Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fearing to Fail


This past week I had a conversation with a friend and read a couple articles dealing with failure and the fear of failure and I thought, “I’ve never been afraid of failure.” Now, I’m not saying I’m not afraid of anything, because I do have my fears, but failure is not one of them. In my early years of high school I didn’t have set goals for college and my future. Later in High school I determined which university I wanted to go to and what I wanted to pursue. I don’t think I ever once thought about failure. Even now, as I am rethinking my life and pondering what direction I should go, I do not fear failure. So that got me thinking further, “Am I being cocky? Why couldn’t I end up failing miserably? Why am I not afraid?” I guess this seems like a strange thing to think about, but it really got me going. I think it could have something to do with my wild imagination and unrelenting, sometimes annoying optimism. I imagine the different scenarios and no matter what happens I know that I could make it fun and exciting, and I know that I could change things if I wanted or if necessary. It could also have to do with the fact that I have no wealth hoarded up or expectations that I feel pinned to. But, I came to some sort of conclusion that I don’t fear failure because I don’t really need to. I’m not going to fail. This may sound a little too self-confident, and maybe a bit on the cocky side, and maybe it is, but it’s true. I have amazing parents and amazing family and friends for that matter who will stop at nothing to support me. They believe in me, they believe that I will choose the right path and that I will succeed in whatever I do. Why do they believe I will succeed? I suppose for the same reasons that I know I will not fail. I’ve got God on my side. Even when I do fail, it’s just like falling and scraping my knee. I get back up and keep going, knowing that my God is already healing my wounds and carrying my heavy baggage. If God calls and God empowers and God loves, seriously—how can I fail? I can’t. Now I do fear other things like not following God’s leading or ending up with a job that I hate or a marriage that has more downs than ups. But, with all this, I know the end result will be good—it will be more than good.  God has a purpose, He has a calling, and while I may be in a wandering and questioning sort of state I know that I will fall upon His best in His timing. I will not, I cannot fail.

Another Eventful Escapade


As another weekend flies by, I am not really sure what to think. Starting this next week I’m getting a couple more classes and having to start a kids summer camp English program. That means that some days I will be working from early morning to late night. While I’m sad to give up my reading time and my wake-up-whenever-I-want way of life, I am excited to get back into the working mode. I haven’t had much demanded from me since I’ve been here and while I have relished the free time for reading, writing, and thinking, I have not been challenged and thus, I have not done too much growing. Sure I’ve grown, but not in the push-myself-to-accomplish-difficult-tasks way. I don’t want to get back home and be appalled by having to do a full day’s work. This was after all my Sabbatical and now it is coming to an end.

This weekend was yet another crazy eventful escapade. Saturday we were in charge of church and we enjoyed listening to Emily preach for the first time and share some things she’s learned in the year she’s been here. Her boyfriend got in on Sunday and so she has been on cloud 9 as she is packing her bags and enjoying her last couple weeks in Kazakhstan. After church we went to the fancy Opera House and watched a Ballet. I’ve never been to a ballet before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. All the girls seemed to be thrilled by it, but most of the guys I talked to said it was oozjas (horrible). Turns out, the ballet is definitely more of a woman thing. I enjoyed it, because it was new and because I got to put another Kazakhstan experience on my page, but ultimately it was weird. The first act was a shirtless man wearing tights doing these nasty sexual moves while prancing around the stage. We were all kind of wondering, “What did these people bring us to?” The second act had a man and a woman who were doing crazy sexual dances, but were quite funny and entertaining. Then there was a Romeo and Juliet style dance and a Don Quixote style dance and all these other dancers that featured twirling dancers and intriguing music. After intermission the “real” ballet started and it seemed to be a story of a woman with three lovers or something and a little demon and in the end she died and her demon died with her and the three men were all standing together. As you can tell, I have no idea what they were trying to get across, but it was entertaining nonetheless. I came to the conclusions that ballets are really sexual and children should not be allowed in the theater.

