I’ve not experienced culture shock – at least, I don’t think I have. Some of the adjustments – like the outhouses or washing with tin cups – are very similar to the ones I make when car camping. Not everyday, but not foreign. Other things, like eating from the same plate, I expected. I’ve never been a germ freak, so it doesn’t bother me. Of course, I have now been sick two weekends in a row. All of the volunteers have noticed that our hygiene habits are very different from our host families’, but no one makes any trouble about that. Amanda’s family did ask her if she preferred to brush her teeth in the morning or at night. We wash our hands with soap and water, instead of just water and bathe once every 3 days and wash up more often than that.
Drinking is part of the culture here, certainly, but it usually amounts to a glass or two of wine with your family. In other words, this isn’t college. People who know me aren’t pushy about it. For instance, my family never offers me alcohol, although my host Dad likes to tease me about horse milk (I can’t quite describe it – awful). Other host families offer once or twice out of politeness (in Kazakh culture, “no” isn’t “no” until the second or third time you say it). I went to a wedding where the man, the head of the table, kept dumping out my juice and refilling my glass with vodka, despite my objections. Not a big problem – I’d dump the vodka into an empty cup and refill my glass with juice. But the culture doesn’t encourage binge drinking. It seems to me that the only people I’ve seen very drunk aren’t locals.
The food here is very yummy, although it’s shockingly fattening. Most people here aren’t fat at all, despite eating 5% fat yogurt, 4 pieces of bread/ meal slathered with butter, condensed milk in their tea, etc. I think my secondary project should be a series of short cookbooks, beginning with “Potatoes CAN Be Healthy,” then “Fried Eggs – Every Once-In-A-While, They’re Great.” There’s also an odd phenomenon we call “rock cheese.” Several of us have moms who pack it in our lunches. Mostly, we use it to impress other people with its unfoodlike qualities, but Ryan has recently developed a taste for it. You have to break it up by first wedging in a knife, then sticking in another and seeing if you can pull the two halves apart. Chris Besch, the PC Country Director told me her plan is to not eat anything white here.
The language barrier has been the toughest. I suppose people have culture shock where they are fluent in the national language (PCV’s in some African countries, esp.) but they don’t have the experience of trying unsuccessfully to tell people they’re sick or of being the brunt of jokes they don’t understand. There are some other things about the language that can be difficult. You just have to keep in mind what’s normal and what isn’t. For instance, the way the language is constructed, most imperatives sound quite rude. Sit. Stand. Give me. Enough/ you’re done. But you can tell from someone’s manner whether they are being rude when saying these things. One of my cousins either gives me dog commands or doesn’t talk at all – not nice. But my sister tells me sit, stop, go, and it’s not a problem. Another thing is that people shout when they’re not angry. We were digging a ditch with some neighbors, and the apa (babushka) who was in charge kept shouting. Tim thought he was doing something wrong and didn’t know what, but Saltanat told him that was just her way of cheerleading.
So, now that I’ve said I’m not having culture shock and gone on to tell you about culture shock, everything feels pretty normal. My family is just a family – a very very nice one. At this point, I’m a student teacher, I’m with English speakers for part of every day, and there are no inconvenient limitations (such as not having enough water).
That’s all here, in Koktube Yeki (Sovet’s earlier name). In two weeks, I’ll find out where my post is for the 2 years (until June 2006). I’ll most likely be in the south of the country, in a Kazakh (not Russian) community in some degree of desert. The main cities I might be centered around are Turkistan (my first choice, I think), Shimkent, Kuzlorda, and in the North, Akhtube. Having said that, I’ll probably be put somewhere else entirely.