Back in the USSR, you don't know how lucky you are boy
03.02.2007 - 05.02.2007 0 °C
From the moment we stepped off the plane Kazakhstan has been a weird and wonderful experience. Whilst I had been to former Communist countries before this is definitely a completely different kettle of fish. The soviet era is over but the flavour lingers in most aspects of everyday life. On the other hand Kazakhstan is moving forward in leaps and bounds and the Internet Cafe I'm in is top notch - but I think this adds to the complexities that make Kaz a very cool country to spend a few months in.
We flew into Almaty and were greeted by Andrew and Sarah who head up the Aid organisation we will be working with. They had some friends visiting who were due to fly out that night so we had the chance to check out Almaty with Andrew, Sarah, Max and Inga. It has been a mild winter thus far but the whole country had received a decent dump just before we arrived. A fresh coat of snow does wonders for a big dirty city, it's like a fresh lick of paint and Almaty was looking fabulous for our arrival. Within hours of touching down we were out and about making the most of our day in Almaty. First stop was the Chimbulak Ice rink just out of town at the bottom of the ski resort (which we will hopefully be heading to at some stage).
Next stop was the Green Bazaar to pick up some fermented horse milk and Horse sausage then on to a local Shashlick (similar to shish kebab) restaurant for some traditional Kazakh food and equally traditional Karaoke. After a very early start and a huge day it was time to crash out for 14 hours of Quality sleep.
The next day we had the chance to go to a Sunday club in Russian. It was a very cool experience hearing some of Hillsong's finest P & W being cranked out in Russian. The best we could do was hum along. After listening to the message through my translator (Andrew) we met a few of the people Crossroads help in Almaty who give disabled kids a chance to learn and experience things that they normally wouldn't have the chance to. This is a hangover from the soviet system where physically and mentally challenged people were segregated and ignored. It was great to meet people who had dedicated themselves to helping others in this way and it was also encouraging to see the end result of CR work before we had even started helping out.
One of the quirky characteristics of Kazakhstanies (both Russians and Kazakhs) is a fear of the cold. You would think they would have developed a thick skin over the centuries but no, they will crank whatever heating system is available to the max. This was particularly evident on the overnight train to Shymkent. Sub zero outside, high twenty's inside. I was uncomfortably hot by the time we had got to our cabin. We resorted to getting off the train wearing less than we should when it stopped to get our core body temperatures down so we could make it through the night without cooking. We were taken to our flat given a few minutes to freshen up then it was straight to work! But more about Crossroads next time.
One of the first things we noticed is that English is pretty much useless here. No signs are written in English and even the most basic phrases / words such as excuse me and sorry are received with a blank look followed by a flurry of Russian / Kazakh / Uzbek or some other variety of Central Asian tongue (not that we can tell the difference!). This also proves problematic at Crossroads where two of the 9 staff don't speak English and two of the staff (Nat and I) don't speak Russian so lots of things need translation. We have taken up the challenge and have decided to learn Russian. Thus far we have just learnt the Cyrillic Alphabet but next week we start tuition which we will have two nights a week (costing us $3.50AU an hour!). Hopefully we will be able to get around and communicate a little better soon.
After the Cold War, the AK-47 became Russia's biggest export. After that came vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists.
Ev and Nat