Today however, we did not have to sit through any crazy dance performances. We woke up early and headed to the monthly craft fair. We spend about an hour there and I bought a few things to give to some people when I get back. However, I am really trying to hold back because I don’t want to have overweight bags when I get on the plane to go home.

After the craft fair we went to meet some people. Of course, everyone was late, including us. We waited, got on a bus and drove far, then got in a taxi, which ended up circling and going back to where we started, and then we looped around a few more times to finally arrive at our destination. This was the result of a lot of disorganization of a company we used. Anyways, our destination was some field with some old buildings and rubble with a van filled with guns and cameo suits. We went paintballing! I’ve never gone paintballing in the States. Too much money, always looked painful, but in Kazakhstan I got the opportunity to go for cheap and without all those overdone American safety regulations. So we got in our cameo suits, put on our masks and started out with some capture the flag. The first round I was put on the front lines and we charged forward. I didn’t last long though, before taking a shot to the face. The ball hit my mask and splattered red paint along my goggles which was kind of freaky, but luckily didn’t hurt at all. However, I was dead and had to wait for the next round. The second round I chose to hide out in some building, but when I saw the building didn’t go through I had to leave. On my way out I got some guy hiding in the bushes, and felt proud of my first paintball kill. So I crept towards their flag and got to their “base”. Inside I could hear a bunch of “enemies” talking and waiting for someone to disrupt them. I knew I couldn’t take all of them so I decided to just bolt for their flag and run as fast as I could to my base. Unbelievably, I made it. That has always been my style, whether it be in video games or real life. I like to make strategies, but when it comes down to it I like to see the “flags” in front of me, abandon all reason and precaution, and just go for it. So we were tied and we started a new game. This time we were in a building and the other team had to try and steal our flag. I killed many people this round and we ended up winning. The next time we switched roles and we ended up winning that one too. So everyone was either out of bullets or tired. Finally it came down to Steven and I versus 5 Russian guys we didn’t know. The guy told us we were survivors and everyone else had a mission to kill us. It was pretty much a glorified hide and seek with guns—amazing! We found the best spot in this building and once they found where we were they tried to get us, but only ended up being showered with our paint. Steven and I came out victorious. It was a blast! But after running around in the heat of the day, wearing heavy cameo suits and carrying around our guns, we were exhausted and in serious need of water. I think after today, I have a newfound respect for our soldiers in the Middle East. They have to walk around with a ton more crap than I had on today and in an even hotter climate; and after waiting in a room with my special mission, hearing gunshots all around me, waiting for the enemy pop up so I can shoot them—Mercy...I’m glad I’m a missionary and not a soldier. That’s all I have to say. But, I thoroughly enjoyed the battle, the adrenaline, and the mission. It was a kind of adventure that I believe men crave.

After getting all hot, sweaty, and nasty we went to a fancy mall (that is very popular here, but that I’ve never been to) and had dinner at some pizza restaurant in order to say goodbye to Emily and one of Emily’s students that is going on a work/study program to America. All these goodbyes are starting and I still have a month left!

So with all this busyness piling up and all these goodbyes welling up I think this last month is going to fly by especially fast. My feelings are of course mixed. It will be bittersweet, but I have had, and keep having, amazing experiences here that will never leave me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Mormons


So yesterday I was late for work so I decided to hop on the bus in hopes that it would get me there faster than my own two feet. I got on and sat down, pulled out my phone and texted one of my students. These four guys walked on the bus all in white shirts and ties. I chuckled to myself thinking, “These guys look like Mormons.” Of course, I’m in Kazakhstan so I didn’t think they really were Mormons, but then the bus started moving. I gave up my seat to an old Diadushka (Grandpa) (this is strict custom here) and was standing near where they were sitting. Soon two of the guys got off the bus and I heard them speaking English. Not only did I hear them speaking English, I heard them speaking English with an American accent! So I stood there, but I knew I had to go talk to them. I mean it’s not every day you meet other Americans on the bus in Almaty. So I went over and asked if I heard them speaking English. They said yes and I asked where they were from. One of the guys, he looked about my age, said he was from Utah. Of course the thought popped in my head, “My goodness, they are Mormons!” But we kept talking introduced ourselves and talked about our business in Almaty. I told him I’m a volunteer English teacher and he told me that he was doing service with his church. Knowing the answer, I thought I would ask anyways, “Oh really! What church are you with?” Sure enough—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He immediately asked if I had heard about them taking the opportunity to share his good news and I told him that I study theology. We were both interested and the conversation would have probably gone on but my bus stop came up and I was already late.

