I’ve been away from this blog for a while, as you’ve likely noticed. Well, that’s because I moved to a new country (Kazakhstan) and a new job (as an English-language teacher) and it has taken a while to get Internet in my apartment (otherwise known as a flat).
It has been an interesting experience, so far. I’ve been enjoying my time in the classroom. There are some things that will take some getting used to, but that’s the nature of cross-cultural living.
Clothing is insanely expensive! (For example, winter coats all seem to run in the 90,000 to 300,000 Tenge range, short-sleeved polo shirts seem to run around 5,000 Tenge or more; I haven’t really seen anything going for less than about 4000 Tenge). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to the price of other things. I can buy a half liter of soda for 100 Tenge (the local currency, running at about 153 to the dollar), but a cup of coffee is around 550 Tenge and the metric equivalent of a pint of ice cream for around 800 Tenge and sometimes the equivalent of a half gallon for less. On the very rare occasions you can even find peanut butter, it runs around 1400 Tenge. Nutella (a hazelnut spread that seems to be popular in Europe and Asia) is a bit cheaper, but not much. Some cereals run close to 1000 Tenge while others are closer to 500 Tenge. Anyway, you get the idea.
Local foods tend to be on the heavy side – even the bread (which comes in unsliced loaves) has a thick crust that is harder than what we’re used to in the West. You can find lighter fare, like salads, but the tendency is definitely toward the heavier stuff. If you’re a “meat and potatoes” (or meat and rice) kind of person, you would do well here. And just as many other countries have certain national delicacies (or, as in the US, regional ones), so it is here: horse is the national delicacy, though it is expensive (which is why it seems so strange that McDonald’s in the UK would mix horse meat in its beef – I’ve been told that horse meat is expensive in Europe as well).
Religion is a sticky issue here in Kazakhstan. While the country’s Constitution guarantees religious freedom, there are significant anti-religion laws (passed since 2010 in the name of fighting “extremism” – an idea they must have gotten from the US and its idiotic “war on terror”) that especially target Christians who are Protestant, evangelical or otherwise not Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholic. I’ve only seen one church building here in Kazakhstan’s capital and it’s a Russian Orthodox church. Under Kazakhstan law, religious groups must be registered with the government, but groups must have at least 50 members in order to register. Even then, the government reportedly has made it difficult for groups to register, effectively discouraging registration. Engaging in “unregistered religious activity” (namely, anything by anyone that is not part of a registered religious group and not in the religious group’s building) is a crime punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. Even something as simple as bowing your head to pray over your meal in public can be construed as “unregistered religious activity.” Recently, the government arrested a Protestant pastor (of a registered church) and falsely accused the church of putting hallucinogens in the communion grape juice. I do hope to make contact with some Protestant Christians soon.
So, that’s the update. I’ll try to do a better job of posting on a more regular basis.