Friday, November 8, 2013


Well, that was a long time away!  I left Atyrau at the end of June with some apprehension.  The British Prime Minister was due for a visit with Mr President, and although, as you will have seen from an earlier blog, preparations were well underway...bridge painting, flag flying, flower planting, strange model animals appearing etc...I was rather nervous leaving the final preparations unsupervised!  

However, everything seems to have gone swimmingly well, and there were no major incidents that we know of.  I cannot report whether or not turned on the oil, but if they did it was turned off fairly quickly thereafter. Because as far as the rumours tell us there is not yet oil flowing.  

I have to confess that I am beginning to worry that they will find a synthetic substitute for oil costing 50 cents a barrel before Kashagan finally delivers up its wealth and riches.

But what else is new?  I arrived back in Astana after a long journey, three red eye flights in a row with two twelve hour layovers (Toronto and Vienna), and spent a couple of days there with Sandra (working!) before continuing on to Atyrau.  

I was surprised to see how halloween had managed to reach even as far as Astana.  The Khan Shatyr was suitably decorated, to fully exploit the potential commercial value of another strange western custom!

It was Friday and we were just in time for an Halloween party.  I had had the good sense to bring costumes and makeup with me from the US.  Well, actually, to be exact, I had had the good sense to follow Sandra's "suggestion" and bring costumes and makeup from the US.

It made party going a lot easier, but I have to say, it was a good job we did because the standard of costumes were very high, and with anything less we would have been sorely under-dressed.  I must remember to blog a new list of what expats should bring to Atyrau.  Things are changing (improving) so quickly. I used to have suitcases filled with green beans, celery, quaker oats and even parsnips.  Now we bring Halloween costumes, tablemats, pictures and cushions!  
Despite what the pictures might suggest we actually had a relatively early party night.  But we still had a leisurely start on Saturday, with Sandra taking an hour or so to go through her exercises.  Unfortunately, this meant that she got into the shower just in time to catch the alarm for a fire practice (which we hadn't read about so thought might be a real fire).  She is paying good money for people to destroy the photographs of her standing in the courtyard with 50 colleagues in a kaftan, coat and wet hair wrapped in a white towel. 

Sunday night was Dawali, the Hindu festival of lights.  Marina had organised tables at the Green Hotel, which is Indian run and the scene of our usual curry nights, and a party of about 30 of us headed over there.  Sandra wanted to buy a sari so she could dress the part as well, but Marina was kind enough to lend her one instead.  Fortunately Gowri was available to dress the ladies and when they finally emerged they really were impressive.  Dinner was fun and we were entertained by two local dancers that started with an Indianish type of dance but then seemed to morph into a kind of Las Vegas show crossed with Rio carnival mode. 

Monday was back to the old routine except that Ram Store has shrunk to half its previous size.  It doesn't seem to have really contracted its product range very much, maybe some of the hardware items have gone, but most of the food is still there.  There was even a better selection of meat in the meat counter, including some that looked like T-bone steaks, albethey from a rather small cow.  I didn't try them, instead deciding to buy a piece of top sirloin from the Zheti Kasyna restaurant.  It was expensive but very good.  I cooked it sous vide at 131F for 4 hours and then seared it in a very hot oven for about 5 minutes.  It came out properly pink throughout with a crispy crust on the outside.  But I forgot to take a picture so will have to do it all again.

It was also time to restock the fridge so I made a couple of cottage pies, and ham and cheese quiches to keep us going.  
 Yesterday I made a batch of plain low fat yogurt, some of which I strained to make Labneh so that Sandra can start having it with apricot jam again for breakfast.  I am so glad that we can now buy jam in the stores.  Only two years ago I was making jam from dried fruit and scrambling around to find empty jars to store it in.  

I also made some polenta.  I had a lot left so I cut it into french fry sticks and fried them till they were all crispy.  Not great for the diet but quite tasty.  Also not conducive to dieting was an attempt I made to make Pasteis de Nata, Portugese custard tarts.  These highlighted the temperature differences in the oven as some had firm set custard and others did not.  Next time I will cheat and thicken the custard more first.

Out of the kitchen and onto the streets...

The weather is lovely, around 10 degrees with clear blue skies. Lovely walking weather.  The flowers have all disappeared from the roadside beds and from around the compound but some evergreen scrubs have appeared.  There seems to be a major maintenance project underway in Zheti Kazyna with scaffolding and ladders and men in hard hats and white cover-alls.  

I can also report that the Satpayeva bridge was finally repainted in this summers ubiquitous green.  

Though as you can see from this detail of the yellow trimming paintwork, sometimes the quality makes one think that it must have been rather a rushed job.

Nonetheless it was done, hopefully in time for the VIP visitors, and it should be good for a few more months. 

I can also report that the construction work on a number of strange structures that was commencing in June on the riverside path has been completed and there are now some completed "things".  I am not sure what their exact purpose is yet, but will investigate and report back.  

This is a picture of the "thing" outside the Riverside Office.  I have it on good authority that at night they are lit with changing colours, but have yet to witness this.  I will have to venture out with a camera.  It doe seem a shame though that there are these grand edifices on the river when those at either end of Satpayeva Bridge marking the ends and starts of Asia and Europe seem to be ignored.

There have also appeared even more model animals.  There is one piece of waste land on Satpayeva which is especially blessed with artificial wildlife.  To wit...

I can also assure you that Atyrau's Christmas preparations are already well under way (though strictly speaking these are New Year decorations as Christmas does not exist here). Tamasha is once again the first to have its tree erected though not yet decorated.  I am waiting to see if the giant inflatable Santa Claus reappears or if last years puncture actually did him in?

I also noticed that there are large snow flakes hanging down either side if the entrance of NCPOC Riverside Office.  I cannot remember whether these have been up all year, being left over from last Christmas, of are the decorations for this season.  

Meanwhile, with the mild weather the fishermen are out in force enjoying the last few weeks of autumn before getting out their drills, little stools, warm jackets and vodka for the winter ice fishing.

I stood and watched the fishermen, hoping I might see one of them actually catch something, which is such a rare event that I have come to believe that it is not the objective of the exercise, but rather an excuse to get out of the house.  Then a battered old boat came chugging up the river. The Ural is supposed to be navigable up to Oral (Uralsk), but I don't know for what draft vessels.  I did wonder where this one was going...
...I guess we'll never know!

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