Site Logo  Jeltorangy
If any of you have read the site in detail, youíll know of the cynical way in which I view the modern world. Itís not that I see it as inherently bad, but that I think people are fooled into thinking things are better than ever, in every way. Progress has its benefits, letís not bicker about that, but is it to be celebrated at all costs, when it is achieved at the expense of so much of real value that we have forgotten? Babies and bathwater spring to mind, and the act of their combined disposal.
If the modern hi-tec world is so worth living in, why arenít its inhabitants always content? What is there left to complain about if we can solve our problems with money or by flicking a switch? Maybe nothing, and Iíd be happy to live to some extent like this provided I am remain entitled to satisfy my basic instinctual need to get back to basics once in a while.

Jeltorangy Village

Progress tends to be measured in terms of technology and performance. The hallmarks of civilised society though are arguably quite often the things which threaten it; GM food, automobiles, microwave ovens and computer games. Iím not saying theyíre all bad, but they have been allowed to replace so much of that which gave humanity its heart and soul.
Computer games? I bet no kid in Jeltorangy has a playstation. They play in the streets, with pebbles, ride bikes with no brakes, kick deflated footballs, jump plastic skipping ropes. Then they go home to dinner and share it with the extended family. And share they do. My four days there were among the best Iíve ever spent. A contrast in some ways to the very prosperous Almaty, but in other ways no different. Full of amazingly hospitable people who always have time for you. And they donít seem to complain about their lot. It was a pleasure to spend time in such a welcoming village. No mobile phone signal. It was bliss!

Sky over the village


The bog


Shrek the dog


The Neighbours' Place

As for my trip, well it was primarily educational with the desire to meet and live with local people also clearly a motivating factor. Immersion does not come much fuller than this and four days of solid Kazakh speaking practice did my fluency and confidence a lot of good.
But I have a page on the site for that (in need of updating) and itís not therefore the focus of this one. Instead I would like to share the human side of my experience with you, and show you a bit of how a village which some would consider Ďprimitiveí, relatively speaking, can in fact shine brighter than a million city lights and a million 4x4 headlights.
Dusty back gardens and outside toilets (which are technically not toilets but meeting places for flies) might not seem like many peopleís idea of luxury, but in spite of the difficulty I found in washing properly, to which I have grown accustomed (and a habit I do not intend to trade in for any linguistic progress), I had a great time in Jeltorangy. The interest people showed in me and my own roots was genuine but non-intrusive, the kindness people showed was heart-warming and their selflessness in constant evidence. I felt at instant ease with them and their way of life, their love for their village and its very close community spirit.
I was impressed by their resourcefulness, the way in which they make a living allows no lapses in commitment. I wondered at their stamina in that I was there in the warm month of May. It beggars belief that temperatures drop to -30 in winter, with the toilet outside and there being no running water.
There is very little paid work in Jeltorangy, villagers are opportunistic and resourceful, making the most of that at their disposal and even speaking as a vegan I agree with how they exploit livestock to maintain their standard of living. Thereís no factory farming, put it that way.

Back yard complete with sauna

The school is a new and modern building and frequented by a suprisingly large number of students all of whom seem to love it, in spite of their very poor achievements in English. I was happy to learn recently that the Kazakh government offers scholarships to village school goers asking lower requirements than those of city children. This is thanks to Nursultan Nazarbayev, surely the best president in the world!
As I said earlier, local children amuse themselves with traditional activities. TV plays a limited part in their leisure time, them instead choosing to play outside as I did when I was 10, simple active games with friends. I would say it shows, I found their people skills quite remarkable, unlike many of the modern generation who can only relate to other people via an assortment of microchips.

Second bus, tyre exploded

Food was no problem, nobody showed more than a passing interest in a vegetarian diet and the table was completely free of meat. I wonder if this wasnít a gesture to their guest, it would not surprise me. I was also very pleased to hear so many men tell me that they never drank alcohol, only kumiss, fermented mareís milk.
I should say something about the journey. The ride from Almaty was by coach and took in some fantastic scenery, the mountain meadows strewn with poppies lit up the horizon with a sea of red set against a silken green background. Horses ambled across the roads alongside cows and occasionally goats too. Farmers on horseback sat and watched over their livelihood in a scene which may not have changed much for thousands of years. I hope it never does. It was simply breathtaking, just too far out of Almaty to get to by bike, maybe for the better. Put me on one of those horses and let me ride out into them there steppes and youíd have a job to get me back again.
I transferred to minibus at a town called Bakanas, which I shared (the bus that is) with about 40 people, one of whom was very drunk. Harmlessly maybe but he did upset a young girl, luckily I think she knew him, nothing bad came of it.
The minibus journey was broken only by an exploding tyre. I didnít know at first what it was but when it became clear it was obviously lucky that we were only pulling away from a bus stop at the time. They changed it pretty quickly and we were on our way.

I guess theyíll never read and understand this, but Jeltorangans are a very kind people and it was an honour to share their lives for this brief period. I donít know if I will return to them, but for a few comforts itís a great way to live and I hope Kazakhstanís proud march into the modern world doesnít entice too many people out of the old one. Yes, it would be nice to learn that some of the great Kazakh wealth will be shared with these deserving people, but it is also my hope that they will remain faithful to their ways of living, and not let the darker temptations of the modern age force them from their cooperative community into a more insular and unwelcoming hive of mistrust.


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