We are beginning to learn a little bit more about the traditions and the past of our new home. The people who lived in what is now Kazakhstan centuries ago didn’t live in plush apartments with numerous rooms (I’ll get to 21st Century Kazakh living arrangements later). The nomadic Kazakh tribes used to live in yurts.
A yurt is a cone-shaped tent of white felt stretched over a framework of wooden poles. It helped to protect the nomadic tribes of Central Asia from the bitter, harsh winters of the steppe. It seems to resemble a wigwam. They are easily constructed, durable and warm. Not many people live in yurts anymore, but it is possible to stay in one in the remote countryside as a tourist to maintain the traditional Kazakh culture.
The reason I am mentioning yurts and Kazakh tradition is because we sampled it on the Wednesday. We attempted to eat the national dish – Beshbarmak – but due to miscommunication we didn’t realise that the ingredients had to be ordered 24 hours in advance, so our large group of fifteen moved onto a nearby restaurant. Turns out it’s quite difficult to fit 15 onto a table, so the managers took us upstairs to plan B.
Above the restaurant three white tents sat proudly in the evening air. We would probably live in them, but they were padlocked to prevent the homeless folk of Astana setting up shop in a beautiful new home. And what a home.
It feels like another world. Colourful carpets and wooden wicker adorn the interior of the nomadic tent. The vertex of the structure is known as a shangrak, and holds the yurt together. You sit on the carpets and are surrounded by peace and tranquillity. Well, aside from the hi-fi in the corner. There was also a toy horse in the yurt, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to play on it.
Kazakh fun fact: In old Kazakh communities, the yurt itself would often be repaired and rebuilt, but the shangrak would remain intact, passed from father to son upon the father's death. A family's length of heritage could be measured by the accumulation of stains on the shangrak from decades of smoke passing through it.
In addition to the wonderful setting, the food was also fantastic. We were introduced to baurzaki, which is warm fried bread that tastes and smells like a doughnut. The shashlik was also sumptuous here, and served on a very large, thin sword. Manti, the large dumplings, have fast become my favourite Kazakh food, and were enormous at this place. They didn’t last long on our low table.
Whilst here we were introduced to what initially we thought was another Kazakh tradition, but turned out to be just a personal choice of the assistant librarian. Tea – with salt. I tried it, realised it tasted like sea water, and returned it to the table. That will not be tried again.
This trip to the old-school tent was a welcome change from what I was doing the rest of the week – sorting out our new apartment. I love my current place, but had made it clear from the very beginning that I didn’t want to be living alone. We also lived on the more expensive side of town, away from the locals and the fun. So, after viewing numerous apartments and having numerous issues (the fact that they count in ‘rooms’ instead of ‘bedrooms’ here being a particularly annoying one) to deal with, we have found a place, and signed for it on Thursday. A process that took two hours of my life due to the number of people involved in the deal.
I’ll show some more pictures in due course. All you need to know is that it is bigger than a yurt. Not that living in a yurt would be a bad thing. Especially if they provided us with regular plates of baurzaki.
Love you all