Tuesday, March 27, 2007

June 19th, 2004

I'm here and tuned in. They give us internet at our hub-site, which for me is about a ten-minute busride away, and by bus-ride I mean a bumpy, sweaty, b.o.-stinky, ride from hell--really it's not that bad--and it only costs about 8 cents. What a deal. Coke, too, costs about 30 cents for a half liter. Everyone, boycott Coke 'coz they charge just way too much, 'coz when you think about it, if they still make a profit on Coke at 60 cents a liter, then they're making a killing in America. I arrived in Kazakhstan at about 11:30pm KZT (11:30am CST). It was dark, and I smelled things I've never smelled before, but hey, the people were friendly. And after an 20 hour trip halfway around the world what's better than getting on a small, wobbly, Soviet bus and ride for another 2 hours? I can't think of much that would top that. But we finally got to the Sanatorium (not sanitarium) and crashed. In the morning we awoke to the kind of view, whose rugged beauty far surpasses anything in the coffee table books or travel websites. We spent the next two days there, adjusting, if you want to call it that - actually I felt kind of spoiled.

Two days ago we met our host families. Mine is a huge family who lives in a small town called Kok-Tobye about 2 or 3 kilometers from Garod-Issyk. There are five other trainees in my Language training group in Kok-Tobye. We have language and culture training about 6 or 7 hours a day, off on Sundays. And my family says that I have a "good head". I'm actually picking it up pretty quickly. My family is called Saniya, and they are all very nice. There is the Mama, her daughter, and her daughters two daughters and son, as well as her niece. There is a son, but I think he works a lot because he is never there. I tried to ask them where he is, since I haen't seen him since the first day, and they told me he drives a pastry truck in Almaty. They are very careful that I do not starve, which is awfully nice of them. In fact, I think every family we meet is a bit too concerned with our appetite, and make it a personal mission to prevent us from not being full...ever. Even if I stop by just to say hi to another volunteer in the town, they practically force me to have chai, and "having chai" includes an assortment of fruits, vegetables, cookies, candies, perhaps some Kalbasa, bread, maybe some Monte, Lashka, or Blintze. I think the first day we walked around the town, we "had tea" at least six times, and that's not counting "having chai" with my family, and then three meals a day. It's getting so I don't want to visit anyone anymore. It's sad, really.

Today, we went to the bazaar in Issyk, and I bought an umbrella. It's an interesting experience-there are a whole lot of kiosks lined up for over five city blocks, most of them being shoes, lots and lots of shoes.

I could write a long time about bahnias, the traditional Kazakh bath, which is kind-of like a private sauna. It nice. The toilet is interesting too. But the best part about being here is the people. It's great. Tomorrow I'm hiking the mountain which is about 300 yards from my home. It's amazing. Hope y'all are having fun there in Texas.

June 1st, 2004

OK, I just want to say that my friends are great. They made me a picture collage book for me to take. It was touching, really (for those of you who know me, that is not sarcasm.) They put so much work into that book, and it's great. It will be nice to sit on lonely days and look through it and know that I'm loved. (cue music) "And friends are friends for ever...." (That was sarcasm...) It was good to see them all one last time.

Ummm...I leave in two days...Wow. I am just going to New York first to see Phil. I figure I'll get all the culture shock out of the way there before I go to Kaz. Since this is my first visit to NYC, I think I'll have to experience the NY-staples, consisting mostly of food like NY pizza, NY cheesecake, hotdog from a vendor in Central Paaahk, etcetera, but also the Met and Guggenheim, and maybe a musical or two. Word. It's gonna be a blast.

But first I have to pack. I haven't packed. At all. I have finished transferring my music to my MP3-player, however. And that was an accomplishment, with over 16 gigs of music. The next few days I will decide which clothes to take, and how to pack them. I think the biggest decision will be which books to take, since they weigh the most, and I have to be selective. I would like for them to double as educational and leisure material.

Just know, everybody, friends and family, how much I love and appreciate you all. Thank you. I'm on the verge of tears now, and since I have a reputation to keep up, I'll have to change the subject. The next time I update this website I will be out of Texas, and possibly on the other side of the world.

May 22nd, 2004

I've been out of work for two weeks now, driving around seeing my friends, spending time with family; It's seems like these past two weeks have been sooo long, and it reminds me of how time went in school. When you're busy time goes by so fast, because of the routine, I guess: I worked for what was a whole school year--I started in September and ended in May. In school, because there really is no routine, time flows slower. You spend a couple hours in class, then maybe a couple hours studying here and there, then maybe you play frisbee or campus golf for an hour, read and sip coffee for a couple hours, go to a movie, but it's all irregular. In school Time adjusts to you; in work you adjust to Time.

I had my "bon voyage" party on the 16th. It was great to see all my family and friends all in one place. It was a good day--the kind of day that gets set apart as "memorable." It was interesting when my family tried to christen my hull with a bottle of champaigne. That was interesting. My family has been very supportive and kind to me. I told my Uncle Tim this and he said, "Well, what other way is there to be?" Golden. Hillary and Valerie said that they will write to me in serial stories, each one culminating in some fabulous cliffhanger. That will be interesting and fun, if it actually happens, so I guess I'm mentioning it on this website to increase the chances of it actually happening (hint hint nudge nudge wink wink). Maybe you'll even see something of it on the website. After all my family left, a lot of my friends hung around and we sat at the campfire drinking coffee and talking. While we were talking I think either Aruna or I mentioned that The Princess Bride is probably the most quotable movie ever, whereas the girls said that When
Harry Met Sally
was much more quotable; so I came up with the idea of a quote-war, in which one side says a quote from a movie and then the other side parries with a quote from the other movie. Foolish girls. They had some good quotes, but they would have so gone down. They would have got served. I say "would have" because we never actually finished, but really it's a given. The Princess Bride rules all, and there can be only one.

So I made plans to go to New York before I leave. I fly to DC on the 4th and then take a train to NY where I'll meet up with Phil. I have to be back in DC on the 10th. Then we fly to Kaz on the 12th at 6pm. Ny will be a crash cours in culture shock before Kaz. Probably not similar at all as far as culture goes, but still quite capable of conjuring that feeling of uncomfortability which I'm sure I will experience repeatedly.

It turns out that with the current luggage limits that I will have to take only one checked bag and one carry-on bag. Both bags combined cannot equal more than 107 linear inches (length+width+height combined).

Checked bag: Serratus 55-liter internal frame backpack.

  • length=14
  • width=12
  • height=35
  • Total=61

Carry-on bag: Samsonite flight bag.

  • length=23
  • width=10
  • height=12
  • Total=45

Total combined=106

Somehow I'll have to figure out how to pack suits into a backpack. That'll be interesting.

