Category Archives: Hi ho, hi ho, it’s back to work I go!

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! Have eaten horse – avoided the milk so far…
  • 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 (April 2018), the valley of castles and walk through the pre-historic aspen groves
  • Saka Mounds
  • Karabulak Gorge
  • Borovoe National Reserve, pine forests and health spas. -Yes!
  • 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.