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My lovely horse

  Thu 11th January 2018

Last Sunday, NDN, my next door neighbour and minder here in Kaz, took me to show me the school. First we went to buy some paper for the school. NDN, a retired Kazakh Government official, pointed out Nazarbayev's portrait, looking up at it with starry eyes.

"That's our President," she said. "Our President. That's our President." I nodded and assented with stepwardly upward force. "I know it's your fucking President. You can hardly escape him can you? Is he the Kaz 'government official' who bought a 65 million Euro apartment in Paris in November?" I didn't say.

For some mysterious reason, she stopped the car about a hundred yards away from the Presidential Palace. "Please look here," she said. "Yes?" I replied, thinking I was going to be shown another architectural expression of the benevolent refulgence of The Father.

Instead, she wanted me to get out; and said that she would pick me up from the same spot in five minutes. The area was deserted, yet hostile. I walked nervously around the huge building with the bitterly amusing name, "The Ministry of Justice", aware that two policemen in a nearby police car were watching me, hairspring alert.

I decided to turn back and wait for her. Out of nowhere, I saw this huge black clad man staring at me from about twenty yards away. He was walking in a slow, wide-legged way towards me, gun stiff at his side. At that moment, she arrived to pick me up. He watched me get in, his eyes tracing me.


Seeing the outside of the school filled me with a foreboding almost unto sickness, because of the irreversibility of what I had done. Afterwards, NDN took me to an agreeable little caff nearby. I ploughed my way through the nearest thing to vegetarianism that I could find -- a chicken and potato pie effort, a carrot salad that seemed to go on and on and on, reproducing itself in the dish as fast as I ate it, with a side of potatoes. I had this odd pre-sweetened tea. Here's the bill for two of us. There are 400 Tenge to the pound.


On my way to my first day at school, I stared from NDN's car at the half-mile of golden, reflecting glass windows of the curving edifice of government buildings which acts like a protective parabola to shield the Presidential Palace behind it. Fear, insecurity, and temporary power as architecture. I had a dissociative, fatalistic feeling, a resignation to death. A stress reaction, certainly; an unglamorous out of body experience, perhaps.

The school is on one of those unplanned, scruffy Soviet-style estates
where smoking urchins hang out of windows and shout down to people
below. There's a dodgy looking little shop and the building itself is
placed at a jaunty angle facing no street in particular. Inside, it's Soviet-modern: black lettering on gold-coloured plates just to let you know what floor you're on, but only a single plug socket in each classroom.

As NDN said goodbye and handed me over to Lidia, my mentor at school, I felt this urge to grab her coat tails and and beg her not to leave me. Lidia was lovely though, a rare example of an adult Kazakh who can smile, and to my great surprise, the first day went reasonably well; and there was one moment when I looked out to see a black cat plunging with feline delicacy into the snow with every step, and I had to resist a premature hope that this might actually work out for me.

The propect of eating with the other teachers in the canteen had been another colour to my fearful, sleepless night, but Lidia was an expert translator-cum-canteen host. I had borscht and bread for 50p. I am the sole male member of staff in the school, and I have been informed that they consider me too thin and that I would benefit from some proper Kazakh food. I'm trying to steer the horse away by stressing how much I love the range of vegetables you can get here.

I sat down with Lidia afterwards, who said that I'm the third native English teacher this academic year. "Please don't leave us looby. Please stay until the end of the year at least. I saw a fire in your eye this morning looby" (Lidia, that was fear), "and you're the first person ever to mention wanting to learn Kazakh."

When I got in there was an odd email from the London office. "Please be careful with what you say to any local teacher in the school. Don’t say anyone that you are experiencing problems apart from Lidia. No one should know you [have] had a long break [from teaching]. Some of the local teachers see us as a threat and will report everything what you say or do to a director, anything can be used against us." I'm not surprised. The native English teacher is paid a lot more than the other teachers, doesn't have to work Saturdays, and gets to live in a rent-free flat that they wouldn't be able to afford.

And one from my brother, reporting that my Mum, who is convinced I live in a wooden hut with only a friendly horse for company, is willing to send over the fare home immediately, should I desire it. The untravelled visit their anxiety on the traveller: Kim told me that my flat might be bugged.

Turn the radio up, Winston

The school and I are in a state of co-dependency, which provides both parties with equally good a hand. And so far, I'm having a fine time here, easily funded with not much. I changed £100 at the airport six days ago for 40 000 Tenge, and I've still got 17 000 left. The line between drunkard slacker and breadhead can be a fine one.

17 comments

Comment from: organ grinder [Visitor]

I am told that Nochnoy, the Soviet-themed strip club, is a bit of a tourist trap.

Thu 11th January 2018 @ 15:55
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

I think I’ll steer clear of that kind of palarver while I’m here. I’m a firm believer in early morning individualism, which comes at no cost.

Thu 11th January 2018 @ 16:07
Comment from: Eryl [Visitor]

Reading this made me feel faintly nauseous and compelled to find out everything it’s possible to know about Kazakhstan.
Borscht and bread for 50p, and Lidia do offer some hope. Take care.

Thu 11th January 2018 @ 20:12
Comment from: [Member]

I hardly ever eat meat, have never had steak, beef makes me retch, and I pick out the bits of chicken and bacon that are often included in “vegetarian” food overseas. I’m not sure I’ll be able to cope with horse.

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 02:31
Comment from: daisyfae [Visitor]

Take a deep breath - it’s only been a few days. You will find your footing. Listen to the words from the London office. My daughter is a native english speaking teacher in Turkey, and has run into similar issues with a few of her fellow teachers.

