My first week in Kazakhstan.

Well, this new chapter of my life has begun. So far each page is full of new experiences, sights, sounds, and only a couple struggles. It is exciting to be on this journey. Unlike in the book, The Hobbit, when they wonder “what tale have we fallen into,” I may not know what is yet to be written but I know beyond a shadow of doubt this is the call on my life and I desire to fulfill this call.

When I wake, I find myself thinking “I must be dreaming.” For so long I dreamed of being here and, now that I am here, it doesn’t seem real sometimes. This past week has been full as I try to learn how to live life in a totally different culture.

My first two nights in KZ, I stayed with Beth, my team leader. I was scheduled to go to my host home on Saturday but, in traditional Kazakh-style,things didn’t work out as scheduled. Sholpan didn’t return from visiting her friends until after 9 p.m. As the day wore on, Beth and I decided it would be too late to settle into a new place, so I stayed on at Beth’s.

Jason an intern from Virginia, Ken (here 5 years), Beth, the Director of Interlink in Kazakhstan (also here 5 years) and I headed to Sholpan’s house on Sunday. Sholpan had invited a girlfriend and her son to join us for lunch. Sholpan and her friend prepared a traditional Kazakh meal of pilaf, salads and nan (bread). After our meal, we enjoyed a game of Mexican Train. This was a new game to me but very popular here. It is a dominos game and can be played without knowing the language, which was helpful for me, of course! It was fun. After playing several rounds, Sholpan left to prepare another traditional Kazakh treat of fried bread. It is very tasty fresh off the stove and served plain or with jam. I can’t imagine there is any nutritional value in this treat – nor do I want to know what grease was used to fry the dough in – but it was very tasty. Nuts, raisins, cookies, candies, dried apricot pits (which looks like an almond and similar texture but with a lemony flavor) and chia (tea) rounded out this snack. Now, mind you, we had eaten a feast only a couple hours before. I was stuffed from lunch, but did manage to eat a couple pieces of fried bread.

Sholpan, me, Jason, Sholpan’s friend and son, and Ken

Sholpan is a widow with two grown children. A “bala” (boy) and a “cuz” (girl). Her home is a cute cottage with two bedrooms, an inside bathroom for bathing and washing and an out-house for. . . , a kitchen, hallway, a “mud” room (foyer) just inside the one and only door to the building, a living room and a dining/family room. Outside the house is surrounded by a high metal privacy fence. A key is used to enter the courtyard and the gate is always kept closed and locked. I have my own room. All in all it is a very comfortable arrangement. Sholpan is very patient and tells me over and over the words for the items I am using daily. Her Kazakh, I am told, is excellent and I hope to learn well from her.

Just inside the gate is the courtyard of the home.

Looking in the front door – actually, it is the only door into the home.

The curtain moved aside. This is where you leave your shoes.

This is my bedroom.

The dinning/family room.

The kitchen.

The inside bathroom. The toilet is only for looks because it does not have water running to it. Neither does the washing machine.

The outhouse just outside and around the corner from the front door.

Monday (May 11) was a holiday to celebrate veterans, so I didn’t have to go into work. I was able to spend the day unpacking, getting settled, helping Sholpan clean, and then just relaxing.

Tuesday (May 12) Sholpan and I left about 8:10 am to walk several blocks to catch the marshuka (bus) to work. I didn’t ride the buses in Richmond, so I had nothing to compare this ride to. However, that first morning I felt like I got sucked into a sardine can and was spit out blocks later. I couldn’t see out a window to get any landmarks or bearings so had no real idea of where I was. I was in a black hole then I was in daylight. There is no way I could at this point make that ride on my own. I would have no idea where to get off. Oh well, one of many things still to learn. Once off the marshuka, we walked another 4 or 5 blocks. I felt like a kindergartner when Sholpan delivered me to the office, told me to have a good day and she would return in the evening for me.

Tuesday I went with Ken and Kiikzhan on their regular visit to Saramoldiva orphanage. It was so much fun to be with the children. I haven’t been to Saramoldiva much because a camp has never been hosted there. I don’t know these children like I know those at Savva and Ulan. Yet, my heart leaped with joy when I heard my name and turned to see a boy running towards me who used to be at Savva. Renat was so excited to see me and we hugged each other for a long moment. This is why I have come. These are the children who have captured my heart. Each year on my short-term trips, when I returned to the States, part of my heart remained here in Kazakhstan. On Tuesday, holding these children in my lap, playing card games with them, kicking the ball around and learning the names of the children I don’t know, I was filled me with peace and great joy! I felt at home! It was so good!

Nadia, Nastia & Sasha.

Me doing bubbles with the kids.


Feruza & Vladick.

Vika, Feruza, Anna & Anna.

Wednesday morning, I walked 20 minutes to Beth’s apartment to use her Internet connection. I was able to talk with both Marc and Sarah over Skype and that eased my heart immensely. Oh, how I miss Marc and Sarah! Actually, I miss the calls and texts that kept us connected even when we didn’t see each other. It is very difficult here not having access to the Internet or phone. I hadn’t realized how dependent I had become on my cell phone and computer. I am feeling a little off balanced because of not having frequent access to these two modern technologies which keep me connected to Marc and Sarah. In time we will have a new way of staying connected, but I was happy to hear their voices on Wednesday over Skype.

After I finished at Beth’s, I walked another 20 minutes to the Interlink office. Along the way several people stopped to ask me if I was a tourist. None of them spoke English so it was fun trying to communicate with my limited vocabulary. I gave out the cards with my Interlink office address. Many of you in the States have these. I figured they could stop by and say “hi,” if they wanted to. Some who stopped were young college-age girls. I liked talking with them even thought the conversation was very limited.

