The Top Ten Things We Love About Kazakhstan:
10. Driving; This is on Scott’s list of favorites and on my list of things that terrify me because, in Kazakhstan, anything goes where driving is concerned. In other words, Britney Spears would have been just fine with baby Sean on her lap. As far as we noticed, no one wore seat-belts, and dodging pot-holes was of greater concern that dodging on-coming traffic. I have to say, though, I felt perfectly safe with our drivers, who dodged pot-holes with the best of them.
9. Fashion; This is on my list of favorites and on Scott’s list of things he couldn’t care less about. Let’s just say I felt like a soccer mom in my t-shirts and tennis shoes. Young Kazakh women live and breathe fashion. We saw more high heels in Kazakhstan than we did in New York City. Have you ever watched a fashion show and wondered, “Where would anyone wear that?” The answer is “in Kazakhstan.”
8. The Harry Potter fans; What can we say? We simply loved the fact that the first person we met in Kazakhstan — our escort in Almaty — was eager to talk about the Harry Potter books. I also loved flipping through a Russian translation of Harry Potter at a local bookstore.
7. Language; We’re proud of ourselves for learning a handful of Russian words and phrases, and we enjoyed saying all the words we learned. The Russian words for “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you” roll off the tongue. Also, it was fun trying to communicate without language.
6. Festivities; We were able to witness many weddings and parties since our hotel was a popular place for hosting big events. Every festivity was well attended by well-dressed and happy people, and Scott and I commented that everyone in Kazakhstan seemed to be having more of a good time than people do in the States. Festivities are marked by hugs, laughter, dancing, and enthusiastic conversation. Scott and I could have wandered into the mix, uninvited, and would have been welcomed with open arms. We were eating at the hotel restaurant during one wedding reception and a photographer took our photo and brought us a copy of it.
5. Landscape; As I mentioned in one of my posts, we’ve never seen mountains more beautiful than those in Almaty. In Karaganda, the landscape is sprawling and flat, though you can still see mountains in the distance. Scott and I have a book, The Soul of Kazakhstan by Wayne Eastep and Alma Kunanby, and the photographs in it will make you think of the Garden of Eden. Kunanby writes about the landscape and notes, “It includes almost every geographic feature known to humankind except an exit onto the open sea.”
4. Market; Scott and I loved our walks to the outdoor market, and, I have to admit, we love the fact that there are places in the world where people don’t get in a car and drive to Wal-Mart to get what they need. There’s something wonderfully appealing about making a daily trek to buy fresh eggs, produce, and bread. The market was divided into “departments” (hardware, produce, clothing, etc.), and we enjoyed the sense of friendly competition between vendors in the same “department.” The produce vendors, in particular, would try to out-shout each other as customers walked by but were quick to pat the winning vendor on the back and make change for him if he was lacking.
3. Food; Although we enjoyed all of the food while we were in Kazakhstan, we couldn’t get enough of the produce. I know I mentioned a melon, of which Scott and I were huge fans, that is unique to Kazakhstan — delicious. I also enjoyed the grape juice so much that I drank it every day — morning, noon, and night. Mom had some Welch’s waiting for me when I got home, but, sadly, it’s not the same.
2. People; There’s no way I can pay tribute to all the remarkable people we met in Kazakhstan, so I’ll cite Wayne Eastep, photographer of the before-mentioned book. His observation mirrors ours: “The characteristic that stood out to me as one of the strengths of Kazakhstan is the generous spirit of the Kazakh people. My family and I were always made to feel welcome. People opened their homes, hearts and minds, and shared with us their ideas, feelings, and delicious food. After each of our encounters we felt our bodies nourished, our minds expanded, our spirits uplifted and our hearts warmed.”
1. Love for children; By far, our favorite thing about Kazakhstan is the deep love and respect this country has for its children. The way Kazakh people care for their little ones should be an example to us all. A U.S. doctor told one adoptive parent, after inspecting a child newly arrived from Kazakhstan, “I don’t know what that they do in Kazakhstan that’s different from other countries, but – whatever it is — they’ve got it right” (I can’t believe I’m not citing my source, but I can’t remember where I read it!). Every person we passed in the Baby House knew Arina’s name, which is remarkable when you realize that there are around 150 children. In short, we’re honored to have had such good people caring for our daughter. We couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Whether Scott and I have biological children or not, we hope to return to Kazakhstan and adopt again.
The photo for this post is an old one — Arina and Mama walking in Almaty. Po-ka, Po-ka, Kazakhstan!