A rhythm to your days will develop. You have an opportunity to bank some serious cash (perhaps, depending on what they are paying). Worst case scenario? They send you home?

You can do this! We are counting on you because - Kazakhstan?!?!? We want to see it through your eyes!

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 03:04
Comment from: [Member]

Your daughter doesn’t speak English! She’s American :) But, yes, it’s going to test my tact and charm. I’d feel resentful of one subject teacher being paid a lot more than I am if the tables were turned. However, teachers in the Kaz state system are getting a big pay rise this year so they might be mollified a bit.

I’m getting paid £1500 / month tax-free. £1150 of that goes straight into my UK bank account untouched. The other £350 is paid to me in local currency, which is plenty to live on here for a month. I’ve never in my life had a job where I can save a thousand pounds a month.

And thanks – I’m determined to see this through, at least until the end of the academic year.

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 03:25
Comment from: kono [Visitor]

Fucking excellent mate!!! I laughed at the Winston Smith reference because i was already thinking it before you wrote it, great minds think alike haha!!! Save the dosh, have a blast, and who knows maybe some svelte Kazak woman will take a fancy to you!!

I’m pretty sure i once had a horse steak in a little place in Brussels, i was hanging out and drinking there for a few days and the old man who owned the place took a shine to me and insisted he cook me food, he talked to me loads about the American servicemen he knew from WWII, i thought the steak was a bit weird and years later i figured out why…

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 16:42
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

I don’t find the local women very attractive if I’m honest. They’re a lot more Mongoloid / Chinese than I’d expected, but seeing as we almost rub shoulders with those two countries I should have expected it. There’s a Russian minority here though, and they’re much better–looking.

I wouldn’t mind a bit of a meaningless foreign fling with the Director of my school. She’s a fittie, late 40s but looks younger, single, well-dressed, slim, chatty but with that reserve that makes a woman so attractive.

Really not looking forward to the horsemeat but you never know, might taste ok after half a litre of vodka.

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 18:16
Comment from: daisyfae [Visitor]

Wow! i should consider doing this for a year – could bank some serious cash. i don’t care for horse either, so a year of eating vegetables wouldn’t do me any harm.

As incredible as the income opportunity is, the chance to rediscover yourself, and recover your confidence is also tremendous!

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 18:23
Comment from: Homer [Visitor]

Black snow in Timertau according to the Independent!

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 19:37
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Daisy –
As you probably know, in the Middle East you can clear 50K / year with nothing to spend it on but your food and your phone. I did apply for a couple of jobs over there but I’m glad they didn’t get back to me. I find that hardline Islamic “culture” backward and repellent; neither would I fancy spending my evenings paying £8 a pint getting bored stiff in the Hilton talking to Tory-voting oil engineers.

Kaz has got a good balance between salary and conditions. Like my till receipt showed, you can get a basic meal here for £2.

I applied for a couple of jobs in Italy, and some of my friends were keen for me to go there, but the salaries are poor. They pay around 1000 Euro – 850 quid – and they tend to subsidise, not provide, accommodation, so you’d be living on about 600 quid a month.

Homer –
Glad we’re 140 miles away from there. I dare say deputy heads will roll, a fine will be paid, and everything will carry on as cancerously normal as ever.

Sat 13th January 2018 @ 06:26
Comment from: isabelle [Visitor]

This is much better than from our own correspondent ;)

Do you think you’ll get chance to explore a bit out of the capital, the mountains look beautiful !

Sat 13th January 2018 @ 14:39
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

I doubt it really. I don’t like discomfort, and all hills and fields look the same to me. I have no interest in the surrounding mountains to be honest. I want to drink, to find a quiet bar full of dropouts, drunkards and ex-prossies, where I can sit and read Joyce and Rabelais, and get a non rip-off taxi home. I know it sounds romantic but that is actually what I want to do here.

Sat 13th January 2018 @ 17:41
Comment from: isabelle [Visitor]

That sounds like a good plan too.( I forgot your ambivalence to the countryside)
Have you heard about a book called The Dead Lake? It’s set in Kazakhstan, I haven’t read it , but it’s supposed to be good.

Sun 14th January 2018 @ 14:02
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

The Dead Lake? What a surprise that a novel of that title is set in such a gleaming country, where black snow only falls once in a blue moon, like last Thursday.

Thanks though – I’ve only come out with hand luggage so it literally is just Ulysses and Gargantua and Pantagruel and everything else will have to be sent out, so I’ll add that one to my list .

Sun 14th January 2018 @ 15:00

Well, you life has taken quite a turn, hasn’t it. I mean, you didn’t have guns in your last few posts. Now they’re a feature. I take it you didn’t find the food satisfying? But, were you full? Because that’s where the rubber meets the road, innit? That’s quite a bit for a few pounds.

What’s wrong with feeling hopeful? Is that not in your best interest or something? Isn’t the London office afraid your email communiques are being read?

Mon 15th January 2018 @ 21:26
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

The normal police aren’t armed, but the intimidating looking ones who roam around the Government plaza areas, bored and looking for a one-sided discussion, are.

That particular meal wasn’t exactly cordon bleu but the food’s fine here – very similar to Polish and Ukrainian food. So you’d probably feel quite at home culinarily here!

And the feeling hopeful thing is just me falling victim to that widespread superstition about the more you desire something, the less likely it’s going to come about.

And emails getting intercepted? This is Kazakhstan, not the US Exile :)I hardly think that I’m worth going to all that effort for.

Tue 16th January 2018 @ 12:52


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