Author Archives: janemgardner

There are two certainties in life

This evening I had the pleasure of listening to Shirish and Ruweida Soni speak at a meeting of the International Rotary Club of Astana. Shirish is in the last month of his four year long appointment as the South African Ambassador to Kazakhstan and gave a truly inspirational talk about his life growing up in a divided country. He spoke of his time supporting the underground ANC movement and of his fight to regain his spirit after his arrest and months of solitary confinement and torture. Though the support and encouragement of Ruweida he was able to rebuild physical and mentally despite doctors lack of hope. He also talked of what could have been a life ending experience of when he and his wife, awoke at gunpoint as their home was burgled by the very people he had almost given his life to for their right to freedom. Here he was the support for Ruweida nursing her back to health after this devastating experience.

Shirish, a Hindu and his wife Ruweida, a muslim have been married for many years and have united their families through their love and respect for each others religion. Shirish shared how he had been lost for words when had had first asked Ruweida on a date and, certain that he would never find anyone as beautiful and wonderful, asked her to marry him on their second date: they were married ten short days after they had that first date. Now with two grandchildren and another on the way they have come through some very challenging times yet their love and admiration for each other is evident in a room full of strangers.

Both Shirish and Ruweida are both passionate about meditation and a follower of the visionary Ravi Shankar. He encouraged all of us to make sure that at least once a week we make ourselves a VIP – taking time to sit quietly, relax, recharge and take care of own wellbeing. He had at the beginning of his talk said that he would share a tool with us. This tool was about how by taking care of ourselves we would then be in a better place to take care of others. He highlighted the eight areas that he and his wife see as the key areas of their lives they work on to ensure they have synergy:

Spiritual, Mental Health, Physical Health, Career, Finance, Charity, Recreation, Family

All are interlinked and whatever goal you may have, to achieve it fully all eight areas will be involved. Here I am at the start of a new chapter in my life that focuses heavily on my career but I will need to ensure that I do take some time for myself to preserve my spiritual and mental health and make time to exercise for my physical health. As I build a new life here in the city that is my home for at least the next couple of years I need to build a new extended family through different activities for recreation whilst maintaining my close family. Finance is necessary to do enable me to do all of the above to a certain extent but it will be my time that I will give to charity. More valuable than money, time is giving of you personally. Sharing your experiences, supporting others and being involved in making connections to make life that little bit better than it was before.

Shirish refers to the butterfly effect – when we make changes in even a small way to our lives and that of others who know what the repercussions and ongoing effects could go.

There are only two certainties in life: we will all die sometime and everything changes!




Kazakhstan Bucket List!

With it’s location on the Silk Road, nomads of the steppes, mix of ethnicities and vast network of lakes and rivers there are many interesting  places to visit within Kazakhstan:

This list will grow, I am sure.

  • Stay in a Yurt on the steppes
  • Eat and drink local delicacies – horse and fermented milk!
  • Baikonur Cosmodrom – I want to see a launch to International Space Station! as well as the museum etc. (20th October 2016)
  • Visit Sayram, the city of countless mausoleums of saints. This city was mentioned in the Zoroastrian Holy Book and a key staging post on the Silk Road
  • Visit the Saryarka Plains
  • Go skiing (well perhaps just the apres ski scene) in Shymkent
  • Visit Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s home in Semey
  • Visit the historic cities of Taraz and Turkestan (21st and 23rd October 2016)
  • See the Caspian Sea and port of Atyrau
  • Visit Charyn Canyon, the valley of castles and walk through the pre-historic aspen groves
  • Saka Mounds
  • Karabulak Gorge
  • Borovoe National Reserve, pine forests and health spas
  • See the petroglyphs of Tamgali-Tas, an UNESCO site of natural beauty
  • Otrar, monument to Ghengis Khan and the Mausoleum of Sufi poet and mystic, Khoja Ahmed Yassavy – UNESCO cultural site (21st October 2016)
  • Aisha-Bibi mausoleum and it’s fretted teracotta
  • Babdya Khatun for it’s intricate umbrella dome
  • Visit Aksu-Dzhabagly reserve – Giant Asku Canyon
  • Altyn-Emel National Park to see the Bronze Age relics and structures
  • Aqsu-Zhabaghly Nature Reserve and the Asku River

