The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 9, 2006

Local man returns from Kazakhstan




By STACY MILLBERG

Staff Writer

smillberg@starbeacon.com



PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP - - Tim Kirby is a lot closer to being a man now, than he was when he left for Kazakhstan two years ago, to volunteer with the Peace Corps.

He came back mentally stronger and physically lighter, but with a deep understanding and appreciation of a much different culture. The 24-year-old joined the Peace Corps after graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He always expressed an interest in Russian culture and had a desire to travel, he said.

Kirby said he lost a lot of weight and his personality changed in the two years he was gone. He admits his reasons for joining the Peace Corps were a little selfish, in that he sought to improve himself. The personal growth he experienced has taught him a lot and improved his life, he said.

"I feel very balanced and a lot less afraid of life," he said. "I feel so much more true to myself. I dont have to hide anything anymore."

When he arrived in Kazakhstan two years ago, Kirby was taught how to speak Russian and trained on being a Peace Corps volunteer. He was then sent to the village of Fyodorovka where he taught English at a local school.

After some time, Kirby was able to make connections in the city of Uralsk, where he worked on the weekends for a business incubator, providing job training to residents. While working at the incubator, Kirby was able to put his graphics design background to good use, as he worked in an Internet division providing bare minimum cost Web sites, he said.

After living with a host family for a while, Kirby decided he just wanted to move out on his own, so he got an apartment in the village. His little apartment left much to be desired, though, with no running water, no pipes of any kind, not even a toilet, he said.

"You have to go to the bathroom in a bucket and get water from a well," he said. "I did have electricity and Internet access, figure that out. Life was very extreme."

City life was very different, though. During his time in the city, Kirby said he took advantage of all the modern conveniences.

Loneliness was the most challenging aspect for Kirby. He had a difficult time making friends in the village, the place he was the most, he said. Fyodorovka has a population of about 5,000, he said.

Kirby said everything in the village was very brick, very industrial looking and very communist.

"During Soviet times, people had things," he said. "When the Soviet Union ended, they didnt."

Kirby said everything is broken and nothing is going to be fixed. Automatic heat is probably what is missed the most, he said. Last January, the temperature did not get above -35 degrees, he said.

Culturally, Kazakhstan is very rich, he said, but very different than America.

Hitch-hiking is a main form of transportation, he said.

"People hitch-hike to work every day," Kirby said.

One of the big differences he noticed is how helpful the people of Kazakhstan are.

"If you ask someone for directions, they will bring you there themselves," he said.

Kirby said Kazaks are big into hunting, but they have to make their own ammunition by hand.

"Most people use guns from Soviet times because new ones are too expensive," he said. "Most people are conservative on ammunition because they have to make it the hard way."

Tea is drank with every meal, he said, often with sour cream in it. Kirby said another thing he had to get used to was everyone puts mayonnaise in their soup.

"I have grown to like it," he said.

Kazakhstan has a lot of camels, he said.

"They eat them," he said. "They eat everything there - - camels, goats, everything."

Kirby said one of the most disturbing aspects of Kazakhstan is male behavior toward women.

"It is disgusting," he said. "If you take the worst guy you know, thats everyone there."

Marriage is very important, though, but not necessarily taken seriously, he said. With prostitution playing a big role in Kazakhstan, husbands are often unfaithful to their wives, he said.

Kirby noticed several other cultural differences as well.

"Our corny American stuff there is considered elitist," he said. "Like bowling is a luxury activity."

Kirby said a lot of things arent considered alcohol including beer, so drinking on the street is not uncommon.

"People party hard in Kazakhstan," he said. "And boy do they drink. They really, really drink."

Kirby said the roads in the village he lived in were terrible. Even after the highway was re-paved, it was comparable to a road under construction in the United States, he said.

Kirby said the changes he experienced in himself were sort of a slow evolution. Having to do without a lot of things, made him a lot stronger, he said. He also learned the importance of taking risks, he said.

Since Kirby is of Eastern Russian descent, he said he didnt have a lot of the challenges some of the other volunteers experienced.

Kirby plans to attend Moscow State University in November to study Russian. His primary objective while in school is to do an internship with a large marketing firm in Russia called Rose Creative Solutions.

"(Kazakhstan) provided me a very interesting life," Kirby said.