Friday, May 11, 2007

tag it, bag it and sell it to the butcher

2 years, 8 seasons, 1 1/2 kg lighter, about 6 sticks of deoderant and almost a full bar of soap later, it's about time to be headin' home. The end comes like a ghost, faint and lurking, you know it's near, but have a little trouble trying to fathom the phantom. I'm torn between bouts of reflecting back on an this odd journey and projecting forward to one that I hope will prove to be another wild run down a different rabbit hole (but at least this time it'll be in my own backyard). 24 months have been chipped down to 1. I'm not in a hurry to leave but I'm happier the closer the time comes. I'm not looking forward to getting back to the old life but moving on to new life. New life; Something with a cause. Something worth pouring my life into. Something fresh. Something musical. Something true. Something inline with my ongoing personal revolution. And maybe something with a hot shower 2-3 times a week..instead of 1 every 2-3 weeks.

I'm still taking tutoring lessons for Kazakh, a language that'll be obsolete right about the time I cross the border on the way out. But I''m hoping to run into a few stateside Kazakhs before all my language skills turn back to goo. I don't regret choosing Kazakh over Russian at all, even though it's jacked my brain worse than a metal pipe beating. But it's probably loosened up some rusty cogs that decayed on my float through academia. In any case, I'm kind of inspired to get mildly fluent in Spanish. Learning any language is hard, hideous work. You forcefeed the brain a bunch of meanings to attach to the abstract sounds and after a few days it's puking up everything like a sick cat. You can't remember what to say, or how to form it, all that comes out is a gurgling stream of air, like something's deflating. But for every study session, a few things sink a little deeper than others and they stick. So after awhile, you've got a sizable conglomerate of grammar forms, flash phrases and simple words that become your basic communication, which gets you past the first stage of smiles and avoided eye contact. Then you take a fistful of horse and shove it into your face. Another day ticks by but it doesn't feel like it until an event, planned or unplanned, comes along to break you out of the routine. Which on a smaller scale means a surprise visit from friends to go forage for wild tulips, but on a grander scale, it means heading 10000 miles back home. I guess on the grandest scale, it means death. I didn't learn Kazakh for a resume. I didn't learn it for a cheap parlor trick. I'm not Indiana Jones out here looking for a golden goblet. I learned it to serve Kazakhstan, and to this end it's worked for me beautifully.

Let's have a few reflections on some of the people and events that have transpired over the years.

The Cowboy - Minutes before the train departed I boarded and took my seat in the 4-person compartment. Seconds later the man sitting next to me chimed in a sly, crisp, English "Well, what do you know?" Good question. What did I know? I pegged him as a standard Russian type but his English was clean with a polished soft and southern accent. I was shocked. I'd just spent a week foraying and cavorting with a large group of Americans and was now back beside myself settling in comfortably behind the language barrier, until it was flattened by this familiarity. So I asked him where he was from in the States. "Never been," he says with a tobacco chuckle,"from the Ukraine." Pieces began to fall into place. Americans (besides PCVs) are a rare find on the KZ railroad circuit. This is a system that gets you from one end of the country to the other in about 55 hours. By plane; 3 hours. But it's a pleasant ride with all sorts of surprises from drunken supervisors to the nonstop rhythm of mobile vendors weaving through the wagons, to a Ukranian cowboy speaking fluent English. But that's what working with Texans (in the oilfields) and 17 years of studying a language gets you. That and a Southern, Boston, and Scottish accent. Somehow he had all three, though they'd come out one at a time. His name was Constantine but he goes by Stan. He was mellow, dressed in denim, he loved country music, he smoked Marlboros, he had genuine ostrich skin boots, boasts a shotgun and six shooter pistol at his home villa, eats hardboiled eggs, enjoys a brew or two with his day..all the telltale signs, I know one when I see one. This was a cowboy. And to be honest, I wish the story got better than that so I wouldn't have to kill it like I'm about to do right now..

