Thursday, April 15, 2010

Weekend Adventure: Turkistan and the Little Red Lada


We rode the bus for over 13 hours. We traveled nearly 900 kilometers, and all we paid was 1000 tenge (about $7.50). The buses are insanely cheap here, but you get what you pay for. Turkistan was small, and we didn’t actually see much. We arrived near a 6th century Mausoleum. After heading to the public restrooms, which were free and had semi-nice squatty potties, we washed up and got ready for a sleep-deprived day. We wandered around the Mausoleum and saw everything there was to see. We even had an English speaking tour guide who took us all around. Central Asia is such an interesting, but strange area. There is a lot of history, but it’s not well-known or well-documented. It all is tied with nomads, Mongolians, and people like Genghis Khan who the West views as a terror and locals here view as a hero. I don’t confuses me. However, wondering around these old remains buildings erected long ago was pretty fascinating. I walked in rooms that were once filled with royalty and gazed upon the graves of people who shaped history. Surrounding this mausoleum were many shops selling cheap souvenirs and Turkistan paraphernalia. We attracted all the locals because one of the girls in our group was black. Seriously, many of these people have never seen a black person in their life and saw this as life-defining moment. All of them wanted pictures with Veronica and she was making new friends all over the place. We ended up getting invited to this lady’s cafĂ© and ate in the authentic Central Asian style. Reclined on the floor with pillows and a very low table; many cups of black tea with milk, and dish after dish filled with meat. Dishes like Plof, and Lagman, Shashlik, and soups. I decided that as long as I am in Kazakhstan, I will not be a vegetarian unless I am cooking my own meals. I will eat anything that is served to me as long as it’s clean and well-cooked. We stayed in Turkistan until the late afternoon and then started searching for a taxi to take us to where we would be staying. On our trip it was the four of us American teachers (Me, Steven, Emily, and Veronica), a Kazakh woman with her son (Nazira and Emir), and another Kazakh guy (Orken); both of the locals were the girl’s students. The Kazakh woman invited us to the village where she had grown up and where most of her family was currently living. Ever since coming to Kazakhstan I had been in Almaty. Every big city has its own culture and so you don’t really get to taste what the actual surrounding culture is like. It’s like travelling to Atlanta to experience Southern culture. I’ve been in Atlanta and you don’t realize you’re in the South at all. So it has been with Almaty. I was thrilled to finally experience real Kazakh culture without the city influence. We finally found a taxi. We had to pay as much as the 900km bus ride—another 8 bucks or so. Except we didn’t get to ride in a bus—it was a Lada. I don’t know if you know about Ladas, but I will be sure to post some pictures soon. A Lada is a car built during the Soviet times. The model we were graced with was a very small 5 passenger vehicle, and 5 passengers would have felt cramped. Fortunately, we didn’t have 5 people in the car. Including the driver and the child, we had 8. We drove without any personal space, on each other’s laps, smushing each other for nearly 3 hours. Now that...that was an experience I will never forget! The Lada erupted ghastly fumes that choked us the whole way. And once we got off paved roads we didn’t have to worry about the fumes as much as the dirt and dust flying in. We all covered our nose and mouth, trying to remember what fresh air felt like. Now, this cramped car was not something that was legal, but we had no other choices. So as we would approach small cities and bigger villages they would toss the child in the back and we would all try to get down as best we could. When we were driving through one town the driver saw a police car and started to panic. He was yelling at Nazira in Kazakh and telling her to roll down the window. We had one window crank that we passed around (quite humorous) and she struggled to understand exactly what he meant as she struggled getting the window down. Unfortunately it was too late. The police were behind us with their lights flashing and their sirens spewing out bursts of loud noise. We pulled over, everyone nervous. After all, here was a car in the middle of Southern Kazakhstan filled with 4 foreigners breaking the law. They looked inside and they wanted to see our documents. We all pulled out our certified copies and prayed for a miracle. One of the officers looked at one and threw it aside. “I can’t understand this he said.”Nazira started talking with them in Kazakh and it wasn’t long before she said the magic words. Her father apparently worked as a food inspector and the police men knew him well (Thank the Lord for family connections). The police officers immediately become nicer, but they still wanted our taxi driver to rip off the dark tint on the front windows (This is what got us pulled over in the first place), and still was a bit skeptical. He yelled to a young boy walking a distance from the road. They young boy came. The officers asked (in Kazakh, of course) “Do you study English in school?” “Yes.” He replied. “Ask these foreigners something in English. They young boy turned to Steven and very rehearsed said, “What’s your name.” Steven told him and they he started talking to the officer again. The officer was convinced that we were American and that Nazira was telling the truth. We were still crammed in the backseat not wanting to get out and cause more of a commotion that was necessary. Our taxi driver ripped off his window tints and the police took him away for a few minutes. I got a feeling he was fined. He told Nazira that we had to pay him to get the tints replaced, but she yelled at him telling him that it wasn’t our problem. Kazakh has that same sound as German. Everything they say sounds like a heated argument and it can get quite scary when they’re actually arguing. Anyways, we continued on our way in the little red Lada embracing all of the incredible memories that were being formed.

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