Family Magazine

Hello, Kazakhstan!

By Sherwoods

We have now been in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan for seventeen days now and everyone is fairly settled in.  Kazakhstan is the biggest -stan country in Central Asia, and is also the most economically developed because of oil and gas fields.  We're in the capitol city, which is in the very far north part of the country, about 200 miles from Russia.  

Our transition from Tashkent to Nur-Sultan was supposed to be the easiest move ever.  We packed up our things on Monday and Tuesday, watching everything in our house get wrapped in paper and packed into boxes for their short(ish) journey to our new home in Kazakstan.  We had scheduled three days for the move, but it only took two days, which was quite nice.

On Wednesday we got the rest of our affairs in Tashkent wrapped up, which included dropping both our cars off at the embassy so that they could also get shipped up to Nur-Sultan.  The State Department only pays to ship one car, but we decided to pay ourselves to ship the other one because it's been reliable and we bought it for a really good price in Tashkent.  It was a little painful to pay more for shipping than we had paid for the car, but such is life sometimes.

Wednesday evening, the first change to our plans showed up in an email to Brandon.  We had had a house assigned to us about a month earlier and had been sent pictures of our future home.  I had spent a lot of time thinking about how to set everything up and looked up the address in the neighborhood we would be living in and gotten my mind wrapped around our situation.

Then the email arrived, telling us that our housing assignment had been changed.  It was in a different neighborhood, it had one less bedroom, and fewer rooms downstairs.  And the biggest blow was going from a kitchen with two stoves - one European and one American - to a mini-sized European stovetop and equally mini-sized European oven.  Everyone was in shock and quite disappointed by the news.  But such is life when someone else pays for your housing.

Our flight the next morning was supposed to leave at 7:15, and as we were traveling with sixteen suitcases, our ride showed up at 4 am.  So we got the children up at 3:30, dressed them, put their shoes and backpacks on, and started shifting all the suitcases into the waiting van.  At 3:43, I got a text from Air Astana.  Due to the closure of the airport, the flight was delayed by twelve hours, not departing until that evening.  

So everyone climbed out of the van, Brandon started dragging suitcases back into the house, and I realized that we had neither food nor money for the next twelve hours.  Not being able to do anything about either food or money at four in the morning, we all went back to bed and got some more sleep.  

When we woke back up, I texted a friend to see if she could lend us some money.  She offered to have us over for lunch and playtime until we had to leave in the afternoon, an offer that we happily took her up on.  The kids enjoyed having a second goodbye party with their friends who they had just been hanging out with the night before, and I enjoyed having food to eat and a non-empty house to occupy the children.

The rest of our transition went fine, and we were able to board the flight, enjoy ninety minutes of flight time, and land in Kazakhstan just as the light was finally fading around 10:00 at night.  Our sponsors very kindly picked us and our sixteen bags up and we made the six-mile journey to our new home in Kazakhstan.  

As we've settled in to our new house, I've come to enjoy it very much and am glad for the switch.  In addition to not having any crazy wallpaper that Central Asians are inordinately fond of, we also have the biggest yard in the entire neighborhood.  The children are already planning epic snow forts and sledding hills and tunnels.  Our backyard adjoins the neighborhood park, and the children have spent many, many long hours playing and enjoying the much cooler Kazakh summers.  Kathleen has made a Kazakh friend who she practices Russian with, and they also ran into other American kids who live in the neighborhood.  

The girls and I have already found a new horseback riding teacher and are enjoying the new stable and new horses.  We've found plenty of grocery stores nearby for the kids to go to and have discovered that almost everyone in Nur-Sultan accepts Apple Pay.  I have even paid a delivery grocery guy with my phone, which is pretty amazing.  The other embassy families in our neighborhood have been quite welcoming and we've already been given a tour of the city and been invited over to dinner twice.  

One of the main reasons we decided to take a job in Kazakhstan is because we didn't want to start over in a new place with new systems and a new language.  We reasoned that it would be easier to settle in somewhere where we knew the language and could get around independently.  I've definitely found this to be true.  Thirty-six hours after we landed, Brandon and I took a walk to the local mall and got SIM cards for my phone and the kids' phone.  This was only possible because of Brandon's Russian ability and our confidence in being able to figure things out.  

On the day of our first riding lesson, I got a taxi on an app, asked the driver if he could wait while we went to the store, and then asked if he could take us to the stable and then return in two hours after our lessons were done and take us back home.  Then I asked him if he could come back and drive us the next week.  That was something that I never would have felt confident doing when we first moved to Tashkent.  Not knowing the local language is severely limiting as you can't feel like you can do anything but the most basic things, and you can never quite settle fully into a place because of it.  

But we are settling in nicely, thanks to our long acquaintance with Central Asia and the Russian language.  I may start singing another song when the snow starts falling and we don't see above-freezing temperatures for five months straight.  For now, however, I've decided that I like Kazakhstan quite a lot, which has surprised me.  There's something about the open steppe that I find alluring and I love that it's literally a mile from my house.  The city is convenient and has enough amenities that are close to us that life will be fairly easy here, and we've found the embassy community to be very welcoming.  I'm happy that we got the rough parts of the transition over with first and now we can enjoy the good ones!

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