It didn’t matter who they were, it was nice to get that reassurance that I’m not the only crazy American in this crazy city. I have always admired Mormons. While I think their beliefs are a little off, they show incredible determination in all aspects of life, but especially in mission. They believe in their message and it affects the totality of their lives. They are family-oriented and other than polygamy from a few bad apples, you never hear of many Mormons involved in scandals. So I was excited to meet them. We had been in Almaty for around the same amount of time, but I was getting ready to leave and I knew this kid had another year and a half if he was like other Mormons I’d met. I would have loved to talk more with them; I probably should have gotten their phone number or something. But, regardless, it made for a pretty cool day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Occupation: Lover


In my nearly 20 years of life I have had many experiences. I have seen many different places and had opportunities to interact with people from different cultures, mindsets, and upbringings. Everyone goes through life with different motives, with different goals and aims. Some people are working to get enough money to buy a new car or a bigger house while others are working to please their spouse or their kids. Some people are working to survive while others are trying to pursue causes bigger than themselves. Now, I think everyone wants to pursue a good cause. I know many teachers and these are people certainly not motivated by money, but people that I believe truly want to make an impact in the lives of children and young people. Nearly everyone, no matter where they’re from or how they were brought up, lives their life wanting to contribute something to this world. The problem I have is when I look around and see so many people satisfied with their lives.

That may sound strange, because satisfaction is a good thing. It may just be my crazy youth-plague mind, but as I ponder my future the last thing I want is satisfaction. Satisfaction causes stagnation and stagnation causes bacteria and fungi to build up. You never want to drink out of a puddle of water that has been still for months. It is probably a nice green color with fuzzy things floating and bugs swarming around. Many people live their lives, go to work, and develop a routine that they will keep up for years. The only time their lives are interrupted is through some sort of tragedy. Personally, I don’t want my life to have to be shaken up by tragedy. I don’t want to be a nasty puddle of water; I want to be a stream that is constantly flowing, bringing life to the things and people that surround me.

I’m not saying that we should be miserable and unsatisfied all the time. I believe in happiness, and even more so I believe in contentment. Extreme happiness is great, but you’ll notice that when you have a big dose of happiness it fades and then you feel like your life is boring and you become miserable. Happiness has the same effect as cocaine. What we really need is contentment—a strong, bold contentment that rejects satisfaction.

I have been pondering my future—what I want “to be when I grow up” and I have to say that I don’t think I like any of the outcomes. I don’t want to “be” one thing. I don’t want to “be” a pastor, or a doctor, or a teacher. I want to “be” me and “do” all sorts of different things. I read an article about some guy who marked his occupation “lover” because he had no real career. He just did things to help others and love on them. So I think I want to be a lover. I don’t want to be defined by my career. I want to be defined by my character and my faith and then from there follow opportunities that allow me to spread God’s love.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another Great Weekend, but Only 5 More Left!


