Monday, June 29, 2015

Over the Mountains and Far Away

Apologies for the delay in updates.  I've been a little bit busy getting some things in order and settling down.  Some things have gone well while others haven't gone so well.  In our first week, through some poor decision making I lost a few things, including a key to the dormroom, my old Kazakh cellphone, and my ipod.  Personally I'm not too upset about all that (though I will miss the ipod, but it was four or five years old), but losing the key caused some severe distress among my roommates and a bit of tension between us.  Things have mostly settled down, but there's still some lingering tension.  But I've resolved to move forward and enjoy my time here as best as I can.

School classes are rather a mixed bag--the classwork itself isn't too difficult, but all of the class is conducted in Russian, so there's often a lot of things I don't understand and it's quite difficult to ask a question when you're confused about the basic grammar or lexicon. But like I said, the actual work isn't too bad, but when we're in class I feel like a moron.

We've had some nice excursions in the past couple of weekends.  First we went to the mountains near Almaty--passing over the Medeo where i saw something amazing!  
Oh and there were some mountains or something too.

The weather up at the top of the mountains was so amazingly cool, I hated coming down from there back into the heat of Almaty's summer.

And this Saturday we went to Churin canyon.  Which is basically a "Not Quite so Grand, but Still Pretty Cool" Canyon, about three hours away from Almaty.  It was a little warm, but for most of the day we had an overcast sky so we didn't roast completely.

Things have been going well at the Kazakhstan Press Club, last week we went to an event for the Special Olympics and we took some of the photos that ended up on their instagram.  It was pretty humbling, though I think most of those photos were the ones Garrett took.  (By the way, you can follow Garrett at his website for some nice photos and videos of where we've been.

Politically, we haven't stirred the boat too much here.  Some of the people at the press club seem a lot more sympathetic to the more 'liberal' (as in Western European sense, not American political sense necessarily) and even among some of the random people I've met while having tea with the local Mr. Donerci place there's an acknowledgement that they're not living in a democracy.  But out of respect for our hosts, I don't press the issue unless they seem to be willing to talk about it.

That's not to say everyone here is feeling the love--one of our drivers was a die hard Putanist and we were told not to make any comments about Putin, because he might refuse to work for us (not sure how much of that was a joke from our trip coordinator), and I've lost a friend or two due to philosophical differences about Stalin, World War II (and presumably they weren't too happy about some of my FB posts about the Russian invasion of Ukraine--let's call it what it is).

So I've been a little gun shy of talking about that with people here.  I think a lot of the people who support Nazarbayev are also pretty pro-Putin and  buy the "Ukrainians are all fascists" line--though not all.  The RA who has been helping me out trying to find my lost stuff seems to be a lot more sympathetic to Ukraine and we had a very interesting talk about it.  I didn't however breach the question of whether people here are concerned about what has happened to Ukraine happening here, because she's actually from Turkmenistan (though she's half Russian by ethnicity).    But the general feeling I get, especially from the pro-Putanists, is that "it can't happen here" or that Ukraine was a special case because of the fascists and NATO/EU/ International Banking/Jewish conspiracy (Yes that is a thing still in some circles of Russia.  Anti-semitism is still pretty strong among the hard core nationalist groups in Russia and as of 2007 held half of the world's total Neo-Nazi population.)  So remember that next time RT talks about Right Sector--ask them about the National Bolsheviks

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Alive and (mostly) well

FSo I wrote a blogpost yesterday, but for the blogger app for my ipad shorted out and I  lost all of what I had written (save and everything!) and blogger kicked me out for good measure.  I'd write it on my (dad's) laptop, but for some reason I cannot login to the wifi at all, so for now I'm kind of stuck with the ipad--let's hope there's no more funny business with the apps and the dorm wifi itself holds out (as I write this it isn't working, but I'm hoping by the end of it I can post it tonight.  I am also have some weird issues with my keyboard    where keys stick randomly--so if you see odd spelling errors, this time it's actually not my fault!  I bet Paddy from "A Long Way to Tipperary" had this keyboard to blame rather than his pen!)

