(1) We felt safer in Kazakhstan than in America. Truth.
The weekend before we left, we read about a shooting at 5 points in Columbia, near the USC campus; a stray bullet left an 18-year old freshman girl paralyzed. While we were in Kazakhstan, we read about yet another school shooting in America, in which a teacher — who had survived two tours to Afghanistan — was killed in the classroom.
Out of curiosity, we looked it up: Kazakhstan has 200 shooting deaths a year, compared to America’s 30,000. Part of this seems due to the following sensible regulations that *still* — despite all the violence, including Newtown — elude Americans: in Kaz, all firearms must be registered; a firearm safety training course is required for all applying for a license; to receive a license, you not only submit to a background check but also to a medical (including mental) check; and, you must reapply and re-qualify for your license every 5 years.
I asked Ed what the Ukrainians and Kazakhs think of the gun violence in America . . . they think we’re nuts.
So, every time we were stupid Americans and found ourselves boasting about our way of doing this or that, the conversation eventually took the following turn:
Arina: “DAD! I just went to the bathroom on the train, and when I flushed, everything fell through a hole onto the track.”
Scott: “No way. That doesn’t happen on trains in America. We do that better.”
” . . . although, I’d trade trains with them any day if I could also trade our gun death statistics.”
Another way we felt safer? I rarely eat meat, period, but there was a beef-stuffed pastry that I really, really liked.
Me, to Scott: “I’m not going to get mad cow am I?” [beef makes me nervous, since there is a zombie-like disease that *can*, in the realm of possibility, accompany its consumption]
Scott: “Um . . . did you see how they raise and care for their cows here? Were they on factory farms, standing knee-deep in their own feces?”
Scott: “Exactly. When mad cow breaks out, people stop importing . . . from America.”
^ Happy cows.
(2) Kazakhs are a peace-loving, hospitable people. In Kazakhstan, Muslim and Christian (Russian Orthodox, particularly) are the two major religions. And they coexist beautifully. In our hotel, we heard prayers being sung, so we went exploring and found the most beautiful mosque (built since our 2006 visit).
Across the street? A church that you can see from the open gate surrounding the mosque; it seems like they designed the gate to complement the lovely architectural lines of the church:
So, yeah. This makes the debate in America over whether a Muslim community center can/should be built within _____ distance of the World Trade Center memorial so very sad and shameful.
As for hospitality: most Kazakhs seem to drink instant coffee, but when the hotel staff realized I was American they refused to let me drink instant and brewed “cafe americano” especially for me each morning.
(3) Kazakhs take care of each other. And by “each other” I don’t just mean other Kazakhs. I mean other people period. The only time we were *in trouble* so to speak was when Scott pulled out and thumbed through his wallet in a busy marketplace. He said that both beggars asking for alms and vendors hawking their wares were prepped to descend on him, when a little Kazakh lady (who I mentioned in an earlier post) started scolding him and pulling him back to the train.
So: if you do something stupid in Kazakhstan, there will — more often than not — be someone coming to your rescue.
And, Scott and I admitted that we both felt a pang when we recognized how ideal it is, in a way, to live in our Kazakh family’s little village — where there are both kids and animals in and out of every door, where everyone depends on and loves and helps each other. We are so much more isolated by comparison in our community, in every community in America probably, than they are in that little village.
For this reason, I’ve proposed to Scott that we check out Kaz real estate and start saving for a summer home, maybe here:
And if we fly east for the summer, our Kazakh family should fly west for the winter. Uncle Yasha said last winter was the worst in 50 years, with snow chest high and temperature -40 degrees. And nobody needs that. But, if we could “fix” the winters and cheer up the Visa officers (seriously: we’re *so* glad we didn’t chance trying to get into the country with a faulty visa) the country would be pretty much perfect.