Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Return of the Cavalry Whiskers

It’s very difficult to keep this darn thing updated. But I’m going to attempt to rectify that with this post.
On July 11th, we began our fourth class. We’ve got about ten girls this time, including two girls from two years ago. We also have a number of students who were in the third group but are sticking around—a Kazakh girl named Bota (who is “in love” with my eyes :D) and a small Russian girl named Nastya. The fourth class is kind of quiet right now, but hopefully they’ll warm up soon.
We started yesterday with introductions and then a brief discussion about classroom expectations for the students and the teachers. They enjoyed the introductions because it was based on the “M&M game” where we offered them M&Ms and how many they took they had to state one fact per M&M (of course we didn’t tell them that until afterwards). In the afternoon we had a debate on whether or not the government should ban the use of products like alcohol, tobacco or sodas which are harmful to people’s health. The side which said that the government should not be able to ban such products won the debate.
Today, our girls Raushaun and Nazym led a lesson on the difference and usage of past simple and present perfect tenses. After that, Mark put them through a crash course on baseball and we took the outside to try the game out with water bottles as bases and a mop handle for a bat. Mark’s team beat mine by one run. Afterwards we played “Body English” and a game where one side says a word and the next side has to say another word which begins with the last letter of the previous word—so “Apple—Echo—Orchard—Demon…etc.” and this afternoon we watched “the Sandlot” to show them American baseball.
Generally that is the basic formula of our class—every other day we alternate between a lesson which will generally end with a movie to drive the point home or a debate. We started with our last group doing a jeopardy game at the end of the week after a couple of history/music/film/sport lessons which we had taught throughout the week. The students seemed to really like that and so I think we will try to keep that part of the program.
Before I go into detail about the forest camp or a more comprehensive break down of our schedule, I’d like to take a moment to introduce some of our helpers that have really made our job ten thousand times easier, not to mention being extremely wonderful friends. I’ll start with the guy: Victor. Victor was a student I met the first time I visited Kazakhstan three years ago. Now however, he is a graduate and one of Nailia’s assistants. He doesn’t provide us with in class support—instead he is there behind the scenes (he found us our apartment, is arranging our travel plans back to Almaty) and is generally an indispensible go between for us and Nailia. Victor also has the honor of being our only colleague with a Y chromosome and our only Russian (the rest are ethnically Kazakh).
And to paraphrase Abigail Adams, we won’t forget the ladies. We have four girls who are with us daily and two other girls we generally see at the forest camp or to help us outside the school sphere. The first girl I’ll introduce is named Balzhan. Balzhan’s a more heavyset girl, she’s always cheerful and you can always spot her with a grin on her face, unless she’s pretending to be angry with you. She’s pretty funny and has studied in Korea at GNU (Elly’s old school) and will go back this fall semester. She also has the dubious distinction of being the person who dared me to allow the students to “make up” my face and went on the first and second forest trips with us.
The next girl is Marah, who is a close friend of Balzhan (they spent quite a bit of the first campout hanging out together) and also studied in Korea for a year. Despite her name, which is unusual for this country (She says it’s a Nordic name) she is also an ethnic Kazakh. She’s a really nice girl who is very outgoing (though we’re pretending to be angry with her, because last forest camp she had promised to come out and bring some Cognac, but never showed up!) and I’m personally extremely indebted to her, because she helped me arrange my flight to China.
Of the four girls we see every day, I think I’ll start with Laura, because he name is probably the most common and familiar to American readers. That’s roughly the way her name is spelled in Kazakh (or Russian) however the stress is differently and it’s pronounced more like “Lao-rah” (don’t forget to roll the “r”). She’s a really nice girl (but they all are…) and she’s a great help in ultimate Frisbee (though to my consternation she noticed after playing with Mark during out second game: “You’re not very good at this are you?”). According to Nazym’s card reading, she’ll be my wife one day (which she was furious with as she eliminated the other King card which represented her crush), but more on that later.
I suppose that’s a good lead in for our next girl—Nazym. She’s a very pretty girl, which easily pushes into the beautiful territory with the hair style she got last week (I was a big fan). She’s a fan of the Lord of the Rings films, but refuses to watch the Star Wars trilogy because its “too fantastical…” Note I only said trilogy. As far as I’m concerned Episodes I-III aren’t canon (bite me George Lucas). She’s wonderfully nice and can apparently read cards. However, I am somewhat suspect of this, because when she read Laura’s, she said Laura would marry me, but when she read mine, she said I was going to marry her. Also, her cards said we’d marry, so who knows which set of cards is right?
