7:55 AM ALMT, June 22, 2015 – Almaty, Kazakhstan
I’m currently sitting in my room that my host family has graciously provided me. It’s quaint; there’s a bed, small desk, and some cabinet space for clothes. I have a nice set of windows which I usually leave open to let the breeze roll in. All of my stuff is still strewn about because that’s just how I roll. Today is the first day of classes so I’m about to head over to campus. It takes less than ten minutes to walk to the university from the apartment which I really lucked out on. Some students live over 90 minutes away and have to take the metro.
In my last post, I left off at O’hare waiting to board my next flight to DC for orientation. DC was great, but orientation ended up being a lot more involved than I had anticipated. We still had some time to explore, though, and it was great finally meeting everyone. I finally made it to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum which, among many other incredible artifacts of aerospace history, is home to the actual Apollo 11 command module that brought Neil, Buzz, and Mike back to Earth. So, containing my inner-geek was a bit of a challenge. We worked our way through the National Mall that evening and the next. How do you spend your last night in the states before heading to Kazakhstan for two months? Casual drinks at the Embassy Suites bar. Perfect.
The next 36 hours from when we left our hotel in DC until we landed in Almaty are a bit of a blur. For roughly every three hours of travel we gained an hour in time zones. I slept for about 5 hours during the whole ordeal. Flying into Almaty was euphoric, probably due to the lack of sleep and the anticipation. The foreign city lights sparkled beneath our feet and a stray fireworks display popped up on the city limits. After landing, I ran into a friend who was traveling to Kazakhstan on her own accord. Because, ya know, all my friends casually fly to Almaty on the same flight as me by sheer coincidence. It was about 1 AM local time at that point, so we headed to our hotel, a Best Western, for the night. Man, did an actual bed feel good.
The next day we toured the campus, exchanged money, bought phones and sim cards, and finally met up with our host families. Tenge, the Kazakh currency, is quite flashy. Lots of different materials and colors. About 185 Tenge is equivalent to 1 USD. I got a tiny, little Nokia for emergencies and when I don’t have Internet. My host family is awesome. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Gulsana and Olzhas are more of a “host couple” and they’re both under 30 years old. Gulsana’s brother who is 23 also lives here and their extended family come and go throughout the day.
The rest of the day, we basically ate plov and toured a bit of Almaty, once by foot and once by car. We drove up the mountains a ways right around sunset and the view was absolutely gorgeous. Plov is this glorious mixture of rice, chicken, and some veggies. Sunday morning we went to the Bazaar which is a giant outdoor market where you can buy basically anything you can think of. Seriously. Kitchen appliances, fabric, fresh produce – they’ve got everything. In the evening I went with the guys to the banya, or sauna. Kazakhs don’t mess around when it comes to the banya. Pretty much everyone brings a bundle of leaves which get soaked in water and then you lay down and someone repeatedly whacks you with them. Quite the experience. After we were done soaking in the banya, we grabbed some beverages and a stockfish. Basically they dry out a fish like jerky and then you just kinda gnaw on it.
Well, that’s my experience in Almaty thus far. I’ve really enjoyed my time here thus far and am very excited for the next two months.
Thanks for reading,