I realized that I vastly prefer blogs that are mostly pictures and only a few words, over blogs that have deep thoughts. So I’m trying to do the same for you here! Below is a little story…
A few weeks ago I took off for Nauruz (the spring new-years festival) and went with some friends to Shymkent. We were looking forward to seeing all sorts of beautiful old mosques and architectural heritage in this part of Kazakhstan, as above.
I’ve been living with a local friend, and when I moved into the apartment I noticed my three housemates all used only NEWAYS-branded shampoo and vitamins. Lusia* explained that her mother works for a U.S.-based network-marketing company called NEWAYS (think Avon, Candlelite, Mary Kay…). Her mother was very gracious and eager to host me and my American friends when we arrived to Shymkent, waving from the window to welcome us in!
Lusia’s mother even went to a great deal of time and effort to arrange our stay with her colleagues in Turkistan. As soon as we arrived, in fact, Karlygash,* welcomed us to town and took us to the Nauruz festival, where we sat at picnic benches and ate large plates of ceremonial food: plov and nauruz kozhe. We stayed at her home for the evening, and sure enough, the bathroom counter was filled with NEWAYs products!
Lusia’s mother had also arranged a guide for us, Serik.* We started up the path to the beautiful old mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (look it up!), and Serik pulled out his bottle of “food supplement” and took a sip, for energy. He kindly offered us a sip – it’s NEWAYS! He said. (Those are NEWAYS pins on his lapel).
Then we went into the mausoleum. It has been bitterly winter-cold, and wind roared through the large halls, around the sarcophagi and ossuaries. As our guide narrated the tour, I noticed a man following us. He was calm and quiet, a dignified sort of man. I smiled. He wouldn’t say a word. Oh no! I thought. Maybe he’s KGB! Or a government dignitary, sent to watch the foreigners! It doesn’t take much to get me imagining dramatic scenarios.
He smiled again, and he quietly gestured to me to walk outside into the sunlight, as our guide finished the tour…
And when we got outside, he introduced himself. He opened his bag, and pulled out some aromatic essential oils, telling us to take a sniff. Good for any ills, he said – it’s NEWAYS!
Ok, so… it took me a little while, but I had discovered that when they say network marketing, that’s exactly what they mean. I’d stumbled on a network that extended across Kazakhstan, of people who sold ‘healthy, American’ products to their friends and relatives, receiving small bonus payments in return. After our tour, I asked Lusia’s mother more about this, madly curious. She sat me down, and I got the whole scoop on how to be a wealthy American. Just like great self-help authors and inspirational authors around the world, I too could make a million dollars!
(You don’t know how tempting this is right now…)
My travel companions were a little startled by this, but I loved it. I’ve been reading about the new forms of Islam and Christianity, as well as businesses and nonprofits, that have come flooding into post-Soviet spaces over the last twenty years. But now I’m seeing change through local connections.
Change doesn’t just come from students traveling abroad, and bringing back new religious and political beliefs, in the UN or IMF muscling their values across the world, or even in foreigners coming to work implicitly as missionaries, marketers, or environmental and social activists. It’s also the people that travel from one household to another, to visit family, and bring along herbal supplements and essential oils, along with messages of positive thinking and just-dream-it-and-its-yours!.
Like in communities and nations around the world, I’m finding connections – and networks – in a hundred places I never expected.
So… this is my new research hobby for the moment, a sort of economic anthropology, tracing NEWAYS and other networked businesses around the country. I expected touring to be a pretty routine sort of thing, but this trip was interesting in half a dozen different ways… and it’s given me a lot to think about as I return back to work.
Thanks, NEWAYS! 🙂