The Garden - I can't really gauge how different my time would have been if I would've chosen to learn Russian instead of Kazakh. But there is one thing that would've been different. Now's the time when everybody is digging up their gardens and preparing to plant some crops. Our garden is no small plot. Last year, a local friend dug it. This year he's nowhere to be found. Rumor has it there's a guy with a rototiller floating around somewhere that'll take care of your of all your needs in about 2 hours for $15. But where this hero was was not to be known, so it was time to step up to the plate. I took the shovel, went out there and started slaving away like I just got kicked out of Eden. I finished it earlier this week after about 25-30 hours of hard gulag labor. Last week, when I was about half way done, my host mother came home. She had hunted down the rototiller man only to find that he was backed up for the next few weeks. The interesting part was that he had already stopped by our house and someone turned him away..Hmm, I thought, I wonder what..ahh yes; I recalled a few weeks previous when I heard a pounding on the window. I sauntered outside and came to face to face with a big Russian dude who thought I was Chechen. We couldn't understand each other and I tried telling him my host mother would be back from work shortly. He kept gesturing towards the trailer behind his car on which some kind of device was resting. But I said I don't understand, thanks anyway. At first glance it might seem like Kazakh was working against me. However two important things happened here. 1 - I was finally able to help out my host family by doing something more than sitting around like a lummox. and 2 - Probably as a result of the first one, it's improved relations with them (host family) quite a bit. So it worked out afterall. Can ya dig??

Kazakh Names - They're fresh, literal, and a great way to label someone for a lifetime. Here's a few samples. Boys - Steel, Justice, Citizen, Arrived Safely, Purchased, Pure, Lion, One Soul, Happy Soul, Light Soul, Rich Party, Joy, Power, Purpose, Valiant, Peace, Dream, Moonking Girls - Silk, Venus, From a Flower, Light Flower, Flower Soul, Expensive, Soul, Pristine, Moonlight, Moon Wise, Beautiful, Beaver, Diamond, White Baby Camel, White Deer, Apple, Pleasure, Love, Wave

Final Results - So how much English was learned? That's not the point. The point is, how much was taught? And I taught a good two years. It was no Stand By Me, it was no Mr. Holland's Opus, it was more of cross between Mr. Rogers and Homey the Clown. Valueable stones are created through high pressure over time and so is character, and that's what teaching for two years can do for you, as long as you don't crack and break. And if there's one thing kids want to learn, it's how to get you to that point where your bloodshot eye is an inch outside of your head, the drool is hanging off your chin like you're cooking a steak after a fast, and the sounds coming out of your mouth happen to be every filthy curse word in your native tongue. But I never got to that point, that's just not my style. Some methods I did try in the past 2 years included, yelling, shouting, screaming, talking with an extremely loud voice, and an occassional holler. But it was all mostly for dramatic effect, seldom, if at all, was I angry. What it comes down to, friends, is patience. If you have some you're going to get more. If you refuse to have any you're going nowhere. All said and done it was great working with the kids, although I can't say the classroom setting is my element. So after two years, I'm satisfied to retire from this profession and pursue more passionate occupations.

Silk and Venus - These were the two ladies I lived with for the past two years. Silk (my host mother) and Venus (host sister) have been good to me, except for not letting me do any chores. But we've adapted pretty well to each other, although I think they're still adapting. Silk works as a custodian at the local student house which consists of cleaning floors and drinking tea for 50 hours a week to the tune of $2.50 a day. Her favorite pasttimes are tending the garden and catching the latest episode of Zerda, a Turkish soap opera that pilfers countless hours of precious life from the female population throughout Central Asia. Venus is graduating from high school this year and aspires to be a choreographer. Dancing since the age of 5, she boasts a repetoire of Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkish, and some Spanish dance styles. I tried to teach her some Rave techniques but I don't think she was ready for that level yet. Now we're all parting ways. Myself to the motherland, Venus to the city, and Silk remaining at the humble home.

