Kazakhstan 2004, Peace Corps

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I applied to Peace Corps in 2003 and, after telephone interviews and medical tests over three months, was accepted. I was offered a posting to Kazakhstan, where the first-ever Peace Corps group with business experience was due to arrive in 2004. I accepted and, after a two-day orientation in Washington, DC, our group of 26 volunteers flew to Almaty, the commercial capital, in March 2004.

Former Parliament Building of Kazakhstan. In 1997, the capital moved from Almaty to Astana and this building became a library.

TRAINING
Our group moved to Issyk, a small town beneath the mountains 32 miles from Almaty. There we were housed with families, and for three months had daily lessons in Russian language and Kazakh culture and familiarization in a school building.

Outdoor class with our Uighur teacher (left)

Horse and cart in Issyk Street

Swearing-in by U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan

MY POSTING

I was fortunate to get posted to a NGO (Non Governmental Organization) called “Wild Nature”, which was run by two Russian wildlife biologists in a small village of Zhabagly in southern Kazakhstan.The village lay immediately below the Tien Shan mountains, an extension of the Himalayas, and was adjacent to Aksu Zhabagly Nature Reserve, the oldest protected area in Central Asia.

Old Kazakh man

       Russian children

I stayed12 months in Zhabagly, a village of 300 people. Since the closing of a nearby chicken factory, the only local employment was in agriculture and tending livestock.

My home for a year

Village street with mosque

Mountains behind the village

My lodging was in the house of a school teacher, whose husband did odd jobs, and whose teenage daughter, Meruyert, spoke good English. The house was heated, had internet dial-up and an outside bana for a weekly bath. I was given three meals daily. I looked out of my window towards the high mountains.

My bosses at “Wild Nature” NGO, Svetlana and Vladimir

Tourist group near the snow line

My work with “Wild Nature” included meeting overseas tourists from Almaty at the nearby train station and guiding them around the area. I also worked to help market their services, which was sometimes difficult because of their Communist mind-set. More rewarding was explaining to the Kazakhs, who are natural hosts, how to deal with foreign visitors. I taught English to the village children, alert young girls, and participated in training seminars provided to the villagers by other NGOs.

Some girls from my English language class


>Kazakh boys playing dombra (lute)

 Village host family

Relaxing in a village home

WORK & TIME OFF I more or less fixed my own work schedule and, during time off, I had a number of options:

Visiting Peace Corps volunteers in nearby Shymkent or Taraz, taking the overnight train to Almaty, to have a sauna, eat a meal, and stay with other volunteers, from Peace Corps or VSO, the British aid organization. visiting local sites, like the Hodja Ahmet Yassai mausoleum (1,398), and a nearby bird banding center.

I also took a trip to Tashkent in neighboring Uzbekistan. At Christmas I went to London to visit family; I brought back saddles for use on horseback rides in Zhabagly.

By June 2005 I was suffering from ghiardia, a hernia caused by shoveling snow, a skin rash and exposure to TB. The latter was not as bad as it sounds. But I decided that I would not recover from all this within 30 days, which is the Peace Corps time allowance for sick leave, so I might as well take voluntary separation. I should have had Peace Corps take care of the hernia operation and then resigned, since it took a long time to get reimbursed.

MEMORIES

Horses grazing. We ate horse meat at home.

Shakpakbaba bird banding center

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Village girls

Me and Lenin

Conclusion. I was glad I went with Peace Corps, even though I finished early. I felt I achieved something with the NGO. and also was a “good ambassador”. The pervasive corruption and economic problems in Kazakhstan were depressing, but I really liked the Kazakh people. Peace Corps had a well-run operation here (now terminated).

Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

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