It all started as we were trying to buy SIM cards for our phones. There’s a mini mart right across the street from our hostel, so we figured that would be our best bet in finding one. We asked the cashier, but she couldn’t help us. But the man in line decided it was his duty to accomplish this task for us, after all, he knows 10 words of English. His favorite words being “Welcome to Kazakhstan!” He takes us outside and we try to explain what we need. He half understands. We know how to solve the problem, by walking down the street to the next store to buy a card, but decide to humor him. He ultimately fails at fixing our phone, but the Asian culture is to not disappoint, especially a guest, so his next logical step was to offer us a ride to the store down the road. We oblige so we jump in his truck. He seemed friendly enough. He introduces us to his coworker and we start having a very simple conversation in broken English and Russian. One of the few phrases I have learned so far is “beautiful mountains” as it seems to be appropriate in every Russian speaking country I have been so far. This is quickly perceived as “do you want me to take you to the mountains?” And then not knowing how to respond, we are on our way driving to the mountains after we left the hostel expecting to be gone only 5 minutes across the street. A little bit of me thought of how dangerous this was with two scruffy strangers in a beat up pickup truck who don’t speak English, yet the mountains called my name loudly. So with no other option, nothing else planned for the next two hours, and a strong desire to be in the mountains, we went.
It was a hilarious journey. The man was the most welcoming person and as we went he shouted out his favorite phrase at everyone we passed in a thick Kazak accent. “Welcome to Kazakhstan!” We went through the rolling green hills that housed some of the most beautiful homes I’ve seen in Central Asia. Eventually we made it to the end of the road with a trickling river and a hiking path that lead further into the mountains. On our way home he took us to the most popular restraint in the whole city, visited almost exclusively by locals. Almost a hundred tables, yet seating is next to impossible to come by. We ordered traditional food and shared in jokes and laughter as I had one of my first Russian conversations without having to use my notebook!
I share this story to share of central Asia’s incredible hospitality. Of course I don’t recommend getting in random cars with strangers and letting them take you where you don’t want to go, but usually they are simply excited you are here and want to show off their amazing countries. Most other places they are trying to scam you of money or take advantage of you. But here they just want to practice English or get a selfie with an American. So I would encourage you to be knowledgeable, but allow your unique whiteness take you on incredible adventures and meet amazing local people because they always know best!