May 7th, 2004

Today was my last day of work. Everybody was terribly sweet. We had a hot dog picnic outside on the company picnic tables, and they gave me a gift certificate to buy CDs as a going-away present. It's been a good place to work. And now it's onward to other things. This phase like all other phases in life, though. Things come in and go out, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Although I will try hard to hang on to old friends, but I know some will slip away. It's just trust and patience that will help you get through life. And really, this is not the End. We're just playing through the golf course of life to reach the Final Hole.

Man that was cheesy.

April 30th, 2004

A haiku for you:
Pure crystals drifting
Full white clouds bury the ground
The clean Earth ascends

Not much else is new. I have a week of work left, after which I will take several weeks off to visit family, friends, and bounce around the state, quite possibly holding several going away parties. My friends want to do something for me, centered around, obviously, vodka. I don't know what I feel about this. Not because I think it's bad to have a drink, but because I might have to drink that stuff for the next two years. Over there it's literally the national beverage, and you have
to drink it for any sort of celebration, for example, host families meeting their American live-in,
birthday parties, holidays, eating dinner, eating lunch, eating breakfast, etc. I can imagine that just like the British have "tea-time," the Russians have "booze-time." But that's just my imagination. Maybe.

April 29th, 2004

I went last night to a dinner organized by the regional Peace Corps recruiter, Annaliese Limb, for anybody that has anything remotely to do with Peace Corps. I went, of course, as a PC invitee, but there were also returned PCVs, PC nominees, and people merely thinking of applying--which is good for them since they can ask a whole lot of questions to those who have gone and come back, those who know wht it's about. I know absolutely nothing (see previous entry), but it was still good to go and alleviate some of my mental meanderings, namely, that I will probably have some say in where my assignment is; that they will provide pretty good training to compensate for my lack of teaching experience; that it's probably best to be okay with not knowing a lot, because those are the types of people who roll with the punches, whose expectations are not let down, simply because they don't have any expectations. I learned that lesson 10 years ago from one of my favorite comic strips, Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin is speaking to Hobbes and says that he always makes C's so that his parents would not expect him to make anything higher. I wondered though, how much work it took him to actually try to consistently make C's instead of making A's every once in a while. I never doubted his intelligence or aptitude. I mean, heck, the kid had a better vocabulary at six than I do now at 22, after college and studying GED vocab lists for hours. Sometimes life isn't fair. ...I digress. Back to last night: It was also humbling to discover that most of the people there had already had tons of experiences compared to me, who has had, ummm, I think, well, ZIP experience and is just now breaking out of his shell. But I think I'm doing okay for someone who was afraid to talk to people my freshman year of college. I think I lived up to Calvin's example and shocked many who knew me. "You're leaving Central Texas?!" Uh-huh.

I also ran into a couple of girls with whom I went to high school: Catherine and Emma. Catherine has been a childrens' ski instructor after recently becoming disillusioned with her career track in Advertising. She speaks practically fluent French and want to get a job as a museum child activities coordinator in England. She's still thinking about PC. Emma recently returned from Japan where she taught ESL, and is about to go to Thailand for the summer. She wants to do the Masters International Peace Corps thing, where one receives a Masters in some specific field and then has two years of service in Peace Corps as a practicum, an extension of the specific field of study. Wow. It's interesting to think that we all graduated from the same high school in the same year. Every time I meet people like that it gets me excited. A gently nudge of confirmation that this is truly what I want to do.

April 23rd, 2004

It's interesting. I'm beginning to wakeup in the morning by the thought, "Whoa, I'm going to Kazakhstan." Dang. It's a sobering thought, and never fails to wake me up when I'm groggy in the morning. It's like that little rush of adrenaline if you are falling asleep at the wheel and almost run off the road. Bam! Kazakhstan! This is exascerbated by the fact that I really have no idea what I'm going to do over there, I mean, except for vague general things like learning Russian and teaching English. Everything else seems pretty contingent upon circumstances of my site. Shoot, I may not even be teaching English regularly!

It's time like these when faith becomes so much more important. There is a great verse in Isaiah 30:15 that says, "In repentence and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength." God has already granted us repentence as his children, and rest is relying on Christ and his power to change us. The next part is the hardest, because now as people saved through repentence and rest, we are told that quietness and trust will give us strength. I always think of this as like a giant fortress in which we "rest," safe within all the while hearing the sounds of battle through the thick masonry wall. The closest to the battle we will ever come is still seperated by 10 feet of solid rock. Trust is saying that that 10 feet of rock will keep us safe, and when you think about it, it is such an absurd reality. Of course it will keep us safe! God has made it that way! And so how can we not have faith? Just think about if that wall were not there. Put your ear to the wall, and you hear the God of the Storm thundering, rumbling, shaking the battlefield; you hear the rattle of arms and clash of steel, the thudding of distant cannon almost overpowered by the thunder; you hear shouts and screams of Lilliputian men struck by Something they can only fathom as that something's power rips through them. And that Something is on our side...

Going to Kazakhstan will be difficult, and not only for me. My family will probably have a tough time every once in a while. But since God is leading us, we can only trust that he has brought this for purposes of growth, and this brings me joy. I may not know what will happen, but I'm content that I am where I need to be. Peace. Rest. And joy. Those are all good things.

I remember in intro to Psychology in college, that "studies found people who had a good sense that they were in control of their situation" were always less stressed and had less likelihood of going insane, whereas people who felt that their circumstances were controlled by external forces, could quite possibly go off the deep end at any minute. Like the uncontrollable storm in King Lear that ripped through the minds of our main characters, modern psychology seems to say that mental and psychological--even spiritual--peace, if external, is like taking that wall away between us and the battle. I never understood this, because as a Christian, I, a stupid and fallible creature, rely on something extremely larger than I, who sways the battle for his glory. I am perfectly confident that on the other side of the wall my Ally is winning. If that wall were not there, I could not control the storm, I could not win the war. And so the stuff of science seems merely the stuff of science fiction.

Grace, peace, and joy to all my fellow believers out there.

April 15th, 2004

It's been a little while since the last update. Last time I said I would tell about how I came to the decision. I first heard about Peace Corps in my junior year at Baylor. There was a recruiter's table in the Student Union, and I was a little curious. I typically take life one day at a time and I knew I still had two years to decide what I was going to do, and consequently, I really didn't give it much serious thought, but rather it was a constant shadowy assassin in my mind, waiting to strike it's death-blow.

