Most Sunday’s we head to the Renaissance hotel as a family for the all-you-can-eat Sunday lunch.   The girls have come to relish this day, as, for them, it ends with chocolate mousse.  They love chocolate mousse.

2014.06.29 - chocolate 6

2014.06.29 - chocolate 5  2014.06.29 - chocolate 4  2014.06.29 - chocolate 3

2014.06.29 - chocolate 1

I no longer look like this. Hair is much, much shorter and also blonde. I’m going my natural colour, you see. No, not blonde: grey.

2014.06.29 - chocolate 2

We ALL get to eat chocolate on Sundays.



2014.06.21 - reading 4

Here you can see our couch and our builder’s beige walls.


My husband works for one of the big oil companies here in Atyrau, but not as an employee: as a contractor.  This means that, unlike the employees, we were not allowed a shipping container to bring things over — at least, not paid for by the company.  This means that we moved over here with only our luggage allowance: four 20kg suitcases and four carry-ons.  One of the heaviest things we brought over were books: 106 of them for the girls (and a Nook for me).

2014.06.21 - reading 3

The curtains you see are black-out curtains. Every window in the apartment has them. Perfectly wonderful for the girls’ room…and ours, if I’m honest.

  2014.06.21 - reading 2  2014.06.21 - reading 1

2014.06.26 - balcony 4

The balcony door is in Freya and Daracha’s room. It is locked by key, which is nice, since Daracha totally loves figuring out locks.

2014.06.26 - balcony 2

Freya discovers the fire escape.

2014.06.26 - balcony 1

Freya discovers that you cannot open a door while standing on it.  Note the many air conditioners lined against the wall.  There is a grill protecting big fingers from being cut off, but not so little fingers.  Not speaking from experience.

2014.06.26 - balcony 3

What we found behind the air conditioners.


Alright, y’all.  I haven’t posted photos since July.  This means that the next many posts are going to be photo dumps of some of my favourites.  Here are the photos from the morning of July 20th taken in the main square in Atyrau on a day that was a mere, cool 30-ishC, if I remember correctly.


2014.07.20 - sunday 6

Part of M. Utesimov Square. This photo gives you an idea of the style of buildings you see around this part of the city. They are usually painted in the yellow spectrum (from pale yellow to apricot to olive green) and occasionally pale blue.

2014.07.20 - sunday 5

This one is always extremely curious and often feels that the rules should not apply to her. I totally get that, but still find myself saying “no” and “don’t” and “leave that alone” more often than I probably should be. Not in this case, however.

2014.07.20 - sunday 4

So many flowers in a city that is dry, dry, dry and so very hot. Beautiful, but must be quite difficult keeping the flowers looking fresh.

2014.07.20 - sunday 3

The Isatay Taymanov and Makhambet monument. Isatay Taymanov and Makhambet Utemisov fought for the freedom of the cottiers (people who were bound to the land and owned by the feudal lord) in 1837.

2014.07.20 - sunday 2

If there is something with even the slightest slope, my kids try to use it as a slide. This? This made their day.

2014.07.20 - sunday 1

The rear of the Isatay Taymanov and Makhambet monument.

2014.07.20 - sunday

The girls, Freya especially, love babies. But not dolls, funnily enough.


2014.07.17 - counter 2

2014.07.17 - counter 1

Ya.  The girls think my pun stinks, too.

The number one question asked of me by friends and family during my latest foray in England and Canada was asked after they found out that Kazakhstan is nicely sandwiched between Russia, China, several -stans and — well — Russia was:  Is it safe?  A variation of this was: Are you safe?

The answer is yes.

Kazakhstan does not have the same issues with Russia as the Ukraine.  I feel safer walking around Atyrau than I did Glasgow:  fewer drunk people during the day (one at 4pm, the whole time I’ve been here), parks aren’t cordoned off because yet another woman has been raped, no stabbings that I’ve heard of.  That’s the clincher, of course: that I’ve heard of.  Also, I only tend to wander the streets during the day with two very blonde two-year-olds.  (If there is one thing that the native people in Atyrau love, it’s children, especially blonde children, it seems.  When I leave the building without them, strangers will come up to me and ask me where my children are.  At least, I think that’s what they are asking me.  My Russian is…progressing.)  Saying that, I have gone out to the square just down the road in the evenings a few times and found that everyone else is wandering the streets, as well, and by everyone I mean from the ages of a couple of days old to 99.  During the summer, the whole family stays up until eleven or midnight, because after dinner was the only time it was cool enough to take your kids outside.  Families with young kids out for outings in the late evenings makes for safer streets, right?

The next question is: How crazy are the Muslims?  That’s not how people have been putting it, but that’s what they mean.  And I totally get it.  On television back home it is only Muslim extremism that is reported and shown…and I’m next to a bunch of -stan countries.  Of course people are a bit worried and also a bit curious.  Well, there seems to be a mix of religions in the area, and I think Russian Orthodox is right up there with followers of Islam.  The people I have seen do not appear to be extremists and women are allowed to wear whatever they want (or to not wear whatever they want — when I first arrived there was a topless, female DJ playing at a restaurant just around the corner.  Nobody was stoned.), alcohol is everywhere (mostly vodka and beer and wine — post Soviet and all that).

When I first arrived, everything seemed so very foreign, but I walk a lot.  What has struck me during these walks is that at the most basic level the people I see on the streets are the same as the people I would see on the streets back at home or in Munich, or any of the other Western places I’ve lived:  they love their children, they care about how they look to other people, they wonder how they are going to pay the bills, they are hoping someone will come into their store and buy their wares.  The children play Red Rover, Red Rover (aka British Bulldog). (I swear to whatever god you believe in, they do.)  Kids in their late teens and early twenties act the same way around the opposite sex as the kids back home.  Hip hop culture is huge.  Everyone drives and has a mobile phone.

The other side of it is, of course, that I see a very small part of what is going on in this city. You don’t get to see a lot with two two-year-olds in tow.  (Except bugs.  We look at a lot of bugs.)  Other people see other sides and have other, less nice things to say.  Often with reason, such as a friend who had a zealot try his damnedest to stab him, the chase only ending when the friend made it back to his compound and behind the security gate by the skin of his teeth.   It’s a crazy one-off that has happened to none of our other friends.   As my title implies, and as everyone in Scotland knows, the same thing would have happened to him in Glasgow if he were wearing the wrong football colours in the wrong part of the city on the wrong day.

In a nutshell: my life here is so very different from anywhere I’ve lived, but we’re going to be just fine.

2014.06.16 - sleeping 2  2014.06.16 - sleeping 1

*This looks sweet and it looks like they are a set of cuddly, can’t be separated twins, doesn’t it?  Well, I say, “Ha!”  This scene?  This scene is as rare as hen’s teeth.  Freya had to wait until Daracha was asleep before climbing in beside her and under the covers.  Daracha does not like sharing her space with Freya.  And it is very likely that Freya climbed in next to Daracha in order to wake Daracha up or bug her in some way, but then Freya probably fell asleep before she was able to wake up Daracha.


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