When April was ending I was freaking out at how fast the time was going by. As May begun I realized I was on the downhill slope. Now, things are really wrapping up. This next week will be Emily’s last week teaching and on Friday her boyfriend will be arriving to spend her last two weeks with her and then they will leave together in the middle of June. Those two weeks are going to be weird for all of us because they will be the beginning of massive change. I hate to say it, but I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in Kazakhstan. Almaty has become my city. Although I can hardly say I have a routine, I have developed some norms. When Emily leaves it will just be weird, especially because that means that Steven and I will be marching home right behind her. It’s also hard because I know that Emily has spent a year here working hard, and I feel like I haven’t really done too much. 6 months really is too short, but I know it is time for me to return home. It would, however, make it easier if there were people coming to replace me. The English centers are in big trouble as it looks like they will go months without new teachers. So I kind of feel like crap leaving them behind when I technically could stay and help a little longer. But, again, I feel pretty strongly that it’s my time to go home. The moral of the story, six months is a very, very tiny particle of our vapor of an existence.

This weekend was quite eventful. On Friday, I went to the National Museum with Steven, Emily, and some of my students. We saw a bunch of old stuff, a bunch of display cases, and some cool stuff regarding WWII and Kazakh cultural history. There was also a trade fair happening inside the museum, but nobody really bought anything. It was fun. I really enjoyed hanging out with my students seeing that my days with them are numbered and honestly, I’ll probably never see them again. The next probable meeting will be somewhere in the skies on that Great Day on our way up to be eternal neighbors. But, that could be a really, really long time. That thought kind of depresses me. I really like my students.

On Saturday, instead of going to church, I went to a rock concert. Ok, ok, it wasn’t really a rock concert. It was an awareness/benefit concert for a special needs orphanage in the area. As I saw pictures of some of the children, I also felt some sort of regret for not doing more while I was here. I could have been volunteering other places instead of settling for my 4 hours a day, 4 days a week job. It was at the “Guns & Roses Pub and Grille” which was a lot like an American “Applebee’s” or “Chili’s” and they served Gloria Jean’s Coffee. When I arrived there I was shocked at the fact that everyone was speaking English. The place was filled with members of an International church and volunteers for the orphanage. Most of the people there were English or American. To be honest, it was a little uncomfortable. I hope this isn’t a preview of what my reverse culture shock is going to be like. After the concert I went over to Emily and Veronica’s for a little while and they had many of their students over. I taught some of them how to play American card games and we had pizza, but I couldn’t stay too long because I had to catch a bus and get home.

Today we went to Kapchaguy, which is the nearest body of water that is large enough to actually use boats and swim in. One of my students, Alla, finished graduate school and so we decided to celebrate. We all met up at NewBridge and drove for about 2 hours or so to a nice place near the lake. At our center there is a security guard guy named Max. He was our driver for the day. Within minutes of getting in the car with him we were petrified. We dug frantically looking for seat belts. All was laughing thinking that we were crazy. (In Kazakhstan it is very uncommon for people to use seatbelts unless they are sitting in the front seat). But we found our seatbelts and closed our eyes. I have not been in a driving situation that scary since travelling to India. Max was born in Kapchaguy City and so he knew where to take us and how to show us a good time. We went to a nice area near the water where there was no other people around. After laying out our blankets we ate some food, drank some juice, and set up some fishing poles. Max was trying to catch us some fish, but finally gave up and went to buy shashlik. In the meantime, while Max went to the city, Alla was arranging for a banana boat to take us for a ride. I was excited to go, but I realized that I had left my bathing suit in the car and Max wasn’t going to be back for awhile. We waited a long time laying in the sun and walking along the water, living up our few hours of complete relaxation. He finally got back and we ate some shashlik, I changed my clothes, and the banana boat guy maneuvered up to our “beach”. We all got on, knowing that the final result of this ride was going to be a catapulting into the cold water, only to get out of the water and into a cool, breezy day. The guy drove us around in a pretty sorry looking boat around the lake, but luckily the sorry looking boat had a pretty powerful engine. So we enjoyed some nice views and the exhilaration of water flying out beneath us. Finally he drove us back to where we started and at the last second made a sharp turn that flipped us all into the water. Once wet, Emily, David, some cool British guy named John, and I decided to swim out to an island. Once realizing it was farther than we originally anticipated, John went back, but we kicked our way to the island. We then decided to run all the way around it. The island was pretty neat. It was bigger than it looked and was filled with some sand dunes as well as a little shack that could have fit maybe 5 people maximum. We were jumping off the dunes when I said, “I just want to roll down these things.” As I went to jump, I got to close to the edge and tumbled all the way down. I got my wish and it turned out to be a blast. When we finished running around the island, picking the stickers our of our feet, and avoiding the trash heaps, we were pretty much dry and dreading the fact that the cold water once again was waiting for us. This time, however, we had no choice. So we swam all the way back and had to bear the cold both of the water and the wind when we got out. Of course, the extremely temperature-sensitive locals were shocked that were swimming in the early Spring when the water was still a little bit chilly. It was well worth the chill, and we enjoyed a little more sunshine and a little more food before packing up and going home. As we were packing up we ran into one problem. David and Gina lost their keys to their car. We searched and searched and searched, but to no avail. David finally concluded that he must have gone swimming with them and they must have fallen out of his pocket. Him and Max went at the car and decided to hotwire it to try to get it back home to the spare key. Sure enough, they succeeded. It was definitely my first time seeing people hotwire a car as well as get the steering wheel completely unlocked. Impressive.

