March is a month full of special occasions for Kazakh people. Quickly following on from International Women’s Day is the third New Year celebration I have had since I moved to the steppe last August. We are on our Spring break a little bit before most schools back in Britain thanks to the celebration of Nauryz – Kazakh New Year.
I’ll talk about that later, but it has been a busy time for all of us. The school hosted its first ever Athletic Day on March 17th. This was the culmination of the time trials that I had established earlier in the term. The success of these was so palpable that we decided to hire a sports complex – complete with actual track, as opposed to hurtling dangerously down the corridor next to the dining hall – and hold races for all age groups.
The more eagle-eyed of you may have noticed that that date of this event was a Saturday – a non-school day. In spite of this, the vast majority of the children and staff were present for the event. I had a rather important role as the starter of each of the races. For children seven and above, that meant I got to try something new – fire a gun.
It’s fair to say that it isn’t a gun that James Bond would be content with. The instructions were entirely in Mandarin, with no pictures to help us assemble the small weapon. It worked on an irregular basis, and was soon put to one side. Why? Well, I may have fired the gun high above my head, only for the entire cartridge to explode and ricochet at pace into my hand. I still have a small mark. Best to stick to the whistle after that.
Saturday was a busy day. We also witnessed and thoroughly enjoyed a concert in the Shabyt concert hall, the outside of which seems to resemble a giant blue dog bowl. Our school’s choir performed a brilliant requiem, and one of our children played a wonderful set on the piano. It was wonderful…for the hour that I saw. I had other places to be…
Those of you who are as wise as owls – can you tell we’ve been doing animal poetry in school? – will know that this day was the finale of the Six Nations rugby championships. The one which Wales only needed one more win in to complete the Grand Slam, a clean sweep of victories in the tournament. I dashed off to a bar to ensure that the Wales-France game was being shown, then subsequently found that Al-Jazeera had changed the broadcasting channel. The wonders of the internet allowed me to revel in a fifth successive Welsh triumph, and a third GS in a mere eight years. Time to celebrate, but how?
Well, those who are hawk-eyed will have also noticed that the date of this event coincides with a rather notorious and happy national holiday for one particularly green nation. Combining this with the newly-accumulated knowledge of the location of an Irish bar that sells (incorrectly-poured) Guinness meant that we could celebrate St. Paddy’s, Wales’ rugby superiority (only me for that part) and the success of our Athletic Day in the way that Ireland’s patron saint would have wished.
We had two days left of school after that weekend, which were dominated by the build-up to Nauryz. We were treated to a delightful theatre show and some musical performances in school, and a special Kazakh lunch. Some of the teachers were also involved in the Kazakh games played in the afternoon. No beshbarmak, though – I still need to eat that properly.
Kazakh fun fact: Nauryz is celebrated across Central Asia, and is a symbol of spring renewal, fertility and friendship.
This short video was made by our Kazakh department, and will help you to visualise some of the reasons for and activities undertaken for Nauryz.
I’m now back in the motherland for a couple of weeks to remember that grass can actually be green, and that everything in Britain is relatively expensive. The dream is to return to Kazakhstan to see Astana drenched in sunshine with not a drop of snow in sight. Dream big, kids. More realistically, I do genuinely hope that the temperature will be in positive figures when I come back to continue my Astana adventure.
Наурыз мерекесіне арналған!
Love you all