Well here we are in Bayanaul and to cap off our first week we attended a wedding reception last night. Actually the wedding itself took place a month ago when the groom kidnapped the bride and they got married so what we attended was called Svibar where the parents of the families meet and celebrate the marriage. We had a great time dancing, eating, and drinking. We had so much food, especially bishbarmark, consisting of lots of mutton and horse sausage. We actually sort of missed the mutton since that is first we have had it in Bayanaul. Our new host family has mostly been serving us beef and horse. The horse is served differently up north than in the south and tastes much like beef. It is pretty good.
Our new host family is really nice and we are getting along well, though we miss our host family from Panfilova already (so many people to miss now!). We have a new host mother, father, and three sisters (17, 14, and 6). The oldest sister left for college the day after we got here, so we haven't seen much of her, and the father works in Pavlodar (3 hours away where we are emailing from right now) so we see him only about once a week, and the mom often joins him, but we have been having a good time with the two youngest daughters, and their uncle and two cousins who live next door.
We have had some free time so we have been hiking (once when it wasn't too cold or raining) and playing baseball and basketball, in between meeting lots and lots of people and giving many speeches. It seems like whenever they don't tell us we'll have to give a speech we will. Yesterday Jack gave a toast in Kazakh at the wedding and the whole town was very impressed. I got nervous and gave my toast in English, but I think they liked it all the same.
Jack and I are very popular as the Americans in town, but since there was a Peace Corps Volunteer here the last two years we are constantly being compared. We actually met the Volunteer since he now works in Almaty and he is a really great guy. Unfortunately for us though, he had taken a lot of Russian in college, so his Russian was quite good when he first arrived and the people here expect us to be the same. Oh well. It seems like learning Kazakh would actually have been more helpful to us since the local people love it when we speak even one word of Kazakh
We have been attending many town meetings to discuss the upcoming school year and to talk about the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Constitution, and all these meetings have been held in Kazakh. There is a great payoff though because at the end of these meetings there is always a concert. My favorite part of the concert is when the little 5-year-olds dance, but it is also a lot of fun to watch the young upcoming pop singers singing songs about Bayanaul to a driving dance beat in the background.
As for Bayanaul itself, it is just as beautiful as everyone said. When the school year starts I should be able to use the internet at school and will hopefully load some new pictures. The landscape here is incredibly interesting. There are large hills all over town and coming out of the hills are these strange rock formations. Think of a mud pie you might have made as a child, only bigger, about the size of a house. Then think of a bunch of these mud pies stacked and there you have Bayanaul. There is also a beautiful lake on the edge of town which is really nice. Behind our house is a large forest and small mountains. The forest was a great place to walk, although since it is already cold I'm not sure how much longer we'll be able to go.
Our host family's house is very nice and we have our own room with a pretty good bed. The parents don't seem to have a bed, so we are worried that we took theirs, but they don't seem to be here all that often. There is an indoor toilet (woo hoo) although I can't figure out if we are supposed to use it or not because one day the mom directed me to the outhouse and one day she directed me to the indoor toilet, so who knows. There is not a shower or bathtub. Instead they have a banya, which is like a sauna with a heated room next to the sauna where there are tubs for mixing hot and cold water and there is where we bathe. They had the banyaready for us when we arrived the first day, even though it was 1:30 in the morning. Unfortunately they haven't made the banya since so we are a bit dirty. We'll have to figure out how that works. In the meantime, I'm going to cut my hair very, very short :)
So much has happened, sorry this is so long! The train ride from Almaty ended up being about 27 hours, which wasn't really that bad. The train was really nice and the Peace Corps bought us two seats each so we had one for us and one for our luggage and we had a whole compartment to ourselves. We slept really well and there was hot water available for tea so we could easily eat Raman noodles during the trip (though of course our host family gave us tons of hard boiled eggs, potatoes, and meat pie that looked a little scary after the first day). After the train someone had come to pick us up, and we were on the bus for 3 hours, which was less than fun.
Swearing in was also good, and it is nice to know we are really volunteers now, and we can really get started doing whatever it is we're doing.
Miss you all!
Jack and Amy