A few of my favorite things - Brown boxes tied up with tape and filled with treats and splendid delights. And also, letters and cards from loved ones. Thank you everyone so much for spending the time, energy, and loot to send things out here. It refreshed my heart many times over.

Of course there's much more but it's time to close it out. My main motive throughout this whole journey was simple; to walk with and serve God. This doesn't mean I was out to convert the heathen. Peace Corps forbids evangelizing, and on top of that, Kazakhstan forbids any foreign citizen to evangelize. Fortunately for them I'm not an evangelist. I'm just a man who will passionately expound the good news of peace and truth to anyone interested, which happens every so often. For the remainder of the time I have myself to deal with, and personally, it's been a great stretch of growth. Certainly not flawless, but I never forgot why I came. I applied to PC about 6 months before coming to Kazakhstan. At that time I prayed -Lord, is this wise? The answer I felt was -It's wise to follow me whereever you go. Looking back, I can see He's been more true to myself than I have. Example; I was hoping for a lot of free time out here, which I got, but didn't always make the best of. That aside, it's been rich, intense, difficult and fully worth it. One thing I didn't expect was to find much spiritual community which was beautifully provided through other volunteers and an apartment church in the city I often go to. The church was critical in keeping me focused and encouraged. One sister in particular, Valentina, has been close and dear to me. She speaks great English and usually translates for me at the services as well as keeping me updated when I don't come into the city. Her friendship and fellowship were a huge blessing.

PC runs a good program but would I want to do it again? No. But if I was who I was two years ago? Definitely. This season is coming to a close, so comes time for the farewell. There'll be a lot of people I'll miss; the city church, students, other volunteers and local friends. I thank and praise God for the blessings they've been in my life..blessings not unlike you all, which is why I'm more happy than sad to be coming home. So here's a toast to the good things high and low, and to reunions in a very short while. Peace and love in Christ.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

the journey past

***I actually got back from the trip last Monday so it's already a bit outdated***

The third quarter has ended which leaves my remaining time in Kazakhstan lingering at a little more than 2 months. It feels close. It feels good. I had a fulfilled thought the other day. Here is how it went; ½ a year ago as summer was moving into fall I was outside and noticed the chill setting in. I thought how this is the type of weather I’ll also feel when winter is moving into spring. Yesterday was that day. A sign of a new yet final season here in the K-country for myself.

In a week I’ll be taking a trip to Almaty to have a close of service conference with the other PCVs in my group. Once again I’ll be coming and going by train which is a patient 55 hour 1 way ride weaving through the barren steppe plains. It is an experience that draws you closer to the nature of time, where minutes contort themselves into hymns of eternity, and the hourglass slowly spills downward, and sometimes upward. At the final stop, you don’t get off the train, you emerge from the rabbit hole, clinging to the crowd, fighting the urge to go back, until your senses are hit with something that roots you into familiar reality. For me it’s usually a green tree. For others, cigarette smoke. And still others never escape the limbo.

I haul water from the pump down the street every other day. It’s the one household chore I consistently take part in. I was met with much resistance at first. My host mother, a 56 year old headstrong woman, insisted on doing it after coming home from her 8 hour workday. But I said,” Ms. Silk, it is to my shame if you carry that water while I sit in my room listening to your groans of pain.” So I took over the task. At first she was kind of sensitive about it,”You spill too much water! You think that waters free?!” -No, it ain’t free, but 3 pennies a bucket isn’t exactly sinking your ship now, is it? But now things are smooth and jolly between us.