So now that this weekend is over, things are really feeling like I’m on the edge of a steep downward slope. 5 more weekends in Almaty and then I’ll be home. It’s a weird thought. How thankful I am though, for every ounce of this experience. The sun has been setting later and later. We walked home tonight and it was still a little light out at about a quarter past nine. I always find this crazy seeing as I’ve lived in the southern States all my life. As the days get longer and the sun shines more, it is just a subtle reminder of how I need the Son to shine a little brighter, a little longer in the days of my life. I am still doing a lot of searching, and I am more excited than ever to trust God with the blank slate of my near future.

Weekend Adventure: Shymkent


Seeing that over a month has passed and I never finished talking about my adventure to the country/Turkistan/Shymekent, I thought I would continue despite my tardiness...

At the top of the mountain we had an incredible view of the entire village and saw the steep mountains, and the vast empty desert. Up on the top of the mountain Emily actually had cell phone reception and got in touch with another friend who was trying to find us. He ended up arriving in the village which surprised all of us, seeing that he basically had to follow a blind trail, with no reception and vague directions. We went back to the house, ate some more traditional food, with more delicious salads. We rested, did some knitting, chatting, watched a movie in Kazakh, and then hit the pads (beds). After bearing the cold night we woke up early, had a quick breakfast of undercooked, fresh eggs (delicious!) and then headed to the road to catch our bus. It was a minibus, like the kind of van that holds 12 passengers or so. Except this was Kazakhstan style. Most of the seats were taken out and we fit about 32 people in there. Again on each other’s laps and squished into the corners. We went on the bumpy roads again for about 3 hours this time heading towards Shymkent instead of Turkistan.

Shymkent is a city that is despised by most Almaty residents. The Southern region of Kazakhstan is looked at as the “barbaric desert.” If any of you has seen the wildly exaggerated movie, Borat, you will remember that he makes a bag and tries to kidnap Pamela Anderson. While this is exaggerated for the humor of Hollywood, this really does happen in the regions of Shymkent. If a guy likes a girl, he kidnaps her. Don’t worry, the guy and the girl usually plan it and it is like some quirky way of popping the question. The girl can choose to leave him and go back to her own family, but it is considered disgraceful. Luckily, before going to Shymkent I hadn’t heard much about the city, so I was able to enjoy it without judging it. It really is a beautiful city, with well kept streets and good weather. People from Almaty will tell you that the reason the city is so well kept is because the locals are not true Kazakhs. They are mixed with Uzbeks and they are hard workers. This is the main reason people from Almaty hate the people from Shymkent. Central Asia is fascinating. These countries we see on the map don’t mean anything; they are a result of Europe and the Soviet Union drawing lines. Central Asia is all about tribes, and strong ethnic/cultural prides.

