|Kazakhstan- land of the mythical winged horses ridden by Kazakh warriors , and large palazzo's to display this iconography|
When we arrive at Astana, the airport is small and modern. It is incredibly clean and is about the size of Ottawa Canada’s airport, another small capital city. Most every sign is in Cyrillic with some signs having English subtitles. Almost no one speaks English in the Astana area. Foreigners leaving the airport have to fill out a tiny slip of paper, which looks to be simply printed off of a laser jet. The transfer slip is about 4 inches by 2 inches, and you must scrawl answers to simple questions like “purpose of visit”, “number of children traveling with you”. Fortunately, the wording is in both English, Kazakh , and Russian. I had to re-fill out mine about 3 times because it was ambiguous as to whether the answers were to be put in the column directly next to the question or in another column off to the right.
You could tell that they don’t get many Americans passing through Astana. The officers knew basic commands in English only related to their job. So, filling out the ambiguously labeled form involved a short cycle of rework.
It was also interesting as my daughter, who is a minor, and my husband, and myself all had to go 1 at a time to the customs window. It is probably the only country I have been to where families do not go to the customs window together. We were all asked if we had a Visa, despite that the Visa requirement for Americans had been waived during the time period we traveled.
It is a very short walk from the passport control to the exit of the airport. At the time, Astana was about the same temperature as Boston, maybe even warmer. It seemed Astana was having a slightly warmer winter than normal, and New England was having a colder, snowier winter.
The roads from the airport to Astana’s city center are wide and well lit. We enter the city down a wide promenade like highway, lined every few feet with tall highway lamps lighting the path to the center. The city is clean and organized. As we would find through out the trip public spaces are very well taken care and meticulously cleaned.
Our training hall and the site of the 2015 Kazakhstan National Youth Championships is in Aramay Training Center- a large, clean, somewhat modern public training building. It was about a 5 minute walk from our hotel. It is in the older section of the city, a few miles from the gleaming downtown.
|Lifters training at the Astana, Kazakhstan weightlifting hall after competing at Youth Nationals. You can see posters of Ilya Ilyin training here|
People walk fast in Kazakhstan, probably because the temperature is in the single digits (F) most of the time. Many people wear fur. Most men, especially Kazakh men, have fur hats. Women often wear full length fur coats with hoods. Most people wore dark color, especially black pants.
For the most part, lifters and coaches at the training hall are very friendly and kind. The coaches are respected, and they shake eachothers hands every time they enter the training hall for the first time that day. The male athletes also greet the coaches with handshakes. Ivan was included in this fraternity of coaches . There were few female athletes, so not being sure what to do, I did not partake in the hand shaking ritual.
There is a great sense of respect for all ethnicities and religions. There is a sculture dedicated to peace between all religions ( above) at the bayteret tower (its like their George Washington monument) People are very curious about culture and ethnicity. In America, people love to ask you what your ethnicity is, especially if you have an interesting look. In Kazakhstan, people also want to know your religion. Knowing we are Catholic, it is quickly pointed out to us that there is a Catholic church right in front of the training center. About 60% citizens of Kazakhstan are ethnically Kazakh and Muslim, and about 40% are ethnic Russian and Russian orthodox Christians. In general, Russians speak Russians, Kazakhs speak Kazakh and likely Russian, and any other ethnicity probably just speaks Russian. Many people think that Ivan is Muslim because he has a goatee. Not sure if anyone assumes anything about me; though when they ask me about my ethnicity, 100% say I look Italian (pretty much every where I go, except America, do people agree I look more Italian than my other ethnicities. I think some Italian Americans have a pissing contest over who looks more Italian). Its pretty funny how having facial hair in the USA is synonymous with Americaness, being manly, being muscular, and really isn't associated with anyone religion or ethnicity when you juxtapose it to Kazakh Muslims having facial hair.