Yesterday, 3/22 was a huge holiday that marks the old Kazakh new year. The event square in Chapaevo was alive with a concert, wrestling, a big climbing pole with prizes at the top, and a live camel. The climbing pole was actually a 25 foot long 1 foot diameter log stuck in the ground. There were no safety mats or nets, but the ground was kind of soft and muddy, so that’d probably help you out. After watching a lot of fellows attempt it and make it only about ½ way up, I decided it was time to show them how it was done. Poised and calm, I made my way up to the pole, removed my shoes and socks, rolled up my jeans to my knees, rolled back my shirt to my elbows, gave a glance at the gathered crowd, then hopped on. I got absolutely no grip and went nowhere. I tried throwing myself at it a few more times but it was to no avail. The glory I envisioned was drowned out by the laughter and scoffing of little children. But the humility was good for the soul.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Dog to Pig

If you read the signs right on your Chinese calendar you should now know we have smoothly transitioned into the year of the pig. I don’t really keep track but everyone around here does (last year was the year of the dog if you didn’t know). I guess it means different things to different people. For me it means an insatiable craving for a breaded pork chop. For the Kazakhs, beyond the knowledge of knowing, it means nothing. They aren’t Chinese and don’t eat swine. Anyway, 2007 is here and I wish everyone peace, truth and love from the high heights. It will be a powerful year for those who know and follow the living God, and for those who don’t know, if they seek Him, it will be even more powerful.

Is there really only five more months left here? The official close of service for our group is June 8th. And I’m anxious. What lies beyond these premises I do not know. There’s no plan, but I do have a seed of an idea. It’s not concrete so I won’t say. But I will offer you this riddle;

Suits costumes
Stages cages
Every man does it
Why shouldn’t I?

That’s enough about the future. I have some stories to tell.

About a month ago I went to the local sport center and in a rarely used upper room in the main part of the gym I came across an odd sight indeed; about 20 high school kids throwing themselves around on the floor attempting to breakdance. Hmm, I thought, Surely there was room for one more. A few minutes later I was doing a thing or two. I’m no double back flip extravaganza, but I will have you know that I boast a small repertoire of breakdance knowhow. Nothing too impressive but it’s a start. Turns out they were getting ready for a hip-hop/breakdance show that they were going to host in a few weeks. Three weeks later (after daily practices) at the event two other fellows and myself were demonstrating some pop-locking to a perplexed and energetic crowd. Pop-locking; combine the 80’s robot with a poorly oiled tinman, mix in some smooth jive and you’ll be pop-locking till the arthritis kicks in. And that was the end of it. The next week the sport center resumed it’s ghostly atmosphere as few souls came and went, no breakers to be found.

An update; I talked a little bit about a new teaching strategy in the last post. I achieved desirable but not lasting results. The second quarter is short with holidays, concerts and sometimes nothing at all throwing the schedule off. But progress was made and startling things were discovered. Most kids can’t put a simple sentence together all grades. Soviet pedagogy; based on rote memorization and little to no eye contact with the teacher, it’s a killer. But I like the beating with the stick part (honestly though I’ve never used it…nor have seen it done…I sort of made it up). Anyway a plan is forming for this quarter and I’m feeling good about it.

With the turn of the new year I’m hit with a wave of energy and sense of urgency to use my remaining time wisely. 07 promises some big changes; personally as I grow, physically as I relocate 10000 miles Westward, and mentally as I figure out what happens next. But it’s looking to be a good one.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Moving On

About a ½ year remains. I don’t count down the days ‘cause I don‘t like spending time to keep track of time. But I don’t blind myself to it. 6 months is a healthy chunk of life. This final stretch promises to be the best. There’re no more cultural surprises. If someone tosses a chunk of horse down in front of me, it’s not strange. Why, I’d probably start drooling. It’s good stuff. And a goathead? By all means! Carve that thing up! I don’t mind spending a few minutes chewing through cartilage if we’re all having a good time doing it.
I didn’t come for an exotic adventure. Life is the exotic adventure. I came for the opportunity to understand more about it; i.e. the god of all this, myself, and what exactly I can do to help. The challenges are real as is the progress.

