You need a good reason to go to Atyrau, Kazakhstan. To go back a second time you need a damned good reason.
Fortunately, Sara and I had one of the best reasons ever, to visit Dostyk American International School’s students and teachers and a couple of our dearest international friends Seamus and Theresa Marriott.
Seamus was the first person to hire us at an international school around 15 years ago when he was a Principal at Shanghai American – we have worked with him on five occasions since and let me tell you, a school with Seamus and Theresa in the mix is a good school period.
DAIS is a small school with a giant heart. Less than a hundred and fifty students from 4 year olds to 8th grade the school services the children of employees working for a joint Chevron/Kazakh energy consortium. Basically it is Houston on the Ural since so many of the families come from that Texas city. Chevron is pretty hands off – leaving the day-to-day operations of the school to the faculty and admin. Hence them not batting an eye when a couple crackpot poets from Cleveland, Ohio show up.
The best part of our visit was that we had two face to faces with every class and for the most part we were in the classrooms together. This is a really rare and we reveled in the chance. We worked with the kids for four days writing everything from pieces modeled after Margaret Wise Brown’s important book with the four years olds to infomercials selling the US constitution in the 8th grade, we went a virtual Haiku hike in Ghana with fourth graders and extended metaphors with 5th.
We had wonderful dinners out each evening with different members of the staff – attended a birthday bash for a couple of teachers that included a visit from the fire department thanks to a hundred birthday candles (nobody was injured) and shared our hotel with Kazak pop stars who were in town to perform at a celebration denoting the 25 year partnership between Chevron and Kazakhstan. Theresa lead us on two brisk walks from Europe to Asia and back (it’s just across the bridge over the Ural River and takes about 20 minutes.)
At the end of the week we had a sharing session and virtually every single student got up and recited work written during the week in front of the rest of the student body and parents overcoming that number one fear of mankind – public speaking.
Chalk this one up as a success which is as good as any reason to go anywhere in my book.