10/03/05 Life at School

10/03/05  Life at School
First and most important: Dad is taping the Michigan games for me. Don't tell me any scores, please!

So here we are now in the land of no email. We have lots for you this time. I would expect from now on to hear from us about once a month by email from the Internet Cafe.

The good news is that we are getting letters in the mail. Even letters that only say "Jack and Amy Simms, Bayanaul, Kazakhstan" in English are reaching us. When the post office got the first one they just started calling houses to see where we lived. Go Kaz post, full marks for that. Sometimes it pays to be an easily-identifiable foreigner.

Wish list: AA batteries. Thousands of them. Lint rollers. Hundreds of those will do. Paperback books. Don't care what they are as long as they're in English. We wouldn't mind blue pens and paperclips. Chalk would be nice. (We have to buy our own). Anything else is, of course, welcome. (Contact Ami for the address.)

Living in Bayanaul has been an adjustment. It is a four hour bus ride on a bad road with a bus that often smokes (on the inside). The trade-off is that Bayanaul is extremely pretty.

Your Russian lesson: "poka" means (for whatever reason) both "goodbye" and "while". As you can imagine, only knowing one meaning, is very confusing: "The cat watched me goodbye I was eating."

Teaching kids is, well, teaching kids. Mostly their level is low but they are well behaved— a trade, by the way, that I will make any day. For now we are working on "the frog jumps" vs. "the frog jumped" but I am usually happy to get "jump." There's not much to say about the buildings, they look just like schools.

Is there any chance we will be teachers when we come back? No. None at all.

We had our first yurt experience. (Round tent above.) As you may have guessed by now, the common thread is eating a sheep and drinking vodka. It's just in a tent instead of a house. (Note: "besbarmak" is served in the yurt. Ami)

Amusing anecdote: the thing that makes it amusing is, you guessed it...the livestock. I'm looking out the window one day at school and a cow runs (undeterred by the supposedly cow-proof fence) into view and starts eating the flowers. A kid comes running in a few minutes later and starts hitting the cow with a stick. They run out of view to the right. A few minutes later the cow runs back and has already tucked into the flowers when the kid comes back. This time the cow runs straight into the road, much to the consternation of the parents dropping off their kids at school. Chaos ensues, etc.

As a gift when we were guests the other night Amy and I received the national costumes of Kazakhstan. Amy sang and Italian aria at dinner and I gave a lovely toast in Kazakh. The costume is a long robe with circular hat. both bright purple. You have to see a picture for full effect. And no, you don't just "wear it around." It's for special functions only.

We have been lucky enough to go for many walks in the national park nearby so far we have seen a fox, squirrels (more red than ours but with brown tails) and rabbits as big as bobcats. It looks sort of like Wyoming---not really--but that's the best I can describe it. There are three lakes nearby, and the forests are pine. The terrain immediately around Bayanaul is rocky but only a few km outside is the vast (very vast) flat (very flat) steppe.

What do we do for water? Our house actually sits on a gigantic storage tank (I thought it was a well until they filled it the other day). The water is "trucked in".

What's our schedule? School here is taught in two "half-days" because of the lack of space. I (usually) teach from about 2pm -6 or 7 and Amy usually from 8:30-1:30. The schedule is not the same every day, and it even changes from week to week. We do not know what classes we have until the day before. I have 4 fifth grade classes, two eighth and one sixth. They meet twice a week. In addition, I run two optional 11th grade classes and 3 additional fifth grade classes. The optional means just that, the kids come if they want. right now I am enough of an attraction that they are well-attended. We will see how long that lasts.

Is it normal to drink vodka at school functions? It is normal to drink vodka at every function. Amy's vice-principal told me, "He who does not drink is a spy."

Hope you're all doing swimmingly---miss you all.
Jack and Amy