Saturday, September 30, 2006

End of September...

Had a few text messages asking when the next entry would be which I really appreciated as it means that people are actually reading what I write! Sorry for the pause. It has been quite a busy week. Having an interpreter makes a lot of difference – things can happen a lot faster – and it has just been unlucky that I have not made it onto the computer to get online. But do not fear she will not be with me much longer because she is going back to work next weekend so the search for another will begin again.

The week has been very productive but ended very difficultly – more of that later. I’ve been into two more schools, met the English teachers and head as well as the PSHE coordinators and delivered seminars to the 15/16 year olds in each school. Getting a bit bored with doing the same seminar – the count is up to 11 now – so next week we are changing part around and that should make it more interesting. The second organisation I am working with had an official launch party which I had no idea about but it attracted 500 people and I had to give a mini speech – just a few words of congratulation – but got a roaring applause! The novelty of being the foreigner has still not worn off even though I am working my way through the school in an attempt to meet as many people as possible. The concert was great and a real celebrity was there – the local radio has one guy doing all the jingles and the news and he was there in person. If I had known how to say it I would have asked for his autograph as he has kind of cult status.

Russian lessons are moving along and I discussed, in broken Russian, Lady Chatterley’s Lover with my teacher on Thursday because she asked me what I was reading and had read the book but did not know anything about the history of the book so I filled her it. Took quite a long time but I got there and I was very proud of myself afterwards. All I need to do now is get the grammar, and tenses and agreements and so on correct!

Had quite a few phone calls this week which has been great. Artem seemed impressed with my Russian although he said I made a few mistakes! When I went into a shop on Thursday I had a little conversation with the woman because I remembered her from a previous time and she said to me how she could now understand what I said but when I first can that she had no idea. That was a compliment in itself but I was quite impressed I understood what she was telling me – it is a lot easier to lead the conversation than to follow one and it was the first time I can think of when that has happened. But then later that day I went to my new interpreters house and even when I spoke Russian her mother-in-law needed it repeated so I gave up and spoke in English.

The onions are in the market. Great big lorries full of sacks of onions. The normal lady I go to for fruit has turned into an onion hustler and has two great big trucks of onions and about 6 people working for her shifting great sacks around the place. Quite a site and I am going back with my camera later today hopefully and will take some photos.

Having some great conversations with the matrons in the orphanage which is back to being a boarding school as all the orphans have been taken to a different city. There is one in particular that I sit with when she works evenings and drink tea and eat fruit and sweets with after the kids have gone to bed until the early hours and she is tuned into my Russian now so we can have some quite good conversations about Kazakhstan and the UK.

Dance has been progressing but not very fast. Tango is definitely not for me and the Waltz is quite difficult too. The only one I have been able to do is the Cha-Cha and I know I can do it because the other students are quite supportive when I get something right and try to teach me when I do something wrong – it is just the teacher who adopts a firmer style of tuition! Still I quite enjoy it and it does give me something to do apart from work.

Not all great through. The week ended difficultly with the coordinator of one of the organisations saying that I was not working well and that why was I not helping them and why was I only helping other organisations. I refuted this and I had my first argument in Russian but it has really wound me up. I explained that I can only work when she tells me what is going on. When she ignores me I cannot work - she has not spoken with me about anything substantive for two week. She was not happy about the reworking of my time to help all organisations rather than just hers and I think she can see things happen in the other places I am working and not with her. Anyway f you want to find out more you can give me a call because every time I write anything it turns into a ‘she said this and I said that’ kind of story. Needless to say I need to sort this out fast so will try again to explain why I am her and what support I need to be able to work but with an interpreter present. Office politics and rivalry seems to transcend the world!

On a brighter note I am off to have my hair cut. Who knows what I will come back looking like. Last time I was a little nervous in the hairdressers chair as I was given a grade 1 for an inch around my ears and I think this added to the nerves of the woman cutting my hair. So the tactic this time is to be calm and go with the flow – I think rather than ask for a style which they cannot do and have no ideas how to do it is better to have what they are best at! All the kids this morning have been saying how cool my hair looks because it is in a side parting with no gel ready to be cut rather than gelled into place.

Heating has been turned on but I have bought an electric heater because it is cold inside the buildings and I guessed it will only get colder!

