number got me a nice lady who ask my apartment number. I heard her yelling across the room that apartment 50 was the one the Americanka lived. Glad to know the whole city knows not only my building, but my apartment number too.
She asked me when I l;ast paid my light bill. I told her a week ago. She then asked if it was for the light before or after new year. I said before. Apparently, with a new year comes a new cycle. Power had been used since the new year or accumulated or something and they turned my lights off. I was told to pay a given amount and call back. I did.
I had trouble reaching them again, busy signals, the bane of my existence. I had to get to Globus, I called from my cell and got through. Same lady. I told her my house and apartment number and I had paid. I told her how much I paid and she said they would turn them back on. I hope so. Seemed nice and helpful. I haven't been home yet, but I want a shower and light to read by tonight.
I think I am secretly on survivor Kazakhstan sometimes, no gas, no light, toilet doesn't quite work right, now all I need is for all that to happen all at the same time and for my water to get turned off. I laugh about it now though, a year ago it would not have been funny.

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January 3rd, 2007

09:51 am - Drama as ti unfolds. happy ending though.
This is defiantly an “I hate Kazakhstan” moment. Just as Charlene and I were starting to cook for New Year’s Eve, my gas in the kitchen ran out. No gage on the canister, the only way to know you are out is to run out. Usually not a huge problem, you call and an hour or two later you have a new one. This time it is a huge problem. I call about 3pm on the 31st. They answer the phone, but say they don’t work. It is a huge cooking day, New Year’s is the event, everywhere else works for a while on the 31st. Ok, whatever. They don’t work on the 1st either. Everything is closed and I mean everything so for 2 days Charlene and I eat cheese and crackers and whatever I have cold in the house. I call again, I had been told by the company that they work on the 2nd, it is now the 2nd. I now have two different numbers that I have reached at different times. I finally get a hold of one and they tell me they have no gas, call on the 3rd after 11am and they will have it. Well, it is after 11am. I have tried both numbers more times than I can count. I even let it ring for about 3 minutes and no answer, nothing at either place. I am hungry, I don’t have a lot of money to eat out and it is cold outside. I also have Chicken that has been marinating now for 4 days and half cooked rice in my fridge that has been there for 4 days too.

I am not a happy camper, I need food, hot food. Today it has warmed up a bit but the last 3 have been about -20 to -25, that is cold. The apartment gets cold with weather like that. My toilet is also not working well. My land lord refused to give me the number of a repairman or call one himself. He insisted I talk to my neighbor and get a number from him, why is my land lord so lazy? They also insist, because I lie here, I have to pay for the repair. I think I know what is wrong, it’s called, it’s old and worn out! I didn’t break anything. If the flushing mechanism needs to be replaced (now I have to reach in and pull the stopper in the tank, there used to be a knob you can pull but it doesn’t catch anymore – old) I am not paying for it. It could be really expensive and I think that falls in to regular maintenance, not something a tenant broke and therefore need to pay to fix. I am still a bit bitter about having to give my old host mom money for something I did not break to avoid bad relations for my last month, I am not doing it with a land lord.

All this coming when it is cold and is supposed to be the holidays makes me quite the Grinch. Things need to improve fast.

So, my land lady called back, she did not find anything and told me to call information and ask for a different number, why she can’t do this is beyond me. The number I am given is the same number I was first given on the 31st. Then they guy who answered was nice but told me they did not deliver to my house. I decide to call it again anyway to see if they were even answering as my land lady tried to tell me it was still a holiday. I call and after a few busy signals I get through, I get the same guy, I think. I tell him I need a new gas tank and he asks for my address and then asks me to wait. I figure he will check and again tell me they don’t deliver to me. I wait quite a while. Then a lady gets on the phone, she too is pleasant. I tell her what I need and she takes my address and apartment number. She then tells me how much it is for the tank and then delivery – never had that before. I did not hear the delivery amount well and ask for her to repeat it instead of just repeating the number, she asks me what floor I live on – cheaper on lower floors such as mine, then she just gives me a total amount – only 30 tenge for delivery to my calculation.

I have no idea when they are coming, they did not say. I called a bit more than an hour ago, but now it is lunch time and I don’t think they deliver then. Hopefully soon. Ok, so they guy came, and hooked up the gas, but it didn’t work. You could smell the gas it lit the match, but did not stay lit so I had no flame to cook with. The delivery guy said I just needed to clean my burners and left. I could not get it to work. Tried Gulnara and couldn’t get a hold of her. Tried to reach Yura and also nothing. I called the land lord. They told me to talk to me neighbor, as always. Sasha, if you don’t know he is my neighbor, has two kids, he’s Korean and the wife is Russian, they are really nice and Sasha was at home. He came and looked and decided maybe the gas froze or something. He decided that it was the gas places fault and was telling me what to say when I called them back. I was trying to remember and he decided it would be easier if he just called. Supposedly they are coming back. Sasha was also shocked about my lack of gas for 4 days and told me I should have come over and cooked at their house, that it wasn’t a big deal. I thanked him.

