Towering, snow-capped mountains peaked through the clouds as we descended toward the runway. This was our first introduction to Almaty, and a sharp contrast to the regions of Kazakhstan we’d previously toured. I took about 150 pictures of the majestic range in two minutes… just a little excited.
After baggage claim we met our new friend, Banu, from the U.S. consulate who brought us to our hotel to drop our bags before we headed to our first event: a presentation to teachers from around Kazakhstan about my own adaptive teaching work, and ways I’m working to encourage a new generation of people of all abilities to shine with their own unique talents.
Teachers are such a special group. Worldwide. As we engaged, you could literally feel the interest, the passion, and strong desire to learn from one another. When the music started, it got even more exciting: clapping, singing, and dancing ensued… These teachers really know how to boogie! In all seriousness, it was a powerful beginning to our work here.
Today, our visit was to Taldykorgan: an outer region, three hours one way by car, and a spot where U.S. programming has not been frequent, so I was eager to hopefully have a unique opportunity for impact and bonding between our two nations.
As we passed through rolling, green-and-grey rocky hills, and past lakes, fields and trees, I listened to music for a while, looked out the window, and did an interview with the documentary crew that is following our journey here.
The day was very full! Six hours in the van, a big public concert at a local theater (which rocked), a flash-mob-style concert in a local pedestrian mall (which also rocked), a visit to a local home where young people with various physical and cognitive differences work in community and are taught gardening and artistic craftsmanship skills to foster independence, a mini-concert at that home, a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a local business (I got to cut the ribbon… which is not as easy as it looks), and interviews with media.
At our flash-mob style concert, a woman who uses a wheelchair sat front and center, and was in tears watching the band play and hearing me sing. I needed help interpreting what she said afterward because she was speaking in Russian, but I’m told she said it was so important for her to see me there, and also for the people of the town to see me to hopefully continue to change minds about disability and what is possible.
When we got back to the hotel it was almost 11pm; we were all tired and returned to our rooms, so I ordered some exotic food: a Cheeseburger and fries. It was a salty, juicy, delicious way to cap the big day.