It’s no secret that I travel fairly frequently to neighboring Kazakhstan, specifically to Almaty, of which I am a longtime admirer. I know the city well, but that will not be the subject of this post (perhaps, someday I will write about what it’s like through a Kyrgyz woman’s eyes). My concern is currently elsewhere.
So, you’ve decided to travel to Kazakhstan. Brace yourself: you have a thrilling encounter with the border guards coming up.
During my travels, I have had the pleasure of many meetings with these fine individuals; it even occurred to me that I should write a portrait of a typical officer on the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border, but for now, I will limit myself to the distinguishing features of this species, whose members inhabit both sides of the checkpoint.
1. Rudeness – this is the principal quality required for the job. Curse words are not uncommon. Border guards say whatever they like because they know that it’s up to them whether to let you pass. And don’t you dare talk back to them – it is impossible to prove afterwards that yours was a response to theirs.
2. Flirting – if you are of the female sex, you are in even more in luck, because then you will never be starved for attention. This includes winking, sleazy phrases like “You’re not married, are you?”, requests for your phone number, etc. On my last trip, when I was going through passport control, an officer stood by the entrance handing out immigration forms. He tried to play cat-and-mouse with me: first, he made it look like he was handing me one, then he pulled it back, and again, smiling a greasy smile all along. One of my friends was held up at the passport control kiosk because she wouldn’t smile for the camera eagerly enough: “A smile! Why aren’t we smiling? Let’s try again!”
3. Excessive curiosity – Bektur Iskender described how he got interrogated about everything down to his hairdo. On my last trip, I went with three other girls. The border guard who was checking our documents before the passport control took an active interest in where we were going, with what purpose, for how long, when we would be back and didn’t forget to ask “Will you leave me your phone number?” The same questionnaire followed during the official document check. I’m sorry, but everything is already in the immigration form!
4. Eager for bribes – I have the impression that laws exist only so that these people could take bribes. There is always something to complain about. For example, minors are not allowed to leave the country without a notarized document proving that the parents entrust their offspring to the chaperon. But you can skip this formality by giving a bribe. I have done so many times while my mother was out of the country and unable to get me the necessary papers. Each time it cost me 1000 tenge, and each time the border guards smiled nicely and asked:
“So, what are we going to do?”
“Well… why don’t you suggest a price…”
The conversation about bribes usually begins with insinuation. This is given the huge number of people crossing the border. Shameless. It is illegal to let people under 18 through, but the law is ignored in the majority of cases.
5. Familiarity – on the return journey from Kazakhstan (again, during my last visit), the border guard barely bothered to look at my immigration card and said:
“My dear, you have overstayed your visa.” (using the informal “you”)
“Look more carefully, there is an attachment.”
“Oops, sorry, I didn’t notice.”
He casually tossed my passport back and let me go.
First of all, when addressing people one doesn’t know, it is proper to use the formal “you.” Second of all, what’s with the “my dear,” which he said with such condescension? Who is he to speak like this to people crossing the border? His job is to check documents and allow people through. Such behavior is unacceptable in the workplace!
The lack of professionalism is evident everywhere. In my opinion, they should at least try to give manners a chance. Then again, what’s the use, right? :)