Oh Kazakhstan

So I arrived in Kazakhstan on August 19; it has been almost a month since my arrival.  Here are some observations, in no particular order:

  1. It is incredibly difficult to find quality merchandise, much less at reasonable prices.  For example, a couple of weeks ago, Eric and I went to a local electronics store to buy a printer.  We were warned ahead of time that when we buy the printer, we should buy as many replacement ink cartridges as are available for sale.  We found a Canon printer, no problem.  But when we tried to buy replacement ink cartridges, we were told we could only buy one black and one color replacement cartridge!  The store would not take our money for the other cartridges that were ready and willing to purchase!
  2. The quality of much of the merchandise for sale is quite often sub-standard.  For example, I purchased a foldable bicycle recently, thinking that it would be good to have for riding along the river paths, and around town.  Within a day of purchasing the bike, it had a flat tire.
  3. It is very difficult to find one location for what you may need to buy.  Quite often, one is forced to travel to many locations to buy what is needed.
  4. Workmanship here is often a joke.  The simplest tasks, often costing hundreds of dollars, are not done well, or even correctly.  For example, we put in wooden shelving to store books in the school.  The carpenter promised planed wood, and accurate cuts.  The delivered product was neither planed nor cut accurately, as promised.

Having said all of that, there are wonderful people here.  I am not trying to say anything bad about Kazakh culture.  For example, when my tire first started going flat on my bike, I ended up asking an auto mechanic to help me pump it back up.  Within minutes, there were literally four men, all mechanics, helping to get a pump adapted to work on the bike tire. I don’t see that happening in other parts of the developed world.  And when I offered to pay them for their trouble, they said no, citing “Islam” as their reason for refusing payment.

I think many of the problems here are related to the “wild west” era that Atyrau is going through.  It is hard to describe how crazy it all is.  A simple pizza can cost over $30 US.  The tremendous amount of money coming into Atyrau has tipped the economic scales in wild, sometimes senseless bearings.  The result is an economic, social, cultural maelstrom that has to be as difficult on local people as on those of us brought here from elsewhere.

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