Almaty — Father of Apples, Mother of the World

8/30 – 9/2 Almaty

Almaty comes from the name “Alma-Ata”, or “Father of Apples” because of the abundant apple orchards in the region. But instead of a father, and instead of apples, I found a mother that embraced the world. I called her “Mir Mama” or “Mother of the World”.

Mir Mama has 6 children of her own, but has many more children she calls “moy sin (my son)” or “moy dochka (my daughter)”. When I arrived at her home that evening, I found an apartment full of young guys and girls staying there. Two guys were her sons–Dimash and Bauzhan; two other guys worked for her (their family runs a handful of convenience stores around the city); and two girls were students at the local university. I asked Mir Mama how she met all these people, and she explained they all came to her shop. Mir Mama’s shop was next to a university, so she frequently gets student customers. If they ever need help, she helps in whatever way she can. For the two guys, they wanted part-time work while studying, so she employed them. For the two girls, they are from far away in Western Kazakhstan and don’t have family here, so Mir Mama lets them crash at her place whenever they need. I told Mir Mama she was a very kind person, and she smiled saying, “Lyublu ludi. I love people…Many foreigners have come to my shop. I have friends in Italy, France, Germany, China, Korea, Japan. Now I have a daughter in America.”      P1020981P1020989

From then on, Mir Mama fussed over me like any mother would. She grabbed all my clothes and bags–regardless of whether it was clean or dirty, Goretex or not, black or white–and she made it her business to wash EVERYTHING through and through. She scrubbed my hat until it turned from brown to beige; she dumped my clothes into the washer with a pile of detergent; she took my sandals and scrubbed those too. I pleaded with her not to wash my jacket (afraid that the Goretex would be vulnerable) but eventually we compromised and she handwashed it gently. After I was all cleaned up, she also took the pleasure in dressing me up: first in her daughter’s wedding dress, for fun. then into clean street clothes, then into pajamas.

P1020972Fairytales do come true! Mir Mama feeling nostalgic of her daughter getting married off

The next day I went to the migration police office again, hoping by some miracle that an officer would just stamp my passport. But no luck–it was Constitution Day, a public holiday. Even the travel agencies said there was nothing I could do except try again on Saturday. So I spent the day exploring Almaty and hanging out with Mir Mama at her shop. She was very excited to talk about me to everyone that came into the shop that day.

P1020976wow, street signs! a rarity in Central AsiaP1020977and bike lanes!

P1020979what happens when you’re stuck in a city due to bureaucratic nonsense. Indulge in fried chicken!! And reminders of home.

P1020978Almaty–very modern city that almost even feels like Europe

P1020980P1020975this is how we close up shop at the end of the day–Mir Mama climbs out and bike climbs in. (Mir Mama lives in an apartment building which would be hard to get the bike in and out of, so we always leave the bike locked up in the shop)

Finally on Saturday, the migration office was open. Mir Mama did all the talking for me and helped me fill out the necessary paperwork. While we waited, Mir Mama flipped through my Russian dictionary.

–First word: “cup. cup of tea” and she indicated that the police officer looked like he needed a cup of tea. (Mir Mama has a great sense of humor)

–Second word: “cuddle” (Mir Mama gives me a little squeeze)


With registration taken care of, I was free to go, but Mir Mama wanted me to stay an extra day so she could take me around Almaty. Though worried about getting to Russia, I eventually relented. Mir Mama was just too special.

P1020991Home Depot of Kazakhstan. Mir Mama takes me to the big Chinese bazaar on the outskirts of town.

P1020985 P1020986Riding the subway

That day at the shop, a young Chinese guy stopped by. Mir Mama said he was also “moy sin”. Dingzuolong was from Urumqi, but has been studying in Almaty for the last 4 years. He spoke fluent Russian, so he translated for me and Mir Mama. Mir Mama wanted me to have someone to talk to, so she convinced him to come tour Almaty with us. Soon after, another young Kazakh woman (Aigul) stopped at the shop and she decided to come with us too because she wanted to practice English with me. So together–I, Mir Mama, Dingzuolong, Aigul, and Ding’s friend–went to tour Almaty.

P1030008P1030004Kok Tobe–a place similar to The Peak in Hong Kong. That’s us in front of the famous apple statue.

P1030016P1030018sunset over Almaty

One Thought on “Almaty — Father of Apples, Mother of the World

  1. Minwah, you read my mind! I have been craving fried chicken for days, and you are NOT helping :) Also, you look a little bit like a christmas tree in the wedding dress, and I mean that in the best possible way!

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