Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thank you

So many people have sent letters and called these last few days. It means more than you know. Thank you. I will try to respond to each and every one of you as quickly as possible--right now, I'm using an older laptop that my landlords loaned to me. It doesn't connect to the Internet, but at least I can write letters and bring them to the internet cafe on my flashdrive (which was somehow overlooked).

Things are going a little better here in Almaty. I would up spending yesterday morning scrubbing my house from top to bottom, then went to the Russian/Finnish baths for the afternoon. Life definitely looks better after a massage/facial/manicure, and a few hours in the sauna. Now I'm getting ready to go to Medeu to look up at the mountains. I'll start back at work next week--but for now, I need a little time to process everything.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cops and Robbers

There have been many positive experiences here in Almaty, but as with anything, there is also a negative side. Yesterday, I discovered this aspect for the first time when I came home after a short shopping trip to find that my house had been robbed. All of my electronic equipment, as well as some clothing, 2 suitcases, and a few other things were missing. As they say here in Almaty, kashmar--or nightmare. On the bright side, no one was hurt. My landlady came right over from work and we spent the afternoon dealing with the police and the embassy.

I must say, it was an interesting experience dealing with the police. I was called a criminal, asked repeatedly for the names of the men that I must have brought into my house (because Kazakh men apparently are irresistible. Must have missed that memo!), and generally treated as if the theft was my fault. While waiting for the embassy officials--because the police legally cannot speak with me without proper representation--the police officers sat on the couch in the living room and read the newspaper. Of course, this is the room that was completely destroyed by the thieves--they had to be shamed into knocking on doors in the building to see if anyone had seen anything.

While the robbery was upsetting (something of an understatement), at least I have many friends here in the city. Word quickly spread and people called and stopped by all afternoon and evening. It was nearly 12 hours later when I had my apartment to myself for the first time since returning home.

I will try to keep in touch as much as possible--but it will be a little more difficult until I can find a way to replace my computer. But possessions can be replaced--the important thing is that no one was hurt.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Picture from Thanksgiving dinner--and a real apple pie

I’ve just come back from a real Thanksgiving dinner with some friends—turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and the rest. Even in Kazakhstan, it is possible to celebrate in true American fashion. My contribution was the apple pie. Unfortunately, we forgot to take a picture before cutting into the pie, but this picture should give an idea of what it looked like. The design was rather tongue in cheek—and something of a joke among the Fulbrighters (a “C” surrounded by rays of sunlight). It is surprisingly difficult to bake a pie in an oven without a temperature gauge, and also in a square pan rather than the usual circular shape (the dough drapes differently in a square pan). Although I understand that baking the pie was easier than roasting the turkey. Stoves over here are rather small, and in order to keep the oven door completely closed, it was apparently necessary to prop the kitchen table against the oven. Over here, ingenuity is essential!

Tomorrow evening it is off to the drama theater for a Russian play. I don’t know what it is, yet—but it should be interesting. We’ll see how good my Russian is (or isn’t). Then on Tuesday, I will likely be going to see the classic Shakespearean play “Gamlet”. Right now, it is time to head off to bed and sleep off the effects of too much dessert. I’ll have to get up early tomorrow to start walking off all the pie…but it was worth it!

Friday, November 23, 2007


This year has been the first time that I have been both away from family and outside the US for Thanksgiving. While I do miss all of the traditions and the people, this week has been an extraordinary opportunity to reflect on what Thanksgiving really means. The holiday is really what you make of it. For me, it has been about spending time with several groups of teenagers, sharing stories of the US and trying to encourage them to explore opportunities to expand their horizons beyond thoughts of their immediate future. Exhausting, draining, exhilarating, and wonderful all at the same time.

