I went to Kaz 17 training, and lived the village life again - cold showers, pit toilet, cryptic host family, and all.
The overall diagnosis is positive. I did almost everything I wanted to - got my China tickets, distributed a blog-creation tutorial, organized ) a women's self-defense workshop (but I only one-third led it, as thankfully there was a woman in the group who could do the lion's share of teaching), and had a campfire for anyone who wanted to come (few did). I also think some of my practicum volunteers got something out of my being there, though two of them said in their reviews that they were afraid of me. There were some things I didn't get to do. Unfortunately, I didn't have time for Kazakh lessons, though I got to spend a lot of time with Saltanat helping her edit the new Kazakh-language textbook. There was no chess board in the hub-site anymore, so I didn't get to play any new volunteers. Unexpected positives were learning how to make tortillas and humus, and it was super to see all the old Kaz 15s who were working training too or moving through.
I won't name names, but there are some mighty cool Kaz 17s out there. You know who you are.
Of course, since I was in Almaty I tried to visit my host family. I called in advance, and they said it would be ok to come on Saturday. That afternoon I bought toys for my host brother and sister, and took the bus from the Sayakhat bus station to Koktobe 2. Just like in training, my taxi was free because I spoke Kazakh, and the children in the village said hello to me in English, without even giggling, so walking down the old road to my host family, I was feeling right at home.
When I arrived, my host brother, host sister, host Uncle from China, and a stranger were in the summer kitchen outbuilding. They were delighted to see me, and the toys were marvelled at. My host sister promptly fled, and I asked where host Mom and Dad were. They will come, they said. Where is Akhtaban (the puppy who had lived there) I asked. There is no Akhtaban anymore, they said. You should go get some vodka. Ok, I said, knowing how these things went, and my host brother and I set off to the Fatty Duken. Chatting on the way to the store, I asked where host mom and dad were. He said that host dad would come later, but that host mom is in the hostpital. Why, I asked, surprised. She's very sick, he said. It's very serious. Is she dying? I asked. No, he said. And no more information was forthcoming.
When we returned, it was well after dark. I put the vodka on the table, and shots were poured. I asked where the host mom was, and they told me that she was simply pregnant, and was had been the hospital for high blood pressure for three weeks. (Since hospitals in Kazakhstan get paid per inpatient hour, there's no disincentive against hospitalizing people for minor illnesses for long periods of time.) Relieved, I said a toast, and we drank. This formality being taken care of, I asked for something to eat. I hadn't eaten yet, and no food had been so much as offered -- which, by the way, for a Kazakh family treating a guest, let alone a returning member of the family, is very unusual. They said, we are preparing food, and poured another shot. We talked a little, drank the shot, and I asked for food again. It is being prepared, they said. I looked at the stove. It was cold, and there was a giant pot on it. Please give me some food, I said. All right, we are preparing it! they said, and got up and turned on the stove under the pot. Fifteen minutes later, as the host uncle and stranger worked on the vodka I had bought, I served myself a re-heated bowl of old pasta and beef fat out of the bowl. There was bread, but only because I had bought it myself at the store.
Is my host dad coming? I asked. Yes, he's coming, they said. It was then about 11:00pm, and I knew he wasn't coming. We ate and chatted a little, and by the time I had eaten they had drunk the vodka. They stood up noisily. We're going to a birthday party, they said. I don't really want to go, I said. Maybe they could let me into the house so I could go to bed? We don't have the key to the house, they said. Your host dad has the key. When he comes, he will open the house. We will sleep in the kitchen. You can sleep in the bed (there was one bed in the kitchen) with Askhat (my host brother). And they left for the party.
I made up the bed, and Askhat thankfully, without being asked, made his own bed on the floor. And so, after wrestling the door shut, we went to sleep.
About 3am, my host uncle banged on the kitchen door. I opened it, and he staggered in, stinking drunk. What are you doing? he asked. Sleeping, I said. Don't be offended, he said. I'm not offended, I'm just sleeping, I said, and to illustrate this, I laid back in bed and closed my eyes. He stood there staring at me. I kept my eyes closed. Don't be offeneded, he said. I am not offended, I am sleeping, I repeated, not opening my eyes. He stood, swaying and staring at me for another minute, as I grew more and more uncomfortable with my sleeping charade. Finally, he said, "good fellow", and face-planted on the floor with a thunk. Once again, I counted myself lucky to have the bed to myself.
In the middle of the night, in the darkened kitchen, I heard moaning. My host uncle was having a drunken sex dream, it seemed. It went on for a while, and suddenly my host brother, who was also sleeping on the floor, started yelling, get off me, get off me, what the hell are you doing? There was a tussle, and all was quiet. I looked up to see that host uncle had stolen the blanket from my host brother, who was laying in the cold, probably too scared of being mistaken for a dream vixen again to risk taking it back.
I woke up early in the morning. The dirty dishes were now covered with little ants, as was the bread. Besides the cold pasta and ant-bread, there was no food to be found. I left without waking anyone up to say goodbye.
On the way out of town, I stopped at the hospital to see my host mom. I brought flowers, and we were very happy to see each other. She looked to be in fine health. I asked her how much longer she would be there, and she said maybe a couple weeks. I asked if she was bored in the hospital, and she said no, she liked it fine. Who takes care of the family if you're here and host dad is on the road with his truck, I asked? Oh, Askhat and Aiko do, she said. (Askhat is nine, and Aiko is seven. Askhat has a learning disability, and when I lived there, Aiko was completely uncontrollable, and often missing.) Although I didn't say anything, my host mom probably guessed what my visit had been like. Next time you come, when I'm there, we will have a nice party, she said. I look forward to it, I said.
We talked a little about the baby. What will you name it, I asked. If it's a boy, we'll name it Ryan, she said, and grinned. If it's a girl? We'll still name it Ryan! she said happily. I left the hospital feeling that my return hadn't been a complete waste of time.