We saw the sun today! Still very cloudy, but the fog was gone and the sun was a visible circle behind the clouds.
We started the whirlwind day with a short bus tour of Almaty with two teachers from our host school, Aidana and Alibek, and some students that tagged along! We visited Independence Square, which (self-explanatory) celebrates Kazakhstan's independence as a country. There is a tall obelisk with several symbols of freedom on top - a Kazakh warrior, an Asian wildcat (like a puma), and an eagle. At the base of the obelisk is a book with an imprint of President Nazerbayev's hand. My hand fit! The square also had statues of small children riding foals. The entire monument was set in front of a series of 2D bronze friezes depicting Kazakhstan's history, from nomadic tribes to the current day. On our way to and from the square, we walked through another mall - they are very popular in Almaty!
Next, we visited the beautiful Orthodox Church of the First Ascension. We were allowed to go inside, and it was astounding! The church was covered floor-to-ceiling with beautiful pictures and elaborate designs. There were many small shrine-like areas with lit candles, and the entire church smelled like incense. There were simple stained glass windows, but they gave a warm atmosphere to the inside of the building. Out of respect, our group was instructed for the girls to wear hats or a scarf, while the boys removed their hats.
The church was in a large memorial park dedicated to 28 Kazakh soldiers that defended Moscow during World War II. There was a very moving monument - a massive black stone was carved into soldier's faces, and they looked down onto a long, black stone rectangle (I thought it was a reflecting pool at first). At the end of the stone was an eternal flame that has been burning since the end of the war! Earlier in the fall semester, I attended a gallery showing of pictures from the Russian far north. During his talk, the photographer described how many Americans do not realize the full cost of life that the former Soviet States paid during WWII. When I asked our guides, they confirmed it. It brought a very somber tone to the memorial.
Our tour ended with a short visit to the old Academy of Sciences. During the Soviet era, it served as an Academy. Now, it is almost like a museum, with a variety of exhibits. We were running low on time, but were able to stop into an exhibit showing some parts of nomadic Kazakh life. The building itself was also beautiful - pillars, ornate painting, red carpets, and glistening chandeliers.
We left for the school, and ate lunch in the cafeteria with some of the students. The school building is about 45 years old, but it is very quaint and has a delightful personality. I especially like the wooden floors and big windows in the classrooms! We had the first lesson today, and I loved getting to know the students. I am teaching about 25 students, focused on engineering. They are mostly in 10th grade, and I was impressed by their maturity! Throughout the 4-hour class, they were very engaged and respectful. We spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas for projects, and they had some creative ideas!
After class, we were invited out to dinner with the Abilkhan family (one of the students). We ate traditional Kazakh food at a restaurant called Shah. For appetizers, we had salad, thin slices of raw fish, shrimp, horsemeat, tongue, and kazy (a sausage made from horsemeat). I'm proud to say that I tried a bit of everything! (Even the tongue - it was very tender.) I also drank Shubat, camel milk. It is thicker than cow milk but thinner than yogurt, and tastes sweet and slightly fizzy, like carbonated water. The main course was Beshbarmak, and I enjoyed eating with my "five fingers" as is custom. Dessert was fresh fruit and a special tea (green and black tea mixed, with honey. Very sweet!) Several members of our table were not very familiar with English, so it was a really neat experience to share a meal and enjoy conversation in spite of language barriers! I was able to pick out and converse in some Russian, and had help translating from Alibek.
I'm looking forward to our morning class session tomorrow, and working more with the students!
(some more pictures pending :) )
Me and Aidana in front of one of the friezes at Independence Square. (Present day, depicting President Nazerbayev)
The Church of the First Ascension, nestled in the trees.
The WWII memorial and eternal flame.
Meeting the students!
I am a junior studying AeroAstro at MIT. I love rockets, airplanes, birds, and anything that flies! In my free time, I enjoy crocheting, solving sudoku puzzles, and reading. I have been learning Russian for about two years, and I'm so excited to visit Kazakhstan and learn about the beautiful country and culture!