My freshman and sophomore years I played bass for Baylor Showtime! (yes, there's an excalmation point in the name...it makes it exciting enough for show-biz). In Showtime! we had the opportunity to go to Austria for a month. It was a great experience. I loved immersing myself in the culture, but a month was really too short a time to really experience much. I know Austria is still really posh and cushy, but the attitude seemed much different than in America. Looking back, it's really the small things I remember: eating strawberries in the main square listening to a local jazz band play, trying to buy black and white film from a German Fotoshoppe and mistakingly thinking he said 99 dollars instead of 9.90, sleeping with the window open in a 5x8 foot, unairconditioned in a hostel, trying to engage a little old lady in conversation at the bus stop but only managing to say "The weather is very pretty," and "I play the bass for a singing and dancing group!"

After getting back from Austria, I became more and more involved in Baylor's Campus Living and Learning (aka Residence Life), and realized to some degree a calling to work with college
students. A broad cultural view and world-perspective, I think, is important to understanding and relating to others. I thought about going to get my Masters right away, or maybe teaching English as a second language overseas somewhere. God seemed to bring all things together at the right time. I met Joel Scott, who was my "assistant" boss in Penland Hall at Baylor, and who taught overseas in Japan. He encouraged me a lot to pursue PC, in part to live vicariously though me - because if he had it to do all over, he would have done PC - , but also because he realizes the importance of experiencing other things, to make you a good human being. And I do too, because really, how can you step into someone else's shoes if you don't even know what kind of shoes they wear?

The timing issues seemed to decide a lot of things. I waited to long to apply for graduate school. I didn't feel the passion to pursue it right away, and the door closed. I knew that graduate school would propel me into a career, maybe marriage, and cold, hard "Life" would hit me in the face and drag me to some barren wasteland, maybe high up on a mountain, with a great view overlooking the things that I could have seen if I had gone overseas. I still want to go to school again. Man, do I! I miss school; I miss the whole environment of learning and conversation and community. That's why I want to work at a college. Now, although I'm still not crystal-clear about what I will do in the future, Peace Corps will be a nice sabatical for life. I hope to slow down and reflect more--away from American indulgence and consumerism; I really admire a simple lifestyle. I know that this will make me a better person, and will prepare me for whatever God has writeen in my Book. And whatever I do I want to do for God's glory, which may seem like an elusive goal, but ultimately achievable, if I just follow the peace in my heart and my soul.

March 26th, 2004

My trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico was fun and memorable - just the kind of trip that I need before the long one. The scenery wasn't that great, however; that region of the U.S. is truly the butt of America. I don't want to offend anyone from New Mexico, but if you are from New Mexico, you must admit at least that it is not pretty, and at most that it is very, ummm..."rugged" country.

The entire trip we were comparing it to Lord of the Rings. NM was Mordor, all scraggly and parched - and there was a strange coincidental effect: we saw a natural gas tower on fire at the top, and we were like, "the EYE!" When we went into the cave, we joked that we might run into orcs around the corner, and Jeremy Smith kept pretending to be Gollum, hopping on rocks and rasping, "My precious." I think the girls were tired of our boyish gestures and apt, albeit frequent, allusions. We stayed with Kim's family, and they were absolutely splendid. The whole trip was great, and I got a lot of good pics.

I told my boss a couple days ago that I would be leaving. She took it rather well. This is really a great job, and I thank God that he gave me this job at this time. I feel a little guilty only staying for 8 months or so. All the same, I am looking forward to the experiences Kaz will bring. I just realized that I forgot to say how the whole decision process came about. I'll have to do that. But not now...look for in in our next episode!


March 22nd, 2004

Last week my great uncle Bill, my Granny's brother, was diagnosed with brain cancer. It is the malignant kind with tendrils like fingers extending through the brain, and is inoperable. I have not spoken with him, but I hear that he is mostly cognizant with occasional bouts of delerium. The doctors gave him about two weeks.

He's the kind of guy that is so personable and amiable, you feel much closer to him than you really might be, having only talked to him several times in twenty years. Such is my case. This is just a reminder to me of how much life can change in a short time. We're like grass getting mowed, man.

He is a self-declared atheist - although he is probably more agnostic - and so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he held a "tribute" to himself. I suppose that's why I didn't want to go see him; instead I retreated to Plano to see my sister for a few days. I think guys like uncle Bill, who work and work to make some mark on the world, want to know that there is indeed a mark, and in some way verify their "immortality" (because everyone in some way seeks immortality, whether true Life or not).

Addendum: Carlsbad was fun. Had a good trip. I should have pictures up soon. Saying more right now would seem kind of trivial, so I'll just leave it at that.

March 4th, 2004

Well the word is getting around--"What are you up to Dan?" "Oh you know, working, hanging out, going to Kazakhstan." I try really hard to sound unaffected, probably at the risk of not sounding excited (which I am), and deep down I want to feel like I'm not just doing it to be special. I don't want to seem conceited. I mean, heck, I've never done anything like this, and most of the people I know haven't either; I don't want to seem like I think I'm special because "I'm going and you're not. Nyah nyah."

When I tell people, it feels like I'm just trying to get my fifteen minutes of fame, or I'm doing it for the rush and attention, but once I get over there, and the glory fades, I will back up and go AWOL. I tell myself I won't--You won't Daniel, you won't. I usually say it will be quite an experience, which it will. It's kind of my default statement, you know like "Hey Daniel, you want to eat this pickle-juice snow cone?" "Sure, it'll be quite an experience." Or "Hey Dan, you want to jump off this cliff?" "Man, that'll be quite an experience." I say this statement simply because, being a practical person, there are some things that any sane person would be terribly excited about. Smelly latrines, maddening mosquitos, drunk teenagers that mug you, dirty russian cops, boiled sheep-head: "Quite an experience..." That's all I have to say.

But yeah I'm excited. I'm excited about learning to function in a new language, meeting interesting people and making new friends, eating horse sausage (yes, I'm excited about that, it's kind of a novelty in America, yet can you name ten Americans that condemn the eating of horse meat and have actually tried it), and watching a rousing tourney of goat-carcass polo...in the SNOW (also a novelty in Texas). Heck yeah, it's gonna be a blast.

February 10th, 2004

The first step is always the hardest. I reflect on that very briefly as I write this first journal entry...................

Okay, then. This webpage commemorates my first real step into the unknown, discounting of course, my human birth. Today I accepted my invitation to Peace Corps, and with that acceptance will come over 2 years of challenge and possibly trial. God has lead me to this point, and so I am unafraid. He gives me strength, and rest, and joy, for all my life, and all my life's events, good or bad. As I got off the phone with Robert Disney, my placement officer, he said, "Have a good two years." Wow...two years.

