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.