It’s not as random as it sounds, because I’m fresh off a trip to the Five Stans. It’s ok if you have no idea where that is; it’s not exactly mainstream. I get asked a lot about my bucket list, and this region, which includes Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and especially Uzbekistan, was at the top. This area was once part of the Old Silk Road trading routes. The region has natural beauty of the mountains as well as mind-blowing architecture, especially Uzbekistan, which is known as the crown jewel of Five Stans. What I didn’t realize though was how much I‘d connect with its neighbor, Kazakhstan. Yes, of Borat fame. To round out the experience, I gave a talk to students at the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan. Because I’m in it to change the world.
It Began in Kyrgyzstan
As many of you know, I am on my way to visiting all 195 countries in the world. It’s never been about the number for me, but more about the humble impact I hope to make where I can. Our company foundation, Galavante in the World, was established to focus on humanitarian causes, women’s rights, and education projects around the world. Our mission could not be more timely, given the current world events in Afghanistan, Iran, and Ukraine.
While in the five Stans, I took the opportunity to visit the American University of Central Asia (AUCA). It’s located in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. AUCA heroically stepped in last year when the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Within a matter of weeks, it took in over 100 of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) students. I now sit on the Board of Trustees of AUAF, and I can say I saw first-hand the very best of humanity from AUCA. During my time on campus, I had the chance to give a talk to the AUAF students. I was also able to reconnect with a few of the women I’d met in Kabul in 2019. I am so proud to see them flourishing in such challenging circumstances.
Adventures in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan
From Kyrgyzstan, I went onwards to Uzbekistan. This country is the place of the stunning mosques and historical sites you see in all the photos. Now I’ve been to Bukhara and Samarqand. I can say that photos do not begin to do justice to the stunning architecture. I would stay in every barebones accommodation I endured in both Uzbekistan and its neighbor Tajikistan twice over. It was a lifetime experience to see this part of the world. I’m including a few of my photos this month, because they do speak 1,000-plus words. I hiked to remote places and saw stunning lakes; played in thousand-year-old ruins; and drove through scenery that was out of a dream. This is what travel is all about.
An American in Kazakhstan
We know it’s a strange time in the world, especially traveling as an American in certain regions. The five Stans are heavily influenced by Russian culture, history, and language. In fact, Russia is the primary language in a number of the countries, including Kazakhstan. Now many of us know Kazakhstan thanks to Borat. But if you mention Borat to the Kazakhs, they’ll remind you that Sacha Baron Cohen has absolutely nothing to do with Kazakhstan. Now that I’ve been there myself, there’s virtually nothing that’s fact-based about the movie. I found Kazakhstan to be as developed as any European country, or more, thanks to its oil and natural-resource wealth. With all the luxury cars and stores, there’s no question that that Kazakhstan has some coin.
Beyond this though, I was really welcomed by the people in Kazakhstan. Most of them thought I was Russian. Even when they found out I was American — the first American a number of them had met — I still was taken into the fold. I had one of the best guides, Gulzhan, who reminded me that there’s so much hope for the world with this younger generation. They’re fearless and pursuing their dreams as global citizens. I think we may just have a shot at world peace once they are in charge. Because if there’s one thing that I took away from my study on humanity in this part of the globe, it’s that we’re all in this together.
Wishing you a great start to fall.
Christine Drinan, Founder