Kazakhstan sucks. There, I said it. Granted, we’ve only visited Almaty, the country’s largest city, so it’s perhaps a bit unfair to judge the entirety of the world’s ninth biggest nation from just our three days here, but I’m going to do it anyway. We leave this afternoon (two trains over three days to Irkutsk in Russia) and not a moment too soon. I think it’s quite funny that we’re expecting such a lengthy train trip into the heart of Siberia of all places to be an improvement on Kazakhstan. It’s hard to imagine how it won’t be.
I can recall only two Kazakhs smiling at us over the course of our visit. Most remarkably, neither of them, hereby voted Almaty’s two friendliest citizens, were taxi drivers. Thankfully we asssiduously avoided that sub-human group while here. I can only imagine what our impression would be if we’d hailed a cab or two. Both smiles came in the process of us getting ripped off. Generally however, Kazakhs don’t smile, even if they have their hand lodged in your wallet.
I’m not one to hold a grudge. I’d like to think I tend to overlook most personal slights. But, it’s impossible to ignore the many, many times we’ve been stepped in front of, shoved, cheated, almost run over, glared at, condescended to, our openly mocked. Just this morning a bus began to pull away as we were trying to get on and a security guard stopped me in the supermarket for an unknown offence. Rudeness is like a way of life here; treating people poorly seems the national pastime. And we’ve had it.
I should say that there have been two bright spots in all this unpleasantness. First, we had an enchanting visit to Zenkov Cathedral on Sunday. We stumbled upon some sort of evening service honoring a saint I think – I’ve meant to consult an online Russian Orthodox calendar to see if in fact it was a particular holy day. The service centered around some of the most glorious choral music we’d ever heard, sung by an ensemble of eight voices, including two priests with thundering basses.
Then on Monday we spent the afternoon in the Central State Museum. From the Stone Age “Carterfacts” (that’s an inside reference for all the fans out there of everone’s favorite erstwhile, renegade, Texas A&M geographer, otherwise known as CeCe’s dearly departed grandfather) to gifts of state from all sorts of nations, we received a nice education in the history of the area. Although nothing explained how the people got to be like they are. There was almost no explanatory text in English, yet the museum somehow provided us with an enlarged sense of Kazakhstan’s many resources, diverse ethnic groups, and the significant milestones in its 17 years of independence.
And, in case you were wondering, and I know you were, we have seen or heard no reference to Borat anywhere. I guess asking the world’s most unfriendly people to have a sense of humor is a bit too much.
Enough is enough! Ship us to Siberia. Please!