"Your silence will not save you." - Audre Lourde

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dora the Explorer: Cutest puppy in the World

Here is a really cute video of my puppy a few days after we found her....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Uniting American Families Act and Other thoughts on America

If you have been reading my blog, than you will know that I have spent the last three months traveling in the US with my love, a woman I met while I was volunteer in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. We went to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, New Jersey and Orlando, Tampa and Bradenton, Florida (where my family lives). It was an amazing summer, and one of the best parts was where I asked Diana to marry me. (She said yes!) Now we just have to find a country that will allow us to legally marry as well as reside there after we marry. She left yesterday to return to Kazakhstan, and we will not be able to see each other again until Christmas. (This is assuming that we can get her a tourist visa to visit me in England, which is not as easy as you may think- Americans can easily go into and out of England, but from developing nations, you have to prove in some way that you have no desire to live in England. Same with the US.) My heart is with her now, and I feel a little lost without her… So hopefully we will get this worked out soon, because I love her and want to spend my life with her… on that note…

In May, a bill was introduced called the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow American citizens with foreign same-sex partners to apply for green cards for their significant others just like a straight couple would. Yes, it's true that marriage is not required, but that is because we are not legally allowed to marry. Give us the right and we will do it!!! I do not think that in this country today this bill will pass, but I am hoping, and putting my energy in a positive way that it will, because it would mean that I don't have to immigrate to another country to be with the woman I love. If anyone reads this blog and feels compelled to talk to their senators, congressmen and women or other representatives, you can find links on HRC.org…. it would be so great, and I would thank you for it.

Being back in the US is…interesting. Luckily for me, I am leaving in a month to go to school in the UK. Between the tabloids while I am waiting on line to buy food to the advertising that seems to fill in every space of life in America my head hurts and I know information that I am not really sure how I know (are Angelina and Brad really breaking up? Or is it just rumors? Is Nicole Richie really going to stop using drugs? Will Britney really loose custody of her children to a wanna-be rapper?) The question is why do we care so much? I don't even know what it is that Nicole Richie and famous for, much like Paris Hilton, except being a rich party girl. Surely, there is more going on in the world that is more important than that? What about the genocide in Sudan? Even the war in Iraq? If we as Americans became as familar with these important events as we have with the personal lives of people who really don't do much more than make movies or sing songs, (or do drugs, party and drive under the influence) maybe this war in Iraq wouldn't be happening. Maybe if we knew the faces of the Iraqi civilians who were dying, and understood what their lives were like before and during this war, we would get as worked up about their deaths as we do about whether Paris Hilton deserved to go to jail, and did she really change in prison?

Right before I left Kazakhstan, the shooting at Virginia Tech happened. It was a horrible tragedy. I read online, as did many people, about the situation, and asked myself how this could happen. News websites like CNN and MSNBC had their whole homepage covered with the stories and images. “Thrity something dead in school shooting”. (I made up the headline. I can not remember exactly how many died that horrible day. But you get the idea.) Right under that story, in the tiniest font possible on a webpage, was a list of other stories you could read about. The first one that caught my eye said “89 civilians dead in Iraqi bombing”. Is it because as Americans we care more about Americans? Or is it that we just can not find sympathy for those whose lives and beliefs seem so different from ours? Our government and media have tried to tell us about the “otherness” of those in the middle east - to the point where we should look at any Arab or Muslin as a potential terrorist - but those 89 people were like we are: they had dreams of peace, dreams of prosperity, dreams of seeing their kids grow up and have their own children.

When I was in Kazakhstan, I had to constantly defend Americans to almost everyone I met. I pointed out that American businesses donate to charitable organizations more money yearly than the GNP of many countries. American citizens voluteer millions of hours yearly to help others. Americans protest and march and fight for change, not only in America, but in other countries. But this is not the part of America that the world sees…

They see the crazed fanatical religous zealots who (are running the country apparently and who) want to tell everyone else who they should believe in, how they should live, who they should love and build their lives with. They see hypocrits who try to put sanctions on other countries for human rights abuses and then illegally transport “suspected terrorists” to secret prisons where they are treated like criminals, without trials and without protections. I marched in a protest one time in San Francisco for the over 3000 people (at the time, it might be more now) who went to “special registration” and never returned to their families. How do we let this happen, and still have front page news on what politician is sleeping with which prostitute? We shake our heads at politicians who can not be faithful to their husbands/wives, but don't even blink when politicians fail to pass laws that would protect Lesbian, gay and transgendered people from hate crimes. This notion of right and wrong as we have developed it in this country continues to astound me. To say that Americans are ethnocentric would not be an exaggeration. We so strongly believe that our way of life is the right one, that anyone who does not agree with us is no longer worthy of compassion.

This has been an extremely political blog, and although I know that many people in America are not as narrow minded - many are doing a lot to create change- there are many many more (and I seem to have run into all of them in the last three months) who are still on that wavelength where they think that because of the terrorists attacks of 9/11, we are owed the right to do anything we see fit without reference to how it impacts the lives of millions of people on the planet. This entitlement has caused untold horror around the globe, and I pary that it stops so we can begin to change our image in the world. I strongly feel that our actions since 9/11, far from “stopping terror” have actually encouraged people who might have otherwise been pro-America or indifferent, to become either verbally or even violently anti-American, and perhaps even created new terrorists. We need to expand our consciousness beyond our own borders, outside of our own experience, to encompass all beings on the planet. We are all related, and the harm we are doing is harming us as well.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Forty-two days and counting...

I have forty-two days left in my Peace Corps service...and counting. Why am I counting? Well, because I have been here for over two years, and two years seems to be the limit for me. I had my last English club, and it was great. I had sent out an email to everyone who had given me their email address, and so many came to say goodbye, it was quite touching. Some of the kids in our English club had gotten in to KIMEP, which is considered to be the best university in Kazakhstan. The classes are all in English, and it focuses on Business, Economics, Journalism and International Relations. They are opening a law school soon, and they are raising the tuition by 20% in just one semester, which is outrageous, and there were protests. But the students are not willing to take it further, and the administration knew it, so the committee voted, despite the students standing outside with signs, not raise the tuition. I asked what the next step is, and was told that the students will all still register, because if they don't they won't get the classes they need to graduate.

I am not going to take a trip down memory lane at the moment - I will save that for my last Kazakhstan post. But I will say this - my English club is probably the one thing I have done in Kazakhstan that has given me happiness, and made me feel like I have accomplished something. Some of the kids in our English club have won scholarships to study in America and England, some have entered KIMEP, and all of them have told us how much they liked the club... so I am sad to say goodbye. But also happy, because it was on Friday night, and now, the last month, my Fridays are free...