Along with the other Fulbright students in Almaty, I was asked to travel to Taldykorgan (the regional capital) to speak to a group of teenagers living in an orphanage. We were presenting material on the educational system in the US, but were really there to provide encouragement and support for these teens who have been given few opportunities to think of a future beyond leaving the orphanage. Most of these kids are not orphans in the true sense of the word—instead, they were left at the orphanage by teenage parents, families who did not want more children, or parents with substance abuse problems. While it was apparent that they are well taken care of physically, there is little support and encouragement for these teens to think beyond their immediate future. If this group follows the well-established path of those who have already left the orphanage, many of the girls will marry young in order to have a family of their own—and likely be divorced within 2-3 years. Lacking connections and the requisite education, the young men will drift to the areas of town where the unemployed gather, hoping that someone will drive by and offer them a temporary job as a day laborer.

After a six hour trip to Taldykorgan (a distance of only about 300km), we arrived at the school where we were to speak. Most of the afternoon was spent giving presentations and spending time with the teens. I don’t know whether our talks inspired any of the teens to attempt the long and difficult process of changing their situation—but I hope that we did something positive. If nothing else, the students will remember the day that four American university students came to spend the day with them. A change from their usual routine, and maybe something that will make them smile in memory.

The following day, the four of us spoke at different middle/high schools around the city. The topic was the same, but the audience was very dissimilar to the day before. We were met at our hotel and driven to the schools—where we were met with great pomp and circumstance. There wasn’t the opportunity to interact with students individually—in my case, I was escorted personally around the school by the rector and was proudly shown all of the English language classrooms. It was clear that my role had changed—rather than being there as a mentor, I was instead an official representative of the US and treated accordingly. After speaking at the schools, it was time to drive back to Almaty. Fortunately, the return trip only took 4 hours (since we missed the traffic in Almaty). The trip was short and mentally exhausting, and I would leave again in the morning to start it all over again.

After returning home, I barely had 12 hours to prepare for my next public speaking event. And that 12 hours included time to sleep. Previously, I had been asked by the consulate to speak at the National Children’s Library in Almaty, describing Thanksgiving traditions in the US. With preparations for an early Thanksgiving dinner, as well as the trip to Taldykorgan, there hadn’t been any time to think of what to say—so I was a little worried. It does help being from Cape Cod, though. A few postcards of the area where the Pilgrims landed, a map, and the memory of Glenn Miller’s lecture on the human geography of the cranberry industry made all of the difference! The students were an incredibly audience, and my five minute presentation ended up being nearly thirty minutes. Afterwards, several of them remained behind to congratulate me on the Thanksgiving holiday (it is customary here to offer your congratulations for holidays, birthdays, etc.). Then, while drinking tea with the library director, the students came back to ask if I would come to their school to speak with them again. Naturally I agreed—their enthusiasm is irresistible! As soon as they left the room, they let out a loud cheer—it was one of those moments that I know I will never forget.

Tomorrow (Saturday), I will have Thanksgiving dinner with friends. It will be a real Thanksgiving dinner—complete with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. As I sit in my kitchen writing this update, an apple pie is baking in the oven and an empty pie shell is cooling on the counter. So, some things are just like home. And the recent outreach activities really make me appreciate how many things I have to be thankful for.

picture from Monday

There have been several comments on the picture I posted yesterday. For the record, I am NOT living on a secret commune in western Kansas, contemplating my naval. The picture was taken on the road between Taldykorgan and Almaty. However, there is a local term for the scenery in the picture. It is called the “Kansas Steppe”.

Also, if you click on the picture from the blog itself, you can see more detail.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


It has been an incredibly long and busy week here in Kazakhstan—a whirlwind trip to Taldykorgan to speak at an orphanage about the possibilities of studying in the US, and another talk at the National Children’s Library about Thanksgiving traditions. Today (Thanksgiving) is the first break I have had in nearly a week. I’ll be spending it catching up on some much-needed housework and going to the bazaar to pick up the ingredients for an apple pie for the Thanksgiving dinner my friends are hosting on Saturday. I had hoped to spend the day up in Medeu, hiking around the mountains—but the weather isn’t cooperative.

