Family Magazine


By Sherwoods

         Flag of Kazakhstan - Wikipedia

This Monday was handshake day.  It's been a long week, so handshake day seems like it happened a month ago.  Bidding this year was much more involved than it's been in the past years, but in the end, the options got narrowed down to the same one as always: Central Asia.  

Monday didn't bring any surprises, as there had been a series of communications with both Nur-Sultan and the bureau, and both were very enthusiastic about Brandon coming to Kazakstan.  

I, however, am less enthusiastic.  Being raised in North Carolina, I have a healthy dislike of winter.  I prefer winters that last about six weeks, bring a snowfall or two, and don't stay much past late February and early March.  So far - despite Brandon's Russian skills - I've been able to have very reasonable winters for the eleven years we've been in the Foreign Service.  Brandon, who loves winter, has been on the losing end of the weather for all four posts we've had so far.

Now it's his turn to get all the winter back - with interest.  Nur-Sultan is the second coldest capitol in the word, with only Ulaanbaatar, the capitol of Mongolia, being colder.  Snow starts falling in October, the average high drops below freezing in November, and doesn't see anything above 32 degrees until April.  So, for half of the entire year, the average high temperature in Nur-Sultan is below freezing.  It gets so cold in the winter that the Ishim river freezes, everyone gets out their sleds and and ice skates, and the whole city plays on the frozen river for three months straight.  It's always been a life goal to never live in a place that has rivers freeze solid.  I feel like that is against the laws of decency.

Nur-Sultan is a new city, built in the site of a small administrative capital from the Soviet era.  The capitol of Kazakstan was moved in 1998 from Almaty, located in the mountains in the south of Kazakhstan, to Nur-Sultan.  It is a planned city, similar to Brasilia, and has skyscrapers, parks, a 60-meter glass pyramid, and an entire mall shaped like a glass yurt.  After spending our time in crumbling, post-Soviet cities, it will be somewhat nice to be somewhere new and shiny.  

The former capitol, Almaty, is nestled in a beautiful valley in the northern Tien-Shan mountains, with lots of skiing, hiking, and outdoor mountains.  Nur-Sultan is not.  Located in the northern part of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan is an island in the middle of vast steppe.  Other than hiking across endless steppe or cross-country skiing, there's not much to do outside the city.  I'm trying to convince Brandon that we all need to get horses and practice our steppe-raider skills, but so far he hasn't gone for it.  

We will be stopping in DC for a year of language training, so we won't be getting to Kazakhstan until summer of 2022, and I am okay with that.  Usually I'm excited to get to our next post, with new adventures and advantages.  But this time, I'm perfectly happy to spend another year delaying the freezing cold winters.  Everyone has a little more time to get older and more proficient at putting their own snow gear on and taking it off.  I have more time to research heated socks, leggings, jackets, hats, and mittens (I'm not kidding about hating cold) and enjoy seventy-degree Novembers.  I can put off winter for a little while longer.

I'm sure that in time we all come to enjoy all the of the good things that Nur-Sultan has to offer.  I've been living in strange places long enough to know that everything has its good features and its bad ones.  And just like there's no perfectly wonderful post, there's no perfectly terrible one either.  The children will probably tell tales for the rest of their live about the most amazing winters they've ever had, and I'm pretty sure someone will break an arm on the crazy sled runs they'll build in our backyard.  Everyone will definitely get better at ice skating.  We'll get really, really good at making hot tea by the gallon, and we'll really appreciate that technology has given up remote car starters.  And in the end, when I've survived -40 degree weather and lived to tell the tale, I might even learn to love winter.  A little bit.  Maybe.  Perhaps.  I'm not making any promises about that one.  

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