It certainly has been a busy week over here in Kazakhstan. There hasn't been much time to sit and write more than a hurried note now and again, let alone write something longer. Now that I'm back in Shymkent there really has been no free time. When I'm not working, there is time to be spent with friends here. There is a great Turkish restaurant not far from our hotel, though, that has free wireless internet--I have tried to spend a little bit of time here each day just catching up on a few things.
Our trip from Almaty was rather adventurous. It began with our driver not appearing at the appointed time. Several hours and multiple phone calls later, we finally were able to hire a few new vehicles. Of course, they could not meet us until 5pm--and it was at least 6-8 hours to Taraz (our next destination). Our meetings in Taraz did not go particularly well-while we were able to meet with the director of one of the transportation agencies, he was clearly a political appointee who did not know much about the operations of his facility. Perhaps the sign that stated he worked from 4-6pm Monday-Friday should have been a hint! Neverless, we were able to get some good information in Taraz--despite arousing the interest of the local police who wanted to know what we were doing and why we were there. They followed us for a few days, most likely making notes on our activities. If they just waited a few days, they would have been able to see our interview in the local paper--which stated exactly what we were doing and why.
Overall, though, Taraz was a very nice (small) city. Wide boulevards, lots of trees, and people who were very friendly. We were there for about 3 days, and then left for Shymkent. The drive was absolutely beautiful--some of the best landscapes to be seen in Kazakhstan, with the mountains serving as a backdrop. We were met at our hotel by a dear friend from Uzbekistan who works here in Shymkent. Within 30 minutes of arrival, both Bahodir and my friend Ira (from Shymkent) were there, and we had a reunion of sorts. Bahodir had to return to Tashkent that afternoon, so we drove him to the border. Along the way, we made a slight detour and met a colleague of his who invited us to tea. Did I say tea? I meant vodka. And more vodka. And then another shot or two. Oh, dear. There were 8 of us at the table--which meant at least 8 toasts and shots. And that was before the mayor and a few others showed up. I didn't feel so well the next day--but maybe that was from the beshbarmak (broad flat noodles w/salted horse sausage on top). Who knows.
It has been rather fun being back in Shymkent, seeing people I know or who remember me from last year. In Ramstore yesterday (a Turkish supermarket chain), the cashier and I stopped to have a long chat about how things have been, how my friends are doing, and when my friend Jerry is coming back (she sends her greetings, Jer and Cruz!) This morning we went to Sayram, which is an Uzbek town not far from Shymkent. It was great to explore the bazaar and visit some of the historic sights. Of course, I could not leave the bazaar without some small purchases--in this case, yet another tea service. This one is different, though--it is the Uzbek national design of a dark blue background and bolls of white cotton. How could I resist? It was only $12 for the entire service! Now I just have to get the darned thing back to the US.
Tomorrow we go to Turkistan, to see a mausoleum there. We're leaving early to miss the worst of the heat--it has been rather warm here, and no one wants to get even more sunburnt. I'm very thankful that I've brought lots of sunscreen.