From October 16-27, 2008, Jim will be teaching in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan. Although best known to the world as a top middle distance runner, he heads to the capital of the East Kazakhstan Province as an expert in national business sales. Jim took the ASICS college team sales department to record levels in the last two years. He has a marketing degree from the School of Business at Indiana University.
Also known as Ískemen, Ust-Kamenogorsk, this community of 319,854 is welcoming Jim, and four others as part of a team to bring their western business knowledge to a college. They will be teaching in English. Meanwhile, they hope to bring the hope and joy of their faith in casual conversations after class. They are part of a Go Team group from Wheaton Bible Church, through a national ministry, E2 Educational Services.
Third-year students for two hours a day Monday, Tuesday, Friday.
Fourth-year students for two hours a day Monday, Tuesday, Friday.
Flight leaves Thursday night, October 16, 2008 from O'Hare Airport.
Stops in Frankfort, Germany for a long layover, then on to Kazakhstan.
First Report I hit the "Internet" icon at 3:56 pm, Kaz Standard time, and about 12 minutes later, typed in the address for ASICS Lotus note. At 4:21, I was finally able to write e-mail - 25 minutes to starting typing a response to an e-mail. I guess you could say the internet is slow at KAFU (Kazakhstan American Free University).
Overview of flights: Thursday Oct 16- Left Chicago 7:30 pm to Frankfurt, Germany Arrived Friday morning, and stayed with Dave Christensen at the Hilton in downtown Frankfurt.
Extremely nice hotel, with Hilton slippers in the bathroom.
Saturday - met the rest of the team - Brad Utterback, Tom Geotch and another Tom (the two Toms are from Seattle) at the Gothe Cafe in Terminal 1, Frankfurt, 11:00 am. Our flight to Almtay, Kazakhstan left at 1:30 pm, and arrived on time at 11:30 pm.
We were taken to a small hotel about 15 minute from the airport by Arman, and Dave and I were roommates. The rooms were small, but had a separate bedroom and living area. Good thing, as Dave snores, and this allowed me to sleep on the couch.
Sunday- After 30 minutes of prayer with the team, we had bread and orange juice and water. The Director of KAFU met us at the hotel in a Jaguar and another car, and we drove to the airport. Up the "Departures" ramp we drove, parked about 18 feet from the front door, and I jumped out of the car to get my bags. The Director, Erezhep, the "Rector" as know by everyone, took his time. I was looking around for the police to make us hurry, but they were down the ramp. ALL of us walked into the terminal, leaving the two cars parked in this medium sized airport, 18 feet from the door. I guess when you are the Rector, no one tows your car.
The metal detectors were the first thing we met after walking into the terminal. They must want to make sure no one brings in things they should not immediately.
80 minutes after take off, I landed in Ust.
We are staying in the City Hotel on the west side of Ust, a city of 300,000. The country of Kazakhstan has 15.8M, with the median age 27.8 for male and 31.1 female. 70% of the population is between 15 and 64, and the life expectancy is 62.2 for men and 73.1. I guess for women, better marry a younger man.
The dinner was at the City hotel restaurant, with the Rector the host. Also in attendance was Bill and Ellen Bontrager and Fenton Dooley. Bill teaches law at KAFU, Ellen Englis, while Fenton, Environmental law. Bill actually helped the Kazakhstan government with some of the legal jargon of their constitution after the collapse of the Soviet control in 1991. Bill and Ellen came first came to this country in 1985, and came every year for extended lengths of time, up to three months. Like us, this is Fenton's first time.
The dinner had Vodka as a course, that included two types: The normal Vodka, with proof too high for me to imagine; and another vodka with ground up reindeer antlers. I think the second one was more for making you a man. I stuck with the first flavor, and limited my toasts to a very small sip. The Rector was sitting to my right, and would slap me on the back or bring the bottle over my glass to refill, realize the amount was still near the top, and laugh out loud. I think he would have slapped me on the back again, but he was holding the bottle in his left hand.
The meal was excellent, with a started salad and tortilla chips with ground hamburger in spices on it; and fruits and vegetables. The main course was a meat dish. Brad later commented on the flavor, and we decided that some of the meat may have come from the Kentucky Derby. Still, tasty. At the end of the meal, the Rector asked Tom to prayer for the group, and reached out for my right hand. Tom did an excellent job praying for the school, the commitment of the Rectro, and our team. As he prayed, I wondered if this was normal, and if the Rector had asked for prayer in the past. Tom later told me that he has, but that was the first time he had asked everyone to hold hands.
