Saturday, December 01, 2012

Glorious Entrance to Glorious Nation

We arrived at 1am into a snowy Almaty airport, and things immediately felt different.  Like for starters, the Dellas phones lit up with wifi.

The faces had changed considerably.  Gone was the Eurasian Uzbek and Turkic Turkmen, here now was the Asiatic Kazakh face.  The Kazakhs look East Asian, but more like Korean with  the moon-shaped face and wide cheeks.  I am speaking in very broad generalities.  Kazakhstan is actually quite diverse.  It was a place of exile for waves and waves of the forced-departed.  From German minorities in Russia to Koreans living too close to the Russian Korean border to even Jews that Stalin sent, Kazakhstan was a site of forced migration.  But a funny thing happened: most who were exiled here found that they kinda liked it and stayed put.  It was only within the last decade or two that Kazakhs actually formed a majority in Kazakhstan.

Anywho, we were picked up by the Embassy in a USAID van.  Normally we were met by a Embassy rep, but this time our contact was unable to meet us.  We grabbed our stuff and piled into the van.  We drove through the snow and slush covered streets glittering with christmas lights.  Passing signs for Saks Fifth Avenue, we looked at each other quite puzzled.  Had we departed Absurdistan?

We arrived to the immaculate Dostyk Hotel around 1:30am, tired and worn out from the road and ready to enjoy our first real day off in quite some time.  We filtered in to the lovely lobby and went to check in.  And then it all went awry.

The hotel had no record of our reservation.  None.  And they had no space.  I got on the horn to try to call the Consulate contact, but there was no answer.  So I broke out my sheet of numbers supplied to me by Post. And none of them worked either.  We hadn't left Absurdistan.

The hotel was trying to help us sort through it.  We got a hold of the Embassy emergency contact in Astana, who relayed to the emergency contact in Almaty, but they couldn't get in-touch with anyone either.  At this point, I was losing my voice to a chest cold.  The girls were downcast, and one of the members had received some awful news from the states.

The hotel found us a place nearby of similar quality that had rooms available for us.  Post couldn't reach any of our contacts.  Fearing that if I didn't get the girls some rest real soon, I was going to lose them for the tour, I decided that it was executive decision time.  I told the hotel to tell the other hotel we were coming.  I told Post we would deal with it in the morning.

We got a van to the Tien Shan Hotel and arrived around 2:45am.  Except the hotel didn't quite have the rooms we thought.  At our per diem rate, they only had doubles available or executive standards that were about $100 more per night.  Perhaps they would have standard singles the next day and they could move.  Perhaps Post would want to move us.

It was late, and the Dellas needed to get some real rest and sleep in their own rooms and not move on rest day so more executive decisions came flying.  I negotiated with the hotel to give us the first night at a discounted rate since we arrived so late that was equal to their per diem.  I didn't want them to have to move that day so I got them rooms for their rest day and decided I would figure it out with Post.  I broke out the biz card to hold the rooms, and sent them all off to bed and their rest day.

We raided the minibar fridge for a much-needed drink, and I got to bed around 4am.

The next morning, the Mother Hen Wellness Society procured an hour of massages for the Dellas as reward for 2 weeks with nary a day of rest and as means to keep the tour from falling off-kilter.  US-Turkmen Friendship Society sprung for facials for the two who had helped keep US-Turkmen relations strong through a Day in the Museum.

In public diplomacy as in life, actions speak louder than words.  The Dellas have the longest tour to the most countries (the likes of which are not easy), and this was a great investment in keeping the tour rolling.  The Dellas spent their day off, lounging around, spa-ing and doing laundry (at an exorbitant rate, I will save that for another post).  After a day of rest and recuperation, they looked rejuvenated and ready to handle the second half of the tour.  

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