A Delayed Update

Below is a post that I worked on this week, but I am just now getting to publish it. Life is busy here. I haven’t gotten to write about the visit to the art studio, our Friday night dinner snafu (we got to eat, but confusion and chaos arrived it the mist of our plans. Hilarity ensured), or the bitter cold. So many things to tell and so little time to write.

I am loving this experience. There are so many challenges. I really want to share so much with those following my journey. But, like life back in the States, you have to live it and do what you have to do when you have to do it. Sometimes I don’t get to write everything I want. And, sometimes, if you haven’t experienced it, you probably wouldn’t understand it. Therefore, it is difficult to write about it. So, I write what I can when I can. Hope you enjoy the delayed post below! Thanks to everyone who is traveling with me in one way or another.

From last week:

It has been another exciting week in Pavlodar. We still have several teachers at conferences and some special projects in process, so the international teachers were covering classes while local teachers were away. On one hand, it is nice to have complete control of my classroom as I had for years in the US. On the other hand, it was exhausting and I miss my coteachers. They are wonderful and I miss their company and expertise. I think they may be back tomorrow and things may get back to somewhat normal for a few weeks.

Yesterday was a particular interesting and eventful day. I posted some pictures already of the swim club. My internet was out so I only got to post briefly from a café with wifi and didn’t get to give many comments. Got up fairly early, about 6 AM, to meet the swim club. Took a bus just about 4 or 5 stop away to the Chekhov Theater to meet the member who was hosting our visit. It was a beautiful snow covered morning. Not too cold, but I was bundled up well. I had not explored the area around the theater before now. It is­­­ a historic district. The few pre-Soviet buildings in this area are mostly located here. The historical museum is there as well. We walked a few blocks from the bus stop to what used to be a KGB prison. Now, the club members use a small section of the building as changing rooms and workout areas. The rest of the building is a children’s sports center. There are Olympic rings crudely painted in white on the back of the building. Lori, another international teacher from Iowa, went with me. There was much excitement that the English speakers were coming and especially that there might be Americans in the group. Regardless of age or body type, people moved excitedly and gracefully through the cramped area preparing for the frigid swim. The energy was contagious. Men and women from their 20’s to their 80’s. I felt totally in the way and awkward, but no one seemed to mind. Everyone got ready and we walked through the snow and down the icy steps to the river. Some cheered as we walked. No one was wrapped up or in any type of cover up. They wore swim trunks, bikinis, one-piece swimsuits with tennis shoes and winter hats. When we arrived at the riverbank, the group goofed around, teased one another, did a few last minute warm up exercises, and posed for pictures. Then walked right into the 34-degree river and swam, for a few minutes or for several minutes or however long seemed good enough. No one ran out of the water and sprinted for the warmth of the building a few hundred miles away. They got out, dried off, goofed around some more, and sauntered back to the building, chatting and sharing the joys of good health. They invited us to come again. They asked many questions. Some our host answered on our behalf; some he translated to us. It was an interesting start to another fabulous day in Pavlodar.

On the way back to the bus stop, we stopped at a café for breakfast. Our host came along to translate for us, as we did not know if the restaurant would have an English menu or one with pictures. (No, we cannot learn the language fast enough!) They had an “American breakfast” with fried eggs and toast and there was fresh squeezed orange juice. And, pictures on the menu! New place to eat! Score!

I was only able to bring a limited number of clothes and most of those were dress clothes for school, not many “play” clothes. And after 3 months, they are about worn out. Also, the weather is rapidly changing. I needed new clothes. There is almost no one in this country who is larger than what would be about a size 6 in the US, so buying clothes has been a challenge. And quite frankly, the clothes here are a bit loud and blingy for most American style preferences. With the assistance of my landlord’s college age daughter, we finally found some fairly good places to buy reasonable clothes for me that I can wear for work and for fun. We had a nice girls’ day out with a lovely lunch after shopping. We ate at Krendle’s which is considered one of the best restaurants in town and which has the best bakery in town. There we meet another US citizen who is living here. He is a musician. We exchanged numbers and hope to have him join us for dinner with the international team. He is from Ohion which is a bordering state to my home state. So excited to find other Americans hanging out in Kazakhstan.

The day ended with a visit to a local artist with a tour of her workshop. I will have to write about that another time. There is so much to tell! It was a magical end to a really fun day!