In other news, I got some documentation for my student loans, and I had applied for $18,000 to cover tuition and got the paperwork for $6,000 - I am not sure what this means or how I am expected to pay for the rest. We shall see...

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Please note: this was originally posted on my other blog in March 2007. Please see: http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog/2007/3

On March 8, much of the world celebrated International Women's Day. Here in Kazakhstan, this event is kind of like Valentine's Day, where women are given presents by many different men in their lives. However, in many places, it is a day of activism, an attempt to shine a light on the oppression that still keeps 51% of the world's population from fulfilling their absolute potential… I celebrated by going to see the Vagina Monologues.

I have seen this play three times in the US, and I saw it three times last week. (My girlfriend was in the play, so…) First, for those of you who don't know what this incredibly powerful piece of theater is about, let me tell you. Playwright Eve Enseler interviewed over 200 women about their vaginas, and then wrote these monologues based on their responses. The play addresses how we view our bodies, how we love and don't love them, how we are treated, our periods, sexual abuse, lesbianism, violence against women, sisterhood, self-love, and so many other issues. It is incredibly moving, inspirational and powerful, and in my experience, has given a voice to many who would not otherwise have been heard. It has been shown all over the world, and has raised money for women's organizations the help victims of violence, fgm, poverty, lack of education, etc. If you are interested in more info, go to vday.org. You will not be sorry…

So I had tried to do this play two years ago in Kazakhstan. I asked my Kazakhstan country director (cd) of the Peace Corps. She said that she had just come back from a meeting with all the CD's from the region, and heard a story about this play. One girl in Uzbekistan had asked to do it. She was told no. She appealed to the highest PC authority, who at the time was Gaddi Vasquez. He said no. Absolutely not. She did it anyway and was sent back to America with a big “Administrative Separation” on her record. My CD, who had never heard of the play, asked what the play was about. The Uzbekistan CD replied, “A bunch of women sitting around talking about their vaginas”. Well, that is obviously not all the play was about, but even if it was, so what??? How many monuments to male power are there out there? How many monuments celebrating millions of men who died in the glory of battle? How many dead generals on horses fill up city squares? How many phalic towers and pillars as monuments to the power and strength of men? And women should be ashamed because they want to talk about, celebrate, love, enjoy their vaginas? Society constantly takes any opportunity to make women feel shame, anger, hatred towrads themselves and their bodies, and so anything that celebrates the beauty and joy of women should be encouraged... I had two years left of my service, and didn't want to get sent home. I didn't do the play.

But my girlfriend got involved with the play this year. A Canadian woman was working with an English langauge university here in Almaty to put the play on. We first heard she was cutting some of the monologues because of “cultural considerations”, and I was angry about that. I was futher angered when I found out that the director wanted to only admit women. That was later ammended so that only the first show was limited to women. But in the end, the show was fabulous. I am still upset that some of the monologues were edited out, but my girlfriend pressed to have one of the lesbian monologues included, and the director later said she was happy that they included it.

When I saw the monologues this time, I had an emotional response I didn't have the first time I saw the monologues. First of all, knowing that many of my girlfriends friends were coming to the show, many of whom are much more “liberal” than many of their countrymen, but still conservative, made me proud of her courage. Some of them “ignore” the fact that she is lesbian. Of course, she didn't invite her family. But I was so proud of her, doing these monologues, and fighting to get the lesbian monologue in the play. And seeing her up there…if i wasn't already in love with her, i would be all over again…

Secondly, when I saw the monologues in the states, I was incredibly moved. But since then, I have worked in a domestic violence and rape crisis center. Before, I felt this “universal grief” (my girlfriend's comment) for women who go through rape. But now, I have faces and memories that are attached to that violence. I have held hands, gone to court, supported women while they struggle to recover from what women spend all their lives recovering from. Listening to the sweet sad voice of my girlfriend doing a monologue about rape, violent and terrible, left my heart raw, and I could not stop crying. This play brought back all the sadness I felt, the anger, while working at the center. I remember in particular the first time I accompanied a woman to the hospital. She had cancer, was HIV+, and had just been raped. During the exam, she was offered the morning after pill but refused because she was pregnant. She was refusing chemo for her cancer because of the pregnancy; she wanted to give her boyfriend her baby before she died. And this woman was comforting me, telling me I was doing a good job on my first accompaniment, stroking my hand in support. I am humbled before these women, so many of them, too many of them, who have these hugely violent and life changing experiences, and just pick up and get on with the business of living.

Eve Enseler has said that women who are raped spend the rest of their lives recovering from the rape, and we have better stuff to do with our lives. I agree. We do have better things…

Ну Давай...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Close of Service...

Please note that this was originally posted on my other blog Mar 2007. Please see: http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog/2007/3

Well, today is the two year anniversary of beginning my service in the peace corps in kazakhstan. it has me thinking about the optimism and idealism i arrived with, and has me wondering where it went…

Last week was my close of service conference, and we had sessions on resume writing, finding work, and how to fill out the boat loads of documents we will need to fill out to officially finish our service in kazakhstan. my last day as a volunteer is may 4, and it seems so close. it is hard to think that the place that has been my home for so long is now going to be part of my memories, my stories, my history, but not my “now”. now it is more important than ever to live in the “now”, but with all of the stuff i have to do, it is easy to slip into thoughts of “then” and “later”. my #1 priority is trying to enjoy the time i have left with the people and places that i have come to love…

i think it is also important for me to not “idealize” my time here. there have been things that i didn't like, things that fired my passion for social justice, and i think it will be very important to remember them so that i do not romanticize this experience. it has been amazing, but there were also things that bugged me, made me reaffirm my commitment to women's issues, poverty reduction and public health. a balance is required, like with everything in life, and i must actively search that balance out.

my girlfriend has her interview for her tourist visa for the summer in america. i am nervous but trying not to let her know, because she is nervous enough without knowing that i am nervous. if she doesn't get the tourist visa for this summer, than it looks like we will be staying in kazakhstan this summer. (i will be here until august, but then i need to go home and spend some time with my family before grad school.) leaving her is going to be hard, and break my heart. but i know we will figure something out. i know the universe will help me on this. it has to. my heart belongs with her. she is my home. so universe, if you are listening….

as for the rest, i am excited about grad school. i am excited to have access to vegetarian food, and a variety of vegtables (i thought the small town in florida where my family lives was low on vegetarian options, but in comparisson to kazakhstan, it is positively vegetarian heaven)… i am excited to see my family. i would love to introduce my girlfriend to my family. i want to take her to all the places i love to go…i can't wait to see the ocean for the first time in two years. i can't wait to be able to communicate fluently and be understood. i will, however, miss speaking in Russian, and Rus-lish, and being understood. ahh, but I still have time here…so i will enjoy it! (in between hours of paperwork, of course…)

Good News, at last...