I have to remind myself often that when using the bathroom, to put the toilet paper in the trash container next to the toilet, rather than in the toilet. The drain pipes installed when most of the buildings were made, are very small and the toilet paper will clog up the pipes. Strange as it may sound, the bathrooms must be well ventilated, as the trash container, uncovered, did not smell later in the day.
I am still adjusting to the time change, as we are 11 hours ahead of Chicago. When I look down at my watch just now, it is hard to imagine that the 5:50 pm right now, it is 6:50 am in the morning in Chicago. I will be heading to be in four hours, while the family and friends at home will be nearing lunch.
I have found I miss the time with my wife, even the short conversations of where the boys need to be. Simon running through the house, as his brother Sammy tries to take control of his soccer ball, and Sebastian, the senior in high school, being, well, a senior. I remember traveling in 1981 overseas and being outside Stockholm for two weeks, with very little English being spoken in the home, and yearning for conversation. I miss my family.
More about teaching classes later - I need to give back Igor's laptop.
Second Report I had to get up early today as my first class is at 8:00 am -- about 15 minutes from now. They said do not be surprised that the students will not show up until about 10 or 15 minutes after the hour.
I gave our driver an ASICS hat to say thank you for being our taxi during the week assigned to the team, and he now wears it everyday.
My class size is about 16-20 students, and I teach then for two consecutive 50 minute classes (10 minutes break). A few of the students would rather not be there, and talk among themselves or sleep. Brad, another member of our team, actually asked three students to take it outside and skip the class. By far though, most are eager to learn.
I am amazed at the quality of the roads and sidewalks. You cannot find a stretch of more than six inches of flat ground. It must have been put down in the 1960s and 70s, and then patched over the years. One must always be watching the sidewalk when running. Even the 134 steps I take up to the seventh floor, many are different heights and lengths, and you have to be careful not to trip. The first day I was here at the school, they had me take up the elevator. After the doors closed, Tom said that at times the elevator stopped, and the women at each floor had to stick in a hole and open the door. Note that Tom told me this after we were going up. That was the last time I took the elevator, thus I now know the exact number of steps. Yesterday I noted a sign on the elevator doors -- so someone probably had to use the hook on Tuesday.
The Kaz government does not allow foreign companies to purchase territory for business, so they are no McD's or Starbucks on the corner. For some reason, Igor (a student who is our host) said there are two TGIF restaurants in the country. Go figure.
Third Report I was teaching my third year students this morning at 11:00 am, and Igor (our liasion, age 21) came to my door at room 803, and motioned for me to step outside. He had a cell phone in his hand, and said Alexandra (Sasha) wanted to speak with me on the telephone. My first thought was that there was a problem, as I had sent Sasha's number to my wife in case of emergency.
I said, "Hello?" "Jim, this is Sasha, we have a problem." My heart raced faster than it has, even at the 2,700 feet of altitude of Ust. We would like for you to speak to the gym class at a school at 12:30 pm, and you will have to miss a class - can you go?"
We left at 12:23 pm to pick up some ASICS autograph cards at the hotel, and then to the school. Our driver, Jumbalya, looking rather dapper in his Navy ASICS cap that has now be inseparable from his head since Tuesday, took Igor and I.
They put us in a gym, with 50-60 of ages 7-18 in students plus teachers. I spoke, and Igor translated. It really helped me to have Igor there - he kept the kids in line as some were going crazy with cameras and "sit by me." When I stood in front, it helped that I could say a few words, and then while Igor translated, I was able to think of my next words.
The woman in charge of the school sports and Ust sport as well, was a 2:48 marathoner in her time. That is among the best in Kaz (Kaz national record 2:27:57, Zoya Ivanova, 1987).
After a few pictures, we were rushed back to University to get ready for my next class.
Fourth Report Waking up this morning at 6:20 pm Chicago time, I thought this should be called: "What did you do this past Saturday."
We had breakfast as a group, and talked about our experiences this past week. Tom Geotch said that we are dropped into a moment in time, in a country we have never been to before, and hope to make change. Yet in I Corinthians 2:1, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God."
