Kazakhstan to a Nittany Lion

My thoughts and perspective on Kazakhstani culture. (These are my thoughts and opinions alone and do not reflect the policies or opinions of the Peace Corps or the United States Government)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

November 22, 2006

Well I had told myself I was going to write once a month, it turns out to be more difficult than I thought to stick to that schedule given the limited access to internet. Whereas the last time I posted here I was a trainee living near Almaty studying Russian six days a week and going through the practicum regimen, I am happy to say that I am now an official Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) living at my permanent site of the next two years.

On the 10th, seventy-three Volunteers including myself were sworn in at a ceremony in Almaty. The ceremony lasted about an hour or so with a speech by the acting country director, a song in Kazakh sung by two Volunteers, a host-mother, and a language instructor, a couple speeches in Kazakh and Russian by new Volunteers, and of course all of us raising our right hands to take the oath, “I, Anson Pierce McLellan, do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic...so help me God”. And following that was a reception with a small buffet of both American and Kazakh foods, think deviled eggs meet baulsacki (Kazakh national bread).

Following the ceremony I went back to my village, packed up my room, celebrated with other volunteers at a café that night, then headed to the train station the next day for the ride to my new site, Shu, Шу, about six hours west of Almaty in Zhambul Oblast.

Shu is a big town/small city of about 48,000 people centered around the large railroad station in the center of town. There is a constant flow of freight trains and passenger trains coming and going because the station is located at the intersection of the lines from Almaty-Astana, the capital, and from Almaty-Shymkent and Southern Kazakhstan. The station has trains going to many different cities in Kazakhstan and Central Asia such as Almaty, Astana, Kyzlorda, Aktobe, Petropavlovsk, Bishkek, St. Peterburg, and Moscow. It’s fascinating to watch the trains, but I think I will devote an entire posting to that later.

Since the railroad runs through the center of the town it naturally divides the town into the east side and west side. I don’t sense a rivalry yet, but I’ll let you know. Most of the commerce is located on the west side of town. Walking out of the train station you are facing the central square of the town. Directly in front of the train station and before the road is a tall Soviet monument to those who died in World War Two. Walking away from the train station and across the roadway you pass the police station on the left and a small hospital and three cafes in a row to the right, then walk along a small promenade which leads to the cinema park, Shu’s main park. As you would expect the park has a cinema, recently renovated and also including a discoteque. The complex is a big source of pride for the people here.

Aside from the main square, another big attraction on the west side is the bazaar. Like most bazaars here in Kazakhstan, you can buy almost anything you are in the market for. Shu’s location near the Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan borders leads to great selections of clothing from Kyrgyzstan and fruit such as hoorma from Uzbekistan. Bazaars in general appear chaotic with the sway of the crowds, the smells of salads, fish, and fruit, and the announcement and haggling of prices in Russian, Kazakh, Uzbek, and Korean to name a few languages. But with a gameplan for what you need to buy, a price in mind, and a few key phrases it’s a great trip.

Though I have been here in Kazakhstan for almost three months, I really think the adventure is just beginning. I am now on my own, at least an hour by bus away from the next closest Volunteers, the first American some here have ever met, and about to begin my first Monday-Friday, 8-5 type job. I am happy, excited, and enjoying life. Though I will not be having a feast until next Saturday because I have to work on Thursday, I wish you all safe travels and a Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace,
Anson

Should you have the urge, my contact info is the following:

Cell Phone: 8-705-966-4135, this does not include the country code. But I believe the correct numbers to dial is the following:
011-7-(705)966-41-35. I was told that you drop the 8 at the beginning of my number when you call here from the States.

Address: Please address your letters in Cyrillic rather than English to increase the likelihood it reaches me. Feel free to freehand the Cyrillic or to print out the address and paste it as a label.

Казахстан
Жамбылская область
Г. Шу
Ул. Перепелова № 23
081125
Ансон Маклеллан

7 Comments:

Anonymous Jeff Griffith said...

Hi, Anson,

Was glad to see your second installment and that you are teed up to begin the work that Uncle Sugar sent you to do. It will be interesting to read how that goes, now that you are finally all trained and good to go.

By the way, I don't know how much you are aware of what's going on Stateside, since you wrote that your Internet access is limited, but Kazakhstan has been in the news a lot lately, courtesy of the British comic Sacha Baron Cohen, who has a wildly popular movie out named after a character he developed and plays, "Borat," who is supposed to be a Khazakh news reporter who comes to America to do a documentary, but gets sidetracked due to his obsession with California beach bunny Pamela Anderson, whom he ultimately attempts to kidnap during a book signing in Orange County. The film crudely satirizes Kazakhstan as being woefully backward, racist, vulgar and so on. Mary and I went to see it and we both thought it was gross, offensive trash. However, the sold out audience who saw it with us was roaring with laughter, once again proving the truth of H.L. Mencken's observation that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. So there is some justice in recent developments that almost everyone who appears in the film who was not a cast member is now suing Cohen and the film's distributors, either for libel or for contractual damages and fraud. Hardly a day goes by without a new lawsuit being filed. When the Kazakh president was asked during a press conference with Tony Blair how he felt about the disparaging portrayal in the film of his country, he said that it was only a comedy, and, after all, any publicity was good publicity. He was pretty funny about it, actually, funnier than Cohen's disgusting movie.

Hope all is well and we will all be thinking of you on Thanksgiving tomorrow. Stay safe and have a good time.

Jeff

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