Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tales from Kaz Part 2: Our Wild Ride

This is installment two of our Kazakhstan adventures from almost 3 years ago.

Today after our afternoon visit at the Baby House we decided to get really crazy and go for an outing in the woods. This is always everyone's favorite Semey attraction and we decided if ever we needed a pick-me-up, it was today. Once there, it was very pleasant. The Irtysh riverflows on one side of the woods and is very picturesque.
We also happened upon the "wedding tree" just as a newlywed couple and their friends were enjoying a toast. They asked us for a blessing and we came up with "long life and happiness" which they seemed pleased with. The Kazakh tradition of the wedding tree is that after getting married and drinking toasts, the groom climbs this very tall tree (in his suit and dress shoes) and hangs the champagne bottles from one of the highest branches. We got to watch him climb to the top of the tree and clapped when he made it. That was fun. Getting there was another story.

I have to tell you something about the driving here and our driver situation for you to fully appreciate this. The roads are perpetually covered in snow and ice, and the cars just kind of drive where they want to. One of our first days here Big D asked our translator if in the summer time there are lines on the road and she said yes. Evidently anything goes in the winter, though. The first driver we had was Wadzeem. He looked like a KGB agent right out of a movie. He had an icy personality, never smiled, and never talked (we would appreciate this later). He sported a large scar on his face that made him look even more the part. Big D remarked about him that he was a little afraid Wadzeem was going to slit our throats.

After a few days Pasha, the regular driver, got his car fixed and started driving us. We were relieved initially at having someone with some personality, of that Pasha has loads. Pasha doesn't speak English, but he loves trying to communicate with us. Since our Russian is worse than his English, it's pretty hopeless. I was never good at charades. After a few days of trying to guess what Pasha was trying to tell us and listening to a techno rock Russian Christmas
carol that he liked to play over and over again, we began to miss Wadzeem. Pasha drives a 4WD vehicle that looks like a moon rover. It just rolls over anything in its path. Recently our coordinator has needed Pasha to drive her, so now we have Kola.

Kola is a fossil and has been a taxi driver for over 25 years (his second career). He drives this car made in Moscow during Soviet times called a Volga (named after the river). Big D likens it to a model T in more modern casing (think 70’s). All the breaks grind except the front right one, which keeps locking up on the ice. To make matters worse, Kola still drives like a 20 something year old. At one point we were passing a tanker truck on a two lane road while Kola played chicken with oncoming traffic. It was a very tense drive!

Some of the landmarks we passed on our way to the wedding tree included a brick factory that puts out toxic fumes (lots of workers there have died of lung cancer according to our translator), a children's summer camp (located across the road from the brick factory),and a cemetary where a baby was left to die (he now is a healthy, happy American). We also visited a "healing” spring where a bunch of nuns were massacred. Somewhere along our journey today Big D cracked.

He's been the positive voice of reason and compassion on this trip, but this was the final straw. He was so homesick last night. I felt bad for him, but was secretly glad he finally felt what I've been feeling for 11 days now. Anyway, we survived the trip, came home and popped microwave popcorn (another good story- I'll post about appliances later) and watched Sleeples in Seattle. In the opening scene that shows the Chicago skyline Big D said with tears in his eyes and longing in his heart, "look at that, we have hundreds of cities just like that!"

Well, as my mom reminded me our first day here, my dad has always described an adventure as having a miserable time a long way from home. (Now you know where I get it from:) Then this has certainly been the adventure of a lifetime!

Sleepless in Semey,

Big D and I am blessed!


  1. Thanks for coming by again and participating at the Cafe.

    I think your answer was right on... I like John Piper too.

    Come back again, and visit me at my blog any day...

  2. i just read your adoption story from Kazakhstan. I had to laugh! We lived in Uzbekistan for 4 years teaching at the Tashkent International School. Our driver had a Volga! And I think (know) that they drive the same way! We avoided the meat, unless we ground chicken ourselves. It was a long 4 years to make EVERYTHING from scratch- such as the pasta sauce. But the people there are wonderful, kind, caring people. We do cherish the time we spent there!



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.