Uh.  You’ve got a point, there.  I’ve had no idea how to tackle this in both a fun and informative way, so I’ve given up and I’m just going to dis-engage my brain and let my fingers co the talking.

I can’t tell you about Kazakhstan.  Kazakhstan is a large and diverse country.  Me telling you about Kazakhstan would be like a Kazakh who has only lived in Calgary telling you about Canada, and Calgary just ain’t like the rest of Canada.  (Although, the way the wind is blowing, in a few years’ time Calgary won’t have chuck wagon races either, so I guess it’ll be a tiny bit more like the rest of Canada when that happens.)

I live in Atyrau.  Actually, let’s make that statement a bit more honest: I live in the ex-pat community in Atyrau.  This means that I don’t know squat about Atyrau or its people.   This is exacerbated by the fact that I also don’t speak Kazakh or Russian and few of the people speak English.  The people tolerate the English speakers, though.  I think they must simply be used to us by now and know that we are not going away until the oil does.  That and a lot of us (most of us?) pay over the normal price for things simply because we don’t go to the big markets.  As for those markets: no, there is no (doesn’t have to be any?) bartering.  The prices are displayed and you pay what is displayed.    This is a good thing.  Bartering is miles outside of my comfort zone.  If I had had to barter to buy things in Atyrau I would have taken the next day’s plane out of here: the thought of having to barter makes me want to sit in a corner whimpering and rocking.

Shopping places range from shops as you and I would know them (sort of) and big markets with lots of stalls.  For instance, in the mall next door, the shops on the ground floor are kiosks or stalls with walls and windows.  They are very small — sometimes long and very narrow, sometimes square; sometimes free-standing, most of them not — and hold a very limited amount of goods that range from jewellery to children’s toys to phones to hair clips and watches.  There is also a pharmacy and a shop that sells prescription glasses.  There is a little train that is driven around and for the equivalent of 50 pence, your child can ride in the train for two loops of the mall.  (The girls though they had died and gone to heaven.)  The second floor (first floor to Brits) holds the grocery store, the electronic goods store, Timberland, the beauty products store, Pierre Cardin, the cinema, a juice kiosk, and many other things.  Yes, Timberland.  There will also be a Burger King in a couple of months, but no Starbucks or Nero or [insert name of coffee chain].

Of brand names that we in the Western world know, there are plenty: Dr Oetker, Pepsi and Coke, Pringles and Lays, Lindt, Milka, Merci, Ferrero, Mars, M&Ms, Kinder, Huggies and Pampers, Sugar Crisp and a billion other sugary cereals, Frosch, Fairy Liquid, and many, many more.  There is an ex-pat food aisle where one can buy peanut butter, Heinz baked beans and ketchup, soy sauce, spaghetti sauce, pasta, noodles, coconut milk, and so on.  I have not yet found brown sugar and the rolled oats are what we in the UK and Canada would call ‘old fashioned’ (none of the stuff that turns to mush when cooked in the microwave for half-a-minute).   There is icing sugar, but I have not yet found food colouring.  There are sewing machines, but if you’re a quilter, bring your own material and threads in.  I’ve been told that the ones here are of poor quality and hard to find in Atyrau  (not so in Almaty).  Bring your own ground coffee if you like decent coffee.  What is called sausage over here is what I would call hot dogs.  Sorry, Brits, but they don’t do bangers, not that I’ve found.

Of restaurants, there are plenty with a wide variety of food, just no Mexican or Tex/Mex.  I’ve been to a lovely sushi restaurant, a yummy Indian restaurant, and excellent Turkish restaurant.  One restaurant that does the most amazing lamb kebabs, but don’t order their pizza.  There is Booblik, which has the best tasting cakes I have ever eaten.  Husband goes there once a week to get a cup of coffee that makes him melt into a puddle of joy.

And Daracha is now demanding my attention so I’ll post this and sign off.  I’ve not proofed this, so you’re just going to have to live with the grammar and spelling mistakes.


My husband pointed out that this is not exactly a deterrent to a two-year-old, because two-year-olds think that flying is fun and they don’t know what an idiom is. 

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And cocoa.  And possibly butter.  Except that I cannot believe there is only margarine and no butter, so maybe hold off on sending the butter for just a little while longer.  I have found popcorn.  (Tiny bags at a shop far, far from where I live, so I may still be asking you to send some if I can’t hold out until I head home to Canada in two months’ time.)

