Saturday, October 27, 2007,3:26 AM
Pechka Drama

First of all a pechka is the coal stove that heats your apartment or house. The pechka in my apartment was remodeled this summer because it didn't get all the rooms warm. My host mom (landlady) went to Russia with her daughter right after it was remodeled, and before it got cold. She told me that I shouldn't have to topete (light/stoke) it until she got back because it wouldn't get that cold in the month she would be gone. She did ask me to go ahead and buy coal though since it is better to get it earlier. All I can say is that boy she was wrong about it getting cold. It has been on average 50-53 degrees in my apartment for the last month. There is snow on the ground outside. I, having been raised in the family that goes to a cabin every year for vacation with a wood burning stove and loving camping, didn't think it was a big deal to get a fire started. A pechka is a bit different than I am used to because of the fact that it uses coal, but the basic lighting a fire with wood and paper is the same, you just add coal after the fire is started. I was right, I had no problem at all getting a good fire going. The pechka apparently had a problem with me though. All of the smoke came into the apartment instead of going up the pipe (not really a chimney and there is no flue). the smoke came pouring out of the stove and even the wall (there are cracks in the wall where the pipes to heat the rest of the apartment lead). My good fire starting skills turned out to be a bad thing because now I had a great fire going and no real way to stop it. I opened all my windows and the door to get the smoke out but coal burns for a long time. My smoke and carbon monoxide detector went off...I ended up with a major headache and I am sure that I lost a few brain cells. I decided not to topete again and just brave the cold until my landlady came back and fixed the problem.
I shouldn't have told anyone about my pechka issues because they all tried to convince me that it wasn't broken and it just smoked because it was the first time it had been lit in awhile. Eventually I got so cold that I decided to give it another try. I had my neighbor, Gulia, help me. We did everything right again but ended up with the same apartment full of smoke and not any warmer. We checked the pipe and no smoke was getting to the outside. The smoke this time was even more than the first and my upstairs neighbors came to see what was going on. I got yelled at for being an american that doesn't know what she's doing and one old babushka asked if I was trying to kill myself! Thankfully Gulia defended me and said I lit the fire perfectly and that it was my pechka that was broken. She also called my landlady's son to see if he could come over and look at it. Marina, my landlady's daughter-in-law came over the next day and cleaned out the pipe and covered the cracks in the walls where the smoke had been leaking out. We then lit the pechka again and this time my apartment was smoke free! I was so grateful because I don't think I can handle another one of those headaches...they last longer than the migraines I get. Plus there was the added bonus of my apartment getting warm, it actually got up to 65 degrees! In the end it all worked out fine, I just froze for a month and was exposed to carbon monoxide. Seriously though I am fine and excited that I can now heat my apartment whenever I get cold.
posted by Aimee | Permalink | 10 comments
Thursday, October 04, 2007,1:45 AM
I have now been teaching at my new school for a month and I can say that things have gone really well after that first horrible day. I am teaching grades 5-11 and I like all of my classes so far. There are some hooligans in each class but as any teacher knows that is to be expected. Oh and I love that hooligan is a cognate in russian. I work with three other english teachers who I get along with well. Sveta is my 'counterpart' so I spend the most time with her, she is married with 2 kids and really fun. Bebe is also married with 2 kids, and she just became an english teacher after they cut the german program (she took english at university too). Feruza is the last teacher I work with and while she is strict in class she has a great laugh when we are just hanging out. I got pretty lucky when I was assigned to my new school, so far I have not encountered one mean teacher. Even after my really embarrassing introduction on the first day people have been very nice. Yesterday a teacher I never met before approached me and after asking me a few personal questions informed me that she was going to bring be a bag of peaches from her tree later in the week. The principal of my school is pretty great too, she is stern and strict but has agreed to tutor me in Russian and was full of compliments for me when the peace corps director visited my school this week. The only frustrating thing so far is the school schedule. It is not written yet so everyday things change. I have only had one english club so far because I never know when I am teaching until the last minute. Classes at my school are in two shifts, the older kids (8-11) come to school in the morning from 8-1:15 monday through saturday, the younger kids come in the afternoon from 1:25-6 monday through saturday. I can't have clubs after six because it is too late and the school gets locked up. I keep getting told that the schedule will be ready soon though so I am looking forward to the day when my life has some structure.
posted by Aimee | Permalink | 1 comments
Sunday, September 09, 2007,7:11 AM
First Day of School
First of all I would like to tell all of you that I am sorry it has taken me so long to post. I moved sites this summer and have been kind of busy. I now live in a much bigger town with two other volunteers. My internet connection is much more reliable here so I should be able to post much more frequently.

