Book Review: Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt

Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt - Expat Stories from Kazakhstan

Edited by Monica Neboli

It is hard to believe that Kazakhstan, or any of the –stan countries, stands in top place on a wish-list of posting destinations for international employees and their families. Brutally hot summers and equally challenging winters, and a long history of membership in the former USSR are not tempting sales pitches.

While the notoriously beautiful Tian Shan mountain range may be a draw card for adventure seekers, getting there on a backpacker’s budget is going to take significant reserves of time and patience, a scarcity in our modern technologically advanced universe. Yet maybe this old world pace (and charm) is fundamental to why many expats develop a deep fondness for Kazakhstan.

An anthology of essays written by expats who have taken the challenge of a posting in Kazakhstan is now available to introduce the uninitiated to this magical land. Edited by Monica Neboli, Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt is a collection of musings and observations by people who have lived and worked in Kazakhstan, and wanted to discover what the country and culture were about.

The book has six chapters, beginning with a chapter about the experience of moving to Kazakhstan. Three different stories relate newcomer observations: severe cold weather and the kindness of a taxi driver (Jacyntha England); the extremes in the seasons (Erika Rosati); and, how to order food when you can’t speak either Kazakh or Russian (Johanna Means).

The essays in chapter two educate the reader about the history and traditions of Kazakhstan. Especially sobering is Stanley Currier’s essay about the Soviet-era Labor Camps that held over a million prisoners, both Kazakhs and political prisoners from countries including Lithuania, Germany, Korea, – during Stalin’s communist regime from 1932-1959. Essays by Kristina Gray and Machteld Vrieze give insight into the Kazakh culture, including the need of local people to find kurdas - people of the same sex born in the same year and regarded as sacred due to its connection to the ancient cycle of life, and the tradition of marriage in the life of Kazakh women.

Chapters three and four cover the topics of living in urban Almaty, Atyrau and Astana: driving, children, culture, and experiences related to developing friendships with local people.

Essays in chapter five are based on excursions the individual authors have made into the Kazakh outback, an undeveloped wilderness dotted with small villages and nomads working according to an ancient timeframe.

Then there is a heartwarming story from Victoria Charbonneau on her work with orphans in a remote area of Kazakhstan. In her story, she identifies the incredible hardship impacting on this section of the Kazakh population, and the instinctive human need to survive. The chapter ends with an account of the Kazakhstan leg of The Long Horse Ride, an endurance ride from China to London coinciding with the 2012 Olympic Games – by Rowena Haigh and Yolanda Cook, who rode and walked their horses across Kazakhstan in March 2011, discovering the natural beauty of the country.

Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt is not a travel guide to Kazakhstan. It is a series of essays about a relatively unknown land by expats, all with their own personal and professional backgrounds that influence the telling of their individual story. Yet what unites this collection of stories is a love of Kazakhstan - the landscape, food, culture and the people.

Review by;
Ana McGinley

Check out our other book reviews:

Before I Go to Sleep | Distant Hours | It Happened in India | Shopaholic & Sister | The Lady of the Rivers | Game of Thrones | Hinterland | A Clash of Kings | The Help | The Wicked Girls | Stolen Destinies | The Emotionally Resilient Expat

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