Kazakhstan Overview

Peoples are 60 percent Kazakh 30 percent Russian, 10 percent other. In all, have 150 nationalities, a point of pride — mentioned by several alumni. Many Koreans all over; areas with Greeks, Uighur, Tatars (south), Germans (north). Kazakh Russians largely identify more as Kazakh than Russian: “they love horse meat”, says our host.

Pretty much everyone speaks Kazakh and Russian. Both languages are compulsory in school, as well as English. Most signage in Russian; official signage always in Kazakh/Russian/English. Most billboards in Russian, many in English (rarely in Kazakh only).

Major sports are boxing, wrestling, power lifting (as well as football ⚽️ of course).

Most Kazakhs are Muslim, but few are conservative. Saw almost no Burqas in two days in Almaty. Some people go to mosque 🕌 every Friday, but many are only occasionally observant. No pork served in restaurants though. People feel free to go in jeans to the mosque, but must cover head of course. Men and women mostly wear jeans and shirt when out on street, no real difference to Europe. Women often wear high heels for formal events same as elsewhere.

Weddings are a BIG deal in Kazakhstan. At the extremes people take out 20k$ loans to throw extravagant event. You hire DJ, band, toastmaster, dancers, .... Many Wedding palaces all over town, parks would be full of people taking photos. Many weddings during Ramadan. Very few during May: it’s considered bad luck for the marriage, because of a Russian proverb, “”. In the simple form there are two days of marriage, but it can even stretch to a full week.

In modern practice the guy proposes with a ring, but in traditional practice his parents give the fiancée earrings (diamond pref). There’s a sense in which they are “claiming” her: evident antipathy to the notion from our hosts.

Gifts are exchanged between families during the wedding.

Kazakh wedding:

  • Engagement: attended by both sets of parents and the bride (not groom); the groom’s parents give the bride earrings (“claiming” bride).
  • Next comes the bride’s wedding: her family and friends, plus say twenty spots for the groom’s relatives (кудалар). Wedding usually held in a Mosque. Wife can ask anything of the groom: house, jewelry, ...
  • Finally comes the groom’s wedding (next day, next month, something). This is attended by groom’s family and friends, with as well 20 or so from the bride’s side. Traditional to hire a toastmaster/dombral player. (A Dombral is a two-stringed instrument 🎻 similar to a balalaika). When the toastmaster calls out, the bride raises her veil — exposing her face — to families on the groom’s side; they must then pay money for being so greeted.

Arranged marriages still exist outside cities, and bride kidnapping still occurs in remote parts. Once the “bride” spends the night in the captor’s house she’s ruined for another marriage. Modern Kazakhs have a few children, but typically large families outside cities: Alya’s uncle has 8 kids.


Almaty: Pronounced “alma-TEE”

Formerly western name “Alma Ata”, “Father of Apples” — mascot is the “Big Apple”, come ripe in the fall (but apparently not as good as in past: orchards cut for development.) Tons of trees all over city. Apple trees were in bloom with beautiful white flowers, lilacs with fragrant purple clusters. Tulips 🌷 originally come from Kazakhstan, imported to Netherlands

Mountains just outside city. Almaty navigated as “up” and “down” (which are South and North), not cardinal directions.

Almaty has an amazing new mayor, very excited about reforms eg many new bike lanes. Street cars, new buses, sold the boondoggle trams. (No biking during the winter, though.) Snow covers ground from November to March, sometimes April.

Stop lights and crosswalks have countdown timers for red and green conditions.

Trout farms around city, go there for dinner on a weekend. Ostrich farms too. Used for feathers, eggs and meat.

Temp was 81F during the day. Day 2 cooler, 70s, turning to rain.

Things we didn’t see:

Abai, the Kazakh Pushkin, runs from one side of city to the other. The Cultural Center (à la Lincoln Center) is on this street. Russian Circus Theater for another Kazakh writer Pamfilov walk to the ballet and opera house shops, ice cream, street artists Koktob trolley up a hill little zoo, see the whole city in lights. Three beautiful restaurants. Ferris wheel, carnival things.

Starbucks opened last year; Cheaper here in absolute terms (Americano 2$), but more expensive relative to Kazakh earnings. KFC is #1 fast food place 5 chicken wings for $5 equivalent.

Towering above the city is Peak Форманова (Formanova), 3800 m above sea level. Alia celebrated New Years on top.


Most kids live at home until married

Kazakh women in cities independent, work. Traditional practice bride moves to groom’s parents’ house after marriage. Grandparents key to childcare, kids may in some cases significantly live with them (commonly so over the summer). Both paternal and maternal grandparents provide coverage.

National drinks кумих (kumix), a fermented horse milk, and шубат (shubat), camel milk.


Kazakhstan has the second largest canyon in world Varied geography, even sand dunes (can snowboard)