Friday 30 September 2011

Arriving in a new country

I’ve been in Kazakhstan for a week now.  It’s been a lot of what I expected, somewhat less and a whole lot more all at the same time.

To get you up to speed...

My flight was due in at 2am on Sunday morning with the promise that I would be met by Cousin Murat and Uncle Eddie.  With my plane arriving 20 minutes early, I entered the Arrivals Hall and was subjected to a barrage of offers of taxis into the city (one thing to note is that any driver can be a taxi if they want to be; if you need to get somewhere then just stick your arm out and someone will stop for you).  Though I’d been told that very few Kazakhs spoke English, here I was confronted by plenty of them who knew the word for “taxi” and “hotel”, and could count up to quite large numbers in English, proceeded by the word “dollars”.

Once met by my hosts, I was whisked off into the night at great speed to Karakemer; the town I will be calling home for the coming months.  As with other countries out East, seatbelts seem to be merely a fashion accessory that co-ordinate with the rest of the car’s upholstery, and not for actual use.  Instead they are clunk-clicked home behind your back to stop that annoying noise cars make to warn you that you might be propelled through the windscreen were you to stop suddenly.  For what it’s worth, they offer very little back support.

The “hotel” I am staying at also doubles as the function centre for the area, and in fact they’d had a wedding party there the night I arrived (and not, as I initially thought, a welcome party for me; though I did labour under this egotistical illusion for a couple of days).

I am the only guest at said hotel, which makes it a little bit eerie.  In fact the first thing that came to mind was The Shining.  I hardly slept at all that first night; I’m sure it was just the jet-lag and excitement.

Friday 23 September 2011

Ready for the off

I'm finally all packed.  I've exceeded my weight allowance by a couple of kilos; but that's nothing unusual for me.  As I'm packing for temperatures ranging from +25 to -25 C, I'm actually quite impressed that I am only 2 kilos over. (my carry on luggage weighs in at 15 kilos though...)

Tomorrow morning I fly to Kazakhstan to take over the running of a winery.  To say I'm not nervous would be a total lie; I am.  I am moving to a country I know little about; where they speak a language (Kazakh) of which I have no experience.  They also speak Russian, which is some saving grace although my own Russian ability is rudimentary at best.

The winery is based in Karakemer in the south east of the country about 70km away from the nearest city, Almaty.  I've been told that Karakemer has a population of about 1,500 people (none of whom speak English).  I've also been warned that I will almost certainly get bored as there is little to do (apart from work).

I have run wineries in isolated (socially, if not geographically) parts of the world before, and know the key to survival is to take things with you that will keep you sane.  Queue all my music collection downloaded to my computer along with many movies.  I've also taken the plunge and bought a Kindle; hopefully the 3G network will function where I am, allowing me to buy ebooks; but just in case I've already loaded up with 20 to get me started.

I have also packed a Ukulele.  I have never played one before (or really ever had the urge to play one); but I figured that all the entertainment I was taking was in the form of consumption, so it would be good to have some in the form of creation.  I doubt I will be giving up the day job very soon, but if I can hammer out a couple of tunes after three months away I will be happy.

So, welcome to my first ever blog.  I hope you stick with me over the next few months as I share my experiences in a new country.  New people, new food, new culture; there may even be a little wine stuff (though not too much).