White Deer (lit translation), my counterpart, has recently gone on maternal leave and is due sometime next month. She’s out for the rest of the school year leaving 2 other English teachers, besides myself , to field the classes. One is the director of the school who looks at me like a ghost when we pass each other in the hall. The other is Sunflower, who is a young teacher like White Deer. Sunflower and I have begun team teaching the extra classes together which is decent. However, I’ve got a strong desire brewing. A desire from the deeps. Raw primal energy. I wanna change the methodology!!! Some of these classes are such a bore that time moves backwards. I’ve got students laying around like corpses waiting for an autopsy. I used to humbly accept this and simply blame it on the Soviets. But the fact is, I’m the one with the power to do something here. It’s to my shame to complain and do nothing. You might be thinking, well yeah Tom, what have you been doing for the past year and half?? To that I’ll say; Raise your hand if you’re in Peace Corps. That’s what I thought… I must move quick while the quarter is still fresh. This week I hope to implement some new strategy.

7 new volunteers have just moved into their respective sites in this oblast. I’ll meet them next weekend at a Thanksgiving party I’m planning with another volunteer in the city. We’re going to rent out a banya (sauna) house for 5 hours and throw a feast complete with cornbread and turkey-like rotisserie chicken. And since it’s at a banya you know what that means; my hygiene is secured for this week. It’s nice when things line up like that.

I still live with the same host family; Silk (host mother) and Venus (sister). We seem to be getting along alright. I started doing my own laundry in the summer because Silk was working long hard hours at her job and in the garden. Since then the ratio has worked like this; for every 1 hour of doing laundry I get about 5 minutes of scolding on what I did wrong and how to do it right. The cultural mentality mandates that if you have something critical to say, you toss in a few insults to emphasize your point. Such a time went like this: “You’re like my granddaughter! 5 years old! First put the hot water in, then the detergent. You don’t know anything!” But make no mistake, the bond is deepening. Still there’s the common miscommunication. Like what happened last night:

Myself: I want to make some banana bread.
Silk: What is this banana bread?
M: Bread with bananas. It’s very tasty.
S: Do you have the ingredients?
M: Yeah I bought some butter today.
S: What kind of butter?
M: Regular butter.
S: ---
M: I want to make it tonight.
S: It’s too late. Make it tomorrow for lunch.
M: Alright, what pan should I use for the oven?
S: No pan. The oven’s broken.

And that was the end of it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Dance - an anecdotal introspection

(Proverbs 4:23, 31:3)

I attached to this girl way too quick. An introduction on Tuesday, a hello on Thursday, a conversation on Friday and my heart was hooked. And here I stood watching as she danced with another man; violent swirlings, the same way the jealousy was moving in my heart. Mentally, I was on the aggressive, but I played it coolly. I had an edge. He moved as cunning as a cardboard box. But he had an edge; a young confident adonis who was no stranger to coaxing vixens with his charm. I didn’t want a battle. But we shared something primordial. It was beauty and beasts. We knew each other’s thoughts more potent than telepathy, his desires were for her, mine were against his. So we danced together to a rhythm of pride and power, under the thin cloak of diplomacy mixed with alcohol to form quite a delicate fabric. But, at the moment, we were both sharing a more relevant thought..a slow song would soon play, and as tradition goes, there’s only one man per woman fellas. On the perimeter of the dance circle I stood, appearing relaxed and somewhat disengaged, like I could have been pondering the peculiarities of the steppes antelope. I even threw a little lazy eye in for gusto. At some point she materialized by my side. It was pleasant. I felt like growling. I was fully alert when the slow tempo melody began, and it was no surprise when I saw that other wolf slithering up in my peripheral vision. I turned and demanded a dance just as he thrust his menacing arm between myself and lady A. However, I took the dance in a beautiful split second victory and the words we shared were a golden cornucopia of delights. Soberly, I was aware of misfortune. I was at the whims of her attention. To see her see her touch, even in innocence, battered my heart. I know the game. An innocent touch is a myth. The illusion of it casts the spell on a tender heart. And my heart was in her hand. I didn’t put it there, it leapt on its own. Part of me wanted to see them together..the romance building, she being swept off her feet into his patsy embrace while grinding me into powder. Then it’d be over, we would know where we stood, and I could reassemble myself in the privacy of my own disarray. But I took the dance, albeit in hollow satisfaction, knowing she was meant for arms that didn’t belong to me. That’s okay, I thought, perhaps I’ll keep her well preserved until the hero comes along. But the price would be a heavier and slower trampling. I will not be a false keeper. I will not be a man in chains. If the woman has my strength, I’m weak. So this I cannot give her. I’ll be her brother. But if she’s my queen, let her walk beside me, bringing nourishment, and I’ll gladly fatten her on the loves and fruits of my strength.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Blurbs and Bits