I’ll write more soon about the events of the last few days, and will hopefully have an update posted sometime tonight. It was an incredible experience, but one that was also very draining. Until then, I’m posting a picture to give you an idea of the incredible vastness and desolation of the countryside around Almaty. This picture was taken on the major highway between Almaty and Taldykorgan (the capital of Almaty Oblast). It is also the only road between these two locations—which makes traveling very interesting. Fortunately we were in a car that had a very good suspension system!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving and Outreach Activities

It is strange to be sitting down with a glass of wine right now, when back at KU the Geography Dept. is gearing up for tonight’s huge “Globe-O-Mania” competition to end up Geography Awareness Week. Normally on this day, I’m running around with lists and trying to maintain some semblance of sanity (frequently a lost cause). The event is always tremendous fun and a great opportunity for students to see a different side of the department (and no one has been too traumatized yet!).

The situation here will change tomorrow, though. When all of the volunteers—and Shannon, especially—are able to sit back and relax somewhat, the pace here in Almaty will speed up dramatically. I’ll be assisting with some of the preparations for a Thanksgiving dinner to be held on Sunday (good thing I finally learned how to make pie crust this summer, Mom!), so there will be some shopping as well as cooking involved over the next three days. And lots of list making—my inner control freak is completely and blissfully happy at the moment!!

Thanksgiving dinner is not the only event on the horizon, though. Early Monday morning I will be picked up by a diplomatic vehicle (how cool is that???) for my first overnight trip outside of Almaty. Next week is International Week, and each year the embassy/consulate works with an orphanage somewhere in the country to try to provide the children (or in this case, the teenagers) a broader perspective on the world. The goal is to encourage them to think beyond their immediate future—many of these orphans have no idea of life beyond limited confines of the orphanage. They have little thought of a university education—and face extremely limited prospects for the future.

The goal of the embassy program is to let the young adults in the orphanage know that there are opportunities if they are willing to put in some effort. The US government sponsors many programs to bring students to the States to study, and are additional outside scholarships available as well. The four Fulbrighters in the area have been invited by the consulate to travel to Taldykorgan (the capital Almaty oblast, about 3 hours from the city of Almaty) to speak at an orphanage and to give some idea of what university life is like in the States. Our role is to provide encouragement, and to let the young men and women know that there are possibilities to effect change in their lives and improve their future prospects. Often, they are never given any encouragement, so it will be an extraordinary opportunity for us to try to provide some hope for a different life.
We will be in Taldykorgan for two days—the first day at the orphanage, and the second day at local schools giving the same presentations.

I’ll write more after returning from the trip, and try to provide more of a description of the area. In the interim, here is link to some information on Taldykorgan. The site also gives a good idea of the intense love of statistics over here. It should be readily apparent that the author is not a native speaker of English. Considering that I will be going to an orphanage where there are a large number of children who resulted from teenage pregnancies, maybe stating that there are “27 treatment - prophylactic establishments” is not the best possible wording!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Happy Veterans Day!

It is a little strange being in Kazakhstan on Veterans Day—it is been a day that has reminded me of how much I miss the sight of the American flag flying in the breeze. Veterans Day is not a day that is celebrated here in Kazakhstan, so there were no parades or ceremonies. Instead, I went to the remembrance memorial in the park near my house where there is a large monument to those who served in WWII, as well as another statue dedicated to those who took part in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have so many family members and friends who have freely served our country. So, on this Veterans Day, I’d like to thank Dad, Catherine, Noel, Pepere, Grandpa Burke, Gramp Chandler, Uncle Leon, Neil, Brad, George, Wally, as well as others too numerous to name. To Geoff Stewart and all those who are deployed to distant places away from their loved ones—words cannot express what you do. Be safe, and come home soon.

Veterans Day should also not pass without recognizing the incredibly important part played by the family members of those who serve their country. They also make tremendous sacrifices, but do not receive the same recognition.


Just a quick note about sending a message to the “Kazakhstan Updates” group—any messages sent to this address automatically is forwarded to anyone who receives updates from the blog. While I love hearing from people, I don’t want to clog up anyone else’s email accounts. If you don’t have my email address, the best way to get a message to me is to add a comment to the blog—these are sent to me before they can be posted for anyone to see.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Shopping for Jeans

Yesterday I finally broke down and went to the bazaar to buy a new pair of jeans. After looking at the recent pictures from Tamgaly-Tas, I decided that it was well past time to retire the jeans I had brought from home. I also needed to buy a new purse, since the zipper on my old one no longer works. So…a trip to the bazaar was definitely in order.

