I was going to write about the inventive ways in which children earn there pocket money here as today I witnessed two small boys jump on a bus sing in front of a middle aged man who gave them a few tenge before raising their hands in blessing and jumping off at the next stop. However tonight when the door of our apartment opened onto some very loud singing and the playing of a musical instrument I learnt that this was not pocket money gathering but a tradition among Muslims here at Ramadan, rather like carol singing. There are however many other children asking for money ion various ways almost always within the parks. There are the smartly dressed little boys who sell roses, who have given up coming to Ben. This business is apparently run by two well dressed rather scary looking older ladies. Some children put on impromptu break dancing shows with a cap on the floor and others simply beg in the cafes until the staff send them away. Unlike the disabled men on the streets these children always look too well fed and well dressed for me to give them any money but what do I really know? Today was the penultimate day of my placement. I like that big word. I have a feeling it might have been one of the first bog words I ever learnt. We played quietly with the toys until Nina began chasing them around. Clearly not a good idea as they did not settle to farewell decoration making at all. Preferring to fight, cry, steal things and randomly cut up pieces of paper then throw the rubbish all over the floor. I had noticed it last week but Nina commentated today that the children are getting annoying. I think they are too familiar with us now. We are no longer slightly scary new people. It is also very difficult to reason with them or explain to them why they shouldn’t fight, for example, as they mostly only speak Kazakh. We did not return to the hospital after lunch as seems to have become our habit. Nina went to the business womens association to work on the farewell invitations and I did a little more souvenir shopping before deciding that I couldn’t be bothered to hang around for hours until 6 and headed home. I dropped in at the internet café on the way where I finished a blog post and informed any readers I might have not expect any more posts for some time. With 5 minutes to go I checked my best friend’s facebook profile and learned that she was in hospital. I was in the process of trying to find out why she was there when my connection timed out. In a bit of a panic I decided to call her before I realised that it was a pretty inconvenient time back in the UK. At home I did some washing and had a nap before using Nassima’s computer to check facebook again and discovered that she has had her appendix out. I’m still pretty worried about the amount of time she seems to have been in hospital though.
Tuesday 25th August
Today started as many mornings in England do raining, windy and slightly chilly. I wore jeans and a cardigan today. However it was also a unique day for several reasons. A number of strangers decided to talk to me. Most of who were pleasant enough. One woman on the way to the bus stop was clearly commentating on the weather and seemed satisfied with my answers of laughter and lots of да’s (yes’s). A man at Mega expressed understanding and returned to his table to eat ice cream with his daughter when I couldn’t answer whatever question he was asking and two men at a small side entrance to the bazaar, where I had found, long after I had stopped looking for them, a small row of fortune tellers, and was hanging back to capture them with my camera phone, appeared to be commentating on the amount of stuff I was lagging around. Again more да’s and laughing seemed to satisfy them. The man on the bus however was not so pleasant. I guess he was drunk and/or high and would not leave me alone until we reached his stop, which was thankfully several before mine, despite my obvious discomfort. He seemed to be suggesting that we run away together. I have become somewhat accustomed to this however something about this man made me feel particularly uncomfortable, leaving me with an unsettled feeling many stops after he departed. The day was also unique in that we managed an entire farewell meeting without a single argument or aggressive silence, probably because most of the decisions had already been made. The day was most unique however because it was the last day of our placements. Nina and I started slightly late having been sorting out our various materials which were stacked in boxes and bags behind the armchairs in Ulbossyn’s office. We played with the toys for a while before painting then handing out balloons brought by Nina as presents and finished with a rendition of the hokey kokey. They particularly liked rushing toward the centre of the circle going woooah! We said our goodbyes though apparently the children still asked if we were coming back tomorrow and it was left to the parents to explain. It was heartbreaking in its way, having brought an element of fun and activity to hospital life only to take it away again.
The elusive fortune tellers
Wednesday 26th August
Spent this morning reading, hand washing, writing up Ben and Misha’s GCD and cooking a sponge cake. This was more of a challenge that I expected in the absence of self raising flour and caster sugar. I had to substitute with plain flour and baking soda and granulated sugar. All this effort was in honour of a Korean/English food party organised by Nina and Aleria. It had never been a terribly popular idea but instead of telling them so we secretly hoped that the idea would quietly die after the first couple of failed attempts at organising it. However we underestimated the Young Koreans’ determination and so found ourselves obliged to cook English food and think of some English traditions to present. The party itself was not terribly exciting, despite the free beer, excellent Korean food and some good offers from the UK team, especially Sarah’s apple crumble and Anne-Marie’s carrot and coriander soup. It was quite cold and a game of strip musical chairs left a Korean guy in his underwear and a member of our team topless. Not something that I ever wanted to see. Moreover although the Koreans clearly enjoyed our food and we theirs there was limited talking and mixing so we feel into our familiar little groups. Plus I felt ill.