So, the flight here wasn't bad.  I can't really say the journey here was good, however, because for some reason the travel agent put one of us on a different flight from KC and he missed our flight to Amsterdam.  He's had a really rough time--he finally came in, a day later and pretty ticked off.  Thinngs haven't gone his way here either,  his internship place apparently expected him to be more fluent in Russian and to be more familiar with finances and business stuff.  So yesterday he worked it out with our trip superviser that he wasn't going to go back to that internship and they're looking for a new one for him, but he had a mini breakdown over this whole awful experience.  He's not in a happy place right now.

Everyone else is doing OK I think.  They're having a rough time adjusting to some of the idiosyncracies of Kazakhstan though--the beauracracy and some of the "mehy" aspects of our living conditions are getting to them I think.

Work is ironically, probably the best part of our program here for me.  The classes are really tough because they are all in Russian and we're not allowed to speak English at all.  I feel lost about 85% of the time and I think the class will either cure or kill me.  Work is a little tough just because I don't really know what they expect or want exactly since I'm not a journalism major, but the people we've worked with--Juliana and Kakim are very friendly and very helpful.  It does appear that at least one of the other guys working intership has also really gotten a good group of people to work with in his time, so I think that will at least help him enjoy his time here.

I was planning on seeing Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but my feet are pretty blistered from all the walking we do--1.7 miles or so each way to work--wearing  my dress shoes on day one was a big mistake.  I realized why I don't wear them often--they cut badly into my heels and make me bleed.

I am about to start my reading for Dr. Chrenestky's class, but honestly it's so intimidating right now thinking about all the language issues and how I'll get a research paper done here.  I feel so helpless with my Russian and I think most of the guys in the group don't really care for my company, so it kind of feels like this is going to be a long summer.  I'm  really starting to regret starting my MA more and more.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rolling down to Almaty

So this blog is finally getting an update--which can only mean one possible thing: I'm travelling for some reason!  This time, I'm heading back to Kazakhstan to spend two months in Almaty--the largest city in the country.  While there, I'll be at KIMEP the country's oldest (being a relative term) "Western Style" university.  While I'm there, I'll be doing an intensive Russian language course, along with four other students from the University of Kansas.

It's been so long since I've published anything here, so I'll need to explain a few things.  Since I came back from Kazakhstan in October of 2013 (due mainly to the office I was part of shrinking down to just me and the university finally deciding it wasn't worth it keeping me around, so they let me go), I spent a little bit of time trying to figure out what to do back home.  I spent the spring of 2014 working as an (unpaid) intern at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, which was a great deal of fun.  I got to do a little bit of snooping to try and find ties between businesses today and World War I and that led to some pretty interesting discoveries--for example I learned that Boeing's first contract was sea planes for the US Navy.  When I wasn't doing that, I spent my mornings or afternoons taking school groups on tours of the museum.  The job was fantastic--I only wish it had paid something.

I also spent my free time on the weekends working at the Homestead Nursery on 10th Street in Leavenworth.  It was a pretty good paying job for what it was (~$10 an hour), but it was a lot of hard work with plants and it played hell with my allergies.    But after that spring, I was admitted into the Center for Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies at KU.  So that summer I did an intensive Russian course to catch up, and in the fall I started classes there.

I've had a bit rough time with it--motivation has kind of been sapped--I feel like I've got a horrible case of senioritis and I've been really having to force myself to get things done.   Part of the problem is that it's just difficult to figure out what I'm doing and where I'm going with this MA, so it's all very intimidating.  Plus, I don't feel that I've really gotten much direction from the school and I'm not comfortable with what I'm going to do with my thesis and MA program overall.

But that's a worry for a later date.  Now I'm heading to KIMEP with Mike, Asa, Garrett, and Josh.  I'll be there for two months, and I'm both excited and nervous.  Excited about going back--nervous because I'm bringing more of myself (gained weight with my senioritis) and I'm afraid how people will react--they're not always the most tactful.  Additionally, it looks like I'll have a lot of work this summer for my directed readings course, along with the intensive Russian course.

But I'll get through it, I guess.