When we got off our minibus we got our bus tickets to go back to Almaty, went to the bathroom, and got everything adjusted. We left our bags on the bus so we could do some exploring. While we were waiting for everyone to finish in the bathroom there was some “bumpin” music playing. Of course, Emily and Veronica can’t stay still when they hear music like that and so they started dancing. Nazira joined in and we had girls dancing all crazy right in the middle of the bus station. There was this big, old lady that saw and joined in from a distance as well. The whole situation was just one heck of sight. As if speaking English and looking American didn’t make us stand out enough. Pretty soon a car pulled up and some police men called out. Nazira talked to them, and sure enough they wanted documents. They thought we were all crazy people hyped up on drugs. They threatened to take us to the police station, but Nazira, like all good Kazakhs do, argued with them and they went away.

We had more than a few hours until our bus left so we hopped on a regular city bus and wandered the city. The first thing I noticed was that everything was cheaper. Buses cost 35 tenge instead of 50. We ended up walking by this mall and went inside. With its 3 stories, many stores, and shiny escalators I almost thought I was in America. But, after being in the country and living a radically different and crazy life for a couple days, an American-style mall just wasn’t attractive so we left and walked around the city looking for a good place to eat. We ventured around a lot of the city, but everything seemed to be closed, which was very frustrating seeing as it was the middle of the day. Business owners do not fight for your money outside of America, if they like you, they serve you, if they don’t, get out. And if they want to close their place in the middle of the day it’s cool. Who cares if you lose out on a few customers? Just the other day I was buying potatoes and when I took a bad potato out of the bag and told her it was no good, she grabbed the whole bag out of my hands and just gave me my money back. I just don’t understand it. We walked for awhile and came to this park where we shot some pellet guns and rode on some shady ride that was sparking and shaking and spun around via big fans strapped to the top. After the park we continued walking and finally found this nice Turkish place where we were graced with amazing food! I got this pizza-like-thing that was sort of a loaf of bread covered in cheese, vegetables, and meat. We all had our fill and then decided it was time to get back to the bus station. Instead of taking the bus back like normal people we decided to walk. Did any of us know the city? Nope. But, it was okay because we had people with us that could speak Kazakh and ask for directions, right? Not really. We walked around, completely unsure if we were going the right way, counting down the minutes until our bus was supposed to leave. Emir (Nazira’s 6 year-old boy) was smashed. He was too tired to go on so I he did rotations from my shoulders to my back to my arms; something that has become very common whenever he goes anywhere with us. But, we made it back to the bus in time and it wasn’t long before we were bumping up and down on the horrible cross-country roads back to Almaty...

Fading Inspiration and the Tiny “Big” Lake


So I’m trying not to lose inspiration to write, but after nearly a month without being able to post these blogs, my motivation is almost gone. It is crazy to think that I am down to 5 and a half weeks before taking off and restarting my life back home. Emily only has one more week teaching after this and then some serious changes are going to start in our centers. We have no new volunteers coming, at least not for a while. I feel like June is going to be incredibly busy and slip right from under my feet. So with only 10 days being left in May I feel like I should start packing my bags.

This weekend we took another extraordinary hike into the mountains. On Saturday night we stayed at the girls’ apartment because we had to wake up really early and they live much closer to the bus stop. So after waking up at 6:30am we got ready, ran up the street because they were repairing the roads, got on a bus, realized it was going the wrong way, got off the bus, ran back up the street, got on the right bus and met our group incredibly late. We took another bus up into the mountains and then began our hike towards Big Almaty Lake. Everyone I talked to said that Big Almaty Lake is a beautiful area so I was excited. We began trekking up a long dirt road for hours and then came to a big mountain with a large pipe running up it. We began up the mountain and walked along the pipe until we reached the lake. It took about 9 hours and was quite intense. When we finally reached the lake, the guard stopped us and told us we couldn’t go near it. That was quite disappointing seeing as we just spent 9 hours working our butts off to get there. But, with a little Kazakh persuasion/corruption skills we got to go on the dam and look at the lake. Big Almaty Lake should probably be called Tiny Almaty Lake. I guess I had put up my expectations to high, but this lake was really small and you were only allowed to view it from a distance. We did however find a nice area to picnic and the surrounding area truly was beautiful. We were in the midst of the warmth of Spring, lying in the lush grass, but right in front of us were majestic mountain peaks still covered with loads of snow. Even though the lake was slightly disappointing, the hike was well worth it and my sore butt muscles the next day were a small price to pay for the large amount of fun we had.