I've told many this, but I used to think about this whole thing as an experience that would cause me to miss out on two years of stuff back home, the so-called "normal life." All my friends were getting married, or getting prospects, or would at least have prospects in two years; my family would change - some relatives might die, some might be born; and I would be missing out on some good things. But now I realize that I would be missing out on two years of a life-changing experience if I did stay. I can't let that happen.

dusting off the shelves

I have no idea who reads this anymore, since I've left Kazakhstan for the shiny shores of America, but I can not evade my memories and have decided to dust off the shelves of my writings that I did and post them as new blog entries. I will list them by the date that I wrote them. Enjoy, if anyone is out there!

Friday, June 02, 2006

last broadcast

This is my last post in Ust, and possibly my last in Kazakhstan. I know it's been infrequent, but, I hope, entertaining and informative. I'll keep the blog going I guess to talk about my deeper revalations about myself as I continue to study.

Yesterday my teachers at the school had a goodbye party for me. It was really nice of them, especially since I know many of them are very strapped for money during this season of planting. The said many toasts to me, many well-wishes, and I, of course, had to drink with all of them. The wine was abundantly flowing. They gave me some really cool parting gifts: a silver necklace, a photo album, and a really cool color copy of Pushkin's Stories, which they all signed.

Inessa gave me a nice beerstein and carved a message in the bottom. It said, "to remember me a long time from Inessa." I don't think I can ever forget her, especially when I'm drinking beer from it - just not to much though, then I will forget...everything.

Tonight we are going out for the last time, then I've got to go back to my village because Nina and Kolya are having a goodbye dinner for me. She's making roast chicken and potatoes in a garlic sauce that I particularly like. Today I'm trying to send the last of my packages of sweaters and stuff that I can't fit in my bag, pawn the stuff that I can, and give away the rest. All before four o'clock.

I'm leaving out of Ust on Tuesday by train to Almaty. And the flight from Almaty leaves on the 11th. Our country director, Kris Besch, has reached the end of her position too, and she'll be on the same flight. I might be one of the last volunteers to leave, out of those that didn't extend their service. I can't believe it's coming so soon. I want to go home, but I want to stay too. There are things that I'll miss and things that I won't; things that I dread about going back to America, and things I would love to experience again. All in all, I know that I could live anywhere. Home truly is where the heart is, and a part of my heart will always be in Kazakhstan, with some of the people here, with the volunteers here in my Oblast, with Inessa, with my old teachers, and host family. It will be great to see my family and friends again, because I know I'll rediscover that piece of my heart that they still have. And as I continue to live and move around, I'll continue to divide my heart, causing it to grow larger, and hoping and praying that I will be able to pick up those pieces of my heart again. I'll never leave Kazakhstan, a part of me will always be here. Maybe someday I can come back.

Friday, April 28, 2006

cinderella, a one-act play

This play was an assignment given to my 10 grade students. They were to paraphrase dialogue from the Grimm fairy tale, and when necessary, create their own dialogue based on the characters. They were divided into groups and given different scenes. The best is probably the scene between the Fairy and Cinderella. One scene was written by a boy - can you guess which one?

Stepmother: Good day, my forgotten slob!
Cinderella: Good day, stepmother.
Stepmother: You must to sweep yard and porch and water flowers, and chop little sticks.
Cinderella: Yes, stepmother.
Stepmother: Why don't you anything? Did you hear me?
Cinderella: I am rest. I just now cleaned the floor.
Stepmother: Why should I feed you then?

Stepmother: Girls, today there will a ball. It's necessary to look nice. Prince will to select fiancee.
Stepsister 1: In order for to look beautiful, so that Prince will like us, we must to get new attire.
Stepmother: Cinderella sewed new dresses for you.
Stepsister 1: I'll charm Prince!
Stepsister 2: No, I'll do it!
Stepmother: Girls, don't quarrel. One of you may become his wife.
Stepsister 2: We all do for that.

Cat: Your stepsisters are lazy, clumsy, and spoiled rotten. You are beautiful and look nice.
Cinderella: They aren't that bad.
Cat: Will you go to the ball?
Cinderella: I would love to go to the ball, but I don't have anything to wear.
Cat: Would you like to dance with the Prince?
Cinderella: Yes, of course. (she starts to cry)
Fairy: Good afternoon, Cinderella. Why are you afraid?
Cinderella: Dear Fairy, I can't go to the ball, because I have no good dress, I have only rags and hand-me-downs.
Fairy: Don't worry. I'll give you dress and slippers.
Cinderella: Oh dear Fairy, thank you!
Fairy: But remember, at twelve, you must be back, because the spell will end.
Cinderella: I will remember.
Fairy: Hurry Cinderella! You will to be late in the ball. (Cinderella goes to the ball)

Prince: What is your name?
Cinderella: My name is Cinderella?
Prince: I am Prince of Wales. Why is you called Cinderella?
Cinderella: I work much at home by cinders stove.
Prince: May I ask you to dance?
Cinderella: Yes, of course! (They dance)
Prince: You are very sexy and beautiful.
Cinderella: Thank you!
Prince: I love you! (Cinderella is embarassed) Will you be my wife?
(The bell rings)
Cinderella: Oh no! (she runs home)

Minister: May I come in?
Stepmother: Of course. Come in.
Minister: We come from the Prince. We have slipper to try on the foot of all girls.
Stepmother: These are my daughters. Slipper will fit them. (He tries them on)
Minister: It doesn't fit them, but it fits Cinderella.
Stepmother: Tell the Prince he must marry one of my daughters. Cinderella is ugly!
Fairy: (appears) Who will marry one your lazy daughters! You must to teach them to be kind, respect people, and work hard. And you! You are mean and harmful to Cinderella!
Stepmother: I'm sorry! I try offend not Cinderella.
Fairy: Cinderella will be so happy!

Cat: Hello Cinderella.
Cinderella: Hello, Cat.
Cat: The Prince loves and admires you. Do you love the Prince?
Cinderella: Yes.
Cat: You will live happily ever after!
Prince: I still love you. Will you be my wife?
Cinderella: Yes, of course!

