Zhanara R

In this, the final of my Deleted Scenes this month, we meet Zhanara R, a young mother with a full-time job who was eager to practice her English with me.  In one of those serendipitous meetings where the initial idea does not work out, we came up with a new idea that did, for both of us.


In my work in the college, it appeared I could do no wrong. Lessons that I thought had gone poorly were met with such expressions of gratitude and appreciation that I began to joke to Woody, “I might walk on water soon.”

Although I joked, the disconnect between what I belived to be true and what those all around me believed to be true, left me curiously unsettled. Still, there were advantages. Particularly when my reputation spread beyond the college.

“Janet, someone is here to see you,” Assem called out to me in the teachers’ lounge one afternoon, through the Kazakh conversation I couldn’t understand and the laughter that I could.

Standing in the outer room was a woman a little younger than I. She introduced herself hesitantly in English and, as happened far too often, I couldn’t catch her name. Even after she repeated it for me, I just couldn’t get it. So, we moved on to the purpose of her visit.

“I have heard about you. I would like to study English with you,” she told me in slow but perfectly fine English.

I’d lost count of the number of people who’d asked me to tutor them.

I smiled and told her, “I cannot give private lessons. I am sorry. I am not allowed to make any money while I am here.” I was always grateful for the Peace Corps’ rule that helped keep my life simple.

She was visibly disappointed, so I asked her to tell me about herself.

“I work at Samsung,” she told me. I knew Samsung, the Korean company had invested in Kazakhstan’s mining industry during the chaos of early independence, settling major debts, making substantial investments, and paving the way for the creation of Kazakhmys, the town’s single biggest employer.

“I am one of two people there.”

I had an idea.

“Have you heard of our Monday night movies?” I asked.

“Oh yes, but I cannot go. I work so late. I must get home to fix dinner for my children.” It was a common complaint and I accepted her explanation with a smile. But I was not giving up.

We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet for lunch at a Korean restaurant near her office. In the process, she spelled her name for me, Zhanara, and I added her last initial, R, to keep her straight from the other three women now in my life named Zhanara. There is something in seeing a new word that makes it easier for me than just hearing it.

We lunched together often that final year and Zhanara R did join my movie advisory committee, just as I’d hoped. She was able and willing — as long as I provided the paper — to make the necessary copies of our vocabulary handouts, while using the monthly meetings as a chance to practice her English.  I loved these win-win situations.


Connections. Such a universal need. How do you find the connections that fill your life?

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