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Kazakhstan: She is but World's Most Wonderful Country by Nodir Ataev

Kazakhstan: She is but World's Most Wonderful Country 

by Nodir Ataev

After Sacha Baron Cohen made fun of the glorious nation of Kazakhstan in his mockumentary Borat, the actual country launched a multi-million dollar "Heart of Eurasia" campaign to counter Borat’s depiction. While Kazakh leaders are breaking their back to portray Kazakhstan as a civilized place, it is still a country in which many a remarkable event can take place.

Last summer I crossed the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border on my way to the airport in Almaty. You need to fill out a border crossing form indicating the time and purpose of your visit when you cross the Kazakh border. At the customs the Kazakh comrade really went out of his way to wish me a safe trip. I was honestly surprised and pleased at his hospitality.

Copyright Kirsten Koza

I arrived at the airport without any problems. I passed through security where I had to show my passport and the form I had filled out at the border. This was when the gentleman in the small booth told me that the stamp he required was not on the form I had received at the border, and that I could not leave Kazakhstan without it.

Then I remembered how suspiciously polite the customs official had been at the border. He certainly saw that I was heading to the airport when I gave him my passport with the form inside it. Could he have intentionally “forgotten” to put a stamp on the form?

Just as I was trying to tell myself my suspicions could not possibly be right, the customs gentleman at the airport bluntly asked me if I had any money with me.  At first I did not understand and thought perhaps he was taking a healthy interest in my studies as an economics grad student.

I said “Well, yes, I do.” 

The gentleman said “Well, then put your money inside your passport carefully and give the passport back to me!”

When I asked why, he replied he would have the form shipped to the border to be stamped.  I mentioned this would not cost much. Suddenly the gentleman became furious and started using foul language to tell me off for not having learned how to fly out of Kazakhstan even though I’d flown through the country before. I looked pleadingly at other people in the airport but they looked down, afraid in case they too attracted the attention of officials. No one was willing to help.

I returned to where my passport was. The booth’s resident got up and walked away telling me he had to unload my luggage from the plane because I was not flying anywhere. This also removed him from the eye of the booth’s camera. He announced I was either to give him money or go back to the border and miss my flight to my university. I had no other choice but to give him the few hundred dollars I had with me. To put this into proper proportion, this is a part of the world where annual salaries are often just a few hundred dollars. 

But Mr. Booth told me it was not enough. After I told him that what I gave him was all I had, he finally said, “OK, I’ll let you fly.” 

I arrived in Budapest without a penny in my pocket. Luckily my university had sent me bus tickets along with my admissions package otherwise I don’t know how I would have got to my dormitory. I was penniless, somless[1], and forintless[2] Nodir Ataev

I sat in my room pondering how people who were kinsmen of Borat could behave this way. I wondered whether they regularly rip off transit passengers in this way in the most glorious nation of Kazakhstan even though it is developing rapidly. According to Borat, “Women can now travel on inside of bus.”

[Picture of the view from Nodir's University room]


[1] Som is the currency of Kyrgyzstan

[2] Forint is the currency of Hungary, his final destination country

Kazakhstan I’m Nodir Ataev from Isfana, Kyrgyzstan. Currently I’m doing an MA in economic policy at Central European University in Budapest. I have diverse interests. In my free time enjoy reading books, playing the guitar, making model cars, and fixing broken things. I’m also an active netizen. Since 2009 I’ve been enthusiastically editing Wikipedia. To date I have made over 4000 contributions. Recently I became an administrator in the Uzbek Wikipedia. You can check out my Wikipedia user page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Nataev. I also have a YouTube channel
(http://www.youtube.com/user/NodirAtaev/videos) where I publish guitar lessons in Uzbek, something no one has ever done before.