I had some dreams ... they were klowns in my koffee.

(With apologies to Carly Simon)

This is my journey through job transition from a toxic environment to a better life. Join me for a few thoughts and a few laughs along the way.
What are "klowns in my koffee"? They are the factors large and small that make you less than you are. A "klown" can be a grossly incompetent boss,
a short-sighted policy or a moronic coworker. They won't kill you, at least not immediately, but they abrade the soul
as you scrape past them to get through the day. Sometimes it's best to dump them out of the cup.


Day 120 - Kazakhstan Part 8

Every Sunday, this blog will describe our life-changing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005 to adopt our two youngest children. While some of our friends and family have seen a few of the pictures, we've never put it all together in an organized format. One of the reasons is that I hesitate to subject others to a 21st century version of the endless slideshow of vacation photos harking to some relative's visit and a lost evening of my childhood. Still, the story must be told before details are lost since this is my children's unique birthright. When we get to the end of the story, I'll edit the posts together into an extended and separate blog page and then have it printed by one of the blog-to-book(let) services for my kids. For people with less interest, these posts will be easy to identify and avoid. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Morning came with the bumps of luggage and slashes of staccato conversation in the hallways of the statuesque Hotel Kazakhstan. We were exhausted from round-the-clock travel and yet hunger and a general sense of being jangled kept us from sleeping later.

Our schedule gave us one day in the city of Almaty at the beginning of our trip and the promise of maybe a week right before leaving the country at a time that seemed impossibly far away. Stepping over the suitcases that had been thrown on the floor at 4 AM, we explored the small room and then hurriedly dressed to take advantage of the complementary breakfast buffet being served on the top floor.

The clientele of the Hotel Kazakhstan are international business travelers; in this part of the world, that means mostly Middle Eastern oil executives and Asian businessmen. The buffet items were chosen for that audience -- rice, pickled cabbage, various colorful and pungent dishes. I found some fruit and some kind of yogurt pudding that was really good. As it was the end of service, the dining room was nearly empty. We wandered from window to window to absorb the incomparable panorama. Unfortunately, this is the only picture that came out and it doesn't do justice to the ridge of snow capped mountains to the south. The exotic landscape was a reminder that we were not all that far from the mythical Shangri-La.

We made our way back to the room to wait for Anya's call. Terry stretched out to read a magazine and I flitted here and there. It can't be seen from the photographs, but the room was triangular. It was roomy enough and yet a touch claustrophobic even after spending all that time wedged into an airplane seat. I love to read any tourist documentation that hotels leave in the rooms and was soon learning more about the city of Almaty.

Humans inhabited the area whre Almaty now stands as early as the Bronze Age. The city was part of the famed Silk Road during the Middle Ages. The Russians built a fortress on the site of the current city in the 1850's and the surrounding settlement grew very quickly. The population swelled and a large number of buildings were constructed to contain the burgeoning city. In 1887, an earthquake destroyed the majority of the buildings in twelve minutes and caused massive casualties. The city was rebuilt in time and much of it has a heavy, squat, functional look with which we tend to associate the Soviet era when additional development occurred. Almaty has had a variety of names, most recently Alma Ata, translated as 'Father of Apples.' There were apples in Kazakhstan wherever we went and botanists theorize based the extent of the genetic diversity that apples originated here.

Anya called and then dropped by the hotel to pick up money to buy plane tickets for the next day's flight to Uralsk. That done, we were free to look around the city for the rest of the day. Because we had been delayed by the storm and problems at the airport, the agency had not arranged for any trips for us to see the sights. In 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had known to be more insistent with them.

We had been advised to dress in dark clothes like the Kazakhs to avoid standing out too much. We ventured outside and saw a lot of black clothing on the passersby. I had my camera but felt distinctly odd in taking pictures as though it were something I shouldn't be doing. Maybe it was too many of those Cold War-era movies. We walked up and down the streets and looked around. Discovering an Internet cafe, we rented access for an hour for the equivalent of a dollar or two and emailed home that we had arrived safely. Surrounded by Kazakh teenagers playing familiar video games brought the realization that technology is the world's most common language.

Emboldened by our success in using the Internet cafe where no English was spoken and buying beverages from a stand though a ballet of pointing and grunting that would soon be second nature, I took pictures of the buildings that looked interesting and didn't have armed soldiers.

The picture on the left shows a statue of a Kazakh poet, singer and composer named Zhambyl.
This one of the most famous places in Almaty, though we didn't know it at the time. This is Abai Square located in front of the Republic Palace. The statue honors Abai Kunanbaev, a Kazakh poet, philosopher and nationalist revered as a folk hero.
This is an Almaty bus stop enclosure. Isn't it beautiful and stately?

Our need for outside contact satisfied, we walked back to the hotel for a nap. Since the Hotel Kazakhstan is one of the tallest buildings in the city, it was an easy process to find our way back.

We awoke in the late afternoon and took off on foot to find some dinner. The sidewalks started to become overgrown with grass and darkness fell quickly. Taking a right off the main street on a hunch and following a sign with English writing, we walked in the side door of Mad Murphy's, Almaty's Irish pub and home to rowdy expats. We devoured overpriced hamburgers and beer in a smoky corner of the wood-lined pub and talked with the English-speaking waitress and bar tender. It was just delightful.

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