As the waitress brought out my pork shashlik (meat on a stick, like a shish kabob without vegetables) my gluttonous hunger doubled in intensity. The wait at these cafes is always an extended affair, probably to make the food seem better when it finally comes. After a short silent prayer I examined the portion and found it to be meek and wanting. A small pile of grilled pork, a couple slices of stale bread, some onions, and a dollop of ketchup. The smell, however, was quite decent, so I decided to make due. 60% fat! Was the make up of that pile of flesh. Highly undecent. It made for good chewing though. I was sucking flavor out of those chunks like sweetarts. I glanced around the table. The makeup of my company was as follows: Valentina, a 22 year old Russian Kazakh girl that goes to the same congregation as me, Paula, a 29 year old Brit, spending a month in Kazakhstan in preparation for missionary work, and 7 other Americans; 4 families that have come to adopt children from Kazakhstan. Valentina, who speaks excellent English, works at a local adoption agency translating for families during court appearances and also helps navigate through the rigors of the adoption process. Consider the following; Valentina’s agency does everything by the book, which means they don’t give out bribes. Unfortunately, at every corner in K-Stan bureaucracy, people are waiting and hoping to get their hands on some sweet filthy lucre. And if you don’t play into them, you’ll get through the system, but not without your share of headaches, delays, and losses of temper. Such were the scenarios of the families around me. Just delays and minor headaches so far, they were a pretty calm bunch. In contrast, a different agency in the city forks over the bribe loot and the clients zip through like shashlik through my own system.

Akmaral, my counterpart, is pregnant. I think its recent news. I called her up and she said she’s going into the hospital for a week and a half to get some vitamin injections. I don’t know what that exactly means but this girl is skinny enough to hang glide on a dorito. And if it thickens her up, I don’t know..I might have to get some myself, while I’m still in a country where it’s legal.

Here’s more writings from my recent Almaty trip.

I showed up at my old host family’s and noticed everyone seemed a bit more plump. Earlier in the year both parents had turned 42, and the events weren’t without celebrations. Unfortunately about two months ago, Kuat (the father) had some kind of stroke. He was coming out of the house and passed out flat on the ground. Guldan (the mother) happened to be home that day (instead of working) and she got him to a hospital. It’s hard to tell if people ever get a direct diagnosis because I rarely hear specific names for a condition. Usually it’s blamed on cold weather or water and a healthy load of pills is prescribed. I’m not really sure what happened to Kuat but the doctor told him to stop drinking and stop driving for a few months. However his job depends on driving, so now he just drives carefully. The day after I got in to Almaty, Morgan (another PCV) arrived back from Italy with his father John. We traveled together for the next week and half and I had the pleasure of watching John experience what I experienced almost exactly a year ago; not understanding much except that people want you to eat gobs of food and wash it down with their blood warming booze. Being laidback and easy going, John negotiated Kazakhstan pretty well. He was here for a month and leaves tomorrow.

