So, today we had a plan to head west of Almaty to meet with a farmer and check out some land where we are thinking of building a cold storage facility for area farmers. The location is called Aksinger (pronounced Ahk-sing-gare) and the translation describes the way light plays on ice and frost covered plants on a sunny day. It sounds poetic and it does a good job of describing the place. All of the plants are frosted in ice and it must be gorgeous in the sunshine.
Zhumangali arranged the whole thing and we let him lead the way as we went charging off of the paved road out onto the steppes in Mr. Alexander’s van. This van is probably better suited for delivering kids to soccer games than wandering aimlessly over snow-covered grasslands, but that did not stop us.
This farm was only supposed to be 7 kilometers from the village and it wasn’t long before we started wondering if we’d missed a turn. So, every time we saw a herder or came across a lonely line shack we stopped to ask if we were going the right way. People started to tell us that we had missed the turn but there was another way, we just had to keep going a little farther. We finally came upon a livestock station and the guys there said we were on the wrong road, had gone 22 kilometers out of our way and had to turn back. The story goes on and on like that. I won’t bore you with the details – I’ll just skip right to the moral of the story. This is a culture that does not ever want to disappoint. People work very hard to make you happy by telling you what they think you want to hear. In this case we started our journey at the wrong village and none of the people we found on the steppes had any idea what we were talking about. But, they all answered us as though the farmer we were seeking was their dearest friend and they knew right where his farm was. And we, foolishly (and I mean that because I was in a car with real Kazakhies who should know better) believed them and followed their directions all over no where.
We eventually caught on and decided to forget about finding the farmer and find some lunch instead. Zhumangali said it was all David’s fault that we did not feel motivated to press on because he made Zhuman impress upon the farmer that he was not to kill sheep for us and make our visit into too much of an event. Zhuman said that if we knew the farmer was going to that kind of trouble, we would have pressed on. Then he said, the farmer probably thought Zhuman had already decided not to come when he called about the no sheep agreement and was not surprised when we did not show up. Eventually the farmer did climb up a little hill where he could get his cell phone to work, contacted us and we were able to apologize.
Meanwhile the temperature was dropping fast and I was happy to get on the paved road and happier still to stop at a little roadside place for lunch. I was served a steaming bowl of bright cherry-red borsht with a dollop of snow white sour cream and a sprinkling of bright green fresh dill. A perfect ending to a perfect day – and I mean that. It sounds pointless and ridiculous but I honestly had fun wandering around out there and listening to my colleagues tell me Soviet jokes. I’ll post one of those next time.