Archive for May 12, 2011

Kazakhstan’s View of the Royal Wedding

Another funny piece by a British chap working in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Since I used to work at the same place, I can picture what he sees, hears and feels…in most cases.  In this case, it was the Royal Wedding in all its splendor that was difficult to find on any channels in Kazakhstan.

It seems that nowhere was safe!

During a quiet moment towards the end of a twelve-hour shift, together with two other colleagues, we decided to play that well-known party game Hunt-the-International-News-Website-Which-Is-Ignoring-the-Royal-Wedding. Fifteen minutes and a good lot of trawling through the North Korean Times, ‘revolutionary’ Syrian sites in Arabic, and the local presses of South Seas Islands later, and we resigned en masse and declared the contest a draw. Workplaces throughout Kazakhstan gradually ground to a halt as primarily female office workers, cleaners, directors, accountants and lawyers gathered around any available screen, awed, and hummed and hawed and rued the fact that another prince had just got married.

Some girls seemed genuinely consternated. Conversation quickly turned to Prince Harry, with more than one or two of my Kazakh colleagues pointing out that he was still single, but also that as he was ginger-haired (brown is considered interesting out here), and would probably never be King anyway, he probably wasn’t worth expending quite so much emotional energy over. I mentioned the odd bachelor prince from other royal houses of Europe, but it seems that for pomp and circumstance, ‘Angliya’ is still where it is at.

One moment that really captured the popular imagination was the sight of a vicar catwheeling down the aisle after the guests had vacated the Abbey. The commentator announced in stern tones that the errant vicar was to be disciplined by the Bishop of London. This was then relayed in impromptu fashion to the remnants of our cooing female colleagues who grew quite alarmed at the prospect, and immediately jumped to the cartwheeling vicar’s defence. I was asked to speculate on the likely punishments that his eccesiastical superiors would hand down to him, so I dawned a most serious expression and muttered something about it being his first time cartwheeling at a royal wedding, so probably a short spell of imprisonment at Lambeth Palace and a good roughing-up at the Tower should suffice. The Church of England’s reputation for muscularity is going before it as never before, I tell you.

Speaking to a journalist for the Central Asian News Wire here in Astana, I commented that from about January onwards, we have seen one of the most intense periods for news stories that I (or it turns out, he) could remember. Most news stations here are frontloading their bulletins with five or six really weighty world news items, from the revolutions sweeping the Middle East to earthquakes, financial jitters, euro collapse, OBL’s capture, and so on. Kazakhstan’s news footprint, by contrast, is pretty light, with a flood in the west a couple of months ago being the major story of the past three months. And long may it stay that way.

Instead, it is the randomness of life here that gets you. A week ago, my third doctor asked me, “Where were you when you hurt your back?” to which I had to reply, in all honesty (but for effect!) “Oh, I was lounging on a leopard’s skin pillow on the floor eating (out of a tupperware) some leftover kazi-karta (horse meat), which the owner of FC Lokomotivi Tbilisi (from Georgia), some friends and I had had with horse and camel’s milk the night before. I made the mistake of changing channel with my big toe as the remote control was not working, and was getting tired of the ad break after watching Hull play Hull Kingston Rovers at rugby league, as all the ads were in Ukrainian and…”

“I get the picture,” said the doctor, or words to that effect.

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