Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nauriz 2011 - Spring!

Nauriz is the Kazakh word for "March." It is the holiday celebrated each year on the spring equinox; it comes from the Persian New Year holiday, which, according to my Iranian student, is the biggest holiday in Iran--Iran's version of our Christmas.

Nauriz was on Tuesday, 22 March, this year, and so Sophia, a co-worker, and I went downtown for the festivities. I had gone last year, and it wasn't too exciting, but, hey, it's something to do.

There are festivities all around town, but the main one is around Baiterek (the funky tower in the "new" downtown, by all the space-age buildings). Dozens of yurts were set up around the tower; there was a stage with music and another stage with wrestling. A woman was singing while random children in snowsuits climbed onstage and started dancing.

People in traditional Kazakh dress stood in front of the yurts and posed for pictures. Just like last year, I was unsure if the yurts were open to the public or private. I believe that they are private--rich people celebrating Nauriz downtown, coming out of their yurts to pose for pictures. Just odd.

Last year, we popped into one, and when it was discovered that we were Americans, we were invited inside and offered food. But I suspect we really weren't supposed to be inside, and this year I didn't feel like trying my luck.

Last year, too, there had been a camel and some swings. Just a little something more than this year.

A group of people were crowded together, so Sophia and I pushed through to see what it was--an arm-wrestling competition. I noted that Sophia and I were the only females watching this.

We bought some ice cream and soda from a stand and then went inside Baiterek. It was far more crowded than I've ever seen it--but when you consider that this is Astana's "Eiffel Tower" it wasn't bad at all. Tickets for adults are 500 Tenge (less than $4); Sophia's cost 150 Tenge (about $1). We waited a few minutes in line to push ourselves onto the cramped elevator and go up 97 feet to the observation platform.

I've seen it before, but it's still nice to see Astana from up high. You can really see how the city is laid out--a huge stretch, more than a mile, of the new downtown--a straight east-west line from the pyramid in the east to Khan Shatyr in the west. The sun rises over the pyramid (and president's house, which is in front of the pyramid) and sets over Khan Shatyr.

My favorite part of the view is, and has always been, the abrupt end of the city. These fancy, modern, funky buildings--a cityscape--suddenly and dramatically give way to a flat expanse of nothingness.

My co-worker and Sophia both waited in line to put their hand in the imprint of the president's hand--make a wish!

After Beiterek, we crossed the street to a business-and-shopping-center I've never been in. A new Ramstore (supermarket that sometimes has peanut butter) was there, which was our motivation for going that way.

Inside was a small crowd watching a guy do magic tricks. Later there was dancing, involving women in Kazakh dresses as well as children from the audience.

The Ramstore did not have peanut butter, but there was a small cafe, so we ate some sort of cabbage mixture and drank tea while Sophia colored.

That was our day--nice, nothing too exciting, but a good Nauriz nonetheless.

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