Time in Vanovka

I am back in Taraz after an amazing time in the village of Vanovka. It was two weeks full of many contradictions. I will not say it was all easy and joyful, but even in the hard things there were great lessons learned and a time I will treasure for always. I hope to go back this fall or winter and spend another two weeks.

Out House.

Banya – Bathing area.

Kitchen – no refrigerator or running water in the house.

The bedroom I was given to use while there.

The family I stayed with is a wonderful family. The father, Kirat, is in Almati working, so I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but he his wife, Inash, was home with their 3 beautiful daughters: Izamal, Igerim, Mahabbat, and a handsome son, Kwanish. They all opened their home to me and made me feel loved, at home, and part of the family. Inash has a large extended family so there were many cousins around everyday, as well as both Kirat and Inash’s mother.

Their home is simple and clean with a total of 6 rooms: living room, kitchen and 4 bedrooms. There is no running water in the house or refrigerator. Outside there is a well and around the back of the house is a little house called a “banya” where you bathe. In the banya there is a faucet that sometimes has running water. When the water does run, there are many buckets and tubs to be filled so when the water stops running there will still be water without having to draw from the well.

I have lived for short periods of time without running water and even without a refrigerator, but I can tell you I am very thankful that most of the time I have these luxuries. It is amazing what I take for granted in life. So many people around the world live without the most basic of things. I want to remember to keep these simple things on my “I’m grateful for” list each day instead of focusing on what I don’t have or think I need.

While I was there I helped can pickles. The cucumbers, dill, garlic, and peppers used to make the pickles came out of the garden and we picked them that morning. It was fun. I loved living on a farm and having fresh veggies right from the garden.

It was fun helping the family as they made many traditional foods for me. Here is a fried bread that is kind of sweet and very tasty. The milk came from the cow down the street and sat out for a couple of days and was going – in my opinion – bad. However, instead of wasting the milk, it was used to make this sweet bread.

Doing laundry for a family of 6 would be a major undertaking, even with a washer and dryer. Think about doing that much laundry by hand. That is what so many people in the world still do. Basic daily chores can take so much longer here.

In order to do a washing, Izamal and I first had to draw water from the well. We then heated some of the water on an outside gas stove. Once we had the water boiling, we started the process by filling a tub with hot water and then adding enough cold water to just be able to put our hands in it. With a bar of lye soap, each article of clothing is hand washed, wrung out, and put into another tub. As the wash water becomes dirty, the tub is dumped and clean hot water is added along with cold. This process goes on until all the laundry is washed. Then comes rinsing. Smaller articles of clothing can be rinsed once and a couple items in one tub of water. Larger items like towels, adult slacks and sheets have to be rinsed twice, sometimes three times. After rinsing and wringing out an item, it is hung on the clothes line to dry. Drying doesn’t take long in the hot, dry summer heat. After five hours of washing and rinsing, Izamal and I had the laundry washed and hung up to dry.

About the time we finished, Inash’s sister showed up with her 4 children (3 girls and a boy). Within 30 minutes the girl cousins were running out of the house with Inash’s daugthers’ clean outfits on. I don’t care where little girls live around the world, they love to try on other peoples’ clothes. Now, remember I had just spent 5 hours washing laundry by hand. When I saw the cousins come out with a couple different changes of clothes belonging to Izamal, Igerim, and Mahabbat, I was ready to send them back into the house to put on their own outfits. Even if I didn’t know all the words for this instruction, I was pretty sure I could convey my meaning in actions. Oh, I had to restrain myself. Neither of the mothers seemed to mind. I had to sit back, letting go of “my” desire to control things and instead delight in their enjoyment of each other. Why was I worried about having to do laundry again. I did help again, but this is what they do the whole year – not just for two weeks, as I did. The people in that home were choosing to enjoy themselves and not focus on the “hard” part of existing. How many times have I whined and complained about things when in actuality I could have enjoyed the moment I was in. The whining and complaining didn’t do anything to change what was coming, but it did steal the joy out of the moment I was in.

Beth stopped by Sunday, 26 July on her way to Shikent. Inash fixed Shashlek, a traditional Kazakh meal. It was a great time of relaxing and enjoying each others’ company.

