Christmas in Karaganda
The two days off of work post-Novi Goad (it’s not even New Year’s in my mind anymore, when I think of it, I think Novi Goad) gave all of us volunteers a four-day weekend. I saw that as a great time to travel somewhere and see some old friends from PST. I had to decide between going to the Shymkent two hours away or taking an eighteen hour train to the middle of the country for “Christmas in Karaganda,” a holiday celebration that Jessic had been planning since our sites were announced in October. Shymkent is warmer and closer than Karaganda. However, Karaganda just had this mythical appeal. When faced with a difficult decision, I always try to pick the option that will make the best story later on. Trains, snow, steppe, cookies, and stockings. I chose Karaganda.
I left my house on the morning of the first and headed to the local train station. I quickly befriended some local Russians who wanted me to help their daughter climb on the train with an injured foot. At train stations in the big city, they could have helped her themselves, but my town get a three minute stop. So you begin by guessing where your train wagon will stop and stand there in eager anticipation. We guessed wrong, and ended up trying to run through the snow to get to our wagon. Well of course, she can’t run. So we end up boarding a few wagons early and walking through the train to our spots. (I don’t understand why people were so concerned about getting on their wagon, because I’m pretty sure anyone could have done this.)
At this point the train is nearly empty. In my wagon, there are maybe ten other people and about fifty or so spots. I should take a moment though to describe the train. I have written about trains earlier, but my only experience had been kupets. Kupets are now classified as boring. Platscart is the new way to go. See, in kupets there are a number of rooms along a hallway, each with two sets of bunk beds. Platscart has a similar setup, but there are no walls separating the hallway from the rooms with the beds (so they aren’t really rooms, per se, but there is a definite defined four bed set up with a table in between.) And the hallway itself is also lined with bunked beds. So you don’t really get any privacy, but why would you ever want that. Plus, in platscart, the bottom bunk is really just a seat for pretty much whomever. And sitting on people isn’t even considered rude. Strange to me, but that’s how things are here.
So on the way to Kganda I meet the most awesome people. First, there was the conductor that was nice to me because I was new on the train. Then there was a young teenager that had sung at the New Year’s concert I’d seen the night before on his way back to school in Astana. Then the university student that wanted to practice her English with me. And finally husband in wife from Taraz who gave me chai and food when they saw I didn’t have any. Plus, the husband was so impressed with my one Kazakh toast (Zhanga Zhil kutti bolson, happy New Year) he made me keep giving it. When I couldn’t go to sleep I ended up talking with him for a while and we sang songs together in English and Kazakh. I loved platscart.