A lot of this is chronicled in both Jamie and the Huber's blog plugged at the right of this page I believe. So for a brief recap I'll go by months.
In November the Hubers were able to find a turkey for Thanksgiving and all the volunteers in the area and our local friends made dishes and we celebrated together. We had stuffing, salad, garlic mashed potatoes (which I made), broccoli and cauliflower casserole and some delicious deserts that Corinne made. There was a pumpkin muffin made out of pumpkin pie remains that was like the most delicious desert I have ever had and can never be created again since it was a salvage operation and exact ingredients have been lost to the twisted nether of culinary improvisation. Let's see, we also had MST which stands for Mid-Service training and it was pretty low key. We had conference during the day and all the vols were able to spend time with one another after. I ate at Pizza Hut in Almaty (it's really ritzy and clean and tastes just like America) and also at a halfway decent Chinese restaurant. So good food was a nice break from the relative monotony of Zhezkazgan's 100 cafes that all serve the same Kazakh dishes.
I also participated in NaNoWriMo which stands for National November Writing Month. It's basically a contest to try and write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I got 35,000 words before having to go to MST and now it sits unfinished. It's a horror story about traveling volunteers who are on a train and their fellow passengers begin to mysteriously disappear. It's not too bad and the plot is coherent, so I'll make it my New Year's goal to finish it before I get back to America.
I got back to site around Dec 6th and began finishing up the school quarter in anticipation of Christmas and New Years. Of course Christmas isn't celebrated here so I had to work on Christmas day. Luckily I had planned a Secret Santa exchange for my younger kids and I think they enjoyed it. None of them could keep a secret so they all knew who their Santa was, but I don't necessarily think American 12 year olds could really do a proper Secret Santa without telling anyone either.
Oh I almost forgot. When I got back to site my internet no longer worked and getting it back up again proved to be almost a month long comedy of errors. So the timeline was something like this.
Internet doesn't work, I spend a week and a half trying to get the KazTelecom people to reset my internet or come to my apartment to fix it.
Everyone ignores me until the director of my school writes (well has my counterpart write on his letterhead a tersely worded letter to the manager of the company)
The tech guys come the next day and after fawning over my American things and asking me if I play Warcraft tell me that my modem is broken.
The next day the power cord to my computer breaks
I borrow my friend Gulzhan's computer, which is a netbook that Robert sold to her.
I go that day to buy a modem and buy the cheapest modem I can find and don't buy a new power cord because I'm not sure it is compatible.
I get home and learn that I can't install the modem because it has an install disk and the netbook doesn't have a cd drive. My computer doesn't have power so I can't install it on that one either.
It is Christmas Eve. I go back to the store and test the new power cord and buy a better modem and try to return the old modem because I have a guarantee but they won't give me my money back because technically the modem works, just not with my computer.
I get my new netbook in the mail for Xmas (Thanks Mom and Dad) and the new modem works exclusively with it though this one is not wireless and is a bit slower than my old modem.
Sorry if that bored you, but the amount of frustration those few weeks caused me needed expression.
There's also something wrong with my electricity causing my power to cut off anytime I use something that uses more power than my computer power cable. As a result I haven't washed my clothes in about 2 months. Last night I dreamt that I found a cache of clean clothes in my apartment and was more excited than if I had found 100 dollars if that explains the increasing direness of the situation. Man Jamie often asks why I don't just hand wash like he does. My reply? "I don't understand the question and I won't respond to it."
So yeah Christmas was fun this year. We made pizza and drank a bit. I am becoming a marinade master and Man Jamie is becoming quite the accomplished pizza chef.
After Xmas but before New Years, I had a Teacher's party at the school. These should really just be called "Who's been Lusting after the American and Chooses to express it while Drunk Party." I had to dance which I really don't like to do and every dance one of the teachers kept grabbing me and parading me around to all the dance circles like I was some bauble. It wasn't so bad, I'm used to this kind of thing especially when forced to dance, but it was still weird. I did get a nice slow dance in with one of the cuter teachers though *a-wink. It is strange drinking in the school cafeteria and watch all the men go off to smoke cigarettes in the boy's bathroom. It's like some kind of perverse regression where the teachers let lose and act like juveniles. I hung out for about 3 hours and then excused myself.
I did absolutely nothing for New Years. Everyone was out of town or had plans already so I stayed home without even a TV to watch the countdown on. It was pretty sad from an outside perspective, but kind of nice to relax especially given how crazy last year's New Year's was with the host fam.
And speaking of host families, I went over last night for my first official guesting since I moved out. It was... just like old times. My host dad was a little tipsy from a visit with one of his friends earlier, but was really happy to see me. He embraced me and called me his little brother with a warmth I hadn't seen since a few months before I left. Not to say things left on a bad note between us, just that living with people (especially from different cultures) is stressful for all parties and I think we were both ready for me to leave last August. That said, he and I have always had a interesting friendship in that he is ebullient and can be a bit much to take (especially after some vodka). Last night I had a really interesting time with him though. My host mom, Olbulsyn, was a little mad at Mukhtar because he had been drinking and was talking a lot, but he was really excited to see me and had a lot to tell me.
After we ate some beshbarmak, Mukhtar and I went out to the stairwell and talked for an hour or so about the things that have been on his mind. He will always tell you what is on his mind, but last night he was strangely unguarded. He began telling me about how much he loves his family and how hard he tries to provide for them. This is becoming increasingly difficult since his work shifts have been cut in half since the crisis and he is not pulling in much money. Olbulsyn has taken a job at a cafe that she clearly hates, but they need the money. He described himself in a sea of credit as they have taken out loans with three different banks and owe a ton of money every month. Mukhtar told me that the kids ask for money every day and he usually gives it to them and keeps it secret from Olbulsyn. He also told me about his childhood and how he worked everyday to buy clothes for school and whatnot. He wants to disconnect the internet that Zhupar and Yernur use all the time because it is expensive and talked to me about this.
I obviously realize that these are more or less the same things that parents tell their children. Life will probably have always been more difficult for the previous generations than the next. I recognize that my father, like Mukhtar worked really hard to get where he is in life and fought for a higher education. I am proud of him for this and the character it obviously built within him.
However, when we are children we hear these stories from our parents and think of them as tirades (sorry Dad) akin to the "when I was your age I walked uphill in the snow both ways... etc;" but in that apartment somewhere in between Mukhtar and his children's generation gap, I gained a new perspective on the family unit. As a parent you want to give your child everything, but may slightly resent the fact that they have life much easier than you did. You don't want them to have to break their back for want of something, but also don't want them to be ungrateful. Is this the crux of parenting? Is this the inherent chasm that creates the generation gap? I don't know, but standing their I felt like both a child and an adult, seeing the validity of my host brother and sister's desire to have internet and Mukhtar's agonizing over the cost of the utility.
After an hour Olbulsyn peaked her head out of the door and told Mukhtar to stop talking my ear off. We went back inside for tea and I really felt like a part of the family. I realized that Mukhtar had really missed me. I think he enjoyed having a friend around who would indulge him and occasionally drink with him and talk about war and politics and things like that. Kazakhs really are masters of hospitality when they want to be and my old host family has given me a lot to think about as I gnaw on the slightly stale, oily, baursaki (fried bread) that they gave me to take home.
Now I have break until Monday and it's been a wonderful week and a half of doing nothing. I've been able to read and watch tv and just veg out. I hope you all had wonderful holidays. I am thankful that I will be home for the next round.