December 16 is a very important day in this part of the world. No, I’m not arrogant enough to say that all of the fireworks and celebrations are directed at it being my birthday. I share my birthday with many people and places, and one of them is my current home.
Kazakh fun fact: Kazakhstan became officially independent of the Soviet Union on December 16, 1991, and was the last of the Central Asian regions to declare independence.
Kazakhstan turned 20 years of age this year, meaning that we all had a national holiday. Consequently, we finished for our winter break – Christmas doesn’t happen, remember – on December 15. Time to celebrate!
It’s been a long first term for Haileybury Astana. Much has been accomplished in a short space of time, but it has consumed and dominated our lives, so a break is more than appreciated. The last week was disrupted significantly by the desperation to perfect the School’s first ever production; Rumpelstiltskin. It was a very good show, with fireworks, lighting and music composed by our own Music department.
The last day, as it is in many schools, was fairly relaxed. We all had class parties where the children brought in enough cake to feed a small army, and had lots of festive fun. New Year fun, of course. Not Christmas fun. One thing I did learn from that day – modern-day Monopoly doesn’t use cash, instead using an electronic device and credit cards that could be altered by the banker. It just seemed wrong…
The kids jetted off to their various holiday destinations – Dubai is always a popular choice for their parents – at 3.30pm, and then we set to work. I have been organising the Secret Santa competition throughout the school, and presents were due to be exchanged at our staff party that evening. One or two minor setbacks aside, it proved to be a great success considering the numbers involved and the fact that it was an alien concept to so many of the participants. I received a mug with a soft toy inside. Can’t complain – I always need mugs for tea!
I received a hefty number of presents that day, with my children and teaching assistant showering me with gifts ranging from a chess set to chocolate, and from picturesque plates to trendy ties. It was incredibly nice on their part, and I am very grateful that I have such wonderful children under my tutelage.
So, that staff party. You don’t need to know too much about that. Our house band played and were very funny, as were the two men who performed a skit of the Titanic. We moved on to a bar afterwards – via dropping all of those gifts back at the apartment – and danced and chatted our way to freedom. Well, until midnight, when someone realised that it was now December 16…
Happy birthday was sung, drinks were bought and, after sucking on an apple shisha, we decided to retire. It was a very happy evening for us all, and subsequently led into a very happy day for Kazakhs.
We received a phone call from a friend telling us that there was a concert in the Astana Arena – where the national team loses football matches – and that it was going to be a big deal. We braved the cold, clear air, the temperature of which dropped to -31’C later that evening, took their two spare tickets and snuck a third member of our troupe into the ground.
Once in, we found a blue bag on our seats containing a commemorative newspaper, a pair of 3D glasses, a piece of paper with doves on it, a flag, a white sheet, a hand clapper and a torch. When we looked from our goody bag to the centre we saw a collection of very large props. The pitch was covered by material to make it seem as if it were the steppe, and in the middle of the arena was a giant platform. High above the platform was a sleeve that in reality – though reality is distorted here – was an enormous 360’ television, which had smaller TVs moving up and down from it. It was a staggering sight.
What was to come was even more impressive. Trapeze artists dangling from the roof. Hundreds of dancers all in sync with one another. Light shows and 3D videos. It was a great way of showcasing the talents of this burgeoning nation.
The show had an interactive feel to it. The clappers were used extensively, and those pieces of paper turned into 30,000 paper aeroplanes which were fired down to the bottom. The most communal activity, however, was shown when the torches were used. When we were all instructed to turn them on the crowd suddenly became an ocean of blue with flickers of yellow – the colours of Kazakhstan. The pride was almost bursting from each stand.
The spectacular finale consisted of water fountains shooting high into the air as the platform split and a Bayterek rose from the floor, all amongst glitter and confetti falling gracefully from the roof. It was a lavish, extravagant and powerful way of showing us that we live in a forward-thinking, proud and dedicated country that is always growing, but will always remember its roots. December 16 is, for so many reasons, a truly magnificent day.
Happy Independence Day!
Love you all