4:10 PM CDT, August 19, 2015 – Oregon, Wisconsin, USA
I really can’t believe it’s over. It’s rather bittersweet, getting to see my friends and family in the states for the first time in two months but leaving behind my second home and all the wonderful people I met. The hardest part is not knowing when I’ll be back next. A lot of stuff happened over the last two weeks, so I’ll do my best to be concise here.
Thursday the sixth of August was our final day at the University. We partied it up with our instructors while they attempted to feed us a final lesson but our brains were elsewhere. All of our exams were behind us along with our collective desire to learn anymore Russian in the middle of what’s usually summer break. My instructor Madina somehow managed to find a pizza delivery service in Almaty (lolwut?) and it was nothing short of heavenly. We took one last parting photo of our group.
Friday evening was the start of our final, week-long excursion to Kazakhstan’s capital Astana and a small village called Baravoe. Following a 12-hour train ride across the steppe and a short bus ride through the city, we arrived at our hostel around 9am.
For the next 36 hours we explored Astana with our resident director Phillip leading the way. It’s a planned city, so the architecture is all very extravagant and a lot of the buildings were constructed with the bigger picture in mind. I took a couple pictures of one of the more heavily guarded buildings and a Kazakh soldier waved me over and instructed me to delete them. Very peculiar vibe in the capital city.
Monday morning we bussed up to Baravoe which I think was the most Kazakh place we visited during the whole two months we were in Kazakhstan. It’s a tiny village skirting the shores of a lake bearing the same name. All of the roads, with the exception of the main one, are basically just dirt and the houses are clustered in very close proximity to one another.
We went swimming the first night, and I lost feeling in a couple of my toes. For the last night in Baravoe, we mounted a stargazing expedition to observe the Perseid meteor shower. After zigzagging around the village trying to find a decent spot and a brief run-in with a very, very drunk man, we found a field to lay down some blankets and watch little pieces of interplanetary space debris burn up in our atmosphere.
The next day was essentially the beginning of the end. Save for one night in Almaty, we basically just hopped to and from various forms of transportation until we made it back to our respective homes stateside. That final night in Almaty, we all got together one last time for a group dinner at a fancy Indian restaurant. The goodbyes started there, as it was the last time I’d see my friend Ulya before departing.
I left for the airport late the next day, so I still had one last dinner with my hosts and their extended family as well as one last walk along the rechka with my good Kazakh friend Жамал. Many toasts were had and kind words exchanged. A short drive to the airport on the northeast side of the city and I was headed home. I’ll never forget climbing above the city and banking over the shimmering lights of Almaty below. Quite fitting that it rained the whole day before we left.
A few hours later (34 to be precise) my parents picked me up at the Dane County Regional Airport. Thanks to Project GO for funding this incredible adventure. Also, a huge thanks to my hosts, Gulsana and Olzhas for their hospitality. My time in Almaty would have been much duller without them and their fun, outgoing personalities. I’m going to miss them along with all the other wonderful people I met throughout the course of this summer abroad. Again, can’t believe it’s already over. It’s unfortunate that Kazakhstan is so inaccessible from this part of the world. Returning, though, is only a question of when, not if.
That’s all from me. Thanks for reading,