Monday, 29 June 2009

GX Week 12

Monday 8
th June

The day of debrief. I did get rather annoyed with people both the day before, as they complained about the day being long, and during the sessions when people weren’t listening and/or talking over me. It got better once I had a bit of a go at everyone and reminded them of all the work the debrief committee had put in. I felt that the day could have gone better. It seemed too negative at times. Especially during a discussion of team aims, where yet again the topic of CADs came up, the team seemed to be focusing on what we hadn’t done rather than on ways to improve. Nina raised a good point though saying that many things we did such as drumming at the church hall opening, presentations at volunteer placements and when a few of the team went to help Rory and Nina finish their garden at the children’s centre could easily have been called CADs. However we got a lot of positive feedback and people said that they felt it had been more positive than Friday. The day ended on a nice note with Olga and Nina presenting volunteer awards as nominated by Ali and Malika. I won ‘miss intelligence’. Not bad.

Debrief community mapping task. Took me ages to draw those maps.

Tuesday 9th June

Today I went into my placement despite officially finishing on Thursday. It was a pretty average day. We read and discussed the news, took a spelling test for basic skills in which I got 18 out of 20 and was reminded of our year 8 spelling tests where I had to admit to getting two, and the learners had a presentation on drugs awareness by a worker from ‘Essex Young People’s Drugs and Alcohol Service’. Also someone destroyed the swear box and stole all the silver coins from it.

Wednesday 10th June

Last day at Catch 22. Lessons today were on health and safety and life skills, specifically personal hygiene. At the end of the day all the learners and people from the office gathered to present me and Olga with cards made by Amy and signed by all the learners, a thank you card from Di, a photo album with pictures of the learners and some of the work we did with them compiled by Amy, a ‘hug monster’ mug and some Catch 22 stationary. It was a shame that not too many of the learners were in today but I hope the ones that were pass on my message to the others. That I really enjoyed working there, had seen something positive in all of them and that I was sure that if they put there minds to it they could all achieve something good with their lives. I got kinda flustered talking with everyone looking at me. I don’t what has happened to my public speaking skills. I was awful at the community farewell too. Just the packing to face now.

Thursday 11th June

Sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the taxi to arrive to take us from Ilmas to the train station was very strange. You can’t live in someone’s home for three months without feeling a little strange leaving. The coach journey took longer than expected due to the extreme amount of traffic in London caused by a complete tube strike. Who asks for a pay rise in the middle of a recession while other people are losing their jobs? This plus the fact that everyone had to weight their bags and engage in a spot of luggage exchange left us tight for time at the airport. We got a little over excited when we spotted another GX team going to Syria but only Sarah and I went over to say hello. There was some major stress after check in as the plane was boarding and we kept losing people to the shops. None of us had bothered to choose our seats on the plane and we ended up all over the place. I was a little hesitant about who I would be spending the next 8 hours next to. It turned out to be an empty seat but next to that was a Canadian named Ashfan who introduced himself as soon as he sat down. He was traveling to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to begin a one year internship at a bank. We talked for a good amount of the flight, about GX, about how little Russian we knew and about how the only turbulence comes when they are serving coffee. We were joined at one point by an American girl from Seattle who was also traveling to Bishkek to start a three month internship in resource management. She gave me the book she had already finished. I think talking to strangers is something I have learned from GX. I never realised before how interesting people are. Before if someone had tried to speak with me I would have mumbled hello, looked uncomfortable and then popped in my headphones at the first opportunity. After a coach ride from the airport, where we were meet by a few of the Kazakhs friends, and dragging our bags up fie flights of stairs we went to bed around 4:30am local time (which is currently 5 hours ahead the UK), to be up at 8:30am for breakfast and training at 11am! It is not too hot yet. First impressions of Almaty are that there are lots of trees, the streets are very wide and people like their rope lights.

Friday 12th June

Who decided training could start at 11am when we didn’t arrive until 4am? We were exhausted all day. I managed to stay awake for the first session, a presentation on HIV and AIDS by a man from the John Snow Foundation. It was very interesting. We were shown a video showing HIV replication inside the white blood cells, resulting in their destruction, and the ways in which anti-retroviral drugs work to block replication at several stages. It jogged a few memories from A-Level Biology. He talked specifically about the problem in Central Asia, where 75% of people infected with HIV are injecting drug users. There are some major trafficking routes through Kazakhstan. When in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed it took the economy with it fuelling drug use. At the same time the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan and heroin production increased in the country. An HIV epidemic followed from 1997. However sexual transmission of the disease is now on the increase. The largest infected group is 20-29 year olds. He followed his talk with an exercise in knowledge vs practice. He asked questions about wearing not seatbelts, smoking and drinking. We had to close our eyes and raise our hands if we had engaged in these risky behaviors. I think Gulnara was the only one without her hand raised when we opened our eyes. He then produced a cucumber and a bag of condoms and asked for a volunteer. I thought Grace would go, being a peer educator and all, but she didn’t so up I went. All went according to plan, especially as you don’t mind leaving a cucumber waiting around while you figure out if the condom is the right way or not! The afternoon was taken up by a course on “appreciative enquiry”, which was broken into three stages of “discovery”, “dreaming” and “design”. Some people said that they found it interesting and useful. I wasn’t one of them. It really was as airy fairy and useless as it sounds. I definitely couldn’t do the “dreaming” exercise properly for fear of falling asleep. The only good thing we did was make a crossword from the letters in global xchange describing the program. Before dinner we took a walk up the road aiming for one of Almaty’s many parks but the guys decided that it was too far away so after admiring the mountains, we turned around. The food in the “hostel” as they call it (it’s much nicer than any English hostel) is quite typically Kazakh. No meal is complete without meat, including breakfast.

