On the Road

On the Road: 2002

Mattopia Jones and the Cult of Fear
21 July 2002

Here are a couple interesting Kazakh stories in the "morning paper":

Kazakhs' Season of Repression President of Key U.S. Ally Puts Critics on Trial, in Jail

"There Is No War on Dissidents" Interview with Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan

It's stunning to see the stories I heard about Swiss bank accounts and the "cult of fear" confirmed in the Washington Post. After reading the above articles, it occurred to me perhaps now would be a good time to start my own political party (the Mattfia?), beginning with Kazakhstan.

There are so many stories I've heard about Kazakhstan, either over beers or cappuccinos or during riverside walks. If only I could remember them all.

I still don't understand Kazakhstan. Here are a few more stories that help explain my confusion.

One girl was commenting how she feels like she has a full life in Atyrau. She meets many interesting people at work there, more so than in The Hague. She's worked in The Netherlands before and is not terribly excited about going back.

Then there's another guy who is going to London and Reading for some training and to look into some schools offering classes in managerial accounting. He's got a dry humor but I do think he's serious when he says he's more excited about getting out of the office and out of Atyrau than he is about the prospect of spending time in London.

Maybe they both have a better sense of home than some of us. After all, for some of us, "home is where the hurt is." (Yeah, I pinched that from a U2 tune; couldn't resist.)

A couple weeks ago, during a severe heatwave, a beautiful young girl I've taught in classes wound up in the hospital because of heatstroke. There's no air conditioning in her apartment. She doesn't really like her apartment. And yet, somehow, even in these less than optimal conditions, she looks like a million bucks every day.

So many of the women look great, whether when at work or in the evenings when they're going out to whoop it up. It's a story of beautiful women in an ugly environment. I'm convinced it's the women who will pull Atyrau into the future. They also wear shorts.

All three of these people are from Almaty, Kazakhstan. It's a place I've heard many good things about and will have to check out some time.

At one point the client I'm working for wanted to donate used beds to a local hospital. The government entered the picture and said VAT must be paid on the beds before they could be given away, even though they were already legally brought into the country.

Instead, the beds were burned.

Also, in Atyrau I heard doctors make $200 US/month while the average worker makes only $70 US/month. At the client, skilled workers, such as accountants, make $200 US/month. The client offers among the best salaries in the area and even doctors approach the company for jobs as truck drivers or other positions simply because the pay is better.

Those salary numbers are not confirmed, but they came from fairly reputable sources.

There are still those out there who think they'd be better off going back to communism. Considering Atyrau's current condition, that's not too much of a surprise. Hopefully things will improve for everybody over the next few years.

This time on the way out, I noticed a funny little sign on the Atyrau airport's air traffic control tower. It said "Happy Journey" in English and Kazakh. After an uneventful trip through customs, we then boarded Attila the Bus for a shuttle ride from the terminal to the plane.

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