This year on December 1, Kazakhstan observed a new holiday. President’s Day, as it has been named, will mark the anniversary of President Nursultan Nazaerbayev being elected as the first president of the republic in 1991.
As with all other holidays, adverts and banners went up around the city.
Returning from the market on the Saturday morning we became aware of hoards of people dressed in yellow and blue, crowding the frozen, white streets. As it tuned out there had been a pageant with some 30,000 performers , which of course had the obligatory mass singing and banner-waving.
This was the weekend we chose to move flat. The business of moving flat in Kazakhstan is slightly more complicated than in the UK. Though there are websites and adverts in newspapers they are mainly put there by brokers to work with estate agents to find you a flat, while taking a finders fee of between 10 and 15 % to do so.
We were recommended a Makler by a friend who had just moved and after looking at a few places we chose an 8th floor flat over looking the, now solidly frozen, river. Seeing as we don’t have a car, the next job was to find someone to move our things for us. I was of course under the impression that I still only had the three bags which I had arrived with a year and a half ago! Unfortunately I had been slightly deluded!! As the boxes piled up in the hallway, it was clear that I now had three times as much and it wouldn’t fit into one car as I had hoped.
We found out, from a colleague, that it was possible to hire a man with a van and a couple of helpers for 2000 kzt. The snow was falling heavily on move day and the Gazelle tuned up half an hour after the two little helpers. They worked so quickly – carrying everything into the van through the driving snow and then unloading it the other side. Even though it was impossible to see at some points because of the amount of snow and the fact that they weren’t wearing any gloves they managed to do it all within and hour and with only one suitcase as a casualty. I was so grateful as I was barely able to stand for more than one minute on the street with out experiencing the well known tingling and pain in my hands as frostbite took hold!
For the last five years the International Club of Astana has organised a charity Christmas fair at the Radisson Hotel in Astana. They open up their ballroom and the different nationalities of the club each set up a stall from their own country. More often than not these stalls offer traditional food and drink specialties and little items of traditional, native craft work.
This year I decided to offer my services to the GB stall. A very popular stall, it offered homemade cakes, cups of tea and British souvenirs (this year there were lots of Olympic pencils and keyrings). I was on the busy afternoon slot. I donned my Union Jack apron and rubber gloves and started serving. Members of the British community had made a large selection of cakes and biscuits but the most popular item by far were the scones with cream and jam. They sold for a pound a piece and the Kazakh were particularly excited about them. We made an amazing 350 000 KZT ( 1500 pounds) and the total raised for the children’s charity SOS (it would seem one of the few in Astana as all the proceeds from Charity events seem to go to them) came to over 12 million.
As I was finishing my cake shift on the British stall, which was next to the main stage, an Ambassador’s wife took to the microphone and began to speak. Though from the ringing in my ears afterwards, it was clear that no one had informed her that if you used a microphone there was no further need to shout. She announced various events occurring and then spent three hours reading out the winners of the tombola. In fact this was rather remarkable in itself. The list of prizes was endless and rather impressive, from flights all over the world to pieces of artwork. Sadly, I had somehow missed the fact that you could buy these tickets so instead took a look around the stalls for something to eat, eventually plumping for Turkish main course and Polish ice cream and Palestinian sweets for dessert. Somehow, it is not clear to me how, I managed to resist the delicious looking cakes I had been selling all afternoon and only bought a pencil and set of coasters from our stand!!