This topic comes up all the time when I meet new people and I’m always asked the same questions about my motherland, Kazakhstan. People usually have no clue about KZ and get confused about why I’m not Kazakh and how I ended up there, etc… So it’s been long since I wanted to share my thoughts on my home.
I feel that I should represent my home country in the best light and ‘advertise’ it to elevate the image of Kazakhstan post endless Borat jokes era. And I do always say that this country isn’t as bad as some people think (someone once asked me if we have Internet, like what?). Tourism is catching on and expanding, there are tons of places that are incredibly beautiful too. Thankfully, more and more Westerners do upload their vlogs and stories about Kazakhstan portraying to a wider audience its incredible natural sights and friendly people. Our food also steals hearts and everyone wants to experience our hospitality again and again.
However, I am also the biggest critic of this country and dreamed of moving out since the young age. I left Kazakhstan at 15 and tried so hard not to come back with the only thing holding me to this place — my family. Compared to a lot of guys I know, they love their home countries, feel very proud and are often patriotic. And I admit, I also feel it sometimes and will always be happy for Kazakhstani sportsmen, awards and other recognition I see on the news. It will forever be a part of my identity, but I don’t love this place. It is upsetting how KZ doesn’t realise its full potential, it could have done so much better. Let me see if I can explain why I don’t want to come back home.
- Culture — some aspects of it are great and it’s embedded in me. I carry certain cultural features with me wherever I go and would want to pass them on, such as close ties with a family. That’s why being friends with Russian speakers brings you some other kind of comfort abroad too, as you can all relate to some traditions and communal habits that nobody else understands. We know our flaws and we laugh at them, these flaws connect us.
But when I get back here, it’s not so funny anymore. Simple things like lack of queueing in the shops or airports piss me off as the meaning of personal space becomes literally non-existent. Do not stand just behind me while I’m paying, there is a designated space for that, take a few steps back. People often give the worst judging looks if you are not dressed up to buy some bread. Not everyone feels like wearing heels to get groceries, sorry? Some basic behaviour principals aren’t adhered to and everyone is so impatient or unwelcoming. And I know it happens in other places too and might seem unfair to be so critical of the place I’ve been raised in. But when it’s meant to be your home, it hurts and bothers me more. Of course, generalising is never right but I honestly just give up sometimes. People won’t listen and act so selfish with no respect for others.
Apart from these everyday hassles, I also wish our society was more tolerant to gay people and put less pressure on the importance of marriage. Again, thankfully I don’t really experience it myself but from what I see, women are still meant to be in the kitchen and parents play a big role in younger people’s post-wedding lives. Not for me, thanks. On top, everyone cares too much about what ‘others will think’ and sometimes spent fortunes to make sure their absurd weddings satisfied with their relatives and friends. Seriously? What about you satisfy yourself first?
2. Government — our so-called democracy isn’t the worst, some countries are brutal dictatorships and considering our multi-ethnic population, we did pretty well. I give us credit for that. As a non-Kazakh citizen, I also want to thank Kazakhstan as I never felt marginalised because of my German-Ukrainian roots and was never forced to speak the Kazakh language. My whole family went by just fine, which I really appreciate. Nevertheless, I understand how my family is lucky and not everyone is. We had the same president for the past 25 years or so, with fake elections and sham political parties to create the facade of the liberal republic. Cheers to the constitution that gets amended like it’s some private diary. Major natural resources and other big institutions are owned by our ‘royal family’. The English could learn from us, we had Kanye perform at our weddings. Like how much can you really steal? Free speech? Oh, writing this might get me in trouble. So talk about wanting to stay here and build a career. I’ll probably need someone here or there, might be replaced at any moment too. You never know whose kid would want to take your place.
Yes, I’m exaggerating and I guess if I really wanted to stay, I could find a way if I put in the effort. Maybe. But that’s another thing so many locals would tell me how great it can be and yet I keep on seeing people leaving. Everyone who acts so patriotic on public or online actually tries to move out. So please don’t shame people who seek to get out, you kinda do too.
3. Corruption — yes yes, it’s everywhere, some just hide it better. But I hate seeing so much injustice at home, where road police seem to exist just to look for drivers who can pay them off. Schools replace children for concerts just because someone’s daddy wanted his kid to have the spotlight. Students have to bribe their professors to progress to the next year. Of course, in certain instances, it makes our lives easier and saves time and hassle. I did, you did, we all did and there is no point in concealing that fact. But I would like to hope that in some places, money doesn’t make all the difference and my future kiddos get more fair chances.
Personally, I also find KZ small, everyone knows each other and to be a ‘cool kid’ you have to fit in. Wear chic outfits and go out to the same place every Friday. Here the social image really matters, like anywhere else, but I felt more freedom abroad. No pressure to look good all the time, can be friends with diverse social circles and date anyone you like. I love not bumping into people I know.
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Kazakhstan is getting much better and I see progress every time I come back. More places, cleaner streets, nicer parks and more entertainment for the citizens. The service is getting better at many places and more international businesses enter our market. Although I’m extremely happy to see it grow and wish it all the best, I can’t picture myself fitting in. I think I already don’t, with strangers asking me if I speak Russian here and locals saying how different I look compared to others (and not just because I’m white). I know being abroad for such a long time changed me but I’m grateful it did.
Main take away? It’s okay to not love your home country and seek to move away, don’t feel sorry about it. Sometimes it’s just a place you were born in, nobody ever said you have to belong there. Home doesn’t have to be a specific location, it’s where the loved ones are and how it makes you feel. If it doesn’t make you feel home, get away and find a new place that will. Countries need to earn our love and patriotism too. ‘Home’ a fluid concept that we were made to believe is a constant. Kazakhstan will always be something I keep in mind and it made me who I am but it does not define me, doesn’t have to define you either. I sincerely hope, we all feel at home, no matter where we come from and where we end up.