I recently had some good news. I had applied for a scholarship (which I didn't get) and then I applied to three schools (I heard from one of them, and I didn't get in.) I was feeling disappointed, and assumed I wouldn't get in anywhere. I was thinking of alternate opportunites for next year. What would I do? Where would I go?
I needed to get a Master's as quickly as possible so my girlfriend and I can immigrate to Canada if she doesn't get the diversity visa (once again, this visa is open to people from certain countries, and it is a “lottery” system, so I am trying not to hope too hard that she wins..especially since with all the craziness right now in America over immigration, it will probably be the last year it is available.)

So, my good news is that just as I was about to give up hope, I WAS ACCEPTED TO MY #1 CHOICE SCHOOL!!! I am so happy. I still can't believe it. Since I am in the Peace Corps, my mom scanned the acceptance letter into the computer and emailed me. She likes to surprise me (my family is BIG on surprises) so the email said something to make me think the letter was negative. I opened it, and actually read it three times before realized it wasn't a rejection letter, but an acceptance!! Crazy! So I am going to study Peace Studies at the best university in the world for Peace Studies, the University of Bradford…

Now, if I could only get my girlfriend into America…..

Back from India

Please note this was originally posted in Jan 2007 on my other blog site. Please see:

The first month of the year is at it's end, and I have yet to write in my blog!! So here goes…

My girlfriend and I just returned from a three week trip to India. It was an amazing trip despite all the horrible things that happened. Violent food poisioning, crazy train experiences, and getting stuck in the north when all of the clothes we packed were for the south (and the beach) are just a few of the “low-lights”, but despite that, the trip was great. A friend of mine from Kazakhstan who went to India (not with me, but with her friend), lives in a village in Kazakhstan. She has almost nothing, but after India, said that she will never again be anything but greatful for what she has. She made me realize how much I myself take for granted. When I was in India, I was beyond annoyed at all of the people who tried to take from us - rickshaw drivers who would take us to the wrong place because if we buy something at a certain shop they get money, or guys on the street who tell you your hotel is booked up, but they happen to know of a place…. we never got scammed, but the very fact that every person we met was literally trying to take money from us, well, it got tiring. You can not walk in the bazaar without people yelling, standing in your way, even grabbing your arm and trying to pull you into the 700th store in a row that sells pashminas…But when I think about the people we saw living on the streets, literally, I realize how blessed I am. And the people trying to “take” from us may not have been living on the street, but they were trying to make a living. I can be philosophical about it now, however, because I am not dealing with it every second of the day…

Our guidebook told us that giving kids money on the street actually encourages them to beg instead of going to school, because they can make more money beggin than getting an education, but that they never then get out of poverty. So we tried not to give money. Instead, we would give food we couldn't eat. They were never very happy about it, but if we gave money to everyone who asked, not only would we never have any money, but we wouldn't have had time to do anything else. It goes against my feeling to have to turn and refuse to give money to someone who is obviously starving, but I think that there is not really any other way. The poverty was definately the hardest part of India. But that is the hardest part of Los Angeles, too. The best part? Sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Pink sky, fog and mist rolling in, obscuring the view of the (dirty) river below, very romantic to stand at this monument to love with the woman i love in the gorgeous light. I have to tell you, seeing a picture of the Taj Mahal is not the same thing as seeing the Taj Mahal. Really. Words can not describe it. After that, every other monument, fort, building, palace, is kind of less glamorous. I kind of wish it was the last thing we saw and not the first thing…

I also saw Durga's temple in the holiest city in India for Hindus, Varanasi. It was pretty interesting. Varanasi is packed and crazy. Lots of temples, lots of tourists, lots of rickshaws…

Would I go back to India? Yes. I want to see the south. But I think I am going to head to other places first. I need a break from the craziness that 1.2 billion people plus tourists create….

Looking for the ANSWER...

Please note: this was originally posted at my other blog on november of 2006. please see...http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog/2006/11

have been in Kazakhstan for twenty months now…I officially have six months left of my Peace Corps service. This brings many emotions to mind…Part of me is relieved. I am ready to be moving on to the next thing (although at the moment I am waiting to hear from the Rotary International to see if I have won a scholarship, and from two graduate schools I applied to in order to see if I have been accepted, so at the moment, I am not sure what the “next thing” is.) I am ready to be doing something new, especially since things have not been going the best they could here.I was working for an organization which helped crisis centers in Kazakhstan. My problems with this agency were multiple: first of all, they were “grant chasers”. They did not have any interest in developing sustainability, so instead would look around at what grants were available, and then start to work on the issues that the grant was funding. Even if it was not part of their mission statement. With international funding being reduced in Kazakhstan, it is a dangerous practice, and I think many NGO's here will suffer when the major funders start working primarily in Kyrgystan and Tajikistan, and other countries in the region with less natural resources than Kazakhstan. The organization never took the time to integrate me into their work, never had time to meet with me, and essentially gave me “busy work” so that I would stay at the organization. My main function was to show up at events so that I could be pointed to as “our American Volunteer”. I think I gave prestige to the organization.

For a while I was able to kid myself that I was doing things, but everything training I developed, every bulletin I wrote, even if I translated it into Russian, they did nothing, absolutely nothing with. So it finally started to get to me, when I was going into the office every day pretending to have work to do, when I realized, “Why am I pretending?” So now the Peace Corps and I are looking for a new organization for my last six months. I am very relieved. Especially since I was having problems with a woman at my work who liked to sleep on two chairs pulled together in the office after directing me to do various tasks for her (she was not my boss, and I very often did not do as she asked, since I did not want to do her work while she slept).So as far as the work is concerned, I am very ready to be doing something else. I was just having a hard time telling myself that I was doing anything useful.

However, when I think of leaving K-stan, I am absolutely terrified about leaving my girlfriend. Terrified may sound like a strong word, but it is so hard to think that when I leave in May, I am going to be leaving her not knowing how we are going to be together. I think hitting the “six months left” mark has effected (affected?) us both - sometimes at night one or the both of us will begin to cry…so many “What if's…” What if we can't find a way to be together? What if we can't get a visa for her? What if we don't see each other for so long…What if its too hard? Can you imagine being 32 and meeting someone that you fall in love with. It is the first time I have been in love with someone who loved me. Who respected me. Who wanted to be with me. Who was honest and open with her emotions. Who doesn't play games. She is like a tree that grew around my heart, making all of the places that were empty or dead come to life. She makes me want to be a better person. She gives so much love, so much happiness. For the first time in my life, I understand what it means when you say you want to be with someone for the rest of your life. Before, I just didn't believe it was possible. And now, I have to leave Kazakhstan without knowing how we are going to get to be together. I don't want to go on a rampage about the absolute unfairness of the situation.

