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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking Back

Looking back on what I have (sporadically) written in my journal, I am
amazed at how much the fear of the unknown can consume me. At least
three times during the month of October I wrote about how scared I was
to leave the familiar and leap once again out of my comfort zone. I
remember thinking on the morning I left my host family in Almaty, why
is it that I am always leaving one family or another, always moving
somewhere else, always causing myself this stress!? It’s irrational,
really. And I hate being irrational.

Yet, I often find myself in irrational situations with irrational
fears. My fears of the unknown and jumping into what I once called “a
frozen, foreign openness with no outside contact and no reprieve from
loneliness,” really hasn’t been that bad! I have adjusted to every
new experience surprisingly well and found Turkestan to be no
different. I felt immediately at home here and knew I could spend the
next two years comfortably here. Though I can’t say everything feels
familiar, it is certainly comfortable. My trip to the outhouse every
morning, layering on the clothes and putting on my (new, furry, and
heeled) boots for school, my ride with the neighbors, lunch with the
teachers, and dinner with the family still seem new and different. I
still have to plan most of my moves and certainly have to practice all
of my conversations in my head before actually speaking! I am okay
with all of this still feeling new- I don’t want my time here to go
too fast!

It seems so fast already, faster even then high school and college. I
find myself awake in the middle of the night wondering when in the
world I will get everything done if time goes this fast. I worry
about my students and if they are actually improving and I worry about
my teachers and if they will actually change their attitudes and
methods. It’s harder and harder to find my zen when I know that every
move is my own and this experience will be no more and no less than
what I make it. If I wait patiently for things to happen at school or
in my lessons, they just won’t happen. Though I lose my zen now and
then, I manage to keep my happiness. If I suspect a difficult day, I
put on my comfortable clothes, put on some perfume to feel clean, play
my happy music, and pack some extra coffee for school!

Some experiences have helped abate my worries and feel integrated into
the community. There are a lot of young teachers at my school that
really want to be friends with me and for this I am equally surprised
and grateful! They invite me places and teach me Kazakh words that my
tutor won’t teach me! They bring me snickers bars and help me set up
Skype at school so I can talk with my friends and family (Dima). I am
so so lucky for these guys. My most loyal new friend, Maral, invited
me to her brother’s wedding, then over to her house for dinner, then
to banya. I am getting to know her family they rejuvenate my mood

The banya experience was certainly one to remember. Banya in many
countries in this part of the world is a public sauna/bath. Men and
women are separated and everyone bathes together completely naked.
There are various types of these banyas, some with big open rooms
where everyone is together and some with private rooms where just one
party bathes together. Maral, her mother, little sister, my
counterpart, and I went to a banya in the middle of the steppe about
30 minutes from Turkestan. The banya is a dome-like structure (called
the egg) built over a natural, underground hot spring. We all went
into this huge egg and then into our own room which consisted of 2
shower heads and an old bathtub. Basically, you seal up your room and
the hot water runs constantly, steaming everything up. You shower
like usual and sit in the bathtub of really hot water. The most
surprising thing about banya to me is the exfoliating process. You
take a course scrubber-thing and rub the same spot on your skin until
it starts to peel off. We have a surprising amount of dead and dirty
skin just hanging out! You can try this at home if you want- after
showering, when you are still a little damp, just rub your fingers
pretty hard on one spot for a while, until you feel your dead skin
peel right off! Good places usually include under the collar bones,
ankle bones, behind your knees, right by your armpit, etc. It hurts a
little, but just think of all that gross skin you don’t need any more!

My counterpart and Maral also thought we needed to drink some beer
while bathing, so we bought a few bottles to bring to the community
event! Imagine going to a public bath in America and bringing your
glass beer bottle in with you! Welcome to Kazakhstan. After our bath
and beer, we went to the middle of the egg to eat fish. Yep- fish in
the middle of the steppe in a country with very few sources of clean
water to be fished. It was surprisingly delicious, though. We picked
at this filleted, fried fish with our fingers until there was nothing
left, and climbed back into the car to make our way to Turkestan.

So- as it turns out, integrating and finding friends is as easy as
being willing to drive into the steppe, scrub off your skin completely
naked with strangers while drinking a beer in an egg and sharing a
fish afterwards. What was I worried about?!

Peace and Happy Holidays from the Beyond,

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