The skill set needed for ice fishing appears small, however personal character traits need to run deep. Whilst to the untrained eye this activity appears to be less than exciting, many locals regularly scatter along the ice in pursuit of a variety of fish which swim in the icy waters underfoot. The fishermen huddle together in groups for no doubt company, conversation, and sharing of limited equipment. This is truly a case of safety in numbers. Patience, stamina, and the ability to ignore the elements is essential, expats need not apply. Littering is not encouraged.
In the Bleak Midwinter, not the Gustar Holst version but the Dostyk, Atyrau version. Here we are in early December and winter is upon us. However with freshly fallen snow, sun shining and crystal clear blue sky it’s not so bleak after all. The wind when it blows make ripples on the snow like sand on a beach. The Ural River alongside us is starting to freeze over, and the fearless ice fishermen cometh. Treacherously balanced on wooden boxes on the thin ice, they sit for hours on end. Bottles of vodka their only warmth from the biting cold. Later in the winter cars will venture onto the ice to avoid the traffic jams in town. A dangerous and final short cut for some.
Firstly let me clarify I am English, writing about Thanksgiving, whilst living in Kazakhstan. Secondly let me tell you it was marvelous! Not cosy or intimate because it wasn’t. We were sitting in a cavernous school gym, but the surroundings were oh so familiar so perhaps that counts. The tables were attractively decorated with time and aforethought. Thirdly there was no family, but then nobody has family here. Being an ex-pat your good friends become your family, and so very very quickly.
For all of this and so much more I am thankful.
Butleigh is where I was born. A small village situated in what’s referred to as The West Country in the county of Somerset, England. Close to it, is the ancient and historic town of Glastonbury where The Tor is situated. A naturally occurring hill 520ft high upon which was built in the 15th Century St Michael Tower formerly a church. The surrounding area is very flat and low lying, and known as The Levels where cattle are commonly found grazing. The 360 view from the top is well worth the quick easy climb, especially on a clear day.
We spend a lot of time catching flights, and subsequently a lot of time at airports. Some of the sweetest initials are AMS, an airport code that when wrapped round our luggage takes us from Atyrau, Kazakhstan to Amsterdam. From there a springboard to the rest of the world, and inevitably Butleigh 2 Breckenridge.
For Fall break we headed to England for a week of R&R (rest & relaxation). Partaking of the services of the well known Air Astana, The Kazakh National Airline and subsequently KLM. It takes five hours to fly to AMS then just a quick one hour hop across The English Channel to good old Blighty. And of course ….. back again a week later.
30 years ago, 120 of us graduated from St Dunstan’s School, Glastonbury . Recently we came back together for our School Reunion. I felt very nervous. It’s been such a long time since I had seen many of my school friends. Looking around it seemed surreal to see vaguely familiar faces, all of us now with a lot more wrinkles.
It was one of those very rare situations where you know that everyone at the party is exactly the same age as you. That’s good and bad for obvious comparative reasons. I felt slightly voyeuristic looking on, on the self imposed periphery often wishing to have the natural ease that others seem to have being together as a group. A mental echo perhaps from school times? I enjoyed the evening for what it was, a reunion and I’m very glad that I went because I know that I was, and am part of that group.
P.S. The school photo is from 1981, I’m seated on the far left, arms folded.
People say “all things being equal” but they rarely are, and that includes the seasons here in Kazakhstan. To have four seasons is a treat. It tells you what time of year you are in without having to look at the calendar. Here in Atyrau rain is infrequent, the air is dry, and the wind is dusty. Summer consists of five hot months, at times scorching hot; Fall is one perfect cooler month; winter has five cold and bitter months, sub zero snow and ice covered; and spring brings one month of pure fresh breeze.
At 5:00pm Saturday night we found ourselves at the Khiuaz Dospanova “Ice Palace” to watch an ice hockey match, in close proximately to the airport just outside of town. The local team the Atyrau Beibarys play in the Kazakh Vyschaya Liga which is the top league of 10 teams in the country. It’s fast, very fast, and skillful in an aggressive sort of way. Hockey is big here along with fishing, in fact anything it seems that involves ice. Luckily they won again, 5-2.
My husband and a band of similarly minded, and dressed individuals set forth regularly at the weekends to ride their mountain bikes across the Kazakh Steppe. This is a vast area of flat, grassland with the occasional marsh. The camel trails they follow as far as I can gather are in the middle of nowhere. They have also acquired names like; Glass Top Canal, Fish Farm, Horse Bath, Cow Bridge, Zen Pond, & Pete’s Caspian Villa. This last weekend culminated in the end of the season arduous (due to the strong winds) 100k ride looping around Atyrau, towards the Caspian Sea and back. Blood was spilt once more, but at least this time stitches were not required!
For 365 days a year we can swim in Kazakhstan. The outdoor pool is a social hub for Dostyk Village during the summer time. When the snow lays round-about then the indoor pool provides a warm respite from the biting cold. At this time of year when it’s still pretty warm in late September, fully clothed cannon balls provide afternoon entertainment following a day of classes at DAIS (Dostyk American International School).