Faces of Kazakhstan

The people of Kazakhstan! They have captured my heart! When I came for the first time in 2000, the children in Ulan orphanage stole my heart but it didn’t take long for the Kazakh people to also claim my heart.

It is hard to explain how I can be in a land far from where I was born and feel so at home, yet my heart tells me I am home! When I look into the faces around me, I see people I desire to talk with and hear their stories, hopes and dreams.

Having been raised in the South, I grew up hearing that there is nothing like Southern hospitality. I experienced some of that warm Southern hospitality through the years but I can honestly say the Kazakh people put most Southerners to shame with their hospitality. From the orphans to the average person on the street, their generosity amazes and humbles me. When my children came with me in 2002, one of the first things they noticed was how welcoming people were, even children at the local school. Since we had moved quite a few times as Marc and Sarah were growing up, they had been the “new” kids in school several times. They knew first-hand how unfriendly children can be to the “new kid.” When they came back to the States, they both began reaching out to new kids – especially those from other countries. Each of my exchange students came home crying after a couple of weeks in their new schools because their classmates had been so unfriendly.

Here in Kazakhstan most people are friendly. Many stop me on the street to inquire where I’m from and ask how I like Kazakhstan. When locals welcome me into their homes, it is with a table spread full with dried fruits, nuts, candies, bread, meat, cheese, and tea. Relationships are certainly a higher priority than schedules. Of course, this can be frustrating at times, particularly because being told an event will start at a certain time doesn’t mean the event will actually start at the time given. Being asked to “drop by” usually takes at least 2 hours – or more! If you schedule a 15 minute “dropping by,” the unexpected extended time can definitely disrupt the rest of the day.

As I walk around the bazaar or down the street, I don’t blend in. I have to admit I’m not sure I blended in all that well back in the States. My KEEN shoes and “paint” jeans aren’t the height of fashion. In the States I found my J-41 and KEEN shoes to be the most comfortable shoes to wear. Here, with the rough terrain, I love these brands even more. Now, Kazakh’s love fancy shoes and I am absolutely amazed at how high the heels are that Kazakh women wear on sidewalks that are definitely rough terrain. So many of the woman are strutting around in these high, high heels without missing a step. I don’t know how they do it but I am going to stick to my all terrain comfortable KEEN’s and J-41’s. Sometimes in the bazaar I do stumble and trip, but that’s because I’m so busy looking at all the sights and trying to capture them with my camera.

Standing out isn’t all bad. I love that venders stop me and ask where I’m from. What is my story, they want to know. Since I arrived almost a month ago I have been to the bazaar 4 or 5 times. Now people are stopping to ask how I am doing, how my language learning is progressing, and how I’m enjoying my time in Taraz. I absolutely love this kind of interaction. My heart fills with joy.

The children have the biggest hold on my heart, especially the orphans. These children have been through so much. They hang onto the smallest bit of hope their hearts can grab hold of. Their longing to have someone take the time to let them know they are of value – even when shown the smallest bit of attention – is evident.

Interlink Resources, Inc. has a sponsorship program. Money donated goes to do so much for the children; however, I think it is the letters and visits from the American sponsors that make the most significant impact on these children. They are desperate to know someone cares. Letters, pictures and small gifts are treasured like precious gems. Children will read and reread letters and learn every detail about their American family. One sponsor came to visit her child last spring. When she returned to the States, she shared with us that even though she sent money for her sponsored child and had written a couple of letters, including letters about her granddaughters, she really never gave her writing much thought. When she came last spring she was actually a little nervous. What would she have in common with this child? What could she actually talk about with this child? When she entered his room she saw plants in the window. This young man liked to grow things and, as it would happen, so did she and they had something to talk about. As nice as that was, however, that isn’t what touched her heart. The young man pointed for her to look at the underside of the top bunk. His bed was the bottom bunk. As she bent down to see what was there, she couldn’t have prepared her heart for what she saw. Taped to the underside of the top bunk were all the photos of her family that she had sent. Every last one, along with the letters! He knew each family member by name and could recite the contents of each letter. Each night before he closed his eyes, her family’s smiling faces are what he saw. Can you imagine being so alone and so scared and continually wondering if anyone cared about you that you would treasure pictures and letters from strangers?

She came home realizing how the little bit of time and effort she had put into her writing and mailing letters was but a drop in the bucket compared to the return. The children here grab hold of these letters and relationships as a lifeline being tossed out to them in the midst of a storm.

If you are interested in sponsoring a child, you can find more information by going to Interlink Resources,Inc.’s website. The site is listed on the right side of this blog.

Even though I am not a child, I also appreciate the cards and notes I am receiving from home. As much as I’m loving being here, there are times my heart longs to see Marc and Sarah and my dear friends. There are days I want to show the amazing sights here to those of you who have meant so much to me through the years, to share the joys of my surroundings to a familiar face. The next best thing is sharing through the great convenience of the Internet. What did people do a 100, 50 or even 20 years ago when they went off to other parts of the world? They had little opportunity to keep in touch with loved ones who were left at home. I am ever so thankful for this connection today.

Thank you, dear friends and family, for joining me for this next chapter of my life. I am truly blessed with great friendships and am looking forward to the new friends I will be meeting in my new home.

Love,
Vicki

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