Monday, September 08, 2008

Natasha explains Kazakhstan to her classmates

The speech Natasha gave to her class last Friday, in speech class (published, I assure you, with her permission):

Today I would like to tell you about my country, Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is in the heart of Asia, ninth biggest country in the world. It is surrounded by Russia, China and other small countries. Kazakhstan’s population is little more than fifteen million people. The area of Kazakhstan is 2,717,300 square kilometers. It’s slightly less than four times the size of Texas. It’s the world’s largest landlocked country.

For most of its history the territory of the modern-day Kazakhstan had been inhabited by nomad tribes, and there are still people who live there in the old nomad ways. It was one of the countries conquered by Genghis Khan, who was a very bloody leader, and later by the Russian Empire. Kazakhstan was reorganized several times before becoming the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936, one of the biggest republics in the Soviet Union. It was part of the “Virgin Land” program that was made by Kruschev. Kazakhstan was where the USSR’s space program was centered (the “Buikonur Kosmodrome”) and also its primary nuclear testing site (the “Semipulatinks Polygon”).

Kazakhstan declared its independence on December 16, 1991, and communist-era leader Narsultan Nazarbayev became its President. Since independence Kazakhstan has worked to develop its economy, especially its hydrocarbon industry. President Nazarbayev is still maintaining strict control over the country’s politics. Nazarbayev has been President for almost sixteen years without counting his leadership when Kazakhstan was a Soviet Union republic.

Kazakhstan is an ethnically and culturally diverse country. In part this is due to mass deportations of many ethnic groups from Russia and other republics into Kazakhstan during Stalin’s rule. Kazakhstan allows freedom of religion and many different beliefs are represented in it.

Because there are not that many bodies of water in Kazakhstan it’s mainly made of steppes. Steppes are dry land areas. There are almost no trees or bushes on the steppes. It’s mainly grass. There are not that many animals on the steppes, mainly small ones: rabbits, mice, kosulyas – animals that look like deer but without antlers. Animals on the steppes live in small groups or alone. There are great numbers of eagles in Kazakhstan, and Kazakhs still use eagles as hunting birds.

There are quite a number of mountains and hills in Kazakhstan. It is not as flat as Houston. The lowest point in Kazakhstan is the Kaundy Basin, which is about 400 feet below sea level, and the highest point is the top of Mount Khan Tangiri, which is more than 20,000 feet above sea level. But our favorite mountain is Medeo, near Almaty. People go on Medeo to go skiing or just for a vacation. From downtown Almaty you can see mountaintops that are twelve thousand feet higher than where you are standing. It is very beautiful. In fact it used to be the capital. After independence President Nazarbayev built a new capital in the middle of the steppe, called Astana. But Astana is not very pretty and the weather is bad, and Almaty is very beautiful and has nice weather. So even after President Nazarbayev declared Astana the capital, most countries refused to move their embassies, and most foreign embassies are still in Almaty.

Summers are hot and winters are cold in Kazakhstan. Every year around the end of October and the start of November the snow starts falling. Winter is the most peaceful time of the year. The snow covers the ground about three or four meters deep. The weather is very cold; it gets forty degrees below zero. People walk around in big fluffy jackets, big hats, scarves and boots. There is ice on the roads and it is very dangerous to drive or even walk around. We put salt on the roads and sidewalks to keep cars and people from sliding and slipping, and we wear hobnailed boots to dig into the ice.

There are a lot of people in Kazakhstan. In the 1999 census, 53.4% were Kazakh people, 30% Russians, 3.7% Ukrainian, 2.5% Uzbek, 2.4 German, 1.7% Tatar, 1.4% Uygers, and 4.9% others.

Kazakh people are the native people of Kazakhstan. They have their own traditions, and they have adopted some others, too. Some Kazakh people still live as nomads. They live out on the steppes or near the mountains. They don’t live in houses, but in yurts. Yurts are the national Kazakh houses that are like a tent, only it’s round and made out of sheep and camel skin on a wooden frame. You can put it up and take it down and take it with you on the road. The nomads usually move about four times a year, as the seasons change.

Each Kazakh family that follows the old traditions, has cattle. Mainly they have horses, because they are riding them around. They eat horse meat, in several national dishes like bishparmak, which is like a lasagna. The national drink is kumis, or fermented mare’s milk, which is disgusting. Kazakh people also have camels. They use camel hair to make blankets, clothes, shoes and other things. Some Kazakh people wear national clothes with ornaments. The traditional clothes and hats tell you whether a person is married or single or engaged.

Most Kazakh people are Muslims. Kazakhs have their own alphabet, which is the Russian alphabet with nine extra letters for sounds Russian doesn’t have. So the Kazakh alphabet has 42 letters, and the Russian alphabet has 33. The Kazakh language is Kazakhstan’s official national language, but most people use the Russian language for everyday communication.

Kazakhs look like Chinese people, and most people don’t see the difference.

Kazakhstan has major resources of petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, manganese, chrome ore, nickel, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, lead zinc, bauxite, gold, uranium. About a year ago they just discovered a whole new oil field. There are a lot of coal mines. In fact in my home town, Karaganda, there is an Old Town and a New Town. Nobody lives in the Old Town, because the Soviet government dug coal mines underneath the town and it started falling in, and everybody had to move.

Also a few people do agriculture; about 0.05% of the land is used for permanent crops. The rivers that feed the Aral Sea have been used for so much irrigation that it’s drying up and leaving behind a harmful layer of chemical pesticides and natural salts. These substances are then picked up by wind blown into noxious dust storms that make people sick. There is also pollution from factories.

So my country Kazakhstan is very different from Texas, and it has changed very much in the last twenty years.

I think my personal favorite part is, "There are quite a number of mountains and hills in Kazakhstan. It is not as flat as Houston." Unless you have seen both Almaty and Houston, you don't know how funny this understatement is.


At 7:28 PM, Blogger Jim r said...

I have been to the Kaundy Basin. It is near Aktau. We went there one weekend when they would not let us in the baby house. Our coordinator, driver and translator all went out for a trip around the country-side. That was one of the places we stopped - and looked at from the hillside.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anybody ask her abuot Borat?


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