Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
We spent New Years Eve visiting with our host family's family, eating, drinking, visiting, eating, drinking, then eating and drinking again. It was a really good time. New Years in Kazakhstan seems to incorporate not only New Years but Christmas, Halloween, and Independence Day as well. By that I mean we celebrated the New Year by toasting with Champagne, so far just like in the US. The countdown happened during a speech and toast by the President---I'd like to see President Bush try to upstage Dick Clark.) It was a bit strange to miss the ball dropping and not hear "Auld Lange Singe," but we hummed it to each other.

While we were celebrating, "Died Moroze" came, or "Father Frost" in English. He's sort of like Santa Claus, but wears blue. So the kids got their presents, which was like Christmas, but right before that we waved sparklers and shot off fireworks, which felt like the 4th of July. Because we had to take a 38 hour train to Almaty the next day we missed the Halloween part, but I guess on the 1st you usually go over to your neighbors and scare them in masks. I couldn't get anyone to explain why, but then again, why do we have most traditions?

All in all it was a really good time, but we of course felt the absence of all of you all the more.

Happy Holidays!
Miss you all,

PS from Jack:
Hello everyone,
There is such a thing as bad coal. Really. One of my chores is to sort the coal every morning in a big sieve.

Fur is murder! Fur is murder! Many people, and some animals, say that fur is murder. I think in New Mexico, they may have a legitimate gripe. Here on the southern end of the west Siberian plain, not fur is suicide. My jacket is about 20 pounds and is made of cows and sheep. Amyís is made of one small sheep or many large gophers. The big hat really works---itís awesome. I donít even know what animal that is.

News, notes, and animal noises:
In Russian, an owl is called a "kookooshka", which I suppose makes sense. A Christmas tree is called a "yolk" and is put up at New Yearís. I convinced our family to name their kitten popugai (pop-ooo-guy). "Popugai" means "parrot" in Russian

Take the Jack Simms Kazakhstan diet! Two easy steps!
1. Live 5 km from work
2. Eat whatever you want

Every Wednesday and Saturday an uncouth barbarian tribe (known as the sixth grade) invades my classroom and terrorizes its inhabitant (namely me). Despite the fact that they are half my height they have incredible ferocity. I think they are related to Vikings, owing primarily to the fact that they are fond of fire and will steal anything not bolted to the floor. They also hate communicating in an intelligible fashion. My classroom is pictured above. I am one of the only teachers with shelves in my classroom.

Hope everyone is doing well.