September 1st is a holiday here in Kazakhstan. All the students, their parents, and the teachers get dressed up to attend the first bell ceremony. There is dancing, singing, and speeches. It is important to understand how formal this holiday is to fully grasp my story. Here I am at a new school where I want to make a good impression and befriend the other teachers. I happen to live about a 45min walk from my school, Akin Sara. If you have ever been to K-stan you know that you can get really dirty walking down the roads here and that the women all wear fancy heeled shoes that are not comfortable to walk in. I decided to be smart and packed my nice shoes and a pretty blue dress into my messenger bag so that I could change at school and be spotless. The walk to school was uneventful until I get to the road right in front of Akin Sara. The dirt road was being worked on and the pipe system for the school was being fixed so the road was practically a river. I had to jump across...which I did and would have been fine if it weren't for the really loose dirt on the other side. I sank into the mud of the road and got stuck. Seriously I could not pull myself out...the mud was worse than what is by the boat house of our cabin for those of you who have been there. I had to call for help in Russian and wait for someone to help pull me out. I was rescued by a parent and then I dashed off to the nearest water pump to try and clean up my mud caked legs and feet. By the time I was done cleaning up, everyone had gathered in front of the school for the start of the ceremony. I could not walk into school in my jeans and had to go around the back to find a place to change. The only place I found was the outhouse. I took off my muddy jeans, put my dress on and changed my shoes..all without letting anything touch the outhouse floor. I thought that things were back on track and was looking forward to the ceremony, meeting my coworkers, and talking to some parents. I was asked by our school director to stand in front of everyone with the other new teachers so we could be introduced to the whole school. I was standing up there in front of everyone...which if you know me I was enjoying all that much since I tend to shy away from attention. I watched the dancing, listened to the speeches, and impatiently waited to be introduced so I could go stand near the back. It was a pretty hot day and I noticed that the other new teachers weren't doing well in the heat. It finally came time for our introduction...I was given flowers by a cute first grader and they were just about to call my name and have me say a few things about myself when I started to notice that my vision was bleary and I couldn't hear well. The next thing I know I am sitting on a couch in the school. That's right everyone, on my first day of school in front of the whole school and tons of parents I fainted! It seems to me that I started my school year of right. I already stick out as the only american now I can be known as the weak american too.
posted by Aimee | Permalink | 1 comments
Tuesday, May 15, 2007,4:59 AM
New Year's --No it doesn't happen in may here that is how late I am in posting
None of you need to tell me that my last blog entry was less than exciting. I know that, it is apparent in the way that Chirstmas isn’t celebrated with much or any enthusiasm in this country. I found out the reason for that when I experienced my first New Years in Kazakhstan. I don’t think that I have even celebrated Christmas in America as thoroughly as I celebrated New Years here. The first thing we did was decorate our house with sparkly garlands and a yulka (basically a decorated pine tree with ornaments, lights, and tinsel). It is worth checking out my flickr site to see my host mom put up the yulka in our house. She did all the hard stuff like cutting the branches to fit the holes, she even brought the ax inside our house to cut down the braches that were too big. I personally think it is funny and kinda tragic that it is too cold to cut wood outside but it isn’t too cold to wash laundry outside. I mean there is water involved in the laundry and you can’t wear gloves when trying to rinse clothes like you can with chopping wood…but what do I know I still can’t speak Kazakh so maybe there is a logical explanation and I just can’t understand it yet. I bet you all missed my tangents and wandering mind…but back to the decorating for New Years. After the tree was up my host mom ran off somewhere and left me to decorate the tree all by myself. I bet my parents will be amazed while reading this because I hate to decorate Christmas trees, I used to protest when they asked me to hang ornaments. I decorated the whole tree though and I thought it looked great, my dad would have loved it with the tinsel. I was astonished to discover that one of the ornaments was a santa claus but didn’t think too much of it until later when I attended the teacher’s new years’ party at my school and saw the walls decorated with posters of what looked to me a lot like the jolly, fat, often seen ringing a bell or letting kids sit on his lap, Saint Nick. Here they call him Father Frost and he is often depicted in the company of a young woman also dressed in the style we are accustomed to seeing Mrs. Claus wear. Supposedly this girl is Father Frost’s granddaughter, which is a conundrum for me since the legend says that he never had a wife or children. Anyway we all had fun at the teacher’s party. There was eating, drinking, dancing, and games.
posted by Aimee | Permalink | 1 comments
Thursday, February 01, 2007,11:09 PM
Happy Holidays
This post is going to be really short because it is about Christmas. For those of you who don’t know, Kaz is a mostly Muslim country and the Russian Orthodox people that do celebrate x-mas do so on a different day since theirs doesn’t land on December 25th. The day started out as a typical school day. I got up, ran outside in the cold and snow to the outhouse, turned on the gas so I could heat some water, got dressed, drank chai, and went to school. The students were particularly uncomprehending that day I think because my team-teacher Nazira wasn’t there. They don’t try to understand as much when they know she isn’t there to translate for them when they need it. After classes I packed an overnight bag and went to Sarkand to hang out with Ehren. We had some leftovers from the big Christmas Eve turkey that Ehren’s host mom made for Christmas Eve. Then we watched a movie. Overall it wasn’t a particularly memorable Christmas. However, next year should be good since I am planning on traveling over the winter break. I hope all of you had a great Christmas/ Hanukkah and all that jazz.
posted by Aimee | Permalink | 4 comments