My home in Kazakhstan (1997-1999) Karatau, Kazakhstan

Karatau means Black (Kara) Mountain (Tau) in the Kazakh language.

Karatau is a small Kazakh town with a population of roughly 30,000 people. It was one of the dying towns in Kazakhstan when I lived there. Many people left for better jobs in the bigger cities. They left behind empty many buildings. Still, I miss this quiet town where I spent two years of my young adult life.

I worked at the Karatau Lyceum for two years and taught English to the 6th thru 9th grade students. I also lived with a Kazakh host family during my time in Karatau.

The photos below were all taken around 1997-1999 during my first year in Karatau.

Read the captions for my story about these images..

The original Welcome to Karatau sign
This was the original "Welcome to Karatau" sign. It was actually blown down after a storm in January, 2013, and replaced with a new one. When I lived in Karatau, I got so used to seeing this sign. When I saw it, it meant that I was back home. This photo was quite popular with many people that left Karatau. I saw it posted across the different Karatau sites.
Late 1990s road in Karatau
When I think of 1990s Kazakhstan, this image comes to my head. This location is near the center of Karatau.
Karatau Akimat
The Akimat in Karatau. I met the Akim several times during my two years in Karatau. He helped me create the Talas Region English Teachers Association in Karatau.
View of the Karatau Lyceum in Autumn, 1997, before the apartments were demolished
The Karatau Lyceum is in the distance. These apartment buildings will all demolished before 1998.
Outskirts of Karatau
Many townspeople in Karatau moved outside of the town. Electricity was sporadic. It was easier to stay warm in these homes with coal fires. They could also heat up water here for banyas (Russian saunas).
Thunderstorm in Karatau
The Karatau Lyceum is where I taught English for two years. I took this photo because of the unusual thunderstorm. Rainstorms were so infrequent here. When it did rain, local kids would go dancing outside in it.
Demolished apartments in Karatau (1997)
Many buildings became demolished near my area. I got a bit depressed early on because I was not used to seeing this much destruction in a short time. The Peace Corps Medical Officer visited in Spring 1998, and mentioned that they would never have sent a volunteer to Karatau if they knew this would happen.
More demolished apartments in Karatau (1997)
More demolished apartments. Notice the plume of smoke in the distance. We have heat! Winter came early in 1997, but the town was not ready for it. 1997-1998 Winter was very harsh.
Demolished apartments and coal plant running in Karatau (1997)
More the same. Despite it being winter, we did not get a lot of snowfall. Southern Kazakhstan had a warmer climate, but it still got cold.
People's Victory Monument in Karatau
In Russian, the translation is roughly People's Victory to commemorate the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany.
People's Victory Monument (in Kazakh) in Karatau
Zhenis is victory in Kazakh.
The Akimat and Palace of Culture in Winter, 1997
Akimat and Palace of Culture after the first snowstorm was beautiful. My school celebrated its anniversary at the Palace of Culture on October 31, 1997. I remember this day well. During the daytime it was warm, in the 70s F. When we left in the evening, it was already below freezing. The very next morning, it snowed. Then it got cold and miserable. I nearly quit the Peace Corps that week. My Kazakh host family had no idea I wanted to leave, but another Peace Corps Volunteer from Taraz, Ruth, made a surprise visit. She cheered me on and convinced me to stay. I did, barely.
The unfinished Karatau Mosque in 1997
Karatau had an unfinished mosque in 1997. The story of the Karatau Mosque is that the Turks ran out of money and left. The Kazakh Muslim community just prayed at their older mosque on the outskirts of town. Then one day in Spring 1998, I heard the call to prayer from this mosque for the first time. The Muslim community decided to move into this mosque.
Victory Parade in 1998
I took this photo of Karatau in 1998. My students were marching in the Victory Parade.
Outskirts of Karatau in Spring, 1998
Springtime in 1998, some of Sharizat's students decided to take me for a walk to Zhartas (cliff in Kazakh), a man made lake on the outskirts of Karatau.
Zhartas Lake outside of Karatau, Kazakhstan
Some local people out in a boat in the Zhartas. I imagine this is a deep lake since it was a former mine in the past..
Zhartas recreational area, Karatau, Kazakhstan
You can rent boats at this part of the lake.
View of the unfinished Karatau Mosque from my host family's apartment
Here is another view of Karatau's unfinished mosque. I took this photo from my host family's apartment. I remember taking this photo after hearing the call to prayer (azan) for the first time.

Memories of Karatau in 2021

I left Karatau in late June 1999. My Kazakh host parents took me to Taraz.

Asan and Adigul Orazimbetov - My Kazakh Host Parents
My Kazakh host parents took me to Taraz. I would meet them one more time in November 1999. Unfortunately, my host father passed away in 2019.

Karatau on

Here is a 2019 broadcast on Karatau. The town has completely changed.

Karatau in 2019 from
Screenshot of Karatau from clip.

Karatau in 2021

In this recent video, Karatau has changed.