My home in Kazakhstan (1997-1999)
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
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..
This was the original "Welcome to Karatau" sign. It
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
When I think of 1990s Kazakhstan, this image comes to my head.
This location is near the center of Karatau.
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.
The Karatau Lyceum is in the distance. These apartment buildings
will all demolished before 1998.
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).
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.
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. 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.
More the same. Despite it being winter, we did not get a lot of
snowfall. Southern Kazakhstan had a warmer climate, but it still
In Russian, the translation is roughly People's Victory to
commemorate the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany.
Zhenis is victory in Kazakh.
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.
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.
I took this photo of Karatau in 1998. My students were marching
in the Victory Parade.
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.
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..
You can rent boats at this part of the lake.
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
Memories of Karatau in 2021
I left Karatau in late June 1999. My
Kazakh host parents took me to Taraz.
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 Krisha.kz
Here is a 2019 broadcast on Karatau. The town has completely
Screenshot of Karatau from Krishna.kz clip.
Karatau in 2021
In this recent video, Karatau has changed.