Location: Uralsk, Kazakhstan

My address! Rachael Schmidt 106 Dimitrieva St. P.O Box 56 Uralsk 417 000 Kazakhstan

Monday, January 31, 2005

Now that's cold!!!

Hey Everybody!
Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. No new excuses. Just the usual; complete and utter insanity.
It sure was great being home for Christmas. I have a whole new appreciation for my country, my family and my friends. I’ve never been so proud to be an American. I was completely taken back by my own culture. No other country can compare. I was worried how I would react to seeing everyone and how they would react to seeing me. It took about 5 minutes to adjust and feel like I had never left. And let me tell you, leaving to come back here was not by any means easy. It was actually more difficult leaving this time than it was back in June. What can I say, I have the best friends and family in the world!!
Is anyone out there Russian Orthodox? If so, what is the name of the holiday that takes place in January where everyone goes into the river and dunks 3 times? From what I’ve heard it’s the Russian Orthodox New Year. And by doing this your sins will be forgiven and you won’t be sick for the following year. I think it’s the Russian version of the flu shot! Anyway, I did such an immoral and insane act. Talk about cold. I went with a group of volunteers and together we literally froze our butts and every other part of our bodies off. I’ll send photos as soon as I can. Otherwise you probably wouldn’t be believing of word of this! Continuing with the tradition, afterwards you are given a shot of vodka and a pickle. And it’s a very good idea to bring other people with you. Because once out of the water your hands and feet don’t work so well. So getting dressed is a huge problem. But, after 4 or 5 shots of vodka I could finally take off the wet, frozen clothes and get back into my nice dry, warm clothes. The strangest part was after being out of the water for a few minutes and letting the vodka do its magic I actually wasn’t cold anymore. It was about 10 below zero, I was wearing just my underwear and a wet t-shirt (getting a visual!?) and I wasn’t remotely cold. I was actually quite warm. I’m guessing that was the hypothermia setting in! Anyway, I’ll have something to tell my grandchildren.
More good news! I finally have my own apartment!! I just finished making my very own dinner for the first time in over 9 months. Borscht and a Russian salad. Mmmmmm! Can’t hardly wait to eat. And, the best part, it only took me two days of shopping to find all the ingredients! Yes, this is a country of convenience. And I only got lost two times! Apparently bus #2 goes by my abode in one direction but not the other. So I can take leaving my apartment but it doesn’t come back. I think I’m really starting to get the hang of it! Anyway, you’re all invited over for dinner! Don’t be late!! And please bring your own vodka!
I received a phone call last week from the United States Embassy in Kazakhstan. My first thought was, “Oh shit! They’re on to me!” Fortunately they just wanted me to host a meeting with them and some other volunteers. Whew! I can handle that. Still not sure what it’s all about or why they are coming to Uralsk. I’ll keep you posted. And if you’d like to join you’re more than welcome. And this time you don’t have to bring your own vodka!
The weather. Bloody, bloody cold. The average is now about 20 below. And that’s not including the wind chill. And let me tell ya, the Siberian wind is cold and harsh. I have a really warm, long coat (thank you again Aunt Donna!!), 2 pairs of warm gloves, hat, scarf, long underwear, and it’s still cold. Some people here are disappointed with such a mild winter. And you think I’m weird!?!
After coming back from the States I had to go to the former capital, Almaty, for a peace corps meeting. It was great seeing most of the other volunteers. Heard some very interesting stories indeed. I’ll spare you the gory details for now.
Well, dinner is ready! I miss you all very much!
Take care,
Much love, Rachael