“Welcome to Aktobe, Tony Memmel and Band!”
I’d never been met at the airport by a frenetic crowd of cheering, eager new friends and fans of our music…. that is, until arriving in Aktobe, Kazakhstan for the first time.
As we cleared baggage claim at the airport, there was a large group there to meet us. They brought flowers and baursaki (which are kind of like donut holes), we signed autographs and took selfies, and we were just so deeply touched by their generosity and eagerness to meet us, and host us.
How any future airport arrival could ever compare to this, I do not know.
The welcome wagon! Such a great, kind, excited group. Notice the t-shirts (US/Kazakhstan friendship logo).
After a quick hotel check-in, we dropped our bags, grabbed our guitars, and were back out the door to a local music school. Here, more baursaki was served, AND to wash it down, local treats: camel’s milk and horse’s milk (“[Camel’s] milk: Does a body good.” That’s a slogan, right?)
Camel’s milk: Imagine milk with little curdled floaties that’s quite sour and warm, and packs a powerful taste-punch. The horse’s milk is similar, but also has a very earthy scent to it… a peaty, grassy quality. Our hosts were thrilled to share it with us, and watched us with excited, bated breath between each sip.
At the performance, we jammed with local musicians, including a phenomenal dombra player (dombra is a two-stringed guitar-like instrument). We are told there’s a saying here: “If you really want to know the soul of the Kazakhstani people, listen to the dombra.”
Giant selfie at the music school
This idea exemplifies exactly why these tours are so very meaningful and important. You can learn so much about people and also share so much of yourself through music. You can come to understand the soul of a person because music notes are a sort of transcendent, beautiful language all their own. It’s amazing to have first-hand experience witnessing how impactful they can be: the conversations they can strike up, the hardships they can heal, and the possibilities they can encourage.
In the afternoon, we visited a local library that houses an American Corner. We played some songs, and even in that often quiet, more reserved library setting, had a great singalong and energetic conversation. The group was so sweet, and welcomed us warmly.
American Corner selfie time!
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST: It was Joey’s birthday, so we all went out to dinner as a big group, sat in the warm weather outside, ate some delicious food (khachapuri from a Georgian restaurant which was a really fun throwback to our recent tour), and enjoyed good conversation. The band went out exploring after dinner and enjoyed some time to unwind and celebrate this special man’s life.
Khachapuri – yay!
Aktobe… what a day.