Inash and her three older daughters work in a small “dukan” in the village. This is like a small convenience store open 24 hours 7 days a week. Inash is there from around 7 or 8 in the evening until 9 or so in the morning when the girls take over and are there until she comes back in the evening. The two younger children sometime go with Inash at night and sleep in a back room while their mother works. For all this effort they get paid 700 tenge a day total. That is for all three of them working 24 hours a day. That is less than 5 dollars a day. That doesn’t go far at all. I struggled knowing how much I should help this family. I could feed them like I thought they should be feed for the two weeks I was there, but once I was gone what would they do? I did pay rent while I was there, which also covered my share of food. At some meals there would be only one chicken leg quarter for all of us. In a soup this goes pretty far, but then they wanted to give me the choice pieces of meat and the most. That is the way Kazakh’s do it. They are very giving, sometimes to a fault. I couldn’t eat meat with six and sometimes eight children sitting around the table.

I did buy food and even bought ice cream treats and soda one day. On several occasions I bought kabasa which, like salami, is already cooked and can stay outside a refrigerator more safely. On Saturday morning when I left for the orphanage down the street there were sticks of kabasa in the kitchen. When I got home that afternoon and we were getting tea ready, I went to get the kabasa. I couldn’t find it any where. I asked the children, thinking they actually may have eaten it all which would have been fine. But I was told the local cat had snuck in the door (doors aren’t kept closed here) and stolen the kabasa. Now, I imagine this kitty is hungry, but I bought that meat for the children not the cat. I did think he must have thought “What a find!!” and was a very happy kitty to have his belly full. I hope all that meat didn’t make him sick. The lady at the small store around the corner was always happy to see me, since I increased her business while I was there.

Sights walking to the orphanage.

I had the great joy and pleasure of spending several days with the children of a small orphanage in Vanovka. It is actually more of a family. An amazing couple run this orphanage like a home. I’ve never had the opportunity in previous years to get to know these children very well even though I’ve stopped by a couple times. It was great to spend more time with them getting to know them better. The couple who run the orphanage are new and have implemented many good changes. As well behaved and as healthy as the children are compared to the larger orphanages, behavioral issues and delays in areas became more than evident as I worked with them. It was great to see their individual strengths and weakness. Sitting with them, my mind began turning on lessons and activities that could be done with these children to increase their capacity to learn, trust and grow into healthy adults. Several of the children are delayed in their reading abilities. One young girl, age 12, can’t tell time and other basic skills are lacking. I look forward to going back with activities to strengthen some of these weak areas.

This young man is very bright, artistic, and eager to learn. I brought wooden models to build and paint. The plane that he was working on did not have the details he desired, so he carved the propeller into one resembling a real propeller instead of leaving it as the rectangle piece of wood that comes in the kit. He then cut two other pieces of wood to give better proportions to the wheel base. I loved watching him work hard to make these changes. I have sent some art supplies out to this young man to use and will go back to give him some one-on-one art lessons.

This has been a quick, basic overview of my time in the village. I will share more stories in the future. It was an amazing time of learning more about life here in Kazakhstan, learning the language and a time to step back from the normal routine of life. The village offers a slower pace. Many of the day-to-day activities we take for granted are more difficult and more time consuming. However, in slowing down to do these things there is also more time to think and even look around.

I missed the contact with my family and friends while in the village. So many times I wished I could share the new thing I was doing with you, dear friends. One day I had ice cream with poppy sesame seeds. The vanilla ice cream was full of poppy seeds and coated outside with chocolate with sesame seeds in it. After the initial surprise of poppy and sesame seeds in ice cream, I think it was a tasty treat, but certainly not one I’m use to. So many more fun things I wanted to share with those of you I miss, but I was making new friends in these experiences and treasured these, too.

In this chapter of my story I’ve said a lot of good-byes, but I’ve also said a lot of hellos. The good-byes are hard at time, but I wouldn’t have these hellos without those good-byes. I treasure my old friends but also the new friends I’m making. Like that old camp song I learned long ago – “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. Make new friends.” That is what I am getting to do. What a treasure trove of friends I have. I am thankful for each one of you.

May you enjoy the friends who are in your life today. Love them well. Build memories that you will treasure for the rest of your life. My two weeks in the village I will treasure for the rest of my life.

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