I have a friend here in Kazakhstan (another Peace Corps Volunteer) and she is getting married in December. As much as I am happy for her, a part of me is angry, railing at the unfairness of it. Why must our legal definitions of marriage be so limited? Or, if its the word that bothers so many, can't we just have something, some word that will allow us to be together, to let immigration allow her to come into the country as my spouse, partner, lover, whatever word they find less offensive? Why are the religious beliefs of some influencing the laws the impact the lives of so many? Marriage is between a man and a woman they say. It has always been this way. But change comes in so many other ways, why must we be stuck in this one? Why does me wanting to spend my life with a woman impact anyone else? How does allowing her into my life mean that a straight couple is somehow less than they were before? It is so frustrating and if it didn't pertain to me at this moment, I would still be absolutely angry about it. But at this moment, it is much worse than anger. It is fear. How will this work? I keep trying to put my faith in the universe that something will happen. We have applied for the diversity visa, and am begging the universe, begging, that they pick her number from the lottery. But what if she doesn't win it? What are we going to do then?I am trying to be present and live in the moment, but it is hard, so hard, when something so important to my future, so essential a human right, is unclear and in danger of being lost.

Does anyone know of anything, any option? I am reaching out to the universe, asking for help. Does anyone have an idea? I am sending it out - all my fear, all my pain, all my uncertainty, all of the love I feel for this woman, and all of the joy and happiness she brings me…I am waiting to see what comes back…..

Sad news..but new possibilities!!

Please note: this was originally posted on my other blog in Dec. 2006. please see: http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog/2006/12

Well, after waiting what seems an eternity, I finally found out that i did not win the scholarship I had applied for. I am upset, in that it would have saved me a lot of money, but not as upset as my mom is. I am still determined to go to school, I will just have to work for the rest of my life to pay off my student loans. The sad thing is I used all of my savings to fly home for the interview (the ticket from Kazakhstan was very expensive!! $1800!!) That's ok. I had such a good feeling after the interview, but I guess the feeling was one sided. This is the second time I have applied for a Rotary Scholarship, and the second time they have rejected me. (I applied in 1998. It was down to me and one other person, and he won by one vote because he had more volunteer experience. I now have tons of volunteer experience, but I think I am damned by my undergraduate degree in a very inappropriate field - Theater. I do have a lot of relevant experience, however, both working at the Rape Crisis Center and also the Peace Corps. But I think my degree in theater will hold me back…)

On the other hand, if I don't get into the schools I have applied to (only three, as I am afraid to ask my references to write anymore on my behalf…) than I will actually have to rethink my whole idea for my future. I do think of my friend who tried for 9 years to get into archetecture school. I probably would have given up, but she kept going. She is now in her third year, and loving it. Do I have the tenacity to wait 9 years?? No, I am too old. In nine years I will be thinking about retirement. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but not too far off…

My new organization is ok. I am still not clear on what they want me to do. I think they want me to do trainings with students, but my Russian is not good enough to do that on my own. Maybe I can get someone to translate for me. One of the kids in my English club. We shall see. Thursday was my girlfriend's birthday. It was very nice. Tonight she wants to go dancing and I guess I wil have to go, even though I am just not into it. I did the dance-club-scene thing for so many years. Now it just makes me tired to think about it. Plus, clubs here in Almaty are not the best in the world. Although the music is better than I expected. But there are like 3 good DJ's in Almaty, so everytime you go out you are going to hear at least two of them. And its the same group of people, because the underground club scene here is so small. And people get sooooo drunk. And you can still smoke in clubs, so i come home smelling vile. I think I am just getting old. This is what I get for dating someone much younger than me. HA! Some possibilities I have been thinking about for my future: getting certified to teach English in Thailand and then teaching English for a year while studying for the GRE…Going home to get my MBA at a night school so I can immigrate to Canada and marry my girlfriend…trying to find international work (although this one seems very difficult as they expect everyone to have at least a Master's plus 15 years experience…) Doing the BUNAC one year visa for New Zealand…My friend is involved with a really cool project in Phoenix and he asked me to help him..although I am not a big fan of Arizona…The possibilities are endless…

Only in Kazakhstan...

Please note: this post was posted first on my other blog in October 2006. Please see: http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog

Well, if this month started badly with the landlady trying to raise the rent 33% two days before rent is due, it certainly has not improved…First of all, I think bad things usually happen in 3's, don't they? Not in Kazakhstan.

Well, first, my electricity went off. It happens all the time, so the first day I didn't do anything because they usually fix it in a few hours. The next morning, however, I woke up and the puddle of water on the floor in my kitchen indicated that the electricity hadn't come back on, and my freezer was defrosted! The good news is that I finally got that old bottle of vodka that had been frozen into my freezer out…I made a very tasty penne alla vodka…So, I was leaving for work, and realized that all my neighbors had electricity, so it wasn't my building, it was my apartment. Ick. so, I called the electrician, and then waited all day (worse than America, because I had no gaurantee he was gonna show up at all…) Finally at 6:30, the electrician shows up, tells me he needs 1500 tenge, and I panick. I was told it was free, and I was super short of money this month…I called Diana's house and her grandmother talked to the electrician. Finally, she said that he wasn't trying to rip me off, and that I should pay him. Damn. He fixed it, in about two and a half minutes, and then told me that if I wanted him to come in to the apartment (the fuse box, which was apparently the problem, was in the hallway) it was going to be another 500 tenge. I told him to get out of my house. Electricity here is really bad. The walls of this building are concrete, and then the wires are kind of loose and outlet plate is no longer fitting in the hole, so its a mess. But if i paid him another 500 tenge I would be eating beans for the rest of the month….
If you count the rent as bad thing #1, this makes bad thing #2….Then, my boss accidentally gave my laptop a virus. It was on her flash drive. Now it is in my computer, and her IT guy is coming over and I am waiting to see if I am going to loose everything in my computer (because of course, I have not backed anything up…I know! I know!!!) 28 GB of music…ahhhhhh….and the volunteers who gave me so much music have gone back to the US….not to mention my journals since having been here (over 120 pages of my thoughts, etc on this whole experience) pictures, (which i have luckily backed up almost all of) my writing that I have been doing here, including the first 58 pages of a story I was writing…you get the idea. It could be very sad for me…My booker prize winning novel may be lost to the incidious virus now rampaging unchecked in my poor computer's brain…so that would be bad thing #3….

but, since I am in Kazakhstan, bad things don't come in 3's… so…Now, and most comically, bad thing #4….

