Monday, 20 July 2009

GX Week 14

Monday 22nd June

Today was the first day at our placements. I was not prepared for mine at all and now I'm feeling worse than before. It's a hospital for children with HIV and their families. The majority of the children are infected though some are their brothers and sisters. I don't what I expected of them. I suppose I thought that they would look sick, but with most you would never know that there was anything wrong with them. They don't know that they are infected. They do not tell them until they reach 11 years old. All we have to do is play with them 3 hours a day between 11am and 1 pm and 4pm to 5pm. However the children speak only Kazakh where Nina and I speak just English and Russian. Also there are no resources, just a little scrap paper and a few coloured pencils, or any money to buy them. We need to do some fundraising or ask people to donate but I feel powerless. I don't like the hospital atmosphere either. Everyone walking around and white coats and we needed to be 'approved' by the general doctor who gave me the third degree about how I would be able to communicate with the children if I can't speak Kazakh or Russian. At least I managed the buses. I don't know how to work with these children. I feel like I will fail here. When I thought of travelling I imagined only new places and helping people. I didn't think about the possible inability to do that or of failing people.

My Placement - Mother and Child

Tuesday 23rd June

Oh dear I didn't go to my placement today, finding myself this morning with a really doddgy stomach. I still can't tell whether I got so worried about my placement that I brought it on myself or if I am genuinely ill. It was probably a bit of both. I feel so bad for feeling Nina alone on the second day. I then managed to worry about what the hell I would do if she were sick, but she sent a really sweet message saying that my health is more important and inviting me to a team meeting at 5:30 in the technopark. I am feeling a little better but I'm not sure that I could survive the bus journey also I'm still totally incapable of managing the buses alone. Nassima went out this morning returning with a bag of medicine to force feed me. First she crushed 5 black tablets to drink with water, then provided me with oral rehydration salts (the packet had English on it) which taste much as you would expect water with salt and sugar would do and then some tablets I guess were Imodium. I managed to read ‘Imo’ before being chivied into taking them with water. There was a thunder storm today, not that you could really tell. The sun still beamed through but it smelt like England. I think this day off might have done me some good. I stayed out of the rain and had the opportunity to update my learning journal. I have focused on community development and sustainability looking specifically at sustainable ways I can contribute at my placement. For example by having a weekly or biweekly collection among staff for arts and craft materials such as old pencils, plastic bottles and newspapers etc. It’s recycling too. I was caught by this statement in the Global Citizenship Framework; ‘Don’t expect results, you may not see any. This however does not mean you have not made an impact at your placement.’ I’m feeling better about it now. We will see how tomorrow goes. I also looked at the list of all the people who donated to me. I can’t let them down.

Wednesday 24th June

I’m going to put yesterdays sickness down to nerves plus the fact that it’s hot and I really don’t like eating a lot in the mornings.My stomach was fine until I got up this morning. As soon as I sat up I felt it begin to churn and before leaving I threw up the solitary piece of bread that I ate for breakfast. With my stomach empty I made it onto the bus to work. It was okay. We painted rainbows with the children and played with the few toys that they have. Then in the afternoon we made a poster for our placement supervisor’s birthday with a 17 year old girl who is a patient there. Even if we aren’t doing much there I think it is good to be spending time with her at least as she seems to be the only one of her age at the centre and is there without her family. Nina suggested that maybe she faces discrimination at home and prefers to be at the hospital. I hope we will be to involve her in the children’s activities perhaps helping translate into Kazakh for us. I’m worried about Nina there is more pressure on her being a child psychologist and the native speaker. I provide the odd idea but mostly follow her lead, which I am quite happy with but as I said yesterday god knows what I will do if she gets sick. She also seems very stressed about the lack of work, we only play with the children two hours a day. There are none around between 4 and 5 pm. But I think we are doing okay. We are going to need time to plan and to sort out materials. I do worry about what will happen if we don't raise any money for materials and about how sustainable our work is. I can't see anyone carrying it on once we've gone. Perhaps if we get materials and get the parents involved they might carry on a few things. We do however seem to be doing alot more than some of the others. Ben hasn't even seen a child at his placement yet. We met in the technopark at 5:30 to work out a sketch for a CAD (Community Action Day) we are holding on Friday about drugs awareness with the Y-PEER guys and Anne-Maire and Misha's placement. I get to play the girls that ODs and dies! Everybody seems to have gone a bit CAD crazy now. We are also going to be handing out leaflets about HIV at the Mega Centre on Saturday. After our meeting we went to the "Harry Potter" Cafe (which had no sign of Harry or Hogwarts at all) to meet with 'some woman'. That is all we knew. Turns out that this woman is in charge of a project in which a group of young people are making a film about teenagers in Kazakhstan. If GX has taught me one thing it is not to volunteer without knowing what you are letting yourself in for. If you do you could end up on a stage holding a microphone answering the question that no you are not married, getting up close and personal with a Kazakh boy somewhere around half your age with who you have to dance on an ever decreasing piece of paper, dancing on a chair while trying to guess how many sweets you are sitting and as a result fending off dance offers from persistent but hopefully harmless Kazakh men for the rest of the evening. Olga was suspicious of their generosity, employing a Kazakh saying 'the only free cheese in Kazakhstan is in a mouse trap'. I doubted her and the others weren't worried. They did however make it pretty difficult to leave.