The city right now is in full bloom. You can’t look around without filling your eyes with a healthy dose of greenery. Tulips line the roads, the delicious aromas of different flowers fill the air, and the once trash-filled, ice covered, mud fields are now covered in lush grass. Since I am from the desert I have never really experienced all 4 seasons in their full glory. Going from winter to Spring is nice.

Family Fun Day, Victory Day, and Mother’s Day


Yesterday I had quite an eventful Sunday. I haven’t been able to get on blogger at all in the past few weeks and it makes it very difficult for me to get motivated to write when I can’t post anything. But, here I am again forcing myself to write about my wonderful weekend.

English Sabbath School was in charge of church again this weekend and instead of letting the girls handle everything as usual, I actually tried to plan the service and delegate the activities. It was a quiet Sabbath with the usual church service, but Veronica preached which made it interesting.

On Sunday all of Kazakhstan and the entire former Soviet Union held their hammer and sickles high and proud as they celebrated 65 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany. Also on this day, those in America were celebrating some of the most important people in their lives—mothers. For me, not being in America with my mom, and not really being able to attach myself to Soviet pride was caught up in another activity—family fun day.

Family Fun Day is something that we decided to have in a joint effort with our church and with our English centers. So we rented a 50 person bus (and ended up having like 70 people) and headed for the mountains. We drove about an hour and a half to a beautiful area that I had never been before. Our bus was going along, but would stop kind of randomly for reasons I never quite figured out. One time it stopped and we took the opportunity to get out and go see what was around. Veronica, Orken, and I took off toward the fast moving river and found a bunch of people, celebrating Victory Day of course, making Shashlik and having parties of their own. We found a cool bridge made out of planks and cords and took the opportunity to run up and down it, jump frantically, lean over the edge, and make fools of ourselves. Pretty soon more people came over from our group and we were all playing on the rope bridge. With more people, and more fun, came the rangers to yell at us. So we got off the bridge and the bus was packing back up. We got to our destination and broke out in the activities. We divided up into two teams. I was the Capitan of the “White Team” and we fought hard against the “Red Team” playing in three-legged races, hot dog eating contests, relay races, and egg races. My team came out victorious. After the activities everyone kind of went off and found something to do. Some played soccer, others played cards, while others stuck their feet in the river and soaked in the intense rays of the shining sun. I did my fair share of soaking in the rays and sticking my feet in the cold river, but I also chased some kids around, threw them up in the air, and all that good stuff. We brought a giant pot and they made plof; a lot of plof! Plof (in Kazakhstan at least) is a dish made mainly of rice mixed with vegetables, raisins, and dried apricots. It is sort of fried and quite delicious, but definitely foreign to my American taste buds. One time during the day these old ladies (I heard they were kindergarten teachers) pulled up in a car, blared some bumpin’ music and started dancing. Of course, Veronica and Emily along with a group of their students made their way over and Veronica, in her black skin once again stole the attention of the crowd. They were all dancing, taking pictures and going crazy. Meanwhile, Emir (a six year old boy that I’ve mentioned in previous blogs) and I hung out by these 2 people making shashlik engaging in very basic conversation with a lovely language barrier. We had a really great time, but by 4:00 we were on the bus and headed back. We got back to NewBridge (the place I work) and then walked home at about 6:00. The sun was still shining and Steven and I got to walk through the memorial park we walk through everyday, but this time it was filled with people celebrating Victory Day.

