Sunday, 5 October 2008

I vow to thee my country...

We have been here 5 weeks and I guess the culture shock is beginning to bite. Even after all these different places, and knowing that it is going to happen, I never anticipate the effects of Culture Shock. 

So last week we had a few issues at home in our temporary apartment (which is very comfortable, there is no "camping" happening here!): our hot water was off (as previously detailed), our dishwasher had broken down, we received news that after our entire household which was safely packed up in Seoul at the end of August has still not left the Korean Peninsula (ie it will still be at least 8 weeks before we see it again, and this includes all our winter clothes), husband has been working until 10pm every night and most of the weekend, following a week of being away in Moscow. I was feeling like a single mum in Almaty: a place which I really don't know and have no mates. 

OK, it isn't all misery. I have started to find some great potential friends and hosted a successful first babygroup meeting, forced myself to go to a International Women's Group coffee morning and met a lovely German lady, we have seen real progress with the kids' Russian language (having 10 lessons a week is beginning to pay off), and even my Russian is starting to sink in. But this darn culture shock....

So we were having breakfast and B started to hum the English hymn I Vow To Thee My Country.

"Have you been singing that at school?" I asked. 
"Yes, we sing it nearly every day. That, or the Haileybury Song," she replied. 

So I went on to YouTube and found a version sung by a huge congregation and we all listened, and it took me right back to being at school (you can also listen at . And normally associations with school just make me remember the terrible insecurity of being a teenager which is something I am very happy to have left behind, but this time I remembered only the beauty of the buildings, the cloisters, the dew on the rugby field and the damp cobwebs on bushes that you passed on the early-morning walk to breakfast in my Devon boarding school. And also the tremendous sense of friendship, belonging and fun that we had there. And the music of this great british hymn took me back to going to chapel every day (not in the sense of a religious re-awakening (!) but cameraderie. And I also remembered the day that a guy called Noel threw up from a hangover onto a guy called Dwarf's neck during morning service (or the other way round I can't remember) which in itself was disgusting and hilarious, but also saw the lid lifted by the school authorities on an outrageous alcohol distribution and consumption system in place at the school for the Saturday night socials and resulted in mass gatings for all sixth formers, several suspensions and I think, an alcohol amnesty for a while. All great British stuff.)

Anyway, this swarm of memories made me fill up with emotion and tears and I started snivelling into my cafetiere as I filled it with boiling water. A pitiful scene really, standing in my dressing gown, looking out at the hills of Kazakhstan, I vow to thee my country playing on the computer, in tears... feeling for all the world like I needed to cry out "I want to go HOME". 

Husband started to look a bit worried when he heard me sniffing back the tears, and I am glad to report that I am now completely over the whole ridiculous business. But it is strange what can bring on the water works. Seems that a good blub is all that is required to get the culture shock out the way. That, and a good tune by Holst!!

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