All of you in America know that dogs do not roam the streets wildly, because dog catchers come and pick them up. Who among us has not felt terrible about those poor dogs, ten days in the pound, and then they are killed…Well, in Kazakhstan, dogs roam free. No one ever gets their pets spayed or neutered (I guess because they don't have Bob Barker from the Price is Right reminding us to get out pets spayed and neutered at the end of every episode of Price is Right on TV) So they walk the streets, both wild dogs and dogs with owners who let them out all day without supervision. No “poop disposal laws” here!! Watch your step, America, there's poopoo there….Dogs roam in packs, rummaging in garbage cans, chasing cars, basically living their own lives with their own agendas. People here are generally not very nice to them. The kids throw things at them, and do other not so nice things that I have seen. Puppies are just left to take care of themselves. At first, I would think, oh, poor puppy, and if i had a little food, give some food to the puppy. Then one almost bit my hand off, so i stopped feeding them. But i had a generally benevolent attitude towards wild dogs of Almaty. Until today….

Well, I was walking to work, enjoying the gorgeous Autumn weather (leaves falling, air crisp and slightly chilly, oh i love autumn…) and i realized there had been an accident on the street i was walking on. I was just looking over my left shoulder to see if anyone was hurt, when a dog, not quite a puppy but not full grown, ran up behind me and bit me in the back of my leg below the knee. I didn't see the dog before it bit me, and i was so surprised that I screamed out loud. (I am pretty jumpy if someone comes up behind me and says “hi”, so imagine how loud I screamed at the dog biting me…) Of course, the devil dog ran away, so when the 60 or so people rubber necking the accident on the street swiveled their heads in my direction, there was nothing to see except me with my mouth in an “O” from the shock. I weakly said, “Sabaka kusaisa menya” which means roughly “dog bit me” and everyone went back to looking at the accident. Apparently this happens a lot. (So do traffic accidents, but I guess in the grand scheme of things, traffic accidents are more interesting to look at.) Luckily when we got to K-stan, I was the recipient of about 60 shots and one of them was rabies…so now I only have to get the booster twice instead of much much worse…

I am hoping that the rapid approach of October will bring better events for me, and perhaps the cold weather will cause the wild dogs of Almaty to hibernate….If not, I hope to employ quicker reflexes and quick kicks to protect my health…


Please note, this post was originally posted in Oct. 2006 on my other blog: http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog/2006/10

I have been thinking about poverty. The official definition, from dictionary.com, is as follows:
the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence.
deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients, qualities, etc.: poverty of the soil.
scantiness; insufficiency: Their efforts to stamp out disease were hampered by a poverty of medical supplies.

This definition seems to lack the violence of poverty… not just violence as in “areas with poverty have higher rates of violence”…but violence of a more institutional variety. Because it seems to me that poverty is more than a lack of things, it is an abundance of things as well. An abundance of hunger; an abundance of houses or apartments falling down; an abundance of concrete instead of grass and trees; an abundance of broken bottles on the playground, and syringes; an abundance of police always arresting and never assisting; and abundance of students with substandard education; an abundance of dreams destroyed; an abundance of people turning their faces, averting their eyes; an abundance of invisibility; an abundance of illness without proper medical care. “Marginalized” hardly seems to cover what it is to live in poverty. Marginalized means “to relegate or confine to a lower or outer limit or edge, as of social standing”. It is a common term used by people to describe the “other”. But people who are poor are not relegated or confined to a lower or outer limit - they live in a different world.The air is less clean. The water often undrinkable. Food is less plentiful, and often less healthy. Poor nutrition weakens the body and as a result people more frequently succumb to illnesses they might have recovered from had they not been malnourished. People who live in poverty have no political power. In fact, the numbers of people living in poverty are growing, giving them a lot of political power, but generally they do not take advantage of it. This world that they live in seems lacking in justice, lacking in compassion, lacking in things that those who are not living in poverty seem to take for granted. I lived in Los Angeles for a long time, where people pay $4- 5 for a cup of coffee two or three times a day at Starbuck's. And not only the rich people do this…many who did were my co-workers. They worked on social justice issues, and worked for NGO's. They were not paid an overwhelming amount. They were not living in poverty. The reason I point this out is that there are, living in Los Angeles, along side the movie industry, the beauty industry, the money makers and shakers, people living in poverty. Sometimes living a block away from each other, rich and poor. No buffer zone. Poor people growing up, looking on the houses of the rich, knowing they can never have what those people have maybe a block away…Struggling. Not to pay $4 for a coffee, but to feed their families. How can these two things co-exist? Is it because we can tell ourselves, if they would just get a job… How many people have I met that say, “Anyone can achieve anything in America”? But this is patently untrue. It is not simply a matter of saying, “Hey, I don't want to be poor anymore” and then magically, with a little effort, poverty has been banished. Because who says, “Hey, I wanna live in poverty!”? Some one responded to me once, “Well, they don't say they want to live in poverty, but their actions indicate unwillingness to do something to get out of their situations. Hey, I grew up poor, and look at me!” Yes, look at you. When do we stop believing in the American dream? When do we realize that we must DO something to change the way the world works. There is a philosophy that underlies the Peace Corps, and it is a good one, I think. If you give a man some food, he can eat today. If you teach him how to farm, he can eat for life. This is a powerful philosophy for me because it means that you shouldn't just give someone money and ease your conscience. You should get involved. Give your time. Use your energy, your knowledge, your love, your compassion, and change someone's life. So many of the ideas I have been learning here in Peace Corps I will take back wtih me, and they are all pretty simple. Connecting with a stranger on the street in Kazakhstan takes on meaning that it wouldn't for me in the US, and it shouldn't. This idea of community based organizing, community outreach - it doesn't have to be done in a foreign country in a foreign language. I can start a girls club in America. I can start an English club in America. I can develop leadership trainings for high school students in America. I can do this kind of grass roots level work in my community at home. I had always done volunteer stuff in America (rape crisis center, Human Rights advocacy, Project Literacy, etc.) But I guess my point is that it doesn't have to be so organized, so big. It can be a lot of small things that have an impact.I once heard a famous quote: “If one of my people is oppressed, then I am oppressed.” I think this is true. “My people”, in this case, means human kind. We are all connected. And until we start realizing how this connectedness translates into the way we chose to live our lives, this system is never going to change…this sick and dying, violent, angry inequitable system will live on, creating agony, hunger, terrorism, oppression, violence, ignorance, greed, despair, and destruction. I came across a website that I think is great, with tons of information and ways to get involved…to DO SOMETHING. Check it out….www.one.org
Peace to you all.
p.s. - in this rant i did not address the issue of race at all, and its impact on poverty. It is a valid issue, as the majority of people living in poverty in the world are people of color. They are living in the southern hemisphere. they are single mothers and children. this topic is huge, and i am not an expert. so many factors contribute to poverty, and the UNDP can tell you about them. I have never seen, on any of their lists, however, “personal will” as a contributing factor. people who say that people who live in poverty are there by choice strike me not only as very ignorant, be unnecessarily cruel. poverty is not a choice. it is the result of inequitable distribution of wealth stemming from a history of colonialism and racism, misogyny and apathy, violence and war, power and control. Those who have, those who have not. You need money to make money, and all the freedom and food and legal advice and education and health and safety and security and time that money can buy you.


