This week’s guest will be a familiar name for those who have read my book, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe.
Gulzhahan Tazhitova was my counterpart while I was a Peace Corps volunteer and was instrumental in my success both living and teaching in Kazakhstan. I believe I describe her in the book as “an energizer bunny,” and indeed she was. She was also savvy, level-headed, and eager to bring good things to her students and her colleagues. And she showed me how I could help.
For more on her bio, see our opening post in this series from last May.
Take it away, Gulzhahan.
I was in the USA in 2007 for a TESOL Conference (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). It was my first time to go abroad and everything I saw was exciting and meaningful for me.
Especially the way that Americans live.
The conference took place in Seattle and there were six delegates who came to this conference from Central Asia. We were placed in host families through the Tashkent – Seattle Sister City Association. The first thing that surprised me was that my host mother was living in the cottage alone. In Kazakhstan we do not live alone, particularly in such a big cottage.
Another surprising experience was when my host mother invited her friends to her home to meet me, but she didn’t cook anything! She just prepared some glasses and chairs. Everybody brought their own drinks and then they ordered pizza.
It was very funny for me because in my country when we invite people to our house we always cook and prepare a lot of food. My host mother just took a shower and didn’t do anything before the guests came. From one side, I liked this way of inviting people to the house; but I am a Kazakh and I could never do it.
During the party everybody was drinking, singing, talking and playing some games. So that part was not so different from gatherings in my country.
Also, when I was in the US, I noticed flags everywhere. Besides the government buildings, there were flags on the houses, the balconies, and even on the cars. In Kazakhstan we are not allowed to hang the Kazakhstan flag just anywhere. They are only on the top of government buildings or educational institutions.
Seeing the tourist city of Williamsburg, Virginia was an exciting experience for me. It was interesting to see this 17th and 18th century museum city with its traditional craftsmen and tradesmen.
I was surprised looking at those 17th and 18th century homes, boats, and other things that people of the century used. There were people acting and showing the life of that century, and even there was a restaurant where you feel like in the 17th and 18th century life. One can also participate in a court proceeding, tour the Governor’s Palace, and see how the American Revolution affected the people of this historic town.
Thanks Gulzhahan. I remember getting the US Embassy in Kazakhstan to extend your visa so you could fly from Seattle into Washington DC to visit us in Chincoteague. And I remember our drive from there to Ohio to meet my sons and their families. Even my mother flew up from Florida to meet you. That was over ten years ago now!
I remember you mentioning on that drive how green the grass was. That, when you’d seen green grass in our movies, you’d thought it was just make-believe for the movie. That was the first time I began to appreciate how green my country is. Thanks to you, I would no longer take that for granted.
I’m so glad you mentioned the differences in hosting styles. I’m sure it must be harder on Kazakhs coming here and being told “make yourself at home” than it is on the Americans who go to Kazakhstan and are treated like a “gift from God.” I had it relatively easy.
What I can’t remember is when we fit in that trip to Williamsburg and Jamestown. I so enjoyed showing you Williamsburg, especially the meal at The Tavern — our “bishparmak.” Good memories, all.
I really appreciate your participating in this series. Hugs over the miles.
How about you? What stood out for you?