March 2007 - The Blizzard

March 2007 - The Blizzard
Hello All,
Just in time to go back to school after it was closed for flu season we were hit with three blizzards! Luckily they were of short duration so we were able to study for two whole days before we got time off for International Women's Day. Come rain or worse, Jack and I will at least be working this week since we are holding a Conference for all the English teachers in our region. It should be a good time, or at least interesting since the Department of Education has told me there are 14, 35, and 42 total English teachers in the region. This was all from the same person.

With all this time off we have had a lot of down time and Jack has prepared a list for you of some of our everyday thoughts about life in Bayanaul. Hope you enjoy it!

They need “safety town” here. I know that in the US we are overcautious, but there is a reason for some caution. In a crowded street, an American driver may reduce speed and exercise greater diligence. A Kazakh driver honks. Americans wear seat belts. Kazakhs don’t because the seat belts are dangerous.

I saw two kids the other day sledding. A “sled,” I should say, is an ancient, all-steel, very sharp, very rusty apparatus upon which one can slide with extreme speed but no control across ice or snow. Anyway, only one had a sled, the other was sliding on his rear. I was about to warn them that they were setting themselves up on a direct collision course when I realized that is what they wanted. Serious puncture wound here we come.

People have often asked where we feel healthier, here or in the U.S., and I have to say that the answer is both, or if you are a glass half empty kind of person, then neither.

All the food we eat here is organic, if you’re into that kind of thing, which mostly means that the carrots and potatoes are smaller, and the peppers aren’t quite so suspiciously shiny. But also there is no BHT (to maintain freshness) and we have not ingested FD & C yellow number five in almost two years. There’s no question the air is cleaner. We’re outside more, we exercise more, in general we feel healthier. You would be shocked at how quickly bread goes bad when it is made out of food and not “Wonder.”

On the other hand, there are a lot more annoying little injuries here. Nothing life threatening, but something is always sore. Our mattress is stuffed with, if I had to guess, the frame of an old car and my back just can’t take it anymore. I move a lot more coal, which means my upper body always has something which is out of whack. My forefingers are also stained black. It takes about 10 days of not moving coal before they turn back to “not black.” Every single step of my 40 minute walk to school is covered in three inches of ice, so just when my back feels better I fall straight on my butt. Not a slow, dignified fall where you can catch yourself but a legs out, arms up, staring at the sky afterwards fall, and now my hip hurts every time the weather changes. There’s no fluoride in the water, although there is giardia. (A parasite. You can see a lovely picture and read all about it on Wikipedia I am not sure it is a fair trade.

We have to use a water distiller, which isn’t the end of the world, but if you forget to do it one day you have to wait five hours for new water. We boil all food for about sixteen hours just in case, which is also not the end of the world, but when you’re talking good cuisine you’re not talking “boiled.”

I must say though that as a bonus we have gained immunity to all illnesses ever here. How? Well, the bread man carries the bread into the bakery/ auto parts store with his bare hands. The bread/ auto parts lady takes her bare unwashed hand that just sold a dozen used spark plugs and takes the bread and puts it on the bare shelf. She doesn’t wash her hands because there’s no sink, which is the same reason that I’m coming home from school still covered with chalk, ink, and fifth grade goo, so when I order it I become the last, and quite possibly dirtiest in the chain of germs on our bread. And even if we had the water to spare, which we don’t, and even if there weren’t worse things in the water, which there are, then you still can’t really wash off the bread, can you?

We had three blizzards here in the space of about two weeks, and so we spent one morning shoveling through waist high snow to get to the outhouse, which isn’t as fun as it sounds. Amy made a song about the troubles with blizzard-like conditions but no indoor plumbing:

What do you do when you have to pee, But there’s a blizzard raging outside? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind The answer is blowing in the wind

Actually the first blizzard was pretty cool. We watched it through the window, and you really couldn’t see anything—it looked like television static, which I suppose was just as well, because we didn’t have any electricity and couldn’t generate our own television static. By the third one we had had our fill of all that, and if shoveling to the outhouse the first time wasn’t that entertaining, it really wasn’t amusing the third time. Let me just say that we almost gave in and sacrificed a bucket. In the end our sense of what civilized people do not do won the day, but only just. If we have a fourth blizzard, I’m not even going to think about it, especially since someone has stolen our shovel in the meantime. Honestly, who steals a shovel?

Happy International Women's Day --- Spraznicom S Vosmoy Marta!
All the best,
Jack & Amy