How I spent my summer (2019 edition)

October 2019

In any post-Soviet country, the Russian Language teacher would always assign an essay after the incredibly long summer vacations end. The classical tradition states that the essay must invariably be called “How I Spent My Summer”. Even though I haven’t written one in about 15 years, I decided to try it this year.

Back to school

I have been pondering the need and the timeliness of pursuing a master’s degree for the last three years. It was a wild rollercoaster: from moments of complete clarity that going back to school is the stupidest idea, to hazy, but gnawing feeling that getting a master’s degree would transform my life (and my career) for the better. I have finally made the decision and started the application process in the late February. Fast-forward to the end of May – I got accepted to The Technical University of Munich. Even though the matriculation happened prior to the summer, it still took a large portion of it in form of the time spent preparing documents, getting a visa, and all other things that a student must do.

One of the most difficult decisions to make was to leave my job with a high-paying salary and coming to peace with the idea of burning hard-earned savings in one of the most expensive cities in Germany. I think that describing these fears – especially, going back to school after a five years in the industry – is worthy of a separate essay, so I will leave it at that.

Suffice it to write, that I am currently in Munich; it’s already been a week since the semester started, and the only thing that I have regrets for is that I haven’t done it earlier. Slowly, but surely I am getting back into the school mode and remembering how to “student” properly.

Presidential elections

2019 has been a big year for Kazakhstan. The dictator who had been ruling for almost 30 years, finally stepped down. And March 19, 2019 marked the beginning of the new era… Or so everyone (including me) had thought.

People quickly realized that Nazarbayev did not give up his power, and retained a very strong presence in all branches of power. Nevertheless, the people were told to prepare for the unplanned presidential elections on June 9, 2019. And prepare I did.

All my life I have purposefully abstained from partaking in political debates or learning about the political situation anywhere. The only political news that broke into my attention field were high class, major headline, flashy news primarily originated in the United States. Somewhere between March 19th and June 9th that completely reversed. I started to take interest in the political structure in Kazakhstan, who the main agents were, commenced a research of the presidential candidates… Only to be fooled by the Akorda’s political technologist and casting my vote for a puppet candidate. Fool me once – shame on you.

However, this event had the awakening effect on me. I am not as apolitical as I had been for almost all my life, and I now plan to have an active role in what is going on in my country.

Death of Grandpa

For the last 25 years or so, my Grandpa had been almost completely blind. On top of that he had a hearing impairment. For the last several years he lived as a loner – in his separate house, taken care of by paid nannies. On July 11, 2019 he died. My Dad spent the last month with him, tending to his needs, watching the weakening body and mind of his dying Dad.

Every time I visited him in Uzbekistan, we had a sort of a routine going on. He asked me three things: if I had found a girlfriend, what my salary was, and whether or not I would be willing to have an arm-wrestling match. Grandpa was a very strong man, but the last time I lost was about 10 years ago.

Grandpa was an active man. In spite of being blind and having to wear a hearing aid, once a week he went to work. He worked as a director of the Blind People Society of his small town. We were never too close, but the closest we would ever get was when I was a schoolboy – maybe 9-10 years old, and for several years I guided him home from work. We also had a routine then.

We held hands the whole way. The town’s roads were not very blind-safe and there were a lot of bumps, potholes, and aryks along the route. Being a little self-conscious about walking a bling man, I worked out a system of hand squeezes to let my Grandpa know about the road conditions. One squeeze meant a bump on the way, two – a pothole or aryk.

The route itself could be thematically divided into three parts, each approximately equal in length. The first part was from his office to a small market. The market was our first pit-stop, where we would always (always!) get a samsa. I had one and Grandpa had two. He finished his two flaming hot and spicy samsas much faster than I did mine. He was notoriously good at eating hot food and drinking hot beverages quickly – the trait that I unfortunately inherited from him.

The second part of the way was from the market to the ice-cream stand. As you might have guessed, our second pit-stop was for ice-cream. We both loved stakanchik, and licking it we covered the last part of the route – from ice-cream stand to home. Turns out Grandpa was really fast at eating cold stuff, too.

After Grandpa died, I accidentally came across Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It’s one of the best books I have read this year (and maybe ever). Having read that book, I think I understand what was going on in Grandpa’s mind when he was dying. Yet I foolishly hope that he didn’t feel lonely.