Thursday, December 24, 2009

so what the hell is going on with us?

yesterday, on our one visit to an internet cafe that day, i found that i was blocked from accessing this site. it looked like whoever had blocked atrios and mustang bobby had noticed me, probably because i wrote about those two being banned. d'oh!

on the other hand, the ban only seems to be in effect at public internet cafes. i can get on with wifi on my own laptop (as i am now). but the hot spots in this town are fewer and farther between, so it means posting has been sparser than i would have wanted.

but there's another reason i haven't written much about our experience here. it's mostly because a lot of the stuff that has happened to us and thus most of what i have been thinking about, is not something i should or want to post on the internet. let's just say that the reason we came here in the first place is not going well. as a result we have spent a lot of time either doing stuff i can't talk about or waiting around for calls in our internet-less (and voicemail-less) apartment. that stuff doesn't just affect my online time, it also means that i haven't seen or done much that is worth posting.

as of last night, it's been clear that our time in aktobe is coming to a close. we are trying to transfer to a different region, which will take some time. but while we wait there is no reason to stay in this small provincial city of 300k with little to see when we could be anywhere in kaz. so either tomorrow or the next day we will fly to almaty, a much more cosmopolitan city of 2 million. that means a trip clear across the country, away from the foothills of the ural mountains and russian border, and over to the tien shien mountains, near the chinese and kyrgyz border. we could take the train instead of flying, but that would take 2 days. this really is a vast empty country.

but before we leave aktobe, there are a few things i can say about the place. first, aktobe is a lot nicer than i imagined it would be. sure, it is cold, but it is remarkable how quickly we have gotten used to dealing with the sub-zero weather. it's just a matter of encasing your body in down. and while the architecture here is mostly either drab soviet-era block apartment buildings or ostentatious large constructions, the kazakhs seem to have made the best of what they inherited from the soviet union. our apartment building is fairly ugly on the outside, with a crumbling dank concrete staircase. but inside it is quite comfortable and fairly modern. we certainly are not roughing it here in any sense of the world. it feels a lot more like the first world than the third when we are in the apt.

kazakhstan definitely seems richer than uzbekistan was 6 years ago when i was there. i'm not sure if it's just the passage of time between 2003 and now, or if kazakhstan's oil and mineral wealth is the culprit, but even in a small city like this, the people do not seem poor. unlike uz in 2003, most of the cars are modern and western. i have seen very few ladas on the road.

yesterday we did go out of the city, to the smaller town of algha, which definitely displayed some poverty. it looked more like what i expected aktobe to be. but we never entered the soviet-block apartments there. for all i know, they could have been like our aktobe place on the inside.

despite our week here, i still feel like we really haven't seen the place. and yet, i am not sorry to go. as much as it exceeded my expectations, the city has an air of sadness for us that will be hard to get around. i am looking forward to a change of scenery if nothing else.