December 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Christmas: Desert Mountain Times: PCV Jim Glendinning has a surprise Christmas meeting in Kazakhstan

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kazakstan : Peace Corps Kazakhstan : The Peace Corps in Kazakstan: December 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kazakhstan: Christmas: Desert Mountain Times: PCV Jim Glendinning has a surprise Christmas meeting in Kazakhstan

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PCV Jim Glendinning has a surprise Christmas meeting in Kazakhstan

PCV Jim Glendinning has a surprise Christmas meeting in Kazakhstan

PCV Jim Glendinning has a surprise Christmas meeting in Kazakhstan

Life in Kazakhstan: What a small world: A surprise Christmas meeting in Kazakhstan

Publish Date: December 23, 2004 | Permanent Link

photograph courtesy Jim Glendinning

Jim Glendinning (seen here in traditional Kazakh costume) writes: "I have been surprised and touched by the many parcels of books as well as other gifts (Scented soap! Instant refried beans! Starbucks coffee!). Thank you, Alpine, and Happy Christmas!"

By Jim Glendinning

Snow covers the landscape here in South Kazakhstan, and wolves have been seen outside our village. They come down from the Tien Shan Mountains looking for food. It is estimated there are more than 100,000 wolves in Russia and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) of which Kazakhstan is a part.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city (1.2 million), signs of Western Christmas are evident in the Christmas trees decorating the shopping malls and the seasonal gifts on sale. I even saw a Father Christmas on the city’s pedestrian street, posing for photographs. This attention to Christmas is largely for the expatriate community – oil company and other business executives, diplomats and aid or volunteer workers – since Kazakhstan is mainly Muslim.

Kazakhstan is 43 percent Muslim – of a low-key variety. In our village, there are daily calls to prayer from the mosque, but only 27 out of a population of 2,000 regularly attend, all older men. Muslim faith is still evident in the burial practices, and the graceful flowing hand movement of washing the face, which Kazakhs make when passing a grave and after a meal – a gesture of giving thanks.

The other religions are Orthodox Christian (10 percent), Roman Catholic (3 percent), non-religious (29 percent), atheist (11 percent) and other (4 percent). More than 70 years of Communist rule stifled all forms of religious worship, indeed forbade them. After the fall of Communism in 1991, the new Kazakhstan government permitted freedom of worship, but keeps a sharp eye out for radical Muslim groups and is particularly wary of political parties such as the Islamic Renaissance Party in neighboring Uzbekistan (which is banned there).

Christmas Day is a working day like any other in Kazakhstan. Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas in early January. But other Christian denominations in Kazakhstan are already anticipating Christmas, singing carols and buying gifts. Some of them are new to the faith. Kazakhstan is a fertile field for Christian proselytizing, and shortly after arrival here, I attended a service of the evangelical New Life Church, which laid on a three-hour service to a congregation of 1,200 that was reminiscent of similar stateside movements.

Last week, I found myself in a nightclub of a five-star Almaty hotel joining in a weekly ecumenical Christian service and communion. The majority of the 150 worshippers present were Americans, but many other nationalities were represented. Dress was as casual as the setting.

Since newcomers were asked to identify themselves, I stood up and said who I was, what I was doing. Shortly after, some familiar faces approached me, people who had visited my village of Zhabagly during the summer.

Then a young woman came up and asked: "Do you recognize me?"

I didn’t. She identified herself as Ginger Boreing, granddaughter of Clara Boreing, my former neighbor in Alpine.

I last met Ginger perhaps five years ago when she was still at school. Now, she was teaching at the Tien Shan School, a Christian school in Almaty and enjoying every minute, she said.

Small world. Holiday greetings.

Jim Glendinning of Alpine joined the Peace Corps early this year. He is an author and a former tourist guide. He can be reached at

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Changing of the Guard Date: December 15 2004 No: 330 Changing of the Guard
With Lloyd Pierson's departure, Marie Wheat has been named acting Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations responsible for the day-to-day management of the Peace Corps. Although Wheat is not an RPCV and has limited overseas experience, in her two years at the agency she has come to be respected as someone with good political skills who listens and delegates authority and we wish her the best in her new position.

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Story Source: Desert Mountain Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kazakhstan; Christmas



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