 

Peace and love to you all!

Knock, Knock! Winter is at the door!

It may be autumn on the calendar, but winter has arrived in Pavlodar. The city is about 60 miles from Siberia, so it is not surprising. It is a rude awaking though. We have plenty of snow and cold weather in the US, but we also have the comforts of the US in the winter, like a car sitting 10 feet from my door and the ability to warm it up before getting in and traveling to any destination I want when I want. Relying on a semi-modern bus system makes the cold all the more unforgiving. But we are all doing our best to deal with the cold and it hasn’t stopped us from enjoying our journey.

This week we had our 2nd formal Russian lesson at school. Kazakh lessons this week were cancelled because some of the teachers in the school were working on projects during the fall break. Not knowing the language has been a huge battle. We are learning as much as we can on our own and can get around the city for necessities fairly well, but we are also giving our translation apps on our phones a real workout. I am still having issues with my US phone and I have not purchased a local data plan yet. Therefore, I do not always have a translation app available, but the Russian dictionary on my phone usually does the job. And, I am typically with someone from the group who has a data plan available. We get by. However, we want to learn the language and it would be much easier to be able to talk to people rather than to have to play Charades and Pictionary to communicate. It is disheartening to always have to point and grunt to make purchases at the market. Yes, we are happy to start the language classes.

Friday night was probably the best night in Kazakhstan so far. A local teacher arranged for the group to have dinner at a Russian restaurant. It was a beautiful venue. There was a dance floor and good music. The food was delicious. It was a lovely evening. I haven’t danced so much since I was in college. Another really nice aspect, the men here dance! Everybody dances! EVERYBODY! I had a dance partner for every dance. Music in most places here tends to be fairly bad techno music or traditional folk music. I have nothing against either of those, but there is almost nothing else. Friday night was a wonderful mix of traditional Russian music, pop, US hits, and international dance and pop. Refreshing! There would be music and dancing for about 20 minutes and then it would stop and professional dancers would perform. They did the Can Can, Flamenco, and several traditional Russian and European dances. It was fabulous!!! Since we couldn’t read the menu, which was as beautiful as the rest of the experience, our local host ordered salads and a meat dish of chicken and beef cutlets in a cheese sauce for everyone. He selected very well. Oh, yes, the menu… it was a fabric covered work of art. The right hand page had the items listed and the left side was tapestry and illuminated manuscript reproductions of Russian history, stories, and myths. (Thank you, Liberal Arts College art history classes. I recognized the art and asked someone to verify that I was correct.) I forgot to take pictures of it before our server took the menus. Gorgeous!

The Winter Wonderland and business of education continues here in Kazakhstan. It is a tough business, but there is joy and fun along the trail we are have selected to walk. Peace and love to you all.

wpid-20141025_115817.jpg

Woke up this morning to this view from my window.

 

 

wpid-20141023_143218.jpg

Russian Language Lessons

 

wpid-20141024_194612.jpg

The charming decor at the restaurant.

 

wpid-20141024_201028.jpg

Ready to start the festivities

wpid-20141024_194602.jpg

A hungry bunch!

wpid-20141024_194726.jpg

More of the lovely decor.

wpid-20141024_200921.jpg

The food and dancing was wonderful, but the best part of the evening was the company and a chance for fellowship with those making this journey together.

wpid-20141024_201135.jpg

Really, where is the food???

wpid-20141024_201335.jpg

Our host for the evening! Thank you!! Such a lovely experience!

 

Fall break

The students are on fall break today through Sunday.  They return to school on Monday.  Teachers do not get a fall break.  We still report to school. There is plenty of work do, completing reports and working on projects.  A few of us went out to eat tonight at a local Chinese restaurant called Zebra. The food was very good and the company was wonderful, as always.

image

My steak and veggies.  Sooo gooood!

image

Appetizers!  So cute! I didn’t try any, but they tell me they were yummy.

image

image

image

The gang and the restaurant.

Peace and love to you all.

Dinner out after a busy week.

