February 22nd - Day 12: Emil gets a massage; City Tour

We woke up this morning to almost twelve inches of fresh snow – it is so beautiful!  It’s interesting to see how they deal with the snow here.  For one thing, I can’t tell that anything slows down because of the snow and, according to Masha, the schools never even close for a snow day.  Ever since I got up, there have been people outside shoveling.  Most of the shovels are handmade … a 1” x 1” piece of wood secured to a thick sheet of aluminum.  We’ve also noticed some shovels that have two long sticks of wood and another in-between, so that instead of shoveling and picking up the snow they just push or plow it out of the way.  People also sweep the snow away with brooms made of sticks tied together. They do have snow plows to remove the snow from the streets.  The trucks have a plow on the front (more like the size you’d see on a pick-up in the States than on a town plow) and a long rotating brush (like a vacuum cleaner brush) underneath.  Once they’ve cleared the middle of the road, they come back with a tractor to flatten the pile on the side of the road and plow half of it back out into the street.  This creates a nice neat row of snow which a conveyor belt then picks up and drops into a dump truck to be taken away.  We were impressed that, even with the fairly large amount of snow that fell, most of it had disappeared by this evening!

We also saw several examples today of how people bundle up their babies for the cold.  While toddlers are so bundled they can’t even move, babies are bundled up so much it looks like they’re hidden within sleeping bags.  Seriously, that’s how you recognize when someone is carrying a baby … it looks like they have their arms wrapped around a sleeping bag!  They put the baby in a snowsuit and then wrap him or her several times with a heavy blanket or comforter, covering the head, and then put a rope or tie around it so it won’t open up!  I don’t know how they breathe!

I don’t think this is necessarily weather-related, but it appears quite common for people to be out of water in their homes.  There are many places along the streets and sidewalks where there are spigots (sp?) or faucets for people to fill their bottles and buckets with water.  What we’ve seen most often is that people will bring a large milking can on a sled to fill up and cart away.  For some reason, we haven’t had any hot water ourselves for a couple of days.  The cold water is so cold (much more so than our well water at home), it hurts.  I’m sure the only reason it doesn’t freeze is because it’s flowing.  When the welders come to work on the pipes each day, we don’t have any water at all.  We’re grateful to have (cold) water at night, at least.  We’re starting to get used to it.  Good thing because it’s not looking like we’ll be getting hot water any time soon!

We had a surprise during our morning visit with Emil today … we got to see him get a massage!  We were excited to witness a part of what his baby house care has included and to learn how they give him a massage so we can continue to do it the same way.  The massage therapist used Vaseline and was so gentle and loving with him (which always makes us feel good).  It was also a treat just to see his body!  It’s been kind of odd to have been visiting him for over a week now and not have dressed him or changed him.  We haven’t had a clue about what he looks like under all those layers of clothing!  They stripped him all the way down to his diapers for his massage and it was good to see that he has all twelve … oops, sorry! …. ten toes!  He has beautiful, soft, olive skin and looks very healthy!  He is soooo precious!  The bad thing about the experience was that he hated it!  He screamed almost the whole time!  The therapist said that he had not had a massage in quite a while and probably didn’t remember her.  Or, it might have been the fact that he was virtually naked and perhaps a little cold.  He would not be comforted until we got his clothes back on and it was clear to him that the massage was over! 

Between visits today, we got a mini tour of the city.  Basically, it was a drive down main street to the Old Cathedral at the end.  Igor and Masha drove us down past the Kazakh Theater, some of the local government buildings, library, trade center, a hospital, the city’s oldest cinema, the university that Masha went to, a nature museum, and the military hospital.  The buildings were built mostly in the 19th century out of brick and wood.  In the last seven years, they have done a lot of renovating and many of them are painted with different pastel colors like pink, yellow, teal, green, and blue.  The colors almost make the buildings look Caribbean .  Once past the Pushkin Hotel, there are no more tall buildings (2-5 stories) until you get to the Old Cathedral, just old wooden Russian homes.  The small wooden homes are typical of what the Russians used to live in; now most people live in apartment buildings.  The old Russian Orthodox Church was so beautiful inside.  It was beautiful to look at.  More than anything, though, being there made me realize how much I miss going to church and attending Bible study.  I found such peace just being in God’s house; it was wonderful for me.  After that, Igor drove us past the World War II memorial monument.  It was quite impressive and I’ll have to go back to get a picture of it.  It has two slender spires going up into the sky and the people believe that when you look at the top you are closer to those who died during the war, because they are in heaven.  The last thing on our tour was the mosque which we also just drove by.  The whole thing was much too quick for me ...  not nearly enough time to ask questions, get out of the car, and take pictures.  I’m thinking maybe tomorrow I will go for a walk to take pictures of what we saw.

Tonight we got together for dinner with the Peace Corps representatives here in Uralsk.  We’ve been trying to track them down for a week to learn more about what they’re doing here and to get the inside scoop on the city.  Well, they are wonderful people and very knowledgeable and helpful.  Terry is working at the International Business Center.  They have an incubator where entrepreneurs can start their own businesses.  IBC provides the office space and technical and administrative support while they get started as well as some business training.  Two other aspects of what IBC does are intranet work and business loans.  Oil is the largest and strongest industry in Kazakhstan and the IBC is trying to find ways to help diversify the economy.  There is an oil field a few hours from here by car.  Terry and Sue are going there this weekend and they’re going to find out if Robin can go with them.  Apparently there is a 40 year plan: 10 million dollars of the oil companies’ profits for each of the next 40 years will go into the local economy.  That’s not much for a city this size (200,000 plus) but it’s pretty much what the city is living off of.  Of course, much of that is probably ending up in someone’s back pocket and few of the locals are seeing any of it.  Sue is more involved with NGO work and is currently working on a project with Zhas Dauren, the orphanage for kids 8 years old and up.  I don’t know the details of her work but will find out more and share that later. 

It was so nice to meet them and learn more about what to do here and about the local economy.  Sue is going to try to arrange for a traditional Kazakh meal to be prepared for us before we go!  Should be interesting!




                    Emil with massage therapist                                            His doctor helps to get him dressed again