Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adventures in Shymkent and Taraz

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.

Monday, May 25, 2009

How to tell you're back in Kazakhstan

There have been several experiences in the last few days that confirm to me that I am back in Kazakhstan.

These experiences began with the required trip to the banya. Once I got there, I found out that the pool was closed for 'remont' (repairs), so only the sauna was open. That was okay--I was really there for the massage. They have wonderful face and head massages there--but I don't recommend the regular massage--it will leave you feeling bruised and beaten up for days afterwards. I arranged for my treatments from the devyushka (literally, girl--but also means any woman working in a particular place), and gave her my name. Her response? "Christina! We haven't seen you in so long! Where have you been?" Then, as I waited for my facial, I made the mistake of putting my feet on the low table in front of my chair. Another devyushka walked by and snarled "Nelzya!"--literally, it is forbidden! It was good to be back.

Yesterday was another set of experiences--having to yell at the waitress in the restaurant 4 times in order to get a pot of tea, and another 2 times for a juice glass. She was busy putting her makeup on and didn't have time. What a great way to start the day. (I should note that in many areas of Kazakhstan, confrontation can be a way of life). That evening, we went to a restaurant not far from our hotel. Ordering for 7 people was a bit of a nightmare, and we didn't know what would show up or when. There were things we didn't order, and then some of the things we did order took over an hour to appear. When it was time to pay, I requested a copy of the bill for accounting purposes. The conversation went as following:

Me: We need a copy of the bill, please.
Waitress: Why? (glaring at me)
Me: We need a copy of the bill.
Waitress: Why? (again glaring)
Me: It is required (abyazatilna)
Waitress: Okay

Simply needing a copy is not enough. It has to be required.

I love this country! You never know what to expect, and it always exceeds any expectations you might have. It's good to be back.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back in Kazakhstan

Who would have thought that just a few short months after leaving Kazakhstan, I would be back here? I certainly did not think so! But here I am in Taraz (southern Kazakhstan), where I will be for the next few days before heading to Shymkent.

It has certainly been an eventful trip this far. It began with an ATM retaining the card of one of the professors with whom I am working--we had to go across the city and make multiple phone calls to get it back. Then, the driver who was to have taken my research group to Taraz yesterday never showed up. Apparently, he had a better deal. We had to go to plan B--but there was no plan B. Eventually it all worked out and we arrived here at 4am. The alternate plans involved the president of the Central Asian Geographical Society arriving at our hotel to assist us, which included a lengthy conversation in which my Russian skills were put to the test. I have certainly expanded my vocabulary on this trip!

There will be more from the road, as I have time. For now, I'll just add a picture of my "Russian family", with whom I had a wonderful dinner on Thursday. It was wonderful to see them again, and I'm looking forward to meeting up again when I return to Almaty.