Archive for April 14, 2008

Our Need for Humility

Yesterday we had four spontaneous guests over for lunch.  They didn’t seem to mind our leftovers of Mexican tacos and we enjoyed their company.  Two stayed until almost 5:00 o’clock which meant we had four hours to sort out Kazakhstan’s many virtues and vices.  The question had earlier been asked at the dinner table, “How can Kazakhstan improve its image to the rest of the world so that the tourism industry might flourish?”

This past week Ken and I proved there are many good restaurants which have a service mentality in place which hadn’t existéd fifteen years ago. That alone should help Kazakhstan’s tourism. We were hosted to Georgian food last Saturday night, then we went to a Thai place with friends from church last Sunday.  Then Ken and I were hosts to some American travellers at a Chinese restaurant, the following night we ate Japanese food close to our university.  Finally, on Friday night we went to a posh Italian place we don’t recommend because of the prices but we got our grocery shopping done at Ramstor.  Almaty is a very cosmopolitan place with the amalgamation of many countries and their respective ethnic foods.What does this have to do with humility and Kazakhstan’s tourism that languishes?  I believe after our discussion yesterday I had some ideas confirmed about Kazakh people which I already knew about.  First, the Kazakhs are very hospitable and gracious.  After having many travellers come through their land over the millineums, they know only too well how their land can be inhospitable, they know how to take care of their guests.   I know of many stories from when Stalin deported different ethnic groups to Kazakhstan and had them dumped out of railroad cars to fend for themselves.  The Kazakhs were noble enough to help the strangers in a foreign land.

Second, the Kazakhs are a tolerant and patient people.  They have had much wrong visited upon them and yet they appear forgiving.  One example our guests gave was what they experienced at a telecommunications place that had the latest gadgetry of taking a number and waiting.  Turns out that after an hour of waiting and seeing the numbers on the electronic board in the 500-600s, they were holding on to a tab that read 100.  Eventually they found out that the numbers weren’t correlating with what was on the screen.  All those who had already waited were put to the back of the line with getting new numbers.  One Russian appearing guy (or it could have been my American husband who craves for efficiency in this land) started railing against the establishment about this inequity.  He was served on the spot while our friends and other Kazakhs waited yet again for their turn.

Third, the Kazakhs put on a mask that is for the foreigner to see.  They let down their guard amongst those they trust but they do have a way of appearing one way to the outsider and yet another way to their own people.  The Kazakhs are also very Asian in wanting to save face.  I have examples of that but I’ll “save” it for another time. 

Finally, the Kazakhs should be proud of their traditions, their language, their long years of nomadic life.  An example our guests gave was the uncle of our Kazakh friend, who is VERY nationalistic.   I don’t think he was exhibiting false humility when he was astonished that his foreigner nephew wanted to go to a classical dombar and komiz concert.  The uncle was actually dumbfounded that a person outside his own Kazakh culture would even like that kind of music.  Perhaps the Soviets had done a thorough job of making the Kazakh people feel that anything of their song, dance or music was detestable and that only western classical music was superior.  In any case, I think that the colorful costumes, the traditions and the music could be the FIRST place Kazakhstan could start with promoting tourism, after showing they have the restaurants and hotels to serve them.  The Kazakh music and language would show off the soul of this nation, those traditions which have been handed down from generation to generation.

However, I’m reminded that there are many westernized professors on our campus who are puffed up with their knowledge in their particular specialities.  Some of these professors and administrators are from Third World countries that are not even proud of their own roots, noone is wanting to tour or visit their original country.  But if they are proud of their own roots, they care nothing for the improvement of the Kazakh students’ lot and the future of this grand country.

Many of the Kazakhstani students who come to our university are children of the “New Rich” who care nothing about learning but only want to show off that they are wealthy enough to afford our western education without having to go overseas.  Of course, the wealthiest DO send their children to Europe or North America for education.  So, the pride exists alongside the humility of the original Kazakh.  We are living in a paradox of a land which makes it difficult to promote tourism.  Essentially one should be proud of their roots and others from the outside should be curious enough to want to see or visit Kazakhstan

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