Russian Word of the Day

  • present = padarak

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tour of the neighborhood

Day 17

Welome to the neighborhood!
I was feeling particularily devoid of inspiration today and nearly resigned myself to posting only pictures. Tim, however, encouraged me to take some pictures around the neighborhood and give you all a tour. So here goes, grab your fur lined parka and stilletto heeled leather boots and let's hit the town. This is our little corner of Kazakhstan.
This is our cottage, a two story three bedroom/two bath duplex on a fairly standard corner here in Kokshetau. Directly behind our building is the Kazakhstan Fireman Training Facility (below), where men from all over Kazakhstan train for four years to become firemen. We see them marching every morning in two straight lines. They dress in military uniforms, not because they are associated with the military, but because the military uniforms are cheaper.
Out the front door, however, is a sort of courtyard/garbage dump/parking lot in between three concrete high rise apartment buildings. Sometimes we see the local kids running through here on their way from one unsupervised adventure to another. More often, however, we see the local stray dogs nosing for food. Every street in Kazakhstan is lined with huge rusty bundles of pipes. I think that they are water pipes but I can't be sure.
When the pipes reach a walkway or street, they arch up and over and you pass underneath. This welcoming pipe arch is just a few steps from our front door.

I'm becoming quite the conossuier of graffiti here in Kokshetau. It is a safe city, but it is heavily adorned. A lot of the graffiti is in english and some of it is pretty funny from an American standpoint. So far I have seen "Tractor Bowling!", "Jane Air!", "Bless the Fall!", "Be Happy!" and "Zeus!" proclaimed in spray paint on the concrete walls of our neighborhood. Just before you cross the street to the market, if you look to the left on the brick foundation of the apartment building, you'll also see this strange black and white spray painted picture of a woman with glasses. Kokshetau art!
Across a muddy potholed street is a building with blue awnings which contains a market on one side, and on the other side a nightclub on the bottom floor with a small gym up the stairs. Talk about multi-purpose! It is strangely named Domino. Mom and I have passed through the bottom floor nightclub on several occasions on the way to the gym upstairs. There are always a couple of scantily-clad women and laughing men lounging on couches downstairs. The gym is serviceable but sweaty! It seems to be used primarily by weighlifters in small neon shorts. Powerlifting is a big sport in Kazakhstan. In the last olympics several of the powerlifting metalist were from Kazakhstan. Mom also attends Wednesday night "step" class here at the gym, during which she gets her fill of 1980s rock ballads set to thumping Kazakhstani backbeats. The other exercises offered are "belly dancing" and "club strip plastic." Don't ask.
Crossing the street again at the corner of the Domino building, you pass by an elementary school on your left. At the end of the school yard there are always several old women in headscarves selling newspapers, shiny black sunflower seeds (by the scoop from a large tin can), homemade pickles by the can, and even fresh fish in plastic bags. I think the fish are caught on the frozen lake just outside town. Below is a picture of me and Mom at the lake.
Just beyond the Babushkas is the now famous viola store, where Calvin has taken to chatting up the clerks.
Backtracking a little, let's pass by the Babushkas and their wares again and hugging the colorful fencing around the grade school walk down an alley to the main cross street beyond.
I say "alley" but only for a lack of a better term. Traffic laws and right of ways are very fluid here in Kazakhstan. The main streets here are clearly defined, but to get between these main streets pedestrians simply walk in between the many concrete apartments. When the gaps between buildings are wide enough, cars will squeeze through as well.At the end of the alley, you emerge onto a typical shopping street here in Kokshetau , lined with all sorts of shops (below). Don't ask me what kind of shops, however, because deprived of my ability to read signs, I have no way of telling. There is no such thing as "window shopping" here because the windows of the shops are empty. To combat the harsh weather, the front door of every shop opens onto a small blank foyer with another door just behind. Here you stomp the muck off your feet and shake the snow off your coat before really entering the shop. While undoubtedly practical, the upshot of this floorplan for a hesitant American is that you can't tell if the shop you are about to walk into is a bar or a market or a dentist or a shoe shop.
Kokshetau is a walking town, but walking this time of year is an adventure. Without any apparent thought, the locals here drift down the streets in wavy lines, effortlessly avoiding the giant muddy puddles and sidestepping the mucky rims as best they can. We Americans seem to tread more heavily than the Kazakhs do. On more than once occasion I have taken a comical swooping slipping step in the mud, in the style of woman-stepping-on-a-banana peel.

