Sunday, August 31, 2008

Taking a moment to remember. . .

I love Nathan P. Jones. That’s why I married him. It was fifteen years ago and I was 21. People may often here me grumbling or laughing a bit about him. It’s easy because he’s naturally self-depreciating and creates this farcical target of himself. I enjoy laughing at him actually. I find him quite funny. So much so that I remember early on because I laughed too much, he began to question my sense of humor, as if I didn’t really have one because I overused it or something. He laughs at me too and I don’t think I always find the mutual humor either.

The day after we got back from Almaty, Nate turned around and went back to Pavlodar to drop off our passports for another attempt at getting Russian visas. The babes and I stayed behind at the dom in Sharbakti. Because we’d been away for over a week, we needed to make a trip to the marketplace to replenish our food and supplies. I was tired and weak, but I packed up thebabes and we took our 25minute walk to the center. First stop was the bank as Nate had taken all the money we had for his quick trip to Pav. I always worry about the one ATM in the village being out of service at the time when we desperately need money. It’s happened before – but I was prompted the last time I withdrew money to get extra to tuck away in case that happened. I didn’t have extra tenge this time and sure enough, the bank had changed locations and wasn’t quite up to full function yet. UGH!!! Immediately the anti-Natee thoughts started (I wasn’t laughing) In Semey, as we were walking past a bank with an ATM, I asked him whether we needed to withdraw money. He said no.

I checked the coin zipper of my wallet and found that I had a little over 500tenge (1USD=120T) so I went to the little renyck where a few local women sale things from their farm/garden and purchased 8 eggs (150T) and 1 liter of milk (75T) and then to the nearby store to get two loaves of bread (110T) and then we stopped at the ‘halfway market', which is on the way home, to get four liters of fizzy water (200T). We made eggs sprinkled with fresh dill (I bought dill in Almaty) and ate bread. I still had root veggies (potatoes & beets) around and cabbage in the fridge so I made borst later that afternoon.

While I was walking home from the center marketplace with my few items (you should have seen how long my shopping list was!) my feelings toward Nate evened out a bit. He was in Pavlodar after all, returning later that afternoon, and I could email him to get extra money there. Really, all these emotions began roiling the night before when, at 8pm, we finally got home from our week and a half trip to southern KZ and we couldn’t get the front door to our dom open. There was an auxiliary lock we hadn’t known about. It was raining lightly and Nathan had to hurry over to Valya’s, cutting through the potato fields to the street behind us, for help. Valya was at work but eventually his wife Sveta came over with the key and opened it up for us. Nathan stepped inside first and called out a sympathetic warning, “Prepare yourself!” As I moved into the kitchen I saw that all the kitchen cupboards & countertops had been gutted and all our stuff deposited on the nearby table. What!? I hit rock bottom. Who removes the cupboards, unannounced, in a functioning kitchen? I was soooo looking forward to getting back into ‘mykitchen’ and cooking all the abundant, gorgeous veggies we’d been seeing as we traveled about – it’s harvest time!! As we walked throughout the house we discovered that two other pieces of furniture had been removed and our stuff left lying about. Arghhhh!!! I was really upset. Nate was great and had jumped right in to clean up and unpack. We had Russian equivalent ramen noodles for dinner.

A couple days before, as we were checking into the hotel in Semey, Nathan began chatting with another traveler. He was German and so Nathan reverted into that language to communicate and share travel stories, all the while transitioning into Russian to reply to the woman checking us into the hotel. It was athletic! My lingual universe is starkly mono. Des asked some sort of question about what Nate was saying and I began to explain how his daddy spoke German as well as Russian, and then I went on to have one of those conversations where one brazenly, because there is love, exults.

The other night over pizza we were chatting with Des about school and intelligence. I said to Des that his daddy was very smart, and Nathan of course, corrected me quickly, “I’m not smart – I just try really hard and don’t give up.”

That’s perhaps the most decent thing I’ve heard him say about himself. And I was glad Des and Zoe were sitting right there to hear it.

