I’ll recount the events of last night because not only are they quite humorous, but the evening, as it unfolded, provided such a perfect window into Kazakh culture and the flexibility needed to just go with it.
For the past couple weeks, the professors in our small department [Russian and Kazakh Language for Foreigners] have been trying to drum up some enthusiasm amongst their reluctant students for the approaching University-wide New Year’s Program/Party/Event. As is traditional, our department would be singing Jingle Bells, wearing tinsel and Santa hats, accompanied by a background karaoke track ripped from Youtube. Clearly, this performance was going to be the show-stopper. We all agree under some duress and even contributed money to the Santa-hat-purchasing fund. A few practice run throughs resulted in Kirsty and myself dissolving into uncontrollable giggles, tears running down our faces, as our non-English-speaker Chinese and Iranian classmates wrestled with the lyrics.
Cut to last night’s events; all of the students show up at 6 pm, don our santa hats and tinsel scarves, and run through the song a couple more times as our professors look on and urge us in Kazakh and Russian to sing “Strongly! Loudly!” We then settled in to await our turn in the program. The performances [from students and faculty alike] were taking place in a large, decorated atrium, surrounded by three levels of balconies from which the audience could look down. There was no printed program and nobody seemed to have an idea of the order of things, save for a couple emcees. As we watched the performances progress through belly-dancing, techno numbers that got the crowd onto the dance floor, and giant dragon costumes; our small band of comrades began to feel less and less awesome about our contribution to the night.
After two hours of the show, the crowd suddenly moved into a banquet hall off to one side for hors d’oeuvres and champagne. We followed, as our professors assured us that performances would recommence and we’d be on soon after the refreshments. They then commandeered some platters of manti [traditional Kazakh dumplings] and began to all but force feed us, as Cindy, a fellow student, informed me that this culture believes being well-fed will cause you to sing better. After eating and observing the surprisingly short time in which most of the faculty managed to become drunk on champagne, a portion of the crowd drifted back into the atrium, and we followed, hopefully. A few songs played, and I got Cindy to hop down onto the dance floor with me for Waka Waka — nothing like dancing to the World Cup anthem around a giant Christmas tree with a crowd of tipsy students.
After another 45 minutes of waiting, still no performance slot. At last, one of our professors came up and said, “Okay we are just going home now. Maybe you will perform in March.” Well, okay then.