Our training staff, with one exception, are Kazakhstanis. Most all of them have blond hair, cool hipster reading glasses and are named Natalia. Only sometimes they want to be called “Nina” or “Lena” or “Natasya.” Most of these women were once counterparts of PCV’s. This means that they worked as English teachers at a school where a PCV was placed, and they were paired with the PCV to coordinate lesson plans and give support. Many PCV counterparts are invited to the US through a teacher exchange program called Accels. Our staff speak with utter confidence and difficult accents. They often use words like “disseminate” perfectly.
We go to Ecik to fulfill a couple components of PST. One is technical training. We’re learning how to use progressive teaching methods in KZ, where progressive teaching methods aren’t common. People here are educated, but often their knowledge isn’t functional. While some PCV’s teach economics as well as English, our main roles are to get our classes to actually speak English, and especially to get our teachers to speak English. There are stories of PCV’s who realize that their counterparts can only say greetings and a couple key phrases. Medical sessions are exciting. We have two PCMO’s (Peace Corps Medical Officers), Pam and Victor. Pam is all-American, a small woman with a curly mullet who runs 14 miles a day and then bikes to work. She heads an NGO which does hurricane relief in Central America.
Victor is something else. He was born in Moldova and has been working with Peace Corps since the fall of the USSR (I think . . .). Before the fall of the USSR, he was in the Soviet army doing similar work. We all adore Victor, partly because he’s terrifying, partly because he’s nice. He has a thick accent, which makes him both self-conscious and endearing. He has very twinkly eyes. Pam will say something about tapeworms for example, and Victor will chime in with “in Angola . . . .” it’s always an impressive cautionary tale about extreme cases of anything. Madagascar also has provided its share of Reasons To Listen To Victor: a volunteer told her host family once that she didn’t drink alcohol because was is taboo for her, then she drank at someone else’s house, and as Victor had warned, she was abhorrent to the local people. “It was like she had no soul.” The room we were in was dead quiet. No soul, huh? Brrr. He’s the sort of guy you don’t want to hear ghost stories from, if you believe them. Later, Pam was telling us about getting administrative separation (admin sep, sent home) for inappropriate behavior. It takes quite a bit to get admin sep, according to me. According to Victor also: “In Angola . . . . just wanted to talk with a local woman at a bar. The next day, someone came from Moscow. We never saw Dimitri again. Ever.” Victor likes ice cream and excerpts from “Anguished English.”
All of us who went to the big banya in Almaty want to go back and take more staff with us. A few of the language teachers and Nina came with the women, but the guys had no staff on their side. They want Victor to come with them. Banya is fun. I’m sure an internet search would turn up a lot of interesting articles. Basically, it can be one or two of several kinds of sauna. Only in KZ, it involves drinking tea. Everything here involves drinking tea. We all had a great time at banya and would like to whack more authority figures with bundles of leaves.
In addition to these regular sessions, we teach 4 35-minute sessions at a school in Ecik, do a practicum for 2 weeks at a local school, and complete a secondary project. Our (7 PCT’s here in Koktube 2) secondary project was cut off halfway through by the darling principal who told us he didn’t care. He also says he doesn’t care if our neighborhood doesn’t get running water again. All our host parents made the international crazy sign when we told them about him.
In addition to all this, another PCT and I have designed a tertiary project which we hope will benefit future PCT’s. We are going to buy 2 or 3 of every kind of chocolate and candy we can find and make an index of them. We’ll rate them and describe their flavor. This will take us a while, but we must press on: too many of our comrades have accidentally eaten the nasty kind with fake strawberry filling or overlooked the plain but wonderful Kix-flavored Molocho. You can see how strong the Volunteer spirit is within us.