When I left the United States, I brought along two Frisbees (discs actually, as Frisbee is a registered trademark of the Wham-O corporation and UPA sanctions the 175 Discraft Ultrastar as the official disc for ultimate, i.e. I am a Frisbee snob). However, I wasn’t really expecting to use them in any serious Ultimate competition. Maybe there would be a couple volunteers that played (using logic and stereotypes together: if hippies play Frisbee, and if hippies join the Peace Corps, then there should be people in the Peace Corps that play Frisbee), but I never imagined playing in a locally run game of Ultimate. However, yesterday, all of my expectations for Frisbee in Kazakhstan were shattered.
I played a pickup game of ultimate. In Almaty. In Kazakhstan. Sure, it was six on six. And there wasn’t really a stack offense. But there were stall counts, brick rules, and even travels called. More on the backstory….
One of the Kaz-18 volunteers (Nora) had told me about pickup on Sundays in Almaty. Almaty is the major city in our Oblast (like a state) and is only about an hour away by bus and only costs about 1.15 to get there. Last Sunday, I was stocked to go, but decided to stay home because my family was having guests over. This Sunay, my afternoon was entirely free, so I jumped at the chance to play Ultimate on the other side of the world.
I left my town and traveled into the city alone. The directions I have are worth quoting: “Take a bus to Ramstore. Walk back down the hill and take a right at the big TV screen. After about 100 yards, turn right. It will look like an alley. There will be a gate with a star on it and a guard. Frisbee is through the gate and up the hill on the left.” I may have accidentally entered a military location at first, but eventually I found the fields.
I was there early, but after about half an hour I saw two girls show up carrying the familiar site of a white Ultrastar. My heart leapt with joy. A few minutes later some more guys showed up, and I introduced myself. There was one other American, Jason from New York who had been in K-stan for a few years. The rest of the crowd were local Kazakhstanis! Crazy.
We started with four on four and eventually made it up to six on six. We only had a dirt field to play on that we drew lines on, since they don’t have cones in Kazakhstan (according to the people playing). I played with them for about an hour and a half. Some of them had solid flicks. Cuts were okay, but not really that great. Defense was basic man-to-man. Stall counts were done in two different languages (and I thought about adding in some Kazakh as well, but always forgot to do it.) It felt surreal to be playing with my new friends, using primarily a different language, in the middle of a huge city, in Central Asia. My mind could barely wrap itself around how awesome that was.