Sunday, August 7, 2011

Goodbye Almaty

Alas, my time in Almaty has come to an end. After spending eight weeks living with a Kazakh host family in the heart of Almaty, Kazakhstan's commercial, financial and cultural capital, it is time for me to pack my bags and return to life in the U.S. 

So what did I think of Kazakhstan? It is a fascinating country with some of the most hospitable and gracious people you will ever meet. Living with a Kazakh host family provided me enormous insights into the consumption patterns, behavioral practices and ethical norms followed my traditional Kazakh families twenty years after the end of the Soviet Union. Life is so different here. People have so little in comparison to the American upper-middle class, yet they live comfortably. Daily life continues to be shaped by the Soviet Union: people go to the Apteka for medicine, the local convenient store for bread, cigarettes, alcohol and water, and the bazaar for groceries despite the growth of Ramstor and other supermarket chains.

Moreover, the family continues to be the center of all activity. Whenever I meet a new person, they ask me not about my studies and what profession I intend to pursue. Rather, they ask my age, whether I am married (to them, the early 20's is a perfect time for marriage), the number of siblings I have, the age of my family members and whether I plan to have a big family. While most Kazakhs in my age cohort understand my desire to work and then start a family, most people over the age of forty react strangely to this. The culture here is just so different from the U.S.

Finally, there is an entirely different conception of time here. Time moves extremely slowly, especially without constant Internet access, smart phones and crazy work schedules. People take time to relax and enjoy chai (tea) with family and friends. As someone who runs on Japanese time (10 minutes early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable), I initially found the Kazakh perception of time to be extremely, extremely frustrating. I soon realized that there is nothing I can do other than accept that I am living in a new and different culture.

All in all, I loved spending two months here and I cannot wait to return. I feel that I am just beginning to understand the country and it is time to leave. I must give a big thank you to my host mother Gulshetai, and my host sisters, Moldir, Aliya and Kamila, to welcoming me into your home, culture and family! Also, thank you to all the friends I made here and people I met for welcoming me to your country and sharing your candid insights with me.

The country's complex history, coupled with its modern experiences post-1990 and burgeoning oil wealth create a complicated question that no political scientist, or even Kazakh, can truly figure out: What is the future of Kazakhstan? Moreover, what will be the effects of "the future Kazakhstan" on regional and global security? 

I do not know the answer to these questions, but I will continue to write blog posts sharing some of my experiences and opinions on Central Asian political, economic and security affairs when I am in America. There are many stories that I have yet to share, so please continue to follow The Sholk Road Adventures!

For now, goodbye Almaty! 

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