Monday, June 29, 2015

Over the Mountains and Far Away

Apologies for the delay in updates.  I've been a little bit busy getting some things in order and settling down.  Some things have gone well while others haven't gone so well.  In our first week, through some poor decision making I lost a few things, including a key to the dormroom, my old Kazakh cellphone, and my ipod.  Personally I'm not too upset about all that (though I will miss the ipod, but it was four or five years old), but losing the key caused some severe distress among my roommates and a bit of tension between us.  Things have mostly settled down, but there's still some lingering tension.  But I've resolved to move forward and enjoy my time here as best as I can.

School classes are rather a mixed bag--the classwork itself isn't too difficult, but all of the class is conducted in Russian, so there's often a lot of things I don't understand and it's quite difficult to ask a question when you're confused about the basic grammar or lexicon. But like I said, the actual work isn't too bad, but when we're in class I feel like a moron.

We've had some nice excursions in the past couple of weekends.  First we went to the mountains near Almaty--passing over the Medeo where i saw something amazing!  
Oh and there were some mountains or something too.

The weather up at the top of the mountains was so amazingly cool, I hated coming down from there back into the heat of Almaty's summer.

And this Saturday we went to Churin canyon.  Which is basically a "Not Quite so Grand, but Still Pretty Cool" Canyon, about three hours away from Almaty.  It was a little warm, but for most of the day we had an overcast sky so we didn't roast completely.

Things have been going well at the Kazakhstan Press Club, last week we went to an event for the Special Olympics and we took some of the photos that ended up on their instagram.  It was pretty humbling, though I think most of those photos were the ones Garrett took.  (By the way, you can follow Garrett at his website for some nice photos and videos of where we've been.

Politically, we haven't stirred the boat too much here.  Some of the people at the press club seem a lot more sympathetic to the more 'liberal' (as in Western European sense, not American political sense necessarily) and even among some of the random people I've met while having tea with the local Mr. Donerci place there's an acknowledgement that they're not living in a democracy.  But out of respect for our hosts, I don't press the issue unless they seem to be willing to talk about it.

That's not to say everyone here is feeling the love--one of our drivers was a die hard Putanist and we were told not to make any comments about Putin, because he might refuse to work for us (not sure how much of that was a joke from our trip coordinator), and I've lost a friend or two due to philosophical differences about Stalin, World War II (and presumably they weren't too happy about some of my FB posts about the Russian invasion of Ukraine--let's call it what it is).

So I've been a little gun shy of talking about that with people here.  I think a lot of the people who support Nazarbayev are also pretty pro-Putin and  buy the "Ukrainians are all fascists" line--though not all.  The RA who has been helping me out trying to find my lost stuff seems to be a lot more sympathetic to Ukraine and we had a very interesting talk about it.  I didn't however breach the question of whether people here are concerned about what has happened to Ukraine happening here, because she's actually from Turkmenistan (though she's half Russian by ethnicity).    But the general feeling I get, especially from the pro-Putanists, is that "it can't happen here" or that Ukraine was a special case because of the fascists and NATO/EU/ International Banking/Jewish conspiracy (Yes that is a thing still in some circles of Russia.  Anti-semitism is still pretty strong among the hard core nationalist groups in Russia and as of 2007 held half of the world's total Neo-Nazi population.)  So remember that next time RT talks about Right Sector--ask them about the National Bolsheviks


  1. interesting piece. Kazahkstand doesn't look half as flat in your pictures as it appears on the map.

  2. PS - can I also say what a pleasure it is to read something about Kazakhstan that doesn't feel the need to reference Sasha Baron Cohen?

  3. Yes, if you go north or out in the central and western part of the country, you'll see the steppes you're thinking off. However, Almaty is nestled in the Tien Shan mountains--which is apparently known in Uzbek and Kazakh as Tengri (which is also the name of the old nomadic religion in the steppes).

    I do my best to avoid SBC, I just never found the movie that funny and it's really, really unpopular here.