We have had our days packed with super cheap fun, and hitting interesting museums and sights has kept the kids happily occupied during a good chunk of the day, and we have sprinkled in a little of the slightly more expensive entertainment around it.
Saturday was a real action packed day...well, maybe not for some folks but for Team LaJoy it was! No, we didn't go sky diving or anything like that, but we did go see the pyramid shaped Palace of Peace and Reconciliation which was pretty fascinating to visit. It is dedicated to "... the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality." Triennial meetings of world religious leaders are hoped to be held there on an ongoing basis in order to promote faith dialogue and discourage extremism. Sounds like our kinda place, right? It was....very cool design. In the center is a round huge concert hall with natural light coming in from a ceiling above that is shaped like the sun and has glass insets on the floor of the meeting hall above it. The top of the pyramid is all glass with yellow rays and...get this...doves somehow permanently pictured on the glass. There is an atrium just beneath with a garden of sorts. The kids all seemed to enjoy the short tour, and it was definitely one of a kind architecture!
After that we were off to a museum directly across the street which was quite large and was a museum of the history of Kazakhstan. There were some absolutely fabulous exhibits and enormous murals of scenes of nomadic yurt peoples and life during ancient times. We had a tour guide whose English was so poor, I couldn't believe she was their "language specialist" as any 3rd year English student could have done better, but she was a sweet kid and we figured some things out on our own. Unfortunately I had a dead camera battery and couldn't get photos of any of it. As an interesting aside, most museums here charge a separate fee for your camera to be brought in or even charge $2 per photo. Needless to say we decided to forgo photos in those museums. The most fascinating part of this museum for all the kids was the huge model of the city of Astana...and when I say huge, I mean huge. I didn't catch how large it was but it was easily as large as our home. It was quite intricate and we found several of the places we have been and also built in was a mock up of future buildings so we can see what Astana is likely to one day look like. I don't know if these facts are true or not, but Astana used to be a village of 5000 people until President Nazarbayev decided to move the capitol here, and now it is a population of over 650,000.
After gorging on the viewing of all the stunning artwork housed at the museum, we left to return to our apartment, where we relaxed for awhile before getting ready to go to dinner with an old and dear friend of ours, Ayana. Ayana was a 19 year old college student when she visited us for a month with her cousin Salta 5 years ago. She is now a married woman (with a great job as an auditor, and in fact, she ended up marrying the young man we met when we came to adopt Kenny 2 1/2 years ago! She invited us to her parent's apartment to have dinner with them and meet them for the first time. Knowing we are quite a large group these days and being sensitive to that fact, we offered to take them out to dinner instead but she insisted her parents wanted to meet our entire family and to make us the traditional meal of beshbemark which usually is made with horsemeat, noodles and onions. We politely asked if beef could be substituted because we had already had horsemeat here this trip and it didn't agree too well with us, and they kindly understood.
What a wonderful, warm evening we had!!! Ayana's parents are in their mid-50's and were so kind. Her mom, Rosa, spoke a decent amount of English so we were able to converse fairly easily with Ayana explaining what was not understood. We spoke a lot about the differences between our two countries, about all our children and all theirs plus their grandchildren, and we got a tour of their amazing apartment. We have seen nothing of Kazakhstani housing other than tiny little flats like we have always stayed in...usually one bedroom and a teeny tiny kitchen which feels more like cooking in a motor home. This was luxurious, probably 2500 square feet...and those who have been to Kaz will appreciate this...a very beautiful hallway with faux brick work, great lighting, fake plants...and get this...an elevator!!! Even their bathroom was modern with a toilet, sink and tub all in one room and they actually flushed their toilet paper!!! Even as I type that it is hard not to laugh as I recall how comforting it felt to be in their home for a few hours, sort of like a little taste of home.
Rosa and I hugged over and over again as we got ready to leave, and she then turned to Angela and Olesya and started talking to them for several minutes. She then turned to me and shared a little of what she said, and I was very humbled by her kind remarks. She also told me that Ayana's visit to us had changed her in many ways, and that she had come home saying she didn't know such kind people really existed in the world. Between all of us, I don't think we are any kinder than anyone else out there, but the Kazakhstani people tend to be pretty buttoned up and life is very hard here. I also think Ayana was at the end of her first year of college and entering a phase of deciding where her life was going to take her. We had many very heartfelt conversations deep into the night, and I think that simply talking with one another was taken as kindness. I know that it was during those talks with Salta and Ayana that I grew to love them both very much, and came to know my children's birth country on a much more intimate level.
We ended up back home well after midnight, and everyone fell into bed tired but happy after a busy day. Hope you are enjoying the photos and descriptions of Astana!