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!