Saturday 13th June

The whole of today’s training was on communication and was delivered by an external agency. It was interesting but I had covered a lot of it before in various trainings at university. After dinner we went out in Almaty, getting a Kazakh bus for the first time, seeing the former parliament, a shopping district, a theatre with some very attractive fountains which proved irresistible to a few who went dashing through them, the Presidents former residence and the Republic Obelisk. To get back we took a “taxi”. Basically Misha just stuck his arm out and within about 30 seconds a car pulled up. This happened a few times until ab agreement was reached and we hitched a ride back for the cost of 400 Tenge, less than 2 Pounds.

Sunday 14th June

Today the British Council organized a treasure hunt around Almaty for us. It was more a sightseeing tour than a competition though it took some time for a few people to realize that. The hunt took us to Panfilov Park named in honour of 28 men within the 316th Rifle division under Major General Ivan Panfilov who became icons of the Soviet Union for their exploits in defending Moscow during a fierce battle in November 1941. Almost all 28 were killed in the engagement during which they reportedly destroyed many German tanks. Within the park we came upon the Cathedral of the Holy Ascension which I had wanted to see ever since reading about it in ‘In Search of Kazakhstan’. The building is made entirely of wood reaching a height of 53m. The use of brackets rather than nails makes the building particularly resilient in the earthquake prone city, surviving a major tremor in 1910 which destroyed much of the city. It is highly decorated in bright and pastel colours. To look at it you wouldn’t guess that it was made of wood. I was not however impressed by the mass of pigeons gathered at its base being feed by tourists. I may be developing my mother’s fear of birds. We followed the clues from here to a massive war memorial depicting the Panfilov soldiers, their profiles forming large map of the USSR. From the centre of this a grenade-wielding Red Army solider seems to be in the process of jumping out. Below the sculpture is a quotation from Klochkov, to the effect that ‘Russia is huge but there is nowhere to retreat since Moscow is behind us.’ In front of this sculpture is a long black marble sheet, with an eternal flame, and an inscription to the 601,011 Kazakhstanis killed in the war. It is traditional in Kazakhstan for newlyweds to visit all the tourist spots for photographs and celebration, not one place we visited during our hunt was without a happy couple it seemed sometimes that we were following a particular couple around. Between the cathedral and the war memorial lies the ‘Alley of Heads of State” or ‘The Avenue of Presidents’ down which visiting heads of state has all planted a tree. I don’t believe that the UK has one. We could find it but I shall have to investigate. The clue took us next to Republic Square which we had visited the night before with the Presidents residence and Independence Obelisk. As the guide book notes.’ Republic Square is the heart of administrative power in Almaty. Laid out in the early 1980s, this broad expanse of tarmac doesn’t feel particularly square like most of the time, as the traffic on busy Satpaev Street hurtles across it.’ Though it is apparently the place to come during major holidays when the square is closed to traffic and hosts live music and firework displays. ‘The south side of the square is dominated by the imposing pale-grey late Soviet bulk of the former presidential palace, now housing the municipal authorities. The building was deliberately set back some distance to the south of the square in order to not obstruct the view of the mountains.’ ‘The focus of the north side of the square is a post-independence addition, the graceful obelisk of the Independence Monument. The square-based structure, 18m in height, is topped by a replica of the Golden Man, standing atop a winged snow leopard. At the base an inscription commemorates Kazakhstan’s declarations of sovereignty on 25 October 1990 and independence on 16 December 1991. In front of this stands an open bronze book, representing the constitution of Kazakhstan, bearing the hand print of the President, worn shiny by the number of hands that have been placed into its grooves. An inscription in several languages tells you to make a wish. The English reads “choose and be in bliss!” Behind the monument runs a long screen, featuring a series of bronze panels, depicting proud moments from the history of Kazakhstan.’ For which Misha acted as out tour guide. ‘The monument is framed by two 16-story Soviet buildings to the north, set at a jaunty 45 degree angle to the square, topped by billboards reading “Kazakhstan” and “Almaty”. It is in the eastern one of these buildings than the British Council has its offices. All this sightseeing gave the second group time to catch up with us and the competitive edge emerged again. The final clue led us to Kok-Tobe a resort in the foothills of the mountains surrounding Almaty that gives fantastic views of the city and mountains. In late afternoon Nina and Baur took us up to the mountains where an ice skating rink is being redeveloped for the winter Olympics and we walked up the 841 step granite staircase. It the staircase looks quite new and I’m not really sure why it is there. I shall have to find out at some point. I do know however that my legs are going to ache tomorrow. We used 8 buses today. At 50 T each that’s about 1 Pound 60.

The Cathedral of the Holy Ascension

War Memorial of the Panfilov Soldiers

Taking a rest break after walking up the 841 steps. Itwas worth it for the view though.

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