Location: Uralsk, Kazakhstan

My address! Rachael Schmidt 106 Dimitrieva St. P.O Box 56 Uralsk 417 000 Kazakhstan

Monday, November 22, 2004

Any further questions????

Hi Everyone!
Are you all ready for Thanksgiving? I know I sure am. I’ll be meeting with about 20 other volunteers on Saturday for one heck of a feast. AND, someone was able to locate a turkey dealer!! I can hardly wait!
Although we’ve had some snow here it hasn’t been enough and the weather isn’t quite cold enough to keep everything frozen. I’m hoping and praying for that day. Right now the entire area is a mud swamp. And this isn’t even technically the muddy season! I can hardly wait for spring! Uhhggg! I’ll send you a few pictures.
I’ve noticed that there are some questions that keep coming up in various emails. Apparently I haven’t been too good on details. Sorry about that! It’s difficult to see the forest in spite of the trees. Or something like that.
So, I live in the city of Uralsk, which is located in the most northwestern corner of Kazakhstan. I’m very close to the Russian border; I think about 100 kilometers. There are three rivers that run through and around the city. The only one I can recall at present is the Ural or Oral. The city lies at the border of the steppe. Not a very industrial city. It’s directly north of the Caspian Sea and northwest of the ever-shrinking Aral Sea.
The country of Kazakhstan is divided into 15 oblasts (like states or regions). And Uralsk is like the capital of this most western oblast. And is hence, politically, an important city.
South of here, surrounding the Caspian is what is referred to as the oil cities. A lot of people from Uralsk work and live there because there is more money to be made there. You can also find a lot of foreigners in these cities; tons of Americans.
Right now I’m still living with a host family. They are truly some of the most beautiful people I’ve met here. And I have met and befriended some wonderful people. But, at the end of February I’ll be able to move out on my own. Hopefully I can find something within walking distance (30-45 minutes). Presently going to and from home is difficult and expensive at times.
Music. No, I didn’t bring any instruments with me and regretting that decision!! Actually going through a musical withdrawal!!! They do have guitars here, but a bit out of my price range. So, I’ll have to figure something out soon!! Maybe I’ll blackmail a friend into sending me my fiddle!! Better than nothing. To make matters worse I still can’t find any locals who play Kazak or Russian folk music. I was really looking forward to that! Can’t win ‘em all!!!
If you have anymore questions please don’t hesitate! I love seeing unread emails when I sign in online!! Please keep ‘em coming!!! In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving!!!

P.S Here’s an interesting article!!

DEPT. OF FOREIGN RELATIONSTHE BORAT DOCTRINEIssue of 2004-09-20Posted 2004-09-13Roman Vassilenko, the press secretary for the Embassy of Kazakhstan, wants to clear up a few misconceptions about his country. Women are not kept in cages. The national sport is not shooting a dog and then having a party. You cannot earn a living being a Gypsy catcher. Wine is not made from fermented horse urine. It is not customary for a man to grab another man’s khrum. “Khrum” is not the word for testicles.These falsehoods, and many others, have been spread by Borat, a character on “Da Ali G Show,” which recently finished its second season on HBO. Like Ali G, Borat is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, a British comedian who specializes in prank interviews. As Borat, Cohen has told a dating service that he is looking for a girl with “plow experience,” persuaded a meeting of Oklahoma City officials to observe a ten-minute silence in memory of the (fictitious) Tishnik Massacre, and, most notably, led a country-and-Western bar in a sing-along of “In My Country There Is Problem,” whose chorus goes: “Throw the Jew down the well / So my country can be free / You must grab him by his horns / Then we have a big party.”It was partly Borat’s casual but relentless anti-Semitism that led Vassilenko to object publicly, in a letter to The Hill, a Washington weekly. (In real life, Cohen is an observant Jew, but the Anti-Defamation League also condemned him, arguing that “the irony may have been lost on some of the audience.”) “He says things that make people think that Kazakhstan really is a backward country,” Vassilenko said last week from his office in Washington. In Borat’s Kazakhstan, Jews attack people with their claws, and “Dirty Jew” is a popular film. But the real Kazakhstan has long embraced its thriving Jewish community, according to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and earlier this month the country dedicated the largest synagogue in Central Asia. “The President of the country came down, as well as the chief rabbi of Israel,” Vassilenko said. “There were all kinds of rabbis from around the world, and a New Yorker. He was not a rabbi, but you might be interested to know the name. The name is Ronald Lauder.”Vassilenko is also chagrined at Borat’s portrayal of women in Kazakh society, epitomized by his claim that “in Kazakhstan we say, ‘God, man, horse, dog, then woman, then rat.’” Vassilenko said, “I don’t think our women like that, not to mention the men. We have women ministers, women judges, businesspeople.” Nor should Borat have been appalled, as he was in one episode, to learn that American women can vote. American and Kazakh women both got the vote, Vassilenko pointed out, on August 26, 1920.It turns out that almost nothing about Borat’s Kazakhstan withstands scrutiny. Borat doesn’t look like an ethnic Kazakh. His Kazakh words “resemble some gibberish Polish,” Vassilenko said. And, while Borat has claimed that “in Kazakhstan the favorite hobbies are disco dancing, archery, rape, and table tennis,” Vassilenko concedes only the first and the last. Archery is “not prominent,” he said, and statistics show that the Kazakh sexual-assault rate is far lower than the United States’. (That may be because the crime is more likely to go unreported.)So what is the national sport of Kazakhstan? “The most known ones are wrestling and all kinds of sports that try people in how they master horses,” Vassilenko said. “Kazakhs were traditional nomads, so there are various sports like horse races. Another horseback sport is called something like Catch a—what is name?—Catch a Bride. And that is that a group of young guys race to get a bride, and she races away from them and they have to catch her while she fends them off with a whip.” This sport does not result in actual matrimony—just a kiss.According to Borat, a Kazakh man gets a wife by buying a woman from her father for fifteen gallons of insecticide. Vassilenko disputes this, too: “The men propose marriage with engagement rings.” There is an old tradition—“maybe a hundred years ago,” Vassilenko said—of men kidnapping their brides, but he claims that the practice is virtually obsolete. Also, he said, “If you want to do it for fun, you can do that,” but the woman has to be in on it.Travel guides mention a Kazakh sport called kokpar, a precursor of polo. When Vassilenko was asked about it, he hesitated, then explained, “That’s the one where a goat, a dead goat”—a headless dead goat—“is, um, being held as a sort of a prize. And then one rider has it, and he has to run away with it from others who seek to catch it and snatch it from him.” And then they have a party.— Daniel Radosh