Please note: this entry was originally posted in Sept. 2006 at my other blog http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog

Yesterday, I had my heart torn in sadness, and I became a bit overwhelmed. It started in my English club. My friend and I do an English club here. I think of an activity for the first hour, he does an activity for the second hour. My activity was related to fairy tales. I don't know much about local fairy tales, so asked each group to act out or retell a local fairy tale. Well, when that was over, my friend Criss started a discussion. I don't read the papers or watch the news here because my Russian is not good enough to understand, so this came as quite a shock to me. Apparently, in the south, in a city called Shymkent, there was a pediatric hospital that was using blood that had not been screened for HIV. As a result, over 60 babies/children under the age of 4 years were given infected blood. I find this unconscionable, that in 2006, any people working in the heatlh profession could allow this to happen. It is a relatively simple matter to screen blood for HIV. In the states, I know that potential donors are screened even before they donate by asking them if they inject drugs. At this point, they would not be able to donate if they were IV drug users. The senselessness of this, of what these 60+ families will now have to go through because health care here is lacking in profressionalism (obviously), and doctor's have very little training before they begin to treat patients, overwhelmed my normal ability to cope, and I felt a huge emptiness and despair . The thing that makes me even angrier was the governmental response. The first thing they did was fire not only the head of the medical office for the region, but also for the country. Not because of the mistake, but to save face. Rumors are spreading that the woman who was head of the regional medical office is the sister of the mayor of Almaty, and that he too will be fired. Nothing about putting procedures in place, nothing about testing the blood remaining in the blood bank, nothing about screening potential donors. Just fire people. Save face. The worse thing about it is that here, people don't get jobs based on qualifications. They get jobs based on who they know or who they pay to get the job. So this woman probably wasn't skilled. She may not even have a medical degree. But she obviously knows someone, because her brother is the mayor of Almaty. So 60+ families will now have sick babies because she knew someone and was able to get the job through her connections. The sadest thing about it is that there is no dialogue, even in our English club last night, about what the problem is, the real problem -the corruption that continues to allow a system like this to work. A system where people who are not qualified get jobs because they are the right tribe, or know the right person, and then get fired because they cause a huge public mistake close to the President's visit to America. What will the government do for these families? I am not sure, but I can bet you there are no “cocktails of drugs” coming here to prolong the lives of the infected children. People here don't think they can make a change. They say, “what is the point of fighting the system. It won't change it, and I will just get in trouble. Besdies, we have the highest standard of living in Central Asia. Look at Turkmenistan! Look at Uzbekistan.” It is because things run on corruption here. You can buy your diploma even if you were never enrolled in the school. You can buy your driver's liscense. You can pay off cops. My friend was telling me a story the other day, and for me, it sums up the attitude here about creating change and helping. One night, he came home from hanging out with his friends and his dad was still up. They got to talking, and it got late. At about 3am, they heard a noise on the street. They live three floors up, so went on their balcony and looked out. Down on the street, thirty feet below, two men were beating a man on the corner. They beat him very badly, even after he stopped moving. Apparently, the guy was dead on the street corner. Dead. I asked my friend why he didn't yell down, “Stop” or something similar. He said he didn't want the two guys to run up to the apartment and beat him because he was a witness. Ok, I said, why didn't you call the police. You woldn't have to give your name. He said, “Why?” I said, “because you watched a man die a violent death. You watched two men beat him and you did nothing.” He told me, “Well, I guess it just didn't cross my mind to call the police. It's not my business” It's not my business. What do you say to that? This is what I said, “It is your business, because by doing nothing, you condone this murder. You are saying that it's ok that this happened. You are saying that as long as it isn't happening to you, its ok that its happening. But how long will it be before it is happening to you? And if it were happening to you, wouldn't you want someone to call the police.” He said, “No one would call the police.” Sometimes, I wonder if it is possible to create change. Last night, I felt for sure that it was not possible. I felt that there is just too much: too much violence, too much hatred, too much anger. Too many bombs and too many policies created that don't take into account the millions and billions of people they impact. I couldn't stop crying for the corruption that kills, and the mindset that allows both corruption and violence to reign unchecked. I couldn't stop crying because I felt that nothing will change it. Last night my faith in peace was shaken, but this morning, my resolve came back strong. I can not let helplessness overwhelm me, and I can not get cynical and jaded. I must continue on with my belief, naive it may seem to many, that peace is possible - in every aspect of every person's life. That corruption can be rooted out, and that people will begin to look outside themselves and realize that as long as any one person is oppressed, we are all oppressed. Because if I give in, I feel that it would be a huge loss, and violence and corruption will win out. If I give in, a big beautiful part of who I am would die inside of me. I would become someone else, and I am not sure I would like that person.

Love in a time of non-loving ideas...

Please note this blog entry was originally posted on Aug 24, 2006 on my other blog site http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog

I start this blog entry not knowing where it is going, or what it is going to be about. I just felt the need to write today. It has been a hard week for me - trying to bring my lover to America is not going well. If either of us were a man we could already be married and enjoying the wonderful pasttime of dreaming of our future together. As it is, I live in fear, that this, which I have found for the first time in my life, this beauty, will be lost to me because of bullshit that I can not control. I am trying to believe in the Universe and its ability to give me what I need, but deep down I am hoping the Universe believes I need her, because I love her and to lose her would be a little death I feel I am too imperfect to face with any semblance of strength or dignity. I am 32, and this is my first experience with reciprocated love. Not like I expected it at all. Not like the movies (although I hardly expected it to be like the movies). So quiet and peaceful. It's the daily things of love that make me so happy…the millions of ways she shows me every single day that she loves me. I hope that I give her half as much as she gives me…I was teaching her to swim in an Aqua park the other day (Kazakhstan is a landlocked country, and not many know how to swim). The joy on her face when she “got it” for the first time…it made my heart so full…and it is amazing how even when you think your heart is absolutely full, there's always more room. There is so much beauty in loving another person. I have learned an amazing amount about myself in loving her. How to compromise on big things and small. (Where do you want to go on vacation? What do you want for dinner?) I realize that in the past I have been arogant and rude to those around me in my stubborness, in my pride. But stepping back now, I realize that I should save my aggression for the struggles that matter, in the world, and make sure to bring the love and compassion in my heart home. Is it really so important if shoes are left in the middle of the floor? No, but before this could have started an argument with me… I have learned that choices I made in the past were not healthy, and they were made out of fear, or me trying to live up to an image of who I wanted to be, not who I actaully was…I am holding on to the peace that loving her gives me, and although I can not stop being attached to the outcome, I am hoping that my love, my heart, my soul, the beauty and joy that I feel, will motivate the Universe (and the government of some country) to allow me to live with the woman I love…I am putting out into the Universe…let's see what comes back!