We walked through the park, took pictures with the flower-covered monuments, and embraced the lively culture that was swimming around us. Street performers were out and at their best, children were running around with their new toys, and everyone was in high spirits celebrating the peace that a previous generation didn’t have the pleasure of taking part in. It is so interesting to be on this side of the world and hear the stories of things like World War 2. Americans fought in the war, several of our brave soldiers died, but America never experienced the war like they did here. After all, our big and beautiful country is on the other side of the world and the only attack we experienced was Pearl Harbor. The Soviet Union was penetrated and sieges were made on big cities like Leningrad. People here fought to protect their sons and daughters, their wives and their lives. American soldiers stepped in out of support for freedom and to help nations like the Soviet Union conquer the forces of the evil Nazi reign. We didn’t necessarily fight to protect our homeland, but fought for the protection of others. The elderly people here walk around in their uniforms displaying their huge pride. They have stories, actual stories about attacks on their cities and the fights they engaged in. The history of this part of the world is truly fascinating and it was so exciting to be able to experience it this year. I find it interesting how freely nations like Kazakhstan still display the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union so proudly. They never saw it as being conquered, oppressed, or held in captivity. They saw those times as good, but different times. Nobody I’ve talked to is eager to say that the Communist era was better or worse than things are now.

I had a great weekend, but lost some sleep with the thought that I only have 7 weeks left in my time here. My boss is trying to get me to stay longer, and while I’m praying about it, I’m ready to go home. I was bummed out I didn’t get to spend Mother’s Day with my Mom, but I did get to Skype her and I will be home before I know it.

Falling Water


I haven’t blogged in forever. I don’t know what is wrong with me, but some resistance has built up in me and I’ve had no motivation to spend time with these keys, or these blank pages. I’m finally forcing myself to write, it doesn’t matter what it says, I just have to get back into the habit. Because I lack motivation when I cannpt post anything

I woke up this morning to large, furious rain drops pounding against my window. It is kind of depressing to get out of bed and stare into a grey sky, but I got out of bed anyways and I am allowing my mind to be penetrated by these raindrops. I am allowing their pattering sound to clear my thoughts.

On Sunday, we went to the mountains. We woke up early, met at the bus stop and headed toward Medeo, which is a place we’ve been several times, but from Medeo we hiked to Budakovka. It was quite a hike and an avalanche had covered the warm, blossoming mountains with fresh piles of icy snow. Needless to say, my feet were wet. By the time we reached Butakovka everyone was tired and we had lunch. We traveled with a huge group, almost 10 people. When we were through with lunch half the group broke off and traveled down the mountain. The other half of us went up to find a waterfall. Nazira and Emir joined us as well as Orken and 2 other students from AELC (the center that the girls work at). We followed the stream and of course, my feet got soaked as I helped Emir jump from rock to rock. We finally made it to the waterfall and it was incredible! It wasn’t a huge waterfall, but it was a good size. None of us could help playing around in the water and it wasn’t long before I was completely drenched. We filled up our water bottles and then laid out on rocks trying to dry off in the warm sun. I found a nice solitary place with a rock and I closed my eyes, soaked in the warm rays, and listened to the water crash against the ground beneath. Once we realized that it was getting late we headed down. We missed the bus so we had to keep walking down the mountain trying to get to the next bus stop within the city. Emir (who is about 6) got really tired like a little child would after hiking 10 hours and so I had to carry him much of the way down. We ended up walking quickly through the dark windy mountain roads trying to get to the city. Surprisingly we found a bus and got home long after 10. It was 14 hours from when we left the house to the time we got back to the house. Over 11 of those hours we were moving, up hills, down hills, through streams, across rigged, rocky slopes. It was an incredible day. When I got home I thawed out in the shower, still very wet and now cold, and as the hot water hit my body I was suddenly aware of all the cuts, scrapes, scratches, and sunburns that my body had acquired throughout the day. Reaching that waterfall was like a little slice of heaven. I will never forget that day.