Tuesday we had a unique "PE Education Course" as we went to witness the start of Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge professional cycling race starting right here in our little hometown of Montrose! Now, normally, this might not have been something we would have fought the crowds to attend, but we had a special reason to make sure we were at the starting line...Team Astana from Kazakhstan was there! We were joined by our dear friend, Miss Lael, who surprised us by wanting to root for the non-home team right alongside us.
Before we left the house though, we of course had to be prepared:
Kenny and Matt are making posters to cheer on our team!
This always cracks me up...the jogging suit Matt got in Kazakhstan is like many other things there...a "knock off" where the English is spelled wrong. Now we can say for certain that yes, there indeed IS an "I" in the word "Team"! HAHAHAHA!
We got our flags out, Josh wore his traditional outfit, Kenny donned a hat, and we were ready to rock!
We arrived and realized this was a bigger event than we had thought it would be. Many people were there to meet and greet teams, to watch the introduction of the riders, and to cheer them on. Finally, the Kazakhstan team arrived...and they were in their usual form...not very warm or friendly, very abrupt and unsmiling. However, thankfully we are culturally aware enough to realize this is not an indication of their lack of pleasure at being greeted, it is just the way they normally carry themselves. Matthew was able to get signatures of some of the riders, who must have been surprised to see folks carrying their flag here in the middle of farm country.
Dominick and Kenny are the courageous ones among us, they will go up and talk to any stranger!
Matt was quite proud of his autographs!
Here the cyclists are getting ready.
Their bikes were very cool, as you can see they had their country depicted. What didn't show well in my photos was that along the underside was a sticker with the typical scroll work found in Kazakhstan.
Soon it was time for the race, and we headed to the starting line. The kids were handed out trading cards with one Kaz team member on it
When this cyclist came by, he singled us out to wave to before lining up at the start. See? They may not show it in traditional ways with typical smiling faces or warmth, but every culture is different.
Waiting for the start!
Go Team Astana!!
And yet again they found us in the crowd and waved :-)
I love these opportunities to connect with Kazakhstan, and wish we had the same for Kyrgyzstan. Kenny was disappointed that there was not a Kyrgyz team there, his country just has a long way to go to get it together enough and participate more in international competitions like this. The kids all really enjoyed being there, waving their flag...and Kenny has sort of adopted Kazakhstan as his own as well :-)
There as a brief moment for me, silly though it may seem, where tears came to my eyes. I don't know why...maybe because I just am so grateful for being able to have the family I have and for the country who shared its children with us. Maybe it was recalling the Kazakshstan I know and love. All I know is that seeing the colors of the Kazakhstan flag makes my heart fill with just as much pride as seeing the good old red, white and blue...and my life is much richer for it. The experiences we had while visiting there, the people we met, the country became more than just an anonymous flag to me. It became Salta and Ayana, our two "adopted" daughters who came and spent a month with us here in Montrose several years back and who send me photos of their new families and children. It became Ira, our interpreter whose life is so very, very hard and whose own heart was sweet and tender. It became Zhazira, the wonderful assistant director at the girls' orphanage who sat across the desk from me and talked mom to mom, it became the "cookie ladies" who went from frowning to grinning a mile wide as Dominick approached.
The flag also became the children left behind, whose hearts grow colder each day. It became poverty, corruption, greed, distrust, and much more.
Funny though, it is the warmth of the hugs that is more quickly recalled, it is the relationships that endure.
Didn't know a simple little bike race would bring all that up for me.