Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Long Overdue

It's been a really long time since I have blogged.  Sorry about that!  Life has been a bit crazy these last few months. I am currently enjoying the beautiful fall weather of Montana. Yes, I am no longer in Kazakhstan in case you missed the change in location. It has been fun spending time with my family and getting to know my niece (she is two). I will be here until the end of September, when I head to Indiana to complete two practicums in eight weeks in order to finish up my master's degree in Special Education.  It's going to be a busy few months, but I am looking forward to all I will learn while being in the classroom.

Here's some of what has gone on in my life during the last few months:

  • We had a busy summer delegation season. Our company conducted two English camps at two different orphanages. 
  • I taught a beginners English class for children whose families were part of our Ray of Hope Club. One of the children had Cerebral Palsy while the others had relatives who had Cerebral Palsy. It was fun to watch them all learn. I generally don't like Teaching English, but this group was fun and they learned a lot in just 1 1/2 months. 
  • My English club continued to meet. We planned activities for children from the orphanages who were at summer camp on a couple different occasions. 
  • I continued to teach Nurdaulet how to read in Kazakh. By the end of the summer he was sometimes able to read the Kazakh words for mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and horse.  
  • My cousin, Jeff, came to visit. We had fun exploring the mountains near Taraz and also had a couple nice days in Almaty before he left. 
  • Jim Nelson came to visit with his daughter, Sarah. It was especially good to have some time with them to remember Liz's life and her love for the Kazakh people. 
  • Interlink's board of directors determined that I would not be returning to Kazakhstan, as originally planned, in January. Interlink has a policy to only send expats out in teams and since there is no on else prepared to return with me in January, they determined it would be best for me to wait for a team to be formed before returning. As a result, we had to shut down out work with children with disabilities for the time being. As a result, I spent most of August preparing to come back to the States and organize and pack things well both at home and at the office. 
  • A great tea time with some of the mothers of children I have been working with. It was fun to hear their dreams for the future for themselves and their families. I look forward to keeping in touch with them even though I will be in the States. 
  • Special goodbyes at the office and with friends. It is hard not knowing when I will be returning, but I am so thankful for the special friendships I have been given in Kazakhstan. I am looking forward to the day I am able to return. 

 Our Office Staff 
 The Women at our Office
Hiking with my Cousin, Jeff
A Waterfall at the end of the Hike

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Kazakh Sister's Wedding



A couple weeks ago my Kazakh family and I traveled to Astana for my sister's wedding.  It was a wonderful weekend celebrating her marriage with our new extended family.  I especially enjoyed the wedding day and spending extra time with my Kazakh siblings and cousins as we went with Assel and Dosken around town to take pictures.  The weekend was full of lots of eating, very little sleep, and a wonderful wedding celebration.  Here is some of what I experienced:
  • 20 hours there and 20 hours back on the train. Thankfully the days we traveled were fairly cool compared to the days surrounding our travel days.  
  • Arrival at 9:30 pm at night.  Upon our arrival, we were taken to the apartments we would stay in for the weekend where we were able to shower and change. Then we went to Dosken's apartment for a welcome dinner with the in-laws. We started with salads at about midnight. I sat with the adults and got to participate in giving toasts and trying to keep up with conversation. At 2am we went outside while the table was cleared. At 2:30 we started the exchange of gifts (our family brought gifts for keeping house for Assel).  Each gift was opened and shown to Dosken's female relatives (this part of the activity was only attended by the women). The men sat in the other room watching World Cup Soccer.  At 3:30 we went outside again while the table was set for our meal. We ate Beshbarmak (horse and noodles) at 4am and then left for home around 5am.  

  • We got about 3 hours of sleep the night before the wedding (from 5:30 to 8:30 am).  
  • On Friday (wedding day) the cousins all gathered at one apartment to get ready for the picture taking trip.  All the young relatives and friends gather and go from place to place in a limousine taking pictures before the actual wedding. With the lack of sleep the night before, everyone was pretty tired by the time we went to the restaurant at 6pm.  I definitely enjoyed spending the day with my cousins.  