"You cannot judge your works by one week in a country," Tom said. Some of the seed is thrown into the thorns.
"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." I Corinthians 2:2
Good conversation all around the table of six.
We left at 11:15 am. It took about 1:20 to get there, on some if not all, rough roads. I think we bottomed out the back end of the van 8-10 times as we hit holes in the road. Here we are, over an hour outside Ust, truly, in the middle of nowhere, on a road that wound through the steppes of Kazakhstan. Trees were none, as well as houses and people. Just this thin road, paved but in need of being patched and paved again, and telephone poles, some 18 feet high. The snows must be deep here in the winter. Mostly shades of brown and greens.
The Dachu was a square cinder block building on a lake, with no trees. I guess I had expected to see green foliage. Inside, there would be 12 of us for dinner in this large, beautiful wooden floored room. A large wolf skin, with the head, draped the back of the couch. We found out later that the Rector (short for Director of KAFU) had shot it. We also learned that if you were left alone at night outside the fence that surrounded the house - you would not survive. The wild wolves were in the mountains would find you.
Behind the Dachu, by 40 or so steps, stood the foothills of a small mountain, among other mountains. Most of us climbed to the top, including the neighbor's dog. Standing at the top, maybe 1,500-2,000 feet higher than when we started, and looking up the valley and over two lakes, and not a sound to hear except the wind. Took my breath away, and not because of the climb.
Dinner started at 2:15 pm, and would last almost three hours. It started with fish "from the President's lake." Only the President of Kazakhstan was allowed to take fish from this lake, and the Rector had been in the capitol since Tuesday as the representative for East Kazakhstan. We ate the fish for the President, and the Rector led the first toast, with nine more to follow throughout the course of the meal.
The Rector started the University in 1994, with the idea of a Russian background with American influence. KAFU is the Kaz American Free Univ. Many people said he could not do it, as he borrowed money from the bank and he and his wife had PhD's in Chemistry from a Univ in Moscow. He pointed out that he was the first Kaz citizen to receive a degree in Moscow. Tom Geotch started bringing E2 teams here 10 years ago.
As I was sitting there, listening to stories of the University and the issues he faced, with a never ending array of foods and BBQed pork, chicken and lamb that was being cooked outside over wood fires - some of the best I have ever tasted, I thought - what do I say next week when someone asks, "What did you do last Saturday?" " Oh, I climbed a mountain from the plains in Kazakhstan, listened to stories about a man and his dreams and visit to the President, and had a feast with fish from the country's President's lake." A bit surreal.
His wife, also a holder of a PhD in Chemistry, sat at the table behind me with her son and daughter in law. Thought they would sit with us, but the table only held 12. When they (the son and daughter-in-law) arrived, it was learned for the first time when his son announced his wife was going to have twins. Two of KAFU's recent graduates, Sasha and Adminty, sat at our table strategically placed among us to interpret. The Rector would tell a story, and then pause to let one of the women interpret. The other Kaz person at our table was the Univ VP Carla Goesh. I thought of Cindy often, as she would have been thrilled to be at the table, trying to pick up on words as the Rector spoke, rather than wait for the translation. The Russian they spoke, I was able to pick up on a few words like supermarket and country names. If my wife could have survived the fast trip over the rough and hilly roads!
I, too, gave one of the toasts. I spoke on family, and that no man is a failure without friends, and that I hoped that I would now be considered a friend to the Rector and his family. Each toast would last 3-5 minutes, with the interpreter speaking either in English for us or Russian depending on whom gave the toast. Every toast also consisted of the Rector and sometime others from our team, after the toast was complete, walking around the large table clockwise, making sure to touch each persons extended glass. Upon sitting again, a cry of "choot, choot!" Would ring out, and the shot glasses be filled again with Vodka, or as in my case, just topped off. We wondered what pictures Wheaton Bible would use as a follow up collage, which made the Rector laugh.
I think they had used the main cook from our hotel and two assistants for the kitchen. The drivers that brought us up, including Jumbalya, who has not been seen without the ASICS hat on his head since Tuesday, ate in one of the rooms off the kitchen.
We left at 5:15 pm, and then thanked our driver for driving conservatively upon returning to the hotel.
We are going to meet for breakfast at 9:00 am and prayer, and head to the airport at noon.