Sunday, April 5, 2009

SB Kazakhstan 2009: Shymkent

It has become a Peace Corps Kazakhstan tradition for a whole bunch of volunteers to make the trip to Shymkent around March 22 every year to celebrate Kazakh New Year’s. This is the first time most volunteers will see each other since they left for sites four months ago. For many, it is the first time in the non-negative celcius for months and the first time they’ve seen something green as well. Fortunately for me, I live only a few hours away, so I didn’t even have to take any time off of work to go into the city. And I even made friends with the taxi driver who was taking me there, although this friendship did not prevent him from overcharging me for the trip.

The title of this article is Spring Break Kazakhstan, and in some ways it was. We were in the South, having fun in the sun, and enjoying each other’s company. I don’t want it to sound like it was one big crazy party though. We had a lot of structure to accompany our three days in the city planned by the amazing South Kazakhstan Crew, I believe headed by Vicente. (Big props to all of you guys!)

The first night we rented a sauna, which was my first time in such a thing. I’d heard about them from my coworkers often, as in Michael, we will take you to the sauna. When? Soon. Later. Never anytime that ever happens. But finally, in Shymkent, it became a reality. See, the sauna is like the banya, but with an upgrade. Before, I’d only gone to banyas owned by my host families and public ones. But the sauna is one you rent out with a group of people for a few hours. The one we had featured a changing room, a shower room, a bathroom, the actual sauna area, a small pool with freezing water, a “massage” room, and a dining room complete with tables, chairs, and a big screen television. There’s someone outside in the lobby to sell beer, snacks, water, etc. Altogether about ten of us decided to go in on the venture, and it was about eight bucks a person for the two hours.

The big advantage to the sauna is that it’s just pretty awesome. I mean, what isn’t there to love about having your own private party complete with pool, living room, and steam room. I’m definitely going to try and get in on more of these in the future, although my meager salary will prevent me from doing so all too often.

After the sauna, I enjoyed a meal with Scott and Eric at a restaurant that was actually full of people. Definitely my first time ever seeing that in Kazakhstan. (Usually, they are pretty devoid of all life other than you. Even the waitresses can be hard to track down.) And then I went back to a party some volunteers were having at the apartments we rented.

The next day I would embark on my trip to Mecca.

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