  • The wedding party lasted from 7pm until midnight. It was a fun time of singing, dancing and toasting.  I had to slow dance with two male relatives (one on my side of the family and one on Dosken's side of the family) who had been toasting all night. Dancing is definitely not my favorite thing as my coordination is lacking. I am super coordinated when it comes to sports, but not so much when it comes to dancing (especially slow dancing). I guess this is something I should try to learn at some point, but generally at this point I just avoid situations where I have to slow dance. Dancing while the married person I am dancing with sings me a love song is even more awkward.  

  • We were able to sleep in the morning of the wedding. Then we were all taken to a cafe for another lunch hosted by Dosken's relatives. It included much of the same, dancing, singing, toasting. There was even an accordion player. 

  • One of my Kazakh sisters, a cousin, and I left early to explore Astana a bit. We went to an indoor mall that has been built since the last time I was there. This mall has an amusement park and a beach inside. It was pretty crazy. We also walked through the center of town and took pictures. 

  • Then we headed back to Dosken's apartment for one last meal before getting on the train. By then I was pretty worn out and having a hard time focusing in Kazakh anymore. 
  • The train back to Taraz included lots of reading and sleeping.  
It was a crazy weekend, but a great celebration. I am so thankful that Assel found a husband she loves. I am thankful for my Kazakh family and the opportunity to celebrate this wedding with them. I am thankful for the extra time I had with them as we prepared and then traveled. I am so very thankful for such a great family here in Kazakhstan.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Upsee

We recently purchased a new item to help with our physical therapy.  The Upsee came on the market in April and we have been waiting patiently to receive ours.  It came with our Saramoldaeva delegation and we have had the chance to use it with one child, David, a few times since its arrival.

Our first attempt, was honesty not the greatest, but was a great opportunity to learn for the future.  Although we had read the instructions and watched the instructional videos, we hadn't really though through everything.  I had the opportunity to wear it the first time we used it.  We didn't really prepare David for what we were doing and just went outside with his two siblings to the yard.  I didn't think to bring a blanket to lay him on while putting the vest on and we hadn't put the vest on inside.  As a result, I put it on him while he was laying across my lap (definitely not ideal).  Since I couldn't look at myself while I had it on, I couldn't quite tell that it wasn't adjusted quite right.  Despite this, the look of delight on his face and that of his sister's was priceless as they held hands standing up together (see pictures below).  As suggested, we only spent a few minutes using it and only walked a few steps.  Afterwards we went back inside to do the rest of our exercises.  David did not want anything to do with his other exercises.  Although he couldn't communicate what was wrong, I had the sense he was mad that we came inside and he was no longer standing. We have moved the use of his Upsee to the end of his exercise time, which has helped.

The next time we used the Upsee, his dad put on the belt and walked with him.  I preferred being able to watch and give suggestions as I could see what was going on and how David was responding.  The smile on his face as he walked around was great.  We are still getting the hang of using it, but so far David's reaction and his ability to do some "normal" things outside has been priceless.  We are looking forward to trying it with a couple of the other children in our Ray of Hope club this week.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Building Community

One of the desires for our Ray of Hope Club is for it to be a place where community is built.  We want mothers, fathers, and children to feel supported and encouraged by one another. One of our board members was in Taraz last week for a visit. She has a background in education and currently provides anti-bullying training for schools in Virginia. We hosted a tea where she shared some of the wisdom she has learned with parents. She also took the time to listen to their ideas about how they want to bring hope to their children.  While the parents sat, talked, and drank tea, the children played in the adjoining room. Our time together lasted for over two hours as everyone had a great time laughing and enjoying each other's company.  

We also began a piece of art work that is now hanging in our Ray of Hope Club. Children and their family members created leaves for our tree using their feet and hands. We will continue to add the hands and feet of others who become a part of our club down the road.  It will be fun to see the branches fill and know that each leaf represents a life that has been touched in some way.  



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Time with Staff

Some of my closest friends in Taraz are the staff in our office. Although we work hard together, we also have a lot of fun.  Over the recent holiday, several of us went to visit a canyon known as the second most beautiful place in all of Kazakhstan.  It was a beautiful day and a fun time with friends.  We took lots of pictures and laughed together.  I am so thankful I get to enjoy living in Kazakhstan with such great friends!  It was the first time any of us had actually visiting this National Park.  What a beautiful way to spend a day off!