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It’s difficult to write a story that will interest anyone other than your mother. But I have done my best and write about the city where most of my vivid memories took place. Shymkent is one of the ancient cities of Kazakhstan, dating to the 12th century when it was founded as a small caravan settlement on the Great Silk Road. For centuries, crowds of people speaking different languages filled the bazaars of Shymkent, and long caravans crept along dusty roads carrying precious gems and silks, spices and dyes, gold and silver, and exotic birds and animals to Europe.
The bustling bazaars in the city still give a taste of its rich trading history. Present Shymkent is Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city with crowded bazaars and a lively downtown – it has more of a Central Asian buzz on its leafy streets than anywhere else in the country.
When I was 8 years old, I was once lost in a bazaar. I still remember the crowd, noise and hot summer afternoon, which disorientated me. My mother released my hand for a second and I lost her in a massive crowd. Unfortunately, I was too shy to ask for help.
Thank goodness a merchant noticed me and asked in Kazakh, “What happened? Are you lost?”
Then he asked in Russian. Later in a language I didn’t understand. Maybe it was Uzbek, Tatar or Kyrgyz, as Shymkent is located near Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and there are a lot of merchants from those countries here. In fact, 131 ethnic groups live peacefully in Kazakhstan and have created a life for themselves here, although a majority of them were deported in the 1930s and 1940s by Stalin during the Virgin Lands Campaign, Soviet Space Program and World War II.
The current demography statics shows the following population breakdown for Shymkent: Kazakhs 64.7%, Russians 14.52%, Uzbek 13.70%, Tatars 1.54% and others nationalities 5.48%. Thus, it make sense to ask a stranger a question in several languages. Sadly, I could say nothing due to panic and my mom’s prohibition from talking to strangers. After several unsuccessful tries to talk with me, the merchant disappeared and came back with an ice-cream, a loudspeaker and other merchants. Despite not knowing the merchant, I calmed down when I saw him again.
He offered me an ice-cream and said, using some incomprehensible gestures, “Take it! Don’t be afraid! We want to help…”
Of course, I immediately gave up being silent, took the ice-cream and replied to him for the first time during our so-called conversation, “Thank you!”
Suddenly, he laughed and said, “Oh my god, you are not deaf! I was trying to explain to you that I want to help using pantomime… My name is Adilet, what is your name?”
“Meirman,” I said.
“Well, Meirman, sit down on my chair and watch over my goods. We will find your mother. OK?” said Adilet pointing to his chair and goods.
“OK,” I replied with a mouthful of ice cream.
Some time later, I heard from different corners of the bazaar, “Looking for Meirman’s mom! Looking for Meirman’s mom! Mom!…”
Suddenly, I heard another voice, “A boy was lost! A boy was lost! The boy is wearing black shorts and a white T-shirt and cap! An eight-year-old boy, Meirman!”
So, there were also people helping my mom find me. In a few minutes I became popular – every passerby found the missing boy in me, saying supportive words and showing their intentions to help. People in Kazakhstan are hospitable by nature. But in Shymkent, the people are probably the most hospitable and kind in all the country. Since ancient times, Shymkent always has accepted newcomers. The city has accepted them warmly, hospitably and cordially. And many people have stayed here to live. People in Shymkent are always very friendly, responsive and kind. They never let a guest stay hungry. They are ready to help.
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.Dalai Lama
Finally, I met my mother and our meeting was touching – like in a movie scene. The merchants also cried, but they were tears of happiness. This is the day when I understood the true meaning of kindness. After fifteen years, it has became my philosophy of life, and the city is still my dear corner.