Above the shops, are apartments. Most people here in Kokshetau live in apartments and the standard of living in these soviet era high rise buildings seems much better than the small dachas on the outskirts of town.So, that's about it for our immediate neighborhood, tripping home through the squelchy mud we see several small boys calling up to a friend on a balcony. We pass a solemn looking man in a black leather cap. When we see the "Smile" sign we know we're home.

Smile, you're in Kokshetau!
Life here in Kazakhstan really has been amazing. I focus a lot on the mud and muck, but being here has really made me appreciate the simple pleasures around me. A fresh cucumber with dinner. Walking free and easy down an unknown street. The solemn beauty of the people around us. I'm grateful for all of it and for this strange moment in my life.

I other news, we saw our cute baby today. He's so perfect and I can't seem to squeeze him enough. Today was a red letter day, because he didn't even throw up on me! Hooray! Here are some pictures of my little dumpling!

That's it. I'm off to belly dancing class with Mom and Makhabbat. No really. I am. More on that later.




Dean and Janie said...

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. We are several months away from where you are now, but reading your blog is very educational. Your whole story is precious.
Blessings to you and your family today!

Nicole Faraclas said...

I love the virtual tour!! I can't thank you enough for this. Not only are you providing a ridiculously useful account for those following your your adoption footsteps, but for those simply following your journey we get a remarkable insight into your current world. Thanks for sharing.

And Becca, how funny is this, I took a belly dancing class yesterday too! Ha. Guess we'll have to shoulder shimmy together sometime...maybe to the tune of sesame street ;-).

Much love as always,

The Ryan's said...

Brings back so many great memories! Thanks.
How about a picture of Makhaabat belly dancing:-)

The Ryans

Channing said...

Your neighborhood is breathtaking. Well, that may be an overstatement but it will always have a special place in all of our hearts since Garrett is the result! Thanks for giving us so much detail about your lives over there. Miss you all!

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a belly dancing demonstration when you get home..;) I wish you were home already with that little cute chub of yours. Ah, it kills me how darn cut he is. Love, Tiff

Jeannine said...

Enjoyed the tour of the city! Will you be posting pictures of the American belly dancers? :) Garrett is so adorable- I look forward to seeing his pictures every day.
Lots of love,

Sam, Ryan and Gabby said...

We really enjoyed the tour & the insight into your daily lives. Garrett is just the sweetest kid ever...we anticipate the new photos each day, he is such a happy baby. I bet you were good at belly dancing, all of that practice in the kitchen with the kiddos must have helped :). We were at Hap Magee this morning for our park time and missed you guys, that place always reminds me of you - by the way the baby slide was closed for repairs - boo!
Sam, Ryan, and Gabby

Regina said...

Thank you so much for the virtual tour. We loved it! Between the pictures and your wonderful description I really do feel that I have had a nice tour both today and in many of your past updates. What an amazing memory this will be.

Garret looks so happy in the arms of his mommy and daddy! He is a doll!

Sending hugs your way,

Anonymous said...


That sounds like the best birthday ever - family, friends who care, a new baby and a bowling alley. What more could one want? Oh, maybe a beautiful cake from the Viola store.

ps: I predict that Calvin's first girl friend has some type of multicultural background - esp since he so loves the Viola gals! This seems to be a wonderful life changing experience for him as well.

Looking forward to tomorrow's adventure!