As for slightly further afield focusing on the Silk Road:

  • Samarkand
  • Khiva
  • Bukhara
  • Tashkent
  • Tblisi
  • Bishkek
  • Karakol

…lots am sure I have not heard of yet!

Kazakh National Days – a lot to celebrate!

Since 1991 the country, under their first President, Nursultan Nazarbayez either directly or indirectly has been instrumental in making Kazakhstan the nation it is today:

  • First former Soviet state to become nuclear free
  • Country elected to the UN Human’s Rights Council
  • Election of hosting the 2017 World Expo
  • Country became chair of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe
  • Country chaired the Organisation for the Islamic Community
  • Part of the World Trade Organisation
  • First Asian country to earn a credit rating by Standard and Poor’s
  • Pay back all IMF loans in 7 years
  • Nurture an Olympic Team that would win 7 gold medals at London 2012 Olympics


Kazakhstan has every right to be proud of it’s achievements both as a nation and as a part of the global economy and to acknowledge some very important cultural, religious and political landmarks with national holidays:

  • New Year, January
  • Orthodox Christmas Day, January
  • International Women’s Day – March
  • Nauryz, March – also known as Iranian New year this festival marks the vernal equinox and the start of spring. It has been celebrated for over 3000 years in Central Asia and following independence became an important part of the annual calendar. The festival of Nauryz has, since 2009, been on the UNESCO’s list of Intangible Heritage and Humanity events.
  • Unity Day , May – with over 131 ethnicities represented in this diverse nation a day to celebrate those who make up the nation of Kazakhstan is a colourful and exiting time
  • Defender of the Fatherland, May – A time to pay tribute to those who dedicate and have dedicated their lives to protect their native lands
  • Victory Day, May – This day marks the unconditional surrender of Germany in Moscow at the end of WW2 and to remember those who fell in this conflict
  • Day of the Capital, July – A day celebration of Astana, the capital since 1997
  • Constitution Day, August – Marking the day that the independent peoples of Kazakhstan approved the new draft consitution in 1995
  • Kurban Bairam – Islamic festival also known as Eid al-Adha
  • President’s Day , December – celebrating the election of the first president in 1991 and acknowledging his achievements
  • Independence Day, December – Marking independence from the Soviet Union in 1991


What do I know about Kazakhstan?

As it is going to be my new country of residence for the next couple of years or more I had a bit of a brain storm and quick research about this potential ‘Dubai of the steppes’.

  • Host of the 2017 Expo
  • 9th largest country in the world – larger than all the EU countries combined
  • largest land-locked country in the world
  • Astana has been the capital since 1997 – annual Day of the Capital national holiday on July 6th
  • Astana is the 2nd coldest capital in the world
  • Population of approximately 18 million
  • Capital has population of less than 1 million
  • Nursultan Nazarbayev has been president since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 – annual President’s Day  national holiday on December 1st
  • Country is bordered by 5 other nations: China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Russia
  • Nuclear weapon free
  • Country competitors won 12 gold medals in London Olympics, 2012
  • Part of the Silk Road
  • Yurts
  • Vast steppes
  • Horses – both to ride and to eat
  • Mineral, oil and gas rich
  • Ghengis Khan
  • Baikonur Cosmodrome – currently only place were humans are launched into space
  • Country has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites for culture: city of Turkestan and Chang’an – Tianshan Silk Road corridor, Koja Ahmed Yassavy Mausoleum and the Tamely-Tas rock carvings.
  • County also has an UNESCO World Heritage Site for natural beauty: Tamely-Tas rock carvings
  • Both the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation and the Khan Shatyr shopping mall and entertainment centre (with a beach) were designed by Sir Norman Foster

According to the website, Astana is 66% cheaper to live in than Dubai.