Hope this makes up for the radio silence and I’ll try and get online…


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dance lessons

Well I somehow managed to enroll myself for dance lessons three times a week and so on Wednesday, Friday after work and on Sunday afternoon I Waltz, Tango and Salsa. Going very slowly... not really got rythm and keep on forgetting even the simplist of steps but with little else to do in the evenings I thought it would be quite fun... and after 3 lessons I am still enjoying it and who knowes aftera few montsh I might be as fgood as the 6 year olds in my class . I didn't realise I had enrolled in a class for 6 - 12 year olds until today when my inturpreter told me- there are pother there in the 20's but they are very good. In fact all the people in the class are very good - they have been doing it for 3 yearts so I feel a little bit like i have tywo left feet oh and recieveing directions only Rusisan does not help!

Worked a lot more this week and spent Wednesday morning in school 3 giving seminars about volunteering but delivering it in Russian! My Russian is not that good but I can get buy witha little help and for difficult words when we brainstormed ideas I had a translter software on my laptop.

All for now - hungry

Monday, September 18, 2006


It was snowing the whole morning! Metled by this afternoon byut thismornign was bitter. Lots of juimpers and the first time my hair has met a hat in a long time. Things didn;t go too well but the hair had to suffer - it was too cold without the hat. Not quite sure if I will cope witht he -40! -4 seemed enough for me!

Spent the weekend in bed with a temperature and a cold but better today. The amount of weird medicines I have been given is crazy. Everyone who knew I was ill ave me their own remedy... on Saturday everning I was painted in with some red liquid which stung...and the one thing that worked... Day Nurse from home! Think I will keep an illness quite in the future...

Interpreter is on the up. The policeman on duty in the mayors office asked me to phone his sister who is visiting for a omnth and wou;ld like work experience. Spoke to her on the phone expecting the ususal broken English and was met with a fluentEnglish speaker. She is her from the West where she works with an oil firm and is bored at home while her husband works so would like to help me out to practice her English. Meeting on Wednesday and I hope she wants to work with me... I've got meetings lined up if she says yes!

Spent the morning in a school - gave a seminar on volunteering in Russian which was a little fly by the seat of your pants kinda thing and then gate crashed two English lessons which was quite fun apart from the kids don;'t really speak English - they write and know grammer and translations so a little hard work. Afternoon spent working on analysis of volunteering int he town - sounds very grand but really just my observatiosn to date and a plan for what I will do in the enxt omnth.

Going to buy coat tomorrow. Tried on one today and looked like Michalen man.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Translating problems

Down to 7 hours a week... so need to get this sorted out. Very difficult to work without translator and to conduct meetings and so on. So looking into different variations as to how I can get more access to an inturpreter but this is causing a few waves here! But I have had 30 minutes today, nothing tomorrow or Monday and 3 hours on Tuesday - not enought to really work effectivly when I want to hold meetings to get things started up.

Temp down to 12 today and the wooly hats are out but I have been told there will be a reprive before winter truely starts.

Had amusing discussion with cook in the canteen today who slopped on some meaty looking chunks over the porridge (the staple for breakfast, lunch and dinner). She said it was not meat. So I asked what it was. Heart. Heart? Yes of a cow. I class that as meat rather than the delicacy she was telling me it was! Still picked out the meat and had to eat the porridge with the gravy which smelt and tasted like a butchers on a hot summer day! Nice!

In other news and on a lighter note I have been spending more time in the givernment office (I am now working here each day) and the most popular ring tone is 'Yo shorty' - 'yo shorty, its your birthday. We're going to party like its your birthday. I don't really give ...' which makes me smile when they get calls!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How could IU forget each day to mention the temperature!!

Well up until Friday last it has been between 32 and 36 degrees each day. Friday was the same - 33 degrees....

Friday 8th - 33 degrees
Saturday 9th - 23 degrees
Sunday 10th - 22 degrees
Monday 11th - 20 degrees
Today - 15 degrees

I was told that the seasons change fast but the local paper is saying that there will be snow early this year - by the end of September before warming up and then winter starting... my jumper made its first appearance yesterday and tomorrow if it is as cold as it is today the coat will be comgin out... so looks like we are sliding into winter here!