Thursday 25th June

I took a different bus to work today and arrived half an hour early so took the opportunity to walk around. So long as I don’t open my mouth, it appears that even my Russian pronunciation identifies me as foreign, I blend in. Most people around here look Central Asian but there are a good few Russians who look so familiar to me that I expect them any moment to burst into an American accent, for it seems that if you are to meet an English speaker here they are far more likely to be American than English though even they are few and far between. A few Peace Corp volunteers, the odd passing oil businessman, some missionaries and us. I noticed today that the only beggars on the streets are disabled; old men with missing limbs. Many people here seem to scratching a living. The streets are filled with shops and stalls all apparently selling the same thing. People dress in the kind of clothes that would come from our cheaper, tackier shops or in what I shall call ‘old lady clothes’. A fashionable few wear tight fitting vest tops or shirts with skinny jeans and heels in defiance of the heat. One thing I do find strangely comforting is the amount of Lardas populating the roads. My mother used to own one and I still remember Russian people trying to buy that blue car because there was/is no road tax on them in Russia. We probably should have accepted their offer. It was always breaking down. Came close to blowing up once as wires rubbing together in the steering wheel caused smoke to erupt from the dashboard. Nonetheless that car holds fond memories. I learnt to drive in it, steering circles around our field at 10 mph. Inside the hospital it also occurred to me that I have seen only one computer. Everyone writes out their notes by hand. It is strange to me that people can have computers in their homes yet a hospital is without them.

Friday 26th June

Went to the Zebra nightclub last night. We called it a CAD though it wasn’t r
eally. All we did was introduce ourselves and hand out some condoms, which I managed to avoid by going for a dance with Grace at jut the right time though I was actually trying to avoid further arguments about the bill rather than condom duties. Grace found a stray kitten outside the club which Olga and Sarah’s host took home. There are a lot of strays here, mostly dogs. You see puppies and the odd kitten left out to suffer in the heat and it’s heartbreaking but what can you do? Gulnara pets them and gives them water or food. I think a lot end but at her home, but they are riddled with flees and I worry about rabies. I’ve tried explaining about rabies to Gulnara but she doesn’t seem to think it can affect her. We took another ‘taxi’ home arriving home around 3am. Here at least they have little yellow signs which they place on their car roofs at will. We got up at 11am to meet the others at Shymkent Plus (the youth organization within the Business Womens Association) to practice for our second CAD in two days, a sketch about drug use to perform as part of an event against drugs being run by several of the placements and other organizations. Of course a problem with looking Russian is that people will try and talk to you in that Language. I was outside during a break in rehearsals when a woman stopped beside me. She was probably asking for directions. I just replied ‘я не знаю’ (check out my Russian typing!) pronounced ‘ya niz niou’ it means ‘I don’t know’. It seems to get rid of most people. Our performance at the anti-drugs event could have gone better. The string which we used to tie together the drug addicts and act as an instrument of their torture broke which distracted everyone and we couldn’t get the right music to work. I was disappointed with it. However Misha did an excellent job of hosting and the dance we did with the Y-PEER guys apparently looked really good even though half of us couldn’t remember the steps. At the finish an English speaking Kazakhstani man came and spoke with us. Everyone is always in interested in us and excited to meet us which is good but can be a little disconcerting, especially when they are just jabbering away in Russian. Yesterday a shop owner offered me Kazakh vodka at 1pm in the afternoon because I said that I hadn’t tried it yet.

After our anti-drugs CAD. When the banner was still novel.

Saturday 27th June

Buses in Shymkent cost 35 Tenge. That’s about 14p. It doesn’t matter how far you are going, 2 stops or 10 it’s 35 Tenge. They appear to be family businesses. The driver
with the wife, son or daughter collecting the money. The buses are purchased from Korea, America, Europe even England. Kate spotted an Arriva bus traveling the streets of Almaty. Dinara told us that before she came to England she never knew what the stop buttons on the buses were for. Here you just stand up as you come to your stop and the bus stops. There are no timetables. You just wait. Luckily they are few frequent. We met today at the Mega Centre for a third CAD (told you we had gone CAD crazy) handing out HIV information and condoms. The Mega shopping centre is a surreal air conditioned temple to capitalism. A shining beacon with its neon signs and fountains among the decaying concrete apartment blocks and pavements. It also happens to have some of the nicest public toilets in Shymkent. No squatting or bringing your own toilet paper and they are free! Shymkent seems to be a city in flux, embodying ‘development’. Almaty too but somehow the contrast seems starker here. Great squares of the city lie flat surrounded by steel fences covered by boards promising high modern buildings and spotted with graffiti in English advertising websites or declaring love to some unnamed person. Countless buildings lie in a half state where you can’t tell if they are being built or torn down. Beside these site loom Soviet statues and apartment blocks and below the bazaars thrive among tin roofed shops selling cigarettes, vodka, bread and fruits. You can’t do anything unusual for long here without attracting the attention of the security forces. As we started donning GX t-shirts and sharing out bags Mega security approached but seemed satisfied with the answer they were given and outside a policeman demanded to know what was contained in the bags I was handing out, though Gulnara managed to satisfy him by giving him one of the bags. On Thursday night Sarah had regaled us with her story of being detained by the police after being locked outside her host home and caught sitting on the pavement. There was some confusion over a stamp that they believed should have been in her passport. Malika explained that the police here are poorly trained and poorly paid, always on the look out for criminals or a possible bribe. In a new country where the laws are constantly changed and updated very few keep up to date with them. We now all carry a copy of the new law (which says we do not require stamps) around with our passports and immigration cards.

HIV & AIDS Information CAD

The Mega Centre

The two sides of Shymkent

Sunday 28th June

Discovered a pumice stone in the bathroom, thank god. My feet are in need of some serious TLC. Didn’t do much today. Stayed at home, read, wrote my blog and continued applying for ‘Teach First’ a charity which places ‘talented graduates’ in ‘challenging schools’ for two years. You receive your teacher training as well as many courses in leadership and summer placements in business, the third sector or the civil service. I think the competition is tougher than I first imagined but I will give it a go. In the evening I went for a walk around our region with Gulnara but we were pushed home early by yet more rain. Apparently it is very unusual.

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