Monday, June 15, 2009

Update Part I

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here in Kazakhstan. I’m starting to get into a rhythm but it is a little bit slow going for me because we’re so busy and I’m always so tired. I’ve resolved to finally start forcing myself to exercise. I’m not feeling too bad about weight, because I don’t think we’re really eating too much, we’re always on our feet and feeling tired, and we walk to and from the institute everyday, which is a good 20-25 minutes each way. I’m just worried that I am losing my speed and maybe muscle strength, since I haven’t been doing too many pushups or sit ups (though I have done them infrequently since I got to Kazakhstan).

An average day for us begins at about 0630 in the morning for me and 0700 for Jake. Jake always needs more sleep. I suppose the rigors of a combination of JROTC, Drum and Bugle Corps, Boy Scouts, and ROTC has made me more impervious to a lack of sleep than him. Anyway, I take about 12 or so minutes on average in the shower and since I don’t need to shave that makes it even quicker for me. After Jake finally gets up and out of the shower, we make our breakfast. Usually something involving sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, sausage, bread, some mayonnaise and depending on what kind we have-ketchup. I’ve learned that here in Kazakhstan they have many, many types of ketchup that go good on almost anything. We’ve discovered an exceptionally good one, called “Baltimore,” which is actually from Russia and I’m not really sure why it is called that.

After Breakfast, we usually have some students meet us at about 0830 and walk with us over to the SSPI-which usually takes about 25 minutes or so. Generally three or four students meet us, but this week only one has met us-perhaps the novelty of Americans in Kazakhstan is wearing off? We begin to prepare for class once we arrive-usually writing our “Joke of the Day” on the board and picking vocab words and idioms for our quiz. Also, we give Valintina or Zarina the pages we want them to print off for class.

Class begins at 0930 and we usually have the students read the joke and explain to each other the humor in the joke. We ran out of jokes recently, which is OK, since some of the ones we had were pretty bad puns…Once we finish our joke, I usually have Jake start the vocab quiz-words picked out of the TOEFL book that Jake reads a sentence with and then we have them try to guess the word’s meaning from the context of the sentence. That usually takes a little while, because we have them start individually, then get into small groups, and then combine as a class to try to figure out the words’ meaning.

Once we finish that, I or Jake go over the idioms that Jake has usually chosen (because he thinks the ones I choose aren’t used anymore- “Ain’t just whistling Dixie” is not dead!). We try to have them use the words in sentences on their own sometimes, but that usually is very difficult to get them to use it correctly. When that is done, we sometimes play a game or come up with another activity to stall time until our first break. Games we have played include telephone, categories (students have to come up with something to fit the category or they are out ex. Famous Americans-Lincoln, Obama, JFK…), madlibs, and twenty questions. Our break is about ten minutes long, though sometimes the students take a little longer to get back into the class room, which is OK by us.

After that I’ll usually do something about history for about 15-20 minutes, a short lecture followed by a feedback attempt-asking them questions. This usually does not go over as well as I wish, because I’ll write the key terms-like “STAMP ACT” on the board, explain it, and then ask them what the “STAMP ACT” was, and get blank responses, prompting me to explain it all over again. I talked with Dr. Lee once he arrived and he suggested just going ahead and printing off the sections I want them to read and then using that for discussion later. I may try that, my only fear is how much paper we’ll use up and ink and we have two other teachers who help us in that regard, but I hate imposing on them because they have to teach their own classes as well, and our equipment for making more copies and such is not very good.

In the afternoon we split the groups up, I get the teacher group first and Jake gets the younger group before me. I usually open up with a proverb that I try to have them figure out and see if there are any Russian or Kazakh ones that are similar. I then usually do a history bit and I’ve been going over how to a presentation with these groups as well. We switch after about an hour and a half and I usually do the same basic lesson for the younger group. It is kind of difficult though, because I can’t always figure out a good thing to get discussions going-when I find something for one group it doesn’t necessarily (and most times doesn’t) do anything for the other group.