Friday, April 07, 2006

searching for a perfect family

Ufilmalik is my regional manager for Peace Corps - the person who among other things, sets up new sites in Kazakhstan for future volunteers, and helps maintain old sites, including helping current volunteers with any problems. Yesterday, she came to my site and we looked at families in Tarkhanka. Nina and Kolya don't want another volunteer, and I don't blame them. Having a foreigner stay at your house for two years is quite a responsibility, and I dare say, sometimes a headache. We went around to three different families. The first family has three daughters, two of which have already graduated and live in Ust, and come home sometimes on the weekend, and the other daughter is a sixth-grader in school, and one of the best students I have ever taught. She's really cute. The father there, of course, was a little hesitant, but I think ultimately he'll give in. The second family was an older couple, with a tidy little house and a really nice TV and DVD player. The lady seemed really figity and uptight, very eager to please. Ufilmalik didn't really like her; she must have a pretty good radar for families. I had been forewarned about this family by my old counterpart that this family might try to take advantage of the volunteer for the money. Now why someone would want to take the money a host-family is supposed to use for food for the volunteer, a volunteer who is working for next to nothing in their country, helping their children - why take that money and use it for personal means, like a satellite dish or computer, that's beyond me; but there are those people. It's a reality of Peace Corps. Sometimes people only look at Americans and see dollar signs, not a person who needs to eat. Go figure. The third home was a little old babushka. The home was nice enough, and was quite livable from my standards, which admittedly may have changed over the past two years, with the only exception that there was only a bath, and in that bath was the old woman's laundry, which smelled vaguely of fish. Ewww. I wouldn't want to share a bathroom with that. She did have a pretty cat though, and I don't really like cats.

After Tarkhanka, we went about 8 kilometers up the road to a village called Vinnoye, which is requesting a volunteer, partly because of my recommendation, and partly because it's a good school, albeit smaller, with enthusiastic students, and enthusiastic English teacher, and an enthusiastic director. Ufilmalik talked to the director and teacher about everything regarding a volunteer, how we aren't paid by Kazakhstan, how we come here away from our families for two years to work for free - these facts seem basic but in my school for example, the teachers and students still don't really know that I'm not a regular teacher. I guess they think that an American saw an add in the paper for English Teacher in their village. It's also a fact not readily embraced by the tax department in my county, who repeatedly called me several months ago (after I had already lived here for over a year) to demand that I pay my taxes, undaunted when told that I don't even receive a salary from Kazakhstan. Anyway, I think the new site in Vinnoye will be good for a future volunteer. It was a long day, and I got to speak with some nice local families; the only downside to the day was that on Thursdays I usually go to Ust to meet up with Inessa, and I didn't get to do that. It put me in a funk I guess.

an ill-fitting shirt

Tromping home in the rain today after school, where the atmosphere in the classroom seemed to be as rainy as it was outside, I wished for the sunny skies and warm sun of Texas (read, America - for in my present state of mind, in the States, everywhere is sunny). With the final push to June, it's difficult to get excited about school, about classes. I feel tired a lot. Perhaps it's just the rainy season, a lapse of the spirit that will recover with the turn of the weather. But now, all seems dreary and dull, except for one thing. There is a huge tug-of-war in my mood and heart. I'm happy to be going home - HOME - the very thought... But I'm sad too, to leave the thing I have come to care about the most. The thing that makes me happy, despite any temporary stumbling of my mood, is seeing Inessa. Long ago I told her that the more we met together, the harder it would be apart, and now, being together over 6 months, discovering more and more who she is and how we complement each other, it's hard to be in my little village, or the black hole, as I call it, and harder to think of that inevitable time when I will step back into my dust-covered, foggy life like an ill-fitting shirt.

honey: the bane of bolezni (illnesses)

I got sick at COS. I caught a cold, and I can't help but think now that it was because of the climate change from Ust to Almaty, and I didn't wear a hat. It's funny how things like that are propogated from generation to generation. I tried to talk to my girlfriend about the rather unreasonable ideas that locals have about getting sick. Now, granted, there must be something to them, if everyone believes them. It's annoying when my host-mother, every single teacher in my school, and my girlfriend hector me about not wearing a hat in cool weather. I never wore a hat in Texas in the winter, and never once believed that it, and not those pesky little things called germs, caused my colds. I asked her if she knows that colds are viruses, then she tried to say that she wore a hat because it's uncomfortable in the cold, to which I agreed, but was a rather answer. I don't think you can believe both. I then asked her if she sat on the concrete, to which I got another cop-out answer. Apparently she believes in these things, but equally realizes that they are wives' tales. Believing that a girl can become infertile by sitting on cold concrete seems ridiculous, and that one can catch a cold from not wearing a hat seems almost as unlikely. But they both grow more likely the longer I'm here. I've been in Kazakhstan too long.

Speaking of belief in illness and cures, here's another curious thing. There's toothpaste that my host family uses with not one bit of Russian on it. It's all in English, and I'm sure they don't understand it. It's Colgate Propolis Whitening. I don't even now what Propolis is supposed to mean, and I'm sure they don't know that their toothpaste is supposed to help the whiteness of their teeth enamel. I think it's probably the picture of the bee and honeycomb on the tube. They see the bee and honey, and think, "Honey, I put honey in my vodka and tea when I'm sick. Honey's good. It'll be good in toothpaste too. Brushing my teeth with this every other day will help me from not getting sick." Unfortunately, I think this is probably the actual scenario.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

follow the yellow-brick road

This is the beginning of the end; the beginning of the road home. There is a little more than two months left until I leave the wonderful world of Kazakhstan for America. This week all of the 15th group of Kazakhstan volunteers have been gathered together to reminisce and contemplate the miriad of problems that will face us as we spiral downward towards our close of service and re-enter a world that probably won't understand us, or what we've been through. We also get to have our blood taken, stool catalogued, and testicles probed. At the least, the conference has been a good excuse to party with the people who have been our friends and family for the last two years.

Part of my re-entry procedure includes going to graduate school in the Fall. The past half year has been replete with papers and emails and headaches to get it all squared away - and not just for me, but for my power-of-attorney-empowered dad (thanks dad). Last night I had an interview over the phone with two people in the Residence Life department of the University of Maryland for a graduate assistant position. I feel that it went well, but in any case I should hear back from them next week sometime.

So my readjustment to the US will be exascerbated by graduate work, a 20-hour-a-week job, tutoring, Russian language, and finding an apartment, let alone trying to relate to my family and friends that I haven't seen for a couple years, and having them realize that I've changed, but they aren't sure how. Although I'm glad to go home, the biggest thing that I worry about is that I won't be able to (quickly) readjust to the fast-paced, consumerist, set-the-bar-too-high society. In which case I may have to click my heels together whispering into the wind, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." Hoping that it will take me to the place of best fit.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

