Hello patient readers! As you may have guessed, my silence on here has been a combination of nonstop work plus ensuing exhaustion plus terrible internet "access." But I've been in a gorgeous hotel for the past two days with fast wifi and I STILL haven't written. What gives? What's wrong with me? Well...to give you a clue, I've nodded off twice since I started writing this post (NOT including photos) and it's only 6:00pm!
I have so much to say about my perceptions of this country and all the insights I've had but I think most of those thoughts and blog posts will have to occur later, after I've returned home. I have SO MUCH more empathy for what my students go through when they deal with international airports, transportation, simple things like trying to buy groceries, all while not speaking the language. I'm inordinately proud of myself for today's triumph - walking (in the high speed frozen winds and snow) to a local florist and purchasing a huge, gorgeous display of flowers for the woman who works for the US Embassy Public Affairs office who put together this whole program. Oh! Not only did I find the place, pick out the display, and buy the flowers, but communicate with the woman that I shouldn't walk back to the hotel w/ these delicate flowers in the freezing wind tunnel. So I also managed to flag a gypsy cab and get the flowers back to the hotel in time to present them to Maira at the opening ceremony for our big college fair. I'll explain the gypsy cabs later - it's how everyone gets around this country.
I feel like I should explain all the incredible parts of this trip that I haven't been able to capture in photos but that will also have to happen later. I'm almost late to meet our group for dinner - traditional Kazakh restaurant that we found last night. I finally broke down and ate the national dish - horse meat w/ homemade noodles. While the meat tasted quite good, actually....I still couldn't QUITE get on board. I must admit, there was still that mental block.
Okay, okay....I've only got ten min. left before I'm due to meet everyone for dinner. GOD!! I have so much to share still....hotel reviews, interpersonal group dynamics drama that's inevitable when there are people thrown together and forced to work and travel together under strained circumstances. The INSANE architecture of this last city (Astana)....It's all forthcoming. And it was also important to me to unload a ton of photos on y'all. Half of these were taken through the dirty windows of our shuttle buses as we drove from one school visit to another. The only time I have free to walk around and take photos is late at night. This IS a work trip after all.
Okay...here we go:
|The big mosque next to our hotel in Atyrou, the first city we visited. Atyrou is near the Caspian Sea but we didn't get to see it because we were too busy and didn't have anyone to drive us there. Atyrou is a weird place. I'll have to get to that later too....in order to say everything I want to. |
|Another thing about Atyrou - the Ural River divides the town and also, apparently, Asia and Europe. So there's a gazebo on each side of the bridge letting you know which continent you're in. |
|View on down the Asian side of the river....this is what a lot of Atyrou looks like - industrial and well...boring.|
|Yup, Asian side.|
|After Atyrou we went to Almaty, the city that was the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997. Here's some background in case you don't want to click that Wikipedia link - Almaty was a big trading center on the Silk Road. It's also, in my opinion, more like the Philadelphia (only because it's also a former capital) or New York City of Central Asia than the "Paris of Central Asia" as I'd referenced earlier. |
|We were in Almaty only two days but luckily the first one was sunny and we could see the mountains.|
|Our hotel in Almaty was kind of disappointing (especially in comparison to the really nice places they put us up everywhere else - amazing how quickly a girl can get used to luxury accommodations!) but it DID have a balcony and this was the view from my balcony. The big round building to the left is a circus and at night it's lit up green.|
|This is looking straight out my balcony. I never saw the Ferris Wheel up and running, probably because it's the beginning of Winter here.|
|See that lovely smog? The one afternoon that I got to spend running around the city this smog got into every pore in my face and strand of my hair, not to mention every fiber of my coat. I thought the sick, chemical smell would never come out.|
|See? Balcony. Nice.|
|View of an indoor market in Almaty. If you wanted to buy crappy pots and pans and overpriced coats all made in China - this was your place! Not so good for a group of American women who were looking for locally made things.|
|This is Baerbel and she works for the University of Delaware. She's also mostly a vegetarian so you can only imagine what she's thinking here.|
|There are many delicious breads in Kazakhstan - as evidenced here.|
|I'm still mad at myself for not at least trying on that pink coat w/ the fake fur. I loved it so.|
|Ooooh - this woman got SO pissed at me for taking her photo. She pointed and snarled at me, even though I did it quickly and I hoped surreptitiously. The one time I played the stupid American card!|
|This is the amazing and bring Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park, right near the Green Market where we hopelessly shopped for handmade things. |
|Woman feeding the pigeons (very necessary caption...you might not have been able to figure that out on your own)|
|Possibly my favorite photograph of the whole trip. Look at her sweet face! The pigeons were out of their minds with excitement too.|
|Yeah, yeah...some big square in downtown Almaty. Jennifer and I split off from the other two and had a whole adventure in the city, walking around in the nonstop drizzle that was more than a drizzle at times. We took a bus to what we thought was close to our hotel but wasn't at all....we ran across huge roads, praying for our lives (no such thing as pedestrian right-of-way here), and finally took a gypsy cab only to arrive back at our hotel EXACTLY as our taxi was leaving for the airport.|
|The other view of this square in Almaty.|
|My adventure buddy. She teaches English and Writing at a small private college in Salt Lake City. She's wonderful.|
|When we arrived in the capital city of Astana it was covered in snow. THIS was the Kazakhstan I expected to see. This is the Nur-Astana Mosque, the largest in Central Asia.|
|You can probably imagine, from those cranes to the right, how this city is constantly being built up....newer and fancier buildings every day.|
|Mosque again. Doesn't it remind you of the Taj Mahal of Kazakhstan?|
|The Shabyt Astana, or Palace of the Arts. This is a side view. From the front it looks like a giant dog bowl. I thought I was alone in thinking this until, when searching for the actual name of this building, I googled "dog bowl building Astana" and found tons of pages referencing the likeness. |
|This architectural and engineering marvel is the Khan Shatyr. It's Astana's newest (opened in 2010) and biggest and fanciest shopping mall. Yes, it's a mall. They wanted it to look like a floating tent. You can see it at night from almost anywhere in the city, glowing purple with sparkles of flashing light coming from within. Inside it's even crazier - at least four levels. The top level has a private BEACH that you can pay to visit and sit in the sand and artificial ocean experience. There are amusement park rides and just about any shop you can imagine. We did a college fair on the ground level. I know I've overused this word to the point of ridiculousness, but it was insane. I still don't know why anyone thought it would be a good idea to cram 20+ colleges and universities into a tiny square of tables in the middle of this wild mall. It's not really the ideal environment for recruiting serious students for studying abroad. But it was an unforgettable experience. |
|This is from the 4th level of the mall looking down|
|And looking up into the center of the "tent." You can see people riding on the little tram that takes you all around the inside edges of the mall up to the right there.|
|A restaurant inside the Khan Shatyr|
I'll try to upload more photos and add more of my thoughts....just as soon as I get a moment's peace!
Much love to you all! I leave Astana this evening, fly into Frankfurt. Spend the night in Frankfurt, fly to Dallas in the morning and will finally arrive back in Fayetteville around 6pm tomorrow. Then the day after that I'll get in car with my grandmother, sister, and daughter and drive the 4+ hours to Hot Springs for a family reunion/Thanksgiving. I can't wait to see my family!!!