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Mambyet 3 - Return of the Shymkentskiis

travel kazakhstan \ 2012-01-19

Some people travel and when they come back home they have tons of souvenirs, loads of pictures, and great memories. Other people return and are pretty sure they had a 10 day long fever dream. Some people go to Kazakhstan and it's a slightly disorienting mixture of the two. And then some people go to Kazakhstan and hang out with Ilyas and all bets are off.

Let me begin by clarifying the title. I am not the Shymkentskii who is returning. It's an actual guy from Shymkent who has returned to Almaty and is undoubtably causing mayhem by simply existing. Ilyas and I, however, value our lives and intellect and thus have avoided this guy, who, for the sake of discussion, I'll start calling him Jim. Jim isn't a Kazakh name, but then again, Shymkent probably, for the sake of Kazakhstan's national image, shouldn't be considered Kazakh. You might expect me to insert some sort of disclaimer saying "Sorry to any and all Shymkentskiis reading this," but people from Shymkent are the kind of people who if you hooked a typewriter up to a TV you could convince them they were playing a video game.

"Yo! George! I beat your high score on Home Shopping Network again!"

By now you might be recalling my previous trip to Almaty where I talked about the notorious "mambyet." Shymkentskiis are like mutant mambyets (and that's why they have X(-men) as their licenses plate designator). Don't believe me? Look at a car from Shymkent. Every single thing on the car is tinted. Hood? Tinted. Trunk? Tinted. Underside of the car? Not actually tinted. I think the car salesmen convinced them that shadows meant "naturally tinted." Anyone who can see through front-tinted windows must have some sort of superpower. I mean, can you see through solid black windows?

No. You can't. Because you're not from Shymkent. Thank god.

This is all not to say, however, that only Shymkent is like this and that Almaty is devoid of it's own adorable quirks (I mean, in so far as you consider the occasional awe-inspiring stupidity of the Shymkentskiis adorable).

One of Almaty's adorable quirks is its citizen's driving. I want to relate what I imagine is an illustrative example. Ilyas, who of course earned his license legally and in no way exchanged money for it, and I were driving (or sliding on the ice, whatever, we were moving forward at least) and we turn on to a major thoroughfare. Speeding down past us is a car chase. This is how it went down.

Thief: "Oh shit! Gotta escape from the cops. Wait, is that a speed bump in front of me? Better slow down so as not to wreck the suspension on my car."

Car slows down, goes over corner of speed bump. No one is quite sure why there are speed bumps on major roads. But there are. It's just a fact of life. Don't worry about it.

Further down the road the car starts swerving wildly, even though there are no people or other cars. Later on we drive down the same stretch of road and see that there were just a bunch of manhole covers that he was trying to avoid. I should note that the police officers were also doing the exact same thing. Instead of gaining on him by going over the speed bump at full speed, they slowed down to 5 mph and inched over the speed bump.

I should also clarify one thing. This didn't happen. Well, it has happen. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. ANYONE. DRIVES. There are no actual straight roads in Almaty because every block that contains a manhole cover (i.e. every single one it seems like) actually has lanes that wiggle back and forth so as to allow cars to legally avoid a 2 inch ditch. I have seen cars avoid manhole covers but then drive over 6 inch high snow drifts and curbs.

Ok, so maybe I"m being too harsh on people. It's totally a normal thing to avoid natural parts on the road. I mean, I've seen a fair number of people avoid things like sidewalks and the dividing line between lanes. Cause you know what? To hell with sensible driving!

But of course, I don't want to give the impression I haven't enjoyed my time. My time in Almaty has been great. I got to have lunch with Grandpa Kuzembayev. And knowing Grandpa Kuzembayev, I'm not walking out of the meal without a...broadening of my horizons (or hangover). Especially in the area of food - really, I'm all for trying new foods, but sometimes, i'm not totally sure what to think. At lunch, Grandpa Kuzembayev placed a small cup of what looked like melted butter in front of me. Ok, so maybe we're going to dip some stuff in it. I'm ok with dipping.

"Bottoms up."

Ah. So I drink it. I take a few sips. What ah... what is this? Some Russian is spoken.

"It's part of the broth from bishbarmak." (a sheepy dough, kind of like an Italian stumbled into Almaty and wasn't quite sure to do with all of the stuff lying around in the kitchen)

Oh...right. So it's not butter. It's melted sheep's fat and butter. Someone takes my bowl and a few more sentences of Russian later, my bowl is back in my hands, except a few ladlefuls of what looks like sour cream was added to it. Now it's salty, buttery, sheep's fat soup. Mmm?

But no worries, you don't need to like everything, at least you tried it right? Next, Ilyas gives me an "orange". I say "orange" because before eating it, I'm pretty sure it's actually a tomato. He insists, it's an orange. Yes, it's orange in color, but that does not make it an orange. Otherwise (sits for a few moments trying to think of something orange. Can't stop thinking about bananas. Which are clearly not orange.) carrots would also be called oranges. And they're not. They're called carrots. But anyways, I trust the guy, since I haven't died here yet, and take a bite. My mouth starts to seize up and get really dry. It also tastes like under-ripe squash. I know I'm no connoisseur of fruit, but I'm pretty sure a) this is definitely not an orange and b) I don't think my mouth is supposed to be doing this. And of course, c) Ilyas has no idea what he's talking about. But don't worry faithful readers, I spit it out, was told that it was actually not ripe yet, so it made sense that it was horrible, and continued eating my cake.

(Pro tip: It was a persimmon. Apparently I've never had one before.)

And now, since I leave shortly, I should put on my new Kazakh outfit (black shoes, black socks, black pants, black t-shirt, black sweater, black coat, black furry hat, seven pounds of solid gold bling) and head out to the airport. However, I want to leave you, my faithful reader(s), with a vision that fully encompasses my love for this country.

No, it's not going to be a description of me hugging a toilet.

Imagine a sight so amazing it takes your breath away (because it's so cold).

Imagine a sight that makes you light headed (because you're on top of a mountain).

Imagine a bunch of 60 year old men in furry hats smoking (because they have nothing better to do)

This, my friends, is Shymbulak. (No relation to Shymkent, phew).

I climbed a mountain in a snowstorm. Because that's how we roll in the KZ.

Stay frosty, Almaty. (Unless I return in the summer, then you're allowed to warm up.)