From Almaty the three of us decided to go to Taraz, a city about 7 hours West by taxi, to visit another PCV. We were originally hoping to take an evening bus but it left by the time we got to the station. So we settled for three seats in the back of a low riding minivan. This thing must have come from somewhere around England because the steering wheeling was on the right side. I didn’t realize it until half way into the trip as I was thinking, the driver’s doing a pretty good job for being asleep.. Anyway, it was one nasty ride; choppy roads, tight accommodations, basking in a potpourri of engine fumes, high priced merchants at the gas was an attack on all senses. Once in Taraz, however, we were taken in by the gracious hostess and PCV Yen Li. Yen is a girl about my age and was an Uzbekistan PCV who came to Kazakhstan after Peace Corps was kicked out. We spent a few days there feasting, conversing on all topics, and making a short visit to the public pool. Then we went back to Almaty by way of train.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I just arrived back from a small journey that took me around a giant loop in Kazakhstan. This includes about six days on trains, two separate seven hour taxi rides, and a whole lot of city bus joyriding. The main point was to go to Almaty and have a mid-service physical performed on myself. The physical turned up three expected findings; 1) I’m healthy 2) My weight is the same 3) I have no hernia And one unexpected finding: 1) The doctor was a lady. What can you do? Things got to get inspected.

The next region over (toward the east) is the Aktobe oblast (region). To go there by train from Uralsk (my oblast city), you need to cross through a sliver of Russia. Passing in and out of mother Russia, there is an hour and twenty minute stop to check for proper documents and contraband with drug sniffing cockerspaniels. Kazakhstan citizens can come and go out of Russia freely. But PCVs (Peace Corp Volunteers) are technically supposed to have a transit visa. No one really worried about it until PCVs started to get detained which was causing headaches for PC and the American embassy. A transit visa is expensive and a hassle to get. So what all this means is that I had to go to the Uralsk train station and get into a taxi 50 feet away from the track where I would’ve boarded the train, then went seven hours south to Atyrau, a city whose train runs on a different track.

Atyrau’s an oil town and is notorious for ruffians, high ballers, and expensive hotels. The secret is that in the train station you can get a twelve hour room with only three other strangers for about $6. I decided to take that challenge and ended up meeting Zhanbek (literally; Soul). We spoke in Kazakh and ended up having a spiritual conversation about life, Islam, and Christianity. Zhanbek, like many other young Kazakhs, is a cultural Muslim, which means that the extent of his religious behavior is saying, ”I’m Muslim.” I can’t get too complex with my language yet but I simply shared the basics of my faith and encouraged him to seek the Truth.
The train left the next morning. I had a Koopay ticket which put me in a small room with three other people as opposed to a full train car divided into open sections of six beds a piece and an overflow of ticketless passengers who secure a standing room only position by tossing a bribe to the stewards. I was with three youngish people. One guy brought a giant hunk of horsemeat that he generously offered, from which I would’ve eaten more than my portion had I not withstood the gluttony rising up within me. Soon after we started moving the vendors began to trickle through. People, mostly older ladies, will get on at different stops with bags of products, toss a bribe to the stewards, and lurch through the narrow aisles of the wagons peddling their wares. Water, sunflower seeds, socks, smoked fish, dombiras (two stringed guitar like instruments), booze, and many more non exotic delights. The two fellows in my Koopay each bought themselves a beer. Not twenty minutes later our door suddenly opened and a pair of policemen found what they wanted; some dude with a beer. Turns out its illegal to drink in a Koopay. The fine is about $10 and is questionable whether it ever goes to anything else than the receptive officer’s disposable income. So what about the ladies with bags full of beer? Well, they’re not drinking, they’re selling, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to make a buck.

In Kazakhstan, if you’re hot and sweaty from the summer time heat waves, there’s only one necessary common sense remedy; piping hot tea. Cold water, they say, will never quench the thirst and will cause you to continue to sweat. With hot tea, you cool down and stop sweating. At first I was about to laugh in some faces. Now, after trying it, I can honestly say I do not understand why people believe this lie. Maybe it just doesn’t work for me. I’m the type of guy where hot tea makes me hot. Which is why I drank ice cold water on the way to Almaty..about 7 Liters of it.