Kazakhstan week 2.5

Last night, I finally lost all patience and left my travel partner in the village of Taraz (read about that below).   I am kinda proud of my escape.  I got a cab to the train station where I shared no common language with anyone. Nonetheless, I was able to conclude that there were no tickets left on the midnight train for the city of Almaty (a large European style city in eastern Kazakhstan near the Chinese border–I’m trying to get back to China).  Unsure what to do, I noticed a man going through the crowds whispering “Almaty, Almaty, Almaty”— a scalper!?!?!  He was in fact a ticket scalper! I was elated!  Through amazing, and I am sure hilarious, hand gestures we managed to communicate that I would give him money and he would bribe the police on the train to let me stand the 9 hour train ride to Almaty.  I was excited.  Ten minutes before the train was to arrive I was hustled to the far end of the train station where a middle aged woman was standing.  As soon as the train pulled up were rushed on, and put in a small conductor’s room that had two beds and a small window.  This was an amazing score!  I was going to be able to sleep through the night on a clean bed!  A man came in the room and asked me for about $35 which is slightly more expensive than what a train room like this would go for, but again, this included the payment of the scalper that I had just gotten to bribe a police officer, who I think may have bribed a conductor of the train.  Either way I was set!  I had a good nights sleep and arrived this morning in the city of Almaty.

There are two train stations in the city of Almaty and I wasn’t sure which one to get off at but decided I would get off wherever more people got off, figuring that would mean I was closer to downtown and hopefully closer to the US consulate.  I left my luggage in the luggage storage at the train station, bought a Russian-English dictionary from the kiosk and went outside and started to walk until I saw a group of police officers.  Using the dictionary, I got them to help me find the embassy.  They hailed a cab for me, negotiated the price with the cab driver, and I was off.  I arrived at the US consulate at 10am.  The consulate, refused to see me until 3pm (they were absurdly unhelpful  and stupid but that is for another post).  I am hoping to get in there at 3pm and register that I am in the country and get more sheets for my passport, as I have run out of pages.  Anyway, I’ve hustled my way out of rural Kazakhstan and into the big city.  Hopefully, I’ll get a bus tonight that will take me to the Chinese border city of Urumqi.   From there I hope to catch a plane to Hainan.

I may sound like I am complaining a lot…because I am; I am exhausted, dirty, angry and ready for a good rest.  However, I really have enjoyed Kazakhstan.  The people have been hospitable like no other country I have ever visited.

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Kazakhstan week 1

Don’t have stable access to internet…and it is dial up to boot! So here is a brief update of mostly rambeling and snippits from emails I’ve sent—my apologies.

My friend and classmate from HaiDa (China), Adlet, was waiting for me at the airport with his cousin.  Big hugs were had, and It felt good to be in Almaty.

I immediately noticed how fresh and clean the air was compared to the Chinese cities I’d just been in.  In the next two days in the city of Almaty I’d enjoy the fresh air, hike through mountains and drink the freshest and coldest river water of my life.

But first it was off to Adlet’s cousin’s home were his family was waiting to eat.  It is Ramadan and some of the family had been fasting and an absurdly huge meal was waiting for us.

It was a lot of small plates piled high wtih food; 5-6 types of homemade breads, goat, horse, camel, sheep, fish, eggplant, salad made of cucumbur tomato and olive olil, potatoes, horse milk, yogurts, cheeses.  The food went on and on as I politely declined more and more of it.

The table was cleared and I thought “Oh good no more trying to stuff me” and then they brought out the desserts, fresh peachs, plums, oranges, sweet breads, cakes, candies, candied nuts, dried fruits, figs, dates.  Every meal has been like this.

Anyway I am currently in the city of Atyrau after having arrived in the city of Almaty.  I took a train between the two cities, both on opposite ends of Kazakhstan, which is no small feet as Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world.  The train was a train from former Soviet Union days and looked it with large heavy green curtains, and bronze emblems.

Yesterday I went swimming in a river that runs into the Caspian Sea.  Don’t worry I swam up river from the Camels and Cows.  Oh, and I have found I am not very fond of camel milk.

I will atempt to write more coherently once I get to China.

God loves Mexicans and Kazakhs more

My mom shares with me a decent amount of Mexican folklore.   Things like, you can tell how much a mother loves her baby by how deep his belly button is.   I tend to listen to the stories but never fully believe.

My mother told me that when I was born, my maternal grandmother flipped me over to check out my butt, to see if I had a blue spot.  My mother explained to me, while I listened dubiously, that Mexican babies, particularly indigenous babies, have blue spots on their lower back or butt when they are born.  It goes away shortly after birth, usually within a few weeks.
I believed this was lore until I was 16 years old and working union organizing farmworkers.  At one of the workers’ camps I saw a mom with a naked new born baby in her arms.   The baby had a blue spot that looked like a bruise on his butt—however, it wasn’t a bruise.  My mom was right.  I never really understood it.   Whenever, I think about that baby it makes me smile.

I recently read the book Apples are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared by Christopher Robbins (The book was amazing, I laughed out loud multiple times, I couldn’t book down the book at all and was sad when I finished…I’ll write up a review later.)

I was stunned when I read the following excerpt in a section discussing Kazakh pride and fatherhood:

‘All Kazakh babies are born with a birthmark at the base of their spine, like a purple bruise,’ my friend told me.  ‘This disappears in a few days. Korean, and Japanese babies have this too, but not Chinese. Strange, huh?’

This made me chuckle! It was enchanting, mystical, and uniting in its historical narrative.

I went home and emailed my Kazakh friend AiDana.  Her response was that although only some Mexican babies were born with the spot, ALL Kazakh babies were born with it.   She was so proud that all Kazakh babies had this spot.  Another Kazakh friend, Adlet, laughed and said, yes it was true Kazakh babies were born with this, it is one of the things that make Kazakhs so special.  I asked him why did he think that Mexicans and Kazakhs had this spot, he laughed hard and said “I think it means God loves us Kazakh and Mexicans more.”

I am sure there is a different reason, a scientific one.  I’ll google it and research it later.  For now, I wanted to blog about it, while it was still magical to me.  A Mexican connection to Kazakhstan, with a special temporary birth mark.