Inside the airport a gray mist hovers, gathering in intensity toward the vaulted ceiling. It is -30C/-2F outside and dark outside with few lights and no moon to reflect on the snow when we land at 5:30AM. The first person we are greeted by is a fellow in a soviet style wool grey uniform with an expression to match. He has a clipboard and not even a hint of a smile as the weary passengers trundle up the unheated jet way laden with packs and overstuffed bags. Another officer tells Michael to put his camera away in the airport, no pictures permitted. Not only does the customs agent not smile, he doesn’t even look up to make eye contact as he snaps his stamp, CHUCK CHUCK, on my documents. As we round the bend toward baggage we see one smiling face, Maura Martin, the teacher who has invited us, mouthing warm hellos and waving excitedly. The bags take forever, which might have been frustrating except we know the collapse of not having them arrive at all and we are grateful all of the books (and a few clothes) have miraculously managed to follow us 12,000 miles.
The sun rises late here, not because we are that far north, but because it has to lift its light over breathtaking mountains. We take a short nap and walk to the school, a building only four years old and decorated wall to wall in all kinds of student learning art. In every classroom the windows extend to the ceiling, welcoming all the sun has to offer. And everyone at the school is welcoming with broad smiles and the first impression at the airport is lost with the early morning mist. Tonight we will try to sleep a somewhat normal schedule and tomorrow we hope to go into Almaty to poke around. The conference begins Friday morning.