Another day in Kazakhstan

Please note: this blog entry was originally posted on my other blog at: http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com/blog

Well, the weather has been odd, the Tian Shan mountains cause crazy sun-rain-sun-rain-bow weather. Crazy how double rainbows can begin to be commonplace. oh, but still so magical! It is nice because it cleans the smog from the air, although I am sure it just pushes it someplace else…

I just read an extremely inspiring book about Paul Farmer called Mountains Beyond Mountains. it was about a doctor who basically started this crazy health center in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti. He is so inspiring and I learned so much from this book. I will probably read and reread it. It reminded me so much of how I want to live my life, and how far I am from that goal. But I don't feel discouraged, just inspired.

My job here in Kazakhstan continues to be a problem - wanting to be of some service and because of various obstacles not being able to do anything is very frustrating. I guess, since this is my first entry, i should probably say what it is that I am doing here. I am a Peace Corps volunteer, and I am assigned to the most cosmopolitan city in Central Asia, Almaty. This city is not exactly what I imagined when I thought about Peace Corps, but I have grown to love it - potholes, smog, roaming dogs and all. The frustration with my work is that the organization I am assigned to, the Union of Crisis Centers of Kazakhstan, has only two full time staff members and three volunteers, of which I am one. The other two are locals, a lawyer and a psychologist. Everyone is always so busy that there is never any time to work with me on the things i am here to do - NGO development stuff like Project Planning and development, etc. And in order for it to be sustainable, I have to do it WITH the workers in the organization. (Not the NGO development is my field, but it's what I am here to do …) I was writing grants for a while, to no success, sadly. I can blame me for that, because I have no experience doing it at all, and even though I did my best, no money will be coming in to my organization from my efforts. I have done so much writing and research though, on standards for Domestic violence centers, including monitoring and evaluation of programs, and trafficking, child labor, and developed trainings on using a Feminist Peer Empowerment model to counsel victims of domestic violence and alternatives to physical and humiliating punishment for children. Now all i have to do is find someone to translate it. (The one thing I never thought would be a difficulty has been my worst difficulty - language!! Russian is hard to study!)

My English club is going well, and I have recently started to help Accels with their applicants for exchange programs, which is tiring but interesting. In the near future, I hope to be volunteering at an orphanage. This will hopefull give me a bit of personal fulfillment. My director at Peace Corps picked an orphanage not in the center of town, because those always get the foreign volunteers. Right now we are waiting for the slowly grinding wheel of Soviet style bureaucracy to grind forward with the appropriately stamped forms to allow me to volunteer there.

Well, things must be done, and I must do them. Mahalo!

Misogyny and Patriarchy in my Daily Life...

Please note: this was originally posted on my other blog at http://lulu-ahimsa.zaadz.com in july of 2006...check it out!!!!

