Monday, October 29, 2007

A busy day...

Well, it’s been another long and exhausting day here in Almaty! But definitely a great day. The next few days are going to be insanely busy, so I wanted to do a little writing tonight before I stumble off to bed—otherwise, I don’t know when I’ll have the chance. Between teaching, student presentations, and another unexpected lecture to prepare, there's not going to be much free time (the consulate just asked me to speak with a State Dept. rep at the Turkish-Kazakh University--the topic is "educational opportunities in the US". They want me to participate because--as Asiyat said--I've been in school for a very long time. Ouch.)

I’m writing from the kitchen right now, sitting at my table sipping a cup of tea. And playing Sweet Caroline as loudly as possible on my computer (not loudly at all, but it suffices). Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good! Messages are starting to trickle in from back home—Boston must be absolutely insane right about now. When I flew back in 2004, there were championship signs all over Boston for the Sox and Patriots (plus, I was on the same flight as Tim Wakefield. Too cool!). I’d like to see the same thing again when I get back from Kazakhstan.

Okay, that is enough New England elitism (for now, at least). In all seriousness, though, it has been a great day here in Almaty—and not because the Sox and Pats both won. I started off the morning by giving several lectures at the Kazakh-British University. Lyudmilla teaches there, and several weeks ago she asked if I would be willing to come speak to the students when they begin learning about different types of celebrations in English-speaking countries. As with many things, it became somewhat political—the university wanted me to speak to classes other than Lyudmilla’s. So…I had to tell them that I would be happy to present several lectures to Lyudmilla’s students—and other professors were welcome to attend with their students. After all, it was Lyudmilla’s idea to ask me to the university, and she was so excited about being able to do something like that for her students. It helped both of us, too—I will be giving some seminars at the university in January, and it was good to establish some clear boundaries in relationships with the administration (it is very easy to be taken advantage of here, if you allow it to happen). At the same time, it let the university admin know that I was there specifically at Lyudmilla’s request.

The presentations began this morning at the ungodly hour of 8am. Yes, I know, that is not that early—in the US. Here, that is well before the crack of dawn. The city doesn’t really wake up until 9 or 10am. I had two lectures—at 8 and 9—and spoke about holiday celebrations in the United States. It was great fun—we told ghost stories for Hallowe’en, talked about why my mother makes the best apple pie anywhere for Thanksgiving (seriously, it’s the truth), and listened to all different types of Christmas carols. At the end of the second lecture, the students presented me with a completely unexpected—and totally charming—gift. It’s a small statue of a Kazakh man holding a stringed instrument—absolutely beautiful, and something I will treasure.

Following the presentations, I had tea with the department chair. Wow. I completely love these teas. There are all sorts of dried fruits and nuts, small pastries, black or green tea, and great conversation. As it turned out, both Lyudmilla’s supervisor and her department chair spent time at KU through some of the cultural exchange programs. They all spoke very highly of the university, and it was nice to be able to share stories of Lawrence all the way over here in Almaty. I also made the acquaintance of someone else from UNESCO (an American, this time), who will be a valuable contact when I begin the actual fieldwork portion of my work here.
I’m finding that giving these brief presentations and lectures have rewards that I never imagined. The interaction with the students is always fascinating—they are so curious about American culture and traditions, and in turn they make you enthused. It is addictive—for such little effort on my part, they give so much in return. Additionally, I’ve made contacts with people in all different professional realms—the connecting factor is an interest in education and improving the educational system in Kazakhstan. Oddly enough, the gender divide that is so apparent across the country works to my advantage. It is mostly women working in these fields, and they have welcomed me as a peer into their extended network. Before arriving here, I was unsure how I would be able to make the contacts I need for my research—but those connections are being made almost without thinking. The hard part will be deciding which ones to use.

Well, it’s rather late now and I need to head off to bed. Last night was a rather late evening, and there was no time to relax today. Sarah and Amelia hosted a Hallowe’en party for Sarah’s students from Ablai Khan. I joined them, and we had one of the more intriguing Hallowe’en parties I’ve ever been to. Just imagine 11 Kazakh students in costume, trying to bob for apples or hit a piƱata, all the while giggling and admiring their costumes. Once all the students left, we headed over to the corner store to get something so we could spike what was left of the punch. And how could we resist “Thumbs Up” Vodka? For all of $2, you get a 1 liter bottle of vodka—complete with plastic thumb instead of a bottle cap. You really can’t make these things up—it is just everyday life over here.

Who said that Mondays are no fun???

Although it is completely unrelated to Kazakhstan, I just have to say it...


Definitely a great day in New England--wish I could be there to see all the mayhem (and the boys doing the Papelbon Dance--send video if you can, Catherine!)

Happy, happy Monday. And now Mom and Dad can start getting some sleep...