How to describe the experience? Well, let’s just say that a trip to the therapist or a few glasses of Old Tbilisi might be in order. I knew that finding the right jeans would likely be the most difficult part of the excursion, so I headed to the clothing section of the Zelyony (Green) Bazaar first. There are numerous narrow aisles of stalls, packed full of any type of clothing you can imagine. Most of the jeans were pretty awful—they looked like someone was set loose with a bedazzler. However, there were some that were quite nice as well as flattering. The selection was further limited by whoever was operating a particular stall. There are no changing rooms at the bazaar—the merchant usually holds up a sheet to give you some semblance of privacy, so I would much rather have the merchant be another woman. It’s a little more comfortable that way.

When I finally found a pair of jeans that I liked (strangely enough, they happened to be [real] Levis), the fun part began. I had to climb over all of the jeans lying out on the stall counter, and then sit down to try them on. Apparently, that particular merchant doesn’t offer the amenity of a sheet. The woman also felt it necessary to…um, assist. The entire time, people were walking by and looking to see what was going on—strange men, grandmothers, school children. The bright side is that I was able to garner multiple opinions before deciding to buy the jeans. Fortunately, it seemed to be a unanimous decision, and I only had to try on one pair before clambering back over the counter to the pedestrian area.

What goes better with authentic Levis than a knock-off purse? Fashion is paramount over here, although it often seems to be taken to extremes. The most important accessory—a purse, of course. I finally found one that I liked—an imitation “Miu-Miu”. I really wanted to buy the imitation Versace, but had issues with the “Mede in Italy Ciani Versace” embossment. I suppose it is fine if you don’t read English—but it was a bit too much for me. I really like the note that was tucked into the purse I bought, though.

Don’t put in the sun and don’t touch rain
Don’t touch corroden, t, acid and alkaline (the actual spelling)
Don’t touch rough things

With any luck, I won’t have to go shopping for jeans again anytime soon. But if I do…well, I’ll know what to expect! And I’ll make a stop at the wine stall at the bazaar before heading home.

Monday, November 5, 2007


[WARNING: this post is relatively academic in nature!! J ]

Kazakhstan is a relatively new country, achieving independence only in 1991. One of the fascinating questions (for me, at least) is how people and the government of the country have shifted from accepting a common Soviet identity to a new vision of what it means to be Kazakh. Within a very short space of time, the citizens of the Kazakh SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) had to re-imagine themselves as citizens of a country that had never before existed in the modern sense of statehood. To complicate the matter even further, ethnic Kazakhs did not even comprise a majority of the citizenry. According to the 1989 Soviet census, the population of the region was about 40% Kazakh and 38% Russian. How, then, would it be possible to create a new Kazakh identity that validated the country’s existence? An obvious solution for the government was to draw upon the history of different groups in the region, and to create historic sites as well as to construct monuments and markers throughout the country. [In case you are wondering, this is an abridged version of a section of my Master’s thesis and will likely show up in the dissertation. It’s definitely a little more readable in this format—omitting such references as “Hooson’s seminal work on effective national territory” and “Agnew’s imperative not to view the state as a container of a homogenous society”. So now you know a large portion of what I do, without all the extraneous verbiage!]

Tamgaly-Tas is a great example of a site established by the government that emphasizes modern-day Kazakhstan’s connection with the far-reaches of history. It is located in the middle of nowhere—as I described in a previous post, it took over an hour to drive between 20 and 30 kilometers to the site. There is also nothing at the site—no souvenir shops, no restaurant, no place to buy anything. The only amenity is what was described to me as a ‘primitive bathroom’. That statement is an exaggeration (the word bathroom suggests that there is some sort of plumbing—which does not apply to a thatched-roof hut with a rough hole cut in the wooden floor. Outhouse is a better word). I do not want to suggest, though, that it was impossible to spend money at the site. When we arrived, we were met by several men on horseback. For about $10, you could take a horseback ride around the site and across the steppe. Kazakhs were historically a nomadic people, and horses have always been an important part of the culture. It is truly a beautiful sight to see someone riding a horse across the steppe—a National Geographic photo brought to life.

