Next year I will be eating horse meat and speaking Russian. At least this is what I tell my students about my next big move: Kazakhstan.
This year I applied for jobs all over: Spain, Hong Kong, Morocco, Brazil, Tibet, Norway and more. I had quite a few interviews and very few offers. Wondering if I was a bit crazy, I took the job in Kazakhstan.
I will be teaching high school English at an exclusive school for Kazakhs. I will be living in Shymkent, the 3rd largest city in Kazakhstan, whatever that means. The country is the 9th largest country in the world, which means it’s big! The next largest city, Almaty, is a 10 hour car drive away, and they don’t look that far apart on the map. According to the internet, it’s full of beautiful landscapes, which is part of the draw.
Part of the former U.S.S.R, and famous for Borat, I am picturing Soviet Era apartment blocks in my town. People speak Kazakh, but Russian is the lingua franca of the region. There are over 100 ethnicities peacefully cohabiting. Almaty is known to be quite European-cosmopolitan and Kazakhstan is the most stable and prosperous ‘stan’ of the former U.S.S.R. I’m very curious to learn more.
There is no strong desire to say, “well I’m done with this whole international teaching thing”, pack up and head to the States. But moving to Kazakhstan, more than Dubai, seems like a much bigger decision. This will be the fourth country I’ve lived in and my fourth year away.
I floundered around a lot in my twenties. The whole, modern, existential crisis of what am I supposed to do with my life? First world problems. Was it easier when we lived in huts? Had only to hunt. Gather the nuts. Sing around a fire. We knew our roles and our place in society. Now there are so many life options and so much stress over picking the “right one”. A perfect, forever life purpose, like a perfect, forever soulmate.
I looked around for years. Did many things I enjoyed and plenty I didn’t. I once read that the real difference between Communist Russia and America, was that in America there are so many brands of toothpaste, so many shampoos. And the toothpastes, they are all the same, all the choices can make an immigrants head spin, while really there is no choice better than others. Is life like the toothpaste? Is there a “right choice”.
Obviously this is simplistic and I wouldn’t want to wait in a Moscow winter bread line. But maybe all paths lead to the same thing: life and more life.
Just buy one. Just make a choice. Roots or rootlessness.
For now I choose Kazakhstan. I want to hike their mountains, ride the Trans-Siberian railway, visit the people who hunt with eagles, see the other ‘stans’, drink yak milk in a Mongolian yurt.
The other day I woke up worried. I’m getting sad, saying goodbye: to friends, my favorite cafes, palm trees and the beaches of the ever super salty gulf. Have I made the right choice? I don’t know.
I’ll need a winter coat. I never have much of a plan for more than a year. AmeriCorps for a year. Korea for a year, grad school for a year. The one time I thought I had it all figured out, in love, getting married, becoming a teacher, moving to the forest to raise goats and chickens, the future disappeared and I had to make new plans. I had to mourn the future. And I think it’s a resurgence of this mourning, along with these new goodbyes, while stepping into an unknown again, that has me on edge.
This next contract is for one year and then I will have a chance to ask again, should I stay or should I go now. It is not a forever choice.
So, despite my recent doubts, I took the job in Kazakhstan, because the idea of going alone to a place I have never been, won’t know anyone and won’t speak the language, makes me inexplicably excited. The word Kazakh means wild and free, or an independent free spirit. I’ll take this as a good sign.