Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Kazakh Welcome

My Home Away From Home

The Apartment Block

I have a place to live! It is a small, one bedroom apartment that I share with a roommate, a Kyrgyz girl named Aisulu. We get along well. The apartment is in a 1950s Soviet-era block in the center of Almaty; it takes me all of ten minutes to make it to work. There is a single room where both Aisulu and I sleep, a kitchen with a washing machine, a toilet and a bathroom. The shower only has hot water after about 4 p.m. and that is not guaranteed. We also have a balcony where we’ve jury rigged a clothes line from broken twine. It works, except we can’t close the windows on the balcony. This whole establishment cost $600 plus utilities, cheap for Almaty, between the two of us, its $300 and change each.

The Pull-Out Couch

The Kitchen and Washing Machine

The View from My Apartment Window

The Playground Behind My Apartment. 

The Symbol of the 2012 Asian Winter Games.

Almaty, I have discovered, is very similar to Ufa and Kazan’. I think I am going to enjoy living here. The center of the city is quite compact. To the south are beautiful mountains, some a still covered in snow. The city’s architecture reflects both pre and post-revolutionary tastes. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore many of the sites yet, my days have been ruled by my persistent jet-lag which has put me to bed about 7 p.m. every night. Today was the first day that I actually explored the city.

Oil and Fried Chicken Make the World Go Round

The Stadium


Almaty's Newly Completed Metro

Sherlock (and Moriarty) have Made it to Almaty @ Ashley, Laura and Lydia


The whole reason I am here in Kazakhstan, is that I am doing an internship with Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia (EFCA).  It is unlike anything I have ever done. My work experience is limited to Barnes and Noble, Chick-fil-a and work-study at the Harriman. While all of those have been great, I need to step out into the professional world of my field. Hence, the internship. EFCA focuses primarily on building civil society in Central Asia and it has offices in Almaty, Bishkek, Osh and Dushanbe. I plan to take all the opportunities I can to learn about a subject that is not something I have studied before. I like the people who I am working with; they’re very dedicated to their job and the mission that EFCA is promoting. I have much to learn and they have much to teach me.
Scavenger Hunt at American Corner

Morning in Almaty. Facing South, Towards the Mountains.
Saturday has finally rolled back around and what a long and jet-lagged induced exhausting week it has been. Yesterday, I was invited by Jenna, a Fulbright scholar, to a scavenger hunt based at American Corner in Almaty. I asked Aisulu to come with me and we decided to walk to the corner. It was clear this morning and nice, if not cool. We stopped by the “Beeline” center to find out why my modem, which had worked faithfully for three trips to Russia was not working here. Apparently, a Russian modem doesn’t work in Kazakhstan, even though it is the SIM card that should be the deciding factor in that. 4500 Tenge spent and a new modem, which is happily   powering my first internet experience in a week.
After Beeline, we made it to American Corner, which is housed in a Kazakh library. Once we arrived Jenna set out the rules for the scavenger hunt; I was the only American actually participating in the hunt. Aisulu and I worked with Gulnara and Medina to complete the tasks. First, we focused on tasks that took place in doors: Sing the Star Spangled Banner, pronounce π, speak Russian with an American Accent, create a commercial for an American product. Once we completed those, which gave us quite a lead over the other groups, we went around and worked on the photograph scavenger hunt. The idea was to photograph a team member with one of the items on the list: photo with a Beatle, photo with an outfit inspired by Lady Gaga, photo with 6 Americans, photo of four American brand cars, photo with Col. Sanders and our favorite, a photo with a horse head. Apparently, one can usually find a real horse head at the Bazaar. So, we went in search of one. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there was none to be had. Gulnara was insistent in finding an actual horse head so we searched high and low and one of the butchers even lead us down into the bowels of the bazaar, to a laboratory. A tech at the laboratory was enlisted to help us search but came up empty handed with the explanation that there was a shortage of horsemeat in Kazakhstan. We settled for a picture with a hobby horse. Our group, which we named Victory, won the competition and we received our choice of prizes. I chose a self-contained audio book, which will provide a more intellectual pursuit than Game of Thrones, which I have read like a man starved since I arrived.

