Kazakhstan Pt. 1: Whoa Aunt Jemima's!, the Darth Vader Mosque, and a failed haircut

 

darthvadermosqueAfter getting bribed on the bus from Omsk it arrived in Pavlodar around midnight, where Shannon, my Couchsurfing host, met me. She was an American working with Peace Corps, and had been in Pavlodar for more than a year and a half.

Straight away we stopped by the nearby Russian Orthodox cathedral since Shannon wanted to check out the midnight mass before Easter that ends Lent. It was packed and people were lined up outside, and in the middle of the crowd Shannon ran into someone she knew from Pavlodar. Some dude in front of us said they should be quieter when they talked, then felt bad and gave us one of the two Easter cakes he was carrying around.

Her apartment was lonely since she recently had German roommates move out, but that left plenty of space to crash. The next day there was an Easter get-together for the Peace Corps volunteers, and I met the whole Pavlodar crew at another apartment that belonged to a semi-retired married couple from California, Paul and Susan (fondly referred to as Poosan in a hilarious blog by two other Americans who traveled through Pavlodar: Herro Asia - Going Native in Kazakhstan via Americans) .

It was bizarrely refreshing to be in the same apartment with a bunch of Americans, making Easter eggs and eating pancakes with Aunt Jemima’s syrup. That’s right, I said mother$*%#ing Aunt Jemima’s, in the middle of Kazakhstan. We hung out for most of the afternoon in the apartment on a syrup high.

 

 

The next day I wandered a bit around Pavlodar, which isn’t particularly large, hitting the main sights. First was the central mosque, vaguely appearing as if it was Darth Vader’s helmet launching into space. I had never actually been inside a mosque, and the strongest feeling I had after taking off my shoes to enter was an extreme pull to do cartwheels on the carpeted prayer area. I’m sure there would have been a fatwa issued against me if I did, but man it was hard to resist.

There were other random memorials and parks, and a nice view along the river bank. In the evening I attended a “Culture Club” that Shannon would put on from time to time, mostly for local high school and university students to get practice with English, as their special guest. She held it in the local library in what is called the American Corner, actually a widespread project of the American government to disseminate information about the country around the world in a creepily propagandistic style. They were talking about Earth Day, but took a break for me to give a little speech about where I’d traveled and field questions with impossible answers (“What is the difference between Kazakh and American youth?”).

I also wanted to get a haircut since I hadn’t even had a trim since before I left in February, and looked to Shannon for advice. Shannon called Poosan to find out if we could borrow their clippers that Susan uses to cut Paul’s hair. We got the go-ahead to come over in the evening for a buzz cut. I stripped down to my underwear and an old T-shirt in the bathtub to commence choppage, but right after the first chunk of hair was cut out the clippers malfunctioned and died. Luckily Paul had fed me scotch, so I was less worried than I otherwise would have been. It actually didn’t look too bad if I pushed my other hair over it, and we just decided to go to the parikmakherskaya (I’d learned the word in Russian at this point from seeing it everywhere) the next day.

Cutting our losses with the haircut endeavor, Paul treated me to a scotch tasting session and enlightened me about scotch’s intricacies, forgotten now because of the scotch. My impression of Kazakhstan at this point was pretty positive, not just because I had fun with the Americans, but also because Pavlodar was a clean, tranquil, put-together city reminiscent of Omsk. My opinion would change a bit when I got to Astana, the capital, but that’s for the next entry.

For now, I’ll just leave you with another entry to the blog of the Americans that I previously mentioned, hopping around Peace Corps volunteers couches in Kazakhstan. It’s pretty entertaining, and they talk about the freakier side of Kazakhstan.

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