Monday, May 24, 2010

Weekend Adventure: Shymkent


Seeing that over a month has passed and I never finished talking about my adventure to the country/Turkistan/Shymekent, I thought I would continue despite my tardiness...

At the top of the mountain we had an incredible view of the entire village and saw the steep mountains, and the vast empty desert. Up on the top of the mountain Emily actually had cell phone reception and got in touch with another friend who was trying to find us. He ended up arriving in the village which surprised all of us, seeing that he basically had to follow a blind trail, with no reception and vague directions. We went back to the house, ate some more traditional food, with more delicious salads. We rested, did some knitting, chatting, watched a movie in Kazakh, and then hit the pads (beds). After bearing the cold night we woke up early, had a quick breakfast of undercooked, fresh eggs (delicious!) and then headed to the road to catch our bus. It was a minibus, like the kind of van that holds 12 passengers or so. Except this was Kazakhstan style. Most of the seats were taken out and we fit about 32 people in there. Again on each other’s laps and squished into the corners. We went on the bumpy roads again for about 3 hours this time heading towards Shymkent instead of Turkistan.

Shymkent is a city that is despised by most Almaty residents. The Southern region of Kazakhstan is looked at as the “barbaric desert.” If any of you has seen the wildly exaggerated movie, Borat, you will remember that he makes a bag and tries to kidnap Pamela Anderson. While this is exaggerated for the humor of Hollywood, this really does happen in the regions of Shymkent. If a guy likes a girl, he kidnaps her. Don’t worry, the guy and the girl usually plan it and it is like some quirky way of popping the question. The girl can choose to leave him and go back to her own family, but it is considered disgraceful. Luckily, before going to Shymkent I hadn’t heard much about the city, so I was able to enjoy it without judging it. It really is a beautiful city, with well kept streets and good weather. People from Almaty will tell you that the reason the city is so well kept is because the locals are not true Kazakhs. They are mixed with Uzbeks and they are hard workers. This is the main reason people from Almaty hate the people from Shymkent. Central Asia is fascinating. These countries we see on the map don’t mean anything; they are a result of Europe and the Soviet Union drawing lines. Central Asia is all about tribes, and strong ethnic/cultural prides.

When we got off our minibus we got our bus tickets to go back to Almaty, went to the bathroom, and got everything adjusted. We left our bags on the bus so we could do some exploring. While we were waiting for everyone to finish in the bathroom there was some “bumpin” music playing. Of course, Emily and Veronica can’t stay still when they hear music like that and so they started dancing. Nazira joined in and we had girls dancing all crazy right in the middle of the bus station. There was this big, old lady that saw and joined in from a distance as well. The whole situation was just one heck of sight. As if speaking English and looking American didn’t make us stand out enough. Pretty soon a car pulled up and some police men called out. Nazira talked to them, and sure enough they wanted documents. They thought we were all crazy people hyped up on drugs. They threatened to take us to the police station, but Nazira, like all good Kazakhs do, argued with them and they went away.

We had more than a few hours until our bus left so we hopped on a regular city bus and wandered the city. The first thing I noticed was that everything was cheaper. Buses cost 35 tenge instead of 50. We ended up walking by this mall and went inside. With its 3 stories, many stores, and shiny escalators I almost thought I was in America. But, after being in the country and living a radically different and crazy life for a couple days, an American-style mall just wasn’t attractive so we left and walked around the city looking for a good place to eat. We ventured around a lot of the city, but everything seemed to be closed, which was very frustrating seeing as it was the middle of the day. Business owners do not fight for your money outside of America, if they like you, they serve you, if they don’t, get out. And if they want to close their place in the middle of the day it’s cool. Who cares if you lose out on a few customers? Just the other day I was buying potatoes and when I took a bad potato out of the bag and told her it was no good, she grabbed the whole bag out of my hands and just gave me my money back. I just don’t understand it. We walked for awhile and came to this park where we shot some pellet guns and rode on some shady ride that was sparking and shaking and spun around via big fans strapped to the top. After the park we continued walking and finally found this nice Turkish place where we were graced with amazing food! I got this pizza-like-thing that was sort of a loaf of bread covered in cheese, vegetables, and meat. We all had our fill and then decided it was time to get back to the bus station. Instead of taking the bus back like normal people we decided to walk. Did any of us know the city? Nope. But, it was okay because we had people with us that could speak Kazakh and ask for directions, right? Not really. We walked around, completely unsure if we were going the right way, counting down the minutes until our bus was supposed to leave. Emir (Nazira’s 6 year-old boy) was smashed. He was too tired to go on so I he did rotations from my shoulders to my back to my arms; something that has become very common whenever he goes anywhere with us. But, we made it back to the bus in time and it wasn’t long before we were bumping up and down on the horrible cross-country roads back to Almaty...

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