Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Stalinkas, Krushchevskas, Brezhnevkas and marriage

The Kazakh winter is stabilizing itself. Not too much snow and not too cold. Around -3 degrees Celsius. The same applies to our lives here. Pretty much the same routines. Pam teaches between 9-6 most days and the girls and myself follow a pretty much unstructured regime. We watch Ipad (when there´s internet, which isn´t often and always slow) and I do some work until 11, when Dana needs to sleep. She naps an hour and a half and I try to read the new. We eat lunch, and since we only have one pot, it is almost always the same. The rest of the day play. Either we go out a couple of hours or play some rough games at home here where the girls tend to jump on me all the time. These moments of play are the most important one´s in my life, ever. I love being with the girls. Soon enough they will be back in school. Pam comes back at six, tired and we work and talk a bit before sleeping. We have no TV, no sofa an no comfort at all. Our apartment, which is one of many others in a 10 floor building block, just have two rooms. A kitchen, quite big, 5×5 and a room the same size where you sleep. I guess you could fit a TV and sofa in there. We just have a wardrobe and two beds with the thinnest mattresses on earth, but good enough. And on top of that we have a small hall and a reasonably big toilet. Which is fine for awhile. It could be worse and the size of our apartment is no news to most Kazakhis or former Soviet union citizens. Two rooms is the general standard. These apartments we live are called brezhnevkas after the Soviet leader who was in charge 1964-82 and where built during his time.

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Yesterday we traveled on us 40 out to Vostok 13 to visit one of our new friends in Karaganda, Nazym. She lives with her mum in an area dominated by apartments from the Khrushchev era and are called krushchevkas. This used to be an area where people employed in the still functioning metal works nearby lived. Many of them are still living here, but since it is located quite a distance from the center of Karaganda -almost half a million inhabitants, the 4th biggest city in Kazakhstan-  it has become an area of cheaper living, so many immigrants have moved in and live here. When you first come across these apartment blocks called krushchevkas after the leader of the Soviet union who took over after Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, apartment blocks which I remember so well from my Kolyma year, they seem incredibly dirty, run down and awful. And that feeling just becomes worse when you step inside the first door, where walls are peeling and it is always a distinct smell. But once you step inside somebody´s apartment, this changes dramatically, because no matter what, they are always cosy, warm and welcoming! The hospitality, generosity and warmth is almost unequaled on earth. The meal we had with Nazym was the best on the trip and the most filling!

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Nazym speaks several languages extremely well and after this filling meal she took us around her area where she grew up with her mother, who is a doctor. The area is dominated by the gigantic metal works and this eastern part of the city is kind of located strewn out on the steppe, so when we walked past these enormous pipes,steel gates and the giant buildings on a Sunday, it was eery silent, but very relaxing after the busy Karaganda center. I am still very impressed but the ugly but enormous in size constructions from the Soviet era. They portray a feeling of being part of something very much bigger. Which was the whole idea with them of course.

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It is also a interesting feeling walking around these factory areas today, something which during even the Kolyma years back in 2004-5 and of course during the Soviet era, was impossible. If we had been stopped during these times, the word spy would have turned up. Nowadays of course all this is gone.It is just like any production plant anywhere on earth of today. instead you come across graffiti in English saying:

“I love you!”

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We left Nazym just before it got dark and took the faster mini bus, 66, back to Universitetskaya where we live. the girls missed Nazym immediately, since she is so good with kids. Soon she will leave Karaganda for Europe, because like many other young people, she wants to try a different way of living elsewhere, which I and my wife, fully understands! She will even get married to a Romanian after falling in love with the country during the Eurovision contest a few years back when they had a catchy song! She speaks Romanian of course, this intelligent young woman.
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About marriages. Most of our friends here in Karaganda are women. Some married, most not. There´s obviously more pressure on Kazakh ladies compared to Russian Kazakhs. There seems to be a wish that they get married before they turn 23 and most of our friends are older than this and are holding out for a better choice. But pressures from parents are quite hard. It is easier for the boys. As usual. And marriage is a very costly thing in Kazakhstan as well, especially for the native Kazakhs. And a big thing as we noticed during our visit in Astana. the one big thing in life. And these immense costs is one of the reasons there is such an enormous amount of pawn brokers (Lombardi) and betting shops everywhere in Kazakhstan. Because if the wages are low, say 60 000 tenge a month for a teacher, 120 000 (approx. 400 pounds) for a metal worker, you need to pay for the big marriage. Costs are divided between the families, but you still need to sell of stuff to pay for it. I have already told my girls, we will do it Swedish style. Cheap and fast!
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Kazakhstan is much more modern, developed and richer then I expected. Much more. And even in Karaganda, where I have heard factories are closing and life is getting more demanding, it is constructions everywhere. There´s a strong feeling of a great future for many young here, even though the older generation over 45 seems to miss the Soviet era. And it seems like the native Kazakhs are more motivated then the Kazakhs with a Russian background.
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Only two weeks left of my visit. And it has been one of the most interesting, and important, times in my life. i have learned much more of what I have seen before during my Russian and Siberian journey´s. More details. like thestalinkas and krushchevskas. The latter a bit higher, more prefabricated, newer and exactly the same in detail. I heard a story the other day, taken from a Russian film from the Soviet era, where the main character gets on the wrong plane and ends up in Leningrad (St Petersburg today) instead of his home city Moscow. in the dark he grabs a taxi to his address, which also exists in Leningrad. the house looks exactly the same, so he goes to his apartment, puts in the key and walks in, but the apartment is not his! That is krushchevkas!

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