of bacon and beef steaks

During our Close of Service Conference, we had a goodbye party at our director's, Kris Besch's, apartment, and as a sort of parting gift, she gave us a choice between cheddar tortilla chips or bacon. I chose the bacon. Now to truly appreciate the bacon, you have to realize that the closest thing that people in Kazakhstan have to bacon is something called sahla, which is basically big chunks of smoked pork fat. It was difficult to explain that Americans have a severe aversion to fat, and that the best bacon has as little fat as possible. It was even more difficult to explain what Americans do with the fat that they apparently cut off of the bacon. I really just don't know. They have a word bekon, which is the same as sahla, from most Kazakhstani's reckoning, but I've discovered that they don't really know what bacon is. In fact, any thing having to do with meat is general and muddled. There is no such thing as a good cut of beef - there is beef. There is no such thing as a pork chop - there is pork. There is no such thing as a chicken breast, or leg, or thigh - there are butchered chunks of chicken meat and shards of bone. British and American butchers - I assume from the apprentice system popular in Britain in the 16th-20th centuries - have perfected the cut of beef, best exemplified by the colorful language that we use, simply for names of different steaks: T-bone, New York Strip, Rib-eye. In Russian, they have a borrowed word beefshteks, to represent, as far as I can tell, anything from a hamburger to a cubesteak. There are no sirloins, no rib-eyes, no filet mignon. It's sad.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

a doppelganger's eyes of blue

I mentioned before that I looked like Tarkan - or that others think I look like Tarkan. Well it happened again, this time at my Peace Corps Close of Service conference, and from an American. She shouted at me from across the lawn like a crazed fan. I thought she had been reading my blog by chance, but she said she came up with it all on her own. The difference she says, is that he has green eyes, and I have blue.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

i am tarkan, turkish prince of pop

See this guy? This is Tarkan, the man heralded by websites as the Turkish Prince of Pop. You may not know him, but he is everywhere in Central Asia.

After several months of pensive deliberations, much sould searching, and uncertainty, I finally have come to a realization: I got game...ostensibly.

It all began back in the summer, shortly after returning to Kazakhstan from vacation in the States. I was sitting in a local sports bar, talking to a couple of girls with whom I had initiated a converstaion and was sharing a round of Chivas whiskey, a rare and expensive treat in vodka-ridden Kazakhstan, when one of them mentioned, gazing into my blue eyes, that I looked like Tarkan. Somewhat thrown off at what seemed to me such a strange remark, I asked, "The singer?"
"The Turkish Singer."
"The good-looking Turkish Singer?"
"Yeah." She laughed at my incredulity.
But you see I had to verify, as you might understand looking at the picture of the gorgeous dark sultan of exotic song above. "Me?"

Needed to say, it was unexpected. I had never considered myself to be that good-looking, and of course she said I looked like Tarkan, which could just mean that I had features like him, not that I was his twin. But even so I wrote it off as a compliment uttered under the influence of mixed drinks. And I didn't really think of it again, until months later, when my new girlfriend told me one day, gazing deeply into my blue eyes, that I looked like Tarkan. Again I was taken aback. "What," she said. "No one's ever told you that before?" They had, which was why I was surprised. And I began again to queston the very basis of all my thinking throughout my insecure and troubled middle-school years.

I had to find out for sure. It was quite possible that my girlfriend could be stretching the truth to please me. So one day in class, I saw that one of my students had a copybook smattered with iconic pictures of Tarkan, and I put it to the jury of voracious teeny-boppers. The verdict: I did, particularly in the mouth and nose. So judge for yourself, but I am a believer, and ladies and gentlemen, if I look like that guy, anything in this world is possible.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Christmas/New Year's abaldyet

There were quite a few interesting things that happened this holiday season. First of all, let me say that I was relieved to escape from the holiday commercialistic fever epidemic that grips (that's a pun for me - "flu" in Russian is "grippe" haha :-/) -- that grips everyone during the Christmas day "countdown." Thousands of miles away from American influence, I still felt that quiet turning of the stomach and anxious spirit that reminds one, "Oh my gosh! It's 3 days to go and I still haven't bought little Bobby anything!" But I got all my shopping done.

While I'm speaking of gifts, I'm going to say what I got. I got a wonderful care package from home including: sesame sticks, Baby Ruths, box Spanish Rice and Beans, some other things I can't remember; from my sister I got a matching set of Liz Claiborne hat, scarf, and gloves which I loved and wore everyday for 4 days until I lost one of the gloves, and I was very sad... - and also the fourth book of George R.R. Martin's thrilling fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire. I read it through in 3 days; from my eldest sister I got some pictures yet to come, and some stuff that I assume was in the third package that never arrived. :-( (I realize I am emoticoning excessively, sorry to those who care about such things...); from Granny Sue I got some home-made peanut brittle. I shared it with the other volunteers on Christmas. It was very good. From my girlfriend, Inessa, I got a set of banya elements that help survive the self-immolating steam and heat while you're beating yourself with leaves. They work great; I've already tried them out, and I was able to stay in the banya for an extra 7-8 minutes. From Nina and Kolya I got a photo album and a new beer that I hadn't tried (Nina noticed that I prefer beer to vodka.) I got a lot of beer from the other volunteers, and a cool Kazakhstan sweatshirt.

On Christmas weekend, the Pushkin Library had a Christmas party for their littlest readers who study English in school. The librarians asked me to be Santa Claus. After running away and dodging them successfully for a while, I finally had to check my email, and I acquiesced. It was a fun little party. The kids danced for me and I gave them little presents. I danced with them around the Christmas tree, and at that moment felt very druidic and pagan in my robe and beard as if reenacting an ancient rite. Another volunteer, Frieda, was my hot snowy granddaughter, Snegurochka, except she didn't have a costume, so the librarians improvised and said she was a "modern, American snegurochka," and all was explained. The children completely understood. Thank God for childish imagination. It was fun, but that beard was itchy.

New Year's Eve I spent with Nina and Kolya, and Nina's sister, Tanya, and brother-in-law, Vitya. The men were wasted throughout most of New Year's Eve, all of New Year's Day, all of the Day after that, and then Vitya left, and Kolya persevered alone throughout half of the next day, when Nina told him it was time to stop drinking. He was always amiable, though, I must say. I took the opportunity to record him dancing. That made my night. It was fun and I was stuffed. We also blew off some fireworks. They are really cheap here, so I spent a lot of my allowance on them, knowing I may never have another opportunity.

Well that's the update, and I'm tired of writing, so I'm signing off. Happy holidays and I love you all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

a moment of Wordsworthian transcendence

At night the stars shine so bright here, the brightest I've ever seen. Standing in a still field of blank whiteness, enshrined in a stiller shroud of untarnished black, with stars casting a soft, soft light, the world seems more pure - fresh, clean, unblemished. As if I, arisen perhaps from the freshly fallen snow draped lightly on the womb of a new world, had just been born, and it is I, naked to a million eyes peering from a great wall of dark. And I know that there is Someone there, who once made the earth, and it was pure, uncorrupted; and once made a man, who felt utterly alone, and felt a montrous tug in his soul to see behind the veil of darkness, punched with incomprehensible, blazing beacons, like lanterns on a darkling sea, that spun and danced to the times and the seasons in a cosmic ballet. How easy it is to feel like a mere part of a grand machine - like a superfluous comma in a great tome, when so many things seem so much greater than us, yet knowing with instinct that everything has significance. Its a touch of the sublime, giving rise to superstition and belief in a higher purpose. Giving hope to those lost in a world that beyond its seeming newness, is in truth bleak.