Before he left I asked him about a number for a repairman for the toilet. He looked at it and said he would come by tomorrow night and fix it, he did not seem to think that it was a big deal to fix. He is officially joining the list of people I love in Kazakhstan. He has seriously helped me out a lot and has been really nice and friendly every time I see him or his family. Aside from the crazy babushka who lives above, I got some awesome neighbors that talk to and help out the crazy American who knows nothing.

Delivery guy came back. Don’t know what he did, either topped off the tank or brought another, but I have gas now, much happier. Now to eat!!!!! By the by, it’s now about 4pm. Talk about a wait.

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December 30th, 2006

10:19 am - Factoid and some cultural observations
A quick New Year’s fact. Kokshetau, Kazakhstan stands at 53.3ºN and 69.4ºE – to anyone out of the loop, that’s longitude and latitude. To see just how far I have traveled, Chicago is geographically situated at 41.9ºN and 87.6ºW. Even to those, like me who don’t know much about the finer points of longitude and latitude, let me tell you 4ºN makes a huge weather difference, though seemingly not so much this year. And correct me if I am wrong, going the 7,000 some odd miles between 69.4ºE and 87.6ºW is really quite a long way. As another point of interest, a Kaz 18, Sarah, is the northern most volunteer in the entire world, in a village north of Petropalsk.

New Year approaches, how do we celebrate it here? Think secular Christmas not on December 25th and lacking Santa. The tree, bells and bobs are all ready and accounted for and I can testify that last minute shoppers are out in droves at the bazaar today. Children are free from school, but only for a bit more than a week and exams abound. They do sing New Year’s songs, think the melody of our children’s anthems , but seeming to lack the whimsy of living snowmen and reindeers with brightly colored noses. They are happy, wishing well, and merry, but not fantastical. A few children at Globus actually know Jingle bells, that was rather surprising. I taught that and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, due to the small amount of memorization needed in the first verses.

I was reminded of some cultural observations in a recent conversation. Americans are peculiar with personal space and familiarity. We need to look people in the eye when we are talking, this causes two possible issues. First, the other person perhaps being uncomfortable at being stared at (not so much an issue here), or that other people simply stand way to close for comfort while they are talking to us. I can’t look someone in the eye, signifying I am paying attention to what they say if they are only a foot from me, I’d get neck crams or feel awkward and far too close, often eliciting an involuntary step of two backwards on my part, but hopefully not offending the other person. The real problem here occurs when they again close the distance, showing they are engaged in the conversation and talking to you.

That first observation is more to us being more guarded about our personal space. Culturally we need more of it, or at least feel more comfortable around others of we have more space. Observe: we are often uncomfortable on a plane, though we do it and it is necessary to be that close to strangers, we don’t like it, upgrade if we can even on short flights and hope we don’t get the linebacker next to use further reducing our space. Anyone who watches “questions to the Prime Minister” at the London house of commons and even tunes into C-Span during a congressional vote will note the stark contrasts between the plush chairs and spacious desks of our appointed representatives to the wooden, straight backed chairs, almost benches to our eyes and lack of desks that leave their representatives shoulder to shoulder.

As to casual intrusion to our personal space. I have no idea why I can so easily hug someone I don’t know well or shake hands at the drop of a hat with a total stranger, yet, feel so awkward at the custom here, and other places of the air kisses on each cheek when greeting a friend. You would think, given our space consciousness that a hug, which is certainly more body contact is a much greater intrusion into our personal space than a brief air kiss when only the head gets close and the persons body is often still a foot or two away.

The shaking of hands is another. No one here acknowledges a new acquaintance with a hand shake (a old sign that we are unarmed – right hand = sword, dagger or gun hand for most people). Here, simply a nod of the head does it. People can sometimes look askanced when presented with a hand to shake. I have not personally been in this position, but I have heard female volunteers rant of meeting Kazkah men who will come into a room, shake all the men’s hands and ignore or refuse a woman’s hand. I get why they dislike it so. I have been in a few situations of being ignored or people moving away for refusing to touch me because I am a woman, personally, it hurts or offends me more than anything that has ever been said to my face. It does not happen often, but it does. By the way, I have quite a lot of Muslim friends, some more traditional than a lot of the Kazakhs here (after the non-religion of the Soviet Union, Kazakhs are mainly Muslim by tradition as Russians are Orthodox by tradition), and have told me that in their observation of Islam or reading of the Koran it is not a “Muslim” tradition or dictate to not touch a woman or acknowledge her presence, rather it is more cultural or interpreted.

It seems we Americans and our space issues are a bit nonsensical or depends on the situation. There are tons of other example, our cultural tradition or rules regarding contact and space are interesting and often confusing to people outside our tradition or culture. Hopefully, we learn from contact with others and don’t offend them in the process when we either cross into others personal space or move away from someone though continuing a conversation. Have you noticed any of these kinds of thing at home or abroad? I would be interested in hearing others observations.

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