Thursday 27th August
I’m feeling pretty stupid and ashamed of myself. Normally a religious applier of sun cream today I got rather blasé about the whole business. Having given up wearing sun cream on a day to day basis in Shymkent over a month ago I declined to apply any during our trip to the water park stupidly thinking that Shymkent’s polluted skies and slight cloud cover would protect me combined with a desire to return home with a tan. I am now quite spectacularly burnt and will probably peel rendering the whole process completely counterproductive. I am currently on my second application of moisturiser and intend to apply a third before going to bed. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The sunbathing, reading, chatting and occasionally venturing into the clear, cool waters of the empty pool combined to give the feeling of being on a mini holiday.
Friday 28th August
The team met at the Business Womens Association this morning to write our significant change stories. A piece of potential global xchange propaganda to which they own the rights and may show to funders or use in promotional material. I somewhat resented this approach though I understand that GX needs to show its effects in order to continue. I wrote about how working at Catch 22 had changed my perceptions of young people, making me want to continue to work or volunteer with them and apply to Teach First. A part of the afternoon was spent decorating a banner for the farewell while I got stressed with some volunteers sudden loss of ability and/or desire to cook as I tried to organise who was bringing what dish to the farewell. I then lugged said banner and 10 bars of Kazakhstan chocolate (gifts for friends and relatives) home before heading out again with Dinara for a cocktail party at Joe’s. The party was more vodka and mixers than cocktails, seems that was all we had, and it finished at the dreadfully early hour of half past nine as many in attendance were counterpart less and anxious to catch buses. Still it was a hilarious evening. After the usual debate over the rules we played ring of fire where being slightly tipsy I was repeated caught out by the question master. Ben and Anne-Marie sung ‘the root song’ which they made in honour of Kate’s long battle with a giant deeply rooted root nicknamed Alfred during the gardening CAD at Interlink. The chorus goes something like this, ‘root, root, mother***ing, root, root, Alfred, Alfred’ (the last two words sung in a high pitched orgasmic voice) just to give you an idea. Grace and Joe then compared how well they could shake their rears before admiring the choreography of the Beyonce Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) video and attempting to copy it. The best thing is that I have all of this on video.
Our спасибо шымкент (thank you Shymkent) banner
Vodka and mixers party with all manner of drinking instruments
Saturday 29th August
I left the house at 12:45 to meetthose who didn’t know where the venue for our farewell was, leaving Dinara in charge of my now rather expensive fairy cakes as I had to buy the cake cases from my host home for 500 tenge. Apparently she imports them from abroad. I ended up waiting around in Ken Baba for quite a while during which time a woman came and sat down beside me to eat some grapes. She asked me the time and after some effort we agreed that it was 1:45pm. She then gave me a bunch of grapes and after trying to tell me something I didn’t understand we sat in silence together eating our grapes until the others arrived. The farewell came off okay. As in Harlow there were less people in attendance than at the welcome (we must be such a disappointment) though the turnout was not as dismal as before. It was just as haphazard as all our other public events but through my organisers eyes it seemed awful, not matching up to how I knew it should have gone. We were handing out piece of paper as Nina and Misha presented Malika and Ali with a present and forgot to appoint a translator for when everyone said what they had contributed to and what they were taking away from Shymkent. Maybe we should have done a sketch! After the farewell Grace and I went to Mega and bought some kira plastinina shoes. Then my bank sent me a text saying that my card had been used in Kazakhstan.
Sunday 30th August
It is constitution day in celebration of well writing Kazakhstan’s first constitution. I slept through the parade in Shymkent which started at 10am but we watched some of the parade in Astana on the television. It wasn’t my idea of a parade. If you wanted to attack Kazakhstan today would be the day to do it with a good proportion of tehri military equipment engaged in parading along the streets of the capital. Some soliders marched, followed by tanks, followed by some trucks pulling big guns, followed by some trucks with tanks on, followed by a mini air display. Nazarbayev looks suitability impressed. The end. Dinara said she thinks it was just a big waste of money and I agree. I don’t know if all the celebrations are like that. Dinara says in her town they usually have a concert, but children doing dance routines, singing, and playing music in home made costumes is more fun and cheaper. Around mid day I headed into town to get myself out the house, meeting Sarah, Grace, Ben, Anne-Marie, Aigera, and Olga. We ate in Mega and did some last bits of shopping, realising how little money we have left.