Kazakhstan’s Cultural “Kuwans”

I lived in the Philippines a long, long time ago (1981-83). After living in so many countries, there are words you wished you could use to be understood by other Americans.  “Kuwan” is one of those words that lingers in my lexicon and is sorely underused.  For anyone who has spent any length of time in the Philippines, you will know that “kuwan” is a good catch-all term for anything that you don’t have a name for.  I am not writing about human trafficking today as I have this past year but solely on Kazakhstan’s cultural “kuwans.”

An American friend of ours from California who we know from Astana, Kazakhstan recently wrote the following about what she observed as “interesting.”  Yes, I was taken back on memory lane to some of these same things that I experienced while living in Kazakhstan.

On April 28, it was Whitewash Saturday.  Everyone in a school or business, home or apartment is required to clean the outside of their place, wash windows, whitewash the curbs, the bottom 3 ft. of the trees, and anything else that might look dirty.  It is amazing, the whole city is at work whether you are a student, professor, business owner, employee or resident.

Supposedly wind in the air, fans or open windows causes you to get sick.  It is really “fun” to ride in a taxi or a crowded bus with all the windows shut in mid summer!

A cold drink gives you a sore throat the next day.  No ice cubes here! [probably just as well because you don’t know what was in the water before it was frozen]

Sitting on cement makes you sterile. This is for women only!

You never hand people money but lay it on the table otherwise your money will be gone the next day.  Also, your purse should never touch the floor for the same reason.

Recently a man died in his sleep in our apartment building.  The stream of visitors was a tribute to this man’s life.  On the second day his body was brought back to the house for everyone to say good bye.  The following morning a funeral was conducted in our parking lot where his body could be viewed by men only–women not allowed.  It seems that in Muslim custom, the dead man is at peace.  Crying women would only disturb him thus they are never allowed to view or bury him.  Only a day later are they allowed to visit his grave.

Did I tell you milk and juices come in boxes?  That sugar, flour and eggs come in clear plastic bags?  Eggs are sold by the 10 not a dozen.  Fruit, with many blemishes, is preferred for it is proof of being natural, more healthy and tasty.  A loaf of bread is about 35 cents, no preservatives and spoils within a day or so–but really delicious.

I was amazed once again to watch packages being prepared for mailing.  First, things are packed in a box and it is sealed with tape.  Then a burlap bag is put over the package and the end is sewed together by hand and then globs of black wax seal the thread.  Following this, they use a black marker to write the addresses, etc on the burlap.  A small package, wrapped in brown paper and sealed with wide postal tape was again wrapped in brown paper and sealed with tape  and a string tied around it.  Is this overkill?  You can imagine how long all of this takes and the lines waiting for help. One postal worker does it all.

I’ve never seen an envelope here in Kazakhstan.  Cards are sold or presented without one and bills [for utilities] are a folded piece of paper either left in the hall for each to find or stuck in your door.  Mail is not delivered and only a small boot sized box in the post office holds incoming mail.

I was so surprised to find a package of about 10 envelopes for 50 tenge–about 35 cents.  I needed some so I went to buy the package and found out they are 35 cents each!  A rare and expensive find I think.

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