This could be Kansas. It could be any of my familiar Great Plains states except there are no crops. I see nothing growing at all — no wheat, no soybeans, no corn — no life of any sort except the sporadic dots of old, neglected villages where we stop every so often to collect or discharge another few passengers.
I step out of my little sleeping compartment, what the locals call a koopay, to make a cup of tea from the nearby samovar.
“You American?” A friendly voice interrupts my quest.
“Yes, I am an American. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.” He looks at me quizzically, so I add, “Da. Ya Amerikanskaya. Toja volontyor Korpus Mira” and smile. I’m actually speaking Russian. I welcome the conversation; my goal while here is to help the locals speak English.
Yes, I’m an American. I could tell him I’m also a writer, a psychotherapist, a grandmother, and a sociologist; but I don’t. Nor do I tell him about the comfortable life I had back in Philadelphia, the one I expected would continue into my doddering old age, the one I’d given up to come here. I’d also left my little house on the eastern shore of Virginia, where just this past year I’d discovered the simple joys of gardening and the smell of salt in the air. I don’t tell him any of these things.
“I speak English,” he continues proudly. “I study Astana now.” The capital, so new it’s still under construction in the northern part of the country. Astana is also the Kazakh word for capital. “I study English. I be interpreter soon.”
I say simply, “To know English today is very good.”
“How you like Kazakhstan?” he asks me and I’m not sure how to answer him. I want to find the exotic here but so far I’m finding emptiness and neglect.
Everything I’ve read tells me the Kazakhs are still fearless warriors, though not easily provoked. Everything I’ve seen tells me they are a gentle people, eager to please.
In the distance I imagine daring horsemen playing polo with a headless goat carcass — a popular sport I’ve yet to see. The contrast between the exotic images of ancient Kazakh traditions and the pervasive neglect of the present is striking.
“It’s a very big country,” I offer, simply. The young man slips away and I continue toward that cup of tea.
Yes, I’m an American, I’d told him. As are my grandchildren, sons, mother, and friends — all back in the United States with the decaffeinated coffee I’d prefer, while I’m here in Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world and a country but one I’d never even heard of four months ago, with tea.
I can now find it on a map (south of Russia and west of China).
I can spell it (one extraneous “h” and the rest phonetic).
KAZ akh stan
I can even pronounce it, sort of (the accent goes on the first syllable: KAZakhstan. It’s the middle syllable that gets me — the akh. That “h” following the “k” turns the sound to one Americans make just before we spit).
Yes, I’m an American; one who grew up in the ‘60s wanting to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Now I am one and, with my husband of less than five years, heading toward what I’ve been calling “the middle of nowhere” on a train that surely hasn’t been renovated or repaired since the Soviet Union collapsed thirteen years ago.
What was I thinking?
Yes, this was a deleted … The last one to go in my upcoming FREE ebook of deleted scenes.
It’s a small eBook, just 26 manuscript pages, nine scenes in all, taking the reader through our Peace Corps application process, Staging in DC, Training, and onto the train, just before the opening scene in my memoir, where I’m getting off the train in Zhezkazgan.
The only problem is, I don’t yet have a title. Here are the current possibilities:
Deleted Scenes Live Again
My Darlings Live Here
My Darlings Didn’t Die
I obviously need more suggestions.