I looked up tonight and saw the flaming streak of a falling star, and immediately wished for something so completely unselfish, and so much more a prayer, that I hope God would look past all silly superstitions and honor it, according to His will. I remember as a boy, lying on the cushion of Saint Augustine grass in front of my house, looking up at the stars that were so distant, and yet not distant in my imagination. I could see myself floating in the space between, gazing at the glory of the stars and planets, but forever moving, moving, moving into infinity, and thought that this would be heaven: to see and awe for eternity at the creation of God.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

pragulka v chuzhikh zapogakh (a walk in someone else's shoes)

Knowing now what you know, experiencing what you have experienced, reading what you have read, whether now it amount to great things or insignificant, with your memory fresh of events like the bombings in London, the Twin Towers, and the train in Spain, would you, if encountered by suspicious events, shine or diminish? Would your world end as T.S. Eliot puts it, "not with a bang but a whimper?" If your personal fortitude strong enough to judge even-handedly, you might say yes, but quite possibly no, and either of these answers would be driven by several emotions, among them fear, unsurety, and respect for others, to name a few. Imagine now that you are sitting on a bus, and you see in front of you someone you have never seen before, who looks unlike anyone you have ever seen before. His dress is outlandish, his hair pasted and laquered and chopped. He carries with him a large black indiscrete bag, and is quietly cradling a small electronic device that is unfamiliar, you've never seen before, that infrequently beeps and vibrates. He presses buttons on it and slips it into a pocket on the bag at his feet, and then the strange man bows his head in pensive rest. And this is the point of testing. Perhaps you would sit back and wonder, even after all you've heard on the news, is it worth doing anything to risk disrupting this man's privacy, afraid to be wrong and embarass yourself, and unsure what or who this man is, but supposing he must have a purpose here and now. Or you might take all you know to heart, and from fear of death, from unsurity of the unknown factors, from respect of other people around you, many of whom you know, arrest the man and demand explanation for the electronics, the bag, the suspicious appearance. Does propriety of your actions depend on the outcome or the motive? If in the end, you are justified: the man is evil and a terrorist; are you more correct than if he was not? Or being driven from pure motives, is it right to do something, even if you are not justified in the end?

This happened to me on the bus to my village this week. But I was the suspect, and a man in my village was the hero. Although ignorance and a clouded judgement were determining factors, his motives led him to grab me by the neck because he thought I might blow up the bus. The rest of the bus was instantly in an uproar. "What are you doing?! That's the English teacher! He teaches our little children English in school! Let him go! He's from America! He works here for free and lives in our village! What are you doing? What, do you think he's a terrorist? Hahahaha!" Once he realized his mistake, and I showed him my perfectly normal (harmless) cell phone that was doing so much beeping and vibrating earlier, he apologized, although that didn't relieve much of the tenseness in the atmosphere - at least on my part. He then began asking me lots of questions, and it even progressed to the point, thanks to the sporadic input of the babushkas on the bus, that the man asked if I would meet his daughter and marry her. From terrorist to bridegroom in 15 minutes. That was an interesting ride.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

pocket of evil

"Again, many of us have had the experience of living in some local pocket of human society – some particular school, college, regiment or profession where the tone was bad. And inside that pocket certain actions were regarded as merely normal (“Everyone does it”) and certain others as impracticably virtuous and quixotic. But when we emerged from that bad society we made the horrible discovery that in the outer world our “normal” was the kind of thing that no decent person ever dreamed of doing, and our “quixotic” was taken for granted as the minimum standard of decency. What had seemed to us morbid and fantastic scruples so long as we were in the “pocket” now turned out to be the only moments of sanity we there enjoyed. It is wise to face the possibility that the whole human race (being a small thing in the universe) is, in fact, just such a local pocket of evil – an isolated bad school or regiment inside which minimum decency passes for heroic virtue and utter corruption for pardonable imperfection."
– C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Goliath's name lives forever

Long ago, according to the popular story, a small boy who smelled of sheep stood against a giant whose name struck fear and wonderment into the hearts of his enemies as he bellowed obscenities across the field. Goliath: ancient Philistinic tongues so named this monster. Names, of course, hold meaning, which is sometimes impenetrably opaque and obscure. In English we have the obvious names denoting occupations: Knight, Taylor, Miller, Tanner, Chandler, Franklin, Butler, Smith, Butler, and perhaps the less common Pimp; and also names denoting a place of residence: Greenhill, River, Hill, Newton, Oldham, Wood, etc. But English names are bland compared to the wonderful variety of Russian names, which could create a sense of wonder just by their sound (not only their reputation, as was Goliath's case). Collectively, Russian names could set a dinner table, fill a large menagerie of strange creatures, or even populate a two-bit sideshow. Have you ever come across an Englishman or American with the name of Andrew Bloody-tail, Xena City-of-Black-Darkness, or Sveta of-the-Cabbages, or Tanya Little-Crust-of-Bread? Have you ever, while walking through the woods, come across a dark house straight from Poe's imagination, inhabited by Granny Three-Eyes? These names are commonplace, perhaps not so much as the Wolves, Foxes, Forests, Hills, etc., but they are not the exception to the rule. Peoples' family names in many cases come from nicknames given to them by the other people in their village; almost every person in the village has a "clitchka." Eventually, maybe even people's nicknames will become their family names, and many names have a story behind them. My favorite that I've come across so far is John Jumping-Over-the-Fence. I wonder where such a name came from. Was his great grandfather the town filanderer? Was he caught stealing someone's cabbages? That story perhaps is lost, but his name will live forever in this rich and imaginative tradition.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


I was in a really bad mood a couple of days ago. I don't know if it was adjusting back to site, or what, but I just couldn't stand talking to anyone for a long time. I tried to avoid many encounters with people I knew would piss me off, because I knew I had very little patience for them at the time. I accomplished this at the sake of possibly offending the parties involved, although I don't think I did offend them; they probably just thought I was a jerk. I worried about this for a little while, but after contemplating it, I realized that I don't have to be friends with everyone in my village, and, while I don't have anything against them personally, I usually don't tend to be on friendly terms with chronic drunks and perverts, either, so that made me feel better. When I went to the village concert in honor of Kazakhstan's Constitution Day, I was expecting just another dancing, karaoke sideshow. I sat down, and some guy that I was acquainted with turned around and invited me to sit with him and his girlfriend "to talk." So I went and sat next to him. Apparently by "talking" he meant "drinking," because he procured a bottle of beer from beside his chair and offered it to me, "in honor of Constitution Day." After several declinations on my part, and reciprocal insistence on his, I finally just replanted myself in my previous chair. This concert did prove to be different because the audience was considerably worse behaved than usual, heckling the performers, laughing, jockeying, whistling, and conversing throughout the entire concert. I felt embarrassed to be a part of the audience. However, I couldn't go outside because as soon as I would, I would be accosted by other guys wanting to "talk" as well. I felt trapped - hence the bad mood. This was a concentrated instance of what it seems to be like in general on an everyday basis. Hopefully, things will change when school starts, and the young people aren't in the village.

