Delight yourself in Banana Republic?

Jennifer writes:

Ever since we left Louisville at the end of May we have been living out of our backpacks.  So basically I have been wearing the same set of clothes for 4 months now.  I haven’t cared too much about it because we had been traveling, and I was happy about the relatively light load.  But now that we have settled down for a little while, I’m starting to notice the sameness in my wardrobe week after week. 

Weather started to change this past week.  It’s feeling more like autumn now.  Soon I think I will need to switch to my exciting winter wardrobe – 2 sweaters and a pair of jeans.  I’m a fairly shallow person; I like my clothes and I enjoyed buying new clothes back home.  But having lived out of a backpack for several months I realized that I really don’t need my closetful of clothes and shoes which are now packed away in boxes in a garage.  It’s refreshing to have a simple life.  I parted ways with my favourite stores like Ann Taylor and Banana Republic, and found that life is just as good without them.  This year has been good for me in terms of learning to live simply.  Clothes and shoes do not make me happy.  I want to find my joy and delight in God.  And I hope to grow in that area of my life this year.

Mark, the school teacher

I never imagined my husband as a school teacher. But there he is, going to teach in the local high school twice a week. I wish I could be there at the school to witness Mark’s fan base developing as junior high kids crowd around him, trying to tell him their names and to say hi. One of Mark’s new jobs this semester in Tokmok is to teach 2 English classes (grade 9 and 10) at a local high school twice a week. It’s no small matter, as he is required to give out assignments, grade the assignments and give real tests and real grades. It’s a challenge for him, but I believe he will be able to help improve the students’ English level, which appears to be quite basic. And perhaps he can squeeze in some time to teach them the Banana Song and Little Cabin In The Woods.

On the other hand, we have also started our teaching last week at the Center of Hope, a youth center offering after-school classes to students. Mark is teaching an advanced English class. I am teaching two intermediate English classes and one advanced Chinese class. Most of our students in the English classes are high school students. We have a variety of people groups in our classes – Kyrgyz, Russian, Uzbek, Kazakh, and Dungan. Three out of the five students in my Chinese class are middle-aged Dungan ladies. It’s a challenge to learn their names, but we’re getting the hang of it. And we never taught English or Chinese like this before, so it’s also a challenge to come up with lesson plans each day. By God’s grace, we hope to be able to help them with their language skills. If you know my Chinese, you’ll know that it’s pretty amazing I’m actually teaching others Chinese. Sometimes in class I have to have my students wait while I flip through the Chinese/Russian dictionary to find out how to write the characters. Or I need to rely on one of the students who speaks English to explain something to her classmates in Russian.

Although our primary job is to teach languages here, we do hope to have opportunities to talk with the students outside of classes and to build relationships with them. We hope to get to know our students and to share with them the Truth. We would appreciate you lifting up our work here in your thoughts.

Kyrgyzstan – our new home

Ever since we left Louisville, Kentucky back on May 20 we have been working our way mostly westward with the hopes of reaching the country of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. Well, now we’ve made it! We flew from Urumqi, China to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on August 29. God has been so gracious to us. We have arrived in several places either days before or after local attacks, earthquakes, or plane crashes. He has taken great care of us and we are now safe in our apartment in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan.

We have new friends here who are helping us to settle in as we wait for our classes to start at the Hope Clinic and Youth Center. We will be teaching both English and Chinese to mostly high school students here. Mark may also teach at a local high school.

We are very fascinated by the people and the culture here and though we are still adjusting, for the most part we are enjoying it. Our friends and acquaintances may be Russian or Kyrgyz or Kazakh or Dong Gan or Uzbek or Tatar or even German, Korean, or Han Chinese. Russian is spoken by most here and we are finding it a very difficult language. We live on Lenin Street right next to the Lenin statue and wonder why some cars have the steering wheel on the left side of the car and some cars have it on the right.

The bazaar is a great place to shop and it’s got lots of life. The money here is the Kyrgyz Som and we go to the bazaar to buy bread, milk (which is straight from the cow), eggs, and other items, including choosing from many, many different kinds of snacks that they sell here.  

We have our own furnished two-bedroom apartment with almost everything we need.  We don’t have a TV or computer at home, so in our spare time we have been playing games and reading.  The electricity and water go out twice daily, once in the afternoon and once in the middle of the night, for several hours.  We are trying to get used to that.

Classes will begin next week.  We are looking forward to meeting our students and sharing our lives with them for the next three months.

Donkeys, kebabs, and desert

Hello friends!  It’s so good to be back in touch with you.  Since our last email update, we have traveled from Yunnan to the wild west of China, a.k.a. Xinjiang.  It’s a huge place with at least 2 deserts and big cities right in the middle of the desert, it seems. While plenty of Chinese people live there, it has several different people groups with the majority being the Uyghur (wee-gur). They speak a language similar to Turkish, eat Turkish, and look Turkish. We felt like we had taken a flight from China to Turkey.

We really enjoyed learning some Uyghur words and going around talking to people, trying to make friends. We visited some animal markets, plenty of bazaars, and ate our fair share of lamb kebabs and polo, which is a rice dish with carrots and lamb. Many of the people are farmers and drive donkeys back and forth everywhere. We think donkeys are great and would like to own a donkey and cart someday.

Our Xinjiang adventure took us from Kashgar (western Xinjiang close to Tajikistan and Afghanistan) down south to Yengisar and Karghilik, where lots of knives are made. One of the knife merchants was trying to sell Mark a knife.  He showed Mark how sharp the knife was by shaving off part of Mark’s arm hair before we realized what was going on. 

On our way south to Hotan we saw huge white mountains off in the distance on one side and desert on the other side. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, but actually we stayed in really nice hotels (3 or even 4 stars) during this part of our trip. Hotan is known for all of their jade. We were swarmed with jade-sellers in the market, but we’re kind of cheap and did not buy any of their $1,000 pieces of jade they had found in the river. Yes, there are rivers in the desert. After Hotan we took a really really long 21-hour bus ride straight through the desert north to Urumqi. We drove directly through the 2nd biggest desert in the world – the Taklimakan desert. Our bus was a sleeper bus with tiny little beds, but we made it ok.  And we were privileged with an old Chuck Norris classic on the little TV screens, one of which was about 6 inches from Mark’s head.  In this part of the world the desert is your bathroom.  Our bus would stop in the middle of nowhere, and the men would go to one side while the women to the other to take care of business.

The people in Xinjiang were so friendly to us and we are so thankful for our time there. We wandered around their old towns and saw how people lived. Some of it is similar to long, long ago like the first century with donkeys, dirt roads and dirt houses.