Terrence Burns ©2015
This is a post about Almaty. I know what you are thinking. Why no picture of the mountains? Why a picture of a breakfast buffet?
Bear with me.
Pride. Dignity. How does one measure these with a spreadsheet tracking the costs and benefits of “Olympic Legacy?”
I’m sitting here at breakfast in my Almaty, Kazakhstan hotel. The staff, mostly new it appears (from my many times here before) are bustling around. There is a new breakfast buffet set up. It all seems new to them. Some struggle a bit with new roles and responsibilities.
But they smile.
They straighten table arrangements. They try, hard, to get it all right. They are happy to see me. They are appreciative.
They are young (40% of this city is under the age of 24). This is a young nation, too. And it is not perfect. Is yours or mine?
This could be my last day here after so many. Tonight we fly to Kuala Lumpur to help this city prepare for its presentation to the IOC in that city on July 31. Almaty wants to host the 2022 Winter Games. We are competing against a very formidable Beijing.
To be honest, we’re considered a long shot. An underdog. A year ago, we weren’t even considered at all – for anything. Things change. Why? Because you can learn to love anyone, if you are willing to listen to their story.
If we win, I may be back; if we lose, who knows? What will I miss about this place? The people. I’ve seen every mountain you can see. Every perfect sunset and sunrise. Every beautiful forest and fresh mountain lake. What is unique here is the people.
Thousands of years of a genetic melange thanks to the Ancient Silk road. These people embrace “others” – they do not push them away. They are not and have never been “closed”. They welcome guests and make them feel at home. The people are warm and lovely. They are everything an Olympic Host City should be. They even think Borat is funny because it’s premise is so absurd. They don’t hold grudges.
I will miss them terribly if I never return.
Honestly, Almaty (unlike some bids I’ve worked on before) is actually ready. There is a free and open internet here, by the way. It is a secular society that is 70% Muslim. Great nightlife. Hotels. Restaurants. Bars. It’s all here. Did I mention mountains right in the city full of fresh natural snow? 70% of the needed venues exist and already are in use in this beautiful winter city.
The city is full of educated young people with bright eyes for their future.
Some in the West, in fact some friends on this very post no doubt, will react predictably about the government here. I ask that you come see it; then judge if you must judge. They don’t judge you and all your/our imperfections. In fact, they want to meet you and learn from you, from us.
As I post this, reading the NYT on my iPad, I must say the omelet is perfect and the cook is nodding at me, beaming with pride.
These people see the potential in hosting an Olympic Games. They understand the premise of that word, “potential”. Maybe the Games aren’t for everyone and it is fair to debate it, for sure. Debate away. But some things can’t be measured and often those things are invaluable.
But until you experience this place and its people, “You know nothing, Jon Snow…”
Keeping it Real.