Beyond Borat

In an article for, David Rich describes the Kazakhstan city of Almaty, where he encountered cheerful locals who proved the buffoon-like character of Borat to be nothing more than a figment of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s imagination. Enjoy an excerpt from the story below.

Almaty in late summer could easily be likened to trudging Saharan wastes in the noon-day sun, fortunately alleviated by unending legions of trees that have transformed Almaty into a city disguised as a forest.

Without trees Almaty would be uninhabitable in summer. Perhaps that’s one reason the current dictator, democratically elected similar to other countries, arbitrarily carted the capital to Astana, a then minor town in the far north near the Russian border, far cooler than Almaty.

Because Kazakhstan is the size of Western Europe, Astana is extremely far from anywhere except Russia. The pervasive Russian influence is reflected on the shelves of the average Kazakh supermarket, approximately 34% of which are stocked with 8217 distinct brands of vodka, a traditional inspiration for comedians whose names begin with the letter B, like Boris Yeltsin.

Highways outside all cities are jammed with impromptu kiosks stacked with fruit, offering chartreuse and green pinstriped watermelon the size of VWs, truly tasty tomatoes and pearly grapes, complemented by fish ranging from large, red and floppy, to desiccated.