I spent the rest of the day in the office trying to learn how things are done. I’m on a steep learning curve. Sometimes the simplest of tasks are quite difficult, but I smile and keep muddling forward. The national staff at Interlink, as well as the American staff, has been so kind and patient with me. They have each gone out of their way in the mist of all they need to do to help me in whatever challenge is before me. I hope I can be has helpful, patient, and kind has they consistently are, as I stumbled along.

Thursday morning I went with Ken and Kiikzhan to Ulan orphanage. We played with a group of 4 and 5 year-olds first. They enjoyed racing matchbox cars down a ramp, then putting together puzzles we had brought with us. Like most young children in America, they squealed with delight when they got to pick one sticker each before we left. Next we went to the other building where the older children live and played Uno, basketball, frisbee, and put puzzles together. The younger ones, of course, I didn’t know from previous visits. They have all come in the last two years; however, I did see several older ones from previous years who I do know.

As I played Uno, I was learning my colors and to count in Kazakh. This is the way I am going to learn, by being in the mist of the children practicing over and over again. I deeply desire to be able to communicate with these precious children. Thank goodness they just laugh at my feeble attempts at speaking their language. Then they repeat it again for me to try to get it right.

In the afternoon I went with Beth to take pictures as she presented some equipment to Umit, the baby orphanage for disabled children. I saw only four small babies and my arms longed to scoop them up and hold them.

Friday, Marina came and said there were two women from a local boarding school for disabled children coming to talk with me — and for me to take them to the bazaar to buy some supplies!! This was news to me!! And how was I suppose to negotiate that alone?? Well, it was a miscommunication. With a couple of phone calls, Medina, a young university student was free to come help me. She goes to James Madison University in Virginia and I’ve worked with her on short term trips to Savva. She is back for the summer and joined us in our trip to the bazaar.

I loved going to the bazaar. So many different sights and sounds to see and experience! Staying aware and alert was a necessity – like walking around inner-city Richmond (and many other places) – but, over all, the people are warm and friendly. Many are curious and want to engage in a conversation. The women from the boarding school purchased material to make traditional Kazakh costumes for the children. I enjoyed walking through the bazaar, looking at fabric, sewing notions, trim and appliqués. I used to do a lot of sewing years ago, so most of the things I saw were familiar, only with different names.

Friday evening we all went to Ken’s house for pizza and movie night. Another American living in Taraz, who works for the Peace Corp, also came, as well as a couple of national staff from the office and Elena, who is staying with me at my host home because Sholpan had to be out of town. Beth made great pizza dough. Then in assembly line fashion the toppings were added. Olya added green beans, which was different – and made for a lively discussion on what should go on pizzas. We watched the movie Fireproof as we ate delicious pizzas.

Talk about a great movie. I highly recommend Fireproof to anyone who hasn’t seen it. There were eight singles watching this movie, which is kind of funny for a movie about marriage. But there is a great message for handling the challenges life throws us. So it is well worth watching whether married of single. Watching the movie was a great way to unwind at the end of a great week.

Beth, Jason, Olya & Kiikzhan. Olya likes vegetables and put some green beens on two pizzas. She was looking after everyone’s health. This caused a big discussion about what should go on a pizza. Jason doesn’t like vegetables in general – so in the picture you have the general consenses – Jason’s cheese pizza “good” – Olya’s vegetable pizza with green beans “bad.” I actually thought the green beans were tasty on the pizza. It was a fun evening, all in all.

Saturday morning I got to sleep in and take it slow in the morning. I walked over to Beth’s around noon for some team time with Beth, Jason and Ken. Afterwards I stayed and worked on the Internet and called a couple of friends on Skype. It was so good to touch base with them. Oh, I miss my friends and family.

Sunday morning was again relaxing. Ken picked me up at 1 o’clock with two orphans from Saramoldiva. Kiikzhan had three other kids in his car. We meet Jason at a local cafe. Interlink has monthly birthday parties with the children at Savva, Ulan and Saramoldiva. Each of these children had birthdays in May. The kids are allowed to choose anything they want from the menu. One small girl, Feruza, ordered a pizza. She had a whole small pizza to herself – not one of those personal size pizza we know in the States, but an eight slice small pizza. I couldn’t imagine her eating three pieces, but she ate six pieces of hers, plus another slice of a different pizza, and some salad. She then went on to eat ice cream and cookies!! I was amazed!!

After lunch and ice cream we went back to the office for the kids to play Jason’s Wii game. It didn’t take them long to catch on and we had a ball. I enjoyed watching their excitement. Before the kids left, we sang Happy Birthday, gave them birthday wishes and distributed gift bags. All in all everyone had a good time.

Jason, Timur, Kiikzhan, Sergei, Nuridin, Vika, Feruza & Ken.

Feruza & Me.

Me, Vika, Nuridin, Timur, Kiikzhan,Sergei, Ken & Feruza.

Nuridin eating his ice cream.

Sergei, Ken & Feruza.



Nuridin, Timur, Sergei, Vika, & Feruza.

I can’t believe a week has gone by. Many times I have felt like a child, being off balance as I try to find a routine in the details of life. At the same time, I feel like I have come home. A juxtaposition for sure! I am loving almost every minute though, at times, I am missing you, my dear friends and family, with an ache I didn’t think possible. Though I know this is exactly where I am supposed to be and I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, I do miss greatly those I had to leave, those I love dearly at home in the States.

Thank you – each of you – for your encouraging words and support. Thank you for helping touch these children’s lives.



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