Friday, June 08, 2007
We arrived in Almaty in mid-evening, exhausted, hot and ready to get to bed. Salta and Ayana, my young college friends, had rented an apartment for us so they met us to show us where our new home would be for the next week. We stayed in a clean and comfortable very typical Kazakhstan apartment, 4th floor walk up (yes, dragging all that luggage). It had one bedroom, one bathroom, a teeny tiny kitchen and a bathroom. The boys slept on the floor in the living room (Don't tell anyone in Kazakhstan, that is a big No No there!). We could only fit two people in the kitchen to eat at a time, and interestingly the refridgerator had no freezer...mainly because no one there buys enough food to worry about storing frozen stuff. The fridge was much smaller than an American fridge, and the clothes washer was a luxury that was wonderful to have...but before you get any ideas that we were living in the lap of luxury let me explain that the washer was much smaller than you are imagining, and could only hold about 2 pairs of adult sized jeans, and there was no clothes dryer, so we spent most of our stay in the apartment with wet, dripping underwear hanging overhead in the hallway on the indoor clothes line. Here are kuddos for Dominick, who did ALL of our laundry during this part of the trip and was s proud of himself for keeping up with it.
We were within walking distance of Zum, the department store that everyone hits to get souvenirs...actually it is many vendors under one roof and not a department store by our way of thinking. We had several small markets along every street that we could also shop in, a play area in the middle of our block of apartments, and friendly Kazakh neighbors.
Almaty has changed dramatically since our first visit there in 2000 to adopt Matthew. There are so many cars on the road that congestion isn't really an appropriate word for it...gridlock is. There is obviously a lot of money flowing into Kazakhstan's former capital, and new construction of very expensive apartments and business buildings is everywhere. There is a new mall, named Mega, which had everything you might find here in America including a restaurant with a climbing wall which Matthew tried, a Sbarro restaurant and a 31 Flavors. The cost of EVERYTHING has increased there, and for those of you who are like us and returning for an adoption or visit after 4+ years, better bring your cash and think of it as any upper level city in America. We ran short on cash due to the much higher cost of food and lodging there and unfortunately just couldn't afford to buy some of the souvenirs we had hoped to be able to bring back home.
The air in Almaty is filthier than ever, but the streets are much cleaner than Bishkek. There are people everywhere, at all hours of the day and night. But for all the modern conveniences that have arrived, drive to the outskirts of the city and you see the "real" Kazakhstan once again, where the poverty is oppressive, housing is abysmal, and the struggle to maintain any sort of decent life is enormous. Old women sweeping dirty sidewalks with brooms made from the branches of nearby trees, asphalt being repaired by men walking behind a truck with pitchers of patch in their hands which is poured into the cracks of the roadway, outhouses and lack of indoor plumbing are the norm so you see folks carrying huge bottles of water away with them from the corner pump fo the neighborhood. Things are improving overall, but it is slow and will be years before life for the average Kazakhstani has improves significantly. I can't remember if it was in Almaty or Bishkek (which are much alike in some respects) where I asked about employment and was told that it is at 25%. However, at least in Kazakhstan, it is easy to see that the country our children came from will look vastly different by the time they reach adulthood. I am not so sure I could say the same about Kyrgyzstan. The instability in the government there may slow progress, but even in Kazakhstan people we spoke with seem divided about President Nazarbayev...some praising him for the progress made and others complaining that he is slowing things down and keeping progress from happening even more quickly.
I left Almaty for Petropavlovsk a day later than initially planned and arrived there on Saturday, June 2 instead of Friday, June 1. More on that to follow in the next post...