Monday 29th June
Again I bashed my head on the door frame when getting out of one of Shymkent’s minibuses. I took the minibus from the stop near Nina’s host home after spending the late afternoon sitting by the river sipping Shymkent beer, purchased from the shop owner who previously offered me vodka and has now apparently decided that he would like to marry me. Only after Nina teaches me more Russian though. As we sat in the shade watching the water rush by we saw people come down to the river to wash their clothes. Something neither I nor Nina had ever seen. The neighborhood by that river is apparently very poor. As we spoke together about life in England and Kazakhstan we were then approached by three boys, one asking for a cigarette from Nina. It wasn’t until they were up close that I realised each clutched a wriggling snake in their hands. The youngest boy had the biggest snake and held it out towards me chuckling as I cringed away. They told us that they weren’t dangerous but both Nina and I decided not to take our chances. Today at work we did ‘music and movement’. We were up on the fourth floor and had all different children though apparently some of the ones we meet before were waiting downstairs despite our poster. It’s going to take the children a while to get used to the different routine of having organised play rather than just playing with the toys but we seem to be getting somewhere. It doesn’t help that they keep disappearing off with various nurses so it is virtually impossible to structure a session with a clear start and end which would be best for the children. I found a niche today in simply chasing children around, scooping them off the ground and swinging them around, often upside down, which they adored. I formed a small queue at one point. My arms are going to be so strong in three months time. No bingo wings for me. I ended the day in the familiar internet café, walls plastered with videogame logos. They have now erected blinds to shut out reality.
Tuesday 30th June
Wore jeans today under the delusion that it was cold. I was wrong. My stomach is not good again, I won’t give details, mind you seeing the way some of the meat is stored at the bazaar today I am not surprised. I’ve been searching for the row of fortune tellers and traditional goods promised by the guide book but have had no luck as yet. We had more children today, all coming and going. It was difficult to keep track of them. In the afternoon we washed the windows in Olybosin, our project supervisor’s, office. Tomorrow we get to do the entrance hall!
Wednesday 1st July
From having no insect bites I now have two. Something I hope I won’t have to get used to. I am however becoming accustomed to the heat and having constantly dusty feet. The children played with dough today, as made by Nina. I can see that she is doing a lot more work for our placement than I am but I can’t yet see how to help her. I have trouble communicating with small children at the best of times let alone when they speak another language. It occurred to me today that we never had any kind of safety briefing. It was ‘here are some children with HIV, go play with them.’ Nothing about using gloves if one of them happens to cut themselves or anything. I know how minimal the risk is and you play with them as normal forgetting that they are ill. Yet that nagging worry is always there surfacing from time to time at the sight of a disguarded bottle of medicine or a cut on their arm. It can be very hard to fight discrimination when you understand perfectly where people’s fear comes from. They have odd ideas about hygiene in the hospital too. We are not allowed to put the children’s pictures up on the wall because it’s the canteen. Yet that is where they do the painting and a canteen is hardly hygienic to start with. We also have to wear these horrible blue plastic coats whenever we walk past the treatment rooms. They do virtually nothing to cover our clothing and in the meantime patients and their families come and go in their regular clothes as they please. Took ANOTHER bus route home, which turned out to be a really long way round but I enjoyed it as it gave me the chance to see some more of the city and get my bearings a little more. It seems that I can take a bus from either side of the road at my placement and it will take me home eventually. This is a good thing as crossing the road presents something of a challenge. There are less pedestrian crossings than in Almaty and they aren’t always respected. Without one you often find yourself stranded between rows of roaring traffic waiting for the smallest of gaps and then getting beeped as you leg it across. The drivers here seem to enjoy beeping. It’s like it hasn’t been a good journey unless you have had the opportunity to beep someone. I remember the peace corp. volunteers saying their number one fear was getting run over closely followed by being taken to the hospital. I seem to have adapted quickly. The first few times I hovered at the side of the road waiting for someone to slow down for me, which never happened. Now I just go for it. The other night I had a dream about zombies. They were speaking Russian! In the end it was only my ability to recognize the language and speak it to them that led to my survival. LOL! It is not difficult to interpret that!
