|A scene along the road here in Kazakhstan. |
|A typical classroom at our school. Yes, those are|
teachers, not students. Oh well.
Living in Kazakhstan is both very ordinary and very unique. I spend my day working with teenagers, like millions of other teachers. But after a lesson, my students come up to me to hug me – I’ve even received applause for a counseling lesson. I watch students who put their arms around each other while walking down the hall, talking and laughing like brothers and sisters. I watched one girl who held the hand of another girl who has trouble walking, supporting her to help keep her balance. (Neither was a student of mine.) I congratulated them both and they were completely taken by surprise, since it was second nature to them. Then I took the helper’s arm and said, “Here, help me too,” and we all laughed together. I never would feel comfortable doing that to an unfamiliar student in an American school. But here I am family.
Our school faculty and staff had a dinner party in December, celebrating the end of the second quarter of school. There was music, dancing, and even silly games, and I watched a wonderful camaraderie in action, as some of the men played a game of musical potty chairs and the women trying to count how many rocks were on the seat of the chair where they were sitting – without looking, of course. And at dinner, as I have seen many times in the school cafeteria, teachers laughed and hugged as they visited, alternately teasing and reassuring each other of their friendships. And when they danced together, they celebrated with a joy I have seldom seen in a group of teachers. It was marvelous to be a part of a celebration of brothers and sisters.
|Jim and two of the teachers here at NIS|
|My three co-teachers and I.|
We got back from our stateside Christmas holiday trip on Wednesday the 8th of January, and January 9th was our first day back at school. Even before I got into the school building, one of the teachers saw me coming and threw her arms around me, telling me how happy she was that we were back. Kazakh women greet each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, but the hugs and kisses today have been especially sweet. Kazakh men shake hands with their right hand, but draw each other in by clapping each other on the back, and Jim’s been welcomed back a few times today as well. We've also had happy greetings from our fellow international teachers, and our supervisor came to check on us before the day even started, because he was concerned about us, since we had lost our luggage on the way back.
|Sunrise from our bedroom window. |
Cold is a way of life here...no polar vortex needed
In all our years of marriage, this is only the second time the Szokas have lost luggage. We got to the city of Almaty, the largest city in the nation (1.5 million), and zhok! No bags! It made it easy to come through customs, as we really DID have nothing to declare! But waiting for us outside the customs doors were the Carters, a missionary couple who have befriended us. They are assigned to help the small LDS congregation in Almaty. They gave us bags of brown sugar and ranch dressing mix, since we can’t find those items in Taldykorgan. (We brought them a couple of bottles of vanilla extract from the US.) No worries about the luggage, though - after we got to school, our Kazakh international vice principal Alisher (say Ah-lee-SHAIR) traced our bags through the airlines, and provided a driver to go get them and bring them to us (about 8-10 hours round trip - whew!). We had our bags delivered by Alisher at 9 p.m. that night - he wouldn't even let me come downstairs to carry one bag up. He is younger than both Jim and me, but we call him Papa, because he cares for us as though we were his own sons and daughters. We're happy to be home, where our hearts are. We're with family - even though many other members of our family are far away.