As we drove closer to Tamgaly-Tas, I began to understand more about the decision to use brilliant turquoise blue and goldenrod-yellow in the Kazakh flag. It was a beautifully clear day, without a cloud in the sky. The colors perfectly reflected the colors of the flag, from the blue sky to the yellow of the grassland vegetation. Driving across the steppe—on a path that had first been built for the merchants of the Silk Road—it looked as if the sky was reaching down to the ground. When we finally stopped and got off of the bus, the first thing I noticed was the air. It was the first time that I could truly breathe since arriving in Kazakhstan. The air in Almaty is incredibly polluted—so much so that I have developed a (second hand) smoker’s cough. In Tamgaly-Tas, the air was incredibly clean and pure, laced with a faint spice from the grasses—a wonderful scent.

The site at Tamgaly-Tas was established more than 3,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age by the Sakha people—or Scythians. The religion at the time was based on the worship of Mithras, the sun-god. However, this god was replaced by Tengri, the sky-god. The petroglyphs are part of a sacred site, located where the gently rolling plains of the steppe abruptly rise up in a series of low hills that have large areas of exposed slate (perfect for petroglyphs). The inhabitants of the area viewed Tengri as the originator of the universe, to be worshipped by all animals and people. Tengriism was an animist religion, in which shamans played a key role in bridging the gap between the heavens and earth. The petroglyphs at Tamgaly-Tas reflect this religion, depicting both mythical and real animals, the creation of the universe by Tengri, and shamanic ceremonies (including one of the most important, that of sexual relations between the shaman and an animal—usually a bull—which was seen as a sacred and desirable event joining the animal and human worlds. The site is situated so that on key days during the year (vernal and autumnal equinoxes, summer and winter solstices) very specific and sacred areas receive direct sunlight. Ceremonies were held to celebrate these events, and their locations are marked by sacred trees where people still tie white ribbons to mark their prayers.

It was very easy to see why the worship of Tengri might have replaced the worship of Mithras—the sky in the steppe is incredibly vast, and dominates the visual landscape. It seems to be a much more dominant power than the sun, and the light and shadows take on a life of their own. From the top of the escarpment, the steppe fades away into the horizon—very similar to the way the ocean shimmers off unendingly into the distance.

Even after the time of the Sakha people, the site continued to be used for ceremonial purposes. There are several graves from the Andronov period, as well as a burial kurgan (barrow) which would have marked the grave of an important personage within the tribe. The graves are all situated so that the individual’s feet pointed directly to the location of the sunrise at the time of their death. Women were buried facing the steppe, and men faced the sacred sites.

Two thousand years later, these same hills were part of the famed Silk Road. Markers (which have since been reconstructed) at the peak of each hill pointed travelers toward the main road which would eventually take them west to Europe or east to China.

I found it interesting that most people had never heard of Tamgaly-Tas until very recently (the last five or ten years). Although people knew of the existence of Tamgaly-Tas, it was not ‘discovered’ until the middle of the 20th century, when a Russian scholar explored the area. When I asked why the site was discovered so recently—and by a Russian, no less—I was told that the Soviet government did not view these to be appropriate cultural artifacts and preferred to forget their existence. More recently, though, the Kazakh government has cooperated with UNESCO to document and preserve the site. It is now an officially recognized World Heritage Site. In a relatively short space of time, the government has created a popular tourist site that celebrates the long-standing history of those who inhabited the vast steppes of Kazakhstan. Additionally, the site connects Kazakhstan to the Silk Road, even though most of the trade routes were further to the south. [As a note—the Caspian Sea, which borders Kazakhstan to the west, is named for the Silk Road. Caspian is a Persian word for silk, so it is the ‘Silk Sea’.] It was a remarkable opportunity to see such a beautiful place, one that tells so much about both ancient and modern Kazakhstan.