This week marked 6months for us, so far from all of you. Booohooohooo . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It’s nice to get something accomplished

All this visa talk must be pretty boring to read about. I’m a bit tired of it myself. Last week in Almaty a miraculous thing happened. Good old Stan Tours of Central Asia (which gets a positive mention in the Lonely Planet – David is the MAN!) came through with a great tour company recommendation, an efficient little business run by some friendly Koreans. These competent folks took our passports one morning last week and only about $800 of our dollars (the price was much lower than quoted by David) and said come back tonight and we’ll have your 6-month, multi-entry Kazakh visas ready for you . What? Could it be? We desperately hoped we weren’t being toyed with like we are currently with this outfit in Pavlodar (we’ve handed over to them $2K for our Russian visas and still nothing three months later!) So, 5pm comes and Nathan heads over there with DPJ and those wonderful people had our passports all neatly stacked and inside all 4 of them was that glorious visa stamp and all the proper documentation!! They had even made copies of all the visas and relevant pages for nosy police officers (I had an incident a week before here in Sharbakti) Three cheers for the Happy Tours company in Almaty!!

We also had the chance to go to church for the first time in over 5months – there is a small little branch with four sets of missionaries. The senior couple told us that currently no more missionaries are being called to Russia and those that have callings in the MTC are being sent to other places. All this is due to the messed up visa situation. So sad. It has got to change – c’mon Putin, er, Medevev!!! Anyway, what I find so great about little branches, that I want to implement wherever I am, is the instant reception by people when they see a new face and the invitations to get-together that follow introductions. We were invited to dinner that afternoon with the senior couple missionaries (The Vincents) and then for the following day a playdate at another expat family’s home. I love that and it meant soooo much!! I want to do that for people – instantly open up myself, my place to them. . . silent hopes and notes taking.

Nate also met with the State Department Fulbright representative at the U.S. Embassy. That was a great meeting and she was very helpful with a lot of suggestions and it even seemed cool with her that we were hoping to return to Russia for a month, and stay a bit past our targeted KZ return.

Before leaving town we spent a couple of nights up in the lofty mountains near Almaty. We stayed in the utilitarian hotel meant for athletes – there is a large ‘olympic’ stadium up there, the price was a lot better than down in the city (Almaty is so expensive, I think ranked #44 on expensive cities in the world). The backdrop to the stadium is an immense mountain and some brave souls created nearly 900 steps to take to the top. Nate challenged us by saying, “Wouldn’t it be great to accomplish something like that?” Gasp! We decided to take it one step at a time. Zoe faltered at about 20-steps and chose to take the rest atop Nathan’s shoulders. Des, on the other hand, found the steps a little under-challenging and climbed onto the railing and scaled himself up using all fours. A budding rock climber!! After shashliks we returned to the bottom via the road route and just outside the stadium, we spotted some horses and so Des&I went on a 15minute ride. I love horses!! Ideally I love the notion of getting off the road and away from cars speeding down the hill . . . but, as I tell Des everyday, I’m trying to be grateful for what I get.

The train ride to Almaty was from one end of the country to the other (north-south) it took us 2nights and one never ending day to get there. We were only able to find top bunks, just two, and so we sat a top and stood in the little narrow hallway from time-to-time. The babes didn’t sleep during the day like I hoped they would. They played and complained and met one or two other rowdy kids and ran and chased each other from compartment to compartment. We watched a couple of videos too and, ultimately, we made it. Unbelievable. For the return trip back up to Sharbakti we decided to try a different route – boarding at 2pm and sleeping one night (we had bottom bunks this time!) and then arriving at a city called Semey at 11:30 the next morning. Nate talked Semey up and so we decided to stay the night and catch a 5hour bus ride to Pavlodar and then from Pav a 1hour bus ride to Sharbakti. Whatever – the bus ride was long, not comfortable. But I liked Semey and I want to go back soon and see the Dostoevsky museum!!!

Oh, and another thing about Almaty and Semey I love was the internet efficiency!! I uploaded about half a dozen videos to our Youtube gallery and tons of pictures from May-July. See sidebar on the right for links. I managed to engineer two, 3-hour sessions at icafes while Nate&babes went out and did something fun amongst themselves. And in Semey, I was finally able to fulfill my dream to hook up via my own laptop at an icafe. I think, secretly, this was the activity I was most looking forward to, that and going to the big western-style grocery store (in Almaty) and finding things like peanut butter and ‘pizza’ spices. They even had salsa!! Hooray for big cosmopolitan cities.

p.s. A follow up on the well situation – it was about two weeks before we finally had water again. For several days we had to go next door to our neighbors and draw water from their well. We’re very happy to have a fully functioning pump again!