I am sure I will be adding more to this list as I explore this vast country with such ethnic diversity and culture.



Christmas Cracked!

The Easter Eggs are on the shelves and hot-cross buns are back in the bakers despite it being 12th Night so I guess that we are now in the run up to Christmas!

So as we count down the 360 days until Christmas I thought I would do a little research into the myths, mis-truths, history and facts that make up the festival that never seems to end.

“Four calling birds” from that very popular Christmas song is a misquote – it should read “Four colly birds”. Colly birds are another name for blackbirds. The song can be traced back to the times of Henry VIII when it is said to have been sung by Catholic children in Protestant times. Each verse is said to be code for different religious messages.

The Twelve Days of Christmas themselves are the days from Christmas to Epiphany so from sundown on 24th December until sundown on 5th January. The feast of Epiphany is said to mark the arrival of the wise men from the East and is celebrated on 6th January.

It was  Pope Julius 1 who, in the 4th century, declared 25th December as the date of the birth of Jesus. This date coincided with Winter Solstice and return of the sun Pagan festivals and it was hoped that it would replace previous celebrations.

In 1752 Great Britain and America moved from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar despite many other countries had been using this calendar since Pope Gregory XIII introduced it in 1582. Today some Christians still celebrate Christmas as it would have been in the Julian calendar – around 7th January.

The very popular Christmas song Jingle Bells was written for Thanksgiving in 1857. On 16th December, 1965 it became the first Christmas song to be sung in space thanks to the crew of Gemini 6.

It is commonly said that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in 1647. However, it appears that it was the excessive feasting, frivolity and merriment that he banned considering it immoral on a Holy Day. This ban was not removed until 1660.

There is another law that has not been repealed, that of the Holy Days and Fasting Days Act of 1551. The act states that all must attend a Christmas service and that no vehicle must be used to get to the service.

The abbreviation of Christmas to Xmas is common and often thought to be disrespectful. The letter X is the Greek abbreviation for Christ so perhaps not so disrespectful after all.

The first Christmas cards were commissioned by a civil servant, Sir Henry Cole, in 1843. The picture on the card was that of a family drinking wine. It was not until 1915 that Hallmark begun producing Christmas cards commercially.

To date, the best selling Christmas song is White Christmas written by Iriving Berlin and sung by Bing Crosby.

Christmas Pudding was originally a soup made with raisins and wine.

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day is so called as it was the day when money collected in church alms boxes was given to the village poor.

The average Christmas Tree is 15 years old.

Christmas Dinner in Early England was a pigs head smothered in mustard. In the Middle Ages swans and peacocks were the choice of the wealthy and were part of a lavish meal. The birds would be basted with saffron and melted butter.

There are two sets of Christmas Islands: one in the Pacific Ocean, the other in the Indian Ocean.

Mince pies date back to the 16th century. It is thought that the original filling recipe of meat, dried fruit and spices was brought back by the Crusaders. One a day should be eaten during the 12 Days of Christmas to bring good luck in the next 12 months.

Postmen in Victorian Britain wore red uniforms and were often referred to as robins. This may be why the robin is such a popular feature on Christmas Cards.

…must be time to get on with the Christmas shopping now!










The Cat Says Meow

After a year in my own flat with a true bird’s eye view over the world below from my 9th floor window-sill, I find myself in a new place on a new window-sill and with two humans at my beck and call.

Life had been good. Yes, I could have done with some human contact: the odd pat here and clap there, especially on those hard to reach places like my back where my fur has become somewhat matted. I was happy with the services of the elderly human who did attend my basic needs every day providing nutrition and cleaning out my tray. I think I did have a permanent human at one point but she, for I think she was a female, is but a vague smell memory.