I’ve met several moms and their 2-4 year olds, but I have yet to pick their brains about where to find things, whether I will be able to get a babysitter, and do tell me about the nannies that you all use.  Also things like waxing sugar  and cake flour and hair dye and baking paper.  I’m sure that when I finally begin Russian language lessons, I will find that everything I have been looking for is right under my nose.  This, of course, won’t be because I will be able to read Russian any time soon, but because I will be bringing my teacher with me to the grocery store as soon as I can finagle it.

Husband is asking his employer about leads on Russian language lessons, but has yet to find joy.  I have asked the young ladies behind the front desk (because all of the staff on the front desk are young ladies and all of the security guards are young men)  whether they knew of any Russian language teachers, but they were unable to help (and also seemed a bit bemused that I was even asking for Russian lessons).

So I Googled.

I found two Russian language centres.   One is about a 45 minute walk from my apartment (in the 40C weather in wind the sister of a convection oven).  The other is on the street behind the apartment building, but Google maps was unable to tell me exactly where.  When I tried to call them, the phone number did not work.  I assumed this was due to my ineptitude; however, an email response told me that “no, that number doesn’t work”.  They did not give me an alternate number that did work and they told me that private lessons were 5000 Tenge an hour, which equates to £15.  Highway robbery, when you think that a nanny for your kids is between £2 and £3 an hour.

I shall, however, persevere.

And now a picture.

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Two girls and their Trunkies. Aytrau airport security gate.

Which is the translation of “I’m sorry, but why are you putting my vegetables into plastic bags before ringing them through the till?”  Or so Google Translate tells me.

My husband tells me that this has never happened to him.  Perhaps I just look like the kind of person who doesn’t have the ability to find plastic bags in the produce aisle*.  Could be.  I do take twin two-year-olds with me wherever I go.


*No comments from family, thanks.  Yes, Tanya and Mom, that means you, too.

The girls were given an WMF cutlery set each for their first birthday from a friend of ours.  About six months ago, I let them actually use the cutlery, knife too.   Now?  Now they can spread their own butter/peanut butter/jam/honey and cut their own cooked carrots/mashed potatoes/cooked broccoli.

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More funny faces for the camera.

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One without children, that’s for sure.  I know this because the light switches also have little orange lights in them that turn off when the light switch is turned on.  You know what has been happening, right?  Every evening, I feel like I am in a stop motion film.  But this too shall pass, of course.  Experience tells me that even the most exciting things eventually become passé…even to a two-year-old.

On the whole, our apartment is fine: three bedrooms (one which we’ve named the ‘spare room’ and is where the girls get to throw their new bouncy balls around); two bathrooms (one which actually has a bathtub — it’s the first time I’ve lived in a place with a bathtub in seven years.  My fingers and toes have been in a state of wrinkled glory all this past week and shall remain that way for some time to come); a kitchen; a living room/dining room.  The kitchen is stocked with cutlery, dishes, glasses, two pots, two pans, a strainer, knives, cutting board, cooking utensils (as are they all in this building).  Beds, linen, and pillows have been provided in all of the rooms.  Towels, bathmats, and facecloths are in each of the bathrooms.  The living room has a large, comfortable couch, a large comfortable chair, an entertainment unit (where we keep the children’s books — colouring and reading — and small toys) with a large flat-screen TV and a DVD player.  A woman spends an hour-and-a-half cleaning the apartment every morning except Sunday morning.  I put my laundry in a bag, it is taken away (by said cleaning lady), and returned to me the next day: cleaned, pressed, and folded or hung.  Again, this is de rigueur for each apartment in the building.

The apartment is builder’s beige (totally expected — I’ve lived in five countries and each one has its own shade of builder’s beige), as is the (comfortable, slightly stained especially in front of the TV) furniture.  The floors are tile (kitchen, bathrooms) and laminate.  (No carpets for the girls to pee on when we begin potty training within the next couple of weeks.  Yay!)  There is an air conditioning unit in each room (totally necessary in the summer heat of 40C ). The fixtures are a mixture of solid/attractive and shoddy.  For instance: the curtains are lovely, thick, black-out curtains, gracefully tied, the bathroom sinks are modern with lovely ceramic bowl-sinks, the living room has an amazing and solid glass coffee table; on the flip side, every tap in the place rotates when you turn it on or off and few of the kitchen cupboard doors are square.  But seriously?  Who gives a flip about builder’s beige and wonky cupboard doors when someone cleans my flat every day (including any dishes I haven’t done) and does my laundry?  Not me.  No sir.  No way.



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