Into Kazakhstan: The Southern Steppe
"It's great if you can reach a point in life when what you want to do becomes what you have to do." There are no words that can fully encompass the country Kazakhstan and the XXth International Sambo Tournament held there in the small Zhosaly Settlement, hometown of Soviet Union war hero, Taimbet Komekgaev in his memory. Within about a week's time, a got the call from USA Sambo and before I knew it, had my itinerary and then found myself in this unfamiliar foreign country. The quote was just something Peter Laird said as I was watching tv on one of the three flights over, and it stuck, kept ringing in my head. I was doing this...again. The uncertainty, risk on all levels, the challenges, it all weighed heavily, but in the end, didn't matter. I had to do this, and I knew it all along, I'd always known.
The Southern Kazakhstan region was a vast, barren wasteland. Once we landed after two days of flying, we bused for over ten hours across the steppe, the most depressing place I have ever been to. No green, no signs of life, not humans nor animals, it's uninhabitable. We shit and pissed in vile holes in the ground. There was always odd burning smells in the air. It was hot, suffocating at times with dust storms.
The next day, Team USA was down 0-3. My country, our country, needed a win and it was up to me. I felt great, but couldn't deliver. The Kazakhs are so good, and so were all the other regional countries there. We were out classed, in a world we didn't belong. Everytime I go through one of these the range of emotions goes through the whole spectrum. Especially after I lose (and I lose a lot) anger, then denial, to fear and disappointment, then finally to uncertainty, questioning everything. What did I do wrong? Why didn't they score the pin? Why do I do this? Why do I put my fiancée through this? Is it worth it? After a bit of time, coming down, the answer is always YES.
I've always believed in something bigger, beyond the simplicity of just a tournament, that what I am doing is meaningful, it's special. The answers were all around: The children there, running up to us just to take photos with Americans. The Kazakh women fed us so well, the people worked hard, took care of us. Seeing all the countries party the night after the tournament was over, carry on with each other as brothers...Iran, Germany, Russia, Moldova, USA...was absolutely priceless. Few places in this entire world would you ever see or witness that. My new friend, our young translator, Azat, said it best, as I questioned the grueling 2.5 day journey to get there on day #1. He said simply, "but you are here" and he was right. Not many people can do this, nor would they even do it, this incredible test of mettle. It was amazing, the good and bad both, I loved it all. I don't always do Sambo, but when I do, I do it in one of the toughest regions on the planet, Kazakhstan!
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