This week, we had several teachers away at an academic program.  Students took quarterly assessments.  So the international teachers have covered classes, proctored tests that were in Russian and Kazakh, followed an alternate schedule that wasn’t in distributed in English.  Plus, some of us had our formal observations.  Crazy, busy week. Our usual Friday restaurant is remodeling and we have a team member who will be returning home this week to attend to a family issue. So we opted to try another restaurant.  It is a spaceship themed place. Some of us missed the bus to the location and had to get a cab. Therefore, we missed the alien who greeted arriving guest. But the food was good and the company was great! A wonderful evening.  Have I mentioned how amazing our international team is?! They totally rock!

image

image

image

image

It was bitterly cold when we went out to eat last night. I got up in the middle of the night and looked out the window. It was a beautiful snowy night in Pavlodar.  Our first semi real snow of the season. It won’t take long for the beauty of the snow to wear off and be replaced by the dread of the oppressive cold. But for now, I will just enjoy the lovely view.

image

Teachers’ Day Evening Gala

I haven’t had a chance to share photos from the big party on Friday night.  Lots of great food, entertainment, dancing, and friends.  There were hired professional dance acts and singers, as well as skits and performances from the staff. An amazing event for people who work hard and deeply believe in the future of this country and its people.

image

The venue

image

image

image

The food…and this is just the appetizers!

image

The fireworks!

image

The people…without these people, and many more who are not in the photos, I would not survive this journey, much less thrive as I have.

image

image

A mix of international and local teachers.  Cooperation for a quality education, truly something to celebrate!

Happy Teachers’ Day

Today, Kazakhstan celebrated National Teachers’ Day. Part of the educational initiatives here is to bring respect to the profession of teaching. Today was a day of total respect for teachers. We were greeted at the doors of the school by students cheering for us and handing us candy. Music was playing.  Then the students “gave us the day off” by teaching the classes.  Yes, my coteachers left students in the room to teach so they wouldn’t be embarrassed or anxious about performing in front of the teachers. (We were within earshot.) There are small presents of candy bars and such throughout the day. The students put on a concert for the teachers. It was fabulous.  Such talent. We got to leave school early to get ready for the big formal gala tonight at a local banquet hall. All day students wished teachers a Happy Teachers’ Day during the day and thanked us for what we do for them. I was almost brought to tears more than once by the words of students today. What a giant step in bringing respect to the profession. And the teachers here earn that respect every day.

image

Happy Teachers’ Day

image

Concert photos

image

image

image

image

image

Skit, “What Teachers Do After Classes” It was in Russian, but I still understood most of it. Very funny!

image

Self with English teachers, Sam and Makhabat

image

Mikael and me. He is an engineer that teaches model building.  He totally rocks!

Will try to post pictures after the party tonight.  Peace and love to you all.

Learning our way around Pavlodar

It has been another exciting week in Pavlodar. We spent a good part of the week trying to finish immigration issues. The US citizens has additional requirements, from the US government, not from Kazakhstan. So, the US teachers still have an outstanding issue or two. Should be finalized soon! I keep saying that. And one day it will be true!

The schedule and teaching assignments at school have changed several times. We are told that this is standard operating procedure here. It is confusing sometimes, but not too frustrating. I am enjoying getting to work with different teachers and meet different students as I try to navigate this new environment. Just like every other school, each teacher has a different style and each class has its own personality and dynamic. I am really enjoying the students and local teachers. They ask interesting questions. They share interesting information. And sometimes they get my jokes!

Outside of school this week, we had the walking tour of Pavlodar last Saturday. I now know where to buy many of the things that I need or will need in the near future, like warm clothes and kitchen supplies. I also found the YARN SHOP!!! We have looked for a yarn shop since I arrived. Everyone knew that finding a yarn supply was important to me. I hope to actually go back to buy knitting supplies in a week or two.

It was about 75 degrees last Saturday when we went on the walking tour. This week it has been in the 50’s. Fall lasted about a week. Winter will be here in a day or two. It is below freezing at night.

A fellow teacher from Texas had his heart set on concocting a burrito by combining various menu items at a local restaurant. He practiced saying shredded cheese in Russian ALL day. His heart was broken when we got to the restaurant and found out that they were out of the beef entre that would be the basis for his creation and his attempt to bring home to Pavlodar for a few brief moments. But they found substitutions and in the end all was well. These are the moments that make the hardships worth it. These are the memories that we are making in Kazakhstan. I hope we can continue these fabulous occasions to get us through the hard winter ahead! Peace and love to you all!wpid-20140910_130848.jpg

This is, or rather, was my boss. We had a going away party for him this week. We wish him the best in Astana.