Amy: In addition to language and technical training (see photo of technical training building), we have also been teaching classes this week (for practice), and have started a community development project to learn how to make ourselves more “sustainable” here. We haven’t been swamped, but have been a lot busier than we are used to being and are sleeping very well at night (except when it is over 100 degrees during the night as it was last week). A few quick notes:
1. Our immersion teaching this week went very well. Jack taught 6th graders, and I had 10th grade. Both of our classes really enjoyed our lessons and asked us to teach additional lessons even though they are on summer break. Jack’s class gave him some chocolate and flowers as a gift, and my class painted me two bottles. It was really sweet.
2. Just a word on learning Russian. Many of you have asked what it is like to learn Russian, especially since there is no verb “to be” and there are no prepositions. In a word: difficult. I think in the end Russian grammar is easier than English, but in the meantime it is difficult to learn. For example, PECTOPAH , is a restaurant. Also, it is pronounced RESTARAN . A lot of Cyrillic letters look like Latin, but don’t sound like Latin. Problem one. Problem two, there is no word “is,” yet the word “from” sounds like “is” So you say, Ya is Amerikee which means “I am from America,” and yet you say Ya voluntor Corpus Mira — “I am Peace Corps Volunteer.” It sounds like you are doing something wrong, like there is a word missing. Having fun yet? Then, instead of prepositions, there are prepositional endings of words. There are also other types of endings of words depending on who you are speaking to, who is speaking, what you are speaking about, etc.
Adjectives and nouns have their own endings. So the big, green, tree could have different endings on big, green, and tree depending on if you are asking “Where is the big, green tree?” or “What is the big, green tree?“ etc. Okay, I’ll stop boring you now. Just wanted to give you a taste of Russian. Jack and I are actually progressing quite well and are able to say a few phrases to one another, so we try to speak Russian at home as much as possible. Right now that is “Hi, how are you?“ but hey, we’re trying.
Jack: Thanks for all the questions people have sent! Some are "two fors" and I have answered more than one question.
I have received a suggestion that we now call kefir "Jack-fir” so we can pretend I invented it. i think this is a good idea and would request that we all call it "jack-fir" from now on. for those of you that have missed an email, kefir is a milky drink that comes from cows. I do not know how it is different than regular milk, but it tastes like yogurt.
Here's the answers to your questions:
What was our host mother's birthday like?
We all had a huge dinner like the party we went to before. We had sheep cheek, fat, and intestine (beautifully braided, Ii might add).
Amy: Jack and I were first each given a part of the sheep’s face, which I believe is a great honor. Luckily the sheep is served with noodles, so I quickly hid my face under the noodles. I wasn’t so lucky with the next part I was served, which can only be described as ? since I don’t know what it was. I tried it and it was “muttony.” I think it might have been hide. We were also given liver, which was “livery.”
Jack: Each male guest does a vodka toast, starting with the oldest. Then the guest (me) goes, then the next oldest and so on. Kazakhs are really good at toasting and said really nice things about us. A good toast will last several minutes and the speaker will talk about the family, Kazakh traditions, and thank the guests and the people who cooked the meal. After dinner we had a "break". Then we came back in and had tea and the women gave vodka toasts. There was a guy there who played the dombroe (a traditional two stringed "guitar") for us, and a woman who knew the national song that Nazarbayev (the president) wrote for the Kazakh people.
What's on the walls in our house? What are all the pictures in the kitchen?
Our house's walls are "carpeted" with colorful carpets. There are also family pictures everywhere. That’s nice because it gives us something to communicate about. We have showed our family pictures to them like 600 times and every time we get the album out they get more excited to see them again.
Do Amy and I have different language classes (and) what are we being trained for?
Yes Amy and I are in different Russian classes, due to the fact that I have prior experience and she does not. We are being trained to teach secondary and primary students although I have been told that I may be teaching university level or business English (because of my graduate degree).
How long will we be with the family you’re staying with now?
Three months. Then we go to site. We are only training now and we will then move somewhere else to actually teach a class. We don’t know where yet.
Where is the nearest Holiday Inn?
Almaty and Astana have all the brand name hotels, believe it or not.
A babyshka is a grandmother? I thought it was a head wrap?
Babyshka literally means grandmother. It has come to mean the wrap as well.
Is the heat dry?
Yes. 115º and very dry. Makes no difference above 95º. If I may quote Amy's grandfather: "The oven's dry heat and I dont stick my head in there." So don’t believe the hype. You can have your dry heat, and I'll come back to less than 115º.
Where/what is Panfilova?
That is where we are now. It is about 15 km (I think east) from Almaty.
What do we do for entertainment?
Um…speak Russian? We have class from 9 in the morning and get home at 7 at night. We have class on Saturday. So, we have only actually been to a few social events. Actually just the two Kazakh birthday parties and to see the petroglyphs. Many of our friends have gone to the movies.They are dubbed into Russian, but do you really need English for an action flick? Movies are expensive though, around $8, which is a near fortune here.
What are some Kazakh hobbies?
I’m not sure really. Most of them work really hard, including Saturdays. I think when they’re not working they attend family events. Of course there are the usual things as well, mostly for Sundays, that include movies, fishing, normal things than people do. Really, their hobby is to go visit other people and eat.
Have we played sports yet?
Once we played football/soccer with a bunch of Kazakhs, and it was really fun. It took about 20 minutes to decide how many people were on each team because we knew about five words (all of which were foods) at the time. (See inset photo of Kazakh basketball hoop.)
How tall are they?
I would say on average people are shorter. I am pretty tall here (Jack is about 6 feet tall.) But mostly people are just as tall as they are anywhere else.
Do we know any Russian slang?
Wish I did. In reality I can barely say what I want to eat or say I forgot to do my homework.
Do we have ice?
No. never. Forget about it. A freezer is not unheard of, but ice is only used in big cities. Kazakhs don’t really like cold things.They drink scalding tea when it’s a billion degrees, and think its really amusing when we take a cold bath. They refer to water that hasn’t been heated as "cold". Beer is often served warm. The only exception is ice cream, which is extremely popular here.
Amy: I did have ice in a drink in Almaty, but I poured it out since it was made with local water. Since there was no where to pour it, I poured it in the ash tray. When the waiter noticed this he got upset and said “Oh, Americans.” So I’m sorry, I did it. From now on Americans in Kazakhstan will be known to all pour their ice into ash trays.
Jack and Amy