Monday, September 11, 2006

No translator

I went to work this afternoon with a whole long list of things that I want to get done this week which I have been working on over the weekend with the aim of starting the week as I mean to go on and arranging meetings and getting things moving forwards... But no translated.... And I have been told that she will now not be working any Mondays on top of Wednesday and Thursday late afternoons so there goes any illusion of a full time translated. Not really sure what to do about this - there are very few people with any English here let alone of a standard to interpret spoken English (I had lunch beside an English teacher today and ended up speaking Russian first and then the English as she knew words but not sentences) so we will have to see what can be worked out. Having a meeting tomorrow to discuss work so will bring this up but need to tread carefully.... Anyway I digress.... So no interpreter... This is not unusual but I had a few things I wanted to discuss so I managed to hold my own in conversation with a little sign language as well but we moved on to discussing creating seminars for schools about drugs. One of the main things I am here to do is to get the various volunteer Centre in the area (ie the different towns) to work closer together and as I know two of the four towns already have drug awareness programmes I tried to explain that we could speak to themt o find out what they are doing, what works and what does not work in school... And this fell onto deaf ears and I was told the toehr volunteer centres are bad ... I was expecting this but found it very frustrating not being able to explain the clear benefits of not reinventing the wheel but building on other peoples work, working together and so on...Very, very frustrating especially as I was ignored but I suppose I would have been ignored with an interpreter as well! Anyway it made me realize that while I can cope on my own and get a lot more across that I thought I could I do need someone there to help me give reasoning and depth to my suggestions - there is only so muc you can do with limited vocab and sign language...I feel a lot less stressed now and tomorrow I can start on my list!

Went to a wedding over the weekend. Two days of partying and drinking. The second day starts at 10am with vodka shots. I put into action all my training at the start of my placement about how to avoid drinking myself into a hospital but by 1130 most were steaming. Then the party games began and the wedding turned into a kind club 18-30 meets the generation game for the next three hours....All quite fun but a little surreal! One fun part is that the whole of the rooms is covered in shredded paper... More later being taken away for tea... abck now from tea... and then the bride and groom must with a dustpan and brush collect all the rubbish and while they are doing this money is thrown onto the floor by the guests. As the bride and groom are collecting the money more is thrown into the piles that tey have cleaned up and it keeps on coming. This went on for over 30 minutes and the bride was looking less and less impressed although the amount of money being thrown was vast - notes as well as coins... and then just as they were about to finish the plate that they collected this all in was uip turned and they statrted all over again - part of the fun. It wwas great to watch and I throw in my chnage as well..

Friday, September 08, 2006

Seminar "What is Volunteering?"

First seminar went according to plan - "What is volunteering? ". Typical VSO stle with lots of paper and post stick notes only I was using the reverse of wall paper instead of flipchart as this is a lot cheaper! Covered all the material and people seemed interested and did not rush off at the end which cna only be a good sign. Handed out questionairre to find out what people are interested in and the results are intersting and confirming my suspicions that the young people are more interested in dance,drama and art than in violunteering persay but that there are many (relative terms when there are only 15) who want to volunteer as well so scope for some development here and perhaps using a youth club as a vehicle for volunteering?? Who knows?

Understanding a lot more of the Russian being spoken around me although not translating the new words into spoke conversation yet. But I understand things like when the kids in the orphanage (need to think of a better word to use) are told something I am getting whatthey have to do. It does pay off being emersed 24/7 in another languge - I hope I keep up this pace of learning!

Immigration police wanted nothing in particular but they had heard me on the radio so wanted to see my documents from what I could work out from the conversation between my line manager and the police guy - my inturprter was at school still when we went. They wrote down my name but that seemed to be it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Perparing for seminar on 'What is Volunteering' today. Found out I need to have someone from the government/mayors office in with me while I conduct the seminar which I did not realised until today but that is fine becuase they are interested people and keen to hear what I am discussing.

