Sunshine and Sheep Poo

Hershey’s kisses are stupid. Who goes for chocolate wanting the amount of chocolate that’s wrapped in a stupid Hershey’s kiss? I came home from a long day at work and was digging at the bottom of my last package to see if there was anything edible left, and all I found were four kisses. I didn’t even enjoy them because I was so pissed off at the amount of time that it took to unwrap them, eat them, and throw the wrapper away. I just needed something in my body that wasn’t borshe (cabbage soup). It’s been borshe for three days straight now, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I cannot eke any more enjoyment out of it. The first day of borshe is always cool because I’m excited to be reintroducing vegetables into my system. By the third or fourth day however, my cells have plugged in their missing nutrients and are screaming for protein. When I can afford sausage I buy some at the store, otherwise I pinch eggs when I’m home alone, or sneak school pastries that have the sugar-cheese filling.

Speaking of the school cafeteria, I had a long conversation with my counterpart voicing my suspicion regarding the utter vileness produced there that is passed as food and distributed to the student body. I think they do it on purpose. I think that you have to actually have a go at it to consistently create such culinary monstrosities, and there must be a reason behind it. My initial hypothesis is that the size of the cafeteria is too small to fully accommodate the whole school body, and so by limiting the customers to the truly starving, they achieve their balance.

I got my own much-needed balance on Saturday. I woke up feeling sick as a dog, taught two hard lessons, and shoveled hay and sheep poop for the rest of the day. It was the happiest I’ve felt in Kazakhstan. My host brother and I spread rotting hay bales across our yard, and although it was only about sixty degrees, my shoulders burned red from the sun. I’m not trying to glorify manual labor, because I’ve done enough construction to know better; most of the time it blows, especially when you’re hung over and being reamed by the boss. On Saturday however, sun, poo, and hay was just what I needed to realign my brain.

On Monday I was back to work. Every lesson I teach is has its own flavor, and ninth grade is always a trip. Yesterday’s  class seemed to be going great, and I could see a marked difference in the way that they were respecting the lesson and each other (unfortunately that respect is not shared for my co-teacher/not counterpart). Predictably, just as I thought that everything couldn’t be more hunky-dory, two of my students started going nuts, and then they all went nuts. It was all I could to corral their focus toward the lesson for the remaining fifteen or so minutes of class. I couldn’t figure out went was wrong, it felt like the class pulled a Jeckle and Hyde for absolutely no reason.

Two minutes after class was over, six or seven boys rushed back in the room and crowded around a Peace Corps flyer that was hanging where our rebellion exploded. They scattered, giggling like little girls when I descended on them, and I was quickly able to discern the cause of the disturbances. On the last page of the flyer was a picture of what a assume to be a HIV/AIDS session in which a large Kazakh man is holding a realistic looking skin-toned dildo close to his belly with an extremely unfortunate expression on his face. Why Natalia, why did you hang up that poster?

As I was powerwashing the toilet per-usual at 6:30 this morning, I looked down to my left to see the twisted body of a dead lamb. It was kind of awful to take in during my first moments of consciousness, but it wasn’t that unexpected. Last night I walked into the bathroom and to my surprise, there was a lamb curled up by the pechka. I vaguely remembered that my host-dad saying something about a sick lamb and taking it inside for the night. I started brushing my teeth, but couldn’t stop looking over at the sad little creature that seemed barely able to breathe. So when I was done, I sat down next to it for about ten minutes to pet its head and sooth it.(I may or may not have sung some Beatles tunes, but please refrain from judging; Peace Corps does some weird shit to us village volunteers).

Anyways, I knew that it wasn’t going to make it, because the poor thing was so focused on its internal battle that it didn’t even register my hand and/or voice. Still, it was a sad way to start a Wednesday morning, and a not-so-gentle reminder how fragile life can be.

Today’s lesson in for the 8th grade was about ‘time,’ and so I spent the first twenty minutes of class trying to explain the Special ‘Theory of Relativity’ to my students. I love that shit and was jumping around the classroom with feverish eyes and bellowing about airplanes. I made them repeat almost everything I said in chorus to try to make it an English lesson. The idea of a perfect watch that tells time using the speed of light was difficult to explain, but once that concept was understood, it seemed as though they got the whole speed-affecting-time thing. I just think it’s so cool that such a complicated thing can be so simple, so I tried to convey that excitement to them, and they seemed to kinda of dig it. Of course there’s a good chance that they were just humoring me, but at the very least some of them might remember how to say “the speed of light” in English.

I don’t think that living specifically here in Kazakhstan is what prompts me to ask bigger questions, just that (like I’ve said before) I have more time to think about things. Usually my thinking life is completely solitary, unless it’s about something I’m doing (like teaching), but then the thoughts themselves are still solitary. This is mostly the function of the language/cultural barrier between me and everyone else I live with. The few times that I’ve tried to talk about ideas, politics, or life with the people around me, it ends up getting too confusing if I speak in English, and frustrating if I speak in Russian. Sometimes however, I snatch away a boring lesson from my counterpart and bridge this gap while teaching. I’m not sure many of the ideas really get through, but talking about my interests gets me more animated, and probably entertains my students for better or worse.

Anyways, that’s about it from Kazakhstan for the moment. Oh, and I heard it snowed back home. Suck it Minnesota.

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3 Responses to Sunshine and Sheep Poo

  1. jan Martland says:

    Hi Collin, It’s another snowy day in Minnesota! Just a light dusting on the grass. UUGGGHHHHHH!!!!! I can’t stop thinking of that little lamb, the nurse and mom in me was so glad that you had spent some time with it. We saw your mom and dad at the CSI Gala which was great fun….I’m glad you were able to get a little vitamin D through that sunshine, but don’t get burned. Brian and I are going to Texas to see Pat and his wife Chelsey…(Nick and his girlfriend are also coming down) so we are VERY excited. Wishing you a Happy Easter and enjoy the cabbage borshe! (Should make you regular!)

  2. Mary McCrossan says:

    And now it’s raining!
    I’m sorry to hear about your lack of chocolate, Collin. Totally unacceptable! I’ll nag your mom about it for you! Your all borshe all the time diet sounds like a fast way to lose weight but not at all enjoyable! I think I’ll stick with exercising as much as possible. I hope you enjoy your first Easter in Kazakhstan. I’m looking forward to reading all about it!

  3. Rick Cousins says:

    Well done Collin,
    I believe this post is one of your finest. You touched on many different themes here, in your own voice, and with aplomb. And, by the way, do you even vaguely realize that we are now in the lightest 15 weeks of the year? Drayton will be home next week, and he is about to find out just how many hours there are in a day.
    Our weather is spring here, in all it’s glory and variety. The wood-duck house in the screen porch is active. Magnolias are in bloom. Easter was as you remember it, with many loved ones here enjoying each other and the nice day.
    As you were and are missed, you are revealing much through your writing that gratifies us that believe in you. Please keep thinking and sharing your thoughts. With love from your dad

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