There’s Raushaun, alias Rose. She’s become sort of my friendly (or not so) rival. This’ll sound repetitive, but she’s also a very pretty girl. She’s into yoga among other things and pushes us strongly to have more prepared class plans and activities line up. She’s good at keeping us honest I think. We take some friendly jabs at each other during class and is quite a hoot. Classes would be a lot less fun without being able to metaphorically twist her pigtails. Eric thinks that she is interested in me, though I don’t really buy it, because I think she could probably do a lot better than me and in Kazakhstan girls pay a lot more attention to us in general than they would in the United States, so I get more of a friend vibe; the same as I get from all the girls here.
Lastly, but definitely not least is Aina. All these girls are twenty, but she’s married and has a young son who lives with her mother and father in law. I affectionately refer to her now as “Other Mom” after some very mother-ish comments she’s made about us and me in particular. You wouldn’t believe that she had recently had a child though, because she’s unbelievably tiny and young looking. She’s really a lovely person and I initially rated her as the cutest of the girls, though (no offense to her) I’d probably reevaluate that now; not least because of a greater appreciate of beauty here or the possible oedipal notions which could arise.
Wow, this has put us at almost four pages on Word. I’ll try to wrap this up to keep it from going too long and I’ll put off talking about camp and class schedules until a slightly later date. I think I’ll dedicate the rest of this post to the friends and people we’ve met here. Kazakhstan has a lot of natural resources and one Soviet scientist boasted that Kazakhstan could “export the entire periodic table.” However, I believe that Kazakhstan’s greatest asset is her people and their hospitality.
Everywhere we go, people go unbelievably out of their way to make us feel at home and comfortable. I don’t think you can find more loyal and dependable friends than here in Kazakhstan. There’s Victor as I’ve already mentioned, who has been a wonderful help and also has great taste (loves Star Wars and I lent him my well-worn copy of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers). But there’s also Ayan and Nikita, two younger boys with completely different personalities, but wonderful kids to know. I can never forget the soccer games with the neighborhood kids and how much fun we’ve had with them. However, possibly the coolest guy I’ve met here is a young man named Yernur.
Yernur is a quiet guy, naturally shy I think, but also a little lacking in English skills. He’s an extremely devout Muslim, but also a melancholy soul. I think that’s related however. According to him, during his youth (he’s twenty years old and makes me feel like an old man when he says this) he was “a very bad man.” I wouldn’t believe him, because he’s such a friendly chap, but his formerly broken wrist and back from a jumping and knowledge of knife and fighting skills convinced me otherwise. He invited us to his home and is a wonderful friend to have. I feel a little sad for him, but he’s very happy with his Muslim faith and I’m glad for him.
Besides the girls who help us, we also have made a number of female friends from our classes. One of the nicest and most fun is an outgoing girl named Assem, who is quite a tom-boy, but a solid dancer. She’s a lot of fun to be around and we’re very sad to see her heading back to her home town this week, not to return until October. There’s also Assima—the girl from facebook who is wearing my hat cocked at a sly angle, who is quite lovely, not least for the fact that she started dancing to the Flogging Molly music that I had put on.
It’s almost impossible to name all the wonderful friends we’ve met here in one sitting and this will sound extremely female driven, but that’s just because of our classes we only have one or two guys compared to 10-15 females. Some of the other lovely ladies which have made our trip more enjoyable include Elmira—a very friendly and talkative Kazakh girl. Bota—a wonderful singer who is “in love” with my eyes. We’ve got Ainur, Ainagul, Natasha, Lera, Regina, Medina and several Nastya’s. One of these Nastya’s is a very pretty young Russian girl, in whom I may have found a kindred spirit; she’s also interested in Celtic music—specifically knew who Loreena McKennitt was, feels like the pageantry and majesty of the 19th century is something to be missed, and was interested in my history lecture.
Probably one of the most interesting characters that we’ve met yet, is Mr. Kim (or Gospadin Kim as I like to call him). He’s one of Dr. Lee’s friends, but we like to think of him more of a local Mafia boss, because apparently he calls the shots around here. Mr. Kim is a wonderful older Korean-Kazakh, who doesn’t speak a word of English, but every few weeks just when we need it, will whisk us away to the Banya (Russian style sauna) with Beer and Shaslik. Yes, we have to get completely naked and it’s unbelievably hot inside that damn thing, but it’s a wonderful time and just what we need for our breaks.

Lastly and probably most important, I convinced Eric, that if I grew a beard, he would shave his into Cavalry whiskers, and when my beard was long enough, I'd join him as well. If you can, I highly recommend you check out his new facial hair style.

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