Because this really is how people have to cross the road
Thursday 2nd July
Apparently I’m spending too long on the computer (I thought one hour was good of me). So looks like I shall be spending a lot more time (and money) in the internet cafes. I guess I can see her point but why tell us we can use the computer to then turn around and limit it. I really need to get on with my teach first application. The questions are hard and I’m putting it off. There’s not so much demand for what is, in their eyes, the only subject that I am qualified to teach, citizenship, and mum said that she got the impression that recruitment works on something of a first come first serve basis. I’m starting to really doubt my chances but I’ve got to try. At work today Nina tried to read a story in both Russian and Kazakh then make masks to tie in with it. Success was limited. The children continued to come and go during the session and though the few that stuck around really enjoyed wearing the masks we pretty much failed to get them to act out the story. In the afternoon we cleaned yet more windows before Ali, Malika and Anne-Marie came and saved us. After work I took a walk around Ordabassy Square covertly taking pictures on my phone of the soaring fighter jet war memorial and the golden topped mosque that clash on the square (which is actually a round abound). I feel self conscious getting my camera out here. There are no tourists and I like to take pictures of mere streets and houses. I worry that with my camera out people may think that I’m up to no good. I walked from Ordabassy to the Mega Centre meeting Beth along the way. Within Mega I indulged in the delights of Рамстор (pronounced Ramstore) buying a bottle of coca cola and some Cadburys chocolate. I got confused though about how much money I had though and thought that I couldn’t afford the shower gel and lower factor sun cream I needed.
Past and Present
Second World War Memorial on Ordabassy
Friday 3rd July
Grace and Aigera conducted the first of our second phase GCDs today on teenage pregnancy and contraception. First we played a variation of pass the parcel in which each layer contained a sweet and a question for discussion around abortion (which is legal in KZ), adoption, and teenage pregnancy. To me any divide in the debate was not so much UK/Kazakh, as something occurs or is expected to occur, but was religious. Although whether you had enough money to support your child and fund their education seemed to be of greater concern to the Kazakh volunteers than those form the UK. Guess that’s the welfare state for you. The next task was to look at case studies. We were a teenage boy who had got his girlfriend pregnant. It was very im\interesting to look at this from a male perspective. Honestly I can now understand why some men ignore their responsibilities. It can be very easy. I said that if I were that boy I would be praying that she would have an abortion and probably shut myself away in my room\m playing video games while she was left with the decision. We then divided forms of contraception into ‘effective’ and ‘myth’, one being “crossing your fingers”, before looking at the effective methods including the injection, implant, IUS, IUD, sterilization, patch, combined pill, progestogen only pill, male condom, female condom, cap and natural family planning. My school must have done a good job of sex education as I was surprised by the number of people in the group who weren’t aware of all these methods. In the afternoon we watched “Juno”. It is an awesome film. If you haven’t seen then you should. After the GCD we went to the cinema in Mega to watch a Kazakh Art House film called “Kilen”. It was an odd film but strangely enjoyable. It really had something for everyone. Nudity, sex scenes, fight scenes, witchcraft, bestiality and all set in 2AD. The best thing was that the film had no dialogue so everyone, English and Kazakh could follow it. It was nice to see something that everyone could understand on the same level.
Saturday 4th July
Today we hired a bus for 8000 Tenge (33 Pounds) and took a road north into the mountains. Well I say “mountains” they weren’t the snow covered peaks of Almaty but more rocky outcrops that I’m not even sure would be counted as mountains geographically. We paid another 300 Tenge each and entered a mazhar which was a bit of parkland and a freezing cold swimming pool. Feeling adventurous early in the day I set off alone and discovered a waterfall and a track leading up the hillside. I returned to fetch my camera and videocamera and set off again with Rory, Anne-Marie and Kate in tow. We climbed about half way up but with only sheer rock face visible above us and a feeling that our luck on the steep ledges could run out at any time I persuaded them down again (They later returned without me but I don’t know if they got any higher). The waterfall was apparently holy water (seems to be a common theme in Kazakhstan) which explained the numerous small pieces of rag tied to trees and rocks around it which I am lead to believe are wishes, and the two old women I briefly filmed apparently worshipping it. I love how these old pagan traditions survive.
Sunday 5th July
I overdid the hand washing again and have sores on my hand to prove it. I spent most of the day considering my teach first application but not actually doing very much of it. I set off around mid day with the intention of working on it on a computer in the internet café, Nassima had gone out and completely unplugged hers so I was clearly not supposed to use it. However I discovered after some difficulty that the internet was broken or unavailable for some reason. I went for a walk down the main road in our region in the hope of finding somewhere else. I saw a few places that looked vaguely promising but was too afraid to try out my Russian somewhere unfamiliar. I was out for an hour getting sun burnt shoulders in the process. In the evening mostly out of boredom I met Grace, Aigera, their host sisters, Misha and Gulnara in Mega and headed for Ken Baba park where Grace and I lost the others to go and enjoy a Shymkent piva (or beer to you non-Russian speakers).