It’s already late evening when I get off the plane. In the frigid cold darkness I walk on the ramp into the arrival hall, which looks more like a run down post office than an airport. As I approach the immigration officer, what strikes me about her is the mane of bold red hair and deep set lines on her face that could tell a million stories. She must be over 50 and looks very angry. She goes through my passport and throws an irrelevant question at me, “ Why you have so many stamps? Why you travel?”
I try to smile and answer but I am pushed out of immigration with a quick stamp.The baggage belt feels like a dinosaur. The dim walls of the arrival halls are grey and unappetizing. It is obvious that the airport has not been renovated in years. The cramped space makes me feel that I am in a tiny supermarket gasping for fresh air. Only two baggage belts and 6 trolleys for a plane full of passengers!! This is going to be fun.
Those who constantly complain about state of dismal airports should come here. It will help put things in perspective.
People are standing with no expressions. It seems odd, very very odd. My fellow travelers, who are dressed in their Louis Vuittons and Prada, surround the baggage belt for their suitcases pushing those with lighter wallets out of the way. The whole scenario looks funny. Feels like a Ferrari roaring on a village mud road. Money can buy you designer wear but not class.
As I cover my cold shoulders with a warm overcoat that was a gift by my mother in law during my last trip to Lebanon, I look at my old pair of Asics and wonder if I will be able to work in this designer wear market!
But then you never know…….
It’s pitch dark as I step outside. Naomi has come to fetch me with lovely pink flowers. Soon we are whisked off in a sparkling Audi that seems delicate like a porcelain vase. We are gliding through the dark bubble towards the hotel. I can hear Naomi chatting excitedly about my trip in the background, as my gaze rests on the frozen night.
Tired old cars are driving along side trying to keep pace with the beast we are riding. Dark brick houses are lined on both sides of the road with naked trees hiding the windows. I soon realise that all houses look the same. Exactly the same. Streets after streets after streets of monoclonal houses. Am I in maze or are we driving around the same block in circles?
So, this is what it is like to live in the previous Soviet Union. No individuality. An anonymous existence like a lost letter below the antique cupboard. We stop at a signal and I notice that we are being watched by 20 cameras on all sides. I wonder who is looking at us and why? How boring their job would be to sit in a small concrete room and stare at a small screen while life is passing them by. No room for excitement or wonder. Simply looking at others living it up while you wonder how it must feel to touch a soft petal of a red rose. The Indian in me wants to break into a dance, right in front of these camera! May be someone is watching and will be entertained.
As we arrive in the city, lines of low set dormitories in bright blue now replace the rows of brick houses. I see people standing on the road asking for a ride, I see women rushing home with bags of food, a couple holding hands and laughing as they talk and children playing on the sidewalk.
The slice of middle class life looks just the same everywhere!
Far away in the distance I start seeing few tall buildings. It like Gotham city. Al Farabi Avenue is the Manhattan of Almaty. I start seeing lighted advertisements for Gucci perfumes and crispy BMW. I notice the tallest building on the horizon -The Ritz Carlton, my home for next 11 days. As I pull into the drive way I am escorted into the plush hotel. I suddenly feel so out of place in my track pants and running shoes. Lining up for the elevator I realise I am the most under dressed person who is on the plump side. Today is a huge party in the hotel and all the social butterflies have dressed in their finest to face the shutterbugs. Kazakh women are beautiful! Full Stop! They all have lean tall bodies and carry themselves better than Julia Roberts. Looking at them I wonder if my work will succeed here.
Sometimes talent is lost among diamonds and Louis Vuitton.
Next part : Arriving Soon