Dinara roped her brother into driving us up to the lakehouse as her husband was away on a course in Astana (a mere 18 hour train journey on the "fast train" - it really is a BIG country).
But first we visited a local market to buy chicken. LB now knows intimately (and much to his horror) what meat really look like in it's natural state, in all kinds of stages of preparation. No Sainsbury
mince or boneless chicken breast in sight.
Then off we set.
I would say it was about a 50 minute journey which took about 1hr 50 minutes
because of the extra mileage caused by the extreme avoidance of pot holes. And by extreme avoidance I mean the sudden lurching into the oncoming traffic.
We drove through rolling hills a
bit like th Brecon Beacons, scrubby gorse bushes. But Lots of horses, some cows a few people and fewer cars, poor quality housing and small holdings and lots more horses.
"Are the wild?"
I asked because I'd never seen such large packs of horses apparently running wild. They looked fantastic.
"No they are farmed"
for, to sell?"
"Oh to sell for riding,for milk, and for eating - we really love horses in so many different ways" she laughed. My first thought was to wonder how difficult it would be to milk a
Some of the trip also involved slowing down to shoo cows and horses off the road. It was kinda like Richmond Park on a SUnday afternoon with the deer wandering on to the road. Kinda.
In a spacey wild west way.
It was about as much in the middle of no-where that I've been certainly in the last 40 years. Now might be a good time to break the news to LB that Dinara
had told me that the toilet was in fact a pit outside.
The Lake House was about the size of my shed (I do have quite a big shed), it was originally Dinara's grandfathers summer home in his village
200km away and when he died a couple of years ago, her father decided to buy some land out by one of the lakes. Her parents go out there most weekends.
It's a little wooden shack covered
in a kind of corrugated iron, the winters are tough on wood here so the iron provides some protection. I looked at the slightly rickety shed and wondered how on earth they'd transported it 200km in one piece. Dinara had no idea.
LB went off with Dinara's brother Danat to barbeque the chicken, don;t ask me how they communicated with neither speaking the others language but I guess men cooking on a barbeque is a universal thing.
Dinara and I had a pleasant hour or two chopping fruit and salad and chatting. She's a secondary level English teacher and in many ways is quite progressive in her views and I learnt quite a bit about
contemporary Kazakh culture. Incidentally she went to Britain for a couple of weeks a few years ago with her students and wants to know why we still have taps which have hot water coming out of one and cold water coming out of the other. She's
got me there, I've always it was a bit mad.
Children here live with their parents until they marry on the whole. It's still considered quite shameful (at least in Kazakh families) to have
a boyfriend for a girl and certainly no living together before marriage. She said you wouldn't even call your boyfriend a "boyfriend" publically until the wedding was booked and only a month or so away. It made it clearer for me why there are still
small babies being left at the hospital rather than facing the shame of a pregnancy out of marriage.
Few women drive, though this is changing. And they (Kazakhs) don't use knives at meals
- just spoons and forks. I didn't ask how they dealt with meat... and they eat a lot of meat. Not many vegetarians here. A meal without meat doesn;t really count.
wwho is a retired policeman, arrives part way through the afternoon. I wondered what he made of my Kazakh/English boybut he was pleasant and kind and jolly so I guess he forgave me for stealing him away.
wandered down to the lake and paddled - despite the heat, it's too cold to swim yet as it's snow fed, and being quite deep it doesn't warm up enough until later in the summer. It was quite strange sitting on the grass with my feet in the freezing clear
water noting that the plants I sat on were grass and clover and dandelions and the odd wild forget-me-not winding its way thorugh the gorse bushes. Hardly a plant I didn't recognise.
The tops of the hills
around us we still dotted with large patches of snow so I guessed we were higher up than I'd realised. I think 200 years ago this would probably have been the summer pastures away from the heat and mosquitoes of the river valleys below.
The temperatures are quite extreme here - winter gets as low as -40degrees and most of the roads around here are impassible. The in the summer termperatures can reach as high as +40degrees. It's not hard
to see why the semi-nomadic kazakhs moved their camps between their summer and winter pastures.
Havnig stayed much later than we'd intended, we reluctantly packed upand headed off at around 9pm
as dusk was falling. We bounced our way back to Ust with LB falling asleep, cracking his head on the window every few minutes.
It was a lovely day which we were truly privileged to have shared
with Dinara and her family.
And in case you're wondering, LB dealt with the issue of the pit toilet (which atcually had a rather sweet pitched roof sentry box with door over it) by ignoring it
completely and peeing in a bush!