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A holiday to remember a country’s progress and friends

16 december 2011, 15:21
1

Where I live, I can always tell if there’s a holiday.

I look out my apartment window seven floors above the Mon Ami cosmetics store on usually-busy Kenesary Street and see only a few cars and even fewer pedestrians.

That was the case today at the start of a holiday that’s more special than most – the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s Independence.

I’m spending the holiday quietly, seeing a few friends and thinking about others.

It started on a pleasant note when my friend Darkhan Bilyalov of Nazarbayev University declared me an honorary citizen of Kazakhstan.

I had sent him an SMS congratulating him on Independence Day.

And he responded with: “Thank you very much, Hal! Since you’ve been around for so long, it is your holiday, too, my almost-Kazakh friend! Tvoi droog Darkhan.”

Darkhan’s message reminded me that when holidays roll around, we celebrate what the holiday means, of course, but we celebrate even more the family and friends that we've been lucky enough to have accumulated.

In my five years in Kazakhstan, that list of friends has become lengthy.

And so today I think of Aknur and Ainur, the twins who overcame the loss of their father and a stroke that debilitated their mother to graduate from a university and obtain good jobs in banking and finance.

And Olyessa, who has been lying in a hospital bed for two weeks with chest congestion that I fear is pneumonia.

And Martha Peake, the owner of the Books & Coffee shop, one of the kindest, most empathetic people I know – someone who always has time to listen to a person in trouble.

And Yuri Bibikov, a Web page designer at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research, or KIMEP. He has given me many laughs over the years with his wit and mischievous ways.

And Tanya Kuzmina, my boss at Tengrinews.kz. She’s not only been a superb journalism colleague, but also a great friend, in the two years we’ve known each other.

And Diana Solovyeva, a terrific fashion and art photographer and talented singer who has had to overcome many obstacles in her young life.

And Batyrkhan Shukenov, an incomparable musician who always comes up to me when we meet and greets me as “moi droog.”

And Murat Muturganov, the talented young clown and talk-show host whom I’m trying to help study film in the United States.

And Michael Eggleton, head of Eurasian Bank, one of the most generous men on the planet.

And Andrew Auster, the gregarious president of the Haileybury School in Astana who collects friends by the bunches and is a true bon vivant.

And Kanat, a television executive who is as funny as my friend Darkhan and whose Latin rhythm is hard to beat when he’s on the dance floor at Copacabana in Almaty.

And hundreds of my students and former students at Nazarbayev University, KIMEP and Kazakh National University.

When I told one of those former students, Murager Sauranbayev of the Foreign Ministry, that whenever I try to leave Kazakhstan, I get a better job offer here, he replied with a smile. “This is your country.”

That conversation took place weeks ago, before Darkhan made me an honorary citizen of Kazakhstan.

I’m leaving many people off the list of my friends that I’ve included in this blog, I know – and I apologize for that. I couldn’t include you all, but value you nonetheless.

All my friends here have one thing in common: Whether Kazakh or foreign, they are contributing to the progress of this country that has such unlimited potential.

So I salute them – and all of you.

Happy 20th Independence Day, Kazakhstan!

The Internet search engine Google came up with a nifty salute to Kazakhstan’s 20th year of independence.  


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