Nanci's Guest Post - Travel Letter #5
To See photos from kazakhstan go to:
With Almaty thousands of miles away, its alot harder to do this, but i should relay a few more things before i forget the details.
if you have a globe, you really should look for almaty, kazakhstan. its actually on the opposite side of the planet from SF, CA. (you could dig a hole to kazakhstan...) The city is near the china and kygystan borders. The culture of the city is influenced largely by the Kazakhs, uzbeks, kyrgyks, tajiks, tatars, turkmens, turkey, mongolia, and ofcourse in the last 200 years by russia. From what i can see, China, which is really close, has no cultural influence.
the kazakhs are a nomadic, horseback peoples, herding animals. there is little written history. they did not live by borders. they lived in transportable yurts (yorta) and ate mostly meats. their history was maintained mainly by music (in the oral folk tradition). originally the kazakh written word was put down using arabic characters, but after the russian influence, they switched in 1940 to the cyrillic alphabet (with 33 letters) and added 9 extra letters to represent sounds that are used in kazakh, but are not found in russian. kazakh is a turkish language. the borders of kazakhstan (and other central asian countries) were defined artificially by stalin around 1924. To this day, there is a diaspora of kazakhs living outside the borders who are trying to get permission to return. Kazakhstan was a soviet republic until the breakup of the soviet union in 1991.
Almaty was a city created by the russians as a frontier outpost in 1854, north of the silk road. In 1991 Almaty was the site of a meeting at which the USSR was officially pronounced dead. Almaty is located in the southeast corner, near to china and was the capital. Astana, in the north,central area is now the capital - the change was made recently by the president for economic and political reasons.
Kazakhstan is populated primarly by kazakhs in the villages, with the russian populations concentrated in the cities (almaty and astana). Hence Kazakh (the national language) is spoken mostly in the villages, and Russian is spoken mostly in the city. The land is rich and varied including the steppes (what is that?), desert, and mountains.
The economy is driven by natural resources mostly oil, as well as coal, iron, natural gas, wheat, and tobacco (hence our friend who works for philip morris). Almaty is the wealthiest city in central asia and is full of foreign investors from both the east and the west.
Having lived there for two weeks, it really feels like what it is, a combination of old traditions (as a mixture of central asian cultures), soviet union's leftover influences, european sophistication, all nestled next to the mountains and very FAR away from america.
I noticed early on that there is NO WIND in Almaty, and the temperature never seemed to change more than 1 or 2 degrees. Its amazing but without wind, 32 degrees never feels cold. But as a result, the air quality is terrible. I didn't appreciate that until we drove to the mountains (less than 45 min car ride) and looked down on the thick smog. It can't be healthy to live there.
I will end this by saying my flight home was thankfully less interesting! I did have 8 hours to kill in Frankfurt, unfortunately tho it was 6am to 2pm.
I took a train to recommended neighborhood, Hauptwache, (impossible to pronounce). When i left the train station, the street was so deserted it was creepy (9am sunday in germany with all stores closed). I was about to go back to airport, when i turned around to see a white angel. actually, it was another woman. a beautiful woman, all in white, hat too. i asked her if she spoke english and she told me she didn't know anything, she just just got off a plane and was on layover! So we teamed up. She was dressed lightly having just left the summer of australia, so i lent her my furry bulky brown leather gloves - they looked funny with her white outfit! we saw alot and talked alot. it was great.
And frankfurt, once it comes alive with people, which is about the time i had to leave it :( is a Beautiful Place. i may now have to visit germany - i never had an interest before.
my last memory of the trip home. sitting next to a nice, older swedish couple (for 12hours!!!!!!!!!!). the man told me he was a neuropathologist studying primitive cell development and migration and was going to give a talk (to the UCSF memory clinic!). "you understand what i do?" he said. we had some great conversations.
As i write this, i'm in SF. Genice in Jiana are in Oakland. My best friends just had a baby 2 days ago. And I am adjusting back to life in the US.
So, if anyone ever asks you if you'll go with them to Kazakhstan,
Posted by genicejacobs
at 8:14 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 28 January 2005 11:44 PM PST