Task: Take a Picture of a Teammate with Americans. I Count Three Americans in this Picture + Aisulu.


Task: Take a Picture with Your Favorite Samsa Place.

Task: Find a Horse Head at the Bazaar.
Gulnara and the Horse Head

Helpful Hints: How to Register in Kazakhstan

For anyone who has spent time in a former Soviet country, you know that registering with the local authorities is one of the most time consuming processes in the entire trip. When I arrived last Saturday, Anel gave me a rather dire warning, the intern before me had not been registered properly and was forced to pay a hefty fine at the airport for incorrect registration. In Kazakhstan, you have five days to register with the immigration police, that count includes the weekends when government offices are not open. Monday I arrived at work and promptly asked Mariana, who has been my contact for everything from visa to housing, what I needed to do. Yulia, our secretary, was unfamiliar with the recently adopted system, so Mariana looked up some information on the website. After lunch, she came to me and told me I had to go get an HIV/AIDS test, ugh. This is actually a normal occurrence, I’ve gotten one every time I went to Russia as a student, but I have always gotten them in the US.  Jessica called the driver for  me and had him take me to the clinic and I suffered through getting blood drawn. The nurse was actually very kind, I guess I had visions of being viciously stabbed by a large Soviet-era nurse with arms like a clubs, like the ones you see in films, but instead she walked me through the entire process and talked to me the whole time and I barely even felt the prick. I had requested that I receive the results express, so thirty minutes and about 1000 Tenge extra later; I was on my way home with my results. Step one, complete. 
The next day, I left the apartment a little early and headed down to the immigration police station. I turned down a street too soon had to ask the guards where the station was. Apparently, I was at the right building, just the wrong side and it did not open until 9 a.m. Right after answering my questions the guards, in quick succession, asked me to present my passport and where my husband was. I guess my passport checked out, along with my response that I wasn’t married and I went on my way. I went to work and began working on the odds and ends. Then Yulia appeared at the office door and told me that I had to call my landlord and have him come down to the immigration police with me and present his original passport and “home-book,” which was supposed to list me as a tenant. Small problem, the apartment that I am now living in, I'm renting directly from Aisulu, the landlord doesn’t know that I am here yet. Oh dear. I called Aisulu and asked her if she could talk to the landlord, which she promised to do after work. When she did call him, his phone wasn’t working. We think he went to Kyrgyzstan. That precludes his appearance at the station. I called Pavel, the head of communications and marketing at EFCA and the unfortunate soul that had gotten dragged into this mess, he promised that he would work everything out. Apparently, working it out meant registering me under his mother’s apartment. 
Wednesday, rolled around and it was the last day I could legally not be registered with the police. Pavel told me his plan in the morning and said that we would await the driver to take us to the station. We waited and we waited and finally, just before lunch, Pavel said that we would go after lunch in a taxi. True to his world, after 2 p.m., we, Pavel, Yulia and I, piled in to the taxi and drove to pick up Pavel’s mother. The drive was horrendous; Kazakh drivers apparently take lessons from Russian ones. We eventually arrived at the immigration police and went inside. All the windows were shut. Yulia asked the guard at the “information desk,” who told us, documents are not processed after 2 p.m. This was contrary to the information Yulia had received when she called earlier in the day. We waited while Yulia tried to call a contact in the station. A few minutes later, a man came out carrying a box of passports and documents; apparently, they did open at three. We formed a line and waited for just a few more minutes before the little window opened and we stepped up. The guard at the window took my passport and looked at it and then looked at us. “Why are you here?” “To register the girl,” was Yulia’s response. “Why, she has two stamps on her migration card, she’s here less than 90 days, she’s been registered at the airport.” We left a little dumbfounded. Apparently, if you arrive in Kazakhstan through any of the international airports, you are automatically registered. The next question is what happens when I go to Bishkek in July. I am going there by car, its only three hours away, and I don’t know if they take your migration card at the border, thus unregistering me in Kazakhstan. From what I understand, you don’t fill out a replacement migration card returning to Kazakhstan. If that’s the case, I get jump through all these hoops again.

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