Several years ago, on a warm summer’s evening, an expatriate friend who worked for Fluor Daniel (an arm of the Texas engineering company Fluor Corporation) invited me to join him at the Astana Hotel in Almaty for drinks. This wasn’t to be in the small indoor Chut-Chut Bar that was part of the reception area at that time but outside, in front of the hotel.
We were joined by a local colleague of his, an ethnic Kazakh originally from somewhere near Atyrau.
The Kazakh was an engineer, which might be expected for a Fluor employee, but his route to his position was, to me, anything but usual.
The fellow had been born in a yurt somewhere near to Atyrau, and he grew up speaking only the Kazakh language. He was clever as a youngster, and someone was alert and wise enough to see that he would benefit from further education. The result was that he was sent off to distant Almaty. To him, this had seemed like a world apart. For the first time in his life he encountered people who are not ethnic Kazakhs and people who spoke only the Russian language.
Somehow he survived the challenges and obtained his advanced degree in engineering and later obtained a very good job with an international engineering company.
During the course of the conversation, I learned a few things about the ways of people who live in yurts in the traditional way. Although I had been inside a very few yurts, I wanted to know more. One particular question I asked led to an unexpected answer. I wanted to now what prompted yurt dwellers to move from one place to another. I imagined it was a seasonal thing.
He didn’t hesitate to answer. “Smell,” he said. What with all the grazing animals, a yurt site eventually smelled like a barnyard. Of course the family then moved – to greener but, more importantly, fresher smelling pastures.
The other question I remember asking was, how did he locate his family when he returned to the Atyrau region for a visit. The answer was not as simple as “smell” had been to the other question.
What I recall is that there is a certain pattern of movement that was followed but, more importantly, other yurt dwellers, such as those who still remained near the old site, were likely to be able to give him directions.
I forgot to ask how he communicated with his family during long periods of separation. Did they have a post box that remained at a fixed location when they moved?
The engineer had an apartment in Almaty, and it seemed he had no plans to return to living in a yurt.
Photo Credit: The photo is taken from the website bukhara-carpets.com which seems to offer any number of yurts for sale as well as carpets.
Website: Find more stories about Kazakhstan from the 1990s and later in my book, West Meets East in Kazakhstan. It’s available online in softcover or e-book format from AuthorHouse (the publisher), or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
My blog posts go out on Facebook and LinkedIn. If you’d like to see them again or check for posts you might have missed, go directly to my website: viewkazakhstan.com
Consultancy: Although I currently am trying to ensure that my book gets maximum exposure, the fact is that writing and publishing are sidelines for me. My main focus is assisting foreign companies to engage in business in Kazakhstan (or elsewhere in Central Asia) and assisting businesses and individuals in Kazakhstan with their projects outside of Kazakhstan.
Based on my long career as a lawyer and my time spent in Kazakhstan, I take on projects in a wide range of industries, certainly in oil & gas, banking & finance, and minerals. But such a statement insufficiently acknowledges the many spheres in which I have had experience – commercial trading, manufacturing in several areas, transport, directorships of companies listed on the London Stock Excange, shipping, and many more.
For further information, contact me at email@example.com and at +44 1753 885955.