A few people have asked about sending postcards from Kazakhstan. While I would love to be able to do so, there is a problem. They don't have postcards here. Tourism is not as well developed as it is in other areas, and the idea of the 'souvenir stand' has not reached this area of the world. I'm posting a picture of the UNESCO designated "World Heritage Site" at Tamgaly-Tas to show just how little there can be at tourism sites.

There's also another factor in sending postcards--if you think that everyone looks at them in the US, it is nothing compared to here. Who knows what might happen--and if a postcard would even arrive? I will do my best to send something to those who have asked, but there are no guarantees.

Image from petroglyphs

More on the petroglyphs's a picture from yesterday, in the meantime. Just as a note--out of the 50+ people who were on the trip, only one other person wore hiking boots. I couldn't imagine hiking through all the loose shale in nothing more than a pair of Keds, but then...I'm American and fashion doesn't always come first. Instead, safety is a little more important.

Prospective roommates

After a few hours of sleep and vast quantities of tea, I am once again alert enough to sit down in front of the computer and write. It is a beautiful morning here in Almaty, and I’m enjoying the sunlight streaming through my kitchen window as I listen to the cheerfully subversive music of Elvis Costello (insert comment about the Grand Hotel Krasnapolski here, Mom and Dad!)

These last few days, I have not been quite alone in my apartment. It began on Friday night, while I was writing a few letters on my computer. Normally, the stairwell here is very quiet—most people who live in this part of the building are elderly, so it is pretty quiet. On this occasion, though, I could hear several people speaking loudly in the stairwell. It was pretty obvious that they had been indulging in some sort of alcoholic beverage (an educated guess would be Baltika 9, since that seems to be the local favorite). So…I was not about to go out and see what was going on—especially I haven’t learned how to say “can you please keep the noise down and go drink somewhere else” in my Russian class (maybe I should ask my teacher to teach me, though!). Also, confronting at least one drunken man in the hallway doesn’t quite seem like a safe thing to do. Fortunately, the noise dropped off after about 30 minutes. Since I was focused on writing, the situation entirely slipped my mind. That is, until I was about to go to bed around 11pm. I was sitting in my kitchen with just a small lamp for light (I don’t like the overhead light). The weather was nice, so I had opened the doors to the balcony in the living room earlier in the evening. Suddenly, my house was filled with the sound of very loud breathing. I couldn’t tell where it was originating from, so I very cautiously walked to the living/bedroom and turned on the light. It didn’t seem likely that anyone would be able to get into the living room—unless they came down from the roof, but this IS Kazakhstan, after all. Fortunately, there was no one there. That’s when I realized that the loud breathing had become louder snoring. Yes, there was a drunk man sprawled across my doorstop. Yurya (my landlord) tried to wake him up to tell him to leave, but the man was insensible.

The next day, I asked Lyudmilla and Yurya about the situation. They told me that it is not uncommon in the colder months. Sometimes it is someone who is homeless, but unfortunately most often it is someone who is too drunk to stagger home. We have an outer door that is supposed to be closed and locked during the night, but not everyone shuts the door behind them. And, of course, the top floor (where I live) is the most desirable location to pass out, since there is less likelihood of being disturbed. They normally leave early in the morning (which around here is about 9am)—but I’ve been told that sometimes it might be necessary to step over someone while heading off to work. Just when you think you know what to expect here, something new happens!

Sitting down to write this update, I suddenly heard another strange noise. This time, it was coming from the window—a continuous low tapping sound. I had left the window cracked open last night to try to lower the (incredibly hot) temperature in the apartment. When I looked over at the window this morning, I found another prospective roommate—a 4 inch preying mantis. Now, I have some standards after all—no strange drunk men, and no one/nothing that consumes its mate are allowed into my house. I usually have no problems with getting rid of insects and other creepy/crawly visitors (including drunks). A preying mantis, however, is slightly different. I have strange images of opening the window wider to get rid of it, but instead allowing the mantis into the house. And I really don’t want to chase a 4 inch bug all over the apartment. So…instead I closed the inner window and effectively shut the preying mantis between the inner and outer windows—kind of a homemade terrarium. It is now staring at me out if its huge pug-like eyes, and using its long legs to tap on the glass. I can really see why there are so many Far Side cartoons with at least one preying mantis. Just as long as it remains a case of “same planet/different worlds”!

