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.  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 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.

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, 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…with stones, that is.), alcohol is everywhere (mostly vodka and beer — 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. (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 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.  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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In all fairness, we did not do this in our Aberdeen kitchen.  Mostly because there was squat for counter space and because I prepared all of the our food on the kitchen table.  Also, the girls were younger and less able to control themselves in the “do not touch the shiny, sharp moving thing” department.

The girls love sitting on the kitchen counter and see it as a treat.  I see it as a way to 1) coral them and stop them from falling off of their chairs, 2) keep them as a captive audience on my terms so that I can get the job done and not be interrupted every. 30. seconds., and 3) the girls eat a hell of a lot more raw vegetables when they get to ‘steal’ them from my grasp.

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Also, we get in some pretty great bonding time*, which doesn’t always happen with two at once.

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(*Ya.  Okay.  These pictures are only of Freya.  I think Daracha was having a nap.)

…bagpipes.  At least for two little girls, if you remember this post.  And the proof?  Well…take a look at the faces.

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And by “a lot more”, I mean once every three months instead of once every six months.  This statistic has actually increased since moving to Atyrau. Let me tell you why.

The closest grocery store, Ramctop (pronounced Ramstor), is very, very close.  It is the most expensive of the grocery stores, but convenience is everything in temperatures of 38C, no car, and two two-year-olds.  I’m talking only a ten minute walk with said two-year-olds (which would be a four minute walk for anyone else).  However, the variety and the cuts of meat are — and I do not use this term lightly — appalling.

There are three choices of meat (if your meat does not include fish, which mine didn’t until I moved here):

  1. mutton,
  2. beef,
  3. whole, frozen chicken.

Lets’ address these one at a time:

  1. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t touch mutton with a ten-foot pole.  I had it when I was younger and it was much too strong a flavour for me.  Perhaps that opinion will change one day.  Perhaps.
  2. I grew up on a beef farm.  I know what beef should look and taste like.  I’m pretty sure that what is being sold in that store is end-of-it’s-life dairy cow.  Whatever is being sold is not two-year-old steer.  And the cuts are cut with the grain, not against it.  (Who does that?)  Let me put it another way: after slow-cooking cubes of beef in a stew for eight hours, the meat was still tough.
  3. The chickens in this country are not happy chickens.  Jamie Oliver, the chickens need you.  I know this because the egg yolks are an anemic yellow, and, when thawed, the whole chickens often have bruising and discolouration on their breasts.  When cooked, the meat is…well, there are sections of it that sort-of disintegrate.  Usually within the breast meat.

But I know that there must be decent cuts of meat out there and chickens that are at least a little happy.  I know this because the food in the restaurants is — on the whole — superb.  I need to check out the other markets, but that will have to wait until the girls are in nursery. (More on that in another post.)

Which doesn’t actually bring me back to the fish, but I have to get back to that topic somehow.

What Ramctop does have is many varieties of frozen fish.  The real meat choices are so dire that I’ve resorted to cooking fish about once every tw0- to three-weeks.  This makes my husband and Freya very happy, for they love to eat fish.  Daracha and I, not so much.  C’est la vie.

And, so, the girls had their first foray into the world of smelly, stinky, slippery, make-momma-dry-boak,  fish.

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