Road Rage

The Kazakhstan Tales: Road Rage

Today, Pamela and I were on our way to dinner with our friend Elisa. We were driving down Zhondosova and were coming up on Manas when something absolutely terrifying happened.

A white Escalade pulled out in front of us, but the driver misjudged and was unable to pull into the correct lane; instead, he managed to block both lanes. Pamela and the driver of the car next to us slowed to a stop, and simultaneously, both drivers began to honk.

In America, we do not honk. We find it rude, and the horn is only used under the most dire of circumstances.

In Kazakhstan, the horn is used more often than the breaks.

There is a fluidity to driving in Kazakhstan, as Pamela once told me. You need to be quick and flexible and able to weave in and out of traffic. You need to have no fear.

All driving in Kazakhstan is aggressive.

Pamela later said that she was giving the Escalade “a courtesy honk.” In this case, Pamela’s courtesy honk was meant to communicate to the Escalade that he may go – but he must go quickly.

The honking of the car beside us was a bit more impatient but not entirely rude.

It’s common in Kazakhstan for drivers of fancy cars to assume that they may do as they like, and in fact they may because they are usually either a diplomat or connected to the mafia. I’m used to Escalades and Mercedes and BMWs breaking the law.

I am not used to what happened tonight.

The driver of the Escalade turned. As he straightened out the car, a man in the passenger seat suddenly appeared, pushing his entire upper body out of the window of the car. With what looked like a well-rehearsed move, he whipped out and pointed a gun straight at us.

And then he pulled the trigger.

I flinched away, Pamela gasped, and nothing happened. The mock-shooter slipped back inside the car; it turned right on Manas and disappeared.

We were in shock.

In America, if such a thing were to happen, we would have taken down the license plate and called the cops. In Kazakhstan, we realized there was really nothing we could do. In fact, the only reason Pamela felt comfortable stopping as soon as she did was because Manas is a one way street and it seemed unlikely that they would come back for us. However, if they’re willing to pull a gun on us, I doubt they’d care about following the traffic laws.

This, as Pamela said as we continued on our way to dinner, is our life.

In fact, our first reaction to what happened was not fear but annoyance. Pamela even said as the Escalade drove away, “This is why rich parents shouldn’t buy their children fancy cars. They’re all idiots.”

The fear over what almost happened to us came later as the shock wore off.

We could have been killed.

And yet our reaction was as if the young man had merely given us the finger.


I happen to be very disappointed that my life did not flash before my eyes.

I also never want to see a gun again.


11 thoughts on “Road Rage

  1. Oh my! What is happening to our wonderful Kazakhstan. This is just another event that saddens me even more. Such a peaceful country seems to be changing rapidly to a place I don’t know. I feel mostly for our good local friends. Praying for them and for Kazakhstan. The growing pains are becoming worse.

  2. You experienced a Stage I gun incident. I once experienced a Stage II gun incident. Thankful for your safety.

  3. Wow, Emily! You’re a really good writer. Elisa told me about this, but I didn’t realize the guy pulled the trigger. Craziness.

  4. Oh MY! That is terrifying. It sounds like advanced road rage to me. I don’t know why the gun didn’t go off. Luck, the guy was just trying to scare you??? but whew.

    • I thought that it might have been a toy gun, but Pamela pointed out it didn’t look like one because it didn’t have an orange tip. However, I have seen BB guns in Kaz that look like real guns (I used to own one). Or perhaps it wasn’t loaded? Or maybe we got lucky with Russian Roulette? Oh that sounds bad…

  5. This story is getting a lot of response on Facebook, and one of my friends included this comment:

    “I told [a Kazakh friend] today and he said, “oh”, I asked “are you not shocked?” he said “no, if it had been loaded I would have been shocked…” TIK”

    I know this is actually NOT that big of a deal in K-stan. It was just some idiots “having fun.” I’ve heard my students talk about similar situations, and even in the serial “Long Way Round,” Ewan McGregor mentions that someone waved a gun at them from a car as they were going through Kaz. (Hey, I have something in common withe Ewan McGregor! Yay!)

    As an American – even one who has spent a substantial amount of my life in Kaz – it still terrifies me.

    And the idea that I think it should NOT terrify me is worse.

    • Wow Emily. At what point does an expat say, “enough is enough” and take the midnight plane outta here!? I struggle with having a heart for these people and hating them…mostly the hate comes from driving. I can’t tell you how much it unnerves me to be at the mercy of machismo and whim than the rule of law. I am relieved that you and Pamela are safe.

      • I know what you mean. I really love Kazakhstan, but I also feel – especially this year – that Kazakhstan wants me to leave. It’s so sad; I’ve spent almost half of my life here, and this was not going to be my last year, but circumstances have ultimately led me to make the decision to leave.

        And you’re right: it’s mostly the driving. At least, that’s where the stress of Kaz is most noticable.

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