“My mom is going to kill me,” I thought to myself as I crawled into the back of a complete stranger’s car 9,972 kilometers from home.
I had bumped into these strangers while shopping at a mall-like grocery store in Almaty, Kazakhstan. After 30 minutes of staring at Russian shampoo labels, I was approached by a man named Dulat offering to help translate. He helped me locate everything from face lotion to contact lens solution and even paid for my purchases at a store that didn’t accept credit cards.
“Let me give you a ride back to the hotel,” he insisted after the shopping was complete.
“The hotel is only about 300 yards away so I can walk, but thank you for everything, really!” I replied inching in the opposite direction.
“No, no, it’s really not a problem. Please, let me give you a ride back. My friends and I would be more than happy to.”
Reluctantly, I agreed. Had I said I felt completely confident in what I was about to do, that would have been a lie; but trusting my instincts, I figured a quick ride wouldn’t hurt.
I hesitantly crawled into the back of a luxurious Mercedes that had a pungent aroma of cigarettes. There were currently two people waiting in the car. I learned that the woman in the passenger seat was a friend of theirs visiting from Uzbekistan. They were in the middle of giving her a tour before making a quick stop to grab a few groceries, the same store where we met.
“Before we go to the hotel, would you like to see the mountains?” Dulat inquired.
Even though the mountains did not look remotely close, they assured me that it was only a ten minute drive from where we were parked. Taking a leap of faith, I hesitantly agreed.
I stared at my phone that only had seven percent battery left wondering if this was a monumental mistake. Nobody, not even my coaches, parents, or teammates knew I had left the hotel. With each added minute that passed by I could feel my hands gradually get sweatier.
“We here.” Kanat, our driver, exclaimed and gestured for everyone to get out.
Relieved to not be hog tied or blindfolded, I opened the door. Here I was standing in front of the most postcard perfect ice arena tucked between the mountains. Surrounding it was a cross between Utah’s mountain ranges and Fiji’s blue waters. With permission from the security officer, we walked along the concrete track discussing all sorts of various topics. Kanat even brought his electric scooter that we took turns riding. A couple of laps and 100 pictures later we decided to call it a day.
As promised, they dropped me off at my hotel and I thanked them profusely for their generosity. Suddenly, I felt overwhelmingly guilty for ever thinking that their intentions were anything less than friendly.
Over the next two days Dulat, Kanat, and I met and continued my private tour of Almaty. We walked through Panfilov Park (a national park dedicated to the 28 guardsman of World War II), visited a small zoo located high in the mountains, rode a roller coaster overlooking the city, strolled around a pond popular for paddle boarding, ate at a local restaurant rarely discovered by tourists, got lost in a mirror maze, explored a small, yet incredibly vibrant fair, and even took a pedal powered roller coaster overlooking the Almaty amusement park. I continuously offered to buy them drinks, a meal, anything to thank them for their incredible generosity. They refused every offer and insisted on taking care of everything.
“You have been so kind.” I said. “People in Kazakhstan have been very hospitable. Is everyone like this?”
“Oh yes, it’s very normal. When I visit my friends in other cities or countries they do the same thing for me. Right now you are a guest in my country and I am very proud to live here. We always try to show our guests a good time.”
Somehow a simple trip to the market turned into an extravagant unplanned three day tour of one of Kazakhstan’s most beautiful cities. Their kindness and hospitality left me thinking...
The world can be a scary place. At times, if feels as though everywhere we turn there is something new to fear. We learn to become guarded, distrustful, and uncertain of those around us. More often than not, this fear sometimes scares us from experiencing life to the fullest . If there is one thing I’ve learned from these last couple months of traveling between countries and meeting people it’s this:
No matter how bad things might seem, there will always be more good people in this world than bad.