Starting to see past the derelict buildings and smoldering rubbish around the town and as I get to know more people I am being taken to see things. Like today I foundout the cultural house, which I have been to before, has a cinema and a 700 seater theatre as well as night club! Spent quite a bit of the afternoon talking to two of the youngguys in the centre who have been writing music with anti drug messages and I was asking them if they wanted to share this with people and they came up with the idea of going into schools to tell children...I tried to put into practice the trainign I had done back in Birmingam after graduation about participation and bottom up approaches and for all my skeptisism then it actually worked. So next week we are going to see what they need to do before they go into schools - trainign themselves, permission, materials etc etc

Stomach settled down now - it had been playing up a bit. At lunch today I had the meat picked out of my soup - another small step forwards. Each morngin this week someone new has been draggedto my room to meet me. While I can introduce myself and talk about what I do I have no idea who they are at all becuase that part is always gabbled so fast! Today I got caught out because I had a lie in but I might be saved by the fact people wear house clothes so it is not unusual to be in casual clothes (like pyamas and T shirt) around the house .... althogh the bed hair may have given it away!

Going to the immigration police tomorrow morning ... and then the training session. I think there is some kind of concert in the evening so looks like a busy day!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Radio fame

Well today was certainly not the average day beacause I gave my first LIVE radio interview in Russian to the town! It lasted about 10 minutes. I had the questiosn an hour or so before and then worked out some answers. During the interview the journalist spoke in Russian, it was then translated and I spoke in Engish before the answer being translated... but for two of the questions I answered in Russian!! After the end of the show they informed me the listerners of the station number 30000!!! Well it is the only station that can be tuned in on FM in the town! All quite fun and i had the next song dedicated to me.... at the end of the interview I was asked to come back and have a live phone in chat show with the youth of the city .... watch this space I could have my own weekly show at this rate.... All quite fun but out of the blue - I only got told an hour before!!

And this morning I had to give an impromptu seminar on volunteering to my interpreters class of students - she asked me to come along to sit in on thier Kazakh lesson and learn some Kazakh but the novelty of an English man in the classroom meant that they had an English lesson instead. I then followed it with a hard core Russian lesson Soviet style! My interpreter, who is the head of languages, has arranged for me to have lessons with her best teacher of Russian and no mtter how much I subtly suggest having my lessons with someone who speaks at least some Engish she is havign none of it.... so I said I will try it out for a bit and to give her her due the lesson was understandable and she had prepared although the pace is slow due to the language barrier...we will see

No news from the orphanage - different cook today so no plate with the ball of meat and cabbage.

Temperature - mornings chilly (jumper weather) but warming up thoughout the day and by about 5pm it reaches 30+ degrees.... winter seems a long way off but I fear it is creeping nearer.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Online again... getting a little too regular.... almost read the emails in my inbox that have backewd up but not quite yet.

Tummy has been a little fragile since I moved into the orphanage so taking it easy from the food there today which seems to be doign the trick. I have told all the cooks that I do not eat meat which they find difficult to fathom but I think it has got through becuase with lunch I was given a plate with my food. When I asked what it was for I was told it was to put the meat from my meal on! So it is a start at least.... I'll wait a bit before I bring them my Jamie Oliver recepie books from my room!

Did some work today! It does look that more than 2 hours contact time with my psydo manager and inturpreter in the same place at the same time will be about as much as I can muster. I tried to discuss a plan of work yesterday - an outline for my week including aims and targets - met with muted response but today I was given something concrete... perhaps explainin that doing the plan of work at the end of September was too late and I had not come here to sit in my room not working got through. Once I get a little bit of research done then I will be able to get on and work independantly but at the moment this may be slower than I would like. Still no sign of volunteering at the centre but at least I have now met csome of the vbolunteers. Altrhough they are not voluinteering in the sense of volunteerign they are showing up to this room where the volunteer organisation is based and they are keen to do somethign with their time but at the moment it seems to be more like a youth centre than a volutneer organisation... that said I will be meeting them all on Firday and runnign a seminar to find out what it is they want from the centre and what they want to do.... fingers crossed about that.

Enough for now. Need to get off the computer now!


New phone number Kazakh codes - 333 157 45 34 ... network down a couple of hours most days. Most people who have got through do it ususally on the 5 or 6 attempt when calling from outside...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Moving house

Moved house from the Soviet flat - grim but bareable to .... wait for it ... an orphanage! Well it is a care home for orphans, kids in social care and kids from outside the town who go to school here (like boarders). Not as bad as you may be thinking. It has all been refurbished and is clean, well painted, has not water - a defnite bonus, but best of all is that there are people around... I wan't too keen on living by myself. It got a little boring in the evenings - BBC World service only works in the mornings so I was listening to the only FM radio station which is local an repeats every few hours!