Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan (Part VI)

The following are Ryan’s words, not mine.  Enjoy his summer perspective on Kazakhstan:

“We’ve talked a lot about all kinds of things and laughed more than any group of people should be allowed to. We’ve formed this cool family from all sorts of places: Two Kazaks, Two Dutchies, a Brit, and an American thrown in for flavor. Forming relationships here has been an honor. Hanging out with my friends ends up being a lesson in world culture/languages. For example, I learned how to say I love you in Dutch last night. It’s also interesting to note the differences that pop up in different types of English(e.g. trash and rubbish).

The Saturday we got here we went with Nick, some of his friends from Almaty who were here to celebrate his birthday, and his brother and sister in law to see a few of the sights in Astana. The big one that we saw was The Baiterek. It’s a Space Needle type structure and you can see all of Astana from it. You can also compare your hand size to the President’s. Regretfully, mine was smaller.

As we walked around Astana I was struck by the differences in Astana and Shymkent. Shymkent has a more real…earthy..feel. That’s not the word I’m looking for but it’ll do. Astana is pretty with flowers everywhere, beautiful buildings all over the place, monuments everywhere…very Capital feeling. DC feels the same way…like it has a pretty face because it’s supposed to because it’s the capital. It’s  manicured with streets that are much more empty than any I’m used to seeing. I don’t fear for my life (as much) when I’m crossing the street here. We actually crossed one street that we were able to stroll across because there was almost no one on it. I’ve seen the street a lot since and it’s never very busy. The Shymkent contingent was shocked. I had some great beef shashlik (kebob) that night.

Sunday night there was a combination house warming/birthday party for Nick. It was wonderful to meet his many friends here. I was really excited and honored to be able to celebrate his birthday with him considering I’d only known him about a day. He got some awesome house warming gifts. Monday, we slept in and relaxed. It was quite nice. Monday afternoon Rafhat (our friend and translator from Aktobe that speaks English in such a way that I thought he was a foreigner) decided he wanted to go to the American embassy and since it was quite close by we along with Elizabeth went to check it out. Unfortunately it was closed. I was really disappointed… they have this big embassy on a big plot of land and all the grass was overgrown. You’d think we could keep up our embassy grounds as the face of America?!

We spent the next few days working with our kids and avoiding getting sick. Except for Rafhat we’ve all been sick at one point or another. We got our introduction to work on Tuesday morning. Then Nathan and I went straight away to a home visit with a very sweet little girl. It’s unfortunate that she’s losing her eyesight along with the CP issues that she has. We tried some light sensory stuff in some of our sessions and got very little response.

One thing that being here has taught me though is that there is ALWAYS hope for improvement. She loves playing on these big physioballs that we have. We have a set of twins that both have CP which was fascinating to me. I have a friend who’s a twin that has CP but her sister doesn’t so I’d never met a pair that both had it. It’s really interesting to watch them do therapy together because they feed off of each other as we get them to do it (e.g. rolling a ball between the two of them). I love the fact that a lot of the therapy we do looks like we’re playing more than it does therapy but if you watch you’ll see very quickly that therapeutic methods are built into these fun games.

Take it from me…you have to make it fun for them or then it’s nothing more than exercise. Another child we had virtually no control over the movement of the muscles in his body and I was frustrated for him. We were trying to walk with him…and he was doing it…he was doing it…and then…his body freaked out and it was over. We have a lady from Iowa that’s working with us while we’re here. She brought this therapy tool that’s basically applied like a second skin and as I understand it, it controls muscle movement so that the muscles can be retrained into correct movement. You look like a member of the blue man group with it on. They’ve used it on a couple kids including ours with the movement control issues. It seems to help. The problem is that it’s not readily available here and rather expensive.

I also helped out on a session with one child whose CP issues seem very similar to mine. It was great because most of the kids here have CP that’s worse than mine so there’s a lot I can’t directly relate to…but with him…it was as if I watching a younger version of me. I also had a great conversation with one of the fathers the other day. We ended up talking about American hockey teams…don’t ask me how we got there. I love watching these kids exercise because I’m reminded of their potential that is so abundant and I have so much hope for them.

(to be continued)

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