Kazakhstan’s enduring nomad mentality
Sanne van Oosten
Not many tourists visit Kazakhstan. The ninth largest country in the world is vast and empty. Therefore, many travelers leave it out of their itinerary and that is a shame. Not that there is so much to see in Kazakhstan nor is there much to do in Kazakhstan, but the people are the most hospitable people we have ever come across in all our travels.
In most countries we visited people are very curious and friendly towards foreigners like us. They want to make some small talk with you and maybe even pose in a picture with you. Not in Kazakhstan. On the streets people aren’t particularly interested in us. They aren’t particularly friendly either. However, there is one difference that makes Kazakhstan such a pleasant place to visit: Kazakh people are extremely hospitable towards visitors.
In no other place we have visited are people so willing to help a stranger out. In Kazakhstan people have offered us rides, snacks, meals, horse milk and a bed to sleep in. When visiting a couchsurfing host in a small town we took a walk around the village. At every house we went by to say hello we were invited to go inside. When entering a Kazakh house as a visitor a meal will soon appear. A few houses later we felt rotund with snacks, bread, grapes, horse milk, tea and cookies. When we got back to the house we were staying we found out that yet another meal awaited us.
Couchsurfers are always hospitable people, no matter if it is in Kazakhstan or not. But in our limited Kazakhstan couchsurfing experience we’ve noticed that the hosts are much more willing to supply us with all the food we can eat.
Not only that, every time we have gotten out of a bus there have been people informing about where we are heading after. They aren’t just informing about this out of curiosity or to make conversation, but they are informing about it to see if they can lend a helping hand. People will offer a ride or some good information, just to make sure you go the right way.
When you need to get from A to B in Kazakhstan all you have to do is stand by the side of the road and hold out your hand. Sooner or later a car will appear in front of you. These aren’t taxi drivers, but just drivers who saw someone in need of a ride. Most drivers do expect a small compensation, but they usually won’t quibble about what you give them. If you hail an official taxi they’ll ask as many people as possible to sit in the back. Why? Just in case someone else needs a ride, they can just hop into the front seat.
Even though people in Kazakhstan generally live in the same houses all their life, their nomadic past is still an important part of the culture. Most Kazakh dishes are easy to preserve and transport, just as was important in nomadic life. This also explains the extreme hospitality towards travelers. Denying a traveler help is seen as bad karma, when you are in need, you would appreciate the same help as well, so why not help these people?
Even though Kazakhstan is devoid of touristic highlights, this mentality is a distinct highlight to us. The Kazakh people are the most genuinely hospitable people we’ve ever seen and we hope that they won’t lose this distinct characteristic as their nomadic past becomes more and more distant. If there was ever a worldwide hospitality prize, the Kazakhs would win it, hands down.