Ryan’s Final Goodbye to Kazakhstan

Like I suspected a couple of days ago, Ryan had more to write about his first impressions of Kazakhstan the two months he was here.  Seems he had a very powerful experience with meeting many OT and PT people in the work he did with the disabled Kazakh and Kazakhstani children and their parents.  We need more Americans (and Canadians and other westerners) like Ryan to adventure forth to this little known land where there are so many needs with Kazakhs suffering from disabilities.

Which reminds me, I had a delightful, hour long conversation with a woman who had a Fulbright grant in Semipalatinsk.  It was fun to compare notes with her about her four month experience in a university. Both people, Ryan and Mary Jo I met through this blog.  Who else is out there? Leave a comment and I’ll respond.

“Hey everybody, Tomorrow the long journey home begins. I have a birthday party for my friend Elizabeth tonight, then tomorrow I’m going to an orphanage, then last minute packing etc and catching the 6.30p train to Almaty, then 14 hours on the train and a day in Almaty, then the three flights that will get me home to the U.S.

I’m in utter disbelief and denial that my time here is almost over. I’ve had two parallel periods of time here that I think a lot about. One is the fact that this two months seems like it’s been about two days instead of two months. It feels like I haven’t been here any time at all. On the flip side of that it feels like this two months has been two years. Thinking back to my first days here they seem like a million years ago. I’ve seen so much, met so many wonderful people here that have taken me in, welcomed me, told me their stories, and made the transition to being here so much easier, and learned about the culture of a people and a place I barely knew.

I underestimated just how important it can be to have friends to show you the ropes in a place you’ve never been before. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and two incredible host families that have shown me different sides of the culture of Kazakstan. It’s interesting because the culture here is on one hand undeniably Kazak and yet it’s not just Kazak. It’s Uzbek and Russian and Tatar and Kirghiz..it is all of these cultures and people that live and work here together and without any of them it’s not the same.

A good and fun example here is a rice dish called Plov. The two most famous types are Kazak and Uzbek and there are people on both sides of the argument as to which one is better. Personally my vote is Uzbek. That’s just one of many examples.

I remember being so excited when I got here that I could read the signs on the street. Most signs are in both Kazak and Russian so I could read the Russian and that helped to calm me down instantly. I knew that this language that I had been learning in a classroom was really going to help me on the ground here. There are times when I’m still shocked that I can say something in Russian and get a response. For me now, Russian isn’t just a language I’m learning in a classroom for a grade but it’s a language I really really want to learn more because I now have friends that speak it. It’s become important to learn it for a completely different reason.

Now, I can also read a good bit of the Kazak and I can actually speak a little bit…pretty cool, eh? If I were to come here more long term, especially to Shymkent, I would definitely invest serious time into learning Kazak. Every major city in Kazakhstan is different as to which language is more widely spoken and preferred. In Astana it’s Russian, in Shymkent it’s Kazak. Most people speak both…but if you speak both then you’re in great shape. I’ve learned something new about KZ everyday that I’ve been here and everything I’ve learned has made me a little less of a clueless foreigner and I like that.

The last couple weeks since being back to Shymkent from Astana have been good weeks…busy weeks but good ones. The train ride back from Astana was uneventful mostly. I spent most of my time talking with Cindy and Elizabeth and the family in their coupe. I spent some time talking to the father in Russian and that was a lot of fun. We talked about America and he even drew a pretty good map of the states. I was very impressed. I also conquered the top bunk in my coupe. My upper arm strength and the ability to move my body using it amazes me sometimes, but it worked! When I got back to Shymkent I went to my new host family’s house and slept for a while.

My new host family is wonderful. They’ve taken me in and made me one of the family. They speak English and Russian so I’ve gotten to speak more English than I’ve probably needed to but it’s been great to get to hang out with them and talk about all sorts of things having to do with America and Kazakstan. One of the most interesting questions one of the kids asked was if Canadians hate Americans?

My host mom is a doctor and I’ve worked with her all summer so it’s been really great to live with her. They only have cold water which I thought I would hate but it’s been so hot that the cold showers have been amazing! Her daughter actually drew me something to bring back to the states. It’s really cool! Two things that have been really great about living a little bit far out of the city is that I spend a lot of time sitting on buses getting from one place to another. It gives me a lot of time to think. It’s nice!

Work has been great for the last couple of weeks. It hit me yesterday that this was my last day at work…not exactly a pleasant thought. Those kids have been a huge part of my summer and I love them a lot. They’ve been amazing to work with. Their smiling faces will definitely be something I take with me. The therapists and staff that I’ve worked with have taught me a lot about what it’s like to be on the other side of the patient-therapist divide. Everyone at work has been a huge encouragement to me.

We spent some time last week with an organization that brings disabled adults here together and tries to help them find jobs. We met some of the volunteers there who are also disabled. It was really cool to meet them and even more importantly I got to hear their stories. I’ve been telling my story all summer but I hadn’t really gotten to hear stories from the disabled community here in Shymkent.

It’s interesting how my generation, but particularly disabled people in my generation, use the internet to reach out to people with email and now with blogs. It’s really neat. Also, getting to hear about the ways that they help those around them is great! Later in the week we went back and worked with a few of them individually talking to them and giving them advice about exercises and things like there. There was one lady that I was talking to and her face lit up and she said “he really understands me”….that made me so happy. It was one of those moments when I was absolutely sure why I was supposed to be in Kazakhstan.

Last Saturday we spent the day as a team in the mountains(actually, it was more of a canyon because the Tien Shen mountains around here are really tall and snow capped). It was a great time of talking and of course lots of eating. We were there to celebrate a few birthdays(including mine!) and say our goodbyes because three of us are leaving in the next months. I spent most of my time drinking ice cold strawberry juice and Sprite and relaxing… A few of our group did some climbing…they looked really tired but very accomplished when they came back…I was glad I stayed on the ground personally. It was great to have the opportunity to say and hear some heartfelt goodbyes.

Sunday, I spent the day with my friend Rafhat. He’s here in Shymkent for the week and then we’ll go to Almaty together. We had shashlik and plov for lunch and then we went to my friends to say some good byes. On Monday we went to a Ethnomuseum and I learned a lot about Kazak/Central Asian culture. The Muslim owner took us into an underground area that he built as a place to pray. It was pretty cool literally. It was a least 10 degrees cooler in there than it was outside. We watched his daughter throw pottery which was cool because I’d never actually seen it done. He also played several instrument(a few Kazak instruments and even an American harmonica). It was a really cool experience.

And now, to close this massive missive… I want to thank each and everyone of you and a host of other people who may never see this email. Each of you have been a vital part of my work here. I didn’t do this alone. Through your support, in whatever ways you have supported me, I’ve been able to do my work here in Kazakhstan. I’m so thankful for your love and your support. Please, continue to think about KZ and her neighboring countries. Also, think of my friends as they try to work out their visa issues. Finally, for me, that my last days here would be full of wonderful experiences and tears of joy and that my travel would be uneventful. Again, thank you all for your unending support and I love you all!”

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I’m leaving to Shymkent, Kazakhstan in a week’s time. I’ve been invited to SKSU university and going give lectures, conduct academic consultations, review research topics and few other things related on computer science area. Hope to have a good time there.

  2. 2

    kazaknomad said,

    I would LOVE to get your thoughts and impressions of your experience in Shymkent. I hope it is a positive event for your all around!


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