I want to qualify the apparent infortitude to alcohol - what we might call, being American with a certain prudish heritage, alcoholism; it is simply not culturally taboo, like it is for us. So my comments are obviously biased perspectives, and should be read not as invective, but a report. Vodka is an inescapable reality throughout much of Russian culture. It's as culturally acceptable to them as, say, having eggs for breakfast is for us. They even drink vodka for breakfast sometimes. I know some men who drink vodka throughout the day. They would be considered lushes in America, but here they are just normal men. They drink vodka to be healthy, much like the concept of a glass of red-wine a day. The word "vodka" itself, probably evolved from the word for water ("vada"), and I have heard it used several times interchangeably. With these cultural differences in mind, I will tell you what it's commonly like for me, the proverbial fish-out-of-water.

This is a conversation of an encounter with some guys in my village, and is what happened last Saturday in my village when I went with my host brother to the only bar in the village. I’m calmly chatting with my host-brother as we enter through the door. Immediately I hear shouts across the room. “Daniel! Come sit down! Come talk with us!” Sensing my hesitation, one of them stumbled to his feet unsteadily and rushed to me, throwing his arm around my shoulders. “Sit down! Sit down! Come drink with us!”
“I don’t want to drink.”
“What do you mean, you don’t want to drink? Come sit down.”
“Okay. But I don’t want to drink.”
When I sit down at the table I am immediately met with a small shot glass full of vodka. “Here’s your shot, Daniel.”
“No, no, that’s not necessary.”
“Here’s your shot. Let’s drink.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Daniel. Let’s drink.”
“No, I said, I don’t want to drink.”
“Just have 100 grams*.” (*100 grams means two shots. Since it’s Russian tradition to never stop at two shots, 100 grams means at least three shots.)
“No. I don’t want vodka.”
“Just have 50 grams.”
“20 grams. 20 grams.”
“No, I don’t want it.”
“What do you mean, no? Just a little.”
“No, no.”
“A little.”
“I don’t like vodka.”
“Just have a little.”
He is just beginning to get the idea that I actually don’t want to drink, which is impossibly odd for him, and equally impossible for him to accept, when another guy sitting next to him chimes in with a scheming look in his eye. “Daniel, let’s meet. My name’s Andrei.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Come on. Let’s drink to our meeting.”
“I don’t want to drink.”
“What do you mean, no? It’s to meeting.”
“I already said that I don’t want to drink.”
Andrei throws up his shoulders and pouts his lips, as if to say that he would be offended if I didn’t drink. A face appears over my shoulder, and with a voice steaming and with the smell of alcohol, it says, “It’s a Russian tradition.”
“I know, I know. But I don’t want to drink.”
“Daniel, It’s tradition!”
“Tell you what, let’s meet some other time,” I say. And so they drink the shot and all is well until about ten seconds later, when the same person pours another shot and sets it in front of me.
“Daniel, here’s your shot…”

through the looking glass

Have you ever looked into the mirror one morning and wondered, much like Alice daydreamed on a hot summer day – if a world exists beyond the fringes of the reflection, or if it is truly a reflection at all, or if – like us – the reflection that we see is not a reflection at all, but we are a reflection of it and it will walk away and live it’s life beyond the horizons of the mirror that we imagine may exist? If we could only peer around corners, or set up enough mirrors angled to refract any sign that there is life existing apart from our own engine, that the person that we see won’t cease to exist when we leave the path of the mirror. Wouldn’t it be strange if one day, as you washed your face or put in your contacts, you began to turn away and sensed distinctly that, for a mere fraction of a second, the hand in the mirror lagged behind your own. You would perhaps take the contact lens out, wash it again, and put it back in your eye, hoping that it was a mistake, that the anomaly you just thought you witnessed was a trick of light or a wrinkle in your lens. And you would try, with all scientific reasoning, to duplicate the event. Have you ever found yourself in one of those elevators rimmed with reflective glass, peering uncannily at yourself copied dozens of times over, and thought if you could just see far enough down the line, you might notice a you with some imperfection. Imagining again the doppelganger that exists when you walk away from the mirror – suppose every imperfection of reflective action is merely imperceptible, and that for every mirror in every reflection these imperfections accumulate, until finally in some variable world, you exist as an antithesis of yourself as you know it.

Sometimes I feel that everything seems so sufficiently skewed to conclude that somehow, ostensibly, I have stepped into the skin of another me, and that I am now perceiving the world of my reflection.

15 minutes in Kaz

I knew that I wore my nice blue striped shirt to the Swearing-in for a good reason. During the ceremony, I was asked to give an interview for a news channel. For every swearing in, news crews are invited by the U.S. embassy to film the ceremony and take interviews. Well, since I was there and my Russian was pretty good, they asked me. I gave an interview completely in Russian, and I must say was really nervous, because I don't like interviews. I guess I always think I might not handle the pressure of tough questions. That's my personality - to express complete thoughts. I do it in writing, speaking, whatever. But I did alright. The Peace Corps staff I worked with at training said she saw me and it was really good. It wasn't until I got back to site, that I discovered, much to my chagrin, that the news channel was national and I was being watched in Tarkhanka, too. Nina and my director, Nina Vasiliyevna, saw me on television. I don't know what questions that they asked me made it into the cut, but there were some that I didn't know how to answer. Did I mention that I don't like interviews? I don't like interviews, and that's one reason why. They asked me if I had a girlfriend(?!) and asked what I thought about Americans coming and finding wives here and such. I answered that that's good for them, I guess, but I haven't found anyone, for such is love. Another question, after he rephrased it because he was using big words I didn't understand, was basically, "What about Kazakhstan was disappointing to you?" Now, seriously, you can't answer that except with, "Nothing disappointed me." And really, as I explained, I had no expectations, so I wasn't disappointed, since most Americans - I was included with them before I came - know little to nothing about Central Asian countries. But still, I had a better time with the interview, than another volunteer, who gave an interview in Kazakh. They asked him all sorts of strange questions, and because he went right before me, as I sat listening to the questions, I got nervous about what questions they qould ask me. I hate interviews.