I have come to understand more about myself by being in a place where all of the things we normally use to define ourselves have been stripped away. I realize that I don't want to “blend” in with the local culture, as I thought I did when I was younger, reading adventure stories about young English men (it was always English men. You would think they were the only people who ever left home!!) moving throughout various cultures, learning the language, eating the food, loosing their “otherness” in local custom. I love to learn about other cultures, study languages, but I realize that since I truly love who I am, trying to lose that in an attempt to blend in is ridiculous, especially since I am not Asian nor Slavic, and nothing I do here is going to change my bone structure, the color of my hair, the shape of my eyes. Therefore, it stands to reason that I should just stay who I am, and learn what I can from that place.
It is because I love myself that I refuse to accept the absolute patriarchy and misogyny that characterize the social and cultural life here. I remember reading the Paulo Coehlo book, “Zahara”, and his wife came to Kazakhstan, and she was saying how in this culture, the “woman is the boss”, and sited some horse riding/flirting thing that proved this, and I was thinking, “Did he actually come to Kazakhstan? Was he here, because nothing I have seen in the 16 months I have been here reflects this in any way. There is a Kazakh expression, “the woman is the neck”, implying that she “holds up the head”, and in this analogy, the head is the man. I refuse to accept my second class status in this country as a woman. I know that I am looking at this from a Western perspective, but when a man comes into a room and shakes the hands of all the other men, I stick my hand out there to be grasped as well. They are often confused and look at my hand, but they rarely refuse to shake it. I guess it is acceptable because I am foreign. Being foreign, I have found, will explain away a lot of things. I have been told that I am stupid, or more stupid, because I am a woman, I have been told that i have no logic, because I am a woman, that I am weaker, less able to create things, (hello! what about life? that's creating something, isn't it??) I have been completely disregarded when I have asked a question, I have had strangers tell me what I should do with my life (you should marry my cousin and have babies soon…you are getting old). I had a 16 year old boy, with the expression of a martyr on his face, tell me, “Ok, Lulu, I will marry you if you want since you are 32 and not married, but can you cook?” He pitied me because of my age and lack of a husband, and thought he would make the ultimate sacrifice for me, but only if I could cook! (I do not walk around this country telling people that I am queer, especially after I was told by someone who knew I was queer that if he had a gun he would shoot all gay people, because they deserve to die. He told me this, by the way, in my own house, after eating my food, and then as he left said, “Oh, did I offend you?”)
It gets difficult to be reminded, day in and day out, that I am “less than” simply because I am not a man. Especially because I am used to demanding and getting respect as a human being and a woman, and to being taken seriously when I say something, not to be disregarded. I do my best to question these ideas, and I do my best to question these ideas gently, wtih an open mind and with a compassionate heart. But sometimes I get weary and angry. It makes me respect all the more the women who came before and fought so hard so that I could be “used to” things that they only dreamed of. Will the women here demand change? The majority of women I have talked to here say they have equality. There is nothing more they want. But I meet women every day who have Master's degrees working as secretaries for men who didn't graduate High School. The women who don't think that there is equality here end up leaving. Since I have come here, several of my friends have found international work in the Western world. So there is a kind of “feminist drain” here.
I am told that I need to stop looking at this culture through the lens of my own cultural upbringing. To an extent, I know this is true. But the fact is, International Organizations, the UN for example, have clearly researched the link between gender inequality and poverty. We will not be able to erradicate poverty as long as women do not have equal participation in all aspects of life, economic, social, cultural and political. And culture is not static, it constantly changes. I point this out to people, especially men, when they defend their absolute right to domination based on cultural history. I point out that their cultural history also includes living in a yurt and riding horses, which is not exactly the same as that BMW parked over there, is it? Using culture to justify oppression is like using religion to do the same, or the Constitution of the US, which has often been used as a tool of oppression (for example, for those people who were not originally included in the “all men are created equal” aspect of things….) The point of this rambling diatribe is, I guess, that when any of us is oppressed, we are all oppressed. That includes women, religious minorities, people of color, transgendered people, sexual minorities, those living in poverty, sex workers, illegal immigrants, etc. How can we seek freedom individually through meditation, religion or yoga, and then walk out the door and uphold institutions that continue to oppress people?
I choose to live my life in the belief that change is constant and it doesn't take much to get it rolling. I want to BE THE CHANGE I WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD. I IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE LIVING LIFE IN PEACE. I beleive in the power of compassion to transform. I belive that peace is a verb, not a noun. It is not a state of being only, but also a way of living. It is active. It is not only NOT doing harm, but also stopping harm when you see it happening, or helping to create conditions where harm does not occur. It is not only quiet, but also fierce. I want to be fierce in my compassion, and strong in my peace. I want to be a voice in the chaos, the calm in the struggle.
We must not only pray to “achieve enlightment for the benefit of all sentient beings”, but also pray that through our actions, other people may have the space, the strength, the food, the lack of violence, the health, the clean water, the self-love, the hope, to be able to dream of their own enlightenment, and even further, want to reach out beyond the apathy of the struggle to help someone else in their struggle.
***(sorry for any type-o's or incorrectly spelled words…)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Well, yesterday when I should have been working, I was listening to the latest Democracy Now! Podcast. And let me tell you, I was incensed. What is our government doing? Phone tapping without a warrant? How is it that they feel they can use fear to intimidate the American population to give up our freedom so easily? Do we really believe their lies? Do we believe this apparently unlimited power to “protect the American population from the threat of future terror attacks” is not terrorism itself? They have terrorized the American population into believing that this is necessary. And we, in turn, have quietly (and in some cases, not so quietly) handed over our freedoms. These freedoms that people fought and died for us to have seem to us less important than preventing another attack. But whose word do we have that these attacks are coming? We have the word of those who would like to have unlimited power to control the American population. So how long will this “war against terror” go on? Or will we be giving up our liberty indefinitely? When will the despotism end? When will we feel safe enough to demand our privacy back? And will it be too late then? I am ashamed, honestly and truly ashamed, of the hypocrisy of my government, speaking about freedom and democracy in the world, and then not ensuring that that freedom exists for its own people. And as the government continues to cut funding to social services and as a result impoverishes more of our people, and increases the funding for defense, the war in Iraq, and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, I ask you, when they are finished, what will there be left to protect? What will be left after the new nuclear weapons program causes a world wide escalation in the arms race? What will be left in a country that can spend billions of dollars to bomb foreign nations and much less to rebuild its own city destroyed by a hurricane? What will be left when the government is listening in on our phone lines, jailing those who dissent, allowing the environment to be destroyed and eroding women’s right to chose? Why are the priorities of the American people being defined by special interest groups and former CEO’s of companies that stand to make a fortune as a result of these priorities? How insidious is this government? Why do the religious beliefs of some begin to influence how we all must live our lives? What is happening to our Constitution, and the rights that I grew up being taught were so inherent to the American Ideal that they could not be destroyed? I feel that the current government has done more to destroy the American image and lifestyle than anything that has come before it. And I am ashamed that our people voted this government into office despite the indications that we should do otherwise.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Nothing New Under the Sun except...well, the sun.

Well, as of today I have been in Kazakhstan for 11 months. One month short of a year. Almost 1/33 of my life so far. Crazy. It doesn’t seem that long, but then it does. How is my Russian going? Well, it’s ok. Not great. Russian is a hard language. It is still winter here but the last few days have been so warm that the snow has melted and that means…MUD. And lots of it. The street leading to my house is not paved because of some construction going on (for some reason they tore up the asphalt and have never replaced it) and I have slipped and slid in mud over my ankles that last few days. But I know the cold will come back, so I am trying not to get used to it. Meanwhile, my heat is on and I can’t control it (it really is central heating, controlled by the Akimat, or local government) so all I can do is open the windows and wear shorts.

I have recently applied for a Rotary International Scholarship to study Peace and Conflict studies, which I hope I get because I do not want $100,000 in student loans. I am studying for the GRE in case I don’t get the scholarship. (The University of Bradford, which the scholarship would be for, does not require GRE scores because it is in England.) That doesn’t leave much time for anything else, with yoga and English club and a dog that keeps peeing and pooping on the floor. She actually made it next to the litter box the other day (I am trying to train her to go in the box so I don’t have to keep her in the crate when I go out. It is not going well…) We lost our English club location becase the U.S. cut funding to Kazakhstan and all after-hours activities were stopped.) So we asked KIMEP (it’s a University that does all classes in English) and I met with Nigel, who assumed I was a missionary. Our conversation went kind of like this…

Nigel: so why do you want to do this free English club?
Me: Um, because I am a native English speaker, and I think it will be helpful…
Nigel: Yes, but why do you want to do it?
Me: Because I am a volunteer. That’s what I do, volunteer.
Nigel: Oh, so the Peace Corps pays you to do this?
Me: no, I get paid the same whether I do this or not.
Nigel: Here’s the thing, KIMEP has a policy against missionaries…

I almost lost my shit. I look so “normal” that I am passing as a missionary. THAT has never happened to me before. Usually I get ladies at the check-out in the grocery store telling me that Jesus talks to them and he says that I have strayed from the flock…Or Hari Krishnas stealing my boots and following me around Los Angeles, trying to get me to join up just because I innocently asked them what they were all about..so, having cleared the air about religious ulterior motives and my lack thereof, I have a new English club location. Brilliant. That’s all the news I have right now…
Books I am reading: Fabric of the cosmos (I only understand about half of it, but the half I get is really really interesting…)

Music I am listening to: Fiona Apple’s new one, (thanks Haru!!!), Madonna, Deep Dish, some local DJ’s (DJ Timmofrey, Dj Gladky, etc)