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Terry's Peace Corps Experience: Uralsk, Kazakhstan

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KZ Culture small logo

This page provides my perspective on what I have experienced while in Kazakhstan. I have attempted to highlight some of the interesting aspects of the culture. Keep in mind, all of this information has been filtered through my eyes and you may have a very different view when you experience it for yourself. Many of the topics can be found in books or on other sites but a few are just my opinions and comparisons to other cultures that I have experienced.

I plan to update this section throughout my two year year experience in KZ.

Kazakh Yurta - The Nomadic Dwelling:

Let's talk Yurta.

A Yurta is a transportable, collapsible dwelling that came to KZ from ancient times. It consists of wooden framework covered with felt. The framework ("kerege" forms the walls of the dwelling, and are made of latticed wooden poles; long wooden poles ("uyuk") serve as a cover for the upper spherical portion of the yurta; "shanrak" is the topmost open part of the yurta, serving as an outlet for the smoke raising from the hearth, for purposes of ventilation and scanty lighting of the yurta's interior. Depending on the air temperature the yurta is covered with two if not more layers of felt. The outermost layer is covered with a special material for it to be impenetrable for rain and snow.

The spherical form makes it an exceedingly heat-consuming dwelling. Many yurts have folding; carved entrance door's made of pine or birch-tree. In fact, framework motifs reflect kazakhstani flora and fauna.

In the center of the yurta you will find a hearth with a cauldron (" kazan ").The hearth is regarded as a place of honor, meant for particularly respectable, distinguished guests.

The main decoration of yurta is carpets ("tekemets") made mostly of felt. The interior looks quite bright owing to a multitude of colorful carpets manufactured from wool and or felt. Yurtas also have other homemade materials, such as weaving, embroidery, and wicker-work products, inside them.

Every little corner in the yurta has a purpose of it is own - a part for men, a part for women, a part for clothes. There is even enough room for a "shop", such as fixing harnesses or other tasks. Enough room exists for preparing meals, for bed, for horse's gear, for children, and for the son and daughter-in law. (Ok, I have been in two yurtas and I can't imagine you could fit all of this inside then again Americans have a different view of space).

Simplicity and feasibility of manufacture (made from natural materials), easy and quick assembly, easy transportability turned the yurta into an ideal dwelling of a nomad. Yurtas are still a part of life on the steppe. You see yurtas in the city as a showcase of Kazakh nomadic culture, but I have heard that people still live in them on the steppe.

I have a few photos of yurtas on my Photo Assignment page. We held the previous PC volunteer's going away party in a Yurta.

KOKPAR (KZ game played on horseback)

This the most famous game played on horseback. KOKPAR translates as fighting for a goat's carcass. According to ancient custom, if one wants to get rid of all evil, he should sacrifice a goat. 1,000 horsemen can participate in this game, and it unfolds on an almost infinite steppe (flat land) range. On the opposite end of an immense field, the opposing teams' goals are arranged. It is in these goals that the symbolic carcass of the goat should be thrown. As you can imagine, the two opposing teams fight desperately to get a hold of the carcass and throw it into the other team's goal. I have not had the chance to watch this game but I plan to watch one game before I leave.

Banya

I have now experienced Kazakhstan banya on many occasions since arriving in KZ. Most Kazakhs go to the banya each week instead of taking a daily shower (my host family in Issyk had no hot water).

Basically the banya that I used had three rooms - Room 1: changing and relaxing, Room 2: washing, mild steam and shower, Room 3: hot (really hot) sauna. I stayed in the banya for about thirty minutes. In KZ there are private banyas, but in general, it is more of a community experience. It is definitely a different approach to bathing, however it is a nice part of the culture. The banya costs about $1 - oh yell, you also drink beer and vodka in the banya .

Ghosting

Ghosting is the KZ tradition of visiting family and friends. The key point of ghosting is that it is unannounced visiting. You just show up. When you ghost, you usually drink Chai or vodka and eat cookies and candy, then you just relax and socialize. I have been told that most Kazakh business deals are completed over a good cup of Chai.

Bazar

This outdoor market has everything you could imagine. It is like an outside Target. Here a few of the items - fruits, vegetables, electronics, clothing, toiletries, adapters, paintings, furniture etc. Basically, they have everything and it is cheap (and you can negotiate).

 

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