I’ll write more later either today or tomorrow about the trip to the petroglyphs. Right now, I need to head off to the store—it’s time for a slight change of hair color and I’ve been told that Dastarkhan has a recent shipment of American products. I don’t mind experimenting with different shades of red, but I just don’t want one of those strange shades that don’t occur in nature…

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Rocky Mountains...or Steppe?

It has been another very long day here in Kazakhstan—leaving the house at 7:30am and returning at 9pm. The university had a trip to Tamgaly-Tas, about 2 ½ hours outside of Almaty. It is an archeological site with Bronze Age petroglyphs, and was absolutely fascinating. However, it was definitely not in the Rocky Mountains—rather, the site is a very low escarpment rising up out of the steppe. Not tall mountains at all. However, it did remind me quite a bit of Kansas (with the exception of the trash on the sides of the roads and old men riding donkeys across the steppe). I will write more on the site later, but am completely exhausted and will be heading off to bed soon.

Before I go to bed, though, I wanted to briefly describe the trip out to Tamgaly-Tas, since the bus ride was unlike any previous experience I can think of. We were on a large charter bus, completely full of people (and—in at least one case—someone had to sit on someone else’s lap so we could all stay on the bus). Tamgaly-Tas is only about 20 or 30 kilometers off of the main road. However, it took over an hour (closer to 1 ½ hours) to drive that distance. The road itself was once part of the ancient Silk Road—and that is approximately when it last received any attention or upkeep. Our driver, Sergei, needed to keep swerving off of the road to avoid the many, many potholes or uneven patches. What made it extremely interesting was that the bus also has a television—set to a channel showing the very latest in Turkish and Russian videos. Just imagine sitting on an overcrowded bus swerving all over the road (and off of the road) while the driver chain-smokes and ogles the scantily-clad women in the music videos instead of watching where he should be driving. There is no place quite like Kazakhstan!

More later—now it’s time for a glass of wine and a good book. I’ll be asleep within 30 minutes…

another day, another adventure

In a few minutes, I will be leaving my apartment to meet some faculty members from the university. They are taking me to the "Rocky Mountains" for an all-day trip. I actually have no idea where we are going since no one has mentioned the real name of our destination--and "Rocky Mountains" are not listed in my guidebook. should be interesting! I'll try to post an update soon about this latest trip.

In other news--apparently there is no daylight savings time over here. So, once you change your clocks back home, I'll be 11 hours ahead of the East Coast and 12 hours ahead of the Midwest.

It will be another busy week here--an art opening for the embassy tomorrow night, wrapping up the grading for the semester for my American Studies students, and trying to arrange for a visa to Kyrgyzstan for next weekend. Yes, Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek (the capital) is about 4 hours away, and a group of us decided to see if we can make it there for the long weekend. We've all been anxious to do some traveling, and the opportunity presented itself. We're also trying to put together a trip to Urumqi (Urumchi), China for the end of the month. It's only an overnight bus ride, after all!

Well, time to go make sure I have enough warm clothes for today. It hasn't been cold at all thus far, but people are already bundled up as if it were deepest winter. And, since I'm the guest of honor today, if I'm also not warmly dressed, people will be trying to give me their coats, gloves, etc. all day. They find it strange that I actually like it when the weather is cool (but I've been told that the climate here is different, so even though the weather doesn't make me sick at home, it definitely will here). More later...

Friday, November 2, 2007


I've had a few emails from people regarding the pictures on the blog, since not everyone is able to see the (few) pictures I've posted without actually going to the actual website. Apparently, there is a setting that needs to be adjusted to ensure that pictures are included with updates. Let me know if you'd like me to change this setting, and I'll take care of it as soon as possible.