Thursday, November 02, 2006

My past three weeks

The last three weeks have kind of been non-stop. It seems like a long time ago but Jena, the volunteer from the nearby town, can over with the coordinator of the volunteer network who is based in Kostani. We held a training sessions – teambuilding games – with the different organisations where I work.

Jena got introduced to orphanage life and was an instant success as she bought her guitar and I even talked her into an impromptu concert. She got me back by making me sing Wonderwall as a duet – now I know I can’t sing but when nobody knows the words or the tune you can get away with it! After three songs the concert kind of evolved into a talent show with the kids doing break-dancing RunDMC style in the middle of the TV lounge.

Jena was not so impressed with the food. Well in particular dinner. It was liver and porridge. Never the best combination it has to be said but I have got used to it now and my spoon ( there are only spoons) is skilful at flicking all the bits of meat to the edge just leaving me with meaty sludge over porridge followed by chunks of bread. My secret is to prepare a salad – tomato, cucumber, onion and triangle cheese and swamp it with some tomato sauce that I have bought from the old woman who sits on the street corner. This sauce – which I have named babushka (grandmother) sauce – has such a kick (tomato, onions, garlic and chilli from what I can work out) it makes everything taste alright and you forget that you are eating sludge and porridge.

Anyway so I headed off on a 12 day round trip to deliver a seminar in the south. I left early on a free ride out with the coordinator and spent three days renewing my visa. I know I should have probably been a little more proactive but I kept on being told there was no need to worry and that all would be sorted out in my town. But when the immigration police in the town said they had no visa papers I had to go to the regional town but in the regional town no one knows me so it took three days to get the visa. The woman was very friendly with it but kept on wanting new documents. In the end I got one for another six months and had a very worried text from mum wanting to know when I was coming home.

With a new visa I headed south on the train for two days. Not nearly as grim as I was expecting. Me and Jena were in the same compartment with two very nice middle aged women who ended up giving Jena a jumper and their telephone numbers to us for when we are next in Almaty. The only thing I didn’t like about the train was that after two days you feel very, very dirty. Before people disembark though they seem to have some special power to make themselves presentable to meet their waiting friends and family. Still I joined in with this and washed my hair in the hand sink, a bit of gel together with cleanish clothes and lots of aftershave and I looked fine. Jena on the other hand could not wash her hair in the basin so was at a significant disadvantage in the competition to see who can look as if they have not just spent two days on a hot train.

We then had a day in Almaty where I phoned international firms – Deliotte, E&Y, PWC etc etc – trying to find out about the corporate social responsibility policy before we headed to a town about three hours away from Almaty to Taldy Kurgan. In Taldy Kurgan we met with Global Exchange which is a programme run by VSO and the British Council. There are 9 English volunteers and 9 Kazakh volunteers who work for three months here and then for three months in Hounslow. They have been here for a month or so and I met the Kazak lot when I was in Almaty when I first arrived. They were having and Educational Day about working with difficult children. Me and Jena had been invited to participate and we gave a little session at the end of the day with some activities people might like to try out. It was great fun visiting a new town, speaking English was also a highlight but I also managed to get quite a bit of work done and took away man ideas as well as materials. Three nights in a hotel and I was a changed man – it really did feel like a million miles away. We were looked after very well by the coordinators of Global Exchange.

Back to Almaty for a day of meetings – with the United National volunteer office, VSO, American Chamber of Commerce working group on corporate social responsibility and also the British Council. Stayed with Tina, who I arrived in Kazakhstan with, and it was great to catch up although she had training to deliver both days so we could only talk in the evenings. On Friday I went out with Karmia, from LSE, and a few of her friends and had a wicked night. Almaty might as well be London! Went out for coffee first to a place with wireless and DJ. I had my laptop so showed them some pictures and her friends were intrigued about what I am doing and why I am here. I felt so at home when the conversation moved onto equity markets and private credit provision – I was back at LSE for one night! Then we went to a club which had a wicked live band doing a Maroon 5 act before heading into a cinema and watching the best adverts from around the world – Tarrent on TV style. Really enjoyed meeting up with her and will do so again at Christmas.

Flew back up north – much prefer flying to the train. Arrived home Sunday night very tired. Took Monday off but showed my face around in the afternoon. It has been very difficult to get back into work this week. Hopefully next week after a weekend to rest it will be better. The ring marked 10 hours a week of interpreting work with me has not materialised and visiting Almaty made me realise that while I am achieving things here my effectiveness is limited without an interpreter although there is very little I can do about it. I feel I achieved more for volunteering development by speaking to key people in Almaty, like the UNVolunteers and also some of the international firms, than I have achieved all week here. While I know this is a common feeling especially as the mid placement time has come my trip has made me realise how much more I need to be getting across to make sure this work will not be wasted. Starting the momentum is one thing but giving it enough speed to take on a dynamic itself is another. Quite impressed with that quote so I might end with that!

Just a reminder to people that my mobile is usually on and that I really appreciate text messages to (International dialling code for KZ) 701 610 31 62 and that post always goes down a treat especially if not expected and my address is
Tom Ketteley
Room 16
Intra-political Department
6 Mik-on, 65 Dom
Zhitikara region
Kostani Oblast

Talking of post my Weekly Guardian has started arriving while I am away as did a package from mum with three magazines from the 23rd September. School boy error in reading the newspaper before the magazine – it is like reading the end chapter of the book first because I now know what is going to happen!

Take care and now I am back in Zhitikara expect more posts.


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