My flight arrived in Almaty during the early morning hours of Saturday, June 18. During my plane’s descent I looked out my window hoping to see the city, however I had a hard time finding many lights. As a result my first thought was that Almaty must be a rather quiet and still developing urban area, despite pictures I had previously seen. By the next morning I was sitting in my hotel room anxiously awaiting to be picked up by my host family. I felt as if I was waiting to be adopted, it was a strange feeling unlike anything I had ever felt before given the fact I’d never lived with a host family. When my host mother, Medina, finally arrived she greeted me with a warm smile and a brief introduction, one I had a hard time understanding given her accent and quick speech. This was the first real shock I experienced. I had previously studied at Middlebury College’s Russian Language School, as well as my home institution of Lafayette College. However, in each setting I was accustomed to slow, clear speech and time to formulate my responses. I’m still getting used to the way Medina speaks, however I have been adapting and each day our conversations grow in length and detail.
After Medina picked me up we went straight to a nearby bazaar to gather food for breakfast. As I walked through the tight corridors of the bazaar I saw tables selling everything from horse meat to TV satellite dishes. The air was heavy and held a mix of different odors, none of which were all too pleasant and made me wonder how people managed to work at their stalls day after day. Once we began picking out food I noticed how cheap everything was, as 1 USD is equivalent to about 340 KZT (Kazakh Tenge), and our entire purchase of fresh eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables amounted to no more than $10.
On our walk from the bazaar to my new home I was pleasantly surprised to find that the city was a bustling community playing host to a wide array of businesses, people, and infrastructure. Much of what I initially saw were large concrete apartments, remnants of a long Soviet past. While not aesthetically pleasing, I find the history associated with these buildings amazing and eery. They are often crumbling on the outside and strewn with cables, piping systems, and vegetation creeping up from the ground through cracks. My apartment was no different and was accessible only after walking down a poorly maintained road lined with old cars, many of them Ladas, trees, and rusted out playgrounds. However, the interior of my apartment has been extensively renovated and makes for a small but comfortable living space. Our kitchen and bathrooms, one which has the sink and shower and the other the toilet, are barely large enough to turn around in. The living room is larger and connects to somewhat of a porch room where laundry is hung to dry. The family’s TV oftentimes broadcasts American television dubbed over, rather poorly, in Russian. My host family, which includes Medina, her daughter and her two sons, all share one room. I have my own room, and while this is much appreciated, I feel bad that they are all crammed into one small area. Nevertheless, they all seem like very happy and energetic people. They’ve made me feel like a true member of their home thus far and I look forward to getting to know them better and exploring the city.
By: Steven Berube
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Summer 2016