Halloween - November 4th

Halloween - November 4th
Hello All, So here we are in Pavlodar for our fall break. Last week was really busy preparing for Halloween, but we managed to pull it off thanks to some really creative students and fun Halloween props sent from my mom. (Thanks mom!)

Many of you commented on how interesting (read here numbingly dull) you found my description of the train, but I realized one thing I left out was the toilet situation on the train. I thought about this when I arrived in Almaty and was discussing the hazards of train bathrooms with my friend Amanda. I commented on how difficult it was to use the bathroom because instead of being a "squat" toilet like everywhere else in Kazakhstan there is an actual bowl so they question remains as to where you put your feet since you are obviously not going to sit down and "hovering" is difficult while the train is moving. Amanda seemed surprised at my confusion and attested that most of the "seats" in fact have grooves thereby suggesting you should climb right up on them. I decided to try out her theory on the way back to Pavlodar. However, on my first journey to the toilet I just stood there staring at it. I considered how much worse it would be to slip from atop the toilet than it would be to err while hovering. In the end of course you just press a pedal and everything falls out under the train and water splashes all over the floor (not sure of the function of that one). But I will leave the climbing action to Amanda.

Thanks to some great finds in a grocery store in Almaty and some fantastic care packages (Thanks moms for foil packs of tuna and peanut butter--they are our favorites!!), not to mention our pumpkin harvest, we have been making some interesting and even sometimes tasty creations for dinner. Jack writes more about that later, but so far we have made: sushi, pumpkin soup (from our garden), pumpkin tempura, pad thai, thai noodles with peanut sauce, chocolate-chip cookies, French onion soup, black bean soft tacos, and even cinnamon rolls. Keep sending those recipes, we'll try them all. Imagine if we came back from Kazakhstan better cooks than when we left!

It has come to my attention that there is a movie being released this month about a character named Borat who is from, of all places, Kazakhstan. I feel it is my duty to assure you that Sasha Cohen has never been to Kazakhstan and created his Borat character from the depths of his dark and evil mind. That being said, I am dying to see it!

Missing you all and loving the letters.

And now, here's Jack:

It has been a while since our last bulletin, so there’s so much exciting news. Actually, that’s not true, strictly speaking, but I will do my very best to bring my normal high level of “larks” and “high jinks.”

What do Halloween, coal, cooking adventures, and our very own home grown pumpkins all have in common?

Halloween was November 4th at school number 3 in Bayanaul. The kids behaved really well and nothing went wrong. Actually I typed this on the 3rd in hopes that it would be true, but actually it is. Nothing burned down and no students were lost. Actually there is one sixth grader missing but I have confidence that he was lost looking for the family cow and that the hex put on him by the English Club has nothing to do with it. All of the English Club kids did a really good and creative job with monsters, attractions, and spooky things. What seems to have become a Halloween tradition here is hitting each other with socks filled with flour. While I explained that this is not really part of the American holiday they seem to find it a lot of fun so, hey, why not?

We’ve had a lot of cooking adventures lately, from homemade tortillas and black bean chili to Japanese sushi and tempura. Cooking can be much more of a pastime here because the sun now goes down about 6:30pm and you can only watch the 2006 Wings vs. Oilers series so many times, fascinating though it was. We are also feasting on our crop of pumpkins from our garden, all 10 of them. They’re about 6 inches in diameter. Well, we went to Europe instead of watering them. Anyway, Amy has discovered how to make a very good tempura with them and sushi is surprisingly easy as well. By sushi we mean the following: wasabi, or something like it—it’s green anyway—can be bought in the city, and canned tuna, rice, and cucumber finish it off. It’s wrapped in seaweed, which, surprise of all surprises, we found in Almaty this summer.

We got about a half ton of coal. No, really, it’s in the yard. I’m moving it 10 buckets at a time to the coal shed. That means 10 in one day, then I stop, not that I can move ten at each trip. The only unfortunate thing about the coal shed is the people previous to us slaughtered animals in it. Which means bones, poo, feathers, and blood. The coal doesn’t seem to mind but I do. Either way it’s t-minus until about the end of November until the snow is here permanently (at which time the coal will be permanently under a pile of snow, not to mention frozen solid) so I have until then to move it. One of the strange skills I have acquired here is how to judge coal quality. Good coal is shinier and blacker, and cubes nicely when it’s broken. Cheaper coal looks a lot like shale, crumbles rather than cubes, and is dull rather than shiny. What’s the difference? A lot of ash, which is neat to clean up, and the danger that the fire will light badly, which could mean a 50 degree house rather than a 70 degree one.

In the United States we focus a lot on safety, and I was thinking about that because of the furnace, how many Safety Town rules we must be breaking.

1. We have a live, hot, practically not-able-to-be-extinguishable fire in the house 24 hours a day. Granted it lives in a brick and concrete bunker but still…

2. To heat water we put one end of a wire in a bucket of water and the other end in an electrical socket. Something about that still makes me nervous.

3. Not only do we talk to strangers all the time, but it’s in a language we don’t understand bits of. And they don’t even have candy.

4. We don’t cross at the cross walk (there isn’t one) or wait for a “new green” (no light either). Quiz time: Jack and a herd of goats arrive simultaneously at a “T” intersection. The intersection is uncontrolled by a signal but the goats are on the right. Who has the right of way? Answer: Apparently opinion on this matter is split. The white goats seem to think they have the right of way, the brown and black ones seem to think that I have the right of way. The speckled one is still eating bushes in front of the post office and doesn’t seem to care.

Thanks so much again for all of your packages, notes, and postcards. We really appreciate them as always and promise to write back if you write.

All the best,
Jack and Amy