On the Train to Zhezkazgan


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.







15 Responses

  1. Sharon Lippincott
    | Reply

    Deleted Darlings Live On

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Sharon. We’re getting there. Best wishes on your big move

  2. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    This should never have been cut from the original, but I understand why it was. Glad you rescued it! Possible titles for volume 2:

    The Winding Road to Nowhere ?

    On the Way to the Forgotten Land ?

    Milestones to Obscurity ?

    Oh, I Forgot to Mention – Excerpts from a Peace Corps Adventure in Kasakhstan ?

  3. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I enjoyed this deleted scene!
    How about something like this, using Ian’s suggestion–
    Deleted: Excerpts from a Peace Corps Adventure in Kazakhstan

  4. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    These are all great. The ideas keep coming. Here are a few more:

    Dele … Stet! (As a graphic; Dele crossed off. Then:)

    At Home on the Kazakh Steppe Redux. Volume I

    Out of The Kazakh Steppe
    Volume I

    Gems from the editing room floor. Book I

    Recovered, Recycled, Rehabbed and Reused: My Deleted Stories Live On

    • Ian Mathie
      | Reply

      Kazakh Clippings from the Cutting Room Floor.

      • Janet Givens
        | Reply

        Yes, I tend to be an alliteration wonk too, Ian.

  5. Claire Davis
    | Reply

    Take Two: Deleted Scenes From At Home on the Kazakh Steppe

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      This one just bubbled up to the top. Thanks Claire.

      • Claire
        | Reply

        Pleased that you like it! Has the second edition of your book come out yet? Eager to read it &, if my life ever settles down, review it! Enjoyed the first iteration very much.

  6. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, this scene is so rich in detail and emotions. I’m so glad you have found a home for it and others. No such things as “killing our darlings”, right? They are saved and repurposed for another time and place.Too precious to throw away. Write on!


    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Kathy. I do intend to. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year.

  7. Janet
    | Reply

    Claire, I’m actually just wrapping up my fourth edition! Long story. Fortunately, the reviews have all followed the title. Thanks for your support.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a blog you'd like to share? I use CommentLuv Click here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.