The trauma of how I got from there to here is also vague and I am still dealing with the impact. I remember my elderly male human lifting me into a small box – I trusted him. From there it is all a complex confusion of smells and noises ending up in this new place that I assume is to be my new residence. The humans have provided the basic necessities but as I said I am still reeling from the changes and stresses so have, as yet, been unable to acknowledge their attempts to provide for me other than in a formal manner. They both seem trainable and have some potential. They are not overly familiar with me and appear to have some previous cat experience from their respect of my need for time to adjust. Although they are around most of the day they do, either together or individually, leave the room and it is then that I have been taking the opportunity to further survey my new space. I do not want to over-indulge them too soon or show too much attention. However, I must commend them for their attempts to provide me with tasty morsels to tempt my appetite.

The window-sill where I have chosen to place myself for the time being is slightly narrow but does afford a new vision of the world outside. I have a new perspective on birds and have monitored their behaviour carefully along with that of other humans and other moving creatures of which I am unfamiliar.

One very positive change of which I am aware is that the neck band I have had on and been unable to remove for as long as I can remember had now gone. The bells that would jingle every time I moved are no longer ringing in my ears. So despite having lost the complete autonomy of living perhaps things are changing for the better.

Now that I am feeling more settled, I will slowly begin training the humans further to my ways and needs. This will have to be a gradual process to ensure my exacting standards are met. I did not really think that at my time of life I would have to be retraining new humans. I very much believe in a process of positive rewards in the form of allowing them to clap, stroke and groom me and in time I may sit on them as a mark of their hard work. Although that particular reward is still a long way off.


White Rabbits!

Why do some people say ‘White Rabbits’ on the first day of the month?

  • Do you say it just the once or repeat it twice or three times?
  • Is the phrase ‘White Rabbits’ or is it just the animal without it’s defining colour?
  • Must it be said first thing in the morning of the first of the month before any other words are uttered?
  • Is there a preferred place to say it – top of the stairs?
  • Do you say it every month or, as has been suggested, only on months with the letter ‘r’ in them?
  • What about February with two letter ‘r’s’…is it doubly lucky or do the two compensate for the lesser number of days?
  • Will saying it at the New Year cover you for the whole year? What if you forget – will saying “tibbar” (rabbit backwards) at bedtime rectify it?

A lot of variables to get just right to ensure good luck for the ensuing month.

So why rabbits…and why white rabbits? One explanation may be related to their ability to jump and metaphorically leap into the future and forward in life. Another may be something to do with their ability to multiply at frightening rates and would be seen as a positive link with fertility and abundance. The keeping of a ‘lucky rabbit’s foot’ is seen as a symbol of good luck and there is even talk of it allegedly warding off arthritis and rheumatism. As to the colour, white is a colour of purity which may link to the notion of luck which you will be if you do manage to see one as unless you are in a pet shop it is rare indeed.

Although it is not all good omens from rabbits. Like a black cat, it is said that a white rabbit running across your path will be followed by bad luck. If you see one running down the street then a fire will occur in a nearby house.

From the outsiders perspective saying ‘white rabbits’ must seem very strange indeed. Whether from folklore tradition or superstition they are deeply ingrained in our daily language and lives. This got me thinking about the differences between our sayings backgrounds – first stop a dictionary. My choice today is Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

Superstition – a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, or trust in magic or chance maintained despite evidence to the contrary

Tradition – the handing down of information, beliefs or customs from one generation to another

So is saying ‘white rabbits’ superstition or tradition? To me it is a harmless tradition soaked in superstition – harmless as long as you are not putting all your eggs in one basket and sitting back expecting life to treat you well.

You might not consider yourself superstitious but you might be surprised how many superstitions have seeped into your subconscious – think back to your day…did you say ‘Bless you’ when someone sneezed or use the phrase ‘fingers crossed’…?