Wednesday, April 9, 2008

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Jesse's Kazakhstan Observations

Wed, April 9thLocal Time: 8:50 am Cincinnati Time: 10:50 pm

Just when we thought we were getting over our jet lag, looks like Amy had a bit of a relapse. It was a long night for her of tossing and turning. So, after staying awake most of the night, she finally crashed early this morning, which gives me some time to summarize a few of our more lighthearted observations of Kazakhstan. Don’t worry ladies, we’ll post again later in the day with an update on the little one, as we’re off to visit him around lunchtime today (can’t wait to see him). Also, before I get going on my spinoff of the Saturday Night Live ‘Random Thoughts by Jack Handy’ moment, I wanted to encourage everyone to keep up the comments to the blog. (Remember Allen E, to keep it clean). It’s really been great to have everyone’s support during this life changing event.

A few observations of life in Kazakhstan:

· Driving is the national sport. Ok, so you don’t actually get points, but you should simply for surviving. Laws are more ‘suggestions’ than mandates. And lane markers are merely to add decorative color to the streets. They have developed a language using only the car/truck/other random motor vehicles’ horn as the means for communications. I suggest they drop the pretense of rules, slap some tires around the outside of all the vehicles, and call it what it is… a huge bumper car ride. By the way, most cars are imported used, as new vehicles are very expensive (since there are no auto factories nearby). I’m guessing this contributes to the general attitude toward driving – ‘It’s already dented, what the $%#!’. The good news is that Amy now regards my driving as excellent, or should for at least a few weeks after we return (until I get too close to the elder statesman in front of me).

· Unlike us Americans, the average Kazak seems to be thin and in decent shape. Since their food is very meat and potatoes (yummy), my theory is that it has more to do with exercise than diet. Most of the folks we’ve met walk a lot. Which I believe is related to their fear of driving. See bullet above.

· However, if you are going to get your exercise by walking in Kazakhstan, you better watch your step. There are potholes that could swallow a small child, and the sidewalks have somewhat random changes in elevation, which I would call a step, but placed in odd locations. It’s hard to describe, but easy to trip over. Trust me, I almost broke my neck last night. And that was before I had a peva (that’s beer, ya’ll).

· Much to my dismay, tea is the preferred drink over coffee. Not a packet of Sweet-n-Low or Splenda to be found. And to Connor – no son, I haven’t been able to find a Starbucks (or Starbuckinski’s). For Connor, this will be justification enough to pick up our new son immediately and bring him home to the States. Is it a problem if your 6 year old is addicted to Strawberries and Cream Fraps from Starbucks? (no caffeine, but plenty of sugar and calories). Thus the need for all the extracurricular activities. Miss our trips, son.

· The typical police officer is plain-clothed, except the traffic cops. Not sure the reason, other than the traffic cops definitely need to stand out. You will occasionally see military personnel on the streets with the cops. Not overly intrusive, but a presence nonetheless.

· While in general I love the diversity of looks in attire in Kaz, for the life of me I can’t understand the way the typical baby is dressed. For instance, the first time we met our little guy, he was wearing 4 shirts, 1 jacket, 2 pairs of pants, 3 pair of socks, and a hat. It was about 70 degrees F outside, and we were indoors! It was like the movie ‘A Christmas Story’, but instead of the first grader getting overly bundled up to head out to face the cold, there are hoards of babies sweating away in the spring heat. Tiny little arms stuck straight out, barely able to move. Kinda funny to see, but can’t be all that comfortable for the youngsters, though. Go figure.

· While traveling in Kazakhstan, we have noticed that the airports address baggage handling a bit differently than in the states. In Almaty, it was more similar to the Caribbean, where the baggage would randomly come out of one of the baggage carrousels, regardless of how they were labeled. They will then pile up because the baggage was too big for the carrousel, and folks would dive over one another in an attempt to find their stuff. Reminds me of single 30-something ladies jostling for the bouquet at a wedding.However, in Shyment, the luggage experience was very different. We flew on a fairly large plane (~747 size), so when we disembarked, we assumed we would head into the terminal to receive our very large checked baggage. Nope. We were shepherded into an area just outside next to the plane and told to wait, while our luggage was put onto a truck, then brought around the plane for us to pull off ourselves. We cut the middleman right out of the equation. I think you could have asked to dive right into the belly of the cargo hold yourself and they wouldn’t have minded – perhaps a ‘be aware of the jet turbine engine’ warning, but other than that, you would be good to go.