Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 26, 2013

The little cave where I slept had been pretty warm the night before as plastic covers all the windows and no air comes in. Thankfully, there was a stand-along fan in the room and I had it set up so it blew directly onto my face. As a result, the mosquitoes didn’t have a chance to feast on me on my last night there. As a result of the same plastic veil, I didn’t know it was raining and that the temperature had dropped down considerably from the day before.

I wore a black skirt with tights and my red sweater set. Holly and I took a taxi to Bill’s flat where Max was barely getting dressed. Another taxi ride took us to a different bus terminal and she got us into a marshrutka to the village where Sholpon would be waiting for us. James had loaned Max one of his SIM cards and he could now use his phone locally.

It was raining very hard and puddles were gathering all around. The ride was only about half an hour and after taking refuge under a bus stop, Max called Sholpon who was at a school nearby and she came to get us right away. The teachers were not there yet, so instead, we were taking to have coffee and biscuits with the school principal, a relatively young woman who had a spotless desk with not a piece of paper on it.

I had decided not to do the humor presentation for the village teachers conscious of the fact that they might not get it and instead asked Sholpon to allow me to print a couple of handouts to do my speaking activities one. Holly had provided me with a set of dice and Bill had loaned me his deck of cards, so I felt I had enough materials for the one-hour session.

After much confusion as to what room to assign to us and the usual technology glitches, we began at 10:30 with my group of teachers being pretty much mute except for a couple of younger teachers who took the lead in answering questions. There were three older guys in suits that I simply pity as they seemed to be so uncomfortable in that environment and who never spoke a word.

At 11:30, Max’s group rotated and came to my classroom and I repeated my presentation to an audience that was slightly younger and more interested in speaking and discussing why students are unwilling to do so in the EFL classroom. Once finished, we handed out the requisite certificates, not enough of them for everyone, and took some photos. I left my presentation and handouts on the computer for teachers to copy them at their leisure.

I was starving at this point and Sholpon guided us back to the bus terminal and through the now flooded streets as apparently there is no drainage system in the city. My sweatshirt was getting thoroughly soaked and drivers were splashing my legs as they went by. I regretted not having worn pants on this particular day.

We had to try four different restaurants before we found one open and ready to serve us. The place was huge, modern and completely empty, but there was no plov or lagman to be had either. Max ordered some kind of Chinese dish he knew about along with a bowl of pelmeni and ordered shorbot soup and bread. I then realized the soup wouldn’t be enough as I had idea how long it might be before I ate again, so I ordered the same dish as Max as well.

Sholpon put us back in the marshrutka, we had same driver in fact, and we got to Bill’s place to find that no one else had returned yet and we had no key to the place. I was practically soaking wet and miserable at that point, so after Max called Holly and found out they were running half hour late, we decided to find a coffee shop nearby to warm ourselves up.

We ran into Bill on our way there and returned to his flat with him where he made us his Dunkin Donuts coffee in a French press. He didn’t drink any and when Max him why he informed us he was fasting and I didn’t immediately caught on to the fact that it was still lent. I opened my big mouth and said: “Oh, you’re a Catholic.” He cut his eyes at me and told me I didn’t know him and shouldn’t be judging him.

Holly, James and Valerie returned at that point and lightened the atmosphere. The schedule, the one we had never seen, was already off by an hour as us women waited at the curb for a bus back to Holly’s place. I didn’t want to make things worse by suggesting we take a taxi to save time and just kept my peace. We got into the right bus after a lengthy wait and then Holly missed her stop and we had to retrace our route for a long stretch.

I had almost packed everything in the morning and just needed to get some of the grocery items I had purchased and my laptop. I said goodbye to Valerie, who’d returning to Almaty that evening by train, and she allowed me to borrow a cloth bag to carry my laptop and some presents we had received at the conference the day before. I’ll be seeing her for CATEC in June.

It was yet to another bus terminal where we sat in a marshrutka waiting for the driver to get one more passenger. Max had taken precautions to save me the front seat next to the window where I sat next to an assistant to the driver. We didn’t leave until 6:00 and had to pick up Sholpon on the way out of the city, gas up the van, stopped for some of the passengers to use a toilet out in the middle of nowhere and finally for the driver to pick up his dinner, something stuffed in a piece of bread.

It continued to rain on the way to Taraz and close to the city a thick fog enveloped us to the point of practical blindness. I was tense and tired of sitting in such a position that I couldn’t even turn around and my feet were numb from having the bag with the laptop sitting on them for more than three hours.

We reached the city and no one knew where to go. We finally met Natalia, the local coordinator for the conference, and had to trek to two separate buildings where the guys would be staying at one apartment and the women at another. We had to stand around while Natalia got the keys at one place, took the guys to theirs and finally Holly and I to another.

I was starving by the time we made it to cafeteria next to a supermarket where I ordered lagman noodles and waited for what seemed like forever to get them. Bill and Natalia were discussing the fact that provisions were being made for offering the attendees a coffee break, so after eating, we went right next door to buy what they needed while I got 3-1 coffee, raisins, walnuts and yogurt for my muesli.

It was pas midnight when we got into the apartment and I was able to collapse in the only bed in the place as Holly had been gracious enough to take the sofa.

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