Kazakhstani Hospitality

The people of Kazakhstan are incredibly hospitable. We were fed…and fed…and fed. At this particular school, after we visited the classrooms and watched students present and toured the school, we were each presented with a bouquet of roses and invited to sit and feast.

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We were offered all kinds of breads and meats and salads and pastries and chocolates and nuts and dried fruit. The thin, round slices of meat in the lower right quadrant (directly above the desert) is horse. Because horse is so lean, they infuse this horse sausage with fat.

A Glimpse into Culture: Student Performance

2013-04-09 21.14.49Wherever we went, students performed for us, showcasing both Kazakh and Kazakhstani culture. The two schools we visited today were no different. The first, a Kazakh school (where the subjects were taught in the Kazakh language) presented traditional dance forms and dombra playing.

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The music was lively, the young girls vibrant, and their dressed twirled. They had traveled to compete (and win) internationally.




The students at the second school (subjects taught in Russian) performed dances as well, though these were ballroom dances performed to classical music.

The Chocolate Factory

We were walking down the street, exploring a bit after dinner. Wan sunshine illuminated the sky, and we were chatting, our bellies full.

2013-04-09 05.57.26Suddenly the rich, unmistakable scent of chocolate filled the air. Wave after wave undulated across the heavens, the heady scent filling our heads. I felt a bit like Odysseus & the Syrens, but this time the silky call sought the nostrils.

We followed our noses to the Chocolate Factory. It was packed. Folks from every walk of life stood behind the counter, ordering a kilo or five of the chocolate candy pieces.

Hello? Anyone there?

2013-04-09 04.51.06In Kazakhstan, also, cell phones are ubiquitous. It was worth noting the one public telephone that I found.

This was at the Ascension Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox place of worship in Almaty. The square was rather large, with many people strolling about, taking in the scenery, laughing with their children, elders, and friends.2013-04-09 04.51.21

The church itself, finished in 1907, was built entirely without nails. Somehow, it survived the earthquake of 1911, an earthquake that registered 7.7 on the Richter Scale and destroyed almost 800 buildings in Almaty (which was, incidentally, almost the entire city). It’s incredibly colorful and beautiful.


Museum of Kazakh Culture

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Traditionally, the Kazakh people were sheepherders. Wool and sheep products figure prominently into their way of life. The walls of the yurt would be lined and layered with beautifully & colorfully designed rugs. They lined the floors as well, keeping out the cold and keeping the inhabitants warm & cozy.

The jewelry of the Kazakh people reflects their culture, values, and beliefs. Much of Kazakh jewelry is made of silver and inlaid with jewels or carved with meaningful designs. Because the Kazakhs were nomadic people, the jewelry also reflects the various peoples they encountered. For Kazakh people, jewelry held magical and protective properties.

While kumys (mare’s milk) and shubat (camel’s milk) are particularly important in the Kazakh culture, tea is also quite important. The former are often taken with the meal, while tea is often served afterwards or with a mid-morning or afternoon snack.


As mentioned previously, the horse figured largely into every part of the Kazakh life. This print captures the vital nature of the horse and how integral the horse was for warfare, defending territory, and advancing one’s borders.

Music: the Dombra

2013-04-09 03.38.19The traditional musical instrument of the Kazakh people is the dombra. It is a three-stringed, long-necked lute. We’ve seen it played by several different students, and it seems to share a prominent place in the Kazakh culture.



Check out Freestailo on SuperStar KZ playing the dombra:

Filleted Horse Beef

I find that I am eating a great deal of horse meat. It seems to be a part of almost every meal I am eating here in Almaty. My favorite way to savor this kind of meat is in a salad that very much resembles cole slaw. The meat itself is julienned, just like the cabbage and carrots and other vegetables, and it tastes slightly sweet and not at all like horse.

Traditionally, the horse is incredibly important to the Kazakh way of life. It was used in hunting, moving, packing, and warfare. As archeologists have uncovered ancient grave sites, they’ve found horses buried with their owners.

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25 Tenge = 16 Cents

That slight pressure against your bladder wall reminds you that you drank way too much coffee this morning. You note that you should probably slip away to the ladies room before too much longer. You consider your options: you’re in the mall. Certainly there’s a powder room. Somewhere.

You find a desk in front of the bathroom door. The sign asks for 25 tenge.

Toilet Charge





Even if you didn’t quickly convert the tenge into dollars (and determine that you’re only paying 16 cents), you’d pay it anyway. It’ll be a long time before you see the hotel again!

Day 3: the Soviet Education System

Nadezhda Trubova, or Nadia as she is called, spoke to us about the Soviet system, the Kazakh transition period, and the 2011-2020 education reform. What a phenomenal young woman: articulate, accomplished, and very patient. I learned so much.

The Soviet Way: What particularly intrigued me about the Soviet education system was the clever ways it used peer pressure, collective punishments, and immense pressure to keep everyone in line. “Good” students were awarded the October Kid award – a star with a baby Lenin – in the second or third grade. Everyone, of course, wanted this award — and would be immediately shamed by one and all if it wasn’t achieved. In the middle grades, “good” students were awarded the level of Pioneer, a red kerchief that one ironed every morning and wore with pride. (Nadia was a 7th grade Pioneer at the time of the Soviet collapse and remembers ripping off the kerchief, throwing it away — though has no member of previous resentment of the scarf.) As a senior, “good” students can earn the Komsomol, the Committee of Soviet Youth. This time the badge bears the face of an adult Lenin. The accumulation of these three awards allows one to get the party ticket, without which life wasn’t worth living.

The Kazakh Way: upcoming