BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Kazahkstan that I know

It's amazing how time flies.
In 1998, I rode a plane to Kazahkstan, not knowing where on earth it was. I stayed there for two weeks to visit a relative, assigned in the Central Asian country as a United Nations peacekeeper.

I stayed mostly in Almaty, the capital but also had the chance to visit some parts outside the city. During my brief stay, I was informed that there were only less than 50 Filipinos there at that time. Today, Kazakhstan has etched its place on the world map. It's an oil-rich country that has enjoyed economic growth since 2000.

Before, I didn't see signs of globalization. There were no McDonald's, Starbucks or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Old beat-up cars roamed the streets of the city. I rarely encountered an English-speaking Kazakh. I went around the city with a Russian interpreter. I won't be surprised if today, in the slightest chance I visit Kazahkstan again, I will see signs of Western influence all over.

But not only that. Today, in Tengiz alone, there are some 500 overseas Filipino workers. The government is working to bring them home because of security problems in an oil plant in Tengiz.

I just found it so amazing because, in the past, Kazakhstan was almost unheard of. Today, it has become another home for Filipinos. The capital, too, has been changed to Astana from Almaty.

Today, it is fast succeeding to become a rich country, less than 20 years since it declared independence from Russia in 1991. I won't be surprised if it soon becomes a major player in the global village.

But I'll always remember the Kazakhstan that I experienced -- raw, beckoning, friendly, beautiful and innocent. Truly, one can never go back to the same place, ever.