For example, I had a period two days ago where the teachers wanted to talk about Iraq and US policy and the military-I, of course, defended my country and my army. I thought it was funny because I really do see what Nailia was talking about when she said they had difficulty organizing thoughts for an argument. Often they would start talking about one thing, then switch to something completely different-one teacher was talking about her father’s experiences in WWII and how he never talked about it-then jumped into Abu Grahib… Another was asking why Saddam couldn’t have WMD in his own country and why it was our business to disarm him. I started to explain the way Americans felt in 2003 and how we believed he had them and was a threat-then I said-“We made a mistake, he didn’t have them, but with the evidence we had, how were we to think otherwise?” She said, since he didn’t have them, why were we still there. It never seems to occur to them that things change and the situation is very precarious now-WMDs may not have been found, but leaving Iraq anytime during the recent years would just make the country a much worse place and a greater danger than it was before.

Not to mention, I think from Russian propaganda (as Nailia calls it) they seem to think we’re the only ones there and have been-they were genuinely surprise to find that there were Australians, British, etc, in Iraq-then they tried to argue that they were just peace keepers-defining that as someone who is near the frontlines (what frontlines?) and keeps people from attacking other people (isn’t that what occupation forces are doing as well?). They also seem to think that all Iraqis are actively opposing us and fighting us and I’m not sure they are even aware that there is an Iraqi government and they seemed surprised to learn that there was an Iraqi military (they asked what the American army has been doing in Iraq for the last 5 years-and I said besides fighting insurgents, rebuilding the country and training the Iraqi defense forces-What?).

So this was a big discussion day-of most of the class vs. me (but I’m OK, I think I defended well and it was just hard to argue when they wouldn’t accept my facts-but they can’t really argue, not effectively yet. Almost afraid to change it). Expecting the next class to be the same, I braced myself, but instead we talked about stereotypes and Jews and gypsies. They accept stereotypes much more readily than we do. I mean, they flatly accept that some stereotypes are true-that all Jews are talented (why else would they have so many rich people and famous actors and directors). I did see a bit of more anti-Semitism though-we watched Glory and I asked why the quartermaster didn’t give them shoes, and one student said, “Because he’s a Jew.” Not sure how to respond to that.

But anyway, see how different groups like different subjects? I’m sorry I don’t have a complete update, but the internet hasn’t been good to me here (down most of the week) and I’ve been very busy. I’ll try to get another update next week.

Alex and Jake's Totally Awesome Kazakh Stew 2


1/8 Italian Bologna like sausage (Salami Moscovskaya would probably be better, so if you have it use it)

1 onion

2 potatoes


Decide to go for a run, leave Jake with Dad's instruction on how to make a roux (because you'll be making a panfry), and meet a student from the institute and walk with them instead of running :(. Come back and discover that the instructions were not clear enough and that instead of making a Roux, jake has mixed the flour with water and a little oil but he's left them in a cup and not done anything with them while he started to cook the potatoes, onions, and sausage. Go ahead and try to cook the failed roux in the other pan, but fail miserably and make some sort of pancake thing. Decide to cook that in a bit of beer, throw that in the other pot and add beer to that and some water; because you say "To heck with this, we're having soup!" Go ahead and make the stew; try your own hand at making a roux-be slightly more successful as you only use oil and brown that. Then add it to the stew. Once the stew is almost finished, start roasting some garlic and add that into the pot. Cook about ten more minutes and get eat. This probably won't be good with egg in the morning. Resolve to ask dad for more detailed information about how to make a roux.


  1. Ok, here you go-- take two tablespoons of oil or butter, with two tablespoons of flour (just make sure equal parts or each-- can be more or less that two tablespoons depending on the size of the dish you are making). Put in a pan, mix and cook over medium heat until the flour-oil mix takes on a caramel color (10-15 mins). Now add veggies, water, etc

  2. Alex, this is a great post. I really like the description of the class- it sound like you are using some great methods in the class room. By the way, a movie about K-Stan is playing at the Trivoli